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Polly's blog

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Remaking Stereotypes and Female Characters - Final Web Event

In my third Web Event, I explored the two opposing methods of fighting patriarchal inequality: fighting to unbind gender from inequality and using the present inequality to justify more immediate, relief-providing policies. I looked at how Heidi Hartmann switched her perspective in her essays arguing for change in the workplace, an end to labor segregation and the wage gap. On the unbinding end, Hartmann explained the connections between capitalism and patriarchy, and then she argued that ending labor segregation would take down an important pillar holding up patriarchy. To reach the end of labor segregation, however, we must fix the societal expectations and assumptions that justify and perpetuate the segregation.

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Does Unbinding Prevent Progress? Web Event #3

Patriarchy and feminism rely on sex, gender and power. Even as the definitions of sex, gender and power change, patriarchy is still the power of one sex over others, and feminism is still a fight for equality and the end of that power. The words and are bound together. What could happen to the system of oppression and the force trying to fight that oppression if their definitions were stripped away? If sex and gender were pushed to the background of society and the subconscious, if mentally, a switch was flicked across the globe and gender was recognized only as a self-chosen identity, there could be two ways of interpreting the new, unbound patriarchy and feminism. Either patriarchy would represent all oppression and feminism all efforts to equalize people, or those two ideas, currently so strong, would have no existence in a world freed from gender and sex, and the power defined by them.

Since there is no global switch that can be turned on or off, a more realistic occurrence would be a movement involving policy and ideological change that accepted that sex is not a category that can be used in power structures to dominate. The problem is that practically, if the equality of all sexes was recognized legally, efforts to alleviate discrimination that are based on the existing inequality in society would become invalid. In order to fix problems involving discrimination by gender, one must work within the system, sacrificing the idealistic acknowledgement of equality, or the unbinding of gender.

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Reading Book of Salt

In The Book of Salt, the narrator sometimes speaks to a "you," using second person. I'm not used to this point of view when I read a novel, and it surprised and confused me. I'm not yet sure who Bình is talking to in the book. The use of second person makes the book seem like a personal story or letter that I am looking in on . However, I do not feel like I am invading Bình's privacy. I think that is because the "you" only comes up once in a while. I also am getting a sense of mystery while reading this book, because of the point of view (who is he talking to and why in the middle of the narrative) and because the time seems to jump around, like in Eva's Man. I am enjoying the book so far, and unlike while reading Eva's Man, I'm not constantly trying to put a normative order to the narrative. I think my favorite part of the book is the treatment of language. I'm reading a book written in English but the characters are speaking, living, in French and Vietnamese as well as English. 

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Silence and Expectations

Silence can be a choice but it can also be forced. It is hard to tell for which of these reasons a person is silent. I can be silent when asked a question because I don't know the answer, because someone/thing has intimidated me, or because I choose not to answer. I can't expect anyone else to know why I am silent unless I, paradoxically, tell them by breaking my silence.

I think that when dealing with silence, we can only expect to get back what we give, to a conversation, a class, or a society. If I do not talk to someone in a conversation, I cannot expect them to keep the conversation going on their own. If I do not contribute in a class, I cannot expect someone to do my learning for me. And if I do not vocalize what I think is wrong with society, I cannot expect change.

I expected Eva, as someone arrested for murder, to want to explain her situation in order to get out of some of her punishment. I have grown up with our legal system, with "innocent until proven guilty," and with "you have the right to remain silent." Eva cannot expect to get anything out of the legal system if she does not speak. The legal system expects voices, not silence.

If I am using my voice, I feel like I deserve a response; I expect it. If I talk to someone, I want and expect them to respond. The choice to be silent is not an open, easy one, because society, from individuals to the government, expects us to be vocal. Fulfilling expectations is a much easier choice than is defying them.

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Healthcare without the Gender Binary - Web Event #2

The embedded video (shows up at the end of the post) is an interview with Eden Atwood, conducted by Dr. Lindsay Doe, who was born intersex, meaning that she does not biologically fit into the gender and sex binary. She shares the story (starting at 4:57) of how she found out she is intersex and how she was treated as a child.

I watched this interview with Eden Atwood a few months ago, and her story shocked me. Her doctors and her parents lied to her and performed unnecessary surgery on her just because of her intersex condition. I also remembered that historically, there were people and organizations that tried to “cure” homosexuality, using physically abusive methods. I decided to look into how healthcare and health insurance in America support the socially constructed gender binary and heteronormative lifestyle by refusing some people care and forcing it upon others.

