All posts by Shoshana Arunasalam

Shoshana Arunasalam is a junior at Scripps majoring in biology. When she's not writing, she enjoys basketball, swimming, teaching, and making people laugh. Her favorite quote is, "Speak softly and carry a big stick" ~Teddy Roosevelt.

Why I Haven’t Enjoyed Claremont

When I came to Claremont, I hoped to find a loving community and an extended family. Unfortunately, what I found instead is an environment in which professing a commitment to social activism is often more important to my fellow students than actually connecting with the people around them. Many of my progressive classmates concern themselves with berating their peers for their ostensible insensitivity or privilege, rather than with expressing sensitivity to each other.

I have a message for these students: Expecting others to accept your conception of morality—one in which tolerance and acceptance are supposedly paramount—while treating dissenters with disdain is hypocrisy at its finest. You are trying to show people how to better society, which is admirable, but you have forgotten that a better society must start with ourselves. Society is not some vague entity – it is all around us in our dorms, in our classes, and in our libraries. If we are to demand that others embrace certain ideals, we are obligated to take on these same ideals ourselves and live them out as fully as possible.

When we willfully ignore this obligation, however, our community suffers. Deep and lasting relationships are no longer possible; instead, our relationships depend upon whether or not we agree with each other ideologically. When activism becomes more important than establishing sincere, genuine connections with people from different ideological backgrounds, no reasons remain for listening to those who cannot help our political goals. We thus become indignant of even respectful dissent, blinded by a sense of moral superiority that deems any disagreement a moral violation. In this way, we dehumanize each other based on ideology and create a highly judgmental culture that absolves us from needing to treat each other with respect and or consider alternative perspectives.

This last point is what most upsets me about the Claremont community. Students encourage each other to believe that highlighting the immorality of others is of far greater importance than actually practicing the values which they claim a person must support, accept, and live by in order to be morally good.  How can we improve ourselves if we see only good in ourselves and our opinions and only evil in those who deviate from our worldview? How can we become better people if we rarely place ourselves in a position to contemplate our wrongs? The fact is that no one is perfect, consistent, or correct all of the time, and rather than becoming indignant and aggressive when faced with dissent, students should do better for the community and for themselves by showing each other sincere kindness and understanding.

Activism should not strangle our relationships or limit the compassion we show to others.  If it does, the activism which truly matters—the radical task of loving and accepting one another in spite of our differences—will be left behind, and we will have lost sight of what’s truly important.

The Grinch Who Stole Culture: How We’re Losing America’s Melting Pot

One of the things I value most about America is our unique level of diversity. Our diversity entails more than just having a large portion of non-white US residents. Rather, it relies on both the breadth of different cultures as well as the depth of the personal connections in which we can experience these different cultures. On a practical level, this mean that races, ethnicities, and religions that differ from our own are more than just concepts that we read about in books. Our melting pot in America gives us the unique and direct ability to see, and in some cases experience, other cultures instead of just reading about their eccentricities.

Every day we are surrounded by a diverse array of people and cultures and because of this, I see the United States as a palette of cultures from which we each can personally sample. What I find most valuable about this is that in some cases, we may create a color that we find more beautiful and that we love more sincerely than any one color alone.

In this process of cultural integration, it is true that some of the original culture’s authenticity thins. And it is also true that there are some people that exploit integration or, in poor taste, take it too far. But this is hardly enough to even come close to canceling out the more positive aspects of this integration. Namely, that we are given the gift of being able to share parts of countless cultures in our daily lives. And because we can share in these cultures as a routine and not just a once-in-a-decade trip to a foreign country, we are able to internalize cultures that differ from our own constantly and on a much more profound level.

Many of the students upset about cultural appropriation at CMC suggest that the only way to solve the problem of racism and misappropriation is through intense discussion. These students are fixated on the minute realities of every possible sect of every race and every culture. I would argue that practically speaking, this is not the most effective solution for several reasons.

