Friday, April 30, 2010

Student Opinions & Awkwardness on Sexuality at Rhodes

Today I did an URCAS presentation regarding my internship with Planned Parenthood last semester. The other intern and I created video podcasts for PPGMR (greater Memphis region) and talked about our experiences. Many people refused to speak to us about sexuality. We asked a variety of questions and it was mainly about birth control, but questions regarding sexuality were included. Most people (all Rhodes students by the way) said no, but some that did agree to be interviewed asked us to either blur their face out or only film their hands as they attempted to put a condom on a banana. 50% of the people that put condoms on bananas by the way did it incorrectly which I don’t think bode very well for Rhodes. While Rhodes does have a relatively active Gay Straight Alliance and an almost brand new VOX Chapter, many people seem completely uncomfortable with talking about sexuality in any way. Some guys I talked to (and yes honestly I stereotyped them because they were in a frat which I shouldn’t have done) didn’t want to talk about sex at all which totally surprised me. The general lack of misinformation and myth that we encountered here was quite unexpected and slightly depressing. As I think about it, I feel like there are plenty of factors that contribute to the discomfort of Rhodes students. Being part of the Bible belt doesn’t help us, I think. I also think that a lack of understanding and sex education in high school is another reason so many people were so awkward. In many states, abstinence-only is the only form of sex education taught. Not only do I disagree with that, I find that these programs reinforce heteronormativity. Many of the programs are no-sex-till-marriage classes and as LGBTIQ people cannot marry, lots of information and questions they have are not addressed. Does anyone else have any opinions on why Rhodes is so awkward about sex and sexuality in general?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

AZ Senate Bill 1070- one big birdcage?

As I was reading the news today, I looked at the new laws that are being implemented in Arizona and I was particularly struck by the one regarding immigration. AZ Senate Bill 1070 includes the following:
-It is a state crime to be in the United States illegally
-Legal Immigrants must carry documentation
-With “Reasonable suspicion” Police must check for documents
-Citizens can sue local law enforcement for not enforcing the law

Immediately, bells and red flags fly up everywhere for me. How is this not racial profiling? When Fox News interviewed one of the state senators, Republican Russell Pearce, he laughed and completely dismissed the critique. I don’t see how you can dismiss that- in some way doesn’t it practically mandate racial profiling? That is part of the argument critics are making of the bill. For example, let’s say I’m from Canada. You have all seen me- I’m very pasty with blue eyes and blonde hair. Now let’s say that I’m here illegally from Canada. Do you think police officers are more likely to stop me on the street and ask for my papers or a Hispanic woman that was born and grew up in Arizona and whose parents are legal citizens? I am not saying that all police officers are racist, but in a border state with Mexico with an immigration law like that, I highly doubt a police officer would give me a second look and would ask for the birth certificate of the Hispanic woman. Immigration is a very complicated issue and it shouldn’t be treated lightly, however, I do not see how a law such as this AZ Senate Bill 1070 will do anything but impede the rights of legal citizens. Yes, there are definitely a lot of illegal immigrants in this country, and yes we should do something about it but I do not think this bill is a step in the right direction. This bill reminds me of the birdcage analogy. I feel that this bill is effectively putting up bars every single time a Hispanic person walks down the street. I also think that the psychological oppression that Fanon discusses will definitely come into play here. Even completely legal citizens might be afraid to walk down the street without their birth certificate on them at all times. Do you think this is racial profiling? What are your thoughts?

Oh Noklahoma!

So as I have mentioned before on the blog, I am from the great state of Oklahoma. While the land I belong to is grand, it is also one of the worst states for women. No state legislature has done more to challenge Roe v. Wade than Oklahoma's. Most recently, a bill was passed requiring some horrendous stipulations surrounding getting an abortion. Now doctors are required by law to vaginally insert an ultra sound probe so that the woman must watch the fetus as the abortion takes place. Within the bill is a clause that the woman may “avert her eyes” but that the screen displaying the fetus must be in her view. So a constitutionally protected right is now surrounded by a mandatory invasive procedure. This is only the most recent anti-woman bill Oklahoma has passed. Over the past ten years they have made into law a mandatory 24 hour waiting period prior to receiving an abortion, mandatory parental consent for young women under 18, mandatory distribution of abortion alternatives literature, etc. The legislature is currently working on subsequent bills that will require women to explain their reason for seeking an abortion and allow this explanation to be a part of public record. Rather than focusing on the economy and the incredible budget deficit that Oklahoma now had, these law makers are making it practically impossible for a women to receive an abortion in the state of Oklahoma. Whenever I truly think that the roles of women in society are improving, I need only to look to my home to realize that it may not be so. Check out the link below to view the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma on the Rachel Maddow show.

Why I Think Lady GaGa is a Feminist

I was so glad that the recent "feminist" episode of Glee was mentioned in class because it brought up the fabulous Madonna. As I said in class, I have been in repeated discussions with some of my friends regarding women like Madonna, Beyonce, and Lady GaGa. I argue that these are strong, powerful, respected women. Their achievements and what each of these women represent are good for women in general. However, my bar-talk discussion mates argue that they use their bodies and their sexuality to achieve what they have achieved and that fact negates the good they have done for women in show business. As we discussed in class, this is a legitimate argument. How can these women represent empowerment when they are merely operating within the patriarchy that is already in place? They are exploiting themselves for personal gain and are representing themselves as sexual objects. While I can concede to this argument, I believe that Lady GaGa is a pop icon who is indeed feminist. Not only does she make super awesome dance music, she markets herself in a way that does not necessarily align with the typical female pop star. Although she wears provocative and showy clothing, she does not do it in a way that is sexualized. She often covers her face and simply wears clothing that is bizarre and strange. I have not met a man yet who thinks that Lady GaGa is traditionally sexy. If any person, man or woman, wants to be successful in show business they need to be flashy, showy, and unique. While Lady GaGa wears “revealing” clothing, she does it in a way that does not simply appeal to male conceptions of female beauty. She wears her costumes as exactly that, costumes for show. Additionally, she is an extremely self made, self motivated artist. She is a classically trained pianist and is very involved in the production and writing of her music. Every person in Hollywood has to sell themselves and market themselves, but Lady GaGa is not a product of some cookie cutter production entity. Another thing that I find very significant is that Lady GaGa has been known to wear a strap on dildo during some of her shows. She is obviously trying to send the message that she does not want people to look at her as only a woman on stage performing, but a serious artist who should not be considered some hot body sex symbol. I think that it is awesome that GaGa does this. I know that people will disagree with me that of all people, I am touting Lady GaGa and her crazy outfits as a symbol of feminism, but I find her intriguing and truly see her as furthering the status of women in show business. I’m looking forward to see some of your comments, especially Lindsay, my fellow bar-talk buddy. Cherry Cherry Boom Boom!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gender Norms in The Fifth Element

For my Film Theory class, I am writing my final paper on the movie The Fifth Element. Has anyone seen it? It has Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Gary Oldman and Chris Tucker. It takes place in the future- the year 2214 I believe and everything is very technological. An entire Thanksgiving meal can be cooked in a microwave when a packet is placed in it, cars fly, and all of Earth is one country called The Federation. In the movie, Chris Tucker is the most popular radio host in the galaxy (or at least I think it’s the galaxy…) and his name is Rudy Rock. Rudy Rock is an extraordinarily strange character. He completely defies gender roles and is very weird androgynous. First, he wears these jumpsuits that are awkwardly tight. His first costume is leopard print and has a very wide collar and his bare shoulders are showing, so he looks like he’s wearing an Elizabethan type thing. Also, his hair is… his hair is just bizarre. I have included a picture if you want to see. His second outfit in the film is another tight jumpsuit that is black, has the same sort of collar, but it has roses all over it. He also has three assistants who are clearly meant to be stereotypical homosexual men. In fact, Rudy appears to be a stereotype of a homosexual, but women are constantly fainting around him and he loves it. He is very provocative towards the female characters and at one point engages in- we’ll just say sexual acts- with a woman. Furthermore, when there is danger, he screams in a very high pitched tone and practically hangs off of Bruce Willis’ character Corbin. He is one of the oddest characters I’ve seen in a film and it’s made even funnier because Chris Tucker (of Rush Hour fame, just in case you didn’t know) is playing Rudy.

