Archive for the ‘femininity’ Category

Age 10 and Divorced

Monday, February 25th, 2013

By Milad Pournik

Nujood Ali's autobiography

Nujood Ali’s autobiography

The heading of this blog post is taken from the title of an autobiography of Nujood Ali from Yemen, who was Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year in 2008. Imagining a married, let alone divorced ten year old, is hard in most countries, yet still child marriage is a reality in much of the world.

Child marriage has received heightened attention in recent years (ICRW 2011) but continues to be a problem in Yemen and worldwide. A study on early marriage carried out in 2008 by the Gender Development Research and Studies Centre at Sana’a University in Yemen found that 52.1 percent of girls are under 18 when they were married, compared with 6.7 percent of boys. As a 2011 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report points out, this phenomenon is not unique to Yemen. Worldwide, more than 51 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married. A 2012 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provides evidence that nearly one in every four girls aged 15 to 19 years in the developing world (excluding China) is currently married or in union.

Child marriage brings with it many problems but the most acute is perhaps childbearing. During pregnancy, a young mother competes with her baby for essential nutrients. Malnutrition is a common problem in Yemen and child pregnancy exacerbates the situation, ultimately depriving both the mother and child. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).

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Shame shame: Australia’s Prime Minister names sexism and misogyny

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Julia Gillard, prime minister of Australia, has spoken out vigorously against the leader of the opposition in Parliament on grounds of sexism, misogyny, double standards, and political game playing. If there were a Nobel Prize for Women’s Equality and Rights, I vote for Julia Gillard.

Watch her speech here

Forthcoming from Signs

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

A special section of the Autumn 2012 issue of Signs is devoted to perspectives on Romani women/feminism and includes:

Comparative Perspectives Symposium: Romani Feminisms, Edited by Ethel C. Brooks

The Possibilities of Romani Feminism, Ethel C. Brooks

Romani Feminism in Reactionary Times, Alexandra Oprea

Either Sing or Go Get the Beer: Contradictions of (Romani) Female Power in Central Europe, Petra Gelbart

Education, Agency, and Power among Macedonian Muslim Romani Women in New York City, Carol Silverman

Translating Intersectionality Theory into Practice: A Tale of Roma-Gadže Feminist Alliance, Debra Schultz

Personal Encounters and Parallel Paths toward Romani Feminism, Nicoleta Biţu and Enikő Vincze

Acid attacks against women: A documentary film

Monday, March 5th, 2012

The Economist highlighted the film Saving Face, directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid, which won an Oscar for short documentary. It is about acid attacks against women in Pakistan and follows a Pakistani-British plastic surgeon who works on repairing the face of a victim whose husband threw battery acid at her. Half of her face was destroyed, yet she still lives with her attacker as she has no other choice. The doctor works to repair women’s damaged faces. Many of the women victims are working to change the law to send attackers to jail.

Feminist anthropology sessions

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Borders
When: Nov 14-18
Where: San Francisco

The Association for Feminist Anthropology welcomes sessions to be considered for inclusion in AFA’s programming for the 111th AAA Annual Meeting. The AAA meeting theme this year is “Borders,” so AFA particularly welcomes panels that take up “borders” from a feminist anthropological perspective.

For more information, visit the AFA website.

Ask the women

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Television and other mainstream media frequently target women in their commercials. Far less frequently are women asked about what they think about commercials. Sigal Barak Brandes, of the School of Communication in the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion, Israel, is contributing to the important areas of feminist reception studies with her cutting-edge research on TV commercials in Israel about feminine hygiene products.

Dr. Barak Brandes pursued this topic for her doctoral dissertation which explored different “interpretive communities” in the diverse population of Israeli women as they face modern advertising and age-old taboos against menstruating women. Her study is the first to examine the content of reception of television (or other) commercials about feminine hygiene products in Israel.

Sigal Barak Brandes

“I would prefer it if a friend told me…” comments one of the participants in her study (quoted from Observatorio 2011). Women of all ages who described themselves as religious said that ads about menstruation made them uncomfortable and embarrassed, and some found them disgusting. Only a small number of participants spoke favorably of the ads in which a woman addresses them directly.

To learn more about this study and the author, I contacted Sigal Barak Brandes. My email interview with her follows.

Q: What is your background in terms of academic training?
My B.A. was in Anthropology and Sociology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My M.A. in Communication Studies was also from that University. My M.A. thesis was about the way the Israeli press treats the social problem known as “wife abuse.” My Ph.D. was also in Communication, but this time from Tel-Aviv University. My dissertation was a feminist reception study about the ways Israeli women interpret images of women and femininity in television advertisements. My mentor was Professor Dafna Lemish. Now  I am a lecturer in the School of Communication, The College of Management Academic Studies, Israel.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a feminist scholar in your field?
A feminist communication scholar should always look for issues of inequality in media images, to research topics which give voice to women (such as different audiences of women, girls’ media products, women reporters, representations of motherhood and such) or other minorities.

