Who needs Feminism? YOU DO!

SIUE Women’s Studies stalwart Christy Ferguson, SIUE English, has taught our introductory WMST 200: Issues in Feminism course several times. Most recently, she conceived a project to get her WMST 200 students involved in spreading the word about their own developing convictions. With a box of chalk and an evening class, the students went out onto the quad. Here, Ferguson writes about this activity and society’s, and the students’, need for feminism.

Understanding why feminism is still an important aspect of our culture, has become a continuous area of contention within our culture. For many years, the feminist community has been bombarded with naysayers claiming that feminism is no longer a necessity. This has become problematic in terms of enacting change within our sociological and political systems. One way feminists are attempting to continue to endorse and explain feminism’s necessity, is through social media platforms. One such action, is posting a picture of oneself holding a hand-written sign that explains the sometimes simple, and oftentimes complex, reasons why feminism is in fact, still an integral part of our ever-changing cultural climate.

who needs feminism

A young, African-American woman holds a whiteboard with the statement “I need feminism because I want to be strong without being ‘angry’.” IMAGE CREDIT: Google Image Search

My WMST 200 course took to the Stratton Quadrangle on Halloween day to express their individually chosen reasons for needing feminism. Everyone’s statement was not just valid, but unique to their own experiences. Their statements ranged from cat-calling to health to body shaming to rape. These students bravely expressed their need for feminism in a public forum to show the community how important it is.

Their full statements are listed here, with photographs in between the paragraphs, below.

“I need feminism because…

…science toys are only in the boys section”

…my chronic illness is not taken seriously because of my sex.”

…I am the only person with the right to make decisions about my body.”

…when I say I only want to adopt, people assure me I’ll want kids of my own.”

…because my sexuality is just as valid if I date a boy or a girl.”

…the first time I was cat-called I was 13 and I was so confused and scared.”

…I shouldn’t feel ashamed to be a survivor.”

…I don’t want my gender to make choices for me.”

…I shouldn’t be shamed for loving my body.”

…we deserve female superheroes who are not sexualized.”

…it’s MY body.”

…these messages will be read and considered the words of a feminazi.”

In terms of equality, every person’s experiences and privileges (or lack thereof) have an effect on the ways in which we see ourselves and each other. Stereotypes and assumptions based on any aspect of a person’s lives (gender included) continue to halt true equality and feminism takes all of these this into consideration. Feminists can be anyone. They can be any gender, sexuality, race, age…it aims to be all inclusive and intersectional. We all may face similar issues in many ways, but often, our experiences with these issues are much different. What is important, is that we recognize this as well as the continued need for a movement that seeks to bring true gender equality to fruition.

Thanks to all the women’s studies 200 students who participated in this simple, yet significant activism project. Continue to stand up. Continue to inspire.

 

 

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Pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain: when faculty abuse other faculty, or enable abusers

Dr. Jill Schreiber, SIUE Department of Social Work, brings us this reflection on a hot-off-the-presses article about the ways in which faculty abuse other faculty, or enable abusers. What does this look like? What should faculty do differently to protect each other from abuse? And lastly, a question that won’t be answered here but should be asked, how can faculty protect students on campus when they cannot trust their own colleagues? For more on this issue, see also the superb book Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia.

SIUE view Nov 2017

“In the humanities, our approach to bullying, manipulation, coercion, and control is made worse by the fact that we spend our days critiquing gender norms, power structures, and injustice — convinced that we will speak truth to that power if we ever run across it in real life. We are all good liberals, we think. Abuse couldn’t happen here….And yet it does.”

–K.A. Amienne, “Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture”, ChronicleVitae, November 3 2017

As a pre-tenure female faculty member, I have been painfully aware of the privileges I have received as a white person, while at the same time, noticing the challenges of being a woman in all too traditional an institution.  I joined the Women’s Studies listserv this fall and have been grateful for the advocacy on issues of both race and gender for our students.  However, I am aware that institutional issues of oppression are present for faculty too.  I have seen it and  it has happened to “Me too.”

A colleague recently sent me the link to an article from the ChronicleVitae, which markets itself as “the only online career hub that makes it easier and more rewarding for faculty and administrators to do their jobs each day.”   The article,  Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture, is the one from which I pulled  the quote, above. It spoke truth for me.  It addressed the ‘long-term effects of systemic, sexist dysfunction in academe’.   It helped put into words my experiences and validated my feelings.  I share it with you in the hopes that we together can continue to notice and respond to instances of abuse on our campus, for our faculty as well as our students.

