Section One: Diversity and Difference Learning Objectives

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Section One: Diversity and Difference

Learning Objectives

  • To understand how gender affects people’s lives and how masculinity is privileged.

  • To learn how men and women’s experiences are affected by race/ethnicity and disability.

  • To understand how race, class, nationality, and sexual orientation affect the way gender is experienced.

  • To gain an understanding of how universalizing the experiences of white, upper-class women erases the history and experiences of other women.

Section Summary
Gender organizes women’s and men’s lives. The pieces in this section explore the commonalities and differences in women’s lives.

  • Different women have different experiences, but they all share the experience of being oppressed in their status as women.

  • Oppression varies by factors other than gender, such as race and ethnicity, nationality, class, geographic location, sexual orientation, age, and religion.

  • Understandings of gender are shaped by other forms of inequality and social distinctions.

Reading 1: Kimberly Springer, “Being the Bridge: A Solitary Black Woman’s Position in the Women’s Studies Classroom as a Feminist Student and Professor”

The author describes her struggle to live as an authentic Black feminist and to impart what she learned about oppression and privileges to the next generation. Building upon the lessons she learned in the feminist classic This Bridge Called My Back, Springer describes building new “bridges” between generations and cultural groups in order to make a better world.

  • Springer felt pulled between her identities as a Black woman and as a feminist. Although This Bridge Called My Back provided her with a connection to non-white feminism, she often felt lonely as she tried to combine anti-racism and feminism.

  • Coalitions to other oppressed groups and interested activists have been important to Springer as a young adult and as she has matured in her feminism. Her connections to others of different races and genders helped her survive often being the only Black woman in various spaces.

  • She believes that all of the issues of power and privilege are interconnected, and that people should overcome the externally imposed divides. However, being a bridge between various cultures, races, and theories is exhausting work.

Reading 2: Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege”

Women are not only disadvantaged by structures of gender, but men are also over-privileged; at the same time whites gain dominance from racism while minorities are underprivileged. McIntosh unpacks her “invisible knapsack of white privilege” and identifies 46 ways in which she is privileged by being white.

  • Denial of the privilege males and whites receive protects this privilege maintaining sexism and racism. These privileges must be acknowledged so that people will work to change the social systems that maintain oppressions.

  • White privilege is not earned, but people are made to feel that it is their right because they are part of the main culture.

  • Some of the privileges of being white should be extended to all groups, while other privileges deny the humanity of other groups and need to be rejected entirely.

  • Although whites are allowed to choose whether they engage issues of race, more whites need to study their “privilege” to understand how it hurts both minorities and white people.

  • There are other hierarchical systems of privilege, like sexuality, that also need to be better understood. It is important to understand how the various systems of oppression operate and how they work together.

Boxed Insert: Judy Rohrer, “Haole Girl: Identity and White Privilege in Hawai`i”

The privileges of white skin vary by geographical location. Rohrer describes her discomfort with her identity as a “haole,” a white person who is seen as an outsider or foreigner in Hawai`i. The term haole comes out of Hawaii’s colonial past and its current structure of power. Rohrer suggests that white Hawaiians reconstruct their haole identities through awareness of the privileges of being white and consciously acting on this awareness.

Reading 3: Laura M. Lopez and Frances S. Hasso, “Frontlines and Borders: Identity Thresholds for Latinas and Arab American Women”

Individual and group interviews with eight Latinas and eight Arab American women reveal that the university experience causes both groups of women to reconstruct their racial-ethnic identity in opposition to the racist assumptions of the dominant culture. In addition, both groups of women struggle with the racial-ethnic/gender norms of “home” and whether or not they were “authentic” Latinas or Arab-Americans.

  • Racial-ethnic identities were emphasized on the college campus, and this pushed these women to better understand their ethnic background and more fully define their racial-ethnic identities.

  • The Latinas redefined themselves in opposition to their exclusion from the mainstream university environment, and the ideas that they were unqualified to be at the university. Arab American women reconstructed their identities in opposition to the (mis)representations of Middle-Eastern politics on campus.

  • The racism and exclusion of university life led man of the women to better understand their own ethnic-racial background and their parents’ language.

  • The experiences of these women before entering college affected their perceptions of college. Unlike the Latina’s the Arab American women had already lived their lives in predominantly white neighborhoods and their parents were in a higher socio-economic class and had more education that the Latina’s parents. The Latinas were more likely to feel that their college experiences alienated people from their home life.

  • The Latinas and Arab-American women consciously managed their physical appearance, language skill in Spanish or Arabic, the way they portrayed their own class/education status, and their sexuality in order to maintain ties to their “home” racial-ethnic communities.

Reading 4: Paula Gunn Allen, “Where I Come From Is Like This”

Indian cultures attribute a variety of positive characteristics to womanhood. Indian women are placed in a double bind when they must personify both the powerful tribal image of woman and the weak non-Indian image of a woman.

  • The idea that femininity holds power is built into tribal tradition and religion.

  • Individual Indian women have a variety of personalities, life histories, and opportunities, but all have a historical link to positive images of women.

