Tag Archive | "gender"

Picturing Change: The Power of Visibility


 

“Write this down.”

When I first began participant observation in India’s anganwadis –free, government run early childhood care and education centers that form the backbone of India’s Integrated Child Development Services scheme (ICDS) – this was a common refrain.  That, and, “Put this in your book,” “Make sure you tell people,” and, “You’re taking this to Delhi, right?”

These were the words of anganwadi workers, the all-female workforce recruited from India’s poorest communities to run angnawadis. Workers are often low caste and low income; many are the primary breadwinners in their extended families. They are also some of the most skilled advocates I have ever met, lobbying local councilors for space and resources, navigating families past obstinate bureaucrats and mountains of paperwork, and crusading for girls’ education by breaking up early marriages, enrolling daughters in school, and implementing schemes designed to counteract female infanticide.

And yet, the workers I observed were overwhelmed with invisibility. No one knows what we do, they told me.  No one asks our opinion. No one respects us. The extent of the problem became apparent in Bangalore, my primary research site, when workers began calling each other to say, “Mathangi madam is here. She’s writing a book. Shall I send her to you?”

Feminist scholar Mohanty (2003) argues that the invisibility of women’s work – and, in particular, the work of low-income women of color – is a byproduct of patriarchy, both because it is the result of devaluing all that is female and because invisibility allows for the perpetuation of financial male-domination.  Women’s work (defined as both the work women do and work associated with women such as cooking, cleaning, and child care) is positioned as nothing more than the daily tasks required for men to do the “real” work of capitalism.  It is easy to justify unpaid labor if you insist that it does not exist.

For anganwadi workers, invisibility is institutionalized.  The Indian government labels the women “voluntary” and pays them “honorariums” even though they work seven hours a day, five days a week, plus a half day on Saturday.  Even when the media covers issues relevant to ICDS, anganwadi workers are almost never mentioned; instead, articles invoke their colleagues (like health workers), superiors (like Ministers) or un-appointed spokespeople (like non-elected union leaders). Yet, I have not to meet anyone in India who is more intimately familiar with the realities of child poverty, or better equipped to make recommendations about its alleviation. But you cannot ask the opinions of those you cannot see.

Dismantling this invisibility, Mohanty (2003) argues, means dismantling patriarchy. She writes,

Making Third World women workers visible in this gender, race, class formation…leads to thinking about the possibilities of emancipatory action on the basis of the reconceptualization of Third World women as agents rather than victims.” (p. 143)

It was this call to action that inspired me to work with professional photographer Greeshma Patel to develop Picturing Change, an attempt to literally render anganwadi workers’ work visible. This July, using a grant from the Fulbright Foundation and funds crowdsourced on Indiegogo, Greeshma and I purchased digital cameras and began training five anganwadi workers – Geetha, Sujatha, Sumitra, Varalakshmi, and Yashoda – in photography. In the past three months, the women have produced and curated an exhibit that will be on display at Thalam gallery in Bangalore from September 28 – October 12.

Already, there have been sparks of the reconceptualization Mohanty (2003) precits. Visitors to Picturing Change’s Facebook page tell us the photos have disproved their preconceived notions that government workers are lazy, submissive, and corrupt. Senior ICDS officials who viewed the photos said they did not realize the range of activities anganwadi workers implemented in their centers, or the creativity with which they approached their jobs. A local NGO that is influential in national early childhood policy asked if the workers could speak at a community forum about reforming ICDS. Such shifts reposition women’s work as skilled, as well as important, and women workers as experts in their fields.

The participants say the project has brought them attention and respect, giving them confidence in themselves and pride in their work. At least two are planning to write personal testimonials for local presses, and all of them are interested in producing a book after the exhibit ends.

Dyrness (2008) writes that “we cannot hope to transform social structures without first transforming ourselves,” supporting feminist scholars who have argued that personal healing is a necessary first step to radicalization. While I do not dispute that transformation is a prerequisite to change, I am reminded of Chowdhury’s (2011) well founded claim that too often, NGOs, academics, and activists who settle for individual empowerment do not do enough to fight for structural change. For me, Picturing Change has been transformational, in that it has taught me the power of images to remake identities narrowly and falsely hewn by intersecting oppressions. Most importantly, it has taught me the importance of working beside women in solidarity, rather than for women in a separate, elitist space.

Last week, I was at Varalakshmi’s anganwadi on a day when she had invited mothers to come have their children weighed to assess whether or not they were malnourished. She balanced a camera in one hand, using the other to record weights, hold babies, and steady hanging scales.

When I asked if she wanted help, she said, “No madam, I’ll do it myself.”

