Conference Blog: Panel Session V, Saturday 22 June

United States Women’s Studies Movements: Examining the Intersections that Differences in Power and Privilege Create for Women of Colour

Prof. Kumea Shorter Gooden ‘The Double Jeopardy of Racial and Gender Bias:  Implications fro African American Women’

 Shorter Gooden’s paper discussed the intersection between race and gender in relation to African American women. Shorter Gooden’s discussed the way in which Black women are often given short shrift in two ways. Firstly within feminism, “women” is often used as a code for upper middle class women. Secondly, when talking about the experience of African Americans, the issues faced by black men are often brought to the fore. The paper then went on to discuss Shorter Gooden’s research, The African American Women’s Voices Project which looked at black women’s experiences and perception of racism and sexism. The project involved open ended surveys with 333 people and in depth interviews with 71 women. The participants were aged between 18-88 and were from all regions of the US. Shorter Gooden noted that it was not a representative sample and that she had used snowball sample. The research found that 90% of women who participated had experienced racial bias, 68% had been affected by negative stereotypes and 58% had changed the way they acted in order to fit in or be accepted by whites. In addition 40% had downplayed their talents to black men. Shorter Gooden discussed the idea of shifting, the ways that black women respond to and cope with racial and gender bias, for example ways in which one walks, talks dresses and styles her hair as well as internal changes such as self esteem racial identity and mood. Shifting, however can also involve fighting back and committing to social justice or joining a womanist movement. A few women had suggested that they had not experienced racial bias, however Shorter Gooden suggests that this in itself a form of shifting. Shorter Gooden suggests that all disenfranchised groups shift, for example women, LBGT people and men of colour. There are adaptive elements to shifting, in that it helps those from disenfranchised groups cope with discrimination, help build bridges as well as allowing for the capacity to fight back. In contrast there are also maladaptive consequences including physical and emotional health problems. The research findings also showed some broad themes that affect African American women, these include a myth of inferiority, invisibility (although paradoxically there are at times tokenism). The research suggests that although black women have higher body self esteem, this is beginning to erode and female beauty standards are still described as white, thin and blonde. Finally, Shorter Gooden suggests that the stereotype of the strong black women is also prevalent, and that this stereotype often covers up the underside of this belief that black women do not belief that they need help. Finally the paper discussed the attendant health problems that are associated with these themes, these include hypertension, depression and HIV.

 Prof. Ruth Zambrana “Theory of the Flesh”: Feminist Voices of Latinas in U.S Women’s Studies

 This paper looked at the feminist voices of Latinas in US woman studies. Zambrana began by stating that 16% of the US population are Hispanic with 65% being of Mexican origin. Contrary to discourse surrounding immigration, Zambrana noted that 63% of hispanics are native, 10% are naturalised citizens whilst around 26% are non-citizens. This contradicts discourses around immigration that suggest that hispanics are newly arrived immigrants. Zambrana than discussed the history of the Hispanic population, pointing to the fact that until the seventies they were classed as white but were also treated as racialised subordinates. Zambrana suggested  that the history of Hispanic oppression is yet to be written. The paper then went on to discuss the way that the Civil Rights Movement raised the importance of implications of colonialism, then going to to discuss the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Zambrana suggested that there was a rise in the 1970s of Mexican American Scholarship. Furthermore, Zambrana discussed Chicana feminist thought, how women’s experience in the US affected and shaped who they are as well as how race intersects with other identities such as class. Zambrana suggested that Chicana feminist thought challenges reductionist explanations of Latina’s experience and uses lived experiences as a theorizing lens. She also pointed to the way that negative stereotypes, such as seeing Latinas as sexualised restricts access to opportunities. Zambrana asserted that intellectual Latina feminist leadership is a small and relatively invisible in Women and Gender Studies and that Latina academics do not feel that their research is valued or viewed as important.  Furthermore, Zambrana discussed her research which looks at the way that occupational stress has affected the health of Latina academics.

