From Theory to Praxis: New insights and a new lens through which I will examine the world

 

In class, we studied a wide range of topics in a very short amount of time, but there were certain topics that stood out to me and personally affected the way I now see things. The first and the second week we looked at sexuality and gender which are both components in the identity of a person. I think The biggest take away from that for me was looking at how society has socially constructed rigid norms to which people have stuck to, and that there is a strong resistance when it comes to wanting to push back on societal norms. It has taught me to look at people differently in a sense where I stop making assumptions about people and making generalizations. There are more than two genders and the world does not fit into a spectrum based on binary identification. There are many ways people identify and compartmentalizing and categorizing them between one or other is not a good way to look at things. There is the expression that things are not just black or white, and it is very true when it comes to people’s identities.

I have learned that marginalization also is intersectional, and because of that I feel like I better am able to understand people and their struggles. It was helpful that there was some intersections in this class that I could connect to my child development class in psychology as well as with my Afro-Latin American course. It was good because I was able to use the lens I acquired in the GSS course in those classes to work past any biases I had concerning social constructs.

This class made me think about how important it is to learn to look at things through a GSS lens, and I wish I would have had exposure to this kind of thinking when I was younger, so I connected it to an Idea I have for my summer job plans. I want to work with middle school children to help expose them early on to some of the things we learned in class because I think it is important for children to start acknowledging certain issues from earlier on.

I went to a KIPP school from sixth grade until my twelfth grade year.  KIPP schools focus on helping low income students in underserved neighborhoods get to and through college.  In middle school they require for student to take summer school courses which includes taking two classes on core studies and one elective course. This year I wanted to assist in planning one of the elective courses with one of the teachers at the middle school. There is a class focused on female empowerment and I feel like within that class there are various topics from our class that can be incorporated to the curriculum of that program in particular.

Starting with our week on bodies, ads, and Fat studies. This is a topic in class I found particularly interesting because it did challenge a lot of my preconceived notions and it changed the way that I look at media now. Having the students break a lot of their preconceived notions on body issues as well as challenging them to have conversations about body positivity and self acceptance at the middle school age would be beneficial because it would help create a certain mindset about themselves very early on. This is one of the things I gained from the class, and I wish I would have been exposed to this earlier which is why I would find it a helpful experience for the KIPP students as a summer elective course.

The goal would be for them to view themselves differently than the way society has taught them to. I hope it would serve to empower the students and I feel like it fits in with the mission of the KIPP program as well because they want their students to be better prepared for college and a lot of these topics are themes that occur in a lot of the classes I have taken here at Davidson.

From Theory to Praxis: High School Outreach Program

Since I have not taken a gender and sexuality studies class before this semester, most of the concepts we discussed in class and from the readings were very new to me. This class has truly allowed me to broaden my horizons of how I view the world and society. Before this semester, I was only aware of gender and sexuality as binaries, but I now see how society has constructed them to be viewed this way. As we began discussing new topics in depth, I started to think about my education regarding gender and sexuality, or lack thereof, prior to this class. In middle school, I had the standard health and sex education classes, but we mostly touched on only the biological aspects of each rather than the emotional and psychological aspects. In high school, we did not have any type of sex education; in fact, it seemed forbidden to discuss any topics regarding gender and sexuality. However, this class has allowed me to understand how important and crucial it is to have open dialogue about these topics in everyday life. Therefore, for my theory to praxis final project I set out to open this dialogue in high schools in the Charlotte area.

As a member of Rape Awareness Committee, I volunteered to be in charge of our High School Outreach Program. In the beginning, I did it purely because I was from the Charlotte area so I had contacts at many local high schools, but as the semester went on, I realized how much of an impact we could truly make with this program due to the lack of health and sex education in the local high schools. Therefore, I began researching other sex education programs, narrowing down what exactly I wanted to focus on, and how we wanted to convey our message. After meeting with Georgia Ringle and Ashley Fry, I decided to focus on consent and positive and healthy relationships as these topics are pertinent and rarely discussed in schools. We found that most schools’ sex education programs are very abstinence-based so many students have never discussed these topics and a strong stigma surrounds conversation of these topics.

In working with the rest of my committee, we put together a presentation that focused on opening a discussion with students based on the norm of reciprocity: the more open and honest we are with them, the more open they will hopefully be with us. We begin our presentation by showing a video of Davidson students discussing key aspects of positive and healthy relationships and giving examples of personal sexual experiences where their knowledge of consent and choice was important. Following this video, we share why we personally are each here giving this presentation and a little bit about our own sexual identity and experiences. We hope that our willingness to share our beliefs and experiences will open a line of communication for the students to discuss their personal experiences and ask questions. In order to further engage the students and for us to frame the conversation towards the audience, we then have them fill out a series of anonymous questions regarding gender and sexual identity as well as personal experiences. This then leads us into our presentation about consent and healthy relationships. In addition to sharing definitions and characteristics of each, we ask students to share their beliefs and knowledge about each topic. We then give the students hypothetical situations and ask them what they would do in each case. One thing we want to emphasize is that there is more than one right way to handle any of these situations; each person will probably handle them a little bit differently. After hearing the students share their opinions on each situation, we each give our own answer and explanation for how we would potentially handle it.  We conclude our presentation by allowing everyone to write down questions anonymously on note cards, which we then read aloud and answer to the best of our ability for the group.

