Tagged: gender

11. Reading: The Republic of Cousins

Germaine Tillion’s Republic of Cousins. Women’s Oppression in Mediterranean Society (Al Saqi Books, 1983), apart from being a study about kinship and marriage in the southern meditarranean countries, is also an impressive plea for a political approach to the study of culture. From a feminist point of view, Tillion engages in the study of historical and current gender relations in the Mediterranean. She compares data from her own field work with historial sources back to the prophets to show how the place of women in Mediterranean societies is – just like anywhere else – anything but a natural given.

Tillion proposes, furthermore, an “ethnography devoid of virtue”, if it’s a virtue to observe and participate without interpreting what is observed and described. Since Geertz, latest, anthropologists understood that no such thing is actualy possible, because every observation is already shaped by our understandings, and therefore, interpreted in terms of the things we already know. However, it was interesting to see, that these ideas had been around way before Geertz wrote them down (the original work is from the late 1960s). Tillion’s writing offers an interesting mixture of scientific discourse about marriage rules without the pretence of a false objectivity, yet manages to include her political position. She does this transparently but without ever using “I”.

How did I come across the book?

It was recommended to me by my supervisor, because I was searching for more experimental/engaged forms of anthropological writing. I’m not sure it fulfilled this purpose, because I expected something more in the style of Michael Taussig. But it was good to see that “experimental” could also mean something else, and especially Tillion’s willingness to judge other’s customs was interesting to see in an ethnography.

When and where did I read it?

I started during a vacation I was taking right after my latest field trip. I read the first part on my way to and in Berlin, mostly on trains. The second part I finished in Moscow on several nights before bedtime.

10. Reading: Ponqué y otros cuentos

As I said a few times, already, I am not a big fan of short stories. This, mostly, because I really like slow character development and a story that takes time to reveal itself on at least 100 pages. Which is a totally arbitrary approach, I know. Nevertheless, there are always exceptions to my rules, and Ponqué y otros cuentos (Laguna Libros, 2016) by Carolina Sanín is one of them. The collection contains 7 short stories, all of which star strong female characters. It is this aspect I liked most about the stories, which depart from everyday situations like riding a train, listening to the radio, or reading a hand-written note, and usually revolve around quirky aspects of the main character, if not her surroundings. Especially the last two stories stroke chords with me, the darker Carolina en su funeral for its factual approach to loss, and Ponqué, the title story, because it reminded me of the Satanic Verses. This, mostly, because it combines a story of a young woman from Bogota going out to live in New York with the biblical narrative of Joseph (son of Jacob) from the book Genesis.

I was utterly impressed by the accuracy of descriptions and wording. For a long time I haven’t read anything as precise and therefore enjoyable in Spanish, and I am often bored by too long and too forced sentences when reading Colombian authors. I was very happy to see that a different style is possible, and one that appeals to me both in topics and style. And as if marvellous writing wasn’t enough, the book is also really pretty. The edition and illustration are beautiful, and the thick paper makes for a pleasant tactile experience, as well. For so many reasons, this is a book I did not want to stop reading.

How did I come across the book?

I took a creative writing seminar with Carolina Sanín, which turned out to be a live-changing experience. Not because I think writing fiction could be a thing for me – I still don’t, really – but because it happened at a complicated moment in field work and brought back the curiousness about the topic and the willingness to write. I started reading her books only after the seminar, in a way attempting to continue the conversations on writing. Turns out Carolina is not only an amazing teacher, (so if you have a chance to take a course with her: GO DO IT!) but also sticks to all of the rules she teaches. Speaking of authenticity in teaching, she is most definitely a new role model for me to follow.

When and where did I read it?

I started on the plane back from Bogota to Zurich, to make the passage a little lighter. I finished it within the first days while trying to get rid of the jetlag. But fortunately, there are several other works from her left to read in my bookshelf.

1. Reading: Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation

The Year in Readings started with a mission: more ethnographic monographs. The first book I finished, however, does not fit into this category. On the upside, at least it is remotely related to what I do in my research. Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation. Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal and Spain by Rina Benmayor, María Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez and Pilar Domínguez Prats (eds.; Palgrave Macmillian 2016) is meant to be an introdcution to oral history work in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. I’ve been doing a more formal review for the Oral History Forum d’histoire orale from the Canadian Oral History Association, which you can find here, if you’d like to have a look.

For the purpose of continuing with my subjective review series, I am just going to mention a few key points. Overall, reading edited volumes is often a challenge, because personally, I am rarely interested in all the contributions. This one had the great advantage, that it were those articles I thought wouldn’t fit my interests, which were the most inspiring. Some of the topics are innovative, like the articles on Lisbon’s tattoo scene, or the performance piece on the Portuguese dictatorship, and I especially liked the articles focusing on female militants from the Southern Cone and on migrant sex workers in Spain. But I would have liked more of that. Most articles are concerned with worker’s history. A real downer was the fact that articles on Latin America were restricted to the Southern Cone and Mexico, giving a somewhat eurocentric idea of the continent, and completely leaving out any indigenous contributions. Given that it is particularly this area where Oral History flourishes in Latin America, I found that quite disappointing. Apart from this (serious!) flaw, the volume is a solid contribution, and might be of interest for people wanting to know more about current trends in the region.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, the journal approached me to ask whether I would review it. I found that flattering and agreed.

When and where did I read it?

In one of Bogota’s amazing public libraries around New Year’s.

