Third world woman needs consciousness raised
August 22, 2012 2:57 AM   Subscribe

Enlighten me on current state of the art thinking, discourse and vocabulary around gender politics please. Terminally unique details inside.

I don't have the language to frame my question properly even, so disclaimers all around in case I step on toes or landmines.

I would like to educate myself on current day discourse on gender, power, ethnicity and the consciousness raising stuff that I only am figuring out by the painful reading of threads and comments.

I feel ignorant and out of the loop for not having paid much attention to this beyond my late adolescence/early teenage 'fighting for survival' years because I was too busy doing and was not in the developed world. {Before the advent of the internet and in a male dominated engineering university}

I feel blindsided by the recent discovery of experiencing something that others were already aware of and the language with which to discuss it.

I'm requesting curated selections of reading material or sources and/or your own personal experienced summaries and thoughts rather than a datadump of feminist reading - that can be found by a search whereas this is a request to you all here.

Some links to my comments on the topic of gender/ethnicity in case it helps you figure out where my blind spots are.

Also, if there is stuff from outside of the North American discourse, such as European or Asian, that too would be very much appreciated.

Thank you.
posted by infini to Education (31 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One highly influential European writer was Simone de Beauvoir! I suggest her not just because she's one of the "big names", but because I actually first approached her autobiographical works as a well-known French author (was a teen at the time, didn't know much more about her), and so reading them was perhaps more of a revelation than it would have been if I'd expected feminism. I could relate to her as an intellectual woman raised in a religious family and society, and her analyses of social and personal life were indescribably important to me. It was more than an awakening; it was recognizing that I, as a woman with a mind and an independent bent, was not alone (I was raised in a VERY conservative, traditional-gender-role family), that other women had been there, and here was one able to express herself clearly and openly on the subject, while also having her imperfections. Plus she hadn't gone mad and/or committed suicide, as had so many other intelligent, creative women (Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.).

On that note, I was relieved to find another feminist writer had noticed the same issues with strong women role models from the past having had such bitter lives: Caitlin Moran, an English columnist originally from near Birmingham, recently published "How To Be A Woman", and she too mentions wondering how on earth she'd get on when practically all of her potential role models had died young. I liked her book, though it does have issues (namely/especially "women are weaker than men", which I would hope is visibly silly after our recent Olympic games – rather hard to have been on equal footing for strength and smarts before when women were forbidden from sports, education, owning property, holding jobs without their husband's or father's agreement, etc. in the past). Hers might be a good read as she's a contemporary, feminist-minded author who shares her life experiences and thinking in a down-to-earth, fun style; she has a great sense of humor. Moran especially likes Germaine Greer and "The Female Eunuch".

Personally, the value I found in Moran's book was as an example of how desperate the need for genuine descriptions of women is. Reading it, I was stunned at all the differences in our lives. You really start to see just how simplified and objectified women are in the media when you read it. You sit there taking in her detailed descriptions of childhood experiences and what she believed "being a woman" meant, and you realize, "I've read and seen hundreds, no probably thousands, of such stories by and about men, but rarely if ever have I read such a thing by a woman... and it's different from my life!" Which of course it would be, because we're all individuals! We're not easily-categorized (and thus easily-dismissed) "tomboys" or "feminine", we're human beings with a myriad of particular, unique experiences; some that are shared by others, some that aren't, and assuming that some of them are representative of "Women" with a capital "W" while others... don't seem to exist... is utterly detrimental. How is one to recognize her personal strengths if she believes she's nothing special? How sad is it for everyone that so very many women be unaware of what makes them unique because of that? There is such a need for descriptions of women of all sorts.

Great question btw, really looking forward to reading other responses.
posted by fraula at 5:17 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Apologies for this second comment, should have thought to ask earlier – I didn't address ethnicity because most everything I've read on it has been in French; do you read other languages?
posted by fraula at 5:22 AM on August 22, 2012

Response by poster: I do read French, now though a bit painfully and with a dictionary. I have read Simone de Beauvoir - I did devour the classics in my international school which had an excellent selection - Female Eunuch, Second Sex i.e. Friedan, Greer et al (even Ms. magazine) but nothing really after the 80s began. Your Caitlin Moran suggestion sounds like something I'd want to buy asap.