If you haven’t seen this film it would be difficult to understand, but based on what I’ve written, what do you think? Why does Rudy defy gender norms? Or, what about Rudy’s defiance of these norms makes him such an interesting (albeit ridiculous) character?

Is Gay Marriage Good for Women?

My initial and end answer to the question posed in class was ‘yes, of course.’ For some reason, hearing arguments that suggested otherwise was surprising to me. I see an easy connection between the changing marital roles that would arise from an institutionalization of gay marriage and a liberation for women. Having that example, of couples who defy the expected marriage dynamic of heterosexual unions, seems like it would encourage Americans to reevaluate the system of marriage we already have.

When we say that gay marriage can’t be good for women because it won’t change the dynamic of marriage, it is a very discouraging thought. We study in sociology and anthropology that social change comes very gradually through the reification and individual externalization of new norms and beliefs into society. This process starts with initially unheard of things, like gay marriage. If we do institutionalize gay marriage, won’t that reinforce new understanding between individuals? Marriage between people of the same sex will undoubtedly change our reality of the “proper” roles of marriage. I find it hard to believe that as students today we really are so jaded and harsh as to not be able to imagine what changes like this can eventually do to the society at large. What are some of the reasons you think gay marriage would not be good for women? I’m really curious to talk about this more.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


As I was browsing for new work out inspirations, one of the first websites that popped up in my google search was “Ana’s Thinspiration.” Being curious, I clicked on the link thinking it would be something similar to women’s health just in a blog form or a personal website. To my surprise, the website revolved around eating disorders with two severely thin women posing sexily on the home page. The entire website personifies and encourages anorexia asking “How’s Ana today?” and a blog is kept to offer tips, consoling, and motivation to fuel one another’s non-eating habits. The website advices different things to do when you think you want to eat, 40 things that get you inspired to lose weight, and ways of hiding your anorexia. I have been deeply disturbed by what I saw and read on “Ana’s Thinspiration.” One of the main things that has stayed on my mind was the website offers tips to high school girls on how to hide their disease from their family and friends.
Oddly, I was walking by the television and saw a small portion of this evening Glee episode that seemed to be relevant with my blog post and my concern that came after viewing this website. Although I did not see the entire episode (so please correct me if I’m wrong), the main theme seemed to revolve around appealing to the perfect size or the expected weight. The part I saw focused on one of the high school female character that would not eat lunch and was trying to lose weight. Although I am unsure what happened exactly to spark this change, I know that she felt pressured to fit an image.
This website reminded me of Frye’s birdcage metaphor for the suppression of women. The expectation of maintaining a certain size and weight limit is another bar perpetuating the system. Once again, I really like that the producers and writers of Glee have taken a prominent issue like appearance and opposing this view through the media and actors. Young women need to be hearing and seeing more within the media about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. It is vital in combating these stigmas that celebrities and websites try to impose on the youth of our country. I am all for staying healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As I said, I was looking for inspirations for new work outs, but the last thing I expected as the second thing on the web page was a sight for anorexia. It just goes to show that something needs to change in the media and what is available on our internet.

Are You a Feminist?

The other week in class Dr. J asked if after taking this course any of us would call ourselves feminists. Few hands, if any, shot up. I thought this was interesting after a semester of provocative readings, heated blog posts, and of course interesting media/film discussions. Awareness seems to be a common theme throughout the readings. By taking this course we have all become more aware. The question is not then whether or not we believe we are feminist but what will we do with this awareness?

While flipping through a Marie Claire magazine on the elliptical the other morning, I came across an interesting page titled, “BULLETIN.” Fashion magazines tend to focus on superficial areas like ten ways to tighten your butt for the beach, sex games for couples, or a celebrity red lipstick trend. As I read through the blurbs on this page I discovered some interesting facts that relate well to our class.

The first blurb by Lynn Harris was titled “Condom Mania: Can Carrying Condoms Get You Arrested?” It goes on to say that in San Francisco, New York, and D.C. carrying more than two condoms is reason to suspect one of prostitution. Don’t empty your purse just yet. In order to be suspected of this one must be practicing other illegal forms of soliciting sex. The main controversy comes from the rise in HIV and STD rates. If this is actually enforced will safe sex still be practiced? Harris says, “Even more ironic, in New York, the condoms confiscated from arrested prostitutes are often official condoms given out by the city’s Department of Public Health, according to the Urban Justice Center, which provides legal advocacy for sex workers.” Is practicing safe sex a criminal activity?

Harris wrote another blurb on the same page celebrating the 50th anniversary of the FDA’s approval of oral contraceptives, May 9, 2010. She gives four facts in honor of this:

  1. It was illegal in many states for married couples to use the Pill until 1965, when the Supreme Court declared that such laws violate the right to privacy.
  2. Loretta Lynn’s 1975 musical homage, “The Pill,” made top 10 country charts. Lyrics: “The feelin’ good comes easy now/since I’ve got the Pill.”
  3. The Pill is currently used by 12 million women in the U.S.
  4. There are more than 40 different brands of birth-control pills in America.

The final blurb (sorry I really don’t know what other term applies) was written by Abigail Haworth, “The Crying Game: A new DVD of girls in tears aims to make Japanese men feel macho. Boo-hoo!” Seriously? The fact that there is a market for watching “a series of starlets weeping inconsolably as they recall real-life bad events, such as breaking up with a boyfriend or being humiliated at a party… the film pitches itself as a self-help tool to empower men and stir up their ‘macho instincts’ by showing the ‘vulnerability’ of women.” Haworth talks about modern Japanese women rejecting marriage and this possibly being the male response. Why don’t they just watch The Hills?

After reading these, I immediately ripped the page out of the gyms magazine. I stomped out ready to write a blog. While talking with Courtney today, we both had similar instances of irrational anger regarding oppressive issues for females. Our reactions were the same, put it on the blog. This is my final course for the gender studies minor and I still don’t know the answer to Dr. J’s question. Am I a feminist? Are you? Does it matter? I believe that awareness and advocacy against what one believes to be injustice are fundamental.

"Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black"

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Feminist Moves In Other Philosophical Works

For all of his scornful posturing, Nietzsche, ironically, can be seen as making a move that is indicative of feminist philosophers. In his Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche analyzes how good and bad changed to good and evil. This echoes a call by feminist philosopher Linda Martin Alcoff, who calls for an analysis of older epistemologies in order to shed light on the way they have functioned politically and privileged certain groups. Although Nietzsche fulfills part of Alcoff’s suggestion, by provided a genealogy of what we practice as morality and analyzed how the master-slave dialectic has privileged others, she most likely frown at his derision of religion. By taking a step back and contextualizing morality, it highlights the contested nature of the “truths” we often claim when discussing moral issues. When examining privilege though, it becomes tricky, as the feminist typically shows how men or Caucasian straight women experience privilege, Nietzsche espouses that the weaker, slavish individuals are the ones that receive privilege due to their perversion of bad to evil. As bad turned to evil, the resulting value was reassigned to meekness and generally weaker individuals, that came to scorn their position and ingenuously turned the original values of good to no longer represent strength, beauty, etc. By positing that it was the ones who were powerless that gained privilege, Nietzsche doesn’t appear to tie to Alcoff, but Alcoff has an out in her work. Alcoff calls for the genealogies and analysis in order to call into question the system of meritocracy in epistemic contributions, as the field has been historically limited to mainly aristocratic white males who have limited perspective, as well as a plethora of biases that have shaped their philosophy. She calls for an affirmative action type program when it comes to submissions to the epistemic field, which would leave her room to dismiss Nietzsche on the grounds that he is intolerant of other minorities or for any reason. Likely she would want to analyze Nietzsche’s conditions that made him produce the genealogy, as well as the discursive power that it has wielded since. As far as the discursive power of Nietzsche, I am not sure that it has had that much staying power, as we largely haven’t adopted that our morality commits us slavish ressentiment, although it is an interesting exploration to say the least. I just found it interesting that Nietzsche makes what is typically classified as a feminist critique of morality, even if he comes to the conclusion that it is the weak that have received the undeserved privilege.


Susan Okin’s article on “Vulnerability by Marriage” makes apparent the inherent inequalities within the institution of marriage, specifically between a male and a female. Okin partially attributes this to what is also called the sex/gender/sexuality system, which is deeply embedded within our social, political, economic, and domestic structures; and fixes the female’s identity always in relation to the male’s. Okin claims that “contemporary women in our society are made vulnerable by marriage itself…”; and that “[t]hey are first set up for vulnerability during their developing years by their personal (and socially reinforced) expectations that they will be the primary caretakers of children, and that in fulfilling this role they will need to try to attract and to keep the economic support of a man, to whose work life they will be expected to give priority” (602). At the outset of the course, our class was asked to identify as many gendered activities we recognize being instilled at childhood. One imaginative activity that is often reinforced by parents and made exclusive to young females is the game of ‘house’, in which the house is cleaned; the babies are fed, changed, and sung to sleep; and a delicious hot meal is whipped up and fed to one’s husband—home from work.

In this months Scientific American Mind, Lise Eliot published an article titled, “The Truth about Boys and Girls: The preference for playing hockey, or house, is far from fixed. Sex differences in the brain are small—unless grown-up assumptions magnify them”. The article covers several neurological disparities between the genders in order to better explain significant behavior differences. One major distinction neuroscientists make clear is the assertion that “Brain differences are indisputably biological, but they are not necessarily hardwired. The crucial, often overlooked fact is that experience itself changes brain structure and function. Neuroscientists call this shaping plasticity, and it is the basis of all learning and much of children’s mental development” (22). Therefore, if we look to the different ways parents raise boys versus girls, we can begin to highlight the significant differences in how their brains develop.

Back to the concern over the game of ‘house’, I would like to connect Okin’s article with Eliot’s, and illustrate how a simple glitch in childrearing can help restructure the current patriarchal system. Eliot discusses the parental control over how one’s little boy or little girl will relate to his or her toys; and therein, how he or she will continue to relate to the world around him or her (in the present moment and thought about his or her future). That is, according to Eliot, “boys, in many studies, have been found to like dolls as much as girls do”, yet “children’s toy preferences grow more extreme through social shaping” (25). Explicitly speaking, “Parents reinforce play that is considered gender-appropriate, especially in boys, and beginning at age three, peers perpetuate gender norms even more than adults do” (25).

Because little girls are bought baby dolls, kitchen play sets, and taught to stay clean and tidy; it is no surprise that females live their lives in expectation of one day taking on the responsibility of housewife and mother. If our society were to equally include males in the game of ‘house’, those who believe there is a causal connection between childhood games and sexuality must learn to distance themselves from this irrational assumption that if a boy plays ‘house’ he will grow up to be gay. One idea Eliot suggests as to how we might attempt to balance the weight of housework and childrearing is to encourage “girls to play with puzzles, building blocks, throwing games and even video games, while enticing boys to sew, paint, and play as caregivers using props for doctor, Daddy, zookeeper, EMT, and the like” (26).

Eliot, Lise. “The Truth about Boys and Girls: The preference for playing hockey, or house, is far from fixed. Sex differences in the brain are small—unless grown-up assumptions magnify them”. Scientific American Mind. May/June 2010. Pp.22-29.

Feminism and Glee

Following the trend that Colin set of posting about topics not related to care or justice...

The television show,Glee's, latest episode was the Madonna episode about the power of women in society. It was an episode inspired by Madonna songs, which exemplify the power of and influence of women (at least in the show). There are two different issues going on in this episode; one was women demanding their respect from men, and two was men recognizing the respect that women deserve. The guys in Glee Club are portrayed to be objectifying the girls. Their teacher, Will Schuester, tells the guys that they need to give the women the respect that they deserve. At this time, one of the girls, Tina, is yelling at one of the guys, Artie, by saying that he should be comfortable with strong women and not feel emasculated by her strength.

This theme seen in Glee last week expresses one of the main things that I learned through our Feminist philosophy class. The one of the issues of feminism seems to be about women's equal place in society- whether it be equal pay for women or just men treating women equally in general. This equality will be attained twofold, one by women demanding it and men realizing the respect women actually deserve. Glee's episode shows the need for men to recognize the respect that is deserved by women and not just women demanding respect. It is a two sided system that needs the equal involvement of women and men.

Feminism seems as if it would be furthered by the efforts of women with minor efforts of men but I think it is important to realize the need for male involvement to further the progress of feminism. It made a huge difference to the guys in Glee when Mr. Schuester told them that they should be treating women with more respect than they had been and that they should not treat women as if they are inferior to them.

The possibility of equality in society among men and women will become possible if the two folded system is actually followed and when men and women both realize the importance of one another in attaining this equality. The girls in Glee club need to continue demanding the respect of the guys while the guys recognize the actions they should put forth to avoid objectifying or disrespecting the girls in Glee. With the help of men like Mr. Schuester, young men will be able to realize the respect that they should give to women while women continue demanding respect in order to attain their equality among men.

Here is the link to the " Power of Madonna" episode if you guys want to watch it :

Gender in Writing

There have been a number of very well written blogs on care, justice, and forgiveness recently and I feel that as important as these subjects are, there isn’t much I could add to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. Therefore I thought I would write on an unrelated, but hopefully still pertinent topic that often comes up when I am writing papers: namely, those situations in which I must choose a gender for the pronouns that I am using. For example, when writing about a generalized student in my philosophy of education paper I had to choose between simply “he” or “she,” or the more inclusive but certainly more awkward “he or she.”

It’s definitely prime paper writing season here at Rhodes so hopefully others have been thinking about this as well. The internal debate that I often have, and maybe others do as well, is between style, which favors picking a single pronoun and sticking with it, and the desire to be inclusive, which mandates that I treat both genders equally. More often than not, I end up erring on the side of inclusiveness, but I always feel that this inevitably interrupts the flow of my writing, especially when I must write “he or she” multiple times in a single sentence.