Q: What courses do you teach and what are the students’ reactions?
I teach one course which examines the feminine audience, a course about images of motherhood in media and popular culture, and a course about images of teenagers (representations of girlhood). I also teach a course about research methods while researching children and youth. As you can see most of them are feminist courses, and I really see myself as having a feminist mission — to help my students (most of them are females, not surprisingly) to learn how to be critical regarding images of women and teenagers in the media.

Many of these students say that the course they took just “opened their eyes.” When that happens, I always hope that is also true and not just trying to be kind and nice to me.

Q: How did you pick such an interesting research topic as Israeli women’s reactions to feminine hygiene product commercials?
My Ph.D. was an extensive feminist reception study that examined, for the first time, how women in Israel interpret images of women and femininity in TV commercials. Many of the interviewees were found to be extremely critical of the use of the female body and bodily functions in a manner which exposes to public view issues that are meant to be private and intimate. That included especially advertisements related to female hygiene products. In addition, they were both critical and scornful of the customary advertising strategies that are employed systematically in these commercials. So this finding was the base for my article. I also have to admit that as a woman myself I do tend to feel a bit uncomfortable to watch these ads in front of my children, so I felt a true “connection” to these critiques.

Professor and mentor, Dafna Lemish (left), and Dr. Sigal Barak Brandes (right)

Q: How did the women react to your project and your questions?
Given that the investigation sought to understand how Israeli women watch advertisements on a daily basis, the examination of individuals’ subjective perspective was essential. I wanted to enable participants to use their own terms and not to limit them in advance to experiences that may be too narrow or biased. Accordingly, in-depth interviewing was selected as a primary research method applied.

Hence all interviews were guided by some basic questions regarding their attitude towards ads in general, then I asked about images of women in ads, about the interviewee’s ability to identify with such images, what did she think was the effect of such images on others, etc. I also used a recall test of advertisements in order to see which ads were more meaningful and why, and the interview ended via viewing five advertisements broadcast on Israeli television and asking some questions in regard. So, interestingly, the issue of feminine hygiene ads just emerged, naturally, from the interviewees statements, and was not initiated by me during the interviews. This is why I thought it was a very interesting finding.

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Unpacking female body “mutilation” in Senegal and the U.S.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Guest post by Courtney Smith

My recent article, Who Defines Mutilation?: Challenging Imperialism in the Discourse of Female Genital Cutting, published in Feminist Formations, takes a close look at traditional Western discourse surrounding Female Genital Cutting (FGC). I use the phrase Western discourse in this case to refer to the classic feminist texts written on FGC, such as those by Fran Hosken, Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, and Alice Walker, along with the rhetoric long used by non-governmental and human rights organizations seeking to eradicate the practices. A final addition to this category of Western discourse is the types of language and framing that are used by the general population of Western countries, such as the women and men interviewed for this project.

I use the “West” in this work to refer to Western European, North American, and Australian societies, though I do focus mainly on the United States, simply because of my own geographic limitations and cultural experience.

In the article, I critique the ethnocentric and imperialistic rhetoric that circulates in the West regarding the practices. This rhetoric posits FGC as a barbaric, uncivilized, and mutilating practice carried out on and by agency-less victims. For example, Hosken (1979) displayed blown-up pictures of bloody vaginas to groups of African women; Walker (1993) produced a documentary that reduced Gambian women (even women from non-FGC practicing communities) to forlorn victims with mutilated genitalia; Daly (1978) published a text with a chapter dedicated to unveiling the horrors of “African Genital Mutilation” and its “unspeakable atrocities”; and Goldberg (2009) asserted that “eradication is the only moral and appropriately feminist response to this ‘human rights abuse’ against African women” (in Ahmadu and Shweder 2009, 17).

I aim to provide an alternative approach to studying, discussing, and understanding FGC by interviewing African women who are affected by FGC, constructing discourse and action based upon their experiences, and opening the discussion to include practices of body modification in the West. Engaging with women in contexts where FGC is practiced and privileging their voices and views provides a new discursive framing based upon more inclusive participation in the discussion.

