Category Archives: Media

How to be Granted Asylum: Just be a white celebrity

The always insightful Flavia Dzodan (if you don’t follow her already, you should do so now) has pointed out on Facebook that while the whole world is concerned with one white dude’s asylum decision, hundreds and thousands of refugees are constantly dying trying to reach the EU, and no one pays attention. Their bodies remain mostly anonymous. Continue reading

The (Female) Artist is Present – Marina Abramovic vs. Maeve Binchy

clearly not an icon: marina abramovic for v magazine

I am not very familiar with Abramovic’s art. I came across her work a few times at art exhibitions and, most recently, in a news article which stated that she does not identify as a feminist, because she never felt she had to struggle more being a woman. Yet this afternoon, as part of the Meltdown Festival in London, she gave a lecture to a women-only audience at the Southbank Centre. Considering her previous comments, I can only assume that this decision came from artistic rather than political motivations. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but in any case, I was intrigued. Continue reading

See you at Missy Magazine!

I am very excited to announce that this month I have been headhunted to guest blog over at Missy Magazine, a young and sleek German publication on pop culture, society and politics. (Well, I wasn’t actually headhunted. I kinda asked them to please let me write for them (“I can do it in German, too. I promise!”))

Unfortunately, this means I won’t be posting here for a few weeks, but everyone capable of reading German may please check back over here. Or you can use Google Translate and have a great laugh.

I hope to be able to translate my posts eventually, and I’ll be back in full swing in July. Bear with me!

XXX

Why I might not attend the re:publica 2013

Some of you may have wondered about the meaning of the small banner on the top right of my homepage. My German readers probably knew what this is all about: Last week I went to the re:publica 2012, the largest German conference for the online community – bloggers, journalists and social media experts.

The conference had invited over 200 speakers from all over the world and topics included the usual – net politics and net freedom – as well as more concrete issues such as “handicapped accessibility” or “female trolling”. Because of the wide range of lectures and workshops everyone was sure to find something of interest. In three days I went to about 15 different sessions, some of which excited me more than others, but at the end of Day 3 I decided that I probably won’t return next year.

I’m not disappointed. I didn’t really have any particular expectations, but after having read so much about it (online, where else?) I simply wanted to see what it was like. I really enjoyed the diversity of the subjects covered, many of which related to topics that I care about, and perhaps that was the biggest problem. Naturally, I went to the sessions that I was most interested in, but it turns out I may have been too interested in them, because listening to the talks I couldn’t help but feel “underchallenged”. Most of the information given was so basic that anyone who frequently researches on Google (i.e. everyone at re:publica) would have already been familiar with it. The questions at the end often led into the right direction but before anything truly fruitful could develop, the session was already over. The really important stuff in my opinion, the political and philososphical implications of some of the issues, were hardly even touched upon.

Here are some thoughts I gathered over the three days:

1. Everyone is talking about preserving anonymity and fighting the constant threat to online privacy, but no one talks about the fact that there is a generation of “netizens” coming after us that simply doesn’t give a damn

2. Truly feminist topics were hardly represented. I overheard this was in part a reaction to last year’s reception of the sessions, but I don’t know any details. But an online conference that doesn’t feature net feminism is an outrage.

3. Online activism has to translate into offline activism. “Contact your representative” simply won’t do. Neither will “Join the Pirate Party”.

4. Why are European topics so marginalized? I have decided to identify as a “Euroblogger”, with all of its benefits and drawbacks (mostly drawbacks). I’m not willing to give up , but please, dear European online community, look beyond your own national interests, learn languages, translate and share. I know it’s hard – I don’t know Russian either – but we could learn so much from each other!

5. About self-publishing: e-books are not the only way to self-publish, and if you agree that being a writer is not about financial gains, why do you talk so goddamn much about money???

6. Last but not least, a big Thank you to some of the young men at the re:publica. A session on the “Future of Work” left be baffled by its ignorance of people with families, people in precarious work and uneducated people, unpaid care and house work, but I didn’t even have to complain; three young men did it for me and that made me very, very happy.

In conclusion, one could argue that I simply went to the wrong sessions, but it seems as though many others felt the same way, even though they went to a completely different program. Perhaps next year the slogan for the re:publica shouldn’t be “Action!” but “Reflection!”.

