Friday, April 17, 2015

What Honor Diaries Did to My Amazon

About a month ago, my Amazon.com algorithm for recommendations took a sharp turn. I was suddenly ordering books with titles like Gender and Violence in the Middle East,  Gender and Islam, and Do Muslim Women Need Saving? I found myself digging around in boxes in the basement for my college copy of Fatima Mernissi’s Beyond the Veil. I found myself confronting the question of how I, as a scholar of American women’s history moving into a position as coordinator of our Women and Gender Studies Program, should handle the problematics of staging a conversation here at USD about gender and violence in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia in the context of a screening of the film Honor Diaries.

When the film was proposed as a feature for our biennial Women and Gender Studies conference, members of our university community responded by raising questions about whether this was an appropriate vehicle for inaugurating a discussion of the topic of “honor violence” against women and girls in the nonwestern world. After I learned of concerns about the film, I logged onto Netflix to watch it, and began to investigate some of the media responses to the film, including the critique from CAIR that the film was Islamophobic. CAIR and others called attention to the major funding source for the film, the CLARION project, which had produced films criticized for inflammatory and misleading portrayals of Islam.

I approached the film with the wariness I frequently bring to the blockbuster style of documentary filmmaking that has become popular, the kind honed by Michael Moore, with sensationalistic claims, alarming (but often misleading) statistics, fast switches between different human-interest stories, and of course the scary music we all know so well.

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of this style of documentary filmmaking. Now, does that mean we shouldn’t screen these types of films in a university setting? Of course not. But it does mean that we need to think carefully about the way we present documentary films, which, often by virtue of the emotional and narrative power of cinema, are taken as authoritative text.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Feminist Politics of Work

Last night at the Oscars in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette delivered a rousing call for women’s rights. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”  

The crowd (and social media) goes wild. 

AND then in her follow-up press interviews, Arquette continued on in this vein: “It's time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now.”  

It was, to say the least, a disappointing moment, an embarrassing moment, and I think a teachable moment in the challenges of thinking intersectionally. The fight for gay rights and black civil rights is not mutually exclusive from the struggles of gender equality but rather these struggles are connected. Likewise, not all women experience their gender the same way, nor do they experience structures of inequality in the same way. Ever since Kimberle Crenshaw’s groundbreaking work on the legal barriers black women workers faced bringing suit over both race and gender discrimination, scholars and activists have called attention to intersectional oppressions of race, gender, sexuality, and social status.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Back Into The Woods

Yesterday after I posted this Chronicle piece on writing, a friend joked on my Facebook wall that the next thing he expected to see was my own post about writing. Well, this is my hour for doing my own writing. I have 15 minutes left, so rather than be productive, I'm going to be reflective and share one valuable insight to add to Rob Jenkins' list.

His advice is pretty standard but important. Commit, prioritize, schedule, and be patient. My favorite tidbit here? Repurpose. USE what you have written! It is so true. Writing is rewriting. The fantasy of starting from scratch and doing it better is just that, a fantasy. Think about a piece of writing that you are really proud of. Presumably you didn't shoot that out in one inspired composing session. (Or if you did, I don't want to hear about it and we're not friends. I jest.)