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Why is London’s New Mary Wollstonecraft Statue so Divisive?

By: Claire Armstrong

Most feminists can agree that men of history are disproportionately memorialized in public and private spaces, and that the women who have shaped our world deserve more recognition than they get. So one might think that erecting a new statue dedicated to philosopher, writer, and women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft in a London park could only be a good thing. Unfortunately, for many feminists, artist Maggi Hambling’s work was not the emblem of empowerment they were hoping for. 

The statue, which stands in Newington Green, cost £143,000, and took ten years to create, depicts a nude female figure rising out of a swirly silver mass. Hambling describes the piece as “[involving] this tower of intermingling female forms culminating in the figure of the woman at the top who is challenging, and ready to challenge, the world.” However, critics see it in a different light, and feel that it is disrespectful to Wollstonecraft, who was outspoken against society’s focus on women’s bodies rather than their minds. Regarding the damaging effect this can have on women, Wollstonecraft once said, “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” That is to say, when women are told all their lives that their bodies and their beauty are all that matter, they themselves only invest in their bodies and their beauty, rather than cultivating their minds. 

As such, some question why a statue meant to commemorate Wollstonecraft places such a focus on the female body. The campaign for the statue, called Mary on the Green, has clarified that the sculpted figure is not meant to be Wollstonecraft herself, but “an everywoman” who “emerges out of organic matter, almost like a birth.” However, this sentiment, too, has been criticized, for the woman depicted is very conventionally attractive, with European features, and, as such, may not be the best representative for “the everywoman.” Additionally, Caroline Criado-Perez argues that instead of trying to encapsulate all women in a single statue, we should erect more statues memorializing specific women. “We’ve celebrated so few women from the past that the temptation is to attempt [to represent] all of womanhood, which is never an issue when it’s a male statue,” she says. 

The conversation surrounding the sculpture is a complex one, and is evidence that the feminist movement is vast and nuanced, with plenty of room for differing opinions within it. The controversy surrounding this particular work of art does not diminish the need for more representation and recognition of the work women have put in to make their mark on the world. 

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Four Indigenous TikTokers You Should Know

By: Claire Armstrong

Considering the United States’ historic and continued cruelty toward its Native peoples, the lack of education most American students get on Native issues is pretty despicable. Fortunately, TikTok now provides a platform for many young indigenous activists who are helping to educate others on their cultures as well as the issues they face. Below, I have highlighted four North American Indigenous TikTokers who I personally have learned a lot from. Readers, give them the likes and follows they deserve!

1. Shina Nova (@shinanova)

Shina Nova is an Inuk creator from Montreal, popularly known for her videos of her and her mother throat singing together. Throat singing is an unfamiliar art to many of us, and Shina frequently receives mocking comments on her videos, but that doesn’t stop her from posting.

She educates her followers on other aspects of Inuit culture, such as traditional clothing and traditional foods, like raw beluga, wild berries, and caribou stew.

She also critiques the Canadian government for its ignorance of its indigenous peoples, and sheds light on issues of cultural appropriation and harmful stereotypes.

2. Tia Wood (@tiamiscihk)

Tia Wood is Plains Cree and Salish, from Canada, and has amassed a whopping 1.4 million followers on TikTok. 

She creates videos celebrating traditional dance, singing, and clothing, and also discusses issues such as cultural appropriation.

Tia also provides the vocals for the “Make it Indigenous” version of Banjo Baby by Nico Flaco, which has become widely popular on TikTok.

3. Lia (@fiiliia)

Lia is a neurodivergent, LGBTQ+ creator who is part of the Siksika Blackfoot Tribe, a tribe in Montana and Canada. 

In the first video I saw of Lia’s, she explains why many Indigenous people prefer the terms “Indigenous” or “Native” to “Native American” or “American Indians.”

Lia has made several videos condemning the romanticism of the story of Amonute, who is commonly referred to as Pocahontas.

She also has videos about successful allyship for non-Native peoples.

Lia has also emphasized the importance of protecting the Tongass Rainforest, which is culturally significant to multiple Indigenous communities.

4. James Jones (@notoriouscree)

James Jones is a traditional Native dancer, and has performed all across the globe, and is one of the top five ranked hoop dancers in the world.

In his videos, James dances in many different styles, including the hoop dance, the grass dance, the men’s chicken, and the men’s fancy dance.

James also creates Hair Teachings, in which he educates his viewers on the significance of hair in Indigenous cultures.

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Why Fast Fashion is a Human Rights Issue — And What We Can Do About It

By: Claire Armstrong

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is defined as “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand. The idea is to get the newest styles on the market as fast as possible, so shoppers can snap them up while they are still at the height of their popularity, and then, sadly, discard them after a few wears.” Due to the unsafe working conditions and the environmental ramifications of the fast fashion industry, it is the cause of a score of human rights issues that we as consumers must take a stand against.