So I sat, and I listened, and I watched, in solidarity, as, slowly and surely, Varalakshmi’s invisibility faded away.

 

Written by Dr. Mathangi Subramanian

Picturing Change will be on view in Thalam Gallery in Bangalore from September 28 – October 12. You can also follow our progress on www.facebook.com/PicturingChange.

Dr. Mathangi Subramanian is a Banglore-based writer, educator, and Fulbright Scholar.  Her writing has appeared in academic and popular publications ranging from Gender and Education to The Hindu Sunday Magazine to the seal press anthology Click!: When We Knew We Were Feminists. She is the co-editor of Us Education in a World of Migration: Implications for Policy and Practice, which is forthcoming from Routledge. Her first single authored book, Bullying: The Ultimate Teen Guide, will be published by Scarecrow Press in 2014. She can be reached at ms2763@columbia.edu.

Thanks to Greeshma Patel for allowing us to use this photo

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Because feminism DOES belong in schools


Last month the Guardian newspaper featured an article by 17 year old Jinan Younis about the sexist abuse she and her peers received after setting up a feminist society in her school.  Jinan’s story demonstrates the importance of schools as sites where feminist activism can grow and where girls and young women can safely and creatively think about and challenge sexism and gender inequality. Yet her story also, sadly, demonstrates that this space is under threat.  One of the many responses to Jinan’s brave story was the creation of a fantastic project called ‘Feminism Belongs: a collection of photo messages about why schools need to take gender empowerment seriously. GEA invited Jinan and Tanya O’Carroll (who, along with Jinan, helped create the ‘Feminism Belongs’ project) to write a guest blog about their experiences.  We hope readers enjoy their post, and are inspired to post their own photo messages!

Jinan Younis:

I am Jinan Younis and I recently wrote an article about my experiences of setting up a feminist society at my school.

I felt that my situation of girls being verbally abused, humiliated and intimidated for speaking out against sexism highlighted a very serious problem that was common in many schools like my own: there is no feminist education. There is no system or policy in place that teaches boys and girls about fundamental issues such as consent and rape, gender inequality, and body image. There is ignorance and aggression surrounding feminism and serious issues facing women. There is a huge reluctance from boys to consider issues that face women as ‘real’ issues. I was recently told that feminism is a ‘minor issue’, and one boy told me that he agreed that sexism still exists, before asking me not to tell his friends about our conversation. This apathy and hatred of feminism among young boys needs to be addressed.

As I went to an all-girls school, I have witnessed the sorts of traumas that teen girls face. There is a huge lack of self worth and self confidence among girls. I’ve had friends who were in emotionally and physically abusive relationships, and I can’t even begin to describe the pressures that face young girls concerning body image. Too many have eating disorders; too many turn that packet of crisps around to inspect the calories. Too many find their self confidence resting on whether the boy walking past checks them out. Too few are happy in their own bodies. I think schools should take an active role in creating a space where these issues are openly discussed and are dealt with. Schools should support girls in their fight against sexism, and should take a leading role in ensuring gender equality, healthy body image, and instilling much needed self worth among young girls.

The pledge ‘Schools against sexism’ aims to provide schools with a framework which will help them tackle sexism in their institutions. It states clearly the areas that need to be addressed, such as body image, respect and equality, and it allows the schools to have contact with large organisations such as End Violence Against Women. In order to gather support for this pledge, we have also set up a tumblr campaign ‘Feminism belongs in Education’. In this, people hold up a board with the words ‘Feminism belongs in schools because…’ with their own personal response. This campaign aims to acquire support from students and teachers, along with the general public, so that head teachers realise the necessity of implementing a policy of gender equality in their schools.

I believe that the only way that we can change the deep rooted sexism that is still such a huge part of our society is through education. Schools have the power to change the sexist attitudes of young boys, to encourage boys and girls to challenge gender stereotypes, to offer support to young girls and boys in the face of teenage pressures, and to instate a sense of self worth, self respect and mutual respect amongst teens. I think schools are currently leaving out a vital part of education for young girls and boys. Gender, rape, sexual consent, unhealthy body image, lack of respect and sexual harassment are all issues that are especially common among teens. I believe that schools have the power to change this.

Tanya O’Carroll:

Two weeks ago I read an article that touched me deeply. A young woman, Jinan Younis, had written an article in the Guardian explaining what happened when she set up a Feminist Society in her all girls school. Along with the other girls in the society Jinan became the victim of extraordinary online abuse and intimidation from boys in her wider social circle – so much so that the school asked the society to cease its feminist activities, citing concerns for the girls’ safety.