Overall, we have given two presentations so far and have multiple scheduled for the spring. Just from the two presentations we have given, I have been able to see how much of an impact we can have. In one of our presentations to seventh and eighth grade girls at Circle de Luz, several of the girls were already sexually active, but were unaware of the meaning of the words consent and contraception. Though this was highly concerning in the moment, by the end of the presentation, they were all confident in their own ability to ask for and give consent, aware of their choice, and knew to always use protection. Personally, the impact we were able to make from this one presentation was worth all the time and effort I put into creating this program. However, I am looking forward to our presentations in the spring and to seeing the further impact we can make the community.

My Anaconda Don’t Want None…of the Intersectional Norms

The famous pop and rap musical artist Nicki Minaj debuted the music video for her chart-topping single Anaconda in the summer of 2014 and it became an immediately viral sensation. With over 617 million views on YouTube, the video homage to female physicality has been met with a wide range of opinions, some honoring it for promoting sexual liberation and some abhorring it for vulgarity and objectification. The intended audience of this video was certainly young, probably those born mostly in the 1990s and perhaps the 1980s. This intention is evidenced by the millennial-aimed product placement, use of contemporary slang, and the song’s content reflecting the relaxation of societal norms around sex over the past few decades. However, the nature of the Internet and the immediate infamous reputation of Anaconda presumably made the audience much wider than just twentysomethings. The obvious superficial task of this video is to entertain, but Minaj herself claimed on Twitter that it was “impacting culture.”[1] The Anaconda video does present undisguised sexually imagery that reflects aspects of culture and the sexual, racial, and gender norms that pervade it. A closer look at the media, however, presents a challenging contradiction as to whether Minaj subverts these norms, or plays into them and encourages their prevalence within a societal framework.

The Anaconda video presents the viewer with four minutes and forty-nine seconds of hypersexual and choreographed cinematography to accompany the song. However, in just a twenty-second clip from 0:40-1:00 we see many of the images that Minaj repeats and that offer insight into the norms she is representing. Minaj presents the following scene: several individuals, all wearing little clothing, dancing in the jungle. Minaj herself, lip-syncing to the slang and double entendre filled lyrics of her single and adorned in gold, is the clear focus of the scene. She is surrounded by several other people, all dressed in black, appearing in various poses illustrating their flexibility on the wooden structure on which they all stand. The scene features copious amounts of twerking, a dance move closely associated with black hip-hop culture. Some people have argued that, with this scene, Minaj is “calling out society’s view of black women as exotic and animalistic,” adding to the argument made in her tweet that she is impacting culture.[2] Minaj is certainly presenting this norm, and, though she attempts to interrupt it, her broad audience may not pick up on her effort to push against this norm; consequently, the video may reinforce the hypersexual, exotic stereotype of black women for those individuals who do not realize that Minaj is trying to ironically undercut those very norms. The broader audience to which I refer includes the over 600 million viewers of the YouTube video, as well as many others who have heard the song in another context. Minaj attempts to undercut these norms by seemingly playing directly into them. That is, she blatantly plays the role of a hyper-sexual, exotic (literally set in a jungle) black woman to prove that she controls her sexuality and can ironically inhabit this stereotype as a way to push back against it. This is recognizable to someone who has studied gender and sexuality in a formal setting, or is simply exposed to GSS theory. However, with no contextual understanding of the stereotype Minaj is undercutting, and no knowledge of her intentions to “impact culture,” I imagine many viewers saw the video as reinforcement of the stereotype.

Within the twenty-second clip previously mentioned, Minaj and the other individuals in the jungle scene play into the existing paradigm within American culture of fetishizing lesbian eroticism. While the contemporary United States still very much exist within a strict heteronormative matrix, there has existed for many years an obsession with eroticism between women. Even while sex between two men has been considered taboo and unacceptable, sex between women has been labeled as hot and sexy, with hours upon hours of so-called lesbian fetish pornography readily available, for free, on a host of internet porn websites. Minaj’s Anaconda reinforces the paradigm of lesbian eroticism being connected to a fetishized sense of desire—male desire, as the paradigm exists in the modern United States. Within the twenty-second jungle clip, the audience witnesses several images reinforcing this norm: another woman mounts Minaj and twerks as Minaj caresses the other woman’s thigh, and the clip features several other moments on intensely intimate touching between all of the women, again within the framework of exotic, animalistic sexuality.

