UN Humanitarian Aid (Assignment #7)

Having recently arrived in Liberia to assist in the camps of Internally Displaced Persons there are many things I can see that should be of vital importance to the United Nations in ensuring the well being of these communities. Public health, safety, security, food, and water are among the most important issues that should be addressed. Additionally the UN should keep logs of personal information, such as family size and relationships, should future need for this type of information arise. In an area where war related violence is still prevalent, I also feel it’s important to maintain safe environments for women and children.

The first thing that should be done is maintain safety zones for the current internally displaced persons. Although we are at the camp, there is no guarantee that we will remain safe from the fighting take place in almost all areas surrounding us. If we can have security forces or some guarantee that we will not be attacked, the IDP’s here can be made somewhat more comfortable and not have to be alert every second in constant fear. Several steps should be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the women and children currently residing in the camp.


The second issue that should be addressed is safety within the camp itself. As is well known, the rape of women within refugee camps is quite common. So once the camp is secure from outside dangers, it should also be made certain that the IDP’s will be safe within the camp. As humanitarian aid workers we should be here to assist people in a difficult transition, not hurt them physically and emotionally like they have been by their own countrymen currently engaged in war.

The third issue that needs to be dealt with carefully is food and water distribution. There have been incidences of difficulties arising from the distribution of food and water in other IDP camps in the past. Safety and security are important issues, but water and food may be the most vital. These people need to be nourished properly after their temporary residences are made safe.

And fourth, as much family information as possible should be collected from each IDP. Basic information such as family size, relationships among people, and medical conditions should be asked of every person here and documented for future use. In many cases food distribution and family recognition is dependent on a male head of household. The problem here is that many women have lost their husbands and cannot be given many necessities without them. Also, personal medical information is necessary so that we know if anyone needs a specific type of health care and/or medicine. So there should be methods with which to address this issue so that no family is denied important resources.

These four issues, I feel, should be seen with the utmost importance. I’m here to assist these people in any way I can and by resolving those problems the people here in this camp will not have as rough a time as they are currently facing.

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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in All Posts, Assigned Posts


Video Assignment #4

Short Video Assignment #4: Working in a small group, produce a short 1 – 3 min campaign video directed to United States feminist communities explaining at least two (2) effects of war/violent conflict on women, why these issues need our attention and what resources might be used in order to address these effects and create a more stable life for women living through conflict. Due 12/6 by midnight.

Group Members: Eduardo Galarza, Elizabeth Swearingen, Ethan Lin

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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in All Posts, Video Assignments


Capitalizing on Obesity (Assignment #5)

Within the past few decades, “obesity” has reached the status of being an epidemic. In the U.S. alone more than one-third of Americans were classified as obese, according to a 2010 report by the CDC. The entertainment world has become saturated with television shows that deal solely with weight loss, including The Biggest Loser, Thintervention, Celebrity Fit Club, etc. Pharmaceutical companies have profited from weight loss drugs and other supplements meant to be used to reach a healthier weight. Similarly numerous diet plans have been created with the intention of weight loss, creating a booming industry that is tied directly to the bodies of millions of Americans. Obesity has become a source for monetary profit across American society, at the cost of those who face health problems because of their weight.

While there is disagreement among whether or not obesity itself is a disease, but it is a risk factor for other health problems, including hypertension and heart disease. Those risks then become deciding factors in whether or not to get weight loss surgery. When it comes to surgery, over 80% of patients are female, speaking to the gendered nature of weight loss and the pressure women feel to look a certain way (biopower being reinforced). Bariatric surgery has become an increasingly profitable operation for doctors to perform, with numbers from 2002 showing the cost of performing the operation at $13,000 versus the amount paid at $19,000- a 45% profit for those performing the surgery. However, as Karen Throsby discusses in her work, weight loss doesn’t just end at the surgery, but it requires a complete lifestyle change that entails lifelong surveillance and “self-control”.

The diet industry is another sector that has seen soaring profits from obesity, with a $35 billion dollar a year industry on weight-loss and diet related products. Diet fads such as the Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers, and the Beverly Hills Diet are among some of the post popular methods of quick weight loss, despite the dangers associated with them. People who put themselves through these diets are trying to achieve what is seen as a natural standard, but through seemingly unnatural means. They are putting the health of their bodies at risk for the sake of a more acceptable appearance. And to go even further, after losing all that weight an individual can choose to undergo excess skin removal to strive for that so-called natural standard.

