Category Archives: Violence Against Womyn

On Epistemic Violence

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Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and while perusing my usual daily fare of blogposts and daily updates ( as well as thinking more of my research), I noticed  a bit of a trend. I think as activists/feminists/womyn we often get so caught up in championing our collective causes, that we are unaware of the universalizing, stereotypes and distortions that we might be replicating.

Mohanty defines epistemic violence as the violence of knowledge production, notably by white feminist in their writings on Africa, women in the global south and even feminism in the global south. Such epistemic includes the distortions, sterotyping and generalizaing of Third World women’s conditions, as they were all homogenously belaboured, lacking agency and needing saving.

 

The truth of the matter is that as we wage our collective battles against multiple forms of transnational oppression, especially in the constrained written nuggets of the world of social media, we need to be wary of not being complicit  in this epistemic violence. Writing from a position of privilege, either by virtue of geographical location and context, class, access, what have you,we need to be careful of making sweeping generalizations like ‘ African women and girls are the most oppressed group in the world’. Well..not always, and not all the time. In our enthusiasm to champion our causes we sometimes make reductionist statements to get people on board, kinda like those WorldVision ads. Yes, we want to bring people to the table, and yes we want others to be as passionate about the issues as we are, but at what cost? Are we ultimately replicating relations of inequality, and saying that African women need to be saved by rich people in the West. Or that I, as a privileged, Western educated, Western- located expert, can go back and save the people. This smacks a little of a messianic complex, and as women working for change we need to check our hubris at the door. That is not to say that we can not make change, but to bear in mind that people have their own solutions, knowledge and expertise, and that I women’s studies major, do not know everything about community development, international development or gender issues.

Love, love, and encouragement to everyone fighting the good fight in the academy, on the streets, and this world we love that is the blogosphere!

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A Frank Discussion on Black Sexualities

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Black communities often seem to shy away from discussions on sexualities, as if somehow this clashes with culture, identity, or religiosity. A conversation about sexualities is not just about sex, which in itself is a discussion that begs having. Talking about sexualities encompasses: identity, culture, power, politics, gender, orientation and yes…sex, the act and/or the physiologically/socially constituted category.

What brought me to the question of black sexualities was my work in early sexualization and hypersexualization. I did a project a couple years back on the early sexualisation of pre-teen girls. This was in 2006, and at the time there seemed to be this pervading moral panic, mainly stoked by white middle class parents and academics about the sexualisation of their daughters, grand-daughters, relatives, friends etc… Super-sexy Bratz dolls, push-up bras for 8 year-olds, Katy Perry/Xtina and MTV were all culprits in this process. The rhetoric hearkened back to a time, when apparently Barbie let young girls know they could be all they ever wanted to be (with a perma-smile, butt-skimming hair, and boobs that would realistically result in a concave chest). Stories abounded about 5th grade girls providing oral sex to boys in the back of the school bus and lipstick parties. These were all very legitimate concerns. But nowhere in the reams of pop-psychology books, interviews, studies and Oprah and Tyra exclusives did I see a race or class-based analysis. Sure, Jada Pinkett Smith wrote a whole children’s book about loving yourself and your hair, because 8 year-old Willow had said something about wanting to be sexy. But there was no real engagement with non-white, non-middle class pre-teens.

It is precisely because of this glaring gap (deliberate or not) that we need to talk about sexualities. Black women’s bodies have been sexualized, historicized, objectified and used as symbols. We are rarely the architects of our own sexual stories and experts in our experiences. Sex is something that is done to black women, by the media, hip-hop, Johnny-down-the-way, or bs studies.  We are painted as either these ravenous sexual succubi, completely asexual and undesirable non-beings, or hyper-masculine. It boggles the mind that we can be all three at once.

And yet, despite the ass-swiping credit card of Nelly’s tip-drill video, marathon gang rape of a California teen outside her prom, and sexual assault in the campus hallway, we still refuse to talk about it. That is until it explodes onto our screens in voyeuristic orgies penned by Tyler Perry…like Precious. But even then, the melodrama is just excessive enough for us to easily detach.

A frank discussion about sexualities is more than the sum of its parts. It is what is needed. Black women need to be able to articulate their stories and experiences, to be their won advocates and architects, in whatever way and along whatever spectrum they so choose.

