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The Education of Shelby Knox: Reproductive Rights and the Importance of Access

 

In my last post I touched upon the topic of the digital divide as a means of emphasizing the importance of having access to information and an outlet through which to express oneself. Last week, I saw the documentary, The Education of Shelby Knox which got me thinking more about this idea of access, but in a more tangible sense. Through viewing Shelby Knox’s fight for access to sexual education, it became even more apparent to me that the educative system, even within our country, one that is considered to be of the most “developed” in the world, does not expose young people to information that can be critical within our lives.  Not all parts of the United States are as extreme as Knox’s town, Lubbock, Texas, but even in more liberal states such as New York,  the amount of time spent and the material covered in health classes is nowhere near substantial.

Student Orientation by Tulane Public Relations

In her lecture yesterday, Shelby Knox discussed the standing of the United States in terms of the sexual education curriculum since the making of the film.  She stated that with the Obama administration, initially there was no funding for abstinence only educative courses. Currently, the decision regarding whether or not to offer sex ed varies state by state, with some states offering both alternatives, and so, paying to teach “abstinence only”.

                                                                                            So, what do people do who aren’t offered sex ed at their schools or those who want to know more?

Travel for Some of you may refer to search online, share online, and online travel.. Once plugin, never plug out by fieldovgold

Most resort to the Internet in order to answer their questions. This works well for many young people, but the problem of access to a computer comes up in this context yet again. In many rural areas and even in impoverished suburbs and urban settings, many young people do not have the ability to own their own computer. There are libraries.. but who really wants to research STDs or where the nearest clinic offering free/low cost contraception is in a public setting? Many young people are much too modest for that.

However, accessibility goes far beyond merely the theoretical aspect of the word. Not only is the inability to access to information, both online  and off-line problematic, but also the scarcity of facilities offering contraception and abortions is of great concern. Young people in many rural and even suburban settings face this problem. Knox brought up an example of a young woman living on a Native-American reservation who had to drive 2 hours to the nearest clinic.  Furthermore,  in areas characterized by their conservatism and radical religious beliefs, this is even more likely to be the case.

                                                                                                                                                        How do we fight back?

Kick Boxing by 1 4zawa

Knox once again returned to the use of the Internet as a means of empowerment and resistance to this situation. It is up to those of us who do have the ability to fight back to do so, to improve the situation throughout the whole of the country, possibly influencing the outside while in the process of doing so.

 

 

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Access: Key to The Ability to Make Decisions Regarding Women’s Bodies

DSC_0131 by AngryJulieMonday

In The Internet as a Tool for Black Feminist Activism: Lessons From an Online Anti-Rape Protest by Laura Rapp, Deeanna Button, Benjamin Fleury-Steiner and Ruth Fleury-Steiner as well as in  Policing Miscarriage: Infertility Blogging, Rhetorical Enclaves and the Case of the House Bill by Clancy Ratliff, the  authors discuss the utilization  of the Internet by women as a means of resistance against the control of their bodies. Although the manifestation of this control is different in the scenarios described in each respective work, reading both pieces caused me to think about the importance of access to resources as a means of combating this control.

Rapp, Button, and Fleury-Steiner discuss a 2007 rape in Dunbar Village, an impoverished housing project area in Palm Beach, Florida where a woman was “beaten, raped, sodomized and forced to have oral sex with her son” (Rapp). The rapists then went on to torture the woman and her son by pouring household cleaning products into their eyes, resulting in the blindness of the son. Although the neighbors heard the woman and her son plead for help, no one called the police or acted in any way.This incident became the subject of an online protest. Rapp, Button, and Fleury-Steiner use this case and the subsequent internet protest as an example as to how the web can be used as a space in which Black Women can be heard, ultimately “disrupting hegemonic understandings of violence against women and racial minorities for transforming the way historically marginalized groups are treated in their communities and by the criminal justice system” (Rapp).