First, it is a privileged solution in the sense that it assumes everyone has the time and capacity to engage in an endless number of discussions. That is simply not the case. Second, tolerance is something that must be nurtured, and forcing people to sit through lengthy dialogues that are only one-sided may actually leave them with a distaste for diversity. Furthermore, if these dialogues are channeled in a way that is overly detailed, students will leave with a sense of confusion and with no real personal connection or love of the cultures surrounding them. What I have witnessed are methods of politicized discussions and angry protests to promote cultural sensitivity, but these methods depend on always creating a new attacker or oppressor who is worthy of being shunned.  All this does is create fragmentation.

In the process of fragmentation, groups turn away any potential outsiders. In the height of protest, for example, student activists rejected and laughed at the CMC administration for pledging to do its best to heed the students’ requests and accused President Hiram Chodosh for trying to “derail” the movement by sending an email of support right before the protest. Student activists also created a students of color-only Motley event, and they even went so far as to say that white students hadn’t done anything to help promote diversity and tolerance on our campuses.

However, what is equally disturbing is that in addition to turning away alleged outsiders, student activists have also turned away members of their own “marginalized” groups who didn’t wholeheartedly agree with the movement’s opinion. In a dialogue that took place on the CMCers of Color Action toward Dean of Students Facebook page, a student of Latino descent from Cornell University expressed the opinion that he did not find the CMC students’ Mexican costumes problematic. He was soon scolded for participating in a conversation that he could not understand since he was not present at the 5Cs.

Interestingly, an earlier Facebook post for this event featured screenshots of messages from students from other countries which were meant to show that CMC protesters were gaining international support. This was, of course, met with pride as it was seen as a symbol of validation. The hypocrisy is evident.  If a Latino student from the United States was excommunicated for being incapable of understanding the campus-specific struggles of the group, why would people who are not of Latino descent and not from this country have any greater ability to understand and support this group?

We are not fighting for the support of a marginalized group, but rather for a political ideal that attempts to expand the traditional definitions of racism and oppression. The fact that certain members of the group disagree with one another does not mean that the expansion itself is incorrect, but attempting to silence dissent should not be viewed as a means of achieving tolerance. It is creating a fragmentation that is contrary to the value of experiencing our American melting pot, and it will ultimately divide us not just between groups, but within groups as well.

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Image: Flickr

The Flaw in “Flawless”: Beyoncé and the Contradictions in Feminism

Since entering Scripps, I have been told that Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Hilary Clinton, Emma Watson, P!nk, Meghan Trainor, and Michelle Obama are feminists. I have also been told at separate times, from inside and outside of Scripps, that each of these women is anti-feminist. In class, I have watched risqué videos of women that are widely acclaimed as breakthroughs for the feminist movement, and I have watched these videos in other settings where they are viewed as over-sexualized and degrading. Because of this, I chose to contemplate and explore both the dogma and actions of each “feminist” in depth. I found that these women share very little in common, leading me to believe that “feminism,” as defined by the masses, lacks both consistency and a standard for accountability.

I am not afraid to express the unpopular opinion that I find Beyoncé guilty of using the term “feminism” (capitalistically, which is ironic for her more liberal fans) to box women into an identity that is inescapably sexual. Beyoncé is a self-proclaimed sex symbol, and sex symbols, whether male or female, do not help their respective gender’s cause in terms of equality. Rather, they reduce themselves to physicality, which indubitably becomes a contest of seduction. Case in point: in her song “Flawless,” Beyoncé tells us that women shouldn’t compete for male attention; however, in “Yonce” she sings “Boy this all for you just walk my way, Just tell me it’s lookin’ babe. I do this all for you babe just take aim.” It would seem that even Beyoncé cannot reconcile her definition of feminism with itself. Therefore, how can we expect her message to filter down to her audience correctly? Be openly sensual for men like Beyoncé, but don’t vie for male attention? That’s contradictory.