Did I find the boys’ attitudes to Jinan and her peers particularly surprising? Not really. I myself was at school less than a decade ago and the description of the boys’ behaviour was familiar. I think we got used to the idea that as teenagers we should ‘rise above’ constant sexual jokes and harassment, that the boys were just being boys, that they would grow out of it, and that it was harmless. The main difference is that none of us at school would have thought to openly call ourselves feminists. Should we have, I am convinced that, like Jinan, we would have come up against a much nastier and aggressive form of abuse.

However, while the boys behaviour in Jinan’s article didn’t surprise me, the school’s did. Actually I wouldn’t call it surprise. What I felt was extreme anger and sadness. Jinan’s words were deeply troubling:

We, a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old girls, have made ourselves vulnerable by talking about our experiences of sexual and gender oppression only to elicit the wrath of our male peer group…Without the support from our school, girls who had participated in the campaign were isolated, facing a great deal of verbal abuse with the full knowledge that there would be no repercussions for the perpetrators.

I felt an overwhelming urgency to let Jinan and the other girls know that they were not alone;  that there were many of us who agreed with her and who were living with the consequences of sexism going unchecked. For while I personally didn’t suffer the worst pressures of my gender at school they crept up on me. At Cambridge University I encountered a different breed of misogyny, where institutions such as the Pitt Club still exist and where old boy’s mentality dictates so many of the social rules.

I also came to notice it as I got older, when I discovered my six year old sister’s preoccupation and fascination with body image. Where I had previously ignored sexism in advertising and the media I began to notice it everywhere and saw the damage that it was doing to another generation of boys and girls.

I wanted Jinan’s school to know that they had failed her and so many of us when they did not promote and encourage their student’s feminist work. Many of us felt the same. I reached out to a few friends on Facebook and a group of us grew, as people added people, who added more people. We soon found ourselves with an active and passionate circle, including teachers and campaigners, community artists and social workers who wanted to send schools a message the Feminism is desperately needed in education.

We reached out to Jinan and worked with her to set-up the Feminism Belongs project, a collection of photo messages about why our education institutions need to take gender empowerment seriously. We were amazed at the rapid response. By the end of the week we had tons of entries, some coming from far away, including Estonia and Mexico. It seemed that both Jinan, and our message that Feminism Belongs, had touched a nerve.

It is obvious that gender oppression and sexism still pervade our society and it is hard to know where to begin to unpick them. One thing I am certain of is that feminist education is critical for young girls and boys growing up today. Not to teach gender divides but to open up conversations and safe spaces for both sexes to honestly explore the multiplicity of gender pressures that affect them. The struggle for gender equality is far from over and we will not have put it to rest until all of us – men and women, boys and girls – are proud to call ourselves feminists and understand the powerful idea of equality, choice and dignity that the word stands for.

 

 

Inspired? Want to get involved? Here’s how:

  • Take your own photos and add  them to the Feminism Belongs website: http://feminismbelongs.tumblr.com/  
  • Sign and promote the UK Feminista ‘Schools Against Sexism’ pledge – and get your school or your child’s school to sign up to: http://ukfeminista.org.uk/take-action/generation-f/schools-against-sexism-pledge/
  • Why not write a guest blog for GEA and tell us about your own experiences of setting up, running or being part of a Feminist Society in school, college or university; or tell us why you think feminism belongs in schools and how we can make sure that it stays that way.  Contact Kim Allen if you’re interested in writing for us (k.allen@mmu.ac.uk)

 

*These images come from the Feminism Belongs site. Thank you to Tanya and Jinan for allowing us to use these here.

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GEA presentations in the USA at the American Educational Research Association: an example of feminine educational ‘success’?


GEA Policy Report – June 2013 – Reporting from AERA

 

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting held in San Francisco in late April-early May 2013 held much of interest to GEA members, targeted as it was on “Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis,” and to other critical issues in education. Other critical issues to education, for once, included gender, as well as race, ethnicity and class. Policy and praxis were also treated as expansive concepts and not confined to governance or government only. Interestingly, too, the conference meetings were truly digitized and there was much use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter and we were invited to see conference highlights each day with a daily email reminder through our own programmes and emails etc.

 

At times, it began to feel as if paper and the presentation of papers might be from a bygone era. This did not quite happen as there were a multitude of paper sessions and presentations, mostly using power point in one form or another. Nevertheless, whilst sessions were in progress people would be tweeting and commenting into the ether, making for a much wider, richer and fuller experience (although I still have not [yet] mastered the intricacies of twitter and so do not know quite how widespread the practice has become).