“The immigrant body is a gendered body” – The full interview with Flavia Dzodan

Flavia Dzodan is a business developer, writer and public speaker, currently residing in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian’s CIF, xoJane and on Gender Across Borders. She also frequently blogs at Tiger Beatdown and on her own blog Red Light Politics. Her main interest lies in the intersections of race, class and gender in a European context. Flavia was born in Argentina and came to the Netherlands in her twenties, where she has lived ever since. I spoke to her about immigration in Europe, the role of the political parties, and her own experiences and projects. An edited version of this interview was previously published on Gender Across Borders for a series on women and migration.

Henrike Dessaules: How did your own experience of coming to Europe influence your writing and activism?

Flavia Dzodan: For me the biggest shock was to go from being totally unaware of how certain immigration issues play out in Europe, and then to be here and to be labeled by the state as the “Other”. That was my starting point: to try to understand what was going on. A lot of what I write stems from that need to understand and unpack that structure that we see in place across the entire EU. What I’m interested in is unpacking a system where we have one group of dominant culture, which is white (for all intents and purposes, this is a system of whiteness), and you have a system of “Other”, which is the immigrant, the foreigner, the alien. What is happening in the EU since 2001 is that this “Other” is almost always invariably coded as Muslim. This is nonsense, because immigration is not just Muslim, but in order to actually get away without accusations of racism, they use this code word of immigrant, when actually what they mean is Muslim.

HD: Have you noticed a particular change in that over the most recent years?

FD: Very much so. I see it escalating. Every election cycle in Europe this escalates and gets worse, with more aggressive rhetoric, with more outlandish ideas of how immigrants should be treated, and there’s also this obscuring of what really goes on. You probably saw what I wrote about the internment camps where immigrants are kept. Well, all of this is obscured in the media. You don’t get to hear that there are these blatant human rights abuses. So, on the one hand the rhetoric increases, and that is the visible aspect, but in the background the policies that make these human rights abuses legitimate are enacted and passed as legislation. Of course, there is an increase. I would say it started around 2001, but it has only gotten progressively worse. And these people have more legitimacy as well. More mainstream legitimacy. What in the nineties would have been unthinkable, for someone like Jean Marie Le Pen, say, or Geert Wilders, now is a matter of daily occurrence in the media.

HD: How do you think it plays out in particular in the Netherlands?

FD: Well, in the Netherlands we have Geert Wilders. He was one of the pioneers of this movement. He has a genealogy of politicians that came before him, that also peddled his ideas since the late nineties, but he’s the most visible and he was the first across the EU to come up with this rhetoric of hatred and racialized politics. It would be absurd to call him names or to call his supporters names. People usually are very simplistic; they say: ‘These people are dumb and that’s why they follow him.’ That, I’m afraid to say, is very simplistic and not a nuanced analysis. These people have legitimate reasons to feel disenfranchised and to feel left out, and to feel that the system has failed them. Wilders exploits this very legitimate anger by giving them lies. But people are not stupid. It’s not that they believe him because they’re uneducated or they don’t know better. They believe him because for years they haven’t been addressed. Nobody has actually taken the time to listen to what are very legitimate complaints against globalization, against the growth of capitalism, in every sphere of our lives. And how they feel left behind because they cannot consume at the pace that society tells us; that in order to be a full subject, you need to consume: fashion, culture, etc. And his supporters come in general from areas with legitimate poverty indexes, with struggles to find jobs, and that with a model of every-day social life that is no longer what it used to be twenty years ago.

HD: Ironically, I’ve read that the supporters of Marine Le Pen, for example, are primarily from the areas that are further outside of the cities, so where actually there are not that many immigrants at all.

FD: It’s the same with Wilders, exactly the same.

HD: And one argument that always comes up in the immigration debate is this sort of the-boat-is-full rhetoric, that we just can’t have everyone coming. What would you reply to that?

FD: I’d say that it’s a very historically flawed way of looking at what has happened between Europe and the global South for the past 500 years. I mean, let’s not forget the very long, painful and brutal history of colonization of Europe in the countries where all these immigrants come from. So you have a continent that, with very few exceptions, went to these countries and ravaged resources, created a system of dependency, created a system of oppression for entire populations, and these have been perpetrated until not so long ago. In the last 50 to 100 years Europe has decolonized. And now they have these populations who have no access to resources, who have no access to funds, and Europe does not take any responsibility in the creation of these systems, so yes, sure, Europe is full. I’m not going to debate that because I’m not a demographer. […] So let’s grant these arguments some validity. Even if that was true, how do we address this system of inequalities that Europe created in the countries where these people come from? We created a welfare system in the EU across the entire continent on the back of the colonized countries. And now, when these people 50 or 100 years later say “Hey, we also deserve a portion of this pie”, we tell them “Oh, but it’s full”.