Many people conflate advancing freedom of expression with advancing feminism. Women can wear whatever they want, as can men, in this country. That is freedom. However, freedom of expression does not by default help the feminist cause. Maybe it did in the early twentieth century, and maybe it is still important in developing countries, but as with most social issues, modern America is addressing different challenges than other parts of the world.

There are many ways in which women can elevate themselves in society, ranging from becoming a single, strong powerhouse to being a good wife. Each has its benefits, and each is equally important. I am not going to constrain feminism by giving into a certain set of rules. What I will say, however, is that being a feminist does not require women to give men what they stereotypically want. Once women do that, they become objectified – just like Beyoncé does to herself in the “Flawless” music video, which features close ups of her butt and not her entire being. In these scenarios, where is the justice for a woman who is being looked at just for her body and not for the simple fact that she is a person?

It is not feminist to be desperate for male attention and then justify it by saying women desire sex, too, and that we have a right to be sexual beings. There is a difference between being sexual and selling oneself. Being a feminist is risking not getting male attention until you meet a guy who respects you. A guy who supports feminism should be in love with who a particular woman is, not how closely she reminds him of the latest Playboy magazine. In a true non-male-dominated society, a woman should never feel that, in order to get attention, she has to show off her body. And herein lies my biggest problem with Beyoncé. Beyoncé gives her audience, especially her young audience, the false idea that feminism is equivalent to sexuality. This erroneous comparison is as harmful to girls and young women as is the idea that women can’t drive, work, or go to college. While many argue that in the finer details, Beyoncé clarifies the difference between feminism and sex, it is still a very fuzzy line. This distinction, if it even does exist within the Beyoncé ideology, is being missed by the majority of people in the world outside of Claremont, probably because Beyoncé sends mixed messages. For instance, while claiming that feminism requires equality of the sexes in “Flawless,” in “Blow” she says, “Bring your work home on top of me. I’m a let you be the boss of me. I know everything you want. Give me that daddy long stroke.” What do we expect 14-year-old girls to get from this? They’re being taught that feminism requires them to look really sexy, put on a show of being domineering and powerful, then ultimately allow themselves to be used by men.

In this way, women have been conditioned to think it is easy to be a feminist. Just do what you want, be sexy, and defy norms. That has truth, but that is not the heart of feminism (it certainly does not describe it in its totality). The heart of feminism is taking a stand against female objectification. We are in the twenty-first century. We have to be smart. We have to think for ourselves and not give into what the media is asking of us if it is unhealthy for women at its core. Now that we have a voice, we need to make sure it is actually helping us and not feeding a patriarchal society under the guise of female liberation.

Yes, being a feminist is hard, and yes, advancing the feminist cause requires different actions in different eras. As modern feminists, if we want to actually help women outside of our college bubble, we have to have a more realistic idea of our audience. In the real world, it is not enough to be a woman who does whatever she wants and then call herself a feminist. We have to look at the consequences of our actions.

Please understand, I am not saying women should cover themselves from head-to-toe to be a feminist, nor am I saying that people who dress “immodestly” are anti-feminist. All I am saying is that it is not enough to put on a certain outfit and say a lot of things and think it’s helping women. That is rash and misguided. We need to think critically in the modern world of feminism and understand what is really helping us defy violence and oppression versus what is just further turning us into sexual objects for the world.

A feminist doesn’t have to cover up. A feminist doesn’t have to not cover up. At its essence, feminism is supposed to look at women as people rather than sexual beings. That doesn’t mean we have to be undesirable, but it doesn’t mean that we have to be the epitome of sexy either. It is free of physicality. Women are people, not toys. What Beyoncé does by showing through her actions that being sexual makes women feminist is actually setting us back to a time when we were all just for sex.

Consequently, we must ask ourselves: How does Scripps portray feminism? What does our Beyoncé-idolization advance for women? Why do some students feel completely unheard in their feminism classes? We need to reevaluate what we want for women in our society versus what we want to do in the moment just because it sounds revolutionary.