This week, we move away from academia to a much broader field of power relations: the global economy, government programs, the mechanisms of imperialism, the politics of non-governmental, non-profit social justice organizations. Robyn Maynard’s “Fuck the Glass Ceiling!” raises questions about the motivations and goals of those who hold the purse-strings for funding sources supposedly set aside to assist with the “empowerment” of “marginalized” women. What are the limits of “empowerment” the women receiving these funds are allowed, Maynard asks, and why is no one asking the question: Who and what marginalized these women in the first place?
FUCK THE GLASS CEILING! by Robyn Maynard (pp. 115-126)
p. 116 – On the reception of a grassroots magazine written and designed by a group of young women of color:“When the first issue of the publication came out – a conglomerate of members of ‘community’ organizations and others deemed to have a stake in so-called ‘marginalized youth’ — were decidedly unhappy.” Maynard opens her essay with an story about working with a group of young mothers on the first issue of Migrant and Local … We’re Vocal. When the publication appeared and the contributions it contained asked hard questions about poverty and exploitation, the group came under fire from their funders for being “too negative” and the funding was pulled. I find myself a) unsurprised, but b) nevertheless amazed that the funders didn’t see or didn’t care how transparent they were being about their disinterest in hearing about the actual experience of the “marginalized youth” they were supposedly in the business of supporting.
p. 117 – “The possibility that perhaps there were important lessons in the very fact that people had lived such negative and alienating experiences … that is fact this was … perhaps an accurate mirror of our society, was never questioned. Rather the content was seen as flawed.” I underlined this passage because I think it’s an important reminder for us all to check our assumptions when someone’s subjective experience of the world fails to line up with our own understanding of how the world works. There’s something seriously wrong when we reject content out of hand as “wrong” when it’s presented as first-person commentary on the experience of being exploited. Talk about unexamined societal privilege!
p. 117 (footnote) – “Small and crucial organizations exist in such precarity [making] it unnecessary and inaccurate to condemn their silence as consent in the same way as, say, the police.” Maynard makes and underscores this point several times in her essay, and I think it is a good one. People and institutions always have choices about how and when to work within existing structures, true. Yet there is a qualitative moral difference (I would argue) between a person or group that puts their head down and keeps their mouth shut in order to survive and people and groups who maintain silence in order to perpetuate their own dominance.
p. 118 – “If silencing the voices of poor single moms in their first attempt at publishing their words and life stories is not marginalization, then what is?” Enough said.
p. 119 – ” ‘Exploitation’ has always been a better term than ‘marginalization,’ because where marginalization just means that people are pushed into, or exist already in, the margins of society, it doesn’t explain how or why.” I’d add, too, that being “on the margins” is often a blessing as well as a curse. While existing in marginal spaces can be precarious — even life-threatening — in terms of resource allocation, it can also be a self-chosen role and a contain a certain type of freedom and agency. But that’s not the kind of “margins” Maynard is writing about here: she’s talking about forced exile, and I think she does well to point out how talk of “margins” vs. “center” erases the violence of the kyriarchy that has created a margins-and-center power system in the first place.
p. 122 – “As we know it is women who bear a large burden of impoverishment and displacement and because of this colonization is always a feminist issue.” I am often slightly bemused when people feel the need to assert that X human rights or social justice concern is “a feminist issue” due to the fact women and/or girls are disproportionately effected. Perhaps this is because I came to feminism through the lens of liberation theology and it’s always seemed part and parcel to caring about inequity on a universal scale? But on the other hand, I know that in order to function as an organization or lobbying group there have to be specific issues to target and resources to allocate, so while universal commitment to equality is great in theory in practice there are hard choices to be made.
p. 123 – “These different kinds of ‘marginalized women’ are not all arbitrary and disconnected forms of people falling through the cracks at home or abroad — these are pillars of the global economy. These are issues of labor, and of the global economic system.” I think this ties back into the initial point about the funders of Migrant or Local … We’re Vocal being unwilling to ask the larger questions about how and why the young women creating the magazine experienced alienation. The funders wanted “empowerment” to come via individual creativity without the discomfort of calls for lasting and systematic change to a society that oppresses certain types of people on a broad-based institutional level. I was reminded of the book Queer (In)justice which tackles this issue head on and challenges us to understand how concepts of inherent criminality are embedded in the very organizational structures of our society and government.
p. 125 – “Justice means — justice has to mean — an ed to people deliberately destroying generations of cultures, of women, of lives, and of dignity, for personal political and economic gain.” This brought to mind Flavia Dzodan’s recent post at Tiger Beatdown, Moving away from Social Justice towards Social Wellbeing. Go forth and read!
That’s all for this week folks! Join me next Tuesday for reflections on Cassandra Polyzou’s “Feminism and Eating Disorders: Wishful Thinking for a More Caring Attitude” (pp. 127-133). Can you believe we only have seven weeks of live-blogging left? If you want the series to continue with another book, do leave me suggestions in the comments or email me at feministlibrarian [at] gmail [dot] com.