 

Most importantly, however, there were several sessions by GEA members, and associates, including regional representatives from around the world. One of the co-organisers of the next interim GEA conference and co-editor of Gender and Education – Julie Mcleod – also gave presentations, making it feel as if our presence was well and truly on the map. Advance notice of our interim conference to be held in Melbourne Australia at the University of Melbourne in November-December 2014 was made, making it feel as if it was already becoming a reality and would be both a virtual and a real experience if AERA is anything to go by.

 

Feminist activism and pedagogy in diverse contexts: revisiting the paradoxes of feminine educational ‘success’ became a critically successful session, chosen as it was for special review and evaluation by the AERA team. It was organized by Jessica Ringrose (a GEA executive member) and included in the Women and Education sig (special interest group). It reprised and extended the symposium presented the previous week at the GEA biennial conference at London South Bank University. It was an altogether bigger event than in London, although the room allocated was probably much smaller it was packed full of feminists, and over 100 attended the session, despite the early (Monday) morning start of 8.15 am. It did feel a bit as if we were going back to school!

 

Jessica presented an extremely lively and spirited argument about the objectives of the session being about the politics and practice of gender equality in education in the 21st century (despite her severe illness). The papers were to, and did indeed, range across the challenges surrounding and sustaining feminist engagement in educational spaces, given ‘post-feminist’ assumptions that feminism has already achieved its aims in the ‘global north’. Together we were to and did explore diverse femininities and how different girls face different paradoxes in negotiating the reactive discourse of feminine educational ‘success’. We also all engaged with a mass of empirical data on women and girls from a range of international locations and the panel presenters included contributors from international projects. As Jessica argued collectively the papers demonstrated how feminist activism is challenging a range of raced, classed, gender and sexual inequalities and the dilemmas facing different girls and women as they struggle to achieve and succeed in the new global marketplace. The question of understanding and challenging what is meant by success is becoming increasingly problematic in a commodified and commericalised marketplace of education across the board and sexualisation.

In the US, the panel included Ileana Jimenez, a feminist high school teacher from New York who had been unable to afford to come to England, and Marnina Gornick, the Canadian feminist educator, was the discussant of all the papers (who had also not come to the UK). Neither Jane Kenway from Australia nor Debbie Epstein from the UK were well enough to come to the US (although Debbie had presented the paper in London at the GEA conference) to present on Classy girls and not so classy politics from their international (Australian-funded) ethnographic study of 9 elite independent schools with 2 girls and 1 boys, and the rest co-educational. The schools are located variously in the UK, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Barbados, Hong Kong, India, Singapore. (I therefore presented the paper that Debbie had given in London).

 

In both the US and UK, I set the scene with my paper on my forthcoming book entitled Feminism, gender and universities: politics, passion and pedagogies. I reflect upon feminist activism in global academe over the last 50 years to consider what has been achieved by academic feminism as both a political and educational project. Has feminism transformed women’s lives in the direction of gender equality and gendered power relations? What remains to be done, given paradoxical social and political transformations in neo-liberalism, and what should be undone and refashioned towards a more feminist-friendly future?  I have developed a collective memoir and life history drawing on the stories and narratives of over 100 international feminist academics and activists from the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA etc and drawn into social and feminist networks, including education feminism through AERA. The stories together mount a critique of what can now be seen as a misogynistic numbers game with the claim that gender equality in education has been achieved in higher education, given the majority of women undergraduate students in universities in the global north as shown by UNESCO’s Atlas of Gender Equality in Education (March 2012).

 

Ileana Jimenez followed with a most engaging presentation on her work on Teaching Feminism In High School: Moving from Theory to Action. She showed how teaching theory provides students with scholarly frameworks for understanding systematic oppression along lines of race, class, gender and sexuality and gave us numerous examples of how she succeeded with doing this in her classrooms in NYC and Washington. She also added examples of creating partnerships with local and national women’s and girls’ activist groups to allow students to apply intersectionality as a feminist theory to real-world issues, including the sexualisation of girls in the media, the commercial sexual exploitation of children, as well as street and school harassment. She argued that students not only learn to analyse these issues but also act on them by leveraging a variety of platforms, ranging from blogging to direct advocacy and activism. She also showed us how these practices impact upon student empowerment, as they find both their written and activist voices as social change agents on the ground, online, and on air.