In terms of including practices of body modification from the West into this analysis, I examine breast implantation because breast implantation, like female genital cutting, molds female bodies into what are culturally defined as naturalized, sexed forms. In the United States, “normal” and “healthy” women are expected to have two proportional, ample-sized, round breasts. The idea that a normal and healthy female body has breasts of this type is prevalent in interview responses for this project, as well as in medical discourses (Bames, qtd. in Jacobson 2000), advertising and popular culture (Pedersen 2004; Singer 2008), evolutionary psychology (Buss 2005; Miller 2000), cosmetic- and plastic-surgery literature (ASAPS 2007), and embodiment theory literature (Adams 1997; Bordo 1993; Young 1990). Breast implantation is a way for women to obtain this “natural” form. It is the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure for American women, with over 300,000 women undergoing the surgery in 2010 alone (American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery 2010).

Women in communities that practice FGC have expressed the idea that “real” and “worthy” women do not have phallic clitorises or excess folds of skin in their genital region. They also have unpenetrated genitalia until marriage. Female genital cutting removes these “abnormalities,” helps prevent pre-marital penetration by presumably reducing female sexual desire, and physically constructs the body to fit a “proper” and “clean” female model. Bodies in both of these environments are therefore normalized; they are made to appear as the form women’s bodies should take.

In examining these two practices, I do not argue that female genital cutting and breast implantation are equivalent procedures. The larger role of choice in breast implantation cannot be overlooked, as well as the environmental conditions in which they occur, the long-term physical ramifications, the age of the person undergoing the procedure, and the consequences for female sexual pleasure.

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Women in the Arab Gulf states: Pioneers for equality?

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

The April 2011 issue of Human Resource Development International contains four articles devoted to women, empowerment and human resource development in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Beverly Dawn Metcalfe, senior lecturer in the Center for Organizations and Development at the University of Manchester, wrote the guest editorial piece and one of the articles.

Source: Change.org

Video still: Saudi woman driving in defiance of a ban. Source: Change.org, via New York Times blog Motherlode.

In her editorial, she states that her aim is to “promote transformative scholarship that addresses the centrality of women, work, empowerment and development in Arab Gulf states.”

She points out that Human Resource Development (HRD) has overlooked gender concerns. She notes that the articles in the issue of HRDI on women in the Gulf region describe the challenges the women there face, highlight positive gains made and critique outsiders’ assumptions.

Intersecting themes shaping women’s identity are globalization, women’s movements, Islamic feminism, institutional development and governance.

In her article, “Women, Empowerment and Development in Arab Gulf States: A Critical Appraisal of Governance, Culture and National Human Resource Development (HRD) Frameworks,” Metcalfe makes a case for inserting gender into the discipline of HRD. She considers national HRD planning in the context first of several Gulf states and provides gender statistics on them in comparison to the U.K. and the U.S.: women holding seats in parliament, women in minister positions, labor force participation and more. Women in the Gulf states are severely disadvantaged in all these measures.

Moreover, surveys reveal that both men and women see the man as the family provider and protector of the wife. The author then compares Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. None of these countries has a dedicated women’s ministry. But beyond this shared feature, variations across the three countries appear in women’s organizations and possibilities for women’s leadership training. Metcalfe points out that a key area will be finding ways for women to balance family and work responsibilities.
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The wish to show less

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

I apologize for coming back to the issue of dress, especially as related to Muslim women. But the challenge posed is too important to resist, especially after a week in which a prominent U.S. politician tweeted messages with pictures of himself wearing less.

My inspiration comes from a news article about an American Muslim woman weight lifter who prefers to lift weights while wearing a head scarf.

lifting weights

Flickr/Ahmad.

Why is it wrong to wear more? Well, in this case, the “more” is a head covering. It, however, signals adherence to a particular religious faith (Islam) which is under suspicion in the U.S. It also signals female modesty. Depending on which micro-culture you belong to in the U.S., female modesty is variously defined and expressed through clothing and behavior.

The contemporary Western “modern” code is for girls/young women to show more of their bodies. That’s supposed to be a sign of their freedom. I can relate to that, because I can still remember being a teenager in a small town in central New York, with a conservative Christian father, and not being allowed to wear skirts that were shorter than my knees to high school. What did I do? As soon as I got to school, I rolled up the waistband and felt so free.

As I recall, some of the high school guys appreciated my freedom, too.

Now, decades later, we have the SlutWalk campaign. I support them, wholeheartedly. Shouldn’t anybody, no matter what they are wearing or not wearing, be safe at home or in public?

Everyone, worldwide, needs to work to create zones where covered and uncovered women’s rights are protected and where women are valued as people and are safe, whether covered or uncovered.

My thanks to Kulsoom Abdullah, the Muslim woman weight-lifter of Atlanta, Ga., for challenging the categories of public performance, dress and human value for women everywhere.

Do women in Libya have the best of both worlds?

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Gadhafi says that in Libya, women can have both their femininity and a career. See this article, titled “Gadhafi’s inner and trusted circle: his female bodyguards,” by Jane Kokan in the Vancouver Sun.