Archives for March 2010

See Inside Her Soul

See Inside Her Soul

March 5, 2010

In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks;
Live not for the battles won….
We’ve gone from mammies to Secretary of State;
from mommies to Supreme Court Justice; true shades of beauty.
Love hard, and fight strong.

My momma always said, “Be what you want to be Girl,
do what you got to do and always, always be true to you!”
She never told me that sometimes I would have to cook, beans and rice!
Surrendering my soul ain’t sweet when there ain’t no meat to eat.
Can’t bring home the bacon when my rent’s sky high.  Economic injustice!
Can I get two for five?  I’m tired of these part-time dreams and political schemes.
Don’t want the crumbs from your table!  I just want to be able to, LIVE MY LIFE!

Lord, ease these pains because these tears fall, fall like rain.
Aphrodisiac and cognac numb the pain when fist cut my lips like knives.
I feel; I feel sub-jec-ted by this insidious beast and his soft spoken lies.
Fire are your words and they quench my soul.

But I’m still fighting, combat boots by day and high heels by night.
No one knows the strife when you are:  born Black, born Brown, born Girl.
With no definition of beauty, innocence is lost.  But at what cost?
Now her belly’s big and nothing remains the same.  As she speaks to her man, locked away in chains.  Unsuspecting heart, see inside her soul, as she cleans the grease from the stove.

Beans and rice!  The children are hungry!
Just want to be free, free from economic injustice and poverty; don’t want no sympathy.
Like Moses at the parting of the Red Sea, Dear Lord, set the captives free.
There’s a fire in the streets, bullets spray like rain, and her three year old baby ain’t the same; as he was, yesterday.  “Momma why Daddy in so much pain?” and she’s left to explain.  See; see inside her soul as she cleans the grease from the stove.

Been cleaning all day, and she’s so tired.  Still got to go home and cook some
beans and rice.  Working for minimum wage standing on her feet all day her baby’s daddy locked away.  Can’t go home been here too long.  A stranger in a foreign land with no money in her hand living in the land of the free; home of the brave, marching on a Saturday come Friday she might not get pay. See; see inside her soul as she cleans, cleans the grease from the stove.

Educate me, so that I can be free.  Free to make me some money!
Educate me, so that I can be free.  Free from subjection and tyranny!

Yeah I got the right to vote, but you look at me like I’m a joke.
Because I’m born Black, born Brown, born Girl, ain’t easy to be what you want to be in a
Man’s World.  I just want you to see; see inside my soul as I clean the grease from my stove.


(Re)Producing Gender: The Ant Tribe Part II – The Sexless Class

Why are women from rural China, generally, more open about sex? Rather, why are they more inclined to publicly expose their bodies or to trade their sexuality for money or other opportunities? This question that prompted someone to write an op-ed piece based on her experiences growing up in the rural countryside. To this end, she identifies three reasons of various significance: that it is difficult for them to “form positive mentalities,” that life marked by a presence in the lower classes is defined by competition and these women will do what ever it takes to ensure that they have access to the necessary resources, and finally that there is a distinct lack of mechanisms which afford social mobility leaving the body as the only concrete resource that can be traded.

In itself, all of these points offer an ideological platform for some interesting discussions. But the issue is not that these women are or are not geographically inclined toward this type of sexual expression but rather that such actions are occurring outside culturally sanctioned conditions. Particularly, that of marriage.

Such is the threat presented by the women of the Ant Tribe – that since they are already from the country that they just might regress back into their immoral ways. Or, for those who have been successfully refined, that they might never find an appropriate outlet.

According to certain representations in the media, living in an Ant Colony will dramatically reduce any potential for achieving the pinnacle of heterosexual discourse – marriage. And frankly, it probably will.

Internally, the Colonies lack private, personal space in which to perform acts of intimacy appropriately unseen by the community at large – though such expectations of privacy are themselves a relatively new phenomenon brought in the wake of an influx of globalized cultural mores. Such an influx of puritanical sexual values did not take root in a vacuum of expression. Rather they served to reinforce existing and resurgent (yet still somewhat reticent) Confucian values of morality: subservience, modestly, and filial piety.

Issues of being seen or not-seen aside, the current employment climate also creates another condition antagonistic to the social contract of reproduction. Without a valuable and valued job, the male Ants are unable to consume the material trappings needed to secure a spouse. What else could he possibly offer her in this age of commodified desires?

