Thursday, April 24, 2008

For Easter, women have to cook...

I'm on a short trip to Bucharest, Romania. It's almost Orthodox Easter here, so most of the women have been given a day off tomorrow. The reason? Quite simple: it's Easter! So what? Well, but of course, the women need to cook!

When I've heard this, I got instantly upset. I would be really angry to get a day off so that I can take care of the Easter meals... I find this offensive on so many levels. But I can also understand why women would jump at this opportunity and never launch any complaint: hey, it's a free, paid day! Who wouldn't take it? So what if it means being publicly labeled as the household cook? After all, this is nothing compared to 24 hours of being at home... cooking, washing, cleaning...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Racism and nationalism do shape the internet

Racismreview has posted an interesting discussion of Castell's Power of Identity, discussing the relation between the internet and white supremacy groups in the US. The blogger argues that Castells' analysis is weakened by his focus on a particular white supremacy group. "White supremacy in the information age is global, and quite self-conscious" writes the blogger.

Interested in the internet from a slightly different perspective, that of nationalism, I find the analysis interesting and salient in pointing out the role of the internet in the formation of racial identities which transcend local (read national) boundaries. While racismreview is concerned with how race becomes ignored as a dynamic of power in this analysis of the internet, I'm more interested with this idea of creating transnational identities and communities, and how this has been juxtaposed with the disappearance of the nation, as a category of imagining social organization. However, nationalism studies has longed argued that there is no inconsistency between nationalism and universalism - in fact, nationalism implies universalism, it rests on the assumption that the nation is a universal category. The disagreement starts with deciding what are the nations and their 'natural' boundaries.

But when it comes to the internet, and the ways in which it becomes involved in building transnational communities and ties, I am surprised by how this is analyzed in the absence of any consideration for the ways in which a nationalist thinking is also present in the discussion.

Take for instance this recent interview with Bill St. Arnaud from Canarie and the comments on the CBC Spark blog. Talking about internet in Canada, St. Arnaud remarked that although we were being number 2 in the world in terms of broadband, we have fallen behind because we no longer invested in infrastructure. He also talked about how restricting access to the net -- within the context of the net neutrality/ net throttling debate -- is in fact affecting the presence of Canadian cultural content (because people's creativity is affected by not being able to download/upload stuff and thus produce more content).

The interesting thing for me is how the national trope is being invoked in talking about the internet, in raising boundaries which would create a space of legitimacy for a particular type of action. While the discourse of nationalism is a very flexible discourse of legitimacy, which can be used in support of a variety of (sometimes contradictory) legal actions, the mere fact that it is invoked contributes to what Michael Billig (1995) called the reproduction of the idea of the nation in a very banal manner.

Photo credits: jared

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A woman is a sexual being...

The Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Maxime Bernie, brought a date to his sworn-in ceremony. Now, the problem with the date was... as it always is with women... the outfit. It seems that the gorgeous date was wearing a summer dress with a cleavage - which made the dress 'inappropriate' for the ceremony. I've searched the web in vain for the photo that appeared in the printed version of the Globe and Mail article which brought back the issue of this horrendous act of showing a (quite decent) cleavage in a government ceremony.

Now, this was not the topic of the article in question - rather, the article was raising questions on the competencies of the minister following some gaffe in Afghanistan. But the question of the slutty-date, who dared to wear a dress with a cleavage was a good point in case, showing - no, proving - the man's faults (after all, she was just a woman, so besides her looks, there's not much to comment on her...).

The other day, a female colleague complained about how students comment on her sense of fashion in the course evaluations. I mean, that's minor compared to the above-mentioned date's cleavage! But, after all, it comes down to the same thing: women's outfits are scrutinized and must conform to a particular 'common sense' if the woman is to be deemed as 'serious'.

And while I'm not a proponent of wearing your sexy mini-skirt when you teach or going nude to the sworn-in ceremony, I still find it deeply disturbing that a woman remains judged first and foremost through her looks and her sexuality; that her public persona is regulated by norms based on this omnipresent sexuality. No matter what, she cannot get rid of that sexuality, looming like a Damocles' sword above her head, following her wherever she goes as a reminder that she is, above all, a sexual being...

She walks in beauty, like the night

Photo Credits: bananaz75

Friday, April 18, 2008

What to do with those immigrants...

I had just convinced myself that there's nothing wrong with always being asked "And where are you coming from?". I thought I am getting wiser, realizing that people mean to be polite and to start a conversation. I said to myself there's nothing to be upset about, people are not trying to undermine you right to be wherever you are. The problem really is mine, I thought; I'm the one who gets upset because I am the one who suspects such questions point to the fact that I will always be seen as a 'stranger' no matter what.

And just as I was about to become a believer, I came across a new poll on attitudes towards immigrants in Canada (Globe and Mail, April 17, 2008). According to the survey - and again, I have my problems with surveys in general, so I'm not buying everything they say 100% - most Canadians feel that Canada needs immigrants and that Canada welcomes immigrants. Yet, 61% of Canadians (and 72% in Quebec - well, why do we always have to point the finger at Quebec...) feel Canada is doing too much to accommodate visible minorities. Now, I think this is an interesting point: it doesn't refer to immigrants as a whole, but to visible minorities. Which makes you ask what visible minorities had people in mind (not white, duh!) and what is the prevailing collective vision of Canadian society.