Blogging by sofiagk

Although Ratliff’s article focuses on the structure and function of infertility blogs, she discusses how their creation serves the purpose of providing women with infertility problems a space of their own in which they can express themselves and exchange information, an argument much resembling the possibilities  Rapp et al. discuss in regards to how Black women can use the Internet to their advantage. Furthermore, she goes on to explain how critical this space became in the protest against Virginia House Bill 1677, which, according to the Code of Virginia would state:“When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman’s responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor”—constituted the most far-reaching and objectionable change to the law”.   Knowledge of the Bill spread via infertility blogs, causing many women to contact Virginia delegate John Cosgrove, ultimately resulting in Cosgrove “withdrawing the bill from Virginia’s general assembly” (Ratliff).

smiles and determination of rural Indian women #3 by mckaysavage

The  Internet is a space which can be utilized to learn and exchange information on a multiplicity of subjects. This has proven to be especially beneficial to  individuals in need of belonging to a more intimate group that can understand and support them. Individuals most in need of such a space are the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the silenced. However, how many of these individuals have access to a computer? Ratliff touches upon the subject of the digital divide briefly, stating that the divide is decreasing with the growing of time. I can agree with this statement in regards to the United States and other “first world” nations, but am skeptical as to how strong the divide is in countries which continue to struggle very much economically. Individuals living in such environments often are obligated to silence themselves, especially if they are within the lowest economic class.  Evidently, women experiencing such extreme poverty are much in need of an outlet to express themselves, since they are subject to both class and gender discrimination.

What about them? Is it really fair to say that the divide is dissolving?

For an interesting take on this issue, take a look at this article

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Every Kind of Woman is the Right Kind of Woman (Video#3)

This was a video that my group members and I created for our course, Feminism, New Media, and Health.

Assignment Description: In groups of two or three, produce a creative 1- 3min web video that challenges and/or demonstrates resistance towards some of the negative representations of women of color’s bodies online.

 

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Southern Comfort: Can trans-people really fall under just male or female?

Southern Comfort traces the life of Robert Eads, a 52 year old transgendered man who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The film gives the viewer an inside view on Ead’s life, displaying his relationship with other members of the trans community, whom he calls his “chosen family” and in the process exposing the many difficulties they have to face as a result of their choice to stay true to themselves.

trans march, genitals don’t equal gender by postbear

Throughout the progression of the film, Robert discusses the feelings he had while still having a female body. From a very young age he did not identify as a woman and as he got older he felt more and more trapped within his body, one that felt alien to him.  After unsuccessfully seeking refuge in the gay community, Robert decided to undergo surgery. However, he chose to not undergo bottom surgery, stating, “Being a man or being a woman doesn’t have anything to do with what’s between your legs, it’s what’s right here, in your heart”. This is a very powerful statement in that it rejects the notion that identity, is defined by biological factors, above everything else. To Robert, beliefs and behavior are what make an individual a man or a woman. But, how about male or female? Is it really fair to categorize trans-people into the two genders we have come to separate all individuals as?

trans Belfast launch 2010 by Alan in Belfast

Anne Fausto-Sterling proposes an alternative in her “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough”. She argues that the reason which the two genders are so important in Western culture is they provide guidelines regarding human interaction, writing that sexes ” govern marriage, family and human intimacy”. To challenge this Western notion of merely male and female, she expands upon the “concept of the intersexual body”, in which she discusses hermaphrodites and how clearly detrimental  it is to “classify” such indiviuals as male or female. Although she does not touch upon the topic of trans-people, I think it is safe to make a connection between Southern Comfort and this article. If the number of sexes were expanded to beyond just male and female, all individuals would have a space of their own, somewhere to belong to, without having to compromise any part of themselves.

