Saturday, March 8, 2008

sneakers, jeans and imperialism

Several things. They're a little disjointed, and that's ok. First, I hate how difficult it is to be aware of where my clothes and "stuff" is coming from. I can't always buy fair trade clothing, and I can't even know that when factories say the working conditions are good, and their workers are getting paid decently and getting breaks and being treated like human beings. Second, I don't know how to adequately argue against people who, like Nike, argue that they are providing jobs to people in the countries their factories are in. Nevermind the fact that these factories come in, completely change and alter the economic and social structure of the area, and then leave and often demolish what economic structure had been built up around the factory. Or the fact that companies build their factories where the labor is cheapest, don't allow the workers to unionize, etc.

Another issue that came up for me in class this week. The fact that the women of the Kabul Beauty School are facing new risks, and the author of the book has left and has no intention of returning to Kabul, and hasn't shared the profits of her New York Times bestseller with the women who she wrote the book about. The link will take you to an NPR story that a classmate of mine shared, if you're interested. How can Debbie Rodriguez rationalize her actions? She went to Kabul, built trust and friendships with these women, and used them to write a book, and now isn't planning on ever returning, and hasn't shared any of the profits with them? That's not right.

Finally, western feminists need to stop talking down to women in the rest of the world. We are not the be all, end all of feminist knowledge. We only know our experience firsthand, and need to shut up and listen to the experiences of others. Cynthia Enloe's writing about the gendered empire shows that women the western world stereotypes as "oppressed and helpless" are oppressed, yes, but it's not our place to articulate that oppression for the women who actually know what it's like.
I think it boils down to a respect for lived experience, for personal knowledge and understanding of your own life. In this respect, I don't know if western feminism is really all that useful to anyone who's not working in a western context.

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