  • White American schools continue the colonization of Indian children by teaching them negative myths about their own culture. But oral tradition has preserved Indian tradition and historical memory, and it has sustained Indian identity.

  • Western influence on Indian gender roles has had devastating consequences for Indians.

Boxed Insert: Sojourner Truth, “Ain't I a Woman?”

Sojourner Truth spoke these words at the women's convention in Akron, Ohio, to point out that what these people were describing as “natural” to womanhood was applicable only to a portion of the female population. She used images from her own life, as well as Christian imagery, to make the case that women can be strong and have been important in history.

Boxed Insert: Audre Lorde, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House”

Lorde suggests that a new theory must be developed to challenge all forms of oppression in order to dismantle gender oppression.

  • Feminist theory must account for the differences between women.

  • Differences between women should be seen as good, as a space for creativity.

  • Women’s power can be found in their desire and need to nurture each other.

  • White feminists need to educate themselves about black feminists and about issues of race, just as men need to educate themselves about feminism and gender oppression.

Reading 5: Catherine Kudlick, “The Blind Man’s Harley: White Canes and Gender Identity in America”

Kudlick describes her experience of blindness and learning to use a cane in order to gain more independence. She describe how blindness is often feminized while the school she attends, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), the world’s largest organization run for and by blind people, place a high value on masculinity. Although blindness exaggerates her gendered experiences, she feels that learning to take the risks her course taught her is not unlike how many women navigate the gendered world and manage to take necessary risks within it.

  • Sighted people often treated blind people as helpless and childlike; in such a way they often feminize the blind.

  • There are struggles within the blind community over the best way to handle one’s blindness with the NFB often coming down with rigid stances that promote blind people’s independence. These struggles can be seen in issues involving tactile warning strips, the use of guide dogs, and traffic signal sounds.

  • Canes, often a symbol of blindness, have been a particularly controversial issue within the blind community. Kudlick suggests that the NFB “tries to reclaim masculinity” for blind people by insisting that people use long canes that are not collapsible even when these may not be practical.

  • Kudlick describes her experiences learning to navigate busy streets with her cane and both the fear and the freedom that such experiences provide her.
Discussion Questions

Reading 1: Kimberly Springer, “Being the Bridge: A Solitary Black Woman’s Position in the Women’s Studies Classroom as a Feminist Student and Professor”

  1. What made it difficult for Springer to be both Black and a feminist? Why might Springer have felt pulled between these two worlds?

  2. What led Springer to develop a feminist identity? Who and what inspired her feminist consciousness?

  3. What lessons is Springer hoping to impart to the next generation of feminist scholars? What can you learn from her example?

Reading 2: Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege”

  1. Name some of the effects of white privilege listed by McIntosh. What are other effects of white privilege from your own lives (or those around you)?

  2. How does the denial of the benefits whites receive from racism (or males from sexism) maintain those unearned privileges?

  3. McIntosh begins to list the privileges she receives from being heterosexual. What are some of the other privileges heterosexuals receive? Ask students to discuss other areas of oppression and the various privileges that accompany those privileges.

Reading 3: Laura M. Lopez and Frances S. Hasso, “Frontlines and Borders: Identity Thresholds for Latinas and Arab American Women”

  1. How did university experiences affect the Latina’s that Lopez and Hasso interviewed? How did the university experiences affect the Arab American women?

  2. The Latina and the Arab American women formed “oppositional” racial-ethnic identities. What does it mean to say these identities were “oppositional”? What were they formed in opposition to?

  3. What difficulties did the women in this study experience when they went home? In what ways was going home better or worse than the university experience?

  4. How were the Latinas’ and the Arab American women’s experiences with identity similar? How were they different?

Boxed Insert: Judy Rohrer, “Haole Girl: Identity and White Privilege in Hawai`i”

  1. What is a “haole?” How is this term similar or different from other derogatory terms for white people? How does geography affect the privileges that attach to white skin?

Reading 4: Paula Gunn Allen, “Where I Come From Is Like This”

  1. According to Allen, what problems did Westernization or “civilization” cause for Native Americans? How are Western notions of gender at fault for many of the problems of abuse, neglect, and orphans in today’s Indian population?

  2. How do Indian women see themselves in terms of gender? How does this differ from Western notions of women?

Boxed Insert: Sojourner Truth, “Ain't I a Woman?”

  1. How does Sojourner Truth challenge her listener’s notions of woman? How are her race and class important to the argument she makes?

Boxed Insert: Audre Lorde, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House”

  1. What strengths can be brought to feminism by women of color, poor women, or women in developing countries? What are the problems for feminist theory if women of color or lesbians are left out?

  2. Why won’t “the master’s tools” be able to “dismantle the master’s house”? What does Lorde mean by this?

Reading 5: Catherine Kudlick, “The Blind Man’s Harley: White Canes and Gender Identity in America”

  1. How is blindness feminized? What about the Colorado Center for the Blind’s rehabilitation course is masculine? What are the consequences of associating femininity with weakness?

  2. What were some of the controversial stances taken up by the NFB? What do you think about these stances?

  3. What elements of a “poor little blind girl” did the author carry with her? How is a similar “little girl” carried around by all women as Kudlick suggests?

