Monday, December 12, 2016

Navigating Donald Trump's Election as a Nepali-American Woman (Part II)

Previously, in Part I of this post I talked about the media's discussion of the large amount of white women that voted for Trump and the difficulty I felt understanding the votes even in light of the various explanations. Expecting my peers to understand my feelings, returning to law school the week after the election I realized many people did not understand the impact the election of Trump had on minority communities.

The moment it was becoming apparent that Trump was going to win the election, those around me started saying it was time to come together for the sake of the country, to let go of the divisive nature of the election. In an event my law school held the week after the election, many students stood up to speak, saying it was time to let the election go, and that we all needed to work together. Of course I wanted the nation to progress, but every time I heard someone say "we needed to come together" I would hold my breath, sigh, and try to not let my face reflect the frustration I felt. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche said in her piece "Now is The Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About" made in response to the election "the premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity." If only I had the same gusto and eloquence of Adiche, I would explain to my peers how hurtful it was to be asked time and again to forget the racism and bigotry that many people directly or indirectly voted for. 

Also in response to the election, a student group at my law school created a forum for students to write their feelings regarding the election on post-its and place them on a board in the school's hallway. Two of the post-its read "dear white girls, there are bigger ramifications to this election than losing your birth control" and "hating all the Beckies right now". A white female student took pictures of the post-its and posted on a class Facebook page "I don't know who posted these two notes on the wall at school, but I don't think you are helping your cause" (at the time this post was written, both the Facebook post and the post-its had been taken down). While I personally don't agree with the post-its, the Facebook post highlighted the lack of support and understanding that I felt in my community after Trump's election. First, it deligitimized the feelings of the post-it authors and the place where those feelings were coming from. Second, it removed minority women from the larger women's movement. As the Facebook post's author said, the post-it authors were not "helping [their] cause" -  it wasn't our cause. 

In the face of the discord and lack of empathy, felt on both the large scale of the nation and the small scale of the feminist community around me, I believe intersectional feminism can be a tool for the future. As described in this article, intersectional feminism takes into account race, gender, ethnicity, class and ability, and acknowledges that "every woman's experience with oppression is both varied and valid." In her work "Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory", author Angela Harris explaines how when a singular essentialist female voice is propagated, "the experiences of women perceived as "different" are ignored or treated as a variations on the (white) norm." However, if feminism can recognize different identities and experiences, Angela Harris explains that it will attack racism, classism, and homophobia in the process, and feminism will be about all kinds of oppression. With intersectional feminism we can tackle the fact that 83% of women with disabilities are sexually assaulted within their lifetime, or that Latina women make 54% of what white men make in salary, two of the many reasons this article listed as reasons why intersectional feminism is important. 

With intersectional feminism my feelings and identity as a Nepali-American woman after the election are important, and worth fighting for. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The outright insult of being told you do something “like a girl”

The #LikeAGirl, a movement brought about by Always, aims to redefine the blatant insult associated with doing something “like a girl”. This video, orchestrated by the company that designs sanitary towels, displays the varying opinions that doing something “like a girl” entails, specifically comparing the answers of young, prepubescent girls with those of young women. A very strong message portrayed by the advertisement is that the girls whose self-esteems have not yet been affected by growing up have much greater confidence in their abilities than the girls that are that bit older. The New York Times reports that, in a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, 60% of girls in elementary school are confident in themselves. This figure drops to a mere 29% by the time they reach high school. Why the massive decrease in self-assurance?

Adolescence is a time when girls become women. They develop breasts, menstruate for the first time, and grow hair in places they were previously bald. This period of great change (excuse the pun) can be very distressing for young women and they end up looking to others for acceptance. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the characteristics that are approved of by society are often those traditionally attributed to men. If society is only going to value the male characteristics then of course to do something “like a girl” would be taken as an insult every time. 

The insult is usually directed at a boy who has, by some misogynistic standard, acted in a feminine manner or carried out some manly task poorly. For example, the boy in the playground who cries after falling over is told to “stop crying like a little girl” or the boy at practice that is shamed by his coach for “throwing like a girl”. One thing that bothers me about these non-chalant insults is that they are not directed at those to whom they are said. They are, instead, directed toward all females. Young girls are growing up in an atmosphere where they are taught that to behave “like a girl” is wrong and something of which they are to be ashamed.

While on the topic of throwing like a girl I would like to touch on this light-hearted Mythbusters episode where they tackle the same subject. They carry out a number of experiments studying the way in which boys and their female counterparts throw a number of balls at a target. The conclusion of these trials demonstrated that overall the girls performed no more poorly than the boys!

I believe the Always campaign to alter the meaning of what it is to do something “like a girl” is exactly the kind of education for which society is begging. There are almost 7 billion people in this world, 50% of whom are females, 50% of whom are talented human beings, fully capable of achieving equally with their male counterparts, 50% of whom are doing things “like a girl”.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Teaching's 2%: part 2

My prior blog post was about the lack of black men teaching in America.

I learned in my research that the trouble with the lack of diversity isn't just that we view teaching as women's work.  When black men are in teaching jobs, they report feeling underappreciated for their pedagogical knowledge and overappreciated for their disciplinary skills.  The Secretary of Education, John King, Jr., identifies a “invisible tax” on minority teachers.  They are expected to spend more time disciplining and building relationships with their students than white teachers are.  Many black male teachers report being asked to help take care of problem students more often than any of their colleagues.  They also felt like they had to counter stereotypes about how black men act—often by themselves.  

