Facing Mirrors

Sometimes you have to be forced to leave your homeland in order to appreciate it more.

I went to see Facing Mirrors, playing at National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium as part of the All Roads Film Festival. It’s one of the better films I have seen in the past few years, and certainly among the best about a transgender person. But it wasn’t just about being transgender. The two protagonists — Rana and Adineh/Eddie — created the perfect foil, with shades of gray adding complexity to both the characters and the narration. And it’s hard to believe that the story idea was conceived in less than two hours:

Rana and Adineh, two women of opposite background and social class are accidentally brought together to share a journey. Rana, inexperienced, religious and bound by traditions, is forced to drive a cab in order to survive financially. Adineh, wealthy yet rebellious, has escaped from her home. In the middle of the way, Rana realizes that her passenger is a transsexual who is planning on having an operation. For Rana, comprehending and accepting such reality is close to impossible and equal to surpassing all she believes in and traditions she values.

When the straight cisgender woman hits the transgender protagonist in a moment of hysteria and panic, she later explains her reaction as “I thought you were a man and tricked me.” I immediately thought about my own mother who is very much like Rana, working dangerous jobs to make a living for her family contrary to the gender roles she subscribes to, and my heart went out to her despite her transphobic reaction. Throughout the movie, her husband is in prison, but Rana is the one who feels imprisoned by her circumstances. And as a woman violating gender roles to provide for her family, she’s concerned about her safety as much as the transgender protagonist who also feels unsafe, but safety for him requires leaving his family and homeland. At the end, neither one of them is particularly happy even as they get what they want all along. And we are left contemplating the meaning of happiness as it pertains to us.

All the actors did a marvelous job but Shayesteh Irani of Offside fame, was especially  brilliant as the transgender protagonist. She looks a bit like Sheetal Sheth, which means I spent most of the movie crushing over a male character, played by a cisgender woman. I need to deconstruct that at a later time. It’s probably as simple as the fact that I love androgynous and butch all women.

Watch the movie if you get an opportunity. It is in Farsi, subtitled in English.

Made in LA Humanizes the Immigration Debate

I recently had the chance to view this documentary at the Immigrant Solidarity Network in Chicago. And now I have the opportunity to blog about it.

Made in L.A. is an Emmy-award winning film that tells the story of three Latina immigrants working in garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections while finding their way in the U.S. It’s a very personal story of each woman’s self-empowerment, and it humanizes the immigrant experience and draws parallels between today’s immigrants and those whose families came to the U.S. generations ago.

What I particularly liked about this particular work was that the focus was not on discerning whether the migrant women workers in question were legal or illegal. That was not the point of the movie. The binaries of legal-illegal were torn down in the narrative as it explored the trials and tribulations of three Latina women working in a sweatshop in Los Angeles.

Between April 15th and May 31st (and beyond) national organizations, grassroots groups, faith-based congregations and individuals are coming together in a nationwide effort to share the Emmy-winning Made in L.A. and put a human face on the issues of immigration, immigrant workers’ rights, and supporting humane immigration reform.

It’s always important to tell our stories. And especially the stories of migrant women given the trend towards feminization of migrant labor.

Will you join or support this effort?  You can:
1. Host a screening

2. Send an e-mail to your friends and lists, about the campaign or spread the word through the film’s Facebook and Myspace pages.

3. Post the banner and button on your blog or website, and get the new Immigration Headlines Widget featuring Made in L.A.

By creating a climate of empathy and understanding around immigration reform, we can use Made in L.A. to help lay the foundation for change. Join the movement at www.MadeInLA.com/MayDay!

An Eye Towards Gender

My CSU East Bay Lecturer, Dr. Sarvasy, would be proud that I haven’t forgotten one of the valuable lessons that she passed onto students: the gender lens.

We just posted an article, “Top 100 Gender Studies Blogs(http://www.bachelorsdegreeonline.com/blog/2009/top-100-gender-studies-blog/). I thought I’d bring it to your attention in case you think your readers would find it interesting.

I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in this list.

I am not sure if I deserve it right now, but I will work to remain on lists such as these.

  1. No Borders and Binaries: This blogger addresses issues of immigration as well as opposing diametric distinctions between race and gender.

