Good Connections Essay Example
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The woman’s experience in America has seldom been defined by fairness and equal treatment under the law, rather, it has been defined, at every turn, by a combination of racism, sexism, and even blatant social fear of that which is not understood. However, as women have met with resistance and inequity, they have fought back by finding their own way, and proving their power through passive resistance and social proof.
Lisa See’s Shanghi Girls is, at its surface, a story of sisterhood, but underneath it tells a story of deep rooted racism, classism, and the personal power to disregard both, in the ultimate search for, and mastery of self-identity. More specifically, Pearl and her sister May think of themselves as modern America women, who live relatively simple, and financially secure lives, which are free of the trappings of traditional Chinese society, which equates women with chattel. However, when their father sells them into loveless marriage in order to discharge his gambling debts, the limitations they experience, specifically as Chinese women, and the class imposed gender discrimination that is inherent in the very act of being “sold” into marriage, reminds them that they are not as free as they like to believe. Pearl recalls the loss of freedom in that moment by saying: “We may look and act modern in many ways, but we can’t escape what we are obedient Chinese daughters (17).”
However, in spite of the loss that she feels at the moment, it is through this oppression that she begins to find clarity and redefine herself as a woman. She sees the transformation that comes out of the sexism and racism not only she, but all women, experience as a defining moment. She says: “Maybe we're all like that with our mothers. They seem ordinary until one day they're extraordinary (35).” Their mother finds strength in their father’s weakness, because in necessity, even she who has been long oppressed by the understanding of women in her culture for most of her life, can find her true self.
This struggle between the definitions of what it is to be a woman, and to be socially oppressed, and how to fight against that oppression through self-identification, is also seen in Jael Silliman’s work “Women of Color and Their Fight for Reproductive Justice.” This work is interesting because it focuses not on sexism and racism in a specific cultural group, but rather as a cross cultural problem in which women from Latin, Native American, African American, and Asian American decent have all been forced to resist coercion and cling to their independence as it relates to reproductive rights. Women who seek to control their reproductive health by going on birth control as painted as sluts, and prostitutes, and force women to fight for basic individual rights.
Stillman, however, quotes Fannie Lou Hammer who claims that when founding the Nationals Conference on Black Women’s Health Issues, women finally fought back, saying that "They came together with PhDs, MDs, welfare cards, in Mercedes and on crutches, from seven days to eighty years old-urban, rural, gay, straight-in desperate search for themselves (1)." The women at the convention stood against the racism, classism and homophobia forced upon them by joining forces and rejecting those identities, in search of their own, new definition of self. A definition which they can create without the input of outside forces.
This same search for identity is mimicked in the lesbian community, as women struggle both to be female, and to be gay. This is especially of interest in the Native American community, which has historically been more accepting of those who are homosexual or transexual, because, as M. Owlfeather describes, they respected each other’s “vision” (100). Today however, Indian lesbian’s feel the need to hide their identity because of the oppression and impression of white society on the nature of Native American Culture. M. Owlfeather quotes one young lover as saying “I don’t want to be called a queer or a faggot, but I want to be with you” (100). Like the women in the other two texts, this young homosexual resisted not his self-identity, but the labels that others placed upon him. They hide out of a “fear of criticism” (100).
The world works to define by what social norms, cultural norms, racial stereotypes and gender perceptions are forced on them. The encounter a combination of racism, sexism, and even blatant social fear of that which is not understood, in every sector of their lives from their sexuality, to their employability. However, women have taken back the power over their stories by rejecting these vision of their selves. The have instead fought back against the wave of definition and disapproval by writing their own story, telling their own tale and defining their human experience through self-identity and acceptance. This is demonstrated in the works of Lisa See, Jael Stillman, and M. Owlfeather, each of whom demonstrate how a single character or a group of women have fought back by redefining who and what they are. Lisa See’s character Pearl defines herself, and her mother as “extraordinary” and “strong,” the women in Stillman’s study toss off the terms “slut” and “prude” instead writing their own definition of reproductive rights, and M.Owlfeather elects to define herself as a woman, and a member of her tribe, rather than a “queer,” all of which allow them to find a more pleasing and more honest definition of who and what they are, rising above the world’s criticism.
The history of their struggle, and the way that they overcame it, is important today for two reasons. First, it is essential that women appreciate the forerunners, the leaders, who stepped out against oppression when it was much harder to be heard, when the world was unwilling, or unready to accept change, and embrace the female image, in all her forms. These women were groundbreaking heroes, soldiers in a war of words and perceptions, and the wounds they suffered for the progress of our rights need to be both studied and understood. Secondly, it is important to understand their methods of fighting back, by embracing the self and creating a self-identity that is stronger. This skill is invaluable for anyone who faces discrimination, and is inspiring for all who understand its impact on both the individual and the world.
Owlfeather, M. "Children of Grandmother Moon." Comp. Will Roscoe. Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. New York: St. Martin's, 1988. 97-105. Print.
Silliman, Jael. "Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice." Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice. New York: South End, 2004. 1-24. Print.