Saturday, May 24, 2014

On Gender and Migration - a class response paper

Pre-Post: Sorry about the crazy font below, guys! I'm not sure why Blogger does this. It happens whenever I paste something from MS Word.

Last semester, I took a class on migration, and every other week, we had to submit a response to some segment of the readings to our instructor (God grant him good health, peace, and happiness - he's a great person and teacher! PLUS! When I missed a class after my grandpa's passing and I shared thoughts of the death with him, he told me, "He was lucky to have had you as a granddaughter." This man is a good man.)

Anyway, so here's a response to one of the readings. The books I'm talking about are The Migration Reader: Exploring Politics and Policies edited by Anthony Messina and Gallya Lahav & Gender and U.S. Immigration: Contemporary Trends edited by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (specifically, Chapter Two in the book, titled "Engendering Migration Studies: The Case of New Immigrants in the United States" by Patricia Pessar). These response papers are intended to help us understand our own research, and I'm not going to paste the whole thing - just the more general parts. I'll share more in time.

A Gap in Migration Studies

 It is remarkable that the theme of women/gender in migration studies has received such little focus, which Messina & Lahav attribute to the fact that women tend to migrate in less number than men do as well as because women do not typically migrate for labor but do so mainly to accompany their husbands or families. While this is certainly true in some cases, it does not negate the importance of women and/or their role in migration. As Pessar points out, women’s contributions to economic, political, and social life have been disregarded simply because it is assumed that since women do not migrate in as large percentages as men do, they do not matter (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 21). Labor that engenders (no pun intended) economic potential is not and should not be the ultimate measure of someone’s value in a discourse, although women do work post-migration in significant numbers in many societies. Besides labor or economic factors, other issues that need to be discussed in the context of migration are health, social institutions, family development and structures, religion, identity, education, and so on. [...] Focuses on gender, especially on women, in migration studies is therefore a pivotal contribution to discourses on migration and on gender. 
[ ...]

Even more important to feminism and gender studies is the focus in migration studies on the multiple forms of oppression and the multiple structures that contribute to oppression. Oppression isn’t simply all women being dominated, abused, and oppressed by all and any men; other layers of oppression, abuse, and misogyny include race, class, education level, and other social and socialized differences created and emphasized by human interaction.

Feminist Contributions

Nonetheless, I would argue that one of the most significant contributions of feminism to many disciplines and fields, including migration studies, is that it has disturbed the “natural flow”; the “natural flow” of things until recently consisted of male biases in scholarship and research, but a distorted sense of perpetuation and affirmation of pre-conceived notions of gender, women, sexuality, masculinity, femininity – including the needs, concerns, and experiences of women and men (such as in migration). Feminist scholarship has urged scholars to revise, re-evaluate, and challenge this conventional knowledge that was, and still is in many cases, rooted in assumptions, outdated knowledge of gender and sexuality, and unreal expectations of the place and position of each gender. As such, particularly in response to women’s joining male-dominated fields, the default, conventional, and historically-accepted perspectives that were seen as established facts are now being challenged, but that’s not just because women are in the picture now: it is indeed because if those who dominate these fields are challenging feminist (and/or women’s) perspectives, the question of objectivity tends to get more attention. That is, part and parcel of male privilege is that the knowledge, expertise, and conclusions of men get more attention than those of women’s; the knowledge of men is considered more objective than that of women’s. Male-dominated fields, for example, are generally considered more objective, more intellect-based, and more important (such as engineering and other scientific fields and disciplines). Women-dominated fields do not get such privilege and prestige (such as nursing, although this field is now attracting more males as well – and it will be interesting to see how the salaries of women and men change with time with more males entering the field). Thus, since more females have started engaging in more scholarship, objectivity is no longer as simple as originally thought after all; male perspectives are no longer the objective or preferred perspectives. Since men can no longer speak on behalf of women, and men’s perspectives of women’s experiences are no longer (or should no longer be) considered complete, authentic, or holistic but merely a perspective, men’s knowledge about women cannot be taken at face value. In response, however, when patriarchal knowledge challenges feminist or women’s knowledge and experiences and dismisses them as based on “emotion” rather than on “reason” or “logic,” feminists point to 1) the importance of experience as a significant mode of understanding, and 2) women’s knowledge and perspectives as equally valuable as men’s. As a result, if feminist epistemology is refuted, so must patriarchal epistemology—but we did not think to question or refute patriarchal knowledge until feminist knowledge started being produced. Thus, without feminism and feminist critiques of the ways gender is discussed or dismissed in most fields and disciplines, there’s no telling of how much longer patriarchal assumptions, expectations, and knowledge of women and other gendered minorities would have been remained the norm.   

Female-Headed Immigrant Households

[...] Pessar also points out something else that I am struck by: she quotes a California Silicon Valley assembly shop production manager and hiring supervisor that he seeks “small, female, foreign” workers for his company, adding that these women are infinitely grateful to be hired (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 23). Later, the author cites several studies that conclude that female-headed immigrant households have higher incidents of poverty than among similar conjugal units (ibid, 33). These two statements are intimately connected, and the former explains why the later is the case. Immigrant families headed by females are not poor because of some natural, inherent flaw in women’s leadership abilities but because they are exploited because of their circumstances. [...]

Identity and Migration and the case of Pashtun Afghans and Pashtun Pakistanis

Lastly, I appreciate the chapter on Soviet and Israeli Jewish immigrants in the United States because first, it addresses some of the gaps in migration studies with specific focus on gender, religion, class, and race; second, it complicates the situation of migrants: just because a group of migrants practice the same religion or belong to the same religion does not mean they will have the same experiences; instead, their experiences as U.S. immigrants are informed also by their national identities, their status in their home country, their socio-economic situation, their skin color, and other visible marks of differences. These two points are important to highlight because they remind us that the case of immigrants/migrants can never be simplified, but the many layers of their identity help us understand them better (though not yet fully). [...] It also reminds me of the case of the Pashtuns from Afghanistan and Pakistan—a group of immigrants who upholds the same religious values, belong to the same ethnicity and race, share a common history and language and traditions, but because they are from two different countries that are divided by a boundary that many Pashtuns deny (the Durrand Line, the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan), their experiences and concerns as immigrants in the U.S. are distinctly different. It would thus be a mistake to in any way suggest that “Pashtuns in the U.S.” or “Pashtun immigrants/migrants” have a certain set of experiences that are necessarily unique to them as Pashtuns when their national identities (i.e., as Afghans or Pakistanis) as well as the time period when they migrated are at least just as relevant and critical to their experiences.[...]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Dare to opine :)

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...