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SIUE Women’s Studies Program Statement on White Supremacy and Racism on Campus

The following statement was developed as a group with input from many members of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program, both faculty and students. We join in solidarity with students who have already been working to draw attention to such incidents and to push back against them. If you want to get involved, check out the Solidarity and Activism Starter Kit we developed last year.  

We have chosen not to keep an image of the note mentioned in this Statement as part of the Statement itself, so as to avoid recapitulating the harm it does. There are times when quoting terrible speech only slightly lessens its force. If you want to see that note, you can find it here, but we cannot well support black students, faculty, and staff if we force them to encounter it in the course of reading a message of support.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On Wednesday night, September 13 of 2017, a Black student at SIUE returned to their housing in Cougar Village to find a note on their door reading “filthy (plural n-word).”

For a long time now, Black members of SIUE’s community have suffered racist incidents directed against students, staff, and faculty. Some have been overt, as in the incident several years ago in which a pickup truck driving through campus slowed down next to a group of Black male students so that its occupants could lean out to call them the n-word before it sped away. These overt acts express a belief in the inferiority of Black persons and show that they are actively unwanted.

Other racist incidents are more covert, small acts of disrespect related to race which pile up over time. These include classroom behavior from students and professors such as assumptions about a student’s family status based on their race, assuming that a Black faculty member in her office must be the department secretary, and continual unconcerned mispronunciation of student names that requires the student, faculty or staff member to adjust rather than the speaker.  These acts make it clear that whiteness is seen as the norm, and blackness is seen as outside the norm.

Both overt and covert acts reinforce power structures that maintain white supremacy, and paint Black students, staff, and faculty as at best atypical or foreign and more often as actively unwanted.

The incident of the note on the student’s door is overt and aggressively racist.  Part of its power comes from the fact that this student cannot know which of the many people around them hates them so much. It could be anyone or, rather, it could be anyone who doesn’t speak out against it.

As you can see from the student’s response, they did not believe that SIUE was responding appropriately. Indeed, the initial response was lacking. When the student checked their e-mail Friday morning, their first formal response to racism was an e-mail from the Chancellor about the impending verdict on former police officer Jason Stockley who fatally shot a Black man in St. Louis in 2011. That e-mail, below, urged “peace and understanding” and referred vaguely to the Stockley verdict’s racial implications (“We understand that emotions run deep”) while referencing SIUE’s admirable principles. But who is being urged to be peaceful, and who is supposed to be working to understand whom?

Pembrook response to Lamone incident

The above message is what the student who received that note woke up to Friday morning. It is what the student found as their first formal response from SIUE. Only through the efforts of advocate faculty and staff was the student able to receive a direct response later on Friday to their own issues.

The University has failed to create an atmosphere in which Black students feel safe and welcomed. We have failed to educate the white members of our community on how to be and do better. We have wordsmithed our messages until they are lovely but hollow. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that hollowness ringing loud and clear.

We have failed to respond adequately, or at all, to major regional and national incidents that clearly bear on the welfare of our community. This includes the university’s response to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia. The sole response was a single paragraph in SIU President Randy Dunn’s August 23 Message from the President, which is not directed at students. SIUE administration simply did not address the issue for faculty and staff or for students, seeming to see it as irrelevant to our campus despite our own history. Many universities across the nation rightly saw that Charlottesville implicated their own communities and affected their own students. SIUE did not act, nor did Women’s Studies. Silence speaks volumes. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that silence loud and clear.

The Women’s Studies Program stands against racism in its covert and overt forms. We stand with this student and the others who have experienced and may continue to experience such treatment. We pledge to be active bystanders when we observe such incidents occurring, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable for our own behaviors.

We call on SIUE to develop clear and compassionate and speedy student-centered responses to incidents of this nature. These responses should trust the testimony of the person who has received such treatment, and should always reach the individual student face to face before any related announcement goes out to the university community. They should be concerned with the student’s welfare rather than the university’s image. This should also be true of university responses to events in our region, the nation, or the world at large. The University should support opportunities for SIUE community members to gather and discuss such events. There is power in naming and the administration should call things what they are, avoiding euphemisms or phrases that will, however unintentionally, minimize what has happened. Racism is racism, not merely intolerance; white supremacy is white supremacy, not merely a failure of respect and dignity for all.

How we conduct ourselves when others do wrong is all that distinguishes us from them. It is our responsibility to respond actively, unambiguously, and compassionately.  When members of our community who are Black are made to feel unsafe or unwelcome, the task before all of us is to create a community that reaches out and that does not push further away.