Many have argued that, through Anaconda, Minaj has paid homage to female physicality and sexuality and, in turn, created some visual representation of sexual liberation. However, if we examine Anaconda more thoroughly, it may present an inaccurate representation of how power structures operate in society. If power is simply repressive, Minaj’s hypersexual ode to female bodies and sexualities would be seen as liberating and powerful as it pushes against the power that tells society not to talk about sex, particularly if you identify as a woman. However, the intersectional power dynamics explored in Minaj’s video are clearly more complicated than her simply pushing back against the power repressing her sexuality. Again, a wider audience not exposed to excepted thought and theory in gender and sexuality studies may not understand that she is attempting to make a statement about women—black women in particular—and the repressive stereotypes and norms under which they exist sexually and in general. Thus, the video may in fact reinforce those norms and stereotypes.

Minaj’s video as a whole presents a complex mixture of messages for the audience, especially an audience knowledgeable about Foucault’s understanding of how we internalize power. While Minaj may be attempting to subvert the norm of male sexuality and female submissiveness, her video for Anaconda nevertheless presents a host of images that reinforce certain intersectional stereotypes of race, gender, and sexuality, all the while operating within the male gaze. Though she displays acts of female homoeroticism, they are presented within the fetishized matrix of lesbian sexuality popular in the porn industry and mainstream media. Nicki Minaj’s video appears on the surface a strong step forward for female sexual liberation and I, personally, respect her attempt to impact culture and challenge norms by ironically embodying an exaggerated version of a commonly held stereotype. However, the Anaconda music video presents challenging contradictions as it plays into lesbian fetish norms, and may in turn simply reinforce the stereotype of the sexually liberated, exotic and erotic black woman.

[1] Nicki Minaj, Twitter post, 21 July, 2015, 3:23 P.M., https://twitter.com/NICKIMINAJ

[2] Mueller, Kate. “‘Aaconda’: Why You Should Watch Nicki’s Video Again.” The Huffington Post, November, 11, 2014. Web. September 16, 2016.

 

Income Inequality Across Countries

In this article published by The New York Times, Melinda Gates brings to attention the income equalities between men and women in the United States and other countries. Similar to the “Committee on the Status of Women in India,” Mrs. Gates points out that economic change needs to begin at the root of culture. This document addressing India states that ” [the] distinction between man’s work and woman’s work in respect of household jobs will have to be removed” as well as acknowledge that “management of a family should be admitted as economically… contributing to national savings and development.” The interview with Mrs. Gates and the manifesto in India show that economic inequality has been a constant problem even since 1974 (when the document was published) to today in 2016.

“We need to call work what it is — work — whether you do it at home or whether you do it out in the labor force, and then give men and women options to choose what they want to do.” – Melinda Gates

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/upshot/how-society-pays-when-womens-work-is-unpaid.html?_r=0

Playground for the World’s Sexual Fantasies

Kamala Kempadoo begins her monograph, Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor, with the following quote: “Territories that once served as ex-havens for the colonial elite are today frequented by sex tourists, and several of the island economies now depend upon the region’s racialized, sexualized image” (1). This statement sets the tone for the rest of her book as she analyzes the intersection of gender, sexuality, and race with economics in the Caribbean. Kempadoo argues that there is an engrained “heteropatriarchy” seen through Caribbean societies, which draw from colonial theory to continue oppressive practices to further economic advances in the islands (9). Sexing the Caribbean strives to provide its audience with a dynamic, non-Western ethnocentric understanding of the history and role of prostitution and sex labor in the Caribbean today.

Sexing the Caribbean begins with the historical background of colonial involvement in the islands, like Jamaica, Trinidad, and Curacao, and how race came to be sexualized. Kempadoo retells the history of different areas in the Caribbean being settled by colonial powers, which imposed new social hierarchal frameworks that were mostly based on race (5). Even after emancipation from these white men, white bias still defined sexual relations as local men began to prefer one skin color of women to another. Here the introduction of the “SanDom,” or “a migrant woman of lightly brown skin tone with a slender though shapely body and loosely curling hair,” became a common reference in society (144). Kempadoo continues to explain the impact of migrants to the countries located in the Caribbean, not only racially but also economically. Through her retelling of women’s internalization of gender roles and their role in society as sex workers, she highlights the intersection of race and economics. The intersectionality of race and economics was explored by Kempadoo in her analysis of sex laborers and the job opportunities available to them based on race. It was intriguing to read about how women in the Caribbean took pride in the fact that—for the majority of sex laborers—they envisioned themselves as their own boss, creating their own hours; it was a form of women empowerment in a paternalistic society. Sex became a source of power for women as they “capitalized upon white men’s sexual desire for women of color” (54). Women in this environment established their dominance and power by setting boundaries with clients—such as certain body parts like lips and breast were off limits—and defined the notion of romance and love for their community. Through this loophole of empowerment, women of the Caribbean found a way to be economically sufficient and gain power in society. Although Kempadoo champions the strength of these women of color, she also recognizes that not every woman was so lucky to gain a hold in society. For example, she touches on stories of women acting as “pimps” of other women, and men controlling the income and working hours of a prostitute. Just as women affected each other, men visiting the Caribbean also played a role in determining the economics of prostitution. As tourism plays a huge part in the economics of the Caribbean, Kempadoo also interviewed many male tourists looking for female company. She states that, “The woman are not, in the imaginations of the men, prostitutes who are having sex for money, but are perceived as poor women who genuinely enjoy the sex” (123). This particular framing shows the different global perspectives of prostitution and how the local interpretation based on colonial history and job opportunities greatly differ.