HD: So what do you think would need to happen in the near future? What do you think are the most pressing issues at the moment?

FD: I think that the racism in the EU must be addressed. Unless it’s tackled and actually fixed from the root, it’s only going to lead to more problems. I’m not even talking about a comprehensive immigration policy that contemplates all of these issues, which is another necessity. But even before that, I’m talking about something that is urgent and immediate, and that is to address the system of institutionalized racism. I give you another example from the Netherlands: When you look at the statistics of unemployment rates for under 25-year-olds in the Netherlands, for Dutch white natives the rate is at something like 5%. For Moroccan natives under 25 years old, the unemployment rate is at 25%. And for males under 25 of Surinamese origin, which is a former Dutch colony, and it’s mostly an Afro-Caribbean population of mixed heritage, the unemployment rate is at 27%. So when we look at these inequalities, I’m sorry, the only possible explanation is that system of institutionalized racist practices. Unless we address this, unless we tackle the mentality that makes these unemployment statistics possible, I don’t see us fixing anything in the near future.

HD: That’s really interesting, that you mention the unemployment rates for young men. I think, usually migrant women tend to suffer less from unemployment, but they are also in more precarious jobs. Do you think that immigration affects women differently from men?

FD: Of course I do. Especially in Europe there is this sexualization of the immigrant. The immigrant body is a gendered body. The immigrant woman in her visible difference becomes a threat. And of course, because she is the child-bearer, she’s also the one that’s going to bear the brunt of the racist hatred. She gives birth to these children that are taking over “our” society. She is the one that wears the markers of difference, and that is most visible in the case of the Muslim immigrant woman. She obviously doesn’t look like us, and she doesn’t speak like us. So she becomes this embodied threat that the system presents as someone that needs to be saved constantly. And how do European governments treat the immigrant woman? As someone that needs to be rescued from the perils of her own culture. You have the burka debate, you have the birth rates around immigrant families… There is a whole set of coded “issues”, and I say “issues” with huge quotation marks, that are ascribed to immigrant women specifically. They do have another whole set of real issues, of course, I’m not denying that. But, you know, it’s always the woman who carries the burden, because we have to deal with a white savior complex as well. The burka debate is all code to save these women from themselves.

HD: Yes, definitely, and I think that these kinds of arguments are also used more and more these days by the so-called political left, by pandering to ideas about women’s rights and the rights of homosexuals, and by saying that certain immigrant groups reject the ideals of our Western society. Do you think that there is a swing to the left as well with anti-immigrant sentiments?

FD: I want to be completely honest with you: My biggest disappointment in European politics comes from the left. My biggest disappointment. Because from the right I come to expect nothing different. I don’t expect them to change the tune of what they have been saying for the past 60 years, you know. […] But the left, I blame the left collectively. And I put myself in this as well. I’m not pointing fingers, as if I’m not part of the system. We all are. We all live in this society. At the beginning, in the late nineties and early 2000s, especially after the World Trade Center debacle, what the left did was at first not pay attention, so as not to legitimate this racist xenophobia, so they dismissed it as a fad, as something that would eventually go away. That silence actually was counter-productive, because they didn’t resist with the emphasis that is required to oppose these ideologies. These ideologies were left to grow and develop and become more nuanced and more legitimate, and eventually when the left reacted to this, it was too late. So now what do we do? The left  jumps on that bandwagon, to try to steal voters from the right. We don’t have an emphatic and clear opposition from the left, to people like Wilders, to people like Le Pen, or to the variety of xenophobes. The left opposes in principle the very caricature-like expressions of racism, like the neo-Nazis. They are like cartoon characters. It’s easy to oppose them. Who wouldn’t oppose them? And they are also for me the least dangerous threat, because they are so obvious and so blatant, that we can see them coming. And the left opposes that. I’m sorry, that serves little purpose for a structural change in those unemployment rates, in the mentality, in the institutionalized practices of hiring and human resources. And the left does nothing to oppose all of that with a clear and very strict rhetoric of standing against it. And I’m very, very disappointed. I vote here in the Netherlands, of course, and I struggle every election to find a party that represents me.

HD: And after all these years, do you feel like you’re a bit Dutch now, or do you still feel Argentinian?