To make that sheltering and decent community possible, some of us will have to work on ourselves: on our tendency to act in ways that play into the view that whiteness is the norm, and on how we act when we are bystanders to behaviors that reinforce white supremacy. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, the university will have to work on how it responds to these incidents and on the support it provides to Black students, staff, and faculty. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, all members of the SIUE community will have to work to earn the trust of our Black students and colleagues. It is a trust we have not yet earned.

We have work to do. Let’s get to work.

Sincerely,

Alison Reiheld, Philosophy faculty and Director of Women’s Studies

Jill Anderson, English faculty

Kim Carter, Social Work faculty

Matt Sautman, TA, English

Anushiya Ramaswamy, English faculty

Abigail Hall, alumni

Samara Chapple, Sociology graduate student

Megan Arnett, Sociology faculty and SIUE alumni

Kiana Cox, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Michelle Miller, alumni

Katherine Poole-Jones, Art & Design faculty

Mary Sue Love, Department of Managing and Marketing faculty

Justin Yancey, TA, English

Breanne Burton, student

Catherine Seltzer, English faculty

Aimie Pace, alumni

Carole Frick, History faculty

Linda Markowitz, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Cory Willmott, Anthropology faculty

Liz Stygar, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Jill Schreiber, Social Work faculty

Christy Ferguson, English faculty

Emily Truckenbrod, Music faculty

Helena Gurfinkel, English faculty

Jessica Despain, English faculty

Mike Anderson, alumni

Saba Fatima, Philosophy faculty

Jennifer Logue, Educational Leadership faculty

Mariana Solares, Foreign Languages & Literature faculty

Rosalind Evans, Social Work faculty

Laurel Puchner, Educational Leadership faculty

Tricia Oberweis, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Tori Walters, English and Philosophy staff

Valerie Vogrin, English faculty

Nicole Klein, Applied Health faculty

Connie Frey-Spurlock, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Ekaterina Gorislavsky, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

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Cool Poem: This Vote is Legally Binding

A number of years ago, Alison Reiheld (SIUE WMST Director) came across this poem by LiveJournal user ursalav. It reminded her stylistically of the famous Tom Wayman poem, “Did I miss anything?“, a humorous and biting and beautiful response to the common student inquiry after missing class. Now seems as good a time as any to share ursulav’s poem replying to the common response to feminist critiques of speech, including jokes and social observations.

This Vote Is Legally Binding

Someone always says it, whenever it comes up:
“I guess I’m just not allowed to talk to anyone any more!”

Well.
Yes.
It is my duty to inform you that we took a vote
all us women
and determined that you are not allowed to talk to anyone
ever again.

This vote is legally binding.

Yes, of course, all women know each other,
the way you always suspected.
(Incidentally, so do Canadians. I’m just throwing that out there.)
We went into the women’s room at the Applebee’s at the corner of 54
and all the others streamed in through the doors
into that endless liminal space,
a chain of humans stretching backward
heavy skulled Neanderthal women laughing with New York socialites,
Lucille Ball hand in hand with the Taung child.
We sat around in the couches in the women’s room
(I know you’ve always been suspicious of those couches)
and chatted with each other in the secret female language
that you always knew existed.
Somebody set up a console–
the Empress Wu is ruthless at Mario Kart
and Cleopatra never learned to lose
and a woman who ruled an empire that fell
when the Sea People came
and left no trace
can use the blue shell like a surgical instrument.

Eventually we took the vote.
You had three defenders:
your grandmother and your first-grade teacher
and an Albanian nun who believes the best of everybody.
Your mom abstained.
It was duly recorded in the secret notebooks
that have been kept under the couch in the Applebee’s
since the beginning of recorded time.
And then we went back to playing Mario Kart
and Hoelun took off her bra
and we didn’t think about you again
except that I had to carry this message.

So anyway
good luck with that
it’s just as you always said it was.
Hush now,
no talking,

hush.

group shush

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Cool Link: Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW)

From the Director of Women’s Studies at SIUE, Alison Reiheld, comes this Cool Link.

The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) at Lebanese American University sent their Director, Dr. Lina Abirafeh, to be interviewed on MTVAlive on August 11, 2017.  The video has a few short segments in Arabic, but most of the interview is in English. I commend it to you as a source of information about this great program, about women’s and gender issues globally, and as a window into women’s studies in a part of the world to which folks in the United States don’t always have (or don’t always seek) exposure.  Among other topics you might not expect, the professor who is interviewed discusses sustainable development and a recent student product to make an animated video for a song on partnership and gender equity.