This is why this event is so important.:

Saddi Khali in Ottawa Neo-NegritudeExpressions: Reclaiming Our Sexualities

https://wocinsol.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/saddi-khali-in-ottawa-neo-negritude-expressions-reclaiming-our-sexualities-2/

It is important for Black women, and it is important for the Black community and for everyone in general. On November 18th, 19th and 20th do come out!

Bodies in translation

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Warning – this is a brief missive perhaps full of contradictions that is not about the perambulatics of air travel but about corporeal recognition/misrecognition and translation. And the fact that the body is/may be the seat of all knowledge.

I am one of those lucky (or perhaps if you knew the real circumstances of this endeavour perhaps you would deem me unlucky) people who one week ago was able to be in three countries in one week. I left Toronto on Thursday, was in Rome on Friday night and was in Nairobi the next Wednesday morning. In all of these places my body sought to tune in to the corporeal norms, sought to lunge into the masses and move within the uniformity that was corporealy and consistently being established in each location.  My ventures in these performances were not always free of folly and failure, and I wonder if that has to do more with me as an individual or what the body and perhaps what a black womyns body means in all of these locations. I guess to elaborate more on this and finally get to my point I have to make you privy to these performances….. dang… just don’t tell my mother  and especially not her church going friends..

You see having being regimented into a somewhat Ottawa body uniformity (rather as much as my African (?) womyn body would allow) lets just say my ‘swagger’ was bit diminished.  Ok I wont blame everything on Ottawa as I usually do ( nevertheless I implore you to remember I am NOT from OTTAWA),  it was the multiple coincidences of  school, immigrant life, lots of jobs and other diagnosed frustrations… that also worked to hinder this swagger,… And so for the most part the southern/ ‘tropical’/ rhythms in my hips sounded more like a beginners first violin lesson, choppy, staccato, un-unifom,  rigid, uneasy(?)….

So check it, I am in Toronto and for the first time since my escape from Ottawa, I am seeing lots of people of colour and so my body that in Ottawa that had manifested those violin lessons, was now manifesting itself a little less staccato…a little less opera, a lot more jazz…

Amsterdam airport…. dang… only the airport and I feel like I just joined the ceremonial guard. My body feels rigid as the school chair I sat on…. is this lack of sleep or has the atmosphere given me an early onset of osteoporosis?

Italy… I get of the bus in this seaside town having forgotten crazy Rome airport, and I’m feeling lighter, more mellow mood, less ceremonial guard… more southernity.. I’m getting comfortable until… I see a black woman standing in the night, tight clothes, bleached face, cold in this night, with a countenance sad… so far from home, waiting waiting waiting for whatever will be her salvation this evening…. As I ask my friend if I saw right (he confirms indeed that I did see right).. I can feel my body going from polka dancing group back to that violin…

Interestingly the next evening having followed one of my hosts to partake in the nightlife that this little town had to offer, the course of the evening saw three men try to use their mack to give me some local nightlife and then some. My body is now back to that staccato that was increasingly made defiant by the sight of my sister on the street the night before and I resolve not to in any corporeal way respond to those advances ( if any of ya’ll sisters are from Ottawa you will know that that was pretty hard considering the absence of any kind of this love in Ottawa) because I have yet to discern what a black womyns body means in this location… and I was not going to give in to any man’s black womyn raunchy fantasy.

However  three very strong beers later – beers that somehow have channeled my ancestors back to my body – I have danced the shuffle multiple times in a very small bar on this one street and I am now making my way to the rave space for the ‘ after party.’  My body now thinks that it is a Bahian/Brazilian street party (albeit in the hills of Abruzzo) and so I dance and dance and dance… and kiss and kiss and kiss (the recipient of these kisses did not have as bad mack as the previous three men and also found me when I was manifesting my ancestors and so you really cant blame a sista…) and in a strange way find my body back again…

The next morning, the rigidity has found its way back to my body, the violin still playing in every corner … (although not as loudly and staccato as it is in Ottawa)… and I never hear from my kissing friend again.

Consequently, I begin to think that perhaps I should have been more resilient and protective of this black womyns body (even though my dancing was pretty pg 13, and the pg 13 of the 1980’s and not of the present… and also all I did was just kiss, pretty relaxed for someone whose ‘morals’ are on holiday…) until I could discern what these types of bodies mean in this location…. But… you know at the same time, I really quite enjoyed being in a Bahian street party all by myself in Abruzzo, so should I really care to think about what images I was giving out ?