Interview with Eden Atwood
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Keeping Disability Quiet and Our Love of Comparison

On Tuesday, the guest speakers talked a little about how we see things related to disability-the ramps and parking and automatic doors, but we never talk about disability. Then later, people were talking about how at Bryn Mawr, a lot of people want to know if they are doing worse/as well/better than other students, but we don't talk about grades here so we don't know where we stand. When my math midterm was handed out before break, I saw that on the front cover it had spaces for percentage and number correct, but also for standard deviation and the average grade. I was happy to see that, because I knew that when I got the midterm back, I would be able to see if I was around or better than the average (hopefully not worse). But when I actually received my graded midterm, only the percentage and number correct were filled in. I was disappointed because I wanted some sort of confirmation that my grade was good.

Kelly brought up that students are likely to see professors as people who have successfully gone through what we are going through now, and that it is hard to be ok with failure in that environment. When Anne responded that the students don't know about any failures that the professors may have had, it made me think that not talking about the failures causes a stressful expectation. Knowing where everyone else stands in the world (or just in your class) can make you feel good, or motivate you to improve. But when we don't know, I think it is natural to be worried or self conscious that others are performing better than we are.

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Gender in Children's Book Illustrations - Web Event #1

“Girl, boy, boy, boy, girl, girl, boy, girl,” I quickly say to myself.

On the second page of Persepolis, there is a panel reading, “where boys and girls were together,” and the illustration shows eight children (Satrapi, 4). When I read that page, I stared at the drawing trying to figure out how I knew which children were boys and which were girls. I could tell, from a simplistic drawing, based on the hairstyles and the top half of the shirts, and that bothered me. The style of the drawings and the accessibility of Persepolis reminded me of illustrated children’s books: simple sentences with drawings of what is happening.

 I decided to take another look at a few children’s books I loved when I was younger. Many children’s books feature anthropomorphic characters, and I wondered how the anthropomorphic characters would be gendered compared to the human characters. The specific stories I looked at were “The Veil” from Persepolis, “Chapter VII In Which Kanga and Baby Roo Come to the Forest and Piglet Has a Bath” from Winnie-the-Pooh, The Berenstain Bears and the Sitter, Arthur Writes a Story, Clifford’s Family, and Thank you, Amelia Bedelia. The illustrations in these stories range from very humanized to actually human, and from highly gendered to barely.

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My thoughts on Ecofeminism

When Anne read some information about ecofeminism and speciesism, I found myself immediately rejecting and judging those ideas. I couldn't accept that the next step in equality and inclusion was animals. It sounded ridiculous to me. Why and how would we extend rights to animals? And as Christina said, plants are living too. Including certain non human species in equal rights but not others is just another line to draw. After I left class, I remembered learning about the waves of feminism in my women in history class at high school, and the critiques they received. In the first wave, when women wanted to be able to participate in the public sphere, they were accused of trying to wreck the entire structure of the American family, and therefore the country. I think that every new branch or type of feminism is going to have a counter argument. Sometimes other types of feminists are the ones arguing. I don't want to think of myself as acting/being against a group of feminists, like ecofeminists, but I their ideas don't follow what my feminism is. I hadn't heard any categories besides first, second, and third wave until class on Thursday, and I guess the idea of there being new groups still forming confuses me. Feminism as an ongoing movement seems so different from what we read about in history, and I am having a hard time placing myself. I dont want to be in a box for my type of feminism.

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Is the veil liberating?

When I read Persepolis, the idea that some women might want to be veiled didn't even cross my mind. I'm glad someone in class brought up the idea of what women wear in different cultures being liberating. I found some interesting quotes when I looked up why Muslim women wear the veil and if they like to or not.

"Arab-American Diba Rab says she chooses to wear a veil because it acts as an equalizer. 'I want people to see who I am — for who I am — and not for how I look and not for my physical features, but rather my intellectual capabilities," she said.'"

"I really liked the purpose behind the hijab -- a woman covering herself so that a man should know her for her mind, not her body."

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Identifying and Naming Gender

Until class on Thursday, I had never been asked what gender I identify as. I had never thought about gender as something that comes from within myself. I thought of the gender binary as a social construct that was passed down to children from the moment they are born. Once a sex is assigned, parents dress their baby in "appropriate" clothes and colors, and give them gendered toys, like dolls or trucks.

I automatically answered "female" but then wondered if that was even the right word. "Female" and "male" sound more like sexes than genders.I didn't know what language to use for gender. "Woman" and "girl" both have strong connotations for me, and I don't feel like either is appropriate. When I hear "woman," I always think of a specific image, a female older than me. She is wearing a dress. "Girl," on the other hand, is too young. My age is suspended between the two, perhaps because I am in the inbetween age, the teenager still discovering herself. 

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