FD: First and foremost, I’m Hispanic and Latina, and my struggle in terms of my immigration status, in terms of my status as “Other”, is the same as everyone’s from Latin America. We have to bear this burden of a racialized system, where we are constantly “Othered”. I am Argentinian, of course I am. That goes without saying, but I also look at what that means pan-regionally. I write about politics, about policies of immigration, and for me the interesting thing is how the EU creates patterns to racialize and to “Other” groups of people. This is not something I have any hand in, but I am coded as Latin American. And I’m fine with that, I mean, that’s what I am, after all. Am I Dutch? No, no. I love this place; this is home, and this where I live. But I’m never going to be Dutch. This has nothing to do with how I feel. When the state hands me my documents, I am a special category. Even if I acquire the Dutch citizenship, I am coded as foreigner and my children, if they are born, they are also foreigners. And this is a state category. This is not something that I choose. I don’t “Other” myself. The state does that for me. It doesn’t matter how I feel. The state tells me I’m not Dutch. So how I feel is irrelevant here.
[…]

HD: What’s your next big project going to be?

FD: Actually, I’m writing a book about anger. Political anger, to be more precise. Because as women and as feminists, especially when you’re not white in a very white environment, anger is a very scary emotion. You are constantly told that anger is not the way to engage politically. I believe this is counter-productive. There is a whole set of women who have come before me, who have written about this, like Audre Lorde or Sara Ahmed, people who are way more knowledgeable than me on this. I’m not pretending that I am original here. What I’m trying to do, is to write about it in a European context. Because a lot of the things that we have are very much American-centric. And I’m fine with that. I believe that this work that all these women have done before us is very useful as a reference, but we don’t have a history of racialized Europeans within feminism. […] European feminism presents itself as pretty much white. Let me rephrase that: non-racialized. Which, you know, means that it’s white by default. That’s a disservice, because that’s not the reality of what we live or what’s going on. And my approach in the book is to write about anger, and anger in relation to this European way of looking at politics and the politics of engagement.

[…]
HD: Thank you so much.

Clicktivism – The future of political action?

“Clicktivism” – really? Is that a thing now?

Well, apparently it is, and if you haven’t heard about it, chances are, you probably haven’t done it. Maybe you’re ignorant, maybe you’re simply too cynical, or you don’t know the internet (in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this). Except for the ignorance part, these reasons are perfectly excusable in a society in which political action often seems futile or even counter-productive.

“Clicktivism”, on the other hand, sounds genius: all you have to do is sit in front of your computer, which many of us do anyway, and share some Youtube videos, “like” some Facebook pages and type your name under pre-written letters, petitions, flyers – voilà – you’ve just made the world a better place!

The cynic in me feels compelled to think: Surely things can’t be this easy! They never are.

But why not? Politics doesn’t always have to be difficult. The most basic political action in our democracies is as easy as putting a little cross next to a name. The process of voting is so simple, yet it is politics. In fact, I would even go so far as to state that everything you do is political anyway: having a debate with your mum is political, deciding to have one child instead of two is political, sharing your thoughts online is a political act (albeit a sometimes dangerous one).

clicktivism - so easy, a sleepy cat can do it. via imgfave.com

The question is whether or not these actions are followed by the desired results. I can rant all day about politics on social media; that in and of itself does not bring forth systemic change. Neither does voting. But that doesn’t mean it can’t make a difference.

“Clicktivism” can make a difference. It works, that is, when applied to the right goals. Look at the power of feminist uses of social media, look at the temporary prevention of ACTA. ACTA is an interesting case, because even though it did require offline activism to be brought to a temporary halt; the German government backed down even before the actual physical protests took place. “Clicktivism” can also raise awareness of issues that would otherwise go unnoticed, for example the anti-LGBT laws in Russia and Uganda.

Speaking of Uganda: make no mistake. Simply “raising awareness” can also go wrong and lead to rather misguided forms of activism, as illustrated by the recent KONY 2012 phenomenon. A bunch of young, well-connected guys with a (questionable) charity had the idea to spread the word about an injustice, and through the use of social media they created a world-wide (well, Western-wide) outcry about a man whose name most people had never heard of before. All of a sudden, teens and students who had never protested before and barely read the news, demanded governmental, even military, action to hunt this man down, a man who surely deserves to be punished, but why turn him into a 2012 Hitler?