Immigration is a debate that requires the ‘gender and sexuality’ lens — who really has to worry about sexual abuse while crossing the harsh terrain to come to  America? Who seeks asylum to escape female gender mutilation and other non-state violence? Who works the second-shift or the ‘triple day‘? Who lacks proper reproductive health care? Who carries the fetus that is deemed ‘illegal‘ before birth? Who does the toughest and most low-paying, low-status jobs in society? It’s women – why not research and speak about these things?

Some posts on gender on this blog:

Size Zero Not for Indian Women

Shilpa Shetty (of Big Brother fame) blasts the concept of size zero in this video, stating that “Indian women cannot be size zero.”

Addendum: Unless you are petite and flat-chested.

I think it is high-time. What began as a cultural phenomenon in the United States with a group of ultra-thin fashion models on the catwalk has pretty much descended to all parts of the globe remotely connected to the ‘fashion world.’ I am glad to see some celebrities take a stand and denounce this image of women — we don’t need more girls with low self-esteem and eating disorders.

P.S. Who missed me? I am retaking the LSAT in December *ducks* and this time I will decimate it! But I won’t neglect this blog or any of my online work anymore!

Feminization of Migrant Labor – Situating Migrant Women in a more Global Context

There is no doubt that women bear the brunt of the toughest and lowest-paying jobs (not to mention UNPAID housework). From sewing garments in sweltering factories to changing dirty diapers to wiping counters to doing the dishes to serving as “sex slaves” — the overwhelming majority of workers in these occupations are women.

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Take a look at the recent ICE raid at the Houston Action Rags USA plant–in effect a sweatshop rag factory where migrant workers–mostly women–would sort through used clothes that would later by exported to “Third World” countries. ICE officials said of the 166 workers they detained, 130 were females, including 10 who were pregnant.

The Houston Chronicle picked up on the gender disparity here:

Juana Maria Olvera, 35, was one of those detained at Action Rags USA and released because she is expecting a child.

”There are a lot of undocumented women working here, and a lot are single women who are working to support their families,” said Olvera. ”What is happening is a lot of the men come here and don’t go back to Mexico. They either bring their women, or find someone here.”

When ICE cracks down on migrant women workers, they devastate the mainstay of the family unit. But we need to situate the random detention of migrant women workers by the ICE in a more global context, as a global oppression of women. It is ironic that these migrant women were working in a “First World” rag-factory to produce clothes for “Third World” countries–countries that they have fled due to “First World” (neo-liberal) policies. For the most part, they would probably do the same jobs at home if the multi-national corporations came to them. Capital will go where it can seek the most profits–and what is more profitable than earning millions on the backs of women who have very little institutional support? Multi-national corporations like DKNY, Levi Strauss, Jessica McClintock to name just a few, have a mutable gendered labor workforce.

In coming to the United States, there is no hunt for the ‘American dream’ but sheer desperation for dollars. As Cynthia Enloe eloquently states in her seminal work Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, women who travel are not creatures of comfort or privileged. These migrant female underclass of workers do not get institutional support, work in increasingly deplorable conditions and are more susceptible to sexual harassment and abuse. Just take a look at this story about an Ecuadorean family suing a bakery over working conditions–

Antonio DiBenedetto [the employer] groped the female immigrants and pushed one woman into an office where he tried to take off her clothes and sexually assault her, but the woman escaped by calling for the help of a co-worker, the lawsuit alleges.

DiBenedetto also forced female employees to watch him undress and walked around naked in front of them, the lawsuit alleges. He was also accused of telling the female employees that he would loan them money or not charge them rent if they engaged in sex.

This is a rare example of an undocumented immigrant family coming out of the shadows to jot down abuses in the workplace. For the most part, women who are sexually abused, harassed or treated inhumanely, simply stay quiet and stay in the shadows. Sometimes they are compelled to do so in order to protect their families and keep nurturing their young, no matter what the costs. And with the ICE, IMF, World Bank, workforce and exportation laws, it is harder for female workers to unite and unionize.

What is the main point of this blog post? Any movement for the advancement of women’s rights or gender equality, MUST address the needs of women who are victims of neo-liberal globalization.