I remember quite clearly the moment I truly became a feminist and put myself on this lifelong journey of learning and activism. I was taking a paper at my university called social justice. It was a political theory paper and looked at the different theories of social justice. Whether wealth should be redistributed in society, how it should be done that kind of thing. Some of the theorists we covered were feminist theorists. Before this point I had been kind of sceptical about a gendered analysis within political studies. It had seemed kind of isolationist and awkward. Lectures which looked at a gendered analysis were almost universally the least attended and no one really seemed to take it seriously.
People in New Zealand (and I suppose in many places but I shall speak to my own experiences) have a tendency to believe that gender equality has been achieved, that the fight is over and anyone who doesn’t think this is just silly. So gender equality was something I thought that we were fighting for in the ‘developing world’.
What my lecturer did for me in this particular paper was to remove the blinkers from my eyes and let me see the many small and large ways in which gender inequality has not been achieved in my home country. Where balances of power lie. How the ways in which we critique women are different from men, how women’s work has always been devalued. It spoke to all the things I had seen that I had not had the language to articulate. It gave voice and legitimacy to the rage I felt about many things which seemed so impotent.
I see the many problems with feminism. How it fails over and over again to serve the needs of all women, yet I can’t stop calling myself a feminist because of all the tools it has given me.
Sometimes I find blogging and engaging in the blogosphere (even just reading) very difficult.
I really really love Melissa’s concept at Shakesville of social justice activism as being a teaspoon against a tidal wave, but sometimes that tidal wave just seems so huge and my particular teaspoon so small.
My job is in social justice and I spend a lot of my free time engaging in social justice spheres trying to become a better activist and ally. It gets very tiring and so sometimes I just have to leave it all for a while to prevent myself from getting burnt out.
To make myself feel better I think I am going to list all the ways I teaspoon on a regular basis.
I am a fat person (particularly here in Thailand) who does not try to hide my body. I am a fat person that goes clubbing and rocks it hard (you better believe it) on the dance floor every weekend.
I try to gently challenge the body hatred of the people around me
I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full even though this means I seem to eat a lot more than the people in my office.
I frequently challenge peoples assumptions and stereotypes about sexuality and gender
I am a critical race feminist even when this means people around me think I am overreacting or making assumptions
I work out nearly everyday and this to me is a political act.
In my professional life I work to give a voice to women who don’t usually have one
I make sure that the work I do involves a lot of shutting up and listening so I can be a good ally
I try to spread this message as far as I can
I try my best and no one can ask more of me than that.
As some of you may or may not know I have recently relocated myself to the North of Thailand. It is an area very popular amongst tourists who want to experience a bit more of Thai culture than you can get from the party islands in the south or who want to distance themselves from the in your face sex tourism in Bangkok and Pattaya.
I really love it here and as such I want to do right by this place. Being a tourist or a traveler is always a difficult balancing act for those of us who consider ourselves activists for social justice. Here are a few simple thoughts that I have had regarding traveling in this particular area. I cannot claim to extrapolate them to anywhere else but perhaps the general principles are worthy of consideration when planning your next overseas adventure.
Hill tribe visits
These are common fare among the many tourists that traipse through this city. They are often part of a standard day trip that includes elephant riding and bamboo rafting. Don’t do it in this manner. Hill tribe people of all kinds are extremely marginalised within Thailand. They generally do not see any money out of these visits except for what they can sell to the tourists tramping through their villages. They are treated as curiosities and as such become something akin to a human zoo. If you really want to experience hill tribe culture do your research. There are a number of lodges that are run by the tribes themselves. These usually have an emphasis on sustainability and the empowerment of local communities. Plus you actually get to interact with people rather than just gawking at them.
Do not visit the so called long neck karen villages. These people are heavily exploited and are confined to their villages by local authorities as useful tourist attractions.
There is a long history to Elephant domestication in Thailand – much like buffaloes and horses they have been used as beasts of burden. They were extensively employed in the logging industry, however since the Thai government banned logging most families with elephants have turned them into tourist attractions. Again do your research and find something that gels with your particular beliefs.
That is all I have for now but perhaps I will make this a series 🙂