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Archive for the ‘feminist theory’ Category

An observation from an acquaintance. Many Filipino businessmen, he said, find that they already had an “in” with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. That young businessmen from the Middle East felt an affinity   with Filipinos. Magaan ang loob.

The reason? These businesspeople from the Middle East grew up with Filipina nannies. Because of their carework, said this acquaintance, Filipina women are in such positions of  influence over the next generation of businesspeople from the Middle East. Pinoy entrepreneurs, he said, could use trade on this predisposed goodwill as capital.

The gender dynamics of Filipino labor migration shifted around the 1980s. More women were recruited for domestic work, a trend that continues today. An estimated 70 percent of the 3,000 Filipinos who leave the country each day due to labor migration are women.

I had already known Filipina mothers work as nannies and caregivers, even as they leave their own children behind.  That these women’s labor feed the remittances that keep the Philippine economy afloat. And that all these benefits to the country, to the private sector, have come at great personal cost to women who spent years away from their own children.

But it still makes me sad and angry to note that decades later, long after their children had grown up without their presence, these women’s labor and sacrifice continues to generate wealth. But not for them.

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Last week, three young women from the Feminist Majority Foundation visited the large Intro to Women’s Studies class that I work as a TA. They did what I take to be a standard invitation:

FMF member: Okay! So who here is a feminist? Raise your hand!

(a smattering of hands go up)

FMF rep: Okay! So who here believes there should be equality between men and women?

(A lot more hands go up, but slowly.)

FMF rep: Okay  then!  That means you’re all feminists!

This is a group of young women and men, taking a Women’s Studies class. A large portion of the students were women of color. And they did not identify as feminist. If I was an FMF representative, I’d be curious to know why. Perhaps we could talk about their ideas about feminism. What was it about feminism, or perhaps just the term “feminist,” that they did not find relatable?

They FMF members smiled a lot, and seemed like nice enough young women. But they were also arrogant, and their blithe dismissal of any concerns the students had — oh yes you too are a feminist! — made me angry.

When I met with my students in discussion class, I asked them about why they didn’t raise their hands. Some said it was just because they were uncomfortable with the term.

A number were upset about FMF’s support for the invasion and continued occupation of Afghanistan. One student used the term “colonialist,” and another said it was attempt to “save brown women from brown men.” These were first- and second-year students, quoting Spivak. I almost cried.

Others took issue with the second question, the facile “equality between men and women.” One Chicana student recalled the racism leveled at her father, her brothers, and her boyfriend faced every single day. Another student brought up Devah Pager’s “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” a matched-pair experiment that showed how white men with criminal records still received higher job callback rates that Black applicants with similar work experience but no criminal record. What men were the FMF reps referring to?

In the end, we did get a good discussion out of the FMF visit. And I did learn a lot about and from my students. The FMF reps might have too, had they bothered to ask questions and listen.

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My first full-time teaching job was as a sociology instructor at Career U. Unlike other career schools, this one actually gave me freedom to design my own Intro to Sociology courses—certainly not the norm at most career schools. I met some pretty cool students in those classes, and we did good work. My job helped to promote critical thinking among the students.

Hooray for me!

So this week’s class reading, Gayatri Spivak’s essay “Teaching for the Times,” was quite jarring. In this essay, Spivak writes:

Proctor and Gamble, a large U.S. multinational corporation, sends students specializing in business administration abroad to learn language and culture. Already in 1990, the National Governors’ Association report queried: “How are we to sell our products in a global economy when we are yet to learn the language of the customers” . . . We are caught in a larger struggle where one side devises newer ways to exploit transnationality through a distorting culturalism and the other knows rather what transnational script drives, writes, and operates it. [emphasis hers]

I’ve been reflecting on my role in this transnational script, on how the classes I taught over those past three years at Career U were actually in service of this “distorting culturalism.” How many students eventually went on to use their knowledge in service of the various Proctor and Gambles?

Towards making globalization palatable to people in the Third World, the very people who would also be made to shoulder the resulting devastation?

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I left Catholicism in fits and starts, the way a smoker keeps reaching for one last cigarette. But I did leave for good three years ago. And though I don’t identify as Catholic anymore, Sudy reminds me of teachings that resonate.

Love one another. Whatever you do to the least of my brothers. Ministering to the poor–the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. Striving to be compassionate.

Unfortunately, as my feminist shero Sr. Mary John Mananzan points out, the Philippine Catholic malestream emphasizes aspects such as the contraception and divorce bans and the “sins of the flesh.” This is still the dominant Catholicism in the Philippines, the strand that eventually led to my departure.

It’s also a strand that obscures how Catholic tenets on love, service, and compassion could form powerful basis for transnational feminist coalitions.

In her essay “Globalization and the Perennial Question of Justice,”* Mananzan applies a faith-based approach to highlight globalization’s injustices on indigenous populations, the urban poor, displaced farmers. She critiques the new “religion” of consumerism, globalization, and capital that gives rise to this suffering. In its place, she advocates a spirituality that is responsive to the suffering wrought by globalization.

Mananzan writes

Just as we proclaim an integral salvation, we also have to develop an integral spirituality that transcends dichotomies such as body-soul, sacred-profane, contemplation-action, heaven-earth, and so on. We need to integrate our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the planet. It is inclusive and resists exclusion of peoples for any reason, be it class, race, gender, or any other.

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Camille Paglia recently wrote a number of gushing statements about Sarah Palin, but here’s the one that made my eyes roll the hardest:

I stand on what I said (as a staunch pro-choice advocate) in my last two columns — that Palin as a pro-life wife, mother and ambitious professional represents the next big shift in feminism. Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.

It’s amazing how many wrong assumptions can be crammed into two short sentences. Twenty years after Chandra Mohanty’s Under Western Eyes, and we still have Western feminists advocating colonialism for the good of Third World women?

Feminists like Paglia still refer to a monolithic Third World, a categorization that assumes a homogenous oppression of all brown and black women. Of women who are characterized by all the stereotypes attached to the word “traditional” – backwards, primitive, uneducated, victimized, poor.

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What does it mean to recognize the home as a site of resistance?

Last semester, our professor posed this question to a group of law students at an ivy league university, and was surprised at how many students got so upset. But professor, they cried, women were oppressed in the home. That’s why we fought so hard to get out.

Do you, professor asked us, agree with them? Home is oppression that you have to escape?

Here are some images brought to my mind by the phrase “home as a site of resistance”:

I think of a classmate who declares she was born and lives in Haifa, Palestine, a place that according to official maps does not exist. And I think of her mother, who continues to live in their family home as her foremothers have done.

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I am an immigrant woman of the Two-Thirds World, who is living with the One-Third World.

I first came across Esteva and Prakash’s concept of the One Third/Two Thirds World via Chandra Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders. The concepts recognize the transnational nature of capital, and how policies instituted by people in the One-Third World (middle and upper classes in the North and elites in the South) destabilize the lives of those in the Two-Thirds World, comprised by majority of the world’s population.

And most of the time, those of us in the One-Third World remain unaware of how our actions, well-meaning or otherwise, generate and perpetuate poverty and hardship.

For example, many of us in the One-Third World rarely reflect on our patterns of consumption, on how overconsumption contributes to substandard working conditions in Export Processing Zones around the world. If you’ve ever bought clothes from Nike, the Gap, or purchased products from Walmart and Target, for example, please take a minute to consider why your purchases seem so “affordable.” Ditto with that $2 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s.

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