When it comes to profiting on the misfortune of others, you can’t expect Wall Street to be left out. In the words of Alan Carr, a biotech analyst at Needham & Co., “For the right company, there are lots of possibilities here”. For them, obesity is a trend that needs to be cashed in on. Firms like Orexigen and Arena are already banking on the potential for their weight loss drugs to make them serious money, and health club companies like Town Sports International and Life Time Fitness are hoping to do the same. Analysts suggest that the health food industry could be a safe bet for profitable investments in the coming years, all tied to rising obesity rates and the search for healthier food.

Evidently there are many firms out there who wish to profit from the poor health of others. Companies who promote dieting do so thinking only of the money that they can make, without taking into account that dieting can be dangerous if not done properly. Obesity has become another entity that is controlled through governmentality, with health regulations like the soda ban in NYC, and that we’re expected to take control of through diet and surgery. It’s a movement towards a slimmer you at any cost.

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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in All Posts, Assigned Posts


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A Better You Through What You View (Assignment #4)

The ideas of biopower and governmentality are essential to understanding the ways in which the identity of the self have transformed with the rise of so-called “reality” television and a culture that emphasizes a physical appearance that we should all strive for. Our changing culture has created new ideas of what the “ideal” person should look like and how they should behave (governmentality), while things like reality television and gossip sites function as vehicles where we can examine those ideals and modify our behavior to better comply with them (biopower).

In today’s world there are countless programs that deal with behavioral or appearance issues. The shows “Hoarders”, “Intervention”, “Addicted”, among numerous others involve real people dealing with addictions and the attempts by others to “fix” them. Then you have shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Makeover”, which are focused on physical transformations towards the normalized standard of beauty. The people that are being portrayed are what Jeffrey Cohen terms the “monster culture“. These monsters have the “propensity to shift”, which means that they take different forms which transgress society’s acceptance. Be it an addict, an overweight person, or someone who’s deemed physically unappealing, they all deviate from what is accepted and must modify themselves in some way in order to change that.

These ideas can be tied in to what Professor Tiger referred to in class on Friday as a master status– labeling an individual with a certain characteristic which becomes their dominant identity. Although she used it when speaking specifically about addiction (as in Intervention and Addicted), it can also be used when discussing a wide range of topics. Addicts are deemed morally incongruent, people who are overweight are declared to be lazy and not dedicated, and physical appearance plays a vital role in how a person is judged. When we see them on our televisions, our concern is not who these people are or what they’ve accomplished. All that we’re told is how their flaws contributed to their supposed failures and what they can or must do in order to correct them. Biopower is enforced after we see these people and are told that what they currently are is wrong, and that while we see their changes we should similarly strive to reach that goal.

The internet has become another outlet for this culture to be appropriated through. After watching a show, viewers can go on to that shows website and discuss what they just saw- whether it’s to suggest new topics to be tackled, or how the viewers themselves are different than the people on TV (a distancing from the monster). Similarly gossip websites are another area where people have the opportunity to go on and view stories about celebrities(like Lindsey Lohan) who have broken some sort of rule, and then discuss, ridicule, attack, etc. By viewing the lives of others, we get an idea of what is accepted and what’s not and we make sure to try our best in order to remain in that category of acceptance.

The identity of the self is heavily reliant on what we’re shown and what we’re told about it. Depending on what your “problem” is, there is an expectation to change it. In a way, this culture asserts the idea that the only way we can be a better, true self is by modifying ourselves in order to fit the strictest definitions of what is right.

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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in All Posts, Assigned Posts


On the Commercialization of Breast Cancer

After watching “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” in class yesterday, I somehow dislike corporations even more than I already did. The film discussed how companies use breast cancer as a corporate tie-in with their products to promote awareness. Of course, buying their products is just a way of showing your support for awareness. As a natural skeptic these awareness campaigns have always bothered me because I question how much of the funds actually go towards the supposed cause. And as an economics major they bother me because one of the major economics lessons taught is that the main reason anyone goes into business is self-interest for profit maximization- not altruism.

In the past few years, it seems like everyone is in on the breast cancer awareness movement- the NFL, food companies, professional wrestling, comics, even pornographic websites!