Also, as I read the big MeTa thread, I realize that a "How to" might also be valuable for me - as in how to recognize the gender politics in play, rather than realizing within a thread or while reading an FPP that my inexpressible experience was in fact an analyzed case study.
posted by infini at 5:29 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: I thoroughly recommend Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. It's an excellent book and deservedly popular with third-wave feminists. She links many reviews on that page, although some have 404'd; here's one that hasn't.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:41 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

(context: it's from a few years ago and was somewhat about/informed by RaceFail, which was a big dust-up in science fiction fandom circles about race and racism and feminism and other contentious defensive-making issues.)
posted by rmd1023 at 5:52 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: I was lucky enough to take a class with Chandra Mohanty 20+ years ago. She was totally brilliant, exceptionally kind, and funny. If you want to read some of her articles memail me.
posted by mareli at 5:56 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, these two link roundups (101-level stuff, mostly) may be useful. Mostly "amateur" stuff but pretty broad.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:02 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might like The Female Thing by Laura Kipnis. She's an academic, but she writes clearly and with humor, and this book is definitely aimed toward a broader audience. This interview with her should give a sense of that.
posted by dizziest at 6:02 AM on August 22, 2012

Response by poster: “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
—Audre Lorde

From ArmyofKittens Julia Serrano link. Who is Audre Lorde? This person has been quoted or referenced before in threads.

And thank you for all the links that are going to keep me up all night reading :)
posted by infini at 6:33 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: She was a black feminist poet.
posted by brujita at 6:42 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: Great, I'm going through my past book orders so I'm sure to get titles correct here. There's a great one in English actually, recommended to me by a fellow MeFite (I've paged her and hope she can come!), "Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation" by South African academic Elleke Boehmer.

"Tergiversations et rêveries de l'écriture orale : Te pahu a hono'ura" by Flora Devatine is a poetic exploration of the confluence of Tahitian, colonial and post-colonial French cultures, and the Tahitian and French languages, very profound in its poetic simplicity. Devatine also explores her identity as a woman in it, and there are appendices with related contributions and further references.

Going through my course notes I'm realizing that my memory has mixed together loads of things... The key being that, at least in ethnological/anthropological courses nowadays, there's an emphasis on agency and a more literary type of analysis versus the somewhat dictatorial, colonialist approach that was taken before, which saw highly important values (such as in gender equity amongst Native American tribes, for instance) completely dismissed and/or misunderstood or, worse, voluntarily twisted to fit the reigning colonizer's discourse. As a result, you have educated people today who can say, truthfully, that gender equity amongst Native Americans is a myth. It's true in their minds because everything they've read supports it... when read from colonially-accepted viewpoints. When you read what Native Americans actually say for themselves, however, you find out much, much more. And this sort of dynamic happened pretty much everywhere that there was colonialization.

Flora Devatine wrote in "Tergiversations":
Les problèmes existentiels, les guerres ethniques naissent
De la non reconnaissance de soi par l’autre,
De la non acceptation de soi,

De la difficulté à s’extraire de ce qui se dit,
Du mal à ne pas s’y impliquer,

Se déchargeant, par là même, sur les autres, de sa propre existence !
"Existential problems, ethnic wars are born / From the non-recognition of oneself by others, / From the non-acceptance of oneself, / From the difficulty of extracting oneself from what is said, / From how hard it is to not be drawn into it, / By that very act, giving up one's own existence to others!" (Pardon the somewhat awkward-in-English translation, but I wanted to keep her accent on "oneself", the more inclusive and broad-ranging "soi" which can also refer to the psychological concept of the "Self", that comes through so clear in her French.)

I mention that because of what you say here: my inexpressible experience was in fact an analyzed case study. Your experience can't be reduced to a case study of someone else – there may indeed be similarities, and I know what you mean in that sometimes you really do come across instances of ingrained racism/sexism that are practically identical because, well, they're ingrained, but the important counterweight to "one's existence being forfeited/given up to others" is what's pointed out by Devatine in the negative, turned positive: recognizing who you are and accepting yourself as is, not as others define you, not by "what is said", even if (perhaps especially when) "what is said" is written by a famous, well-known author. My professors had scathing criticisms of Derrida, Lacan and several anthropologists, for instance.
posted by fraula at 6:43 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Read Susan Faludi's Backlash and Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.
posted by brujita at 6:45 AM on August 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you brujita, I shall seek out the poetry.

fraula, your most recent comment gives me pause for thought, for indeed, my experience would not be quite the same as the author's, given that in addition to the Explaining was the added weight of ethnic differences, that too in the context of the location being a continent where such disparities are obvious and unremarked (East Africa) rather than more visibly discussed and enshrined in law (North America or even Europe).

Has there been any research, writing or even blog pondering on the sense of feeling abused (emotionally, psychologically) after an extended period of gender and ethnic discrimination?
posted by infini at 6:54 AM on August 22, 2012

have a look at Jamaica Kincaid.
Regarded as unique among the various schools of Caribbean writing—neither fully feminist nor Afrocentric—and she is one of the most respected of all women authors from the area.
posted by adamvasco at 7:00 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

if you just want to verse yourself better, you might not have the stamina to read entire original works. i'd recommend finding a college-level textbook that contains short readings that will give you an overview. i'm proofreading one right now, so i can't recommend it (not out yet), but the first few chapters are a great overview of ethnocentrism vs. pluralism, gender vs. sex, and so on. it happens to be a textbook about the meanings of dress (clothing, appearance), so there must be something out there even more on point. hoping someone here knows of one...
posted by nevers at 7:39 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: A number of blogs may be of interest to you: I enjoy Racialicious, Sociological Images, and Feministing. These tend to deal with very topical issues and aren't necessarily monolithic in their views; lots of good debate here.
posted by Ms. Toad at 7:49 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: also Tiger Beatdown and Flavia Dzodan for an European perspective.

