Fighting with the Sky

Posts Tagged ‘global issues

This year, the United Nations has decided that the theme for International Women’s Day is “Equal rights, equal opportunity: Progress for all.”

Gender Across Borders has encouraged us to think about what “equal rights for all” means to us.  This seems like a simple question, right?  But once you actually sit down and try to think about it, it’s kind of a complicated question.  It should be pretty simple, you would think: give everybody equal rights.

But in a patriarchal, racist, classist, ableist, heterosexist culture such as the one that I am familiar with (the United States), equal rights is not such an easy concept for people to grasp.  Equal rights as they are understood by the government now, are still mainly just equal rights for white, middle/upper class, heterosexual men.

So what would I like to see in actually implementing the ideal of equal rights for all?

  • equal pay for equal work: women still make 70 cents to every dollar than men make.
  • equal access to health care for everyone, not just the rich: in order to function in society, people have to have access to quality health care that is appropriate for each individual, including reproductive health care
  • equal access to education: if everyone has the same access to education, other barriers will start to fall down as well
  • marriage equality: anyone that wants to get married, should be able to get married
  • comprehensive sex education for everyone: people need to know how to make the right decisions for themselves with regards to their sexuality and this will only happen if everyone has access to comprehensive sex education
  • end all violence against women: including (but not limited to) rape, domestic violence, genital mutilation, human trafficking.

These are all things that would be put into effect by the government or societal institutions, but these are not just enough.  In order for these things to really take effect, cultural views of women, people of color, people with disabilities, trans people, gay and lesbian people will all have to change.  And this is where it gets tough, because prejudice is deeply rooted in USian culture; people are going to give it up easily.  It’s also important to keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list; these are only some starting blocks and stepping stones.

Also make sure to check out Gender Across Borders’ Blog for IWD BLOG!


pic2It’s sad that I didn’t know about the happenings in Romania under Ceausescu’s rule until I read this book: The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania by Gail Kligman.  I was shocked when I was reading this book to hear about what these women had to go through on a daily basis.

So here’s the deal: Ceausescu led one of the most repressive anti-abortion regimes.  Women were forced to get really back-alley abortions that were more often than not unsafe.  Because a large portion of the population was poor, they could not afford to have a real doctor perform their abortion — that was a privilege that was only for the uber-rich.  So if a woman got an abortion that went wrong and had to go to the hospital, she would then be arrested for getting an abortion and was not fully treated for the complications invovled with that abortion.  As a result of unsafe abortions, the maternal mortality rate was very high.

This anti-abortion legislation also led to over-population and a large orphanage population.  But the state did not adequately take care of the orphanages.  Children were malnourished and had never really experienced human contact.

From the back cover:

The political hypocrisy and personal horrors of one of hte most repressive anti-abortion regimes in history came to the world’s attention soon after the fall of Romanian dictator Nicholae Ceausescu.  Photographs of orphans with vacant eyes and wasted bodies circled the globe, as did alarming maternal mortality statistics and heart-beating details of an infant AIDS epidemic.  Gail Kligman’s chilling ethnography – of the state of of the politics of reproduction – is the first in-depth examination of this extreme case of political intervention into intimate aspects of everyday life.  Her analysis explores the institutionalization of duplicity and complicity as social practices that contributed to the state’s perpetuation and ultimate demise.

This powerful study is based on moving interviews with women and physicians a well as on documentary and archival material.  Besides discussing the social implications and human costs of restrictive reproductive legislation, Kligman examies how reproductive issues become embedded in national and international agendas.  She concludes with lessons the world can learn from Romania’s tragic experience.

What I loved about this book was that it was not only a historical account of the horrors of Ceausescu’s Romania, but Kligman also looks at the broader political implications and “examines how reproductive issues become embedded in national and international agendas.”

While this book documents a truly chilling story, it is definitely worth a read.  It is important to look at where we have been so as to not repeat these scary events again.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reproductive rights and how access to women’s bodies affects national and international politics.

0520089146.01.LZZZZZZZConceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction (edited by Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp) is an anthology that I read from for my Anthropology of Reproduction class my sophomore year of college.  My copy still has sticky notes and pen markings all over it from the great time that I had in that class.  The essays that are compiled in this anthology are broad-ranging, which is why I think I liked it so much — it covered a lot of ground in the world of sexual politics and reproduction.