Emma Renold (also a member of the GEA executive) presented the joint paper with Jessica Ringrose entitled ‘Disengaged’ girls doing teen feminism: mapping the contradictions in a feminist pedagogical-research assemblage (Jessica having presented it in London). They show the limitations and possibilitiers of a girl power group in a Welsh school that was organized to raise the achievement of ‘disengaged’ girls. They presented an analysis of the group activities which included girls’ teaching about domestic violence, ‘sexualisation’ and healthy sexual relationships to younger students, as well as participating in activist events and conferences. They also showed the contradictions and difficulties girls face in doing and becoming teen feminists and becoming part of a feminist pedagogical assemblage. They also illustrate the ‘schizoid’ condition of being positioned simultaneously as ‘underachievers’, ‘feminists’ and ‘teachers’ but also having to teach about healthy sexuality whilst simultaneously being embroiled in their own complex ménage of gender and sexual teen relations/hips.

 

Victoria Showunmi from IOE London gave the final presentation of the AERA session on her work entitled Using feminist critical race theory and intersectionality to explore Black girls’ narratives about the British education system. She presented another extremely lively and thought-provoking paper about how the continuous surge of focus on boys’ [under]achievement and girls’ success has erased the classed, racial and gendered complexities of educational achievement. From a research, policy and activist perspective this has left a significant gap in understandings around Black Minority Ethnic (BME) girls’ experiences in the UK education system, she argued. She therefore explored why some BME young girls appear to succeed and achieve in education, whilst others may find the pathway too stressful and ‘drop’ out. She took the opportunity to explore the issues raised to find a way of creating a voice for BME girls in UK schooling, challenging the longstanding myth that ‘all black girls’ are achieving in education.  Her paper provided some wonderful examples of these contradictions. (At GEA in London Emily Henderson also gave a spirited presentation on her thesis work on gender theory replacing Victoria who was unable to attend).

Marnina Gornick drew the threads together of the session by asking several pertinent questions about feminine educational ‘success’ in the current neo-liberal context and inviting further contributions. The session ended on an inconclusive note as we were out of time, but excited by how we were bringing together theory, and praxis around these challenging and difficult issues for the future.

Miriam E. David

June 7th 2013

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NEW SERIES: Advances in Critical Diversities


The ninth international Gender and Education Association conference, Compelling Diversities, Educational Intersections, will take place in London this week. Hosted by the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, papers, keynotes and symposia are set to consider ‘diversity’ in education, exploring the relationship between new equality regimes and continued educational inequalities, and the role of feminist research at a time when education wrestles with the commitments and contentions in doing diversity and being diverse. Read the full story

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Sexual Citizens, Tomboys and Sexting


Reporting back from the 2013 Young Sexualities Postgraduate Conference at Cardiff University Read the full story

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Breaking the Mould – it’s child’s play


Resources for teachers and parents about children’s books that challenge gender stereotypes Read the full story

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The Importance of Girl Things


Why are girl things so despised? Consider the derisive response to music girls like, movies and television shows girls watch, social networking sites girls inhabit, activities in which girls engage, and the clothes girls wear. The criticism is always snide and condescending: girl things—which appeal to, attract, star, and represent girls—are considered, at best, vacuous and, at worst, distasteful. In a 1999 article, gender and cultural studies scholar Catharine Driscoll argues anything perceived as a “girl thing” is instantly dismissed without consideration of the importance it might have in the lives of real girls. While the Spice Girls and their fans offer an infamous example of this girl-targeted derision, there are no comparable examples of bashing boy-things; no ubiquitous hatred for boys and their things. Read the full story

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On the ascendance: education as a key to global feminism?


GEA Policy Report, March 2013

International women’s week was inaugurated in the media this year in a quiet way and yet it has spawned a tremendous amount of footage in the press and other media, culminating in the UK with a weekend festival of arts called Women of the World organized by Jude Kelly, indomitable director of the Southbank Centre in London. What is particular music to GEA is the welcome focus on Education as the main path to equality as can be seen in a myriad of articles, letters and comments and the launch of the new British Library website. Read the full story

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‘Doesn’t being a sexual subject risk you being slut-shamed?’ Talking to teenagers about sex and feminism.


If I had been shown this poem, ‘If you don’t come…’ by Christa Bell at age 17, I think it would have blown my mind.  (If you haven’t seen it, I guarantee it will be the best four minutes of your day if you watch it now).  I was aiming for a high shock value when I showed it to a group of sixth form students at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, the top state sixth form in the country.  I had been asked to do a lunchtime talk on feminism for students by their sociology teacher, who told me that his students were sceptical about feminism and didn’t see the need for it – a red rag to a bull!  After consulting the glorious feminist twittersphere, I decided to talk about the equal right to sexual pleasure. Read the full story

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What does feminism mean today, given that it is fifty years since the beginnings of ‘second-wave’ feminism?


GEA Policy Report, March 2013 Read the full story

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Gender and Education Association

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