END THE SILENCE Teach In and Open Mic

WaGS

Denise Witzig, Women’s and Gender Studies

“Gender, Justice and Rage”

End the Silence Teach-In, November 28, 2018

I gave a talk earlier this month on female rage at a film conference in Madison, WI. My presentation was on the current expressions of rage that we’re seeing more and more in popular culture, particularly on tv and in film, and it was taking the lead from stories of the #MeToo movement and from recent books like Soroya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her, Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad.

All of these books, and the tv shows and films I discussed, depict female rage as a new kind of feminist response to injustice – to gender inequity and assault – and in many cases that female rage depicted is violent in itself.  It’s shown to be righteous, even cathartic. And it represents a justice that patriarchy doesn’t always deliver.

But here’s the reality: Violent rage is rarely wielded in behalf of women and female-identified people, it’s wielded against them. And it’s rarely in the cause for justice, but in spite of it. A UN report on global violence against women and girls that was released this week states that 87,000 women and girls were victims of intentional homicide last year across the world – 34% of them were killed by an intimate partner and 24% by family members. In that last statistic, some of those family perpetrators were themselves women. Some of the triggers of gender-based killings are said to be alcohol and drug abuse or jealousy, but they’re also gender identity, sexual orientation, sex work, dowries -in other words, at the center of people’s identities and economic participation and value. Some of the highest rates of intimate partner homicide are in the Americas.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/world/female-homicide-gender-violence.html

The UN report stipulates that the primary cause of global femicide, a term that describes the murder of women because they are women, is misogyny and sexism. “Research cited in the study found that men and boys who adhere to stereotypical views of gender roles are more likely to use violence against a partner.” I would add to that analysis that the “entitlement” to commit violence is also based on a reliance on binary gender and sex roles, which extends the threat to people who are often not even counted. And, as must be clear globally and at home, most of these victims are women and girls of color.

 In the discussion session after my talk in Madison, which had been on portrayals of rage in image culture, one of the participants said that, as a teacher, she was concerned about the #MeToo movement and social media trends focusing on female anger. “My male students are getting angry about this movement,” she said. “They feel like victims and they don’t know what to do.”

“Join the club,” I said to her. “Tell the men and boys to get on board and work side-by-side to eradicate sexual and gender violence and harassment.” Justice isn’t a one-way street, benefitting one group only. It lifts all boats. The choice of being a victim or a perpetrator is no choice at all. It’s up to everyone to advocate for gender justice.

What would that collaboration look like, especially in the recent political realm? It would look like a Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearing where the candidate actually lived up to his own PR as a so-called supporter and protector of women by admitting past behavior, apologizing to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and stepping aside.  It would look like the long overdue recognition of Anita Hill as one of our country’s most accomplished and courageous heroes – not just a hero for Black women or women only, but for all Americans. These women used their anger to channel their calls for justice, truth and gender equity and their stories should stay before us as we try to do the same.

I said something else to that teacher at the conference. I said that well before the #MeToo movement or #TimesUP, I had noticed a change in my Women’s and Gender Studies classes. I had noticed more and more that women and female-identified students were really angry. The anger came out during the WWG (Wonderful World of Gender) session of the class and it came out in their writing. They were angry about a lot of things: catcalling on the street, sexism at home or in the classroom, harassment in the workplace, having to plan a simple walk to the car at night or martialing backup just to attend a party. They were tired of having it all “on them” and they were tired of apologizing for their anger and resentment over unfair standards and threats to their well-being. The politics of #MeToo were already happening, at the grass roots level and, yes, it is a feminist politics.

So, students, I would urge you to claim this anger and use it. One way would be to work to make sure that Title IX protections against harassment, gender violence and assault stay solid at Saint Mary’s. An op-ed in the New York Times today by one of the student founders of Know Your IX warns against proposed changes by the current Department of Education, which would set back the rights of victims and survivors on college campuses and in high schools.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/opinion/betsy-devos-title-ix-schools-students.html

I’m passing out a copy of this op-ed and encourage you to “Know Your IX” and assert your rights as a Saint Mary’s student. It’s a perfect opportunity. We have a tremendous Center for Women and Gender Equity, a knowledgeable College-wide Title IX committee, and a task force headed by the Provost to address Title IX concerns on campus. Get to know the policies that affect your lives here. Get in touch with Sharon Sobotta or Erin Osanna-Barba at the CWGE or with Myrna Santiago or myself to learn more about how Saint Mary’s is addressing sexual and gender equity on campus. And make sure we live up to what we say we’re doing.

Change often begins in anger but it has to end in ACTION. Every student, of all genders, should work together if they want to make change happen. That long-held feminist saying, “the personal is political,” applies to everyone, each one of us. We are all, in the words of the mission of Saint Mary’s, whole persons deserving of respect and dignity, fairness, equity. Our politics should keep that identity we share at the center of all we hope to change and do.