From the back cover:

This groundbreaking volume provides a dramatic investigation of the dynamics of reproduction.  In an unusually broad spectrum of essays, a distinguished group of international feminist scholars and activists explores the complexity of contemporary sexual politics around the globe.  Using reproduction as an entry point in the study of social life and placing it at the center of social theory, the authors examine how cultures are produced, contested, and transformed as people imagine their collective future in the creation of the next generation.  The studies encompass a wide variety of subjects, from the impact of AIDS on reproduction in the United States to the after-effects of Chernobyl on the Sami people in Scandinavia and the impact of totalitarian abortion and birth control policies in Romania and China.

Conceiving the New World Order is a must read for all anthropologists and gender studies scholars as well as anyone interested in the dynamics of women’s experiences around the world.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?  In the sense that all of the essays are pretty scholarly, it can be.  Especially for a sophomore who isn’t too familiar with anthropological theory.  But I made it through and loved it.

The essays in this anthology are divided into six sections: The Politics of Birth/Control; Stratified Reproduction; Rethinking Demography, Biology, and Social Policy; Disastrous Circumstances and Reproductive Consequences; What’s So New About the New Reproductive Technologies; and What’s Political About Reproduction.  I think my favorite sections would probably be The Politics of Birth/Control and What’s Political About Reproduction.  I love anything that talks about the intersection between politics and women’s body.  This whole anthology is pretty much about that, but especially these two sections.  Some of the essays that I still have bookmarked range include: “Deadly Reproduction among Egyptian Women: Maternal Mortality and the Medicalization of Population Control” by Soheir A. Morsy; “Political Demography: The Banning of Abortion in Ceausescu’s Romania” by Gail Kligman (which I have a whole book on and could talk about for a while); “Displacing Knowledge: Technology and the Consequences for Kinship” by Marilyn Strathern; “Interrogating the Concept of Reproduction in the Eighteenth Century” by Ludmilla Jordanova; and “Misreading Darwin on Reproduction: Reductionism in Evolutionary Theory” by Adrienne L. Zihlman.

This is definitely a loft anthology, but I think it’s worth at least taking a look at some of the essays it contains.  Especially for anyone interested in reproduction, the intersection between politics and women’s bodies on a global level, and women’s studies in general.

Happy Sunday!  This has been an exciting week for me.  I’ve started a new job and am in the middle of training and as you can see, I have have moved my site to a brand spanking-new self-hosted site!  Take a peek around at some of the new stuff and let me know if you have any suggestions.  Per usual, this post will feature some link love from the past couple days as well as a reminder of some of my favorite posts from the week as featured on Tuesday and Thursday.  Don’t forget to leave links to what you have been writing and reading this week (a little self-promotion never hurt anyone!).

New link love:

How PETA is Damaging the Animal Welfare Movement [this ain’t livin’] – Pretty self-explanatory from the title…don’t we all love PETA?  I’d also like to point you to meloukhia’s Feminism and Joss Whedon series because those are two of my favorite things!

Normalization of maleness and whiteness in beer packaging [Deeply Problematic] – Have you ever stopped in the beer aisle and taken a look around?  What do you see?  An overwhelming number of white males on the packaging.  And how are women and people of color represented on these packagings?

Dinner Party Anyone? [Choices Campus Blog] – An idea for raising awareness about feminism on your campus (if you are a college student) which is also a great idea for anyone!  I want to plan a feminist dinner party…too bad all of you are so far away!

Small Strokes Podcast: My Definition of Feminism [Small Strokes] – Take a listen to Ashley’s first podcast about what feminism means to her!

Weekly Link Love:

Getting out of the way so women can save the world [Feministing] – A look at the recent NYT magazine of “Saving the World’s Women.”

Ashley at Small Strokes started a series on why and how feminism should be taught in schools which I was lucky enough to guest post for.  Because the teenage years are important part in the development of the person and values, teaching feminism in high school is very important!

The 5 Ways Glamour Undermines Its Size-12 Self-Acceptance Message [Glossed Over] – All of the uproar over Glamour’s size 12 model didn’t quite sit well with me and didn’t really know why, but Wendy has explained my uneasiness about it very well.