6. Reading: Wounds of Passion

I’ve been meaning to read some bell hooks for quite some time, and now that I find myself again in a little crisis about making my work more political, while at the same time exploring and discussing forms of writing, Wound of Passion (1997, Owl Books) came my way. To be honest, it didn’t much help me in both aspects, and especially in the beginning I was tempted to just let it be. But I’m not really good at not finishing books, so I went through with it, and halfway in, it finally hooked me. (Yeah, excellent pun, I know.)

What I liked best about it is probably the way she makes small, everyday problems in a relationship appear meaningful for a feminist project, and how she conveys the subtleties (and often not so subtle ties) of racism and classism. The book gave me a good idea about what intersectionality means “in the real world”, in which one has to provide for oneself. I thought it had little of writing for being subtitled “a writing life”, but then again the fact that it was hard to even find the little space for writing there is, shows how real the struggles hooks describes are.

How did I come across the book?

I was searching for something radical, feminist, by a person of color, on writing, to see if there was any way for me to make discussions about genre more political. I had read a chapter of Black Looks during my bachelor’s degree and remembered her name.

When and where did I read it?

During fieldwork in Bogotá, on several afternoons in cafés, but also on the bus to the library, or before going to bed. I also had it with me on a trip to Chile, where I didn’t look into it, however. On the plane there, it got me involved in a conversation with a priest, who thought (guessing from the cover motive, which shows two hands with red crosses on them) I was reading something religious. He was a little disappointed when I told him what the book was about.

If you want to read books that focus on black women, you better start writing and keep writing. (p.99)

D+90

Today is the day. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias officially start disarming. 90 days ago, the peace agreement was signed, starting the preparations for the long and possibly arduous legal journey to peace between the Colombian government and the continent’s oldest active guerrilla group. I’ve been to a conference on peace education for the whole day and almost missed the news, but then, someone mentioned it there. So I was checking press coverage of the day, and found an article on RCN (which I don’t exactly consider a balanced source, but read the article anyway). I came across a quote that says:

Pese al retraso, Maritza González, de 54 años y guerrillera desde los 14, está esperanzada. “Estoy dejando el fusil por la escoba”, dijo esta indígena Wayúu.

[Despite the delay, Maritza González, 54 years old and a guerrillera since she was 14, is hopeful: “I am leaving the rifle for the broom”, said the Wayúu (an indigenous group).]

I am reading and re-reading the quote and don’t even know where to start, because the phrase strikes me as utterly dense. The delay she is talking about is the delay in constructing the sites where the guerrilleros are supposed to gather and disarm. But what strikes me more is what we get to know about her in just one sentence: She is part of an indigenous group and guessing from her young entry age possibly a forced recruit. She spend 40 years with the guerrilla, which is almost 4/5 of her entire life. I can not even remotely imagine what this means for her hopes and aspirations for the future. What leaves me speechless, however, is what she says: I am leaving the rifle for the broom. While I can see how leaving arms might be a hopeful prospect, in the sense that her live will possibly become less stressful or life-threatening, I have serious difficulties in seeing how a broom is a hopeful prospect. Then again, maybe this works as a kind of Biedermeier-esque return to private life, and the broom here actually stands for the construction of a household, or an income in the way of getting a job in cleaning. Other than that, it does not strike me as an exceptionally liberating metaphor. And it makes me wonder about her experiences within the guerrilla, about the role her gender played during those 40 years. As I think about it now, maybe she wasn’t forced at all, because 40 years ago the political positions of the FARC were still a reason to join. And I sense a prejudice on my side: a broom doesn’t have to be a tool of patriarchal oppression. But then again it might. I’m still confused.

Gender Ideology

It’s a lovely sunday afternoon, I’m sitting at a public library and am surprised at how many others had the same idea. The staff is busily returning books to their shelves, helping users find what they are searching for. I’m writing a review on my visit to Villa Grimaldi, as I overhear a conversation between two employees. “Budy, where can I find books about Gender Ideology?” – “No, that’s not going to work. That’s a political term. Try ‘Homosexuality’ instead, that way you might find something. Or check the ‘Gender’ bookshelf.” – “Thanks, budy!” He returns to the computers where people consult the catalogue, where a young women in animal print leggings waits for him, eager to find out more about gender ideology.

Genderella’s Stories [pt. 2]

Gotta love public transport! Every now and then when Genderella embarks on her commutes to and from the corridors of knowledge, she encounters new and exciting adventures.

Once upon a time on public transport, Genderella was happy to finally get on a bus after waiting for half an hour for one to pass with at least minimal possibilities to stand on her own two feet only. She managed, and thanks to her being slightly taller than the average bus taker at that location, she was almost comfortable holding on to the handhold at the roof of the bus. With parts of human bodies everywhere around her, she didn’t immediately notice the hand on her ass, but only when it finally left.

On a different occasion, Genderella stood next to the handhold at one of the bus doors, when a man “accidentally” touched her breast instead of the handhold. Another time, a man used her tigh as hand rail while trying to stand up from the floor, where he’s been sitting. Genderella never wondered about these incidences, because from what she heard from her  peers, that was just the way things went.

Only that one time, when Genderella traveled home from a concert alone on an almost empty train, things where different. That one time, a man stood across from her, watching. Genderella didn’t like his look, but didn’t think about it too much, until she realized the man was moving his hand very strangely inside the pocket of his pants while continuing to watch her. Genderella felt very uncomfortable, she noticed her head getting red and felt ashamed. But since there was no-one else in sight, she decided to act. When she got up at the next stop to change lines, she looked the man straight in the eye and told him he was disgusting. He blushed, but didn’t come after her, fortunately.

After that, Genderella didn’t feel great. She felt that, although she had conquered a little space for herself and fought of some evil dragons, she really only won a battle, not the war.

Check out Genderella’s other stories here.