This is Matilda (Aheong) Li Keong, the first documented Chinese woman migrant in New Zealand Aotearoa. She arrived with her husband and worked as an interpreter as well as educating new arrivals. Her children were all as highly accomplished as she, including the first Chinese-New Zealander University graduate.
From the must-see exhibition, Being Chinese in Aotearoa: A Photographic Journey.

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Film Review: 29 + 1 

Yes women-centred films! 29 + 1, written and directed by a woman, Kearen Pang is a wonderful film about two women who’ve never officially met but who share a birthday, and eventually “form a deep and invisible bond.“  The film is set in 2005 and it plays with memory and time. Christy has a hectic but glamorous job, a long term boyfriend and supportive friends. Christy doesn’t want to get married and is proud of her independence. Her life is full of light colours, bodily discipline and stifling routine. 

Wong has been working at the same record shop for ten years. She’s never had a boyfriend and the only two people in her life are her boss and her best friend whom she’s known since they were seven. Her life is ful of bright, clashing colours and a whimsical sense of never-ending happiness. 

Everyone lectures them about what they should do now they are facing 30, when life apparently goes down hill For women. For their own reasons, they come to a point in their lives when they reassess the future. Beautiful and affecting, it’s based on the play by writer/ director Kearen Pang, who helms this adaption. Go see it. 

Wendy Saddington: underground icon

This exhibition at the

Canberra Museum and Gallery contains memorabilia collected by Canberra artist Peter Maloney of the Australian singer heralded as “The Face of 68” at the age of 18. She performed with many influential art rock groups in the 1970s. She eventually travelled to New York where she went on to join the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and adopted the name Gandharvika Devi Dasi and continued to perform under her Anglo name but shunned the music press. 

She died in Melbourne “after a life full of creative combustion on the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice, 22 June 2013." 

What a fascinating woman. 

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In February 2017, conservative Australian media began a sustained attack of a young feminist leader, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. That started a racist petition calling for her to be fired from ABC TV, Australia’s public broadcaster, simply for having participated in a TV panel show, Q&A, where she spoke articulately about her feminism as a Muslim-Australian woman (see the clip below). For weeks, the ABC refused to give into these racist demands.

At the same time, three One Nation candidates were running in the Western Australian election making openly racist, homophobic and sexist comments. These candidates had no political expertise, but somehow their bigotry is not offensive enough to warrant endless national debate. Yet the feminism of an educated and successful young feminist draws ire.

In late April, Abdel-Magied was subjected to further public condemnation over a brief social media post expressing her condemnation of war. One month later, a White male editor incited violence towards her employer, the ABC, and Abdel-Magied was caught in media turmoil once again. This is a case study on the deep-seated elements of Islamophobia (fear of Islam) in Australia, and its real life consequences on young women of religious and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Continue reading Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Dr Ellen Ochoa, a Mexican-American scientist with a PhD in electrical engineering, was the first Latina in space. Twenty-four years later, on May 19 2017, having already been awarded NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, she’ll be inducted into the USA Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Dr Ochoa was raised by her single mother and four siblings. Her parents faced intense racism while they were growing up in Arizona, USA. Her father Joseph “felt the sting of rampant discrimination against Hispanics, for example Hispanics were only allowed to use the public pool the day before cleaning because it was felt they dirtied the pool.”

Despite this her family was resilient. Dr Ochoa’s mother Roseanne inspired her daughter’s love of learning, having completed her own education two decades after she stopped due to family commitments.

Dr Ochoa says of her upcoming recognition: “I’m honoured to be recognised among generations of astronauts who were at the forefront of exploring our universe for the benefit of humankind. I hope to continue to inspire our nation’s youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, so they, too, may reach for the stars.”

In an earlier interview for a Latin students’ paper, Dr Ochoa emphasises a love for mathematics, her bilingualism and interests in music as assets to her joining the space program. She has been Director of the Johnson Space Centre since 2013.

Learn More

Learn about Dr Ochoa’s family and see photos of her growing up. 

Read her advice to Latin youth.

[Photo: Headshot of Dr Ochoa wearing a NASA helmet in the pilot’s seat of an aircraft.]

Sociology of Abortion Politics

Women protesting, with a sign that reads "My body. My choice."

This week, on 11 May 2017, a bill two-years-in-the-making to decriminalise abortion in the state of New South Wales, Australia, was defeated 14 to 25, meaning abortion remains a crime under the Criminal Act. Greens MP and Spokesperson for the Status of Women, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who led the campaign to decriminalise said: “This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”

Another separate bill to establish 150 metre safe zones to protect abortion clinics has been introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe. This bill works to eliminate harassment and intimidation by anti-choice lobbyists who film and degrade women who walk into clinics.

In NSW, women can access abortions only with their doctor’s consent that there are “reasonable grounds” for the abortion, linked to physical and mental danger. Otherwise abortion is punishable by five years in jail.