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Internalized Racism and the White Aesthetic Norm

Sexism is a crime against humanity! by Frank M. Rafik

Although sexism has been and still remains a major problem which all women must face, it is important to examine the differences between the ways in which it affects women from different racial and cultural backgrounds.  There is no “one size fits all” approach to feminism, something many women belonging to ethnic and racial minorities discovered during the women’s health movement, dominated by white middle class women. This resulted in a split between feminists, where many new organizations were founded to directly address problems and concerns of other groups of women.  (Some organizations resulting from the split during the women’s movement are mentioned in an early post of mine). Even though these new organizations have provided them with safe spaces for self expression and collaboration, women of color are still members of society at large, a society still steered by white values in all aspects of life.  Thus, it is evident that women of color are not only subject to sexist exploitation, but also racism. As a result, women of color are pushed down to the lowest social class, increasingly labeling them as the “odd ones out”.

Black and White- Out of Focus by DioBurto

In”Marketing Blackness and Communication”, “Teaching Resistance: The Racial Politics of Mass Media”, and “Black Beauty and Black Power” Belle Hooks discusses how the way in which blacks and black women in particular  perceive themselves is in direct accordance with  the ideals white-dominated society. According to Hooks, as a result of years of subjugation and discrimination, blacks have come to internalize racist stereotypes, yet the majority fail to acknowledge this, stating that black intellectuals tend to stray away from the discussion of class differences among themselves, while using “blackness as a commodity for individual material gain”.  This this exposes a denial of current racism amongst the privileged classes. Being that they have attained material success, highly valued within white society, they believe they have attained equality. Hooks falsifies this belief through her discussion of the representation of blacks  in the media. Despite the Black Power Movement of the 1960s, blacks were forced to assimilate to the white aesthetic norm in order to enter the mainstream. This especially affected women, who were ultimately judged by whether or not their hair was relaxed and how light their skin was.

Today, many women of color continue to alter their appearance in order to fit the aesthetic norm. This is especially apparent in the film, Good Hair, in which comedian Chris Rock examines the perception of  hair within the black community in the US. Rock goes about doing so through various interviews with both common people and black celebrities, with his emphasis on women.  In viewing the film, I was initially shocked to discover that, despite  how harmful the chemicals in relaxers are, so many women go through this tedious, painful process and even encourage their children to do so, from as young as toddlers. However, after analyzing the film through Hook’s perspective, it became apparent that the need to be beautiful, as defined by the white society has become engraved into the minds of women. Hooks states that for a black woman, “desirability affects social mobility in education and the workplace”. So, inevitably, black women had to make looking as “white” as possible a priority in order to even have a possibility at being heard.

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“Does this dress make me look fat?”: The Capitalization of Obesity in America and Women’s Body Image (BP#5)

Anamarie Regino by cliff1066

According to fat activist Melissa Campbell, the fat body is envisioned as a grotesque, immoral spectacle, the result of carelessness and neglect. Consequentially, as obesity rates continue to rise in America, medical professionals are increasingly addressing this phenonenon as an epidemic of modern society, requiring immediate attention and drastic action. The ultimate goal is to transform the public composing the societal anti-icon of aesthetics into attractive, “healthy”, and most importantly, normal members of society.

In both Happy Re-birthday:Weight Loss Surgery and the New Me and A Beautiful Show of Strength: Weight Loss and the Fat Activist Self  Throsby and Meleo-Erwin discuss obesity as being classified by society as a personal problem, while at the same time dealing with this “impairment” is seen as a person’s duty, a “public responsibility” (Throsby) and a “patriotic act” (Meleo-Erwin). Clearly, this depiction serves as a means of marginalizing fat individuals, showing them that in order to be an active participant in society, they must undergo modifications to rid themselves of their “disease”, ultimately transitioning from a state of passivity to one of responsibility (Throsby).

Fat People by HA! Designs

Through the accusatory demeanor by which  fat individuals are attacked and singled out as well as the supposed health risks associated with obesity, American society has created a definition of the aesthetic norm, creating boundaries between beautiful and grotesque, as well as healthy and unhealthy, paralleling the increasing emphasis on the dichotomy  of thin and fat. In this manner, society is able to police our bodies through the practice biopower (Meleo-Erwin).  In addition, we as Americans have learned to differentiate between that which we must be and that which we must avoid, ultimately resulting us policing ourselves, the practice of governmentality.