Check out the interview and the IWSAW. If the embedded video isn’t working, you can get it here.

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PEACe in: SIUE has a new Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence Initiative

On the heels of our previous blog entry on sexual assault for April, which is sexual assault awareness month, we have good news from a new SIUE staff member whose job is entirely focused on this and related issues.  Meet Samantha Dickens. She has kindly provided her contact information at the bottom in case you want to get ahold of her.

Greetings, SIUe students, faculty, and staff!vawa bipartisan

SIUe competed for and was awarded the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant in October 2016, allowing us to create the Prevention Education and Advocacy Center (PEACe) and hire a program coordinator: myself, Samantha Dickens. The VAWA grant is facilitated through the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), and the act has existed for over twenty years. During this time, OVW has refined the grant process based on research and critical analysis of that research, creating a three year grant with multiple structured trainings for the grant team and access to a point of contact with OVW and technical assistants who are experts in their fields of strategic planning, prevention education, cultural competency, and several other topics.

VAWA support

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A young woman with shoulder length curly black hair, brown skin, dark eyes, and pink lipstick holds a white markerboard. She is smiling just slightly. On the board is written “I support VAWA because it funds and provides CRITICAL and LIFE-SAVING services.”

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The Continued Desensitization of American Culture through the Actions of our Fearless Leader

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  Our first blog entry of this month comes to us from Christy Ferguson of SIUE’s English Department and the SIUE Women’s Studies Program.

American culture dictates that we, as citizens of this country, respect and honor our leaders. However, how are we, as women, expected to honor a man that has been recorded saying the most incredibly demeaning things about us as sex? A man who has a proven track record of utter disrespect, not just for the women in his life, but for women in general?

The answer: We will not. We cannot.

Having leaders who openly and unapologetically express their dominance over women, not only perpetuates the misogynistic attitudes we have become accustomed to, but outright condones this behavior. We teach our children from a very young age to admire our leaders, who are expected to be positive role models. We encourage our children to follow in the same paths, study their lives, and respect them in their positions of authority in our country. So, when we elect a leader who embodies sexist attitudes and openly expresses them, this is incredibly problematic, not just to young women, but also to young men and our culture as a whole.

 

children Trump

This image shows a Donald Trump rally. Trump is on the left in a suit jacket and white hat. On stage with him are 10 children, one in a red jacket holding a sign and wearing a hat both saying Make America Great Again. Five of the children wear white t-shirts, each with a letter of Trump’s name on it in red. All of the children on stage are boys except for one girl wearing a blue skirt and red shirt.

 

As our children grow and learn, more often than not, the media has quite an influence on the way that they see the world. They learn by following the examples set for them, not only in their households, classrooms, and peer groups, but through depictions of powerful people in the media. Of course, there are different levels of power from celebrity, to internet sensation, to the President of the United States. However, despite that distribution of power, children tend to emulate the things these people do. It is understood to most children that there are appropriate and inappropriate things that a person can do and say, not just in their lives in general, but in public to other people. Growing up in a society that has consistently shamed women for being sexual and men for being too sensitive, they grow to embody those ideals without even trying. Now, we have a president whose misogynistic comments and actions have been thoroughly documented. This was not just a minor slip up or words twisted by media outlets. The fact that they are being continually overlooked as if unimportant is a matter of contention.

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What’s Your Type? Race, Gender, Attraction, and Sexualization

Alison Reiheld, SIUE Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of SIUE Women’s Studies Program, brings us PART 4 in our series on gender, sexualization, and the media.

Every once in awhile, Wikipedia has a surprisingly well fleshed-out entry. One of these is the description of racial fetishism. This:

…involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group that is not one’s own—therefore it involves racial/ethnic stereotyping and objectifying those bodies who are stereotyped, and at times their cultural practices. This can include having strong racial preferences in dating… 

Do you know someone who tends to only date people of their own race? What about someone who tends to date people of another particular race?  What is the line between preference and fetish, between finding certain particular kinds of people beautiful and treating them particularly, out of all other groups, as sex objects?

The African-American online magazine, The Root, has an article called “5 signs you’re about to be racially fetishized.” It begins “So… What’s your type? Admit it. You probably have one. Most of us do.” The author goes on to describe her experiences with on-line dating and the dating app Tinder:

As a member of what is purportedly the least-pursued demographic online (smart, sexy and successful, yet single, black women), I was understandably leery about what—and whom—I’d encounter on an app best known for “hookups.” But in the interest of adventure, I braced myself for potential encounters with predators, grade-A creepers and flat-out racists.

