Friday, December 21, 2007

Power, Authority and Submission: Our Twisted Hero

I've recently read this tiny Korean novel by Yi Munyol. On the surface, it's the story of a school bully and some sort of resistance from one of his classmates, which ends up in submission. But as I kept on reading, I realized it is a beautifully crafted allegory about power, authority and our own dealings with them.

There are many books out there dealing with power and authority, with the injustices of totalitarian power and the multiple faces of authority, materialized in people, practices and institutions. But "Our Twisted Hero" is about our everyday life dealings with power and authority from within our own selves, with our attempts to resist what we perceive as injustice, and our submissions to it, once the price to pay for being a dissident becomes too high. Submission to an established order, which brings peace for the price of obedience should not be underestimated. Inability to deal with democracy and equality is also something to be considered, but then how are we to enable citizens to deal with the democratic exercise? And who controls the guardians of freedom?

After a revolution, after rejecting an authoritarian regime, people look for another authoritarian leader. I've seen this with my own eyes and couldn't understand it, but I realized that order and most importantly the feeling of being secure, of knowing how to handle things, is greater than the desire for freedom. And that the desire for freedom under authoritarian regimes is not matched by care for freedom once those regimes are being removed, but by a frantic search for the security of the lost order...

Photo credits:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stats on everyday racism in Canada

According to some recent surveys (read CBC full story), 1 in 6 Canadian adults have been subjected to racism, while 1 in 10 didn't want people from a different race as next-door neighbors. I am not a supporter of surveys, but I do realize that the power of numbers can sometimes be thought-provoking. While the numbers came from different surveys, and we do not know much about their methodology, I do see them as - at least on an anecdotal level - being supported by my everyday life environment.

While Canada is officially pursuing a policy of multiculturalism, the unofficial truth is that race or accent do raise barriers among people (and I am not referring here to the impossibility of communicating in another language, but to those barriers we construct when we decide that a person with an accent or from another race cannot possibly understand or adhere to the 'Canadian' lifestyle). I have heard on so many occasions people arguing that it is 'hard to work with Chinese' or that 'living in a building where there are Africans is unsafe'. I have heard immigrant students complaining that they do not understand their professors because of their accent. And I have heard people congratulating others for having 'such a good accent in English'.

While racism may be rejected officially, there is a long way from having a policy of multiculturalism and bragging about it, and actually having multicultural communities, where people do not relate to each other through their race or accent, but rather relate to each other as human beings first and foremost. From my own experience, I have found that having friends who share similar values and preferences has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, language, accent.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gender equality: Womyn power or Womyn surrender?

I've been reading Ariel Levy's book on Female Chauvinist Pigs (see earlier post) recently and found myself in agreement with a certain ambiguous feeling about gender equality. To summarize one of her arguments, the idea is that women have re-claimed some of the patriarchal traditions and stereotypes and made them their own. For instance, women have re-claimed porn as not only a male pleasure, but also as a female pleasure, both in terms of being a porn actress and finding this empowering, and in terms of deriving pleasure from being a porn audience.

The ambiguity, as Levy herself notes, may come from the fact that, on one side, such practices do promote women as sexual objects as much as they empower those women who use their sexuality to make it through in life. But, regardless of being empowered or not, the fact that women are being objectified (maybe by both men and women) remains, with all the negative implications and moral issues deriving from this objectification. For Levy, this may be part of the new raunch culture, built around sex. She writes: "The truth is that the new conception of raunch culture as a path to liberation rather than oppression is a convenient (and lucrative) fantasy with nothing to back it up" (Female Chauvinist Pigs, 2005, p. 82).

American Anthropology Association has recently been engaged in a similar debate on the subject of gender empowerment. The New York Times has discussed the matter here.. The debate had to do with female circumcision and whether this practice is not oppressive only when regarded through Western eyes, while it may be empowering in the eyes of local women. The debate is interestingly related to Levy's discussion of the raunch culture: to what extent women taking charge of their own sexuality and playing on the accepted stereotypes of beauty and heterosexual sex stereotypes are empowered and/or oppressed?

Photo credits: porcelaingirl

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Gender labels/ gender categories

Moving from a binary man/woman to an unknown gender space in which boundaries between new labels are being constructed and demolished constantly:

If you know other labels, send them on!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Back to the hijab...

I'm not an expert on the various Islamic religions and this post is not about that. Coming from a Western and secular background, I have a hard time understanding and coming to terms with any type of organized religions. But I do remember a conversation I once had with my roommate about dressing codes and the headscarf. The headscarf, she told me, was the dressing code which made her feel safe. She felt naked without it. She felt men looking at her without it, and she had no clue how to handle that, especially since men for her represented violence.

It then occurred to me that I'm only grasping the religious aspect of the headscarf.
That I've been trained to 'see' only religion (and an 'alien' yet homogeneous religion, the religion of the 'Other'). That I am ignoring a whole dimension of dressing codes: the everyday life dimension. After all, haven't I chosen a longer skirt over a shorter one because I was sick and tired of being hassled on the street?

Which is not to say that religion is totally absent. But rather to allow some space for women to choose their own dressing codes, and to acknowledge that we do not live in a world without constraints. Gender relations, religion, power, social structures, definitions of normality, discourses about the 'Other' - they all mix together in our everyday lives and our identities. To realize that for the woman in question, having a headscarf or a longer dress may be - as strange as it may sound - an act of empowerment, of being in control, of being free, of being herself.

Photo credits: loufi
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