 Prof, Seung- Kyung Kim Asian American Women in the Academy:  A Historic perspective on the need for women of color solidarity

 Seung- Kyung Kim’s paper looked at the challenges that Asian American women encounter whilst working in women’s studies academies whilst looking at whether Asian American women identify as Women of Colour. Her research study looked at ten Asian American women faculty in US women’s studies departments with various ethnicities, countries of origins and who were at various stages in their career. The paper suggested that one of the problems when looking at the way that Asian American women are represented is that there is an ignorance of the social and economic variation between Asian American women as the term is used to describe women from different cultures, from those whose family came to the US some time ago, to recently arrived refugees. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the phrase is often associated with East Asians, rather than South Asian women. However, the term Asian American can also be seen to reflect solidarity across differences and is also used as a political stance that is linked to resisting harmful stereotpyes. The paper then went on to discuss the model minority myth. Seung- Kyung Kim suggested that the model minority is intertwined with the myth of meritocracy, so that Asian Americans are portrayed as high achievers despite racial prejudices. This, in turn is used to silence claims from other racial minority groups whilst also silences Asian Americans. Furthermore, it relieves institutions of responsibility for racial injustices. The model minority stereotype also means, according to the paper, that Asian Americans are excluded from policy responses to the underrepresentation of racial minorities. There is also, the paper suggests, a conflation of Asian Americans and foreign nationals who travel to the US as students. The model minority also ignores social differences between different groups. The paper then went on to discuss the way in which Asian Americans are seen as less visible as Women of Colour and are less visible within Women of Colour collectives.

 BRIDGE Panel – Why gender matters in activism

This panel showcased the work of BRIDGE, which is a gender and development research and information programme within the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. The presenters have all been involved in a project producing the Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Social Movements and presented on different elements of this work.

 Jessica Horn (Akiiki Consulting, Independent Feminist Scholar), “Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Social Movements”

 Jessica Horn presented a summary of the findings of the report Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Social Movements. The research engaged people involved in social movements in different locations globally, to explore the gendered dimensions of movements for social justice, in order to build knowledge around what gender-just social movements may look like. A key point which Horn made was the importance of language in doing this research – and the primacy placed on making sure the research was both understandable and translatable to all social movement contexts.

 

The research aimed to answer questions such as: What accounts for ongoing reticence within progressive social globally to integrate gendered politics and practice? What are the challenges and tensions? What have people done? What are the possible routes to change? What more needs to be explored? The project talked to activists within a range of (women-only, women-led and mixed gender) social movements globally.

 

Many of the challenges and tensions which the project has documented will be familiar to those involved in progressive social movements: Women’s issues being sidelined (to be dealt with ‘after the revolution’), feminism understood as “not part of our culture”, the difficulties of sustaining change after heightened moments of activism, and the challenges of sustaining an intersectional approach within activism, as new constituencies emerge and new identities are politicised. Horn talked of a need for “deep structure work” within social movements – work which transforms culture, power dynamics and hierarchies within movements, which “changes hearts and minds”. The BRIDGE report suggests the following ways of ensuring gender-just movements:

  • Tackling gender inequality must be understood as an integral component of justice for all and should be explicitly named
  • Movements must create a positive environment for internal reflection on gender justice
  • Movements should actively support women’s full participation and leadership
  • There must be a zero-tolerance on sexual violence and harassment within movement spaces
  • Labour within social movements must be distributed along gender-just lines
  • Care work and reproductive roles must be considered and re-distributed to ensure women’s full participation
  • Movements must pay attention to and oppose the often gendered dimensions of the backlash from the external opposition
  • All gender identities and variations must be included within movements, and attention paid to shifting understandings of gender.