The power of “clicktivism”? Hardly. The power of misinformation is more like it. The motivations and means of this political activist stunt have been questioned, and justifiably so; the attention brought to this case has been analyzed as potentially doing more damage than good (for a collection of criticisms directed at Invisible Children, the charity responsible for KONY 2012, see here). All the while people’s Facebook walls are plastered with a video and badges about a conflict they’ve had no other access to than this biased and ill-informing “campaign” (Campaign for what, one might ask. Ironically, the slogan of the video, website and Facebook page, even merchandise, is “KONY 2012”, not “Stop KONY”.)

idealized protest: kony 2012 via communicopia.com

actual protest: occupy wall street 2012 by cliff weathers via nyaltnews.com

But really, who can blame them? Everyone would like to do something good, and contribute at least their small part to make this world a tiny bit more just. Who has time to do in-depth research whenever a petition pops up online and the cause seems important?  Who makes the effort to drag their ass to a protest, to an activist organisation? Who wants to sit around freezing in a tent all day and be sprayed with pepper spray?

I agree with Angry Black Lady on this one: there are people who do just that and people who don’t, and those who don’t can at least do something by supporting those who are doing all the work for them, ideally including proper research. I don’t want to let anyone off the hook. People in the position to do so, have a responsibility to educate themselves. I will always support organizations and individuals who stimulate rather than discourage or detract from these ambitions, even if that means simplifying the message somewhat, but at some point the strategy has to go beyond the “Starbucks charity logic“.

After all, those who do engage in offline activism have always been going the extra mile and will continue to do so. They will write manifestos at night, they will gather in smelly classrooms to organize, they will risk their reputation, their commodities, their security and even their health to continue the fight. The option of signing petitions online is not going to change that. The so-called “Twitter revolution” in Tunisia was still fought in the streets.

My Quota Memo

Just in time for International Women’s Day, the discussion about quotas for women is back with a vengeance. The EU is once again pushing for quotas in boardrooms and in Germany, journalists are demanding equal representation in the media. Naturally, the news is all over it, printing opinion pieces everywhere, which has prompted me to gather all the thoughts and ideas about the quota that seem relevant to me. None of these ideas are mine; I have simply collected them from articles, blog posts and comments, in order to weed out the ones that continuously derail the discussion. None of this is new, but I figured it cannot hurt to be repeated as much as possible.

1. When we talk about the women’s quota, we are already making the first mistake, because generally what is proposed is a gender-based quota. A 40% quota law could  mean that at least 40% must be either male or female. The fact, that such a law would primarily promote women is the sad underlying truth of the whole debate.

2. A 30%, 40% or 50% quota that promotes women would still effectively result in a 70%, 60% or 50% quota of men. Considering that men and women make up about half of the population each, how exactly does this translate to “discrimination against men”?

3. Quotas are supposed to benefit the disadvantaged, not to increase their disadvantages. Demanding quotas for women in less desirable occupations is such a lame argument, I shouldn’t even be mentioning here, but it seems to come up every single time. Firstly, some sectors, such as the public cleaning service in Berlin, already have a quota system, even a successful one. Secondly, men and women are already fairly equally represented in low paid, exploitative and dangerous jobs, there’s absolutely no need to distribute the social inequalities more evenly.

4. A quota arrangement is never an ideal situation. An ideal situation would include the potential results of a quota (equal representation) minus the actual quota rule.

5. A quota can never be a single solution. It is not an all-encompassing remedy for the inequality of the sexes; it may not even be a start in the right direction. The quota as an isolated measure is useless. It is not a coincidence that it has been embraced more in countries, which already have a fair amount of laws in place that promote equality (for example France and the Scandinavian countries).

6. Here is what the quota does:

It furthers the equal representation of half of the population. It helps create a society in which women are active and equal participants; a society that inspires young girls to follow in their footsteps and have high aspirations. Women’s issues and perspectives will become part of the agenda. 

they didn't need a quota to discuss women's issues: the all-male panel testifying before congress about the insurance coverage for contraception. via abc news

7. Here is what the quota doesn’t do:

It doesn’t necessarily improve the performance of a business or generate higher profits. It may even have the adverse effect. A quota arrangement is not designed as a push for the economy. It is an affirmative action to counter structural discrimination.

It doesn’t necessarily change or improve the working culture or hierarchical structures. That’s a whole other set of adjustments that does not automatically follow the implementation of a quota. A lot of rethinking is necessary in that area, and a quota can only ever be a tiny part of that process, if at all.

All things considered, I am still in favour of the quota, but as an isolated measure suggested  and enforced by politicians I find it unconvincing and populist. Evidently, there are different kinds of quotas, and in certain areas they make more sense to me than in others. I am certainly in favour of a quota in the media, and a political party without a considerable amount of women should be unelectable for any woman in my opinion. But when it comes to the boardroom quota for corporations, I kind of don’t really care. Somehow I highly doubt that any woman (or man) could end up in that position without compromising their convictions and throwing other women (or men) under the bus…