This awkwardness seems particularly evident when I consider the work of accomplished writers. As a history and philosophy double major I spend most of my time reading books and essays written by men who have been dead for centuries or even millennia. These writers, as was the style of their time, often refer to humanity as “mankind” and to people as “men.” Granted, such terminology is clearly the product of the sexism of the age in which it originated, but even so, it has a certain rhetorical appeal. There seems to be something more grand and moving to Neil Armstrong’s declaration of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” than there would be had he said, “one small step for a human, one giant leap for humankind.” In my opinion, the appeal of this outdated terminology comes precisely from the fact that it is outdated; it recalls the work of the great writers and orators of history, which we admire for obvious reasons.

Still, recognizing the sexism inherent in such language, I strive to make my writing as gender neutral as possible. I am very curious, however, to see how others on the blog deal with this problem.

Being a Caretaker

In our last class, we talked about dependents and the care they require. When we began talking about caring for the elderly in our family (or unrelated elderly dependents), the conversation became personal for me. Four years ago, my aunt passed away from a terminal lung disease. When I was a senior in high school, my afterschool role was that of a caretaker for her and her husband. Although her husband could still provide some care for her, she needed constant help with every task, from making and eating meals to changing her clothes to brushing her teeth. While it was sad to see my aunt deteriorate, I also learned so much from her during the time we spent together. I think that it is vital that we understand the importance of what we can learn from the older generations of our family about our own heritage and how we became who we are today. If someone else assumes this role as caretaker, we miss out on not only knowing a little more about ourselves, but also a certain sense of pride that comes with caring for someone in need. I do think that in America today, this role of caretaker is devalued because of the way our society has been set up. Unpaid work does not merit the same kind of value as paid work, and this is a main reason that jobs and duties related to the domestic and private sphere are not recognized as worthwhile or important. This is a cultural phenomenon, and not one that is inherent to the human race, since we can see other cultures that set up their systems of care much differently than ours.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Forgiveness: A Case Study

After reading Claudia Card’s essay on “The Moral Powers of Victims” I began to think back to a class I took last semester called Religion, Conflict, and Reconciliation. The class consisted of different case studies of situations in which there were gross violations of moral conduct and, in most cases, human rights, such as the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the American Civil Rights movement. We also discussed some incidents of interpersonal (as opposed to institutional) violence in order to study victims’ responses to violence and reconciliation on a microscopic level.

One of the specific cases we went over was the trial and subsequent media coverage of Karla Faye Tucker, who was convicted of double homicide in Texas in 1984 and sentenced to death. Her case garnered much attention because of her gender (the death penalty is rarely sought for women—she was the first woman put to death in Texas since the Civil War) and her heavily publicized conversion to Christianity while on death row. (Here is the Wikipedia article if you want background info:

The documentary we watched about the case followed the brother (also a newly converted Christian) of one of Tucker’s victims and his struggle to eventually forgive her for taking the life of his sister. The man’s story is heartbreaking, and his forgiveness of Tucker is long-sought and difficult; however, he became her biggest and most public advocate. After Tucker’s religious epiphany, she publicly and repeatedly expressed her infinite shame and regret about her crime. She filed multiple appeals and requests for retrials on the basis that she was now a reformed person and had left her evil ways behind in her “old life” as a non-Christian. This prompted the conservative Christian sector to begin lobbying the Texas judicial system to reduce her death sentence to life imprisonment. Eventually some political and religious leaders joined the fight on her behalf but failed to stop the execution, which took place in 1998.

Tucker did an interview with Larry King just one month before her death. In it she said that at the time of the murder, she felt no shame, no guilt, no compassion for her victims or their families. Yet her closing remarks included the words, “when you have done something that I have done, like what I have done, and you have been forgiven for it, and you're loved, that has a way of so changing you” (full transcript here:

Now, in my previous religious studies class, we focused on the Christian aspect of her transformation, but regardless of that, the issue remains, can a person really evolve from a heartless murderer to a human being capable of love and empathy? Is total reform possible? What does this anecdote teach us about the role that forgiving one’s transgressions plays in the offender’s rehabilitation into society? And, is it possible that failure to forgive someone hinders or prevents their full and successful rehabilitation into the social world?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Forgive and Forget

I am more of a pessimist then Card. I believe that forgiveness and guilt is more like a debt system. Saying “You are forgiven” wont erase the past. Card seems to think that it is possible to Forgive someone of the evils they did without forgetting about those evils the committed. Can you really forgive someone for something they did when what they did is still on the top of your mind? You might publicly say they are forgiven; however deep down there is not such a thing. You still feel like they are indebted to you in some way. The only way to truly and honestly forgive someone is to forget about the offense that they did. Deep down they will still resent what had happened to them. If someone murdered your family even if you say they are forgiven, there will still be resentment deep down in your soul. If however you have forgotten about the act, its like it never happened to you. Since this is the case, even if the victim forgives the perpetrator, the perpetrator may still feel bound to the victim. How many of you had done something bad to someone else and had been forgiven, only to have that same act you committed brought up again in a later argument? This works the other way around as well though. Even if someone forgives you verbally, people often still feel indebted. The punishment they receive is usually not enough. They still feel like they are indebted to the victim. The only way to get around this guilt is to hopefully forget about it. The perpetrator is never able to be released from the victim until the victim and perpetrator completely forgets about the whole thing. A jail cell doesn’t release people from their guilt, but time hopefully will. The only way to escape the debt someone owes to the victim is to hope the victim gets amnesia, or wait until enough time has passed. The forgetting of the offense is what makes it seem like it never happened. Reparations and Jail time does not mean anything unless it somehow makes the victim able to live with themselves in a way that they can forget the whole event. That is why people are unsatisfied even after the person that killed one of their loved ones is punished is because they haven’t forgotten about it. The victims are reminded everyday of their loss, and nothing can be done to make the perpetrator completely forgiven. Words do not erase what happened, only reparations to the point that the victim is able to forget the whole incident can. This is why i think Card fails, and these amnesty conferences on Genocide are mere optimism. She says forgiving is a virtue, however this cannot be the case if we still remember what was done to us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Living the OTHER Life

When we discussed the ways in which we “other” people who are different I was drawn back to the Religious Studies class I took in Violence in the Bible. This is where I was first exposed to the term “The Other”. As I understood it, in terms of the ancient Biblical people, “The Other” was the foreigner, differentiated by looks, law, lifestyle, and religious practices. Particularly for the ancient Israelites, it was important to separate oneself from the Other not only for group solidarity but also because they were chosen by God. In her book The Curse of Cain, Ragina Swartz talks about what the other means to kinship of certain groups. “The tragic requirement of collective identity that other peoples must be identified as objects to be abhorred is manifest in the violent exclusions in Israel’s ancestral myths of kinship, assimong especially poignant expressions in the story of the blessing of Jacob” (Swartz 79-80). I think this principle for separating oneself from the Other can be applied to other historical and contemporaneous situations. As I said in class, it is in human nature to want to distinguish what one is or is not and to do that by marginalizing that which is different from you. It doesn’t limit itself to just majority groups.

