Book Report: Women and Human Rights Summaries

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Women and Human Rights Summaries

Perhaps the most useful place to begin any discussion of Asian and Native American women and their relation to feminism is Devon Abbot Misesuah's study of indigenous American women, in which she argues that "because Native women vary in their cultural ideologies, appearance, and social and moral values, no one feminist theory totalizes Native women's thought, and there are differences of opinion among Native women over who among them are 'feminists'" (Misesuah 159). These differences present themselves not only between different tribes but within tribes, because "there are varieties of value within tribes as well," to the point that "sometimes it appears that women of different tribes have more in common with each other than they do with women of their own tribe" (159). Misesuah goes on to consider the varied conceptions of feminism amongst Native American women, who had to contend not only with the misogyny present within Native cultures but also the introduction of European and Christian standards of patriarchy misogyny which in turn disrupted gender relations within tribes (164).

Thus, Native feminism has presented itself in a variety of different ways depending on the changing notions regarding gender, ranging from attempts at "decolonization" to forgoing open, vocal struggles for gender equality in favor of solidarity in the fight for racial and ethnic equality, because "Native women have much to lose by publicly discussing the dysfunctional gender roles within their tribes during the 1970s and today" (167-168). Though Native women suffered from nearly all the same problems, both prior to colonization and after, the reactions to these problems have varied across tribal, age, appearance, education, and socioeconomic lines. Furthermore, Misesuah's consideration of Native feminism ultimately reveals the intersection of racism and sexism, something that has been considered in far more detail by a subsequent investigation of the use of rape as a tool of genocide. Nonetheless, Misesuah's argument offers the ideal location from which to begin an investigation of Asian and Native American women and their struggles in the face of colonialism and imperialism, because it offers a way of understanding and analyzing the shared traumas of colonialism precisely by highlighting the extremely disparate reactions to this shared trauma.

In her essay "Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide," Andrea Smith discusses the physical and psychological damage inflicted on indigenous women and women of color by a patriarchal society that has largely been informed and propped up by puritanical Christian morality and gender codes. Citing examples from the 15th century onward, Smiths illustrates the violence patriarchal society has enabled through the practice of state-approved misogyny, racism, and genocide, not to mention the development of convoluted judicial systems that grant impunity to the perpetrators of sexual violence. In order to fully appreciate the ubiquity of patriarchy and the scope of the damage inflicted by it, Smiths traces the long history of unpunished and/or socially acceptable instances of rape, genital mutilation, and sexual slavery perpetrated against indigenous and non-white women.

Smith begins her study of sexual violence by noting that "male-dominated conceptions of race and white-dominated conceptions of gender stand in the way of a clear understanding of violence against women of color […] because the overlap between racism and sexism" makes it so that "women of color do not just face quantitatively more issue when they suffer violence (e.g. less media attention, language barriers, lack of support in the judicial system) but their experience is qualitatively different from that of white women" (Smith 7-8). This is because the racist considerations deployed in the name of colonialism consider the Native American's body as fundamentally different from that of a white person and subsequently not privy to the same rights and autonomy as a white.

In particular, the aforementioned Christian morality served as an excuse to delegitimize Native American women's claims to their bodies, because if "Indian bodies are 'dirty,' they are considered sexually violable and 'rapable,' and the rape of bodies that considered inherently impure or dirty simply does not count," in much the same way that "prostitutes are almost never believed when they say they have been raped because the dominant society considers the bodies of sex workers undeserving of integrity and violable at all times" (10). This demonstrates the self-reinforcing nature of racism and sexism in relation to women of color, and Native American women in particular, because just as racist ideologies served to legitimize the rape of Native women, this "gender violence functions as a tool for racism and colonialism among women of color in general" (15). After pointing out the necessity of considering racism and sexism as uniquely intertwined in the case of Native women, Smith continues to demonstrate how this functions even today in the case of the war in Afghanistan, in which the liberation of Afghan women is touted as the goal of this imperialist endeavor, when in reality that "liberation" would only mean the assimilation of women from one oppressive, patriarchal society into another, albeit one in which they have even less agency due to the concurrent influence of racism (24-25).

In the introduction to her book From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii, Haunani-Kay Trask discusses the perspective of Native Hawaiians in relation to the United States and the frequent white visitors to the islands as well as provides a brief history of the colonization of Hawaii by white imperialists. Trask begins by noting that the "predatory view of [her] Native land and culture" which sees Hawaii as a distinctly American concept, a "sweet and sunny land of palm trees and hulahula girls," is "not only opposed by increasing numbers of [Native Hawaiians]," but is in fact "angrily and resolutely defied," seen most visibly when "Hawaiians commemorated the centenary of the overthrow of [their] government with mass arrests and demonstrations against the denial of [their] human right to self-determination" (Trask 2). This anger stems not only from the commodification of Hawaiian culture, but ultimately can be traced back to the brutal and callous way in which the needs of Native Hawaiians were discarded in favor of the desires of white American imperialists, who over time stole control of the island and instituted their own white oligarchy, supported through the maintenance of violent, all-white gangs prior to its complete inception as a state in the 1950s, after which the plantation system established by the new white rulers was demolished upon Native Hawaiians gaining full voting rights (6-7).

In addition, the introduction of foreign diseases for which the Native Hawaiians had no natural resistance devastated the population, such that "tuberculosis, small pox, measles, leprosy and typhoid fever, killed Hawaiians by the hundreds of thousands, reducing [the] Native population (from an estimated one million at contact) to less than 40,000 by 1890" (6). This catastrophic loss of Native residents paved the way for the introduction of American plantation owners and their employees, further lessening Native residents' grasp on their autonomy until annexation was successfully completed even though "both annexationists in Hawai'i and in America knew a vote would go against them," because "the Natives […] were against annexation to a person [….] and on the continent, the large majority in Congress was opposed to annexation, if only because the 'mongrel' population of Hawai'i meant that a predominantly 'colored' people would enter a predominantly white nation" (15-16). Nonetheless, annexation was completed with a resolution so that it would need only a simple majority to pass, such that "once the most fragile and precious of sacred places [was] transformed by the American behemoth into a dying land," so that "only a whispering spirit remains" (19).

The kind of "predatory view" described by Trask may be seen in the conception and representations of Asians and Asian culture in other aspects of American culture as well, and it is precisely this representation that Lynn Lu addresses in her essay "Critical Visions: The Representation and Resistance of Asian Women." In her essay, Lu discusses what she sees as the unnecessarily reductive representations of Asian women in American media, beginning with "the myth of Asian women's hypersexual appetite and skill" before moving on to perhaps less explicit but equally damaging stereotypes and generalizations (17). The most crucial portion of Lu's analysis comes when she recognizes that not only do Asian women "face blatantly offensive depictions of [themselves], but also continually come up against the power of racist, heterosexist, classist, and imperialism ideologies to adapt and pervert [their] demands by creating new versions of old stereotypes" as a result of "the closing distance between American and Asian cultures" which "has introduced new opportunities for appropriation, exploitation, and commodification of [their] images under the guise of multiculturalism" (18). Rather than encouraging cross-cultural dialogue, the integration of Asian culture into America has only served to give the dominant ideology extra cultural details with which to highlight the ethnic and gender stereotypes already in widespread use.

Lu goes on to discuss some of these appropriations and exploitations, noting that even when Asian women successfully achieve the goals determined… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-human-rights-summaries-perhaps/9173248.