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Towards Day 15 (T, 10/28): On being seen

Anne Dalke's picture

I. course keeping: finish Americanah by Thursday
(if you still owe us a posting on the novel, please put it up before classtime:
khinchey, nbarker, rb.richx are responsible for our agenda!)

Kristin, Sara and I are @ work on plans for a visit from the Camphill villagers: 10-1, Mon, 12/15--
an hour to wander, show your room and special spaces; an hour to lunch together;
an hour to present your portraits...not a public event (that will be the Friday before)--
any thoughts/suggestions here, as we plan?

a visit from Samantha Lov
e, profiling feminism for a journalism class?
(next Tuesday, when we will be reading-and-talking about
feminism in the 2/3 World, the global South...)?

a visit from Co-counseling?
["two people take turns counseling and being counseled.
The one acting as the counselor listens, draws the other out and permits, encourages,
and assists emotional discharge. The one acting as client talks and discharges and re-evaluates."]

II. start by talking about the performance/workshop
then: reviewing your proposals for the "listening conversation" you will conduct at Bryn Mawr before Nov. 9 (still missing rb.richx):

Hummingbird & khinchey are planning to do a listening/talking project together on education and Intersectionality: We want to talk specifically about different identities – class, age, caregiving, etc. – and how those have played out in and impacted our educational experiences. In particular we are interested in the ways these identities intersect with norms and expectations around Bryn Mawr and what it means to be a student here. We want to structure the project in the style of listening and telling we did in Monsoon and Benifer's Saturday workshop. khinchey suggested inviting the McBrides and our 360 classmates to view the listening and telling, and perhaps having time for questions afterwards.

Sunshine, ndifrank & nbarker
want to focus on body image and the health center. Keeping in mind the techniques of monsoon and benaifer, the health center and the students will talk one on one. Meaning that members of the health center will get to share their experience as much as the students. In order to have a controlled group of students who feel comfortable speaking to member of the health center and wide range of voices, we will send an email to the entire community to invite members to first share their experiences with us and decide who should talk the health center and who would rather write their experiences down. From this we hope that members of the health center will not be attacked and be listened as well as the students. This will humanize the institution that is the health center.  We would do better explaining this in person. Love...nbarker agrees with how well this has been thought out, especially how it takes into account different levels of comfort & ability, and the need for the humanization in this debate. In might be a good idea to set up an anonymous way to add in comments, to even make confidentiality & accessibility greater.

abradycole, Name, rebeccamec, smalina, bridgetmartha, rosea: Mental Health Topics Proposal/Tentative Plans We've Discussed:

  • interviews with students re: experiences w mental health at bryn mawr 
  • talk to depression awareness club, C.a.l.m., 
  • discussion circle (listening meeting kind of thing) open to both administration, people from the health center, and students
  • utilize something similar to Monsoon and Benaifer's method of storysharing, by which everything is confidential and stories do not include judgment; open everyone up to each other's humanity, etc.
  • bring pieces of these stories and parts of the listening conversation (kept confidential) to public awareness, so both students and administration are forced, to some level, to confront these personal truth
Issues we'd like to discuss in class tomorrow:
  • how do we use the method of leaving out judgements and feelings when so much of mental health is about feelings that are not necessarily physically manifested?
  • how do we get administration to take the time to do this, and to follow guidelines that we have set for conversation?
  • how do we make this about story sharing, rather than making a point, and at the same time make a difference that extends beyond the conversation?
  • how do we engage administration in the story sharing process? do we make it an opportunity for them to share their own experiences with mental health? (we definitely want to steer them away from talking about other people's stories, that they have only had minimally experience with themselves)
  • should these stories be focused around the "beginning" of a mental health issue, or how it's perceived on campus/in the health center, or both/etc?
III. on Thursday, nudged by Abby (amazing, in a course on
Critical Feminist Studies, to be asked if we might talk about feminism!) --
as figured (differently) by Adichie, Beyonce, Niki Minaj;
and also about the ways in which the novel functioned as a form of anthropology,
giving us the outsider/"participant observer's" take on a culture she'd immigrated to.

You asked that today we might go on to consider
* relationships (between men and women, and around money)
* compare Ifemelu's relationships w/ Curt and w/ Blaine
* the experiences of African-Americans, vs. those of more recent immigrants
* the cultural specificity of mental health diagnoses

IV. organize those topics around your postings:
abradycole: After Ifemelu has the traumatizing experience with the tennis coach in Ardmore, she’s left feeling wretched and alone. She experiences all of the symptoms used to describe depression, but she refuses to let the word depression define the state she’s in. It seems that mental health issues are, to her, a reality experienced only by Americans who are too self-obsessed to consider anything but their own lives and feelings. By comparing Ginika’s and Aunty Uju’s responses to depression, I can see that one’s perception of mental health and the importance of the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals is completely socially constructed. I know that discussions of mental health are classed, and that those conversations have a certain amount of privilege attached to them, but to see it so starkly has been eye-opening for me....Later’s clear that Uju views the search for identity as similarly unimportant as the idea of depression. “Everybody is conflicted, identity this, identity that. Somebody will commit murder and say it is because his mother did not hug him when he was three years old. Or they will do something wicked and say it is a disease that they are struggling with” (219). The way she talks about identity and mental health as an excuse for bad behavior makes me think that the way privileged Americans (this is a huge generalization) think about mental health is, to Uju, a contrived struggle and one that is not real in the same way her own personal struggles are real to her. What does Ifemelu’s reaction to depression say about her own changing cultural identity? I hope we can talk more in class about the connections between mental health and class in Americanah and at Bryn Mawr. I think there are some interesting conversations to be had about this topic.
As I mentioned in class, next week I'd like to talk about women's relationships with men in Americanah; the value of "independence" in different cultures, how relationships change what it means to be independent; and how financial stability does or does not play into one's sense of freedom. In the beginning of Aunty Uju's relationship with The General, Aunty Uju talks with Ifemelu about her reliance on The General for finances, and fear spreads through Ifemelu (92). I have always felt this sense of dread when I think about being financially dependent on another person in my adulthood because I've equated my financial stability with my independence. But at the same time, I realized how flawed this thinking can be in terms of my own life as well as the lives of others who really need to rely on others for money. How do current conversations in the United States (and in popular culture) complicate the relationship between money and independence? (For starters, see: Beyoncé). What are ways to exercise one's independence while still relying on another for money? (See: nego-feminism). But how much independence can one really have when they are working within someone else's framework? Also, how much does our Western notion of independence correspond to our definition(s) of feminism? Where do we see this playing out in Americanah?  What about the dynmaic between men and women in relation to all of this?