Bros before Hos: A Post Ted Kennedy Story [Recursive Paradox] – After Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, everybody was quick to praise his contributions to women’s rights. But Recursive Paradox pointed out a not very well-known story about Ted Kennedy that should also be remembered!

I had a hard time coming to inspiration today. But the good news: I started my job today! Actually I’m probably there right now, since this post was scheduled. The bad news: since I’m starting a job, I might not have as much time to post, so while I get adjusted to my new schedule, there might be a dip in the number of posts. But no worries, I promise to try to keep up! Just as a side note, there are some great discussions going on at my post about thin privilege and my post about the racism behind District 9, so take a look and join the conversation!

Here are some of my favorite posts of the past couple days! Don’t forget to leave what you’ve been writing and reading in the comments…I’m all about self-promotion!

Is showing a plus-size model really ‘progressive’?
[Appetite for Equal Rights]
The blogosphere was going ga-ga over “the girl on page 194” of the latest Glamour, but Amy wonders if this was really that progressive.

Douchebag DESchatz uses Guinness to construct women as shared surface for beer [Deeply Problematic]
A “joke commercial” for Guinness displays themes of dehumanization and rape.

Getting out of the way so women can save the world [Feministing]
A look at the recent NYT Magazine about “Saving the World’s Women.”

Why Feminism Should Be Taught in School
[Small Strokes]
A look at the reasons feminism should be an integral part of the curriculum from the perspective of a teacher. Also see the first part of How Feminism Should Be Taught in School: How Feminism Should NOT Be Taught in School.

For Blue Eyes: Pecola Breedlove Lives [Womanist Musings]
Renee has a great post about internalized hatred.

I feel like I have been talking about virginity a lot lately, but this was just too good to pass up. Via a tweet from @TheUndomestic, I became aware of this blog post: “Mothers Sold Daughters’ Virginity Online.”

I mean, really? Who wouldn’t want to know what that’s all about!

Apparently, Moscow police have arrested two mothers for selling their daughters’ virginity online. They needed money to cover debts and save for their daughter’s dowry and figured this was a good way to do it. For a 16-year-old virgin, the mother made $6,000 US and for a 13-year-old virgin, the mother made $12,000 US.

These mothers worked through an organization (the post doesn’t give this organization a name) that contacts families in poverty about selling the virginity of their daughters and matching them with pedophiles who are willing to pay the big bucks. But the truly sad thing, the daughters of these two mothers were unaware of this deal, thinking that they were going to see a photographer. One mother said that she hoped her daughter “sacrifice herself” to save the family from poverty. One of the mothers ever said,

“Yes, I understand that virginity is a commodity. If I wasn’t old, I would restore mine and sell it. If there are fools that are ready to pay for it, then I am ready.”

Virginity is a commodity used to oppress women. I’m amazed that mothers would further use their daughters’ virginity to oppress them and subject them to the objectification of a pedophile…without the knowledge of the daughters’!

This case use reinforces the “virginity as commodity” standard for women, further oppressing women for their sexuality or lack their of. If a woman expresses her sexuality, she’s a slut, but if a woman doesn’t express her sexuality, she’s a prude. The commodification of virginity hurts all women, not just women who are still “virgins.”

In this installment of Breast Implications, I am looking at the cross-cultural examination of breasts that our group researched. In this section, we originally set out to look at how people in different cultures perceived and thought about breasts. But what we found is that there was a severe lack of research on this topic. As a result, breastfeeding in other cultures was focused on. I will discuss more about this decision after I give you the information that we had in our zine…


It is hard to fully discuss the cross-cultural interpretations of breasts for a couple reasons:

  1. The immense variation between cultures around the world
  2. Many cultures have a taboo around surrounding discussing breasts and/or sexuality

Keeping these factors in mind, the generalized information presented in this section does not represent all cultures around the world but a sampling of research. There is not a vast amount of research on the subject and a large amount of the research found pertains to African cultures, primarily Mali and Senegal in particular.

Research both stressed and denied the importance of breasts as sexual entities in different cultures, so it is unclear how these particular cultures feel about and see breasts because of the conflicting research.


The decisions to breastfeed and to breastfeed in public show some of how the culture perceives breasts. In Mali and Senegal, the prominence of breastfeeding shows the importance of the working breast.