Hazardous working conditions

Fast fashion clothing is inexpensive largely because the employees who produce it are working long hours under hazardous conditions for very little pay. The majority of these employees are women; in China 75% of garment workers are women; in Bangladesh, 85%; and in Cambodia, 90%. Garment workers are typically expected to work between 60 and 140 hours per week, usually without breaks or overtime pay, and pregnant workers are refused maternity leave. To make matters worse, the conditions they work under are often unsafe — many workers develop breathing problems resulting from the fabric fibres in the air, and the International Labour Rights Forum has reported that at least 1,800 workers have been killed in factory accidents in Bangladesh alone since 2005. In addition, child labor, which is widely outlawed but still occurs in some of the world’s poorest nations, is often used in the fast fashion industry. According to a UNICEF-sponsored article from The Guardian, “Child labour is a particular issue for fashion because much of the supply chain requires low-skilled labour and some tasks are even better suited to children than adults. In cotton picking, employers prefer to hire children for their small fingers, which do not damage the crop.”

Brands to avoid

Good On You is a website and app that rates the ethics of clothing brands based on their environmental, animal, and labour practices. They have compiled a list of fast fashion brands to avoid. The following brands reportedly use sweatshops and child labor and should be avoided. These brands include Missguided, Fashion Nova, SHIEN, Romwe, and Nasty Gal. Minimalism Made Simple offers a more comprehensive list that includes Uniqlo, TopShop, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, and more. 

Where should I get my clothes from?

After you start doing some research on fast fashion and realize just how many brands are engaging in unethical practices, it might seem impossible to avoid supporting them. And while it is impossible not to have any negative impact as a consumer, there are steps we can take to mitigate that impact to the best of our ability. Perhaps the best option is shop secondhand. The fashion industry has been so prolific for so long that there are already far more clothes on this earth than any of us need. Shopping secondhand means that no resources or labor are wasted to produce anything new. Thrift stores are a great resource for shopping secondhand, and have the smallest environmental impact because items are purchased in store, meaning there is no energy required to ship them. However, online secondhand shopping is a great option, too. ThredUp is a huge online thrift store with tons of options, and online marketplaces like Depop and Poshmark allow individuals to sell their unwanted clothing. If you have to buy something new, use a resource like Good On You to find a sustainable brand for whatever you’re looking for. 

UC Davis Zero Waste and Sustainability Club’s flowchart for conscious shopping

UC Davis Zero Waste and Sustainability Club Co-President Nikki Yang has developed a flowchart with steps to help consumers shop more responsibly.

Step 1. Make a wish list.

Step 2. Evaluate what you already own — shop your closet first.

Step 3. Remove items from your wish list based on what you already have.

Step 4: Separate wants from needs.

Step 5: Rank priority, taking into consideration the value of needs vs. wants.

Step 6. Research and evaluate how you will purchase these items.

Step 7: Can you buy what you need secondhand?

Step 8. If not, is it economically feasible to buy it ethically?

Step 9: If it is not feasible to purchase secondhand or from an ethical brand, try to shop with quality over quantity in mind (i.e. purchase something that you will wear for years to come).

Don’t lose hope

It’s hard to become a more conscious consumer. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. The most important thing is not to give up. Money makes the world go round, and we as consumers have the opportunity to vote with our dollar and show the fashion industry what we are and aren’t willing to accept. Brands engage in unethical practices because they are cost-effective, but if we refuse to support them, these practices won’t be lucrative anymore, and brands will have to make a change. The fast fashion industry is cruel and unsustainable. Let’s show the industry that we aren’t willing to accept that.

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COVID-19 Pandemic Disproportionately Affecting Women and People of Color

By: Claire Armstrong

We all know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers are shouldering more than their share of the burden to protect our people and keep our country running. What we often neglect to discuss, however, is that women, immigrants, and minorities make up the majority of workers on the frontlines. According to the New York Times, “one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential,” and women of color are even more likely to be essential workers. Under the umbrella of “essential workers” are social workers, healthcare workers, critical retail workers, medical supplies distributors, food processing workers, delivery and warehousing workers, and more. A study by the New York Times states that over 75% of social workers and healthcare workers performing essential work are women, and over 50% of critical retail essential workers are women. Overall, the study found that 52% of essential workers are women. AP News reported that “in New York City, more than 76% of healthcare workers are people of color.” And healthcare is not the only essential work sector made up of a majority of people of color. AP News also noted that “More than 60% of warehouse and delivery workers in most cities are people of color,” nearly 60% of grocery store workers in most cities are nonwhite, and 74% of janitors in most cities are people of color. This is only a small sampling of essential work industries in which people of color are taking on the majority of the work.