...I agree that as long as you believe in the social and political equality of the sexes than you are a feminist....Ifemelu even from her time in secondary school is independent and fights social norms of being a quiet and easy going girl, she pushes auntie Uju to want the best for herself and not settle for Bartholemew, and she does not put the men in her life on a pedestal yet, does she try to make an impact on the world outside of herself and family? A part of me strongly feels she is a feminist yet, I struggle with imagining Ifemelu standing up for someone outside her family and friend and then I think maybe she isnt a feminst  which to me implies some sort of activism and instead she is just a strong woman....feminism to me includes some sort of political or social activism and not only resisting conforming to gender/relationship/ societal norms. I also struggle then identifying what activism is. Does one have to protest or make huge statements to be activist or could they simply make alternative choices within their life?

rebeccamec: I
am so thankful for the discussion we had the other day about feminism as manifested in Adiche's talk and Beyonce's "Flawless." I am further interested in how it is represented in the novel, like rosea. Does Ifemelu consider herself a feminist? Does Obinze? Ifemelu seems fiercely independent, but some of her thoughts about men made me wonder if she thinks her purpose in life is to serve them. Obinze has had some very problematic and sexist thoughts, especially when referring to how sorry he feels for his "good wife" who seems to never be good enough, though she's very pretty. His thoughts aren't blatantly sexist, but have the twinge of sliminess that Margaret Atwood's male characters have. Their thoughts don't sit well with a person who tries to be aware of gender inequalities.

I am also interested in discussing the avoidance and shame about certain identities, particularly immigrant status, mental illness in Nigeria versus America, and Kimberly's white guilt. What does it say about America that immigrants believe mental illness is something only Americans have? Do immigrants believe Americans are too outspoken about their mental illnesses? I think we, as a nation, could benefit from more conversations about mental illness. With regard to national and racial identity, does Ifemelu appreciate being called an American, by an African immigrant, a Nigerian, or a black or white American? does Kimberly, at any point, get over her white guilt and stop feeling the need to assert that she thinks black women are beautiful to Ifemelu?

Name: There are many things that strike me as important about the novel, class, race, immigrant identities, the african diaspora, and many more, but I keep coming back to Obinze and Kosi. Do Kosi and Obinze see each other? Lately I've been thinking a lot about connection between people, and what qualifies some love from deeper love. One of the biggest things can be feeling understood and safe and seen, really seen by the other person. When Obinze speaks of Kosi, at their home, he says, "...sometimes he told her senseless lies such as this, because a part of him hoped she would ask a question or challenge him, though he knew she would not, because all she wanted was to make suer the conditions of their life remained the same, and how he made that happen, she left entirely up to him" Many things changed for them when they got married, and as Obinze says, she became less secure as time went on. He describes feeling irritated with her once she starts embodying the housewife identity. Her questions about his day, what food he'd like, and preparing his clothes seem false to him, like a forced character in a play. But does he not disengage with her by choosing to be less concerned about the household? When he thinks about her becoming more insecure about the prospect of being cheated on, does he think about how his actions could have contributed to her insecurity? It seems to me that had Obinze assured her of his love, she would have no reason to worry. It is easy to look at Kosi as callous when she dismisses the young housemaid because of the condoms in her bag, because it is. The young girl had been taken advantage of, and was clearly just trying to survive. But ignorance of that issue points to a real fear for Kosi of losing her love and stability. Obinze dismisses the argument by saying that he has no interest, and that he would have to want to, and that he will never want to cheat. But at this point, we know that not to be true. In looking to be seen, and looking for connection, he'd look for it anywhere.  

Ifemelu thinks a lot about how she is perceived in this novel. I think I got the feeling that Ifemelu was tired of not being seen in America. She was being forced to choose which identities were more important to her, instead of being appreciated as a whole person. Whether it is about seeing someone on the street, or the way she is percieved by the women in the shop, she is constantly consumed by whether her identity is being recognized. Being with Blaine and sitting with the women in the salon,and their lack of understanding about why she would want to go back to Nigeria pointed to a real lack of connection. The only person she didn't seem to be thinking so much about that with was Obinze. Almost immediately, their connection was extremely strong, and important to her. She says, "He made her feel like herself" For me, that echoed back to what we had been saying earlier in the semester, about identities making the whole person, the person being a cumulative identity. She is refusing to be a character in a play, but rather, a person with free will who demands to be read. 

V. in closing: reflections on how we have been talking w/,
granting access, listening to each other?

additional topics you want to discuss on Thursday?