Coincidentally enough about a week ago my mother scolded me for throwing out the lids of Yoplait yogurt, which was brought up in the film, and which I eat daily. My response was that I would rather just make a direct donation than have to wash and save garbage just to donate 10 cents. That’s part of the problem though- the amount contributed by participating in “awareness campaigns” is minimal. For example, had I bought ten yogurts at a dollar each and donated every lid, I would have contributed a grand total of one dollar, when I could have just donated the ten dollars directly. Similarly, the NFL donates only $3.54 for every $100 of pink gear purchased on its website. Sure awareness is being spread, but in the end the big winners aren’t the charities but the companies using the tie-ins. People buy these products thinking they’re helping the cause, but the ones who should be the getting the benefits really aren’t.

2007 Atlanta Breast Cancer Walk

That does bring up the point of human emotion though. Many people buy those products or participate in walks because they’re emotionally invested in cancer awareness, and as Julia pointed out in her tweet, don’t deserve to be ridiculed. I know a family friend who participates in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk every year in memory of his mother, who died of breast cancer when he was young, and his recently diagnosed aunt. It would be disrespectful of me to say to him “Hey, you know walking doesn’t actually accomplish much?”

With all that being said I think that it’s up to us, the participants, to decide which campaigns, if any, are worth supporting. We should also start moving away from “awareness” and more towards direct action. It’s more important to take an active role in a cause than to just know about it.

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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in All Posts


Video Assignment #2: Hollaback Rally

Produce a 1-3 minute rally speech as though you are attending a Slutwalk or Hollaback rally in the city that you live in, or country where you/your family are from. Make sure to address the issues facing harassment and/or pornography and violence of that specific location, city, country.

So I chose to use Ecuador as the setting for the rally for two reasons: 1) My father and grandparents were born there; 2) As we discussed Julian Assange in class with Jaclyn Friedman a few days ago, I thought I would incorporate his situation into the video. The video addresses Assange and the fact that he’s been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past few months, safe from extradition by Sweden, and safe from having to face the charges being levied against him.

The idea is that the rally should be a platform for the people of Ecuador to speak out against President Rafael Correa’s decision to grant Assange political asylum. Correa has even gone so far as saying that the charges Assange is being accused of would not be considered a felony in Latin America. The rally should therefore be a way to speak out against Correa’s support for an accused rapist, and for the protesters to support the right of women to live free of sexual harassment and abuse.

The song I used is a cover of the song “You Don’t Own Me”, which I feel was a good representation of independent women announcing that they are free from the usual constraints enforced by men.

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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in All Posts, Video Assignments


Abusive Relationships and Possible Reasons Behind Them

Going through my Twitter feed yesterday, I waded through the seemingly non-stop tweets posted by the Huffington Post and saw an article on Rihanna and Chris Brown, best summed up in its opening line, “Romance rekindled?” I don’t think I need to detail their past history as it’s already pretty well known, but their reunion brought up a question as to why many women not just stay with an abusive partner, but even return after already leaving them. While many people have discussed Brown and abusive relationships before, including Kerishma in a great post a few weeks ago, I thought I’d take a brief look at the psychology behind the decisions of the abused.

In abusive relationships, one of the primary reasons that the abuser stays is traumatic bonding, defined by “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” If media reports are to be believed, the numerous times Rihanna and Brown have supposedly tried to rekindle their romance after the incident of abuse point to strong emotional ties built between the two. Even just the one widely known incident qualifies as harassment and abuse from Brown.

One form of traumatic bonding is known as Stockholm syndrome, wherein hostages express sympathy or otherwise positive feelings for their captors. Named after a kidnapping situation where, coincidentally, three women (and one male) were the hostages, Stockholm syndrome could offer a possible explanation for remaining in abusive relationships. The abuser could be seen as a captor, forcibly maintaining control over their partner, or the hostage while at the same time creating a bond with that person.

Patty Hearst, a well-known victim of Stockholm syndrome (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Then there’s the condition known as battered person syndrome, defined by a repeated cycle of violence in which the abuser usually blames the abused for bringing the violence upon herself, causing the abused to actually believe it’s their own fault. I don’t know if there’s enough evidence (that the public knows of, at least) in Rihanna’s case to use this as a valid explanation, but it is something to consider. However, this could apply to cases similar to Hedda Nussbaum’s, especially when you consider that by her own account she left her house six different times but returned on each occasion.

There are various other possibilities, of course. A few weeks a go I tweeted about a court case where a judge denied a woman her divorce from an abusive husband because he provided for her economically and he felt her children would suffer. I think that we have to be able to look at these cases and not just criticize or ridicule the abused for remaining in or returning to unhealthy relationships, but understand how and why it is that they actually make those conscious decisions.


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in All Posts

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