I wasn’t prepared for the fetishists… my experiences dating “across the aisle” were no preparation for the highly racialized world of online dating.

beware white boys on tinder

 

Such fetishization of African-American women relies on stereotypes about black women’s sexuality such as those described by sociologist Patricia Hill Collins in her book Black  Feminist Thought.

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Is being sexy, and allowing one’s body to be revealed publically, unfeminist? Emma Watson (Hermione; Beauty) takes on this modern question

PART 3 of our series on gender, sexualization, and the media for Women’s History month.

In a series of photo shoots to promote  Beauty and the Beast and its star, Emma Watson, one seemed to stand out.  It was the Vanity Fair shoot, and in it one costume barely covered Watson’s breasts, with much of her chest and a portion of her breast showing.

emma watson vanity fair

Watson was accused by some of being anti-feminist for allowing this imagery to be produced and disseminated.

is actress and feminist emma watson a hypocrite

Such a critique matters immensely to Watson who has often been the face of celebrity feminism, including the UN’s He For She campaign which is aimed at bringing men into feminism. What’s more, it matters to a number of young women for whom Emma Watson is the face of not just celebrity feminism, but feminism per se.  See Buzzfeed’s “13 Times Emma Watson Totally Nailed The Whole Feminism Thing” for a bit of Watson’s background and profile. Now, we all know there are many feminism(s), but it’s pretty clear from that overview of Watson quotes that she adheres to one worldview that is unambiguously a type of feminism. Watson is familiar to young women for other feminist reasons, as well. Watson’s Hermione, in the Harry Potter films, was strong, brave, smart, dependable, and a bit full of herself at first.  Anyone who has read the books or seen the films has no doubt that without Hermione, Harry (and Ron) would have been dead many times over and Voldemort would be in charge of it all (though of all moldy Voldy’s many terrible sins, sexism was never shown to be one of them).

To this attack on her feminist credentials, Watson responded with indignation. Click here for a video of her response on March 5, 2017.  She said:

Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with [sic]… It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation… it’s about equality. It’s not *brief pause* I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing… I’m always just kind of quietly stunned.

If one allows oneself to be feminine according to classic gender norms, or to be portrayed in such a way that it makes one prone to sexualization by others, is that your responsibility? Philosopher Linda LeMoncheck says that sexual objectification is dehumanization, being treated as a mere body part or an object when in fact one should be treated as a whole person.  This is something somebody else can do to you regardless of what you do.  For LeMoncheck, it seems that it is only the objectifier who is to blame.  To be sexy is not the problem.  Rather, it is the reduction of a whole person to merely sexy by the viewer.  LeMoncheck, at least, would seem to agree with Watson that it is not anti-feminist to be sexy, though perhaps with different reasoning.

What do you think?

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The Plight of the Double-Standard in the Sexualization of Political Figures and Media Representation

This blog entry by Christy Ferguson, Instructor in English and Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, brings us PART 2 in our Women’s History Month blog series on Gender, Sexualization, and the Media.

When typing the name of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into a search engine, what would you expect to find? Topics about his policies? A speech, maybe? Certainly, one does not expect to find this:

“Everyone is Extremely Thirsty for Young Justin Trudeau” –Marie Claire via Yahoo News

“Young Justin Trudeau Pictures Have Been Discovered and the Internet is Freaking Out” –Yahoo Style

 “Will Justin Trudeau Ever Pose Nude? Young, Shirtless Photos of Liberal Canadian PM Prompt Hopes and Hoaxes” –International Business Times

“The internet is losing its collective mind over Justin Trudeau’s Butt.” –Marie Claire

In political media, we have become accustomed to witnessing the continued sexualization of women who dare to climb the governmental ladder. With constant focus on their clothing choices, bodies, families, and marriages, women in politics have faced a myriad of sexism in the media as they fought their way to positions of power.

Until recently, the media’s sexualization of male politicians had rarely reached such a state of embarrassment. However, over the past few weeks, photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been circling the internet with an extreme focus on his good looks. With much of the focus specifically on his backside, people all over the world are ogling the PM instead of focusing on his politics.

Trudeau butt

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: On the left, we see an innocuous photo of Justin Trudeau in dark slacks, a white shirt, and a button down tie. It is taken from the right side of his body. He is in profile, with his right leg forward slightly, perhaps resting on the crossbar of a chair leg. The righthand photo is zoomed in on his muscular backside. In a class sign of objectifying images, Trudeau is now headless and the focus is a single body part. (Photo Credit: Yahoo Image Search via lostateminor.com)

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