As a member of two minority groups, not only do I find myself as being the Other but also othering those that are different myself. I realize that separating myself goes beyond just my skin color. While it is probably this largest sign of my difference there is also a history and social location that situates my experiences differently from a white woman or a Latino man. My experiences, then, are predicated and a result of my skin color and the way that other groups view my difference. It works the same way with gender, class and other identifying categories. I don’t believe that we will ever get to a society that completely integrates us all as people rather than separate groups. It is one of those ingrained structures that would take a long time to dismantle and change. I also personally think that othering people can be good for perpetuating autonomy and individuality. I personally take pride in my differences and can better understand those who are different from myself. Plus our locations in life make it hard to be unified because the dynamics of culture are so deeply rooted and there are things that a 20 something American, white female could never understand about being a 60 year old man in India. What say you?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gay By Accusation: Upholding Heteronormativity

I had recently returned from my hometown and was reviewing my paper on Judith Butler's "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution" when I came to an uneasy realization. While Butler focuses on the transvestite as enacting blatantly subversive revaluations of gender, I realized that, generally, one need not embody improvisations on the gender script in order to come under social scrutiny. While reference to a supposedly “natural” gender role is necessarily ambiguous, social forces keep one constantly trying to upkeep an oppressive male sexuality so as not to come under question. Regardless of one's best efforts, however, anything opposed to or apart from the interests of those embracing heteronormativity is often construed to be "gay." Thus, if one listens to dance music, wears (relatively, of course) eccentric clothing, identifies with intellectuals, etc, accusations of homosexuality as a defect begin. Thus, as I waited in my vehicle outside of a gas station in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, an unknown trio consisting of a male and two females openly derided me for listening to Out Hud, jeering and motioning obscenely, putting me in my place, as it were. (For reference, check, the song “Dad, There’s A Little Phrase…”)

Heteronormativity finds many fickle and mostly imperceptible manifestations. I remember a particularly odd situation in high school when the question of same-sex individuals sleeping in the same bed arose. Opposing myself to the common interests and fears of my peers at the time, the idea of same-sex bedfellows did not repulse me. I found myself asking, “If the only available sleeping surface is spacious enough for multiple people, should someone's fear of questioned sexuality force them into sleeping on the floor?” A few examples of limited sleeping surfaces later and rumors circulated in my backward high school concerning my friend group’s “crossing over.” The discomfort of many Americans with seemingly strange practices and interests of others translates into rabid xenophobia in the case of foreigners (today, the Others are “Arab”), but within the community, fear and concomitant anger are made apparent in the form of “gay-bashing.” I realize this is primarily the perspective of a white heterosexual male intermittently attacked with accusations of homosexuality. However, both "flamboyant" and "more reserved" (less open, fearful) homosexual males have found themselves at the bloody end of social brutality.

In relation to nebulous gender roles, many activities may do not fit within the traditional, "ideal" heterosexuality, something variable by region, class, “race,” ethnicity, sex, “gender,” age, etc. Nevertheless, homophobia occurs in near ubiquity, across a variety of classes and creeds. For example, a short reflection upon life at Rhodes College reveals the pervasiveness of gay jokes. A heterosexual male sarcastically dons the persona of a hyper-sexualized homosexual male for the sake of a laugh. What of “Burt’s Bees” lip balm? Is it considered “womanly” to carry such lip items, as Dodge's “Man’s Last Stand” commercial suggests? Apparently men never experience painfully cracked lips, or at least they prefer not to remedy the problem.

In our class, Prof. Johnson rightly redirected our attention to a poignant quote, “The authors of gender become entranced by their own fictions whereby the construction compels one’s belief in its necessity and naturalness,” (99). Thus the habits or practices outside one’s specific construction of gender, itself achieved through performative acts, seem to threaten this construction which is seen as necessary and natural. I’m sure the group which accosted me drove away with their camouflage caps and jackets, listening to clichéd modern country music or nu-metal, as this grouping, by mere repetition, is the accepted mode of musically expressed gender. (Never mind the changes always occurring within these genres, band members wearing makeup and excessive hair products, grotesquely ornate clothing, etc.) For a group so terrified of redescription in the gaze of the Other, the angry rural American youth find the most effective way of enforcing heteronormativity in use of the term “faggot.” This word expresses efforts of these agents of heteronormativity to essentialize gender-bending or simply unwanted Otherness into a single, definitive, derogatory term. Even the use of softer descriptions such as "gay" reflect the negative significance ascribed to homosexuality. As "gay" and "bad" are artificially linked even in the minds of children, heterosexuals feel the need to defend themselves against accusations of homosexuality. By the use of these epithets to signify some unwanted quality, and in order to enforce the norms which absolve them from critically examining gender roles, Poplar Bluff's hoi polloi become the social agents described by Butler, those who "constitute social reality through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign,” (97). Within the hearts of those particularly “entranced by their own fictions” in regard to gender, a “Real Man” is by definition heterosexual, aggressive, potentially dangerous, meat-eating, and, somewhat paradoxically, Christian. In this case, I must ask in response to Butler’s call for subversive acts of gender constitution, how does one reach these people without potentially engendering violence, when even mild cases, i.e. my listening to dance music, are cause for extended reprimand?

Forgiveness and Punishment

Claudia Card’s essay deals with “living with evils, ongoing and past, and their aftermath.” (548) Card focuses on dealing with evils through the eyes of the victim. She says that the victims of evil doings have positive and negative moral powers: the positive moral power being forgiveness and the negative moral power being blame. She also states that “victims have moral powers to release or hold perpetrators to obligations.” (549) To me this says that victims can have some sort of power over their perpetrators by having the power to forgive them or not…and I do not agree. Forgiveness can be a powerful thing, but I believe it releases a burden of the victim to forgive rather than the perpetrator. When evil is done to someone, usually the first thing that follows for the victims is anger and resentment. Telling the offender how he or she may have offended the victim may illicit an apology and forgiveness and leave both parties feeling resolution. However, what happens when the offender does not care how they wronged the victim? It’s the victim that ends up being stuck with that resentment while the perpetrator goes on his merry little way. In that moment, the victim can choose to forgive and move on or linger in that resentment because at this point the perpetrator feels no obligation to the victim. Holding onto that resentment only affects the victim in the end. I’m not saying that forgiveness is useless, but the process of forgiveness helps the healing process. Forgiving also does not mean forgetting. The victim can try to forget, but short of scrubbing the brain clean, those memories will always remain.

Some victims seek punishment for their perpetrators through the justice system as the solution to the wrong done to them. If perpetrators are found, then their criminal offenses are sometimes tried in court. This justice system is not perfect. There are innocent people who are put in prison on technicalities or simply bad representation. In cases like these, the person who was thought to be the perpetrator is now the victim and this person’s accusers are the perpetrators. And there are guilty people who are not punished for the crimes they have committed. If this is how the victim hoped to find rectification, what happens when the justice system fails? Does the victim try to move on or hold on to the anger? And what happens when the justice system does prevail, and the guilty are found guilty? It does not change anything. The evil was still done and it can’t be undone. Can putting a perpetrator in jail for 25 years to life justify the life that was taken?

I do believe that people who have knowingly and purposely done wrong should be punished. I am in no way against the justice system. I simply feel that finding justice can only rectify things so much, and in the end there can still a void in that victim. Rectification can not be found in one solution. Forgiveness and seeking justice can help lead to rectification, but ultimately it is up to the victim to decide if they want to hold on to the evil or accept that the evil happened and try to move on with their lives.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How to Train A Dragon
was not a film I relished seeing. However, the story gives a provides an empowering message for children on several subjects we have discussed in class. There are strong female characters and a positive light shed on flexible gender roles that children are not used to seeing in their current cartoon repertoire.

