My friend Cathy recently made me aware of this new blog called Gender Eyes, where a blogger by the name of Jennifer is setting out to “walk in the shoes of women from other parts of the globe.” From her blog:
Ever wonder what it’s like to walk in the shoes of women from other parts of the globe? Say a woman from Sub-Saharan Africa or even the local homeless woman? Well, I HAVE!
My name is Jennifer, and I’m a wife and mother foremost, but curiosity, my passion for human rights, and the desire to shed light on women’s issues has led me to chronicle my journey of adopting some of the daily rigors of what it means to be a woman in the world.
Follow me as I apply global women’s struggles to my own life by walking in their shoes for a day, one day and one issue at a time.
When I first saw this, I knew that her intentions were good, she’s clearly passionate about women’s rights, and she’s done a lot of study on the subject, but there was something about the endeavor that bothered me, and I couldn’t put my finger on what. I think what finally helped me do that was this:
All to gain a humble perspective on what it’s like to be a woman in other parts of the world.
I will explore my own prejudices, presumptions, and privilege as I chronicle my adventure. However, I recognize I will be doing so through the lens of a middle-class, white, American woman. As a result, I’ll also interview other women along the way who personally bear these burdens on a daily basis. My hope is that through this project, I can shed light on the struggles so many women and girls face in the world solely because of their gender, while offering solutions or ways to help, when possible.
It kind of bothers me that she’s framing sexism as something that she doesn’t have to deal with as a middle-class, white, American woman. She faces it every day. Getting paid less than her male counterparts for the same job, needing to worry about choosing between working or raising her daughter, sexist comments or assumptions about her based on what she does or doesn’t wear, or how she does or doesn’t live her life, etc. Given her Women’s Studies background, she should already be well aware of the effects of sexism in her own life, despite being married to a feminist husband. Yes, there’s a difference in degree between what middle-class women in the US experience, and what women experience in other countries, but a lot of those differences are deeply rooted in culture and class, things that she wouldn’t truly understand by “wearing a burqa for a day.”
Also, there’s stuff that she’s getting into that’s presented incompletely or inaccurately:
- She’s going to shave her head as an example of how women in India face a “social death” when they become widows. What she doesn’t say is that men in India also shave their heads and facial hair to express grief. The head-shaving is the part that actually has the least to do with the gender inequality.
- She’s going to spend time in a menstruation hut for three days to highlight how certain cultures feel about the “uncleanliness” of menstruation. However, many Native American tribes had menstruation huts for their women for exactly the opposite reason. There was no shame in menstruation – on the contrary, it was a way to honor women in their natural state, and for four days out of the month, women in the tribe would commune with each other and engage in a strong oral tradition. This makes me wonder if her knowledge of menstruation huts in Mali and the Congo is based in fact, or based on the assumptions of an outsider looking in and not understanding what they’re seeing.
- Spending a night in a shelter is not the same thing as experiencing domestic violence or homelessness. Applying to work at Hooters is not the same as being a victim of sex trafficking. And she’s going to “be a subservient wife?” What exactly does that mean? And she’s already chosen to stay home and raise her daughter rather than work. Which is a TOTALLY valid choice, but it’s still generally only a choice the woman in the relationship has to make. No one expects Dad to stay home to raise the child. And if he does choose to do so, he’s hailed as The Most Awesome Person in the Land, while Working Mom feels guilty for being a “bad parent.”
- Also, has she given any thought to how LGBT people, both here and globally, experience gender? Like, at all?
Her heart’s in the right place – I’m not saying she’s a horrible person – I just think that this particular experiment is a little misguided and feeds into class-ism and ethnocentrism, albeit unintentionally. I’m not the first person to criticize mainstream feminist discourse for for focusing on white women who are middle-class and above while treating women of different cultures and classes as “other.” While she says that she wants to examine her prejudices and privilege, I feel like this whole exercise is an example of her privilege. I feel that, by doing something like this, Jennifer is reinforcing the fact that “those” people have it worse than we do, when the truth is, it’s all the same fight. This seems like a stunt somehow. I’d be happier if she focused on the interview component of what she wants to do. Let these women tell THEIR stories. Give THEM a voice, rather than trying to imitate what they go through. Nothing she does for a limited amount of time is going to give her insight that’s any more real than talking to women who actually LIVE this on a daily basis.
What do you all think? Feel free to comment below. And Jennifer, if you ever read this, please know that I’m not criticizing your cred or your intentions, but I am concerned with your methods, and I would love to hear more about how and why you’re doing this, should you choose to share.