The Women’s March

I’ve never done anything like this before, gathering in a protest. Sure, I’ve been plenty pissed off about things, but nothing ever quite ignited the fire like this recent election. Judging by the number of folks I saw in Washington, DC, this weekend, their fires have been ignited too. 

There’s a lot of rhetoric around the march that it and the entire of the New Women’s Movement is about protesting Donald Trump. That’s far from the truth. It’s about protesting a president who continues to make abusive comments about non-white men, a culture that accepted the abuse by voting for him, and a cabinet full of folks that have all mentioned wanting to repeal some facet of equal rights. 

We’ve accepted a lot since 9/11, and all Americans have been suffering. Obama made some progress and headway in trying to make things better, but was met with so much opposition that nothing ever passed that was perfect for everyone. Someone was still going to get hurt. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was support for a candidate who promised change rather than more of the same–that’s what got Obama elected the first time. 

But now, politicians are promising to target certain groups and rights, leaving enough of us marginalized. 

This is the first time in my lifetime that there’s been this much energy behind a cause. Even Occupy pales in comparison. We just couldn’t say no. We had to be involved. We have to do something.

When I first heard of the march, I knew I had to go. Specifically, I had to go to the one in Washington. So I did. I was joined by a friend from Pacifica and his wife. He’s been an activist a lot longer than I have–I think he said his first march was 1963–but remarked that this was by far the largest one he has ever seen.

The rally started with some excellent speeches and events. The crowd was larger than expected. The organizers kept doing speeches in an attempt to convert the event into a rally. Except that they didn’t tell anyone that is what they were doing. So people just started marching. The set route went by the wayside. People walked over the Mall, the Washington Monument, the buildings around the Mall, streets… the crowd just made it happen.

And everyone stayed groovy. I was worried at one point that people were going to lose their cool, because they didn’t know about the change of plans. It also seemed in the moment of confusion that we didn’t know how to make the march start. Yet the energy of the March and the Movement couldn’t be contained. It carried us forward. 

I’ll make another post about some of the stuff I posted on Facebook and share my photos. But for now, let me say one thing:

I’m grateful that I felt called to be a representative for all of us, and I promise to continue doing the work. It is my hope that, regardless of political beliefs or religious convictions, we can can unify around the good of humanity, for the entire planet. Our decisions and actions today will impact generations to come. Our decisions and actions today know no national borders, have little respect for personal security, and really could give a damn about your moral values.

Joseph Campbell once told Bill Moyers that the most important myth of our era is that of the planet. That includes all her people, the environment, and her physical geography. Let’s unite in love, and not be assholes.

More to come…

Feminism, Ethnography and Religious Studies: Problems of Method

I write about feminism as a non-believer; yet, I am able to see its usefulness to the greater improvement of the Western world. Without feminism, the conversation about women would be greatly reduced, especially in the male-dominated social sciences. Within anthropology, feminism allowed for and encouraged a new way of looking at peoples, which vastly improved the overall quality of ethnography.

Ethnography, or the writing about a specific culture or sub-culture, is a central component to the field of anthropology. It collects the data about a culture and organizes it into a concise form. Initially, the founders of the school based their writings on reports brought home by missionaries and other travelers. My cultural anthropology professor called them — with a degree of scorn — “armchair anthropologists,” because they were not actually entering the field and making observations about people. Instead, they simply gathered data that may or may not have been objectively reliable into authoritative editions used to help justify the West’s dominance upon the rest of the world.

As fieldwork was integrated into the ethnographic process, anthropologists were expected to do their own research. Fieldwork relies upon observation and informants, both having major design flaws. Observation is limited to the anthropologist’s abilities and what he or she is permitted to see by the society. Informants provide a double problem. On one hand, they may or may not impart information with any reliable accuracy; on the other hand, the information they do divulge is, more often than not, skewed through translation. Despite these problems, the ethnographer maintains an authoritative stance about the complete culture, even when the report about the culture is incomplete.

Margery Wolf admonishes this behavior, claiming that the job of ethnographers is “not simply to pass on the disorderly complexity of culture, but also to try to hypothesize about apparent consistencies, to lay out our best guesses, without hiding the contradictions and the instability" (355). The feminist movement within anthropology, she further suggests, initiated new methodology for writing ethnography by encouraging researchers to decentralize and defamiliarize themselves from their subject matter. This entails recognizing that one’s personal self is not the same self that interprets culture in order to write the ethnography.

When writing about myth or religion, especially outside one’s own spectrum, it is essential to recognize to what end that spectrum influences the interpretation. Wolf encourages a small degree of personal reflection in the writing to allow the opportunity to address those influences before the ethnography becomes a power play rather than a report about a culture. It is not enough to simply repackage existing biases in a more politically correction fashion. All this does is enhance the power elements of the relationship between the researcher and the researched, especially with regards to women. To truly defamiliarize oneself means to make these biases manifest in some fashion throughout the work, rather than presenting oneself as an authority on a skewed perspective.

This ultimately means that pure objectivity within anthropologist, and indeed for all socio-cultural research, is impossible. The timbre of the research changes with this awareness. The feminist movement brought this methodology to awareness, with the hope that the researcher can strive to deliver a clearer understanding of the culture being studied, and hopefully avoiding the mistakes of the past.

Works cited

  • Wolf, Margery. "Writing Ethnography." The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader. Ed. Russell McCutcheon. London & New York: Cassell, 1999. 354-361. Print.