 

Prof. Myrna Santiago, History

An Exodus from Central America and Tear-gas at the Tijuana-San Diego Border

November 27, 2018

This fall has been stressful for everyone.  It is sinking in what it means to have an authoritarian in the While House whose heroes are murderous men like Duterte, Bolsonaro, and Mussolini.  He proposed a sexual predator for the Supreme Court and Congress shamefully acquiesces.  Climate change sets swaths of California on fire, thousands of people lose their homes, and our  campus becomes a sunken bowl of toxic smoke until none of us can breathe and we must stay indoors as if we were under house arrest. And the President’s response is that California  should rake the leaves off the forest floor—presumably after all the trees have been chopped down by his friends in the logging industry.  And now we see pictures of women and children running away from the teargas that the Border Patrol launched into Tijuana to prevent them from reaching the United States after walking weeks and thousands of miles from Honduras and other Central American countries. 

What would make it worth leaving your home, your community, the country of your birth, and everything you have ever known?

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the Americas (and competes with other unfortunate countries for the highest in the world), at almost 30 people assassinated per day.

Honduras has 12,000 men and boys in maras, both the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and La 18 (M-18).  By comparison, only three cities in the entire United States have police forces that large (Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York).  The gangs force all small businesses to pay a “war tax” very week, sometimes US$200.  Workers in the maquiladoras, too, have to pay up to US$100 per week, leaving them with next to nothing to support themselves and their families.  The police, the military, and public officials get their cut from the extorsion racket, so they look the other way.  All of these groups, individuals, and agencies are involved in the drug trade.  The president’s brother was arrested in Miami about 10 days ago, in fact, for drug trafficking.  In a perverted sort of compulsory draft, the gangs force male children into their ranks; girls are subject to rape.

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder that Hondureños would be leaving by the thousands, like the Exodus of the Old Testament?

How did this happen?  Let’s ask the historical question:  what are the origins of this horrific social decomposition and massive population flight? It goes back to the 1980s.  And it is all linked to American foreign policy.

In the 1980s, the US was involved in wars in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  The motive was anti-Communism, as the US sought to destroy social movements, both armed and peaceful, that struggled against dictators, military governments, and tiny land-owning elites that monopolized power and wealth in all four countries.  The wars lasted anywhere from 10 to 40 years.  The US supported the status quo in each country, pumping millions of dollars daily to defeat all the social movements and revolutionary guerrillas to the point of genocide, for example, against the Maya people of Guatemala.  The wars destroyed all four countries.

In Honduras, specifically, the US built 12 military bases which were used for two purposes: to attack the revolutionary government in power in neighboring Nicaragua; and to traffic Colombian cocaine to the US with the complicity of the Central Intelligence Agency (that led to the crack epidemic in Los Angeles and from there the rest of the urban centers of the US).

In El Salvador, the war caused an early exodus of salvadoreños, thousands of whom ended up in Los Angeles.  There the children of refugees formed the MS-13 and the M-18 and learned the violence they would take back to El Salvador in 1996, when Bill Clinton began deporting gangsters.  These young men found a country wasted by war, high-caliber weapons by the truckload, and traffickers searching for partners to send cocaine to the United States—the largest drug market in the history of humanity.  A match made in hell.

In 2009 President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, supported a coup in Honduras that installed the right-wing faction back into power, at the same time that the dynamic duo put deportations into high gear.  By the time he left the White House, Obama had earned the nickname “deporter-in-chief” in the Latino community because he had deported more Latin Americans than any other president in history, 2.5 immigrants between 2009-2015.

The result is what we are witnessing today:  hondureños, salvadoreños, guatemaltecos fleeing for their lives to the country that, ironically enough, bears a great deal of responsibility for their misery and pain.

Yes, the US government laid the foundations for this Exodus.  The least it should do, therefore, is to welcome and take care of the victims it created.

And you?

On a college campus, your number one duty is to educate yourself about these issues.   Find the classes and the professors who will teach you about reality from a Liberal Arts perspective, so you may become excellent critical thinkers and don’t fall prey to lies from the White House, the Congress, the media, or Netflix!  So you learn from reliable sources rather than ideologically-driven fiction. 

Your second duty is to use your liberal arts skills (evaluating information, making informed arguments) to convince all your friends to educate themselves too.  You are all active in student organizations:  persuade them to find those classes and those professors.  Banish ignorance among your peers! 

Third, become engaged locally.  The College is the real world.  Did you know that our mission-driven university that focuses on social justice and talks a lot about educating the poor is not, is not, is not a sanctuary campus (for undocumented students and staff)?

Fourth, become engaged more broadly.  California has a real chance to doing the right thing.  We have a Democratic governor and a Democratic super majority in the State Assembly (including a Senator who is a graduate of Saint Mary’s College, Maria Elena Durazo).  Push them to do the right thing.  Don’t sit back and figure they will take care of something or another.  Push them to make the laws that we the citizens want and need:  stronger anti-gun laws; stronger laws against rape, sexual assault, and violence against women and LGBTQ people; education reform that really educates; incarceration reform that puts in the jail the true criminals; drug laws that really work to decrease addiction and provide people the services they need; better environmental laws that mitigate the effects of climate change; improved housing and health care laws that guarantee those basic human rights to everyone who lives in California regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, class, or national origin. 

This is your moment.  Gather your friends and grab it!  Utilize those liberal arts skills that you have been mastering:  analyze the problems, figure out their roots and causes, and then unleash your creativity to solve them.  Enter to learn; leave to lead!  This is a historic opportunity:  show, from our corner of the country, that another world is possible.  You are not alone in this.  We are all right behind you!

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