An article in The Guardian found that female healthcare professionals on the frontlines are in greater danger than male healthcare professionals because personal protective equipment, or PPE, is designed for men, meaning that it is too large for many female healthcare professionals. The article quotes Dr Helen Fidler, the deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) UK consultants committee, as saying, “Women’s lives are absolutely being put at risk because of ill-fitting PPE. We know that properly fitted PPE works, but masks are designed for a male template, with the irony being that 75% of workers in the NHS [United Kingdom National Healthcare Service] are female.” As a result, many female healthcare professionals are forced to interact with the virus on a daily basis without proper PPE. This is likely the reason that, according to the CDC (as reported by Kaiser Health News), 73% of healthcare workers infected with coronavirus are women.

In an article for The Atlantic, Helen Lewis discusses another burden that women are disproportionately shouldering during the pandemic: childcare. Lewis writes that the pressure to become a new and improved version of yourself while stuck at home during the pandemic is unrealistic for the people caring for children. And, overwhelmingly, those people are women. Lewis also points out that as an economic recession seems more and more inevitable, childcare professionals become less and less likely to find paid work. “school closures and household isolation,” she writes, “are moving the work of caring for children from the paid economy—nurseries, schools, babysitters—to the unpaid one.” 

Not surprisingly, in families where both partners work remotely, unequal patterns around childcare and managing the household have become more pronounced. In April of 2020 scientists decided to study these conditions. They found that just as women had carried the majority of the childcare burden before the onset of the pandemic, it has become even more unequal since. Adding homeschooling to the already long list of tasks necessary to care for children and maintain a home exacerbates this burden. In addition, the “mental load” is carried by the female parent almost exclusively and includes providing emotional support, distractions and stimulation for children, as well as meal planning, organizing social connections, and all of the myriad mental tasks that are part of parenting. Women have always been the default go-to parents, and although more male parents may be working from home, that default status has only become more pronounced.

The world has always been a place where those with less political and financial capital have been forced, out of economic necessity, to take on jobs others do not want, whether because they are dangerous, distasteful, low-paying, or all of these. During the current pandemic, many women and minorities are working outside of the home and at jobs that are, while “essential,” not highly paid or rich in benefits and in which they cannot obtain adequate personal protection to keep them from getting sick. Meanwhile, women who are working from their homes are finding themselves juggling their professional obligations with the mental load of organizing, planning and caring for the family, and even providing home schooling. Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate gender and racial inequalities, despite the fact that women and people of color are doing the majority of the work to serve communities on the frontlines of the pandemic.

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Why Feminism is Inherently Intersectional

By: Claire Armstrong

A few years ago, if you were to ask me who my feminist icons were, you would have thought I grew up in the seventies. Early on in my exploration of feminism, I read Gloria Steinem’s book, My Life on the Road, and it inspired me to do my research into second wave feminism and learn about the feminists who came before me. I was so inspired by women like Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan, and I would have loved to go back in time to join their ranks. I still think the work they did was incredibly valuable, but now I see issues with the second wave feminist movement as a whole. 

My biggest problem with second wave feminism, and what I think most significantly distinguishes it from my own definition of feminism, is that, at the forefront, it often was not intersectional. There was a lot of debate among activists about the inclusion of Black and lesbian rights in the Equal Rights Amendment and in the goals delineated at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Some second-wave feminist leaders, such as Friedan (who authored The Feminine Mystique, which is often hailed as the work that kick-started second-wave feminism) felt that including explicit demands for racial or sexual equality would make the goals of second-wave feminism seem too radical and alienate potential supporters. It is important to note that there were women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and active allies of marginalized groups who did advocate for the inclusion of rights for women who were not cisgendered, white and straight. However, their voices were not at the forefront of the movement. The mindset that the feminist movement should obtain equality for cis, straight women before including the needs of any marginalized women made white feminism all too pervasive. 

In 2020, we can make no more excuses for white feminism. We never should have, so now is our chance to draw the line. Feminism is inherently intersectional. It is connected to all issues of inequality. If white women want to fight for equity for themselves, they must also fight for equity for racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, the differently-abled, and all other marginalized groups. For too long, many women have not felt included in the movement that claims to champion equal opportunity for all. White women must remember that for so many women, achieving gender equity would still not place them on a level playing field, because they also face other forms of discrimination. Feminists must advocate for equal opportunity for all marginalized groups so that when we do at last achieve gender equity, women of all walks of life will be able to access the opportunities they deserve.