The story is about Hiccup, a lanky, awkward teen boy who lives in some Nordic village that is characterized by its continuous battle against raiding dragons. Interestingly, both women and men fight at the front lines and have the opportunity to die defending their civilization. This seems to be a strong critique of the current military situation in the United States that does not allow women to fight in combat. Teens train to fight dragons, but Hiccup is geeky and physically weak, and is not allowed to train initially, though his father later relents and allows him to. The student who is best at dragon fighting is a girl named Astrid. Hiccup develops a weapon that shoots rope to trap dragons and captures some rare form of dragon that was yet unseen by any villager. Yes, the cartoon was pretty campy and stupid at times, but it redeemed itself later. The machine is a success and Hiccup hits a dragon, it is injured by the machine and can no longer fly. Hiccup “cheesily” befriends it, calls it “Toothless,” and makes a prosthetic device that will help the dragon fly with the help of a human rider to control the device like a stick-shift vehicle. Hiccup learns about dragon behavior from Toothless and uses it to become the best dragon fighting trainee. Hiccup's success angers Astrid because she is clearly the better dragon fighter, without Hiccup’s privileged knowledge.

The world that DreamWorks created showed women and girls as being naturally accepted as part of the working and fighting force. At one point in the film, Astrid responds to the way in which Hiccup treats her as an object. She punches him for having "kidnapped" her in order to change her mind about he and his dragon, forcefully reminding him that she is not his to control or maneuver. Later, after she decides Hiccup is not a patriarchal clown, she is the one who takes the perceived “masculine” role in kissing him first, or making the first move. Snoutlout, another young male dragon trainer, is shown to be the stereotypically "masculine" teen, and is seen as foolish and stupid throughout the film. Hiccup's father eventually realizes that his son's talents with inventions and working with dragons are valuable even though they are not stereotypically “masculine” like dragon fighting would seem to be. Thus, throughout the film gender roles are presented as fairly flexible. Hiccup is shown as skilled and smart even though he is not a strong fighter, Astrid and Ruffnut, another female dragon fighter trainee, are shown as feminine but physically strong and capable. The main message of the entire story is to accept everyone as they are, and to let each person use their own natural skills to help the whole, regardless of gender or gender roles.

Care infuzed with Justice

After reading Taking Care: Care as Practice and Value by Virginia Held, I have concluded that care should be the greater structure through which justice should work. Justice and care are both valuable concepts that we must work together to find a suitable balance between two systems that are necessary for moral thinking. How exactly do they fit together, though? Our division of care and justice from our last class made me realize that a framework that looks at rights, equality, and liberty is not easily joined with one that values relatedness, community, and caring action. However, the two must fuse in order to best provide for our society.

Justice is needed in the spheres of both state and family. We attempt to make an equitable division of labor between men and women, protect individuals from domestic violence, and protect the rights of the individual. In a system that cares for those who cannot provide for themselves, such as children or the aged, however, justice forces us to avoid paternalistic domination. Care is needed in the public sector, as well, to provide for those from contexts that do not allow them to provide for themselves or that need more to live an autonomous life. Making provisions for these individuals should be done in such a way that empowers, however, and avoids devaluing the ability and potential of citizens, such as is seen in the current Welfare program.

Care and justice cannot exist in two different spheres, public and private, though they are different and often do not work together easily. Care and justice, then, could be seen as Carol Gilligan recommended: different but equally valid. Choices involving public policy should seek both care and justice in a model that uses justice to determine bare minimums that belong to all individuals, regardless of age, gender, and class. Care questions circumstances beyond justice and asks questions about the contexts in which individuals or groups of individuals are involved. Justice is certainly useful, but not necessary. The family unit requires little justice, but there is a lot of care that happens within it and the unit functions fully. I believe that justice, essentially, should not be the sole criteria for determining morality. Care is the better framework that should be questioned by justice, not confined by it. Within our own society, we must develop this framework that allows a care for each other that emphasizes interrelatedness. We must care for one another enough to ensure that everyone has an environment in which to live and sustain himself or herself without violence or suffering. The values and morality seen in the family unit helps create a framework that understands that care is a time consuming, costly effort that is worth it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Better Model

I would just like to reinforce the notion that morality should be re-analyzed, via Alcoff, and care ethics contributes in a way that not only contextualizes morality instead of the usual assumption that it arises a priori and is universal, but it also seems more natural given the model of a mother and child. Since the ethical is very relative to politics, the connection seems natural. As gathered through Gilligan’s article, the female has been stifled since because they were not seen as being able to assimilate to the disinterested universals, which should be questioned in the first place. Care ethics seems much more true to how morality actually plays out, and care ethics I believe does not have to be diametrically opposed to Kohlberg’s sense of morality. Once again this is where Alcoff can have influence, as the conditions under which care ethics have arised must be analyzed and merit their own genealogy, and hopefully this will clear up that care ethics could arise more out of natural feelings instead of just the conditions of oppression that females have suffered. If a biological link where to be established, I think the justice model might suffer, but it seems that one can always make the argument that humans have rationality and therefore it should trump base feelings, as that is what supposedly separates us from the animals. Care ethics admits to the interested nature in which we care, as it often occurs in a manner that favors others instead of giving everyone the same moral consideration. While this may be harsh in some cases, it most certainly mirrors my actual experiences of morality, as I have an order of those I care about or are willing to devote more attention to. Kohlberg wants to articulate the typically male notion of the universals as the highest form of ethical reasoning, but it fails to take into account that in practice it is based on relationships as care ethics will point out. Objective morality would be a nice thing, but from constant reminders by feminist philosophers, we know that the completely objective viewpoint might be absurd and would be better off abandoned. Surely everyone would probably prefer that a complete stranger hold him/her in the same regard as a close family member or friend, but this is often not the case in experience, and I am glad care ethics takes this into account.

The Other

Last class we ended discussion by clarifying the difference between the generalized other and the concrete other. The generalized other is acting like everyone is the same as it can be applied to the concept of universalism. The concrete other can be seen as a solution to the generalized other as the concrete other is acting in complete subjectivity. The concrete other is used as a standard for the generalized other. The generalized other is also seen to be under a veil of ignorance while the concrete other is concerned with who is involved and the actual situation. While reading I noticed Seyla Benhabib’s use of the word “other” and recalled Simon de Beauvoir’s article, The Second Sex.

In The Second Sex, Beauvoir explains that men are the “one” so women become the “other.” The category of man is defined by a man but the category of women is defined by a man as well. Because men are the “one,” people can judge men as men and see men as more than just objects. Women being the “other” sex are just seen as objects by other people. Hence, women are never able to separate themselves from their sexuality or sex. Therefore, women become the second sex in comparison to men who are seen to be the first or normal sex.

By comparing both Beauvoir’s and Benhabib’s use of the “other” I wonder if the generalized or concrete other could fit the description of the other as presented by Beauvoir. Both writers defined women in terms of the other but in different methods. Benhabib explains that female is defined by the negation of the “other” and that other spits into two categories : generalized and concrete. Beauvoir defines other in such a way to express women as being something other than man or the norm, therefore women are the other.

Both Beauvoir and Benhabib have a similar explanations of women’s inferiority but have different perspectives. Beauvoir claims that women have to "become woman" by performing feminine activities. Similarly, Benhabib claims that household activities can make women seem like they are inferior and therefore are not capable of morality. Benhabib is asking just that- whether women are capable of being moral agents even when they are seen as inferior because of household matters.

Beauvoir and Benhabib seem to have a comparable view on women’s inferiority which is defined through their common word “other”. So one, is there a connection between Beauvoir's and Benhabib’s term for “other”? If so, could Beauvoir’s term, “other” be seen as a generalized other or concrete other?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

MPD Officers: Bridging Care and Justice Ethics?