Hooray! I have been un-NIPSA’d by Malingering

Studies have shown that an overwhelming majority of individuals targeted in “fatophobic” discourse are women. In her lecture, Campbell discussed the the image of fat being linked with a woman of the lower class, characterized by her laziness, dirtiness, bad parenting, and “larger than life” personality, all which can be summed up as too much. These women consequentially internalize a hatred toward the fat body, being that it does not come into agreement with what is considered the aesthetic norm. Many have resorted to dieting and exercise as means of slimming down, but often these methods have failed, increasing the psychological turmoil of these individuals. In many cases, women who struggle with dieting on and off  for extended periods of time resort to weight loss surgery.

With the emergence of the internet, many fat women have been given the opportunity to voice their opinions regarding society’s image of the normal body. Fat activists today advocate against dieting and weight loss surgery, redefining what it means for one to be healthy as well as  beautiful. However, even within the “fatosphere” there seem to exist contradictions between what is being advocated and personal decisions regarding appearance. Many fat activist bloggers have themselves undergone WLS, yet argue that it was a personal choice which ultimately served to empower them. While to some this may seem to be true, Meleo-Erwin argues that this is a display of an internalization of beauty standards.

So, what’s more important, group action and resistance or individuality and autonomy?

And to what extent can autonomous decisions be made in this context?

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The Identity and the Self: A Social Construct or Personal Choice? (BP #4)

celebrity-sheer-top by CelebfashionLA

Living in a capitalist environment, we are constantly fed the idealistic belief that we function individualistically in our respective lives, united through our common drive towards advancing independently. Consequentially, we often fail to acknowledge that although we have the freedom to express and develop our identities as we see fit, the images projected to society via the world of  entertainment and advertising serve as mechanisms of control, increasing the impact of biopower, thus guiding us to define the concepts of identity and individuality in a very specified light. This, in turn, leads to the exercise of governmentality by ourselves and upon ourselves as a means of attaining and securing the socially constructed title of normality.

Gossip by SteFunny Yeung

Rebecca Tiger spoke about biopolitics and governmentality in her lecture as lenses through which  the  social perception of the phenomenon of addiction in celebrity gossip blogs can be deconstructed and analyzed. Within the realm of biopolitics exists the notion of biopower, or the control of the state upon our bodies. Through the  polished, refined and almost plastic portrayal of individuals at the peak of their physical health in advertizing as well as  that of  celebrities, praised on their  aesthetic perfection, the result of excessive exercise and restrictive eating habits, biopower is subtly and gradually exerted upon us from a very young age. So, we come to define ourselves in terms of our physical health. Thus, health,  has become a term embodying  restriction and control, leading to its fetishzing, which in turn causes us to continue the cycle. The practice of governmentality is similarly subconscious, a result of our desire to be accepted by society and not be marginalized, as those labeled deviant are.

Normal to Extraordinary by Cali4beach

In Monster Theory, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen discusses the “monster”, a construct within various realms such as the social, cultural, literary, and historical, serving the purpose of setting an example of what people should not be and the resulting consequences of practicing behavior deviating from the norm. Cohen states that to avert from normality, or the boundaries set by science and rationality ultimately “threatens to destroy the cultural apparatus of identity”. Hence, when internalizing the conventional beliefs regarding the “monster”, identity is not a personal choice but rather a construct of our cultural backgrounds, a manifestation of the ideals projected upon us.  Tiger reinforces this idea in”They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab” ,where she discusses celebrity Lindsey Lohan and her struggle with her drug addiction. Tiger says that in society, “addiction is a hybrid form of moral failing and sickness”.  Therefore, abuse is labeled as a  behavioral and so, personal problem, rather than a social issue.

So, is constructing a personalized version of the self impossible?

According to Cohen, not necessarily. By seeing that the labels “normal” and “abnormal”  serve the purpose of creating uniformity through the instillation of the fear of scrutiny, disdain, and rejection, one thus realizes that the horrific vision we have of the monster is what holds us back. This realization ultimately “allows us to re-evaluate cultural assumptions based on race, gender, sexuality, and difference”.