Audre Lorde doesn't just write poetry, she also writes a lot of essays on education, resistance, race, gender, all the things you're interested in.
posted by divabat at 8:06 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has there been any research, writing or even blog pondering on the sense of feeling abused (emotionally, psychologically) after an extended period of gender and ethnic discrimination?

There is loads of writing on it by Native American authors (this was part of what my Masters thesis was on, so is what I know most about - there are also works by others, not unique to Native Americans), it's part and parcel of their writing. "Their writing" used generally here because they were oral cultures until the arrival of Europeans, after which a great deal of trauma occurred - as we know - and they also began to write. An excellent reference tome is the "Dictionary of Native American Literature" edited by Andrew Wiget, with topical entries authored by other active Native American authors and academics.

Moran also addresses it in the book I mentioned earlier, in the case of women, calling it a sort of PTSD that we as women are still reeling from.

If you do a search for "colonialism trauma" (without quotes) a lot comes up.
posted by fraula at 12:20 PM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: "microaggressions" might be a helpful search term as well, if you're looking for research on the impacts of racism, sexism, and colonialism.

This bibliography has some significant older texts in English on the intersection of post colonialism and feminism. Kumari Jayawardena's work is very influential, if you have to pick just one author from that list. She lives and works in Sri Lanka.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey, I just wanted to say I think I will benefit from the answers here, too, and thank you for asking the question, infini. Here's a trailer for a biographical film about Audre Lorde.
posted by gingerest at 4:52 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Vandana Shiva is possibly a little dated but her work on environment and women had a lot of intersectionality to it.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: Some more blogs that I've found often include good discussions on feminism from multiple perspectives and links to books and articles: The F-Word (UK), Feministe and Shakesville which has a very good community.

Not quite there but two starting off points for related issues: Women in Theology is a good blog on Christian feminist ideas and links, which can be very helpful in understanding cultural issues. Blood and Milk is a fantastic development blog - she's critical and clear-eyed about development policies and beliefs about third world/first world interactions and often writes about issues involving women.

And for your non-North American discourse, Global Voices Online is a good starting point to finding countries and topics outside. I subscribe to their general feed which is a *ton* of articles but wonderful. You could try their Women and Gender feed to start.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:10 PM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: Inga Muscio. Both Cunt and Rose for feminism. Confessions of a Blue-Eyed Devil for race/ethnicity discussions. (Trigger warning for Rose, it's intense stuff.)

Also anything by Jessica Valenti for a well-respected third wave feminist perspective.
posted by sheprime at 7:44 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If I was looking for an introductory primer, as has been suggested above, is this subject called Social Science or Women's Studies or ??
posted by infini at 9:05 PM on August 22, 2012

Audrey Lorde's books Zami: a New Spelling of My Name, and Sister Outsider are both really great.
posted by secretary bird at 5:44 AM on August 23, 2012

If I was looking for an introductory primer, as has been suggested above, is this subject called Social Science or Women's Studies or ??
posted by infini at 12:05 AM on August 23 [+] [!]

Equity Studies, maybe? Social Justice and Anti-Oppression are good places to start.

I wanted to add: I took a course on anti-oppressive group facilitation that challenged what I thought I knew about feminist and anti-racist work: for me, being a white girl reading about racism was worlds different from being a white girl talking about racism with people of colour. If there's any sort of anti-oppression training available in your area I can't recommend it enough (mine was through a local non-profit).
posted by sheprime at 8:14 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also check out the book Feminism for Real which deals with this in academia, and the blog Kakak Killjoy for another "third world" perspective (they're Malaysian).
posted by divabat at 4:30 PM on August 23, 2012

Best answer: Seconding Audre Lorde and suggesting bell hooks. As you mentioned an interest in genderqueer identities, I'd also like to recommend Butch Is A Noun by S. Bear Bergman.
posted by notashroom at 6:39 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Phoebe Eng Warrior Lessons An Asian American Woman's Journey Into Power

I had occasion to unpack boxes left unsorted since 2007 in the past couple of days and came across my collection. It made me realize how much I've forgotten of what I'd learnt once I left the United States. Now there's a thought, given that I've been on 3 continents since then.

Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions. I will be upgrading my reading material from the bookstore on Thursday based on this thread.
posted by infini at 8:45 AM on August 28, 2012

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