For my senior research, I’m doing ethnographic observation of Memphis police officers. During one of my ride-alongs on patrol, the officer pulled over a car with a loose license plate because missing bolts can indicate hastily switched tags. Not only did the plate belong to another car, but the car in question did not belong to the driver, the driver had an expired license, and had several missed court dates and overdue fines on her record. The woman could have easily been arrested on any one of these counts, and her position was severely worsened by having so many violations at once. The cop did not arrest the girl. Instead, she used her own judgment and ethical positioning to calculate the situation. The citizen was an eighteen-year old mother of two on her way home from Bridges (a community center that helps secure employment). According to the girl, she had borrowed the car to get to the center because she had no car of her own, and she borrowed the plates because the cars’ were out of date. She couldn’t pay her fines or attend court because she lacked transportation, decent employment, and time. Not only did the officer believe the girl’s story, but she gave her advice on how to get the court to drop her charges. Afterwards, I asked the officer why she let go someone who was obviously breaking several important laws. The officer replied that there was no good in arresting the girl. The charges were circumstantial, brought on in many cases by economic and social oppressions that are nearly impossible to avoid. Arresting the girl, the officer said, would only make her situation worse. Paying fines was simply money taken away from food and rent, and the girl had children to care for. The charges against the girl were not endangering the public, so letting her go was an act mercy to someone in a rough situation.

This incident was one of several I observed where officers used a good deal of personal reasoning to judge a case where adherence to strict law technically could call for an arrest. This seems like the perfect example of a middle ground between justice and care ethics. The officer, and others like her, has the freedom to use individual discretion while examining a case. In this example, the officer obviously had a basis in justice ethics, where the law is adhered to because it is always right. The law, however, gave the officer the chance to use care ethics by imagining the girl’s situation and understanding that life isn’t always in terms of right and wrong. In Gilligan’s theory, it follows that the officer (a woman) would ultimately result to care ethics because of her gender. It is in her profession, however, that justice ethics are required as well. Using this case, I can understand the claim brought up in Benhabib’s work that locates a possible source of the supposed gender divide of ethics in the realm of spheres rather than gender. Benhabib’s article traces the ethical separation to public and private spheres, stating that because men have traditionally owned the public sphere (one situated in law and rules) and women the private sphere (nature, relationships), ethics have become inextricably tied to the gender/sex system. I hope that the female officer I rode with is an example of what can happen when women enter the workforce and tie our ethical divide together, a connection both authors we’re reading imply is a natural and healthy solution to our binary reality.

The All American Basketball Alliance

On the March 29th episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the All American Basketball Alliance out of Atlanta, Georgia was profiled by Jason Jones. Everyone hold on- we’ve reverted to the 1950s! Don “Moose” Lewis has created a basketball league for whites only. Moose calls this the “alternative brand to the NBA.” To play or coach in the Alliance, you must be Caucasian, your parents must be Caucasian (because you never know- your parents could be a totally different race from you) and your parents must have been born in the United States. Moose wants to bring back what was lost: “White fundamental basketball just got left behind.” What are the “fundamentals” that got left behind? Moose includes dribbling skills, shooting skills, passing skills, and the use of a playbook as things that have been left behind.
Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am a fan of basketball and I’ve gone to see the Grizzlies play multiple times. I’m pretty positive that the NBA still employs dribbling, shooting, and passing in the game. When asked by Jason Jones why he thought no one had thought of this already (after integration) Moose said “I’m not a genius. I’m just speaking for the silent, white, middle America. I’m not here to please everyone.”
He also said that it wasn’t fair to call him a racist. “I was a child of integration” he said, “forced integration by the government. “ Several of his friends were removed from the basketball team in his high school to make room for black players. “You want to talk about racism? I’ve lived racism.”

Is anyone else appalled? Obviously the Daily Show was making fun of Moose Lewis, but it still shows just how blatant racism is in some parts of the country. I feel that the fundamental elements of oppression are apparent in the story as well. Moose Lewis believes that his white friends were oppressed by black players when he was in high school- a gross error considering just how much privilege Moose has as a white male. He’s basically whining because he thinks that “blacks are better athletes when it comes to basketball.” Moose is completely oblivious to the structures of oppression that are already in place oppressing African Americans and he has effectively added to that structure by creating this all white basketball league. I wonder how successful this basketball league will be. How many Americans out there also genuinely believe that basketball has been taken over by black players? I think this is completely ridiculous and awful. Furthermore, I think it would be safe to call Moose sexist as well since he hasn’t provided an alternative to the WNBA as well- only white men are allowed in the alliance. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this league and I have included the link if you want to watch the episode.

The Right to Responsibility

Historically, feminist philosophical arguments are rare, and those that did manifest were either published under a male surname or were laid to sleep, never to be actively incorporated into the dominant institutionalize academic discourse. The twentieth-century may be considered a historic landmark for human rights; moreover, for female rights as human beings. Seyla Benhabib is profoundly progressive in her thinking about moral theoretical groundings and their interwoven connection to our attitudes toward our relationships with others. She critically analyzes Gilligan and Kohlberg’s conceptualizations of “moral theory”, and offers a new synthesis of moral theory.

Benhabib advocates the need for an exploration and vocalization of the moral development among women. She does this by deconstructing the differences between the ethics of justice and rights and the ethics of care and responsibility. Hegel’s dialectic reasoning echoes in the background of her work, as Benhabib seeks to synthesize the two orientations, in order to form a more accurate picture of the formation and continuation of moral theories. Based on her assertion that the two moral development theories in question “are not bipolar or dichotomous”, the possibility for a merging, intermixing, or blending of the two is made apparent. While reading Benhabib’s article, my mind conjured the image of Hegel’s dialectic diagram, in which the convergence of common truths within a thesis and an antithesis form a newly proposed synthesis. Hegel’s logic operated through me while reading Benhabib to produce a question of my own: Do we have a right to responsibility? This admittedly vague and complex inquiry is how I interpreted Benhabib’s intentions for her article.

Interactive universalism is precisely the synthesis necessary for the representation of the multiple modes of being in the world and diversity among the international population. Because interactive universalism prioritizes differences among social groups before proceeding to act or judge an “other”, it is grounded in the “universalism” belief that we are all socialized beings having embodied our social environmental influences, and seeks to generate a broader, more tolerable and cohesive moral outlook as well as it seeks to alter the institutional and political structures that help shape our moral standpoints.

The implementation of this theory requires, first, the disillusioning of a sexist historicity. We must begin by acknowledging how and why male supremacy is so deeply embedded within our social discourse and cultural traditions. Second, we must actively reconceptualize the notions of autonomy, domestic politics, and social-historical situatedness, and recognize the harmful implications of our current attitudes toward each. This, I predict, will only come about with the vocalization of female-oriented voices within positions of authority and policy-making.