This law has been in place since the 1970s, but stems back to 1900. Counter to national myths of our egalitarianism, abortion laws unearth how gender inequality is maintained by White, conservative Christian patriarchal ideology that seeks to control women’s autonomy. Sociological studies show how medical professionals have long been at the vanguard of change, by shifting understandings of abortion from moral arguments, to a medical choice.

Christian lobby groups, who hold strong political power, push back against medical and community views, using emotional imagery to influence abortion laws. This has proven effective over time, and continues to hold back progress in New South Wales (and Queensland, another conservative stronghold). Despite this recent set-back, momentum towards progressive change continues. A better sociological understanding of religiously conservative ideology and tactics may hold the key towards the next legal breakthrough.

 

Continue reading Sociology of Abortion Politics

Racism and Sexism in the Media

image

Rugby star Sam Thaiday (above) who is Torres Strait Islander, made a sexist and racist comment during The Footy Show, a very popular, long-running TV show that is dominated by White male athletes and comedians who are infamous for racism and sexism. Thaiday “joked” that he once had dated “dark women” as part of a “jungle fever phase” that he then grew out of (his wife is a White Australian woman, with whom he has children). 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commentators, artists and researchers were swift to condemn Thaiday’s words. Their activism was effective: they called on action from Deadly Choices, an Indigenous-led health initiative in Queensland that promotes Thaiday as one of their key ambassadors. This led initially to a statement denouncing Thaiday’s damaging message, and today they announced that Thaiday was removed as their ambassador. 

This critique by Indigenous women in particular was successful, leading to an apology by Thaiday and media coverage. (A statement from the Footy Show or its parent Company, Channel 9, is yet to be released.) I want to focus here on the media coverage. 

News.com.au was one of the first major media to pick up the story, lifting material completely from Indigenous people on Twitter. None of these commentators were asked for an interview, even though their ideas make up the entirety of the story.

This is not unusual but it should not be accepted as normal. 

Mainstream media ignores people of colour, especially Indigenous people, choosing to hire White writers who poach ideas and words directly from people of colour’s social media. Most of the Indigenous people in this article are writers, academics or public figures; asking for an interview at the very least is common courtesy, or commissioning an article from them would be easy.

This story requires a nuanced discussion like that happening on Twitter, led by Indigenous women, who are asking important questions about racism and sexism in broader Australian society, as well as internalised racism and how Indigenous men speak out against patriarchy. Fulbright scholar Alison Whittaker writes

“#SamThaiday is this week’s reminder that patriarchy in our mobs isn’t a side effect of colonisation — it’s at colonisation’s very core." 

Australian racism is embedded in social institutions, including the media that televised Thaiday’s exchange without rebuke, and traditional media that scavenges content from Indigenous Australians without payment. 

Titans of Australian media are currently fighting a massive industrial action, with Fairfax announcing 125 editorial redundancies. This is a national crisis for quality journalism. It is exactly the time for traditional media to display stronger ethics, not to recycle the exploitation of marginalised voices.

Here are just a few Indigenous women researchers and writers who cover sociological topics for you to follow on Twitter: Chelsea Bond,

Summer May Finlay,

Marlene Longbottom, Colleen Lavelle,

Amy McQuire, Alison Whittaker,

Celeste Liddle,

Marcia Langton,

Eugenia Flynn,

Nakkiah Lui.

Photo: News.com.au [Image: close up of Thaiday’s face, on the field]

This is the On Belonging exhibition by Indian photographer Ketaki Sheth. In these portraits she focuses on the Sidi, the 70,000 descendants of traders, slaves and sailors who long ago settled in India. The photographer focuses especially on the romantic and spiritual lives of Sidi women. 

Photo: The Other Sociologist.

Ma Ma 

Penelope Cruz is absolutely wonderful in Ma Ma, the biggest feature at the Spanish Film Festival in Canberra. Cruz plays Magda, a single mother who decides to leave her cheating husband, a professor of Philosophy who is sleeping with his students (!). This decision coincides with her learning that she has breast cancer.

On the same day of her marital independence, she meets and forms a friendship with

Arturo

(Luis Tosar), an ailing husband who, also on this fateful day, learns his wife and child have been in an accident.

This film begins by exploring grief and human connection through loss, but soon proves itself a film about life and how to be happy in brief,

imperfect moments.

The film is a beautiful celebration of motherhood; the film ends with a dedication: “to all the women.”

There is more to like about this movie: it’s depiction of friendship especially as well as its wrestling with faith and atheism. It is a lovely statement on the diversity of families and ultimately has an affirming message about gay fatherhood. While there are many cliches along the way about living life to the fullest, there is great joy in seeing a woman-centred story where the journey is driven by her own desires.

Score: Distinction (7.5/10).

SPOILERS BELOW

Representation of intersectionality

Gender: The central story makes some (limited) feminist statements, with a strong, self-assured woman protagonist. That being said, she is played by a extraordinarily beautiful able-bodied, cisgender woman from a majority ethnic group.