In reality, as I sit here a week later I still have not reconciled myself to what I should have felt during all of these travels, and especially in Italy. My body now has for the most part attuned itself to this East African vibe, and I have even become re accustomed to seeing people walk with their whole bodies and people dancing with their pelvis’s (life is good yes!). Nevertheless, I also wonder if I am being too naïve in thinking that this abundance of body signals a pervasive self body ownership and comfortability all of the time.

What I take though from this one week of corporeal investigation is that the body, this place of much knowledge, is consistently being recoginsed and misrecognised, read and misread, constantly being translated in idioms that may not be so kind. However, at the same time I see that my own translations of my own body/bodies are perhaps not always valid and rather as a result of my own defiance, experiences… perhaps also of my own fatigue, work, stress and holiday morals…

So the question remains (finally I arrive at my point) should we be having our own street party in our bodies always (even if I truly believe Amsterdam airport gave me osteoporosis)? Or should we work to discern what our bodies mean in every location and then choose whether of not to be ourselves? Should I in a bid to feel my own body forget about the image of my sister in the street, forget about the translation of coloured bodies as well as female bodies in many locations? Or should I always aim to be responsible for the remedying of racialized stereotypes and thus refrain from any corporeal expression that may affirm stereotypes?

I am still torn, for the solution that I am more drawn to, the one that sees me defiantly tackling these translations of the body … may not always allow me to live and make my own translations of my body.

When gender and race collide: “Deceit rape” in Israel

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Out of Israel comes an example of the collisions between race and gender. In this case it is the familiar construct of “the need to protect our women from their men.” An Arab man was convicted of “deceit rape” for lying to a Jewish woman that he was Jewish and engaging in consensual sex.

Gideon Levy has asked whether a Jewish man who had sex with an Arab woman under false pretenses would have been convicted of rape:

I would like to raise just one question with the judge. What if the guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?  Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.

Do men lie to get sex? Some of them do, yeah. Is it okay? I’d say not. But is it criminal? Is it rape? In what cases? When a man tells a woman he is single, they have consensual sex, and later it turns out he is married, is that considered rape? Typically not. But when a racial dimension is added, and one of their men has consensual sex with one of our women, it appears to be a different story.

Rihanna, don’t you know….

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I’ve got to agree with a post on Feministing that Eminem and Rihanna’s song  “Love the Way You Lie” is more a part of the problem than it is a constructive contribution to a discussion of intimate partner violence. In a song in which Eminem raps, “I laid hands on her/ I’ll never stoop so low again/ I guess I don’t know my own strength” and declares, “If she ever tries to fucking leave again/ I’mma tie her to the bed/ And set the house on fire,” Rihanna responds, “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts.” I winced hard when I heard Rihanna sing those words, and I thought that women don’t love getting beat and living in fear. Women do not love experiencing violence, and I worry that’s the message this song is conveying.

Women who own their souls are an endangered species..

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Just some thoughts me ladies… always with love

Women who own their souls are an endangered species

Women

Women who love their souls are an endangered species

because we are told

love this man

for he is good, and the question whether he is good,  good for you

never comes.

Makes you remember the time when

you knew your real name, that time when you were striding

warrior empress

amidst the green

and red

that time alive, both the beginning and the end

and in between

when you danced

and lived with all beings unseen

It doesn”t come.

Instead

you are told to think of

morgages

healthcare

and weddings where the only things that are white and pure

are the lies that you tell each other…

because of that

you curtail your flight

restrain your bite

quell your desire

and the fire in your eyes

and blood.

And your soul forever embodies

thet numbness that comes from

formalized uncertainties

And so you give your soul

not even as a prize but as collateral to this existance

and it becomes

– even if it may have started as a venture in freedom-

the very consolidation of your boundedness.

I tell you women with souls have become an endangered species.

He was not a soul eater, a heart breaker,

a malevolent man,

but still this cannot be the best you

can be

soul free.

Your soul bound,

curtailed

wings chopped in flight

Instead, you question the very purpose of this flight

but since when did you question this movement of the Gods?

I tell you women with souls these days

have become an endangered species.

Love how your body moves, how it feels

do not keep it under the heel of a man

kind or otherwise

especially kind

for you shall never leave

for you shall never leave or live

with your soul again

I tell you women who own their souls these days

are becoming an endangered species……