Assignments and Exercises

Personal Cultural Representations: Have students share their stories with the class about what it means to be women in their culture. Have each student prepare to talk about the meanings of “woman” for their race, ethnicity, nationality, or class. Encourage students to bring in representations of their culture (clothing, elements of work, food, writing, etc.) or pictures that would help demonstrate the diversity of women’s lives. Instructors are encouraged to participate. The goal of this discussion is to increase students’ cultural knowledge of the diversity of women’s experiences and to acknowledge the differences of the students in the classroom.
Left Out: Use this exercise to explore how the definition of “woman” can be restrictive. Give students five minutes to jot down some notes describing a time when they or someone they knew was not included when someone said “all women.” What emotions does this raise? Did the exclusion involve just the student or someone they knew, or was it a whole category of women? What does this mean for the definition of “woman”?
Thinking About Difference: Split students into groups and ask each group to imagine they are members of one of the following categories: Black women, Chicano women, Indian women, Asian women, poor women, disabled women, or lesbians. Ask each group to answer the following questions: How do popular magazine and television portrayals of women make them feel? In what ways has their history been fabricated or forgotten? How are they disadvantaged in modern society?
Famous Women of Color: In order to bring women of color into the story of who women are and into our history, have students research the lives of famous women of color. Ask them in what ways did (or do) these women challenge assumptions about who women are? What strengths did these women draw from their own cultures? How were these women treated by white Americans or by feminists?
Our Own Privilege: This exercise is designed to make students aware of their own privileges without making them uncomfortable in a classroom. Have students list their own privileges and their own disadvantages in two separate columns. Then ask them to imagine that the two columns were reversed (their disadvantages now become their advantages). Lead a discussion about how the students’ lives would be different if these two columns were reversed. Ask them to explain where the disadvantages and the privileges come from.
Field Trip to Explore Portrayals of Difference: Take students to a museum or art exhibit in order to explore how gender and race are portrayed. Ask students to identify the different ways in which men and women are portrayed. How does this vary by race, ethnicity, nation, and class? How is sexuality displayed? Are there any depictions of disabled or blind people? What do those depictions suggest about that person’s gender or sexuality? What do all of these portrayals say about our perceptions of history, desire, division of labor, and beauty?
Textbook Exploration: Copy sections of elementary school textbooks about history or social studies. Use these books’ discussions of the lives of colonial or pioneer men and women to explore the historical legacy of racial and gender oppression. Ask students to identify the ways in which women are portrayed. How are women of color treated? Whose stories are not told? Is oppression discussed or is it hidden? How does the historical oppression of women and people of color affect gender and race today?

Web Links
“Bush, Burquas, and the Oppression of Afghan Women”

Oppression happens, at home and abroad, through a variety of forms of discipline and control. While the oppression of Afghan women was used by the United States as one rationale for the war in Afghanistan, American foreign policy had previously authorized that very oppression. Gary Leupp writes about this in a Counterpunch article (7/16/2002) entitled “Bush, Burquas, and the Oppression of Afghan Women.”
Latino Issues Forum

Information on minority experiences has been missing from much research on American women’s lives. The Latino Issues Forum seeks to help Latinos by providing research, community education, and advocacy about Latinos/as particularly related to policy issues in California.
Muslim Women’s League

Middle-Easterners have often faced discrimination in this country, especially after September 11, 2001. This site provides information on the Muslim Women’s Association, a nonprofit American Muslim organization. This organization is dedicated to supporting Muslim women in practicing Islam in ways that allow women to be “free, equal, and vital contributors to society.”
National Federation of the Blind

This is the largest organization for and by the blind. It seeks to have people understand blindness not as a disability, but as a different way to approach and experience the world. They offer a variety of information on products, resources, and training for people who are blind as well as to help sighted people better understand blindness.

Native Culture Links

A former librarian and a social science educator offers information on Native American centers, nations, languages, art, and cultural events. There are a variety of internet links to other websites that provide credible information on Native Americans.
Native Web

Women from indigenous cultures, and the way gender is organized in these cultures, are often forgotten in discussions about women and gender. This site offers a variety of resources on indigenous cultures around the globe, including information on women in these cultures. There are links to online resources as well as books, music, and videos.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth has inspired generations of women to claim their rights to full womanhood and full citizenship. This website provides a brief biography of Sojourner Truth as well as links to additional information about her life and work.

“Voices From the Gaps”

Hosted by the University of Minnesota, this website provides resources about artists and writers, particularly women of color. This website feature critiques of literary and artistic works, as well as biographies and other information on women of color who are artists and writers. You can find descriptions of the lives and works of both Audre Lorde and Paula Gunn Allen here, along with many other important women authors.
White Privilege

The benefits to whites of racism against people of color constitute “white privilege.” At this site, you can read more about how European-Americans enjoy unearned advantages.

Women of Color Web

It is often difficult for students and teachers to find information about minority women, and writings about how various issues pertain to women of color. This Harvard University website provides links to writings by and about issues surrounding women of color. Additionally, there are links to teaching tools, discussions, and organizations.

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