Kamala Kempadoo says that her work draws on the foundations of Third World feminism, which is based on gender relations and “material-feminist traditions” (11). As written about in her work, she relies on a bottom up approach to her qualitative research through interviews, recording personal stories, and local opinions and myths (11, 65). Kempadoo shares little research has been done on this region of the world in regards to the “historical racialization of social relations” (55, 64). Therefore, the basis of her data collection—before she could conduct any interviews—relied on the works of scholars, historians, and anthropologists (17). Synthesizing the information of other scholars is how Kamala Kempadoo situates herself in conversation with other authors. By learning the structure of society and the influence of cultural in specific areas, Kempadoo could contextualize the impact that colonial history had on defining race and sexuality in the Caribbean. Important structural factors Kempadoo had to analyze ware the legal codes written about prostitution. I found this aspect of her work to be a strength of her argument as it gave the readers a better understanding of the time and history of how government played a part in regulating prostitution (89). As well as relational structures, the author continually references to the importance of needing to know the local slang, like SanDom, to comprehend the complexity of the history and role sex laborers play in everyday society.

While reading Sexing the Caribbean, Kamala Kempadoo did a brilliant job of both intriguing and greatly disturbing her readers. As a political science major, I find one of the most intriguing features of sex work in the Caribbean to be the role of the government institutionalizing legal regulations for prostitution by women, but also, on the flip side, criminalizing the economic transactions of sex by homosexual or bisexual men. This in depth analysis of the intersectionality of politics and sexuality was very interesting to me. One story she including about “The Happy Camp in Curacao” was particularly disturbing and illustrative of the oppressive situation surrounding sex (90). Kempadoo did a wonderful job of drawing her readers in through similar stories of how men referred to workingwomen. One quote that stood out to me was a man referring to a woman as “butt ugly” (124). The way Kempadoo reflects the cultural interpretation of “hegemonic constructs of sexuality” served her purpose as hooking the audience into the conversation about sexuality and politics in the Caribbean (2).

Another area I thought Kempadoo did justice in explaining was the role of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean. Kempadoo acknowledges that “AIDS is now established as the leading cause of death in the Caribbean” and the “initial problem of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean is traced to gay sex tourism” (167). She traces the history of the epidemic as well as explains the role this disease has in the local communities regarding gender roles, sexuality, and economic consequences. One question I had for the author was how the organizations targeting vulnerable populations, such as female sex laborers, and the government interacted since the government regulated these “vectors of disease” in the first place and criminalized homosexual acts (169, 170). Another question I had for Kempadoo is why she did not focus on organizations—if any—trying to reach homosexual sex laborers as she previously states the illness was introduced via “gay sex tourism” (167). Also I have questions about how the these organizations were continuing to operate within a society that regulates and perpetuates a stigma of discrimination against sex workers. Many scholars forget to include the vulnerable populations, such as sex workers, migrants, and adolescents, but Kamala Kempadoo successfully created a mental picture of the complexity of the HIV/AIDS issue at hand in the Caribbean. As someone who has an interest in medical humanities, her inclusion of medical violence as a disturbing aspect of daily life was very effective. She discusses how although “the government tolerates all activities in the name of servicing male sexual desires” many at risk groups for contracting HIV are denied healthcare and treatment (102).

Kamala Kempadoo effectively outlines the influence of colonial history on the racial and economic boundaries seen today in the Caribbean, especially when discussing women in sex work. She also includes a political aspect to her analysis, which adds another dimension to her argument that gender roles were established by colonial powers and instilled in local culture. Kempadoo demonstrates strength as an author by equally intriguing and disturbing her audience as well as providing an informative historical and legal context. Sexing the Caribbean should definitely be read by students participating in a Gender and Sexuality Studies course, if they have an interest in human rights and prostitution, or would simply like to be well aware of the impact of colonialism has today on social structures and sex work.

Kempadoo, Kamala. Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.