Disability: Magda’s illness is a life affirming statement for the audience. She is lovable because she is beautiful through her pain. Many scenes play out while she receives chemotherapy, but as with many of the “cancer trope” stories, her suffering is only permissible because she remains buoyant, even as she accepts the probability of her death.

A scene where Magda lives out a fantasy of a threesome with two men reinforces her independence and is a positive statement on her heterosexuality. She enjoys the sex and feels validated. It is a triumph to see a woman enjoy unconventional sex on her own terms.

There is a mixed message in having Magda embrace her body after a mastectomy. Women are rarely portrayed in mainstream movies naked in this manner; however, Cruz is able-bodied and supernaturally gorgeous. The threesome is a pivotal moment in her body positivity. Would the audience be so invited to identify with the body of a woman who is actually a cancer survivor or who is disabled? Given that women sometimes feel pressured to have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, even by medical professionals, the choice to cast an able-bodied woman in such a role undermines the affirming message.

Race, culture and class: There are no ethnic or racial minorities in the film, despite Spain’s multiculturalism and complex national history. Everyone is wealthy and so illness and disability are disconnected from the class and racial divides that actually impact on health and healing. Magda has excellent medical attention and so her pain plays out in large, sterile and beautiful rooms. We know she is dying, but she has a choice about how this plays out.

Sexuality: A bisexual doctor, Julián (Asier Etxeandia), is conventionally attractive but he is also a professional and compassionate. He is a great character on many levels, being confident and open about his sexuality with those he trusts, as well as having high emotional intelligence. At the same time, he is portrayed as promiscuous, which is a tired stereotype of bisexual people. He is unhappily married to a woman and ultimately settles down with a man.  

Arturo struggles with his homosexuality, having first devoted himself to a heterosexual marriage and then entering into a sexless romantic relationship with Magda. He is an honest and kind man, but ultimately the story plays out in a way in which others dictate his sexuality to him. He is even given permission to become a gay man as a final act of kindness by Magda.

It is notable that in a film with a bisexual man and a gay man, the only sex they have is spoken about in the context of past group sex. So, as with many mainstream movies, male homosexuality and bisexuality is only accommodated in a sexless manner. They are, in this way, not fully realised characters. Their sexualities are permissible insofar as they do not confront or discomfort the audience.  

All three characters were trapped in unhappy heterosexual marriages; in finding one another, they achieve happiness. This message is a good one and if read through a subversive lens, heterosexual marriage is ultimately being challenged. This message that would have had even stronger impact if the two male characters did not embody other stereotypes.

As anyone who is invested intersectionality understands, mainstream movies have good and bad points. This film is worth watching for the strong performances. It is aiming to be more complex than most other films in its portrayal of sexuality and illness, but it falls short upon critical reflection.

In spite of its flaws, this is a good film experience for people wishing to see more diverse families on the big screen. The ultimate message is that families are made through many configurations. Embracing the love of two men at its core makes this film a progressive love story, despite its shortcomings. 

Reproducing Inequality

On 22 April 2017, around 400 cities around the world will be asked to participate in the March for Science. Originating in Washington DC to raise awareness of President Trump’s adverse decisions on science policies, the protests have grown in its audience and reach. 

Despite their intention to represent science activism, the organisers have faced ongoing criticisms for perpetuating issues of gender inequality and exclusion of underrepresented groups. Having recently created two issues of gender inequity, one on the gender pay gap and the other about structural barriers to women’s careers in engineering, March for Science made their third foray into inappropriate gender commentary less than a week later. By repeating one of science’s most infamous tales of fraud and sexism, the organisers once again proved that equity is not their strength.

On the 1 March, the March for Science Twitter account celebrated Professors James Watson and Frances Crick’s “discovery” of DNA, without recognising that the researchers had stolen Dr Rosalind Franklin’s research. This is one of the most well-documented cases of scientific fraud and sexism. It is perplexing to see the organisers play into such dynamics.

Adding insult to injury, the organisers defended their post by retweeted a link to a story about Franklin which actually argues that Franklin’s story is a myth, a proposition refuted by historical records.

Hundreds of women scientists flocked to tell March for Science that their tweets were downplaying the significance of Franklin’s research. This went on for hours, but the organisers only responded to one person: marine conversation biologist Dr Matt Shiffman; thus, reproducing sexist dynamics once again by ignoring women’s voices.

Up to this point in time, the March for Science organisers have maintained that they do not want the march to be seen as a “political protest,” despite its political origins (a response to the Trump administration’s anti-science policies). The organisers also say that the march “isn’t about scientists. It’s about science.” These two statements are in themselves political and go to the heart of the equity and diversity issues with the march. 

Scientists who belong to dominant groups see their interests reflected in mainstream science. The fact that the March for Science organisers do not understand the profound injustice suffered by Franklin (let alone women from minority backgrounds) speaks volumes of their inability to comprehend the impact of equity and diversity on the work and lives of underrepresented scientists. 

Read below to see the broader discussion. I also give some general advice on self-care and resources for allies who want to make diversity a priority in the march as well as in broader scientific contexts.