As Benhabib clearly states, feminist theory is not focused on toppling male dominance, nor is it another sexist ploy to gain supreme social, political, economic or religious power. It aims to reveal the horrific atrocities against women that come about in the subtlest manners that operate on a daily basis right under our noses. It wishes to dismantle the socio-political walls that entrap women within a privatized environment, hidden as well as ignored by both the general public and the elite decision-makers. And most importantly, it seeks to examine the reification of the dominant perception of autonomy and how it serves to further subordinate and silence females.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Epistemology and Women's Rights

Lately I have been struggling to wrap my head around the meanings of our class readings. How does epistemology relate to the struggle for women's rights? What strikes me first is the fact that anything that we take as truth must always be taken into further consideration. Who determined this truth, how did they discover it, and why is this truth relevant are some of the questions that these readings tell us we must seek to answer before we can fully commit ourselves to these truths. These questions seem especially important to consider when we realize that many truths regarding the lives and circumstances of women are not knowledge that women themselves have come to agree on, but rather the knowledge of women has been determined by men who have tried to find and reinforce reasons for the otherness of women. In order to create a patriarchal society that keeps its women well within the confines of a birdcage, many truths have been created considering the abilities (or disabilities) of women, justified by both religion and science. I think that this is the kind of knowledge that must be reformed and reevaluated before it is accepted wholly as truth. The origins and reasons for knowledge create the subjective force behind truth and once we can understand that not every fact can be taken at face value, greater steps can be made in changing the way we think about knowledge and how we come to understand and accept this knowledge.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Subjectivity and Epistemology: A misunderstanding of terminology

In our discussions of a feminist approach to epistemology I have had trouble accepting some of the claims made by the feminist camp. Last Tuesday we discussed the essay by Lorraine Code, Taking Subjectivity into Account. She explains that we view epistemology as value neutral. The statement “S knows that p”, relies on the idea of a surrogate knower and Code does not see this as possible without taking subjectivity into account. While I agree with code that many of the things we like to say we “know” should be critically evaluated, I have been unable to concede that for certain items of knowledge we should take subjectivity of the knowers into account. I remember in class we were having a discussion of color, and how it can be considered subjective. However, it is false to say that color is subjective. Color, the visible spectrum, exists within the entire electromagnetic spectrum. It is based on energy and wavelengths and despite how certain people, i.e. colorblind individuals, perceive color it is absolute that “S knows that color exists according to the visible spectrum”. I have a problem giving up the epistemological standards that tell me how I can know things.

My hesitancy to fully accept Code’s claims is mostly related to the discipline of science. It seems to me that when something is considered definite scientific knowledge, the possibility of subjectivity has already been eliminated. Despite ones personal experience and vantage point, the makeup of water is H2O. Things such as physics and chemistry do not seem to me to have any bearing on a subjective knower. Code states that she proposes a new type of epistemology “that develops qualitative analyses of subjective positions and identities and the sociopolitical structures that produce them” (734). This claim seems to go against the goals of scientific knowledge. I have an investment in the fact that the periodic table of elements is true. This type of knowledge does not exist relative to specific circumstances. My question for Code, and the feminist account of epistemology, is what type of knowledge are you contesting? It seems that a distinction might need to be made between what is actually meant by know in the statement “S knows that p”. If what is known needs to be evaluated from different standpoints then it isn’t actually know.

How Can I Be Silent?

In the framework that I have been raised in, and I am sure many of you, I have been taught that it is impolite to disagree with someone else’s opinion. I have been taught to concede and say, “Well, I guess you are entitled to your own opinion, and I am entitled to mine.” However, do we really believe what we profess to believe if we are not willing to defend this belief at any cost? When this point was brought up in class, I was taken aback. I wondered if it were possible for me to defend my belief, but also respect that another person is entitled to his or her own beliefs. As I reflected on this more and more, I realized that this cannot be my primary concern especially when the very nature of another person’s belief compromises people’s own personal autonomy.

How can I be silent in the abortion debate when the very essence of a pro-life stance threatens my freedom to make a choice about my body? How can I be silent in the health care debate when the very essence of a stance that does not afford access to millions threatens the lives of millions and millions of people? How can I be silent in a debate about gay marriage when the very essence of an anti-gay marriage stance threatens familial security for so many couples?

I guess the answer is simple, I cannot be silent. Though it is often very difficult and at times may go against so many things that I have been taught, I cannot be silent. I cannot concede and say, “You are entitled to your own opinion.” By doing so, I reinforce their very stance and reinforce their decision to threaten people’s autonomy. There comes a point when defending my belief is so much more important than worrying about tact or hurting someone’s feelings. Instead of viewing this disagreement as something dreadful, it might be helpful to view this as an opportunity. I have the opportunity to express my beliefs to someone else. This may be the only time that he or she hears from the other side. I have the opportunity to open someone else’s eyes!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pragmatist Similarites and Criticisms of Harding

When reading Harding’s essay, I noticed several similarities to ideas present in Pragmatism. Harding idea that a person’s circumstances and experiences often shape the way that an object is perceived is very similar to one of Santayana’s belief on how we perceive objects. Santayana believes that our experiences shape the way we experience an object. For example take a painting of a dog. To a person who had a dog growing up with no problems, they might find this picture cute. However to a person who may have been attacked by a dog as a young child, the picture might look more terrifying. Both these people perceive the same thing however; their perception and judgment of the object is very different. Santayana further makes the claim that these experiences can not only shape our opinions of objects, but also our conceptions of truth. Harding similarly argues that the experience of being a woman, gay, or minority, affect the perception of data as well. She acknowledges that our experience and circumstances effect our perception just like Santayana. Harding seems to have many similarities to pragmatist thought.

In addition to this Harding’s solution to the problem of differing experiences and perceptions comes from pragmatist thought as well. Pragmatists urge people to do actions, and create habits that will create the most beneficial goal; however they also say that it is necessary to take into account everybody’s opinion when making a decision. They argue for a democracy, using everybody’s past experiences to join together and form a solution. They argue that it is important to include diverse ideas and values because it can “enlarge our vision” as Harding pointed out. Harding similarly thought it was important not to exclude the views of people not currently in power. It is important to hear these views, like those of women, when making conclusions about certain things. They also would definitely agree that it is important to critically examine our habits in the field of science to exclude other voices, and not realize the relationship between experience and perception. Pragmatists often argue it is important to examine our daily routine and the way we do things to find whether or not what we are doing is bad, and if we can make things more efficient in trying to achieve our goals.

However pragmatist would disagree greatly with Harding that combining different perceptions, makes our view of something more objective. Why does knowledge have to be considered objective for society to function. Pragmatists argue that truth is what is practical, not what is objectively real. We do not need an objective truth to accomplish what Harding is arguing. Just because you different people looking at something does not mean that their combined perception of something is more real. If one person see a Rorschach test and says he sees a penguin, and another person sees the same test and sees a cat, their combined perceptions don’t exactly lead to anything more real. In addition to this truth for a pragmatist, should be seen as what is practical to believe in, not what is objectively out there. For example the question of God. While I do realize that Harding talks about science, I do think that this question still points out the problem of just combining views and claiming they are more objective because there are many different viewpoints. Having a thousand different people from different countries and cultures will not make their answer to whether or not God exists more objective. It would just be a people arguing back and forth. You won’t have an answer. For a pragmatist however the answer is easy, what is practical to believe in is what is to be considered true. People say that just because the idea of God gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside does not mean he exists, A pragmatist would disagree with that statement. A pragmatist would point out how the idea of God can people better live their lives and creates many benefits for society such as charities and bringing communities together, etc etc. They would say that because believing in a God can lead to so many benefits, God therefore exists. Whether or not God is beneficial to the world is under debate however, you can see how they make their decisions.

Harding makes the mistake of trying to think that we need some idea of objectivism in order to order our lives. Objectivism is not necessary in creating solutions to arguments. Just because you have more people looking at something does not mean the combined perception may not be truer, and the solutions and the ideas they come up with may not necessarily be better. Having more voices just leads to more arguments when looking at reality objectively. It is difficult to have thousands of differing voices while at the same time accomplishing anything if you stick to arguing for an objective truth, even if it is a little distorted. Harding needs to abandon objectivity to accomplish her goal.