I'm a fan of everyday life examples. So here are two: recently arrived to Canada, an acquaintance remarked about a person of Asian descent that s/he is not Canadian, because s/he is Asian. And only a few days ago, a friend pointed out that she met this very nice Indian girl, from India, who in fact had been born and raised in Canada. "Then why is she Indian?", I asked. Well, she obviously was Indian - and by 'obviously' I mean she didn't have the right color of skin and the right name that make somebody a Canadian, according to the collective vision.

And people say there's no consensus on what makes the national identity in Canada! May I point out that the proponents in both examples above were immigrants themselves? Both white, truth be told. But one has to wonder just where and how they got their vision of Canada, and how this vision is consistent with what almost everyone in the world would be able to recognize: the discourse of nationalism, defining what is the relation between space and individual, between individual and the community. This is why, I think, I'm so skeptical of the 'mosaic' theories or the post-modern national identity theories. I am not sure there's anything post-modern at work in the construction of national identity in Canada, just different circumstances: yes, there are many, many immigrants in a time of political correctness, so the discourse of the national identity has to adapt to this. But make no mistakes, there is a national identity, no matter how flexible - or rather, contested, - it might be. And the assumptions it holds are the same: your identity is defined by your (hyphenated) national identity, you belong to a country and a nation, you stand for certain values by virtue of being identified as a national. And you see people as belonging or not to certain nations.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Technosexuality and the Limits of My Tolerance

A friend just sent me a link to this interview with someone calling himself a technosexual and speaking about his love relationship with an female robot he has created. As I was reading it, one thing became clear to me: I was reaching the limits of my tolerance...

Well, you may say, your limits are pretty narrow-minded. And you'd be right, without me being too offended. So much for deconstructing social difference! But believe me, this came as a surprise for me too! And I guess the need to capture this moment of embodied rejection and rational analysis is the drive behind this post. Let me try to explain, maybe at least this will shed some light into how we construct difference!

As I opened the link, the first thing I see is boobs. Naked, big boobs. And they seem to summarize the essence of being a female. A sexual being. A sexual bomb. A passive sexual bomb, a sexual doll. At this point, I think my barriers were already up and going. Hard to move beyond this strange feeling of embodied rejection that I felt.

My mind told my body that this is a childish reaction, that sexuality doesn't mean only the things I indulge in or approve of. For someone who claims that sexuality is way more diverse than heterosexuality and that this is the result of power lines in society defining what is 'right'/'wrong' in the interest of some groups, my reaction was pretty lame.

This was a heterosexual sexuality, no doubt about it. To me, it was a disturbing idea of what a heterosexual woman is supposed to be - here it is, I think I nailed the source of my narrow-mindedness! A woman made up of a hole, able to 'feel' what is going on inside, and to connect it back to a form of artificial intelligence. The way I saw it, it was not only the physical aspect that mattered, it was also the consent that the artificial intelligence was giving, the 'verbalization' of this consent, "do whatever you want to do with me".

I could see the empowerment dimension for some people who are unable to fulfill their sexual drives. And this is what bothers me: I find that my own reaction is narrow-minded, yet there's something deeply embodied about it. I pretend I buy into Foucault's argument that we need to rediscover "a positive economy of the body and of pleasure" that move outside a construction of sexuality as heterosexuality. In Western thought, sexuality has been constructed as a monopoly of pleasure, but also as the source of procreation. There is an entire economy of pleasure, argues Foucault, outside the norms of sexuality, that needs to be reclaimed (Power/Knowledge, 1980). We should look for sexuality outside the body, which has traditionally become the locus of sexuality and thus an exploited object of knowledge and of power (History of Sexuality, 1990).

But feminists have claimed there is a tension between their ideas, which ironically are very similar to Foucault's in many ways, and a certain absence of women's in Foucault's writing, an absence which potentially led to some controversial discussions around Foucault's ideas and rape (read stuff here, here and here). For Donna Haraway, the promise of technology could be the promise of a "world without gender, which is perhaps a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end" (Cyborg Manifesto, 1991). A technological vision of the post-gender world was somehow appealing, but hey, we don't want to totally get rid of sexuality. What was interesting was the idea that technology could somehow move us beyond the gender divisions, into a world in which gender categories, bodies and sexualities were no longer objects of power: "a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints".

But I had trouble reading Alice, the robot of one man's technosexual dreams in this way. I read it first and foremost as a dream of patriarchal heterosexuality: a submissive woman, where submissiveness is consented to. Yes, the sex dolls have been around for a long time now. But they didn't have 'free will' (however 'free' is conceived of here). Is there something wrong with the dolls consenting, you'd say. Is there something wrong with technology being endowed with 'feelings' and able to respond to ours? In a generic sense, I'd say no. But in this precise case, I'd ask who is programming technology's feelings and free will, and in what ways, based on what values and to whose benefit.

Photo credits: 1. Porcelaingirl
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