 Horn ended the presentation with an emphasis on the importance of building inclusive alliances and solidarity across movements. Copies of the report can be accessed by contacting BRIDGE [http://www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/]

 Dr Manjima Bhattacharya (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India) – A Tale of Two Movements: How Human Rights Was Gendered

 Dr Manjima Bhattacharya presented her case study of human rights and women’s rights movements, focusing primarily on activism within the United Nations structure, but also on some NGOs. She talked about the important work done by women’s activists globally as part of the UN Decade of Women (1975-1985). During this period, and as a result of the work done surrounding the three world conferences in Mexico, Copenhagen and Nairobi, women’s issues were pushed onto national government agendas. Dr Bhattacharya argued that these conferences were important also for the effect they had on women’s confidence, in learning how to negotiate with their governments and with the UN. At the same time, radical concepts were being incorporated by feminists into human rights discourse (for example, making the argument that domestic violence is torture), and in the process exposing how human rights protections tended to be based on the idea of the human as a liberal western male. The presentation provided a broad overview of how important women’s rights issues, particularly around violence, have been pushed onto national, regional and global agendas as a result of women’s global activism within the UN structure, both during and after the Decade for Women. But also outside of the UN during this period, development organisations and donor agencies have been ‘adding gender’ to their analysis, and there has been increasing cooperation between human rights and women’s rights groups. Dr Bhattacharya also talked briefly about her case study of Amnesty International, and the ways in which this human rights organisation has taken up gender as part of its human rights remit (including the challenges and contradictions which this has raised).

 Dr Jenny Birchall (IDS, Sussex) – “Women’s rights and gender equality in the Coordinating Network for Latin American Rural Organisations (CLOC)”

 Dr Jenny Birchall’s presentation was based on research done by Pamela Caro, a women’s rights activist in El Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo de la Mujer (CEDEM) in Chile. The research is based on interviews with 10 women leaders of women’s organisations in 7 Latin American countries. All the organisations were part of Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC), which is the women’s arm of the La Via Campesina movement. The case studies highlight many of the challenges that women face within mixed-gender progressive social movements, as outlined in Horn’s presentation (above). The CLOC organisations have worked hard to place women’s issues on the agendas of the movements, with arguments such as “Without feminism there is no socialism” and “With women home to stay, agrarian reform is delayed”. CLOC organisations have formed autonomous women’s spaces within their movements, enabling women to speak up for themselves and having a strong, collective voice, through providing training and support to build confidence. They have also set up and worked to encourage men to attend gender training schools. Dr Birchall played a video clip of an interview with a women’s activist leader in Chile, Francisca Rodriguez. Rodriguez talked about the ways in which she has taken a stand for women rights within the movement, and how as a result she has been seen as a role model, as someone more capable and daring, creative and dedicated than women are stereotypically assumed to be. She also highlighted the huge spirit of sacrifice which she felt was required to do this work. The case studies showed the vital role that women activists play in pushing through changes towards gender justice in social movements. Other key learnings included the importance of gaining broad-based buy-in and commitment to add legitimacy to women’s organisations and a recognition that culture and power dynamics need to be addressed within movements (policy documents make little difference in themselves). The research also highlights the importance of strategies and methods being tailored and appropriate for specific contexts. CLOC organisations are a great example of this, through their work developing and articulating a popular rural feminism which speaks to both women and men in their communities. 

Memory, History, and Young Women’s Political and Civic Engagement in Europe

All papers on this panel are part of a project commissioned by the European Union titled “My Place: Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement.”

 Prof. Nickie Charles and Dr. Khursheed Wadia (University of Warwick). “UK Feminista and Young Women’s Activism.”

 This paper opens with mentions of two particular events: the Spare Rib spat and the Emily Davison remembrance events. The Spare Rib spat refers to attempts to revive the famous feminist magazine followed by a public appeal for money to fund the relaunch. The original creators of the magazine criticised the appeal for funds on the grounds that Spare Rib was born of grassroots movements. This vision stands in contrast with 21st century capitalist activism. The Emily Davison remembrance events, including Clare Balding’s documentary, highlighted the fact that although militant suffragettes are remembered by the establishment of today, they were strongly reviled during their lifetime. Back in the 1960s, there was no gender studies departments or women’s NGOs in the UK, and much less means of communication to mobilise young women. Today, there are about 200 grassroots movements in the UK. Dr. Khursheed Wadia uses data from interviews of feminist activists between the age of 16 and 25 and observes them in meetings and events. She find that important factors in becoming activist include family influence, negative experiences of abuse or discrimination, and level of education. Academic feminism is presented as providing useful resources and a framework for feminist activism, like in the case of sociology. She also mentions involvement at local and national level, and the changes brought about by new media. UK Feminista (since 2010), for instance, trains activists and provides information to local grassroots groups, which is consistent with the ongoing professionalisation of activism. Social media has given young women a voice by making feminism visible to them but its downsides include online abuse and bullying, as well as the possible manipulation of agenda and decisions by members who do not attend meetings. Finally, Dr. Khursheed Wadia reminds the audience that current academic feminism is the result of the 1970s feminist movements, and that feminism at university allows young women to make sense of their experiences.