In Mali, working, or lactating, breasts are not seen as sexual objects because of their connection to nurturing children (Dettwyler 175).

Women’s decisions on whether or not to breastfeed are framed by attitudes towards their bodies and their breasts that may have nothing to do with breastfeeding (Van Esterik 2002, 262).
Breastfeeding is “a complex process shaped by social and cultural forces interacting with local environmental and political conditions.” – Penny Van Esterik (2002, 258).

Breastfeeding creates a special bond between the mother and child as well as between all of the children that nurse from the same woman, even if they are not biological siblings. Choosing not to breastfeed is, essentially, deciding not to be related to her children (Dettwyler 179, 181).

In breastfeeding, the mother is passing on a part of herself as well as traditional values of the culture marking the child as human and a part of that culture (Wright et al 766).

Breast milk itself is a cultural product with cultural value. It is deeply connected to the woman’s body and said to be “from the blood.” Because of breast milk’s conection to a woman’s blood, semen is seen to cause the milk to spoil, so sex during pregnancy or breastfeeding is forbidden. If breast milk can be spoiled, either through contact with semen or other ways, it is a potential source of destruction as well as nurturance (Dettwyler 179; Van Esterik 2002, 261).


The westernization of developing countries shifts the emphasis from the working, nurturing breast to the sexual breast. With this shift, breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public in particular, becomes less common because of the fear of others seeing part of a breast and the fear that breastfeeding will deform the breast. This is a result of interpreting breasts primarily as sex objects, which comes along with Westernization (Van Esterik 1989, 73, 74).

The effects of Westernization on the view of the breast made it easier for companies to promote breast milk substitutes. Only July 4, 1977, there was a boycott launched in the United States against the Nestle corporation prompted by the concern over the company’s marketing of breast milk substitutes in developing countries. Switching from breastfeeding to baby formula has led to health problem and deaths among children in these countries (Van Esterik 1989).

This move away from breastfeeding towards baby formula shows a disconnect within cultures based on the transmission of culture that is associated with breastfeeding.

In the past (and still today to some degree), the use of bodies, especially breasts, of foreign women, usually African women, were used as a form of entertainment. This form of orientalism dehumanizes these women by objectifying them so that they are just seen for their breasts. This was done both in the name of entertainment and of research and science (Masquelier).


“The breasts of women not only symbolized the most fundamental social bond, that between mother and child, but they were also the means by which families were made since their beauty elicited the desires of the male for the female.” – Ludmilla Jordanova (Van Esterik 2002, 263)

The lack of research concerning cross-cultural interpretations of breasts shows other cultures reluctance to discuss breasts as well as the taboo discussion topic within “the West.” Because most of the research is done by people in “the West,” primarily the United States, this lack of research is evident not only of the invisibility of breasts within “the West,” but also in developing countries.

Additionally, the fact that the research was primarily focused on breastfeeding shows the importance of the nurturing role of the breast in these cultures. Even if breasts are sexualized in other cultures, which is unclear based on the research, it is clear that the working breast is of equal if not greater importance.


This research is definitely not perfect and not complete. But looking at the view of breastfeeding in other cultures can give us a little bit of a glimpse into how the culture feels about the breast. If breastfeeding is not taboo in public, it could signify an emphasis placed on the nurturing breast rather than the sexual breast. And the fact that breasts are becoming increasingly sexualized along with Westernization speaks to the view of breasts in “the West.”


Works Cited
Dettwyler, Katherina A. “More Than Nutrition: Breastfeeding in Urban Mali.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 2 (1988): 172-83.
Van Esterik, Penny. Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
Van Esterik, Penny. “Contemporary Trends in Infant Feeding Research.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 257-78.
Wright, Anne L.,

Mark Bauer, Clarina Clark, Frank Morgan, and Kenneth Begish. “Cultural Interpretations and Intracultural Variability in Navajo Beliefs About Breastfeeding.” American Ethnologist 20 (1993): 781-96.

Suggested Reading
Jones, Diana P. “Cultural Views of the Female Breast.” The ABNF Journal (2004).
Whittemore, Robert, and Elizabeth A. Beverly. “Mandinka Mothers and Nurslings: Power and Reproduction.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10 (1996): 45-62.

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