This was a part of the story I had never heard before, and it really got me thinking.  If I were a teacher, would I reach out to a male colleague to help with a “problem” child?  Probably.  Disciplining students sounds like it would be the hardest part of teaching.  I can imagine having trouble with a boy in class and asking a male colleague for help, thinking he would have insight. 

I think the situation that men, and black men in particular, face when they do try to break stereotypes is a great example of how we all need to constantly assess our own biases.  Consulting a co-worker on a difficult situation is not wrong, but if I only consult that co-worker when I want help with disciplining children it might be.  

As we face down a new year with new uncertainties about social policy, it's important to remember that we can only truly control .  I encourage us all to be open to learning that some of our habits have unintended and harmful consequences.  Let's be kind to each other.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How to Respond to this Election - Part II "Get Legal!"

In part I of this post, I showed a great amount of my chagrin and sorrow about the election. I still doubtless feel those things, but at this point, it's more important for me to discover avenues of hope and empowerment. In order to do so, I look to the women that I love.

There are a few women I know that are nearly unperturbed by this election. It has impacted them, but they have not missed a beat. In fact, their urgency to work hard is only rising. I was curious as to how these women could be so stalwart; how they could be so disappointed in the election, but resist feeling disheartened. Then something occurred to me. These women have the most faith in the US legal system of all the women I know. I wanted to find a door into the Church of Legal Faith, myself. So here goes.

When in need of legal-lady-power, I often look to one of my heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She must be particularly aggravated with the fact of our new President Elect, whom she deems inconsistent and egotistical —I second that motion, Justice Ginsburg, and despite your graceful apology, we all know where you stand— but in the aftermath, she continues to be a rockstar on the bench and off. Perhaps this is because RBG originally became interested in the law during a time I liken very much to the milieu of our nation today: the Red Scare (there is some agreement about this comparison). In a heartfelt interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg (podcast version on What It Takes), Justice Ginsburg spoke of an undergraduate constitutional law research assistantship at Cornell in the early 1950's. For her RA position, Justice Ginsburg was tasked with reading transcripts of hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security Committee. She told Totenberg:
"[F]rom those transcripts I saw that there was no one standing up for these people reminding our Congress that we have a 1st amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and we have a 5th amendment guarantee against self-incrimination. So I thought that was a good thing to do; that a lawyer could have a professional career, could have paid job . . . and also volunteer services in hard times to make things a little better. That’s when I had the idea that I would like to be a lawyer."
Amen, Justice Ginsburg. These are definitely hard times. I therefore intend to look to the lawyers who, in the face of a Trump Presidency, are planning to do exactly what inspired RBG to become an attorney: make things a little better. Here are my heroes of the day:

1. The Southern Poverty Law Center: SPLC has been doing amazing work lately, particularly around the surge of hate speech and violence that has arisen in the wake of the election. In their publication Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election, they urge the President Elect to "do everything in his power . . . to reach out to the communities his words have injured" as opposed to "feign[ing] ignorance." They have also been collecting extraordinary amounts of data: observing that 867 hate incidents have occurred nationally since Trump's election. In addition, they continue to fight hate through impact litigation such as Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al. where their complaint argued that Department of Homeland Security and ICE violated the Freedom of Information Act by withholding information on raids that targeted over 100 women and children in Texas.

2. California's likely new Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who recently tweeted: "#DREAMers are some of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. We stand with you & are ready to fight for you", says he intends to fight to retain California's liberal clean energy, environmental, criminal justice and immigration policies. If he does so, he might lead California into being "the tip of the spear for state-based resistance to Trump and the Republican party’s inhumane vision for our country."

3. National Center for Lesbian Rights: NCLR has updated its blog several times regarding the election, including informational posts about Transgender Rights, consoling its constituents that marriage equality will hold strong due to stare decisis, and campaigning against Jeff Sessions' nomination. In addition, NCLR continues Equality Utah v. Utah State Board of Education, the case they filed on October 21st, 2016, challenging state laws that ban positive speech about LGBT people in Utah public schools.

Read more here:

4. The American Civil Liberties Union: There was very little that buoyed me up on the days following the election, however, the ACLU's homepage made me smile every time I clicked. Trump's face was plastered it with bold words hanging in the air beside him: See You In Court. The ACLU leveled up from that rallying cry, calling the President Elect a "one man constitutional crisis" and, wasting no time, released a 27-page brief entitled the "Trump Memos" that brilliantly displayed the unconstitutionality of Trump's policies regarding mass deportation, large-scale surveillance, profiling, and attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Yesterday, the ACLU lived up to its promise and joined with the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood. They filed simultaneous lawsuits concerning unnecessary abortion restrictions in Alaska, Missouri, and North Carolina. Their message was clear: "we'll see [people like] you in court" before you even take the Presidential Oath, Mr. Trump.

I may still be a Legal Faith agnostic, I can't lie. But these warriors of the legal system have encouraged me, and more than anything, reminded me why I am am joining the Profession. Thank you, SPLC, the State Government of California, NCLR, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Center for Reproductive Rights. I'm grateful. 

In my gratitude, I'll leave you with the words of NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:
"Together, we fight on and we fight back. We must harness our grief, fear and outrage and serve justice. Onward. . ."