 Prof. Airi-Alina Allaste (Tallinn University, Estonia). “LGBT Movement in Estonia? Gendered Activism.”

 This paper argues that activism has changed radically from class-based movements in industrial societies aiming at taking power over resources and modes of production to identity-based movements aiming at changing culture. The Estonian context is that of an ex-Soviet country, independent since 1991, which has undergone massive changes to its political structure as well as the introduction of new materialistic and individualistic values. It is fairly intolerant towards minorities and very patriarchal, upholding neo-traditional gender identities. This could be ascribed to a nostalgic desire to go back to the old republican days of the 1930s and the pre-Communist regime, thus idealising the past. According to Prof. Airi-Alina Allaste, gendered ideas start at home within the family context, but younger generations are increasingly influenced by the example of Scandinavia. Current activist movements in Estonia include LGBT organisations, queer and feminist activism, and public figures speaking out. Prof. Airi-Alina Allaste has observed several events and conducted interview with activists, which reflected the bad image of the term “activism”, connoted as wanting to put one’s issues first and the “show-off” mentality. She also mentions that the Estonian gay movement was started by lesbians, and that there are continuing tensions between lesbian and gay men activists. Finally, she raises the question of the overwhelming number of women working for NGOs in Estonia and suggests that is due to the fact that women are more likely than men to do voluntary work.

 Prof. Mariona Ferrer-Fons (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona, Spain). “Las Indignadas in Barcelona: New Feminist Politics and Protest.”

 This talk focuses on the non-hierarchical “Indignadas” movement started in May-June 2011 in the context of economic crisis, conservative politics both at federal and state levels, austerity measures, patriarchal society, and political mistrust but active mobilisation. In the early days of the economic crisis, it affected mostly immigrant workers and men, but then the austerity cuts enacted largely affected women working in public services such as education, health, and care. Prof. Mariona Ferrer-Fons remarks on her methodology that is was not easy to gain access to the field because the Indignadas had bad previous experiences with researchers who failed to give them  feedback. She followed assemblies and actions such as strikes and protests, and adds that the original 15M Indignados movement was frustrating for women who saw their issues ignored. Although younger activists a present at protests, they tend not to get involved in regular meetings. The Indignadas are favourable to LGBT rights, campaigns to end violence against women, abortion, support for prostitutes against police raids, gender equality, and emphasise the importance of care within the group. They place themselves as anti-capitalist and against state repression but from feminist perspective. In short, “la revolucion sera feminista or no sera.”

 Ivana Mijic (Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, Croatia). “From Theory to Practice: Feminist Women in Anti-Capitalist Collective.”

 This is a case study of a squat, more precisely a pharmaceutical factory in Zagreb occupied by artists and activists. Ivana Mijic was both a participant and a researcher working with visuals, field diaries, and interviews. She mentions a strong feminist tradition in Yugoslavia, at the time an egalitarian society open to Western influences. But theory is nothing if not followed with practice, and the war in mid-1990s triggered a re-traditionalisation including a reinforcement of outdated gender roles. Yet the most prominent figures of the anti-war campaigns in the 1990s were women, and they went on to found the NGO Attack, and later some younger members founded Medika, with an anarcho-feminist subculture identity. Although rapes and physical violence are present within the community, members tend to refuse police involvement and anti-capitalist activist women actually speak against feminism. Despite some homophobic members in Medika, Ivana Mijic mentions the example of a LGBT member who still feels safer in the squat there than anywhere in the city.

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