Much of the available work is not the foundation they expect to build their eventual careers upon. It is instead based on an industrial model of care work, i.e. the service industry that has become the true marker of national and economic development. Of course, there are segments of the service industry that prefer masculine employment, but much of the available work is feminized, either through its association with care work or the need for sexualized bodies to serve as a form of advertisement of the commodities being sold.

According to Lian Si, the author of much of the research on the Ants, the primary Ant Colony on the outskirts of Beijing contain many shops, clinics, internet cafes, and hair salons. These are all consistent labor venues to be expected in a community of about 3,000 villagers that has been inundated with over 50,000 migratory Ants seeking work. At the same time, this list of venues has a veiled subtext: in urban areas of China, hair salons are often fronts for brothels.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that all of the women who belong to the Ant Tribe are sex workers. Nor am I saying that some male bodied individuals would not find themselves in similar situations, likely selling to other men.

However, if we take the account of the woman who wrote of her own experiences and accept them as valid, it is reasonable to accept that Ant Tribe women might seek overtly sexual labor as a form of securing income. But where is the line between sexual labor and sexualized labor? Though more subtle, many of the avenues of potential employment for the women of the Ant Tribe require an appearance of a certain level of sexuality to lure customers. This appearance must be of the right variety, for to stray too far from the norm is to become like those bad rural migrants who might seek actual wages from their sexuality rather than wages contingent upon the illusion of it, in one way or another.

The sexuality that is attributed to a rural upbringing, which is actually far more representative of social conditions than geography, threatens established orders of sexual morality. The threat is that these inherently promiscuous women will seduce and somehow taint young men who are in similar conditions. Because clearly it must always be the woman’s fault. In either case, once tainted they may no longer be able to find ‘appropriate’ mates for their future security.

Thus the real worry surrounding the Ant Tribe is not that they might find themselves members of a class without sex but rather a class that is unable to procure sexual property. The worry is that the collective sexuality of the Ants will be like their lives – cheap, anonymous, communal, and temporary.


(Photo Credit: China Hush)

Women and Water: The Women for Water Partnership

The ties between women and water are numerous.  While only some are recognized by mainstream culture or activism, the ways in which women are tied to water are often used as ways to promote the adoption of sustainable water practices.  As gathering, storing, and using water takes up the majority of the day for many women throughout the developing world, they have been put at the forefront of community-driven campaigns for clean water.

While some place women at the forefront of this campaign because water is seen as a domestic issue and therefore a women’s issue, there is much more to the connection between women and water than that.  In some places, women (and children) can spend up to 8 hours a day walking many miles to a clean water source.  Often, this water source is so far away because of effects of climate change, environmental degradation, or the privatization of water.  This can go unnoticed by local authorities because it is seen as a part of the everyday tasks of women.  The impacts and implications of actions taken by governments and by large corporations go unnoticed by those not directly affected by it. Women take notice.

The Women for Water Partnership takes notice.  Based in The Netherlands, the partnership works with women’s organization all over the world – Africa, Europe, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, Asia, and the Middle East.  They work to bridge the gaps between the foreign policy solutions to water management and the on-the-ground women who are expected to carry out those solutions in their day-to-day lives.  Through this work, the Women for Water Partnership also works to empower women to take leadership roles in their communities, especially in regards to water issues in the community. The Partnership works with communities not only to ensure safe drinking water for families but also to educate people about the importance of water conservation.

What is important to note about this organization is that it works as a network of women and water organizations.  The groups doing the work are local organizations working with local people rather than a UN based task force sent in to educate the native peoples about their own water situations without understanding the culture, community structure, or region-specific issues related to water.  The scarcity of water in Uzbekistan is not the same issue as the securing of clean water in India – each region has different issues to face and solutions to create that are dependent on the culture and people of each region.

Charles Kennel discusses the importance of looking at each nation’s issues individually, in a region by region basis, and James Speth and Peter Haas in their book Global Environmental Governance build on that by likening environmental policies (in this case, women and water activism) to jazz. There can be no one model that can be reproduced over and over again, but rather there must be room to improvise and experiment with the methods to find what works best for that nation.

This is what is important when it comes to looking at organizations that work with putting women in charge of water solutions – one method does not work in every instance, in every country.  There must be room for experimentation and discussion among the numerous organizations working in this area.  A network of organizations that can discuss what has worked well and what was not helpful to people in that area is beneficial to finding the best ways to work with women and water – and that network should be made up of people who are a part of the community, not outsiders coming in to help or to preach the best way of doing something.

While a network of communities that reaches around the globe may work towards the good, it can only do so if that network has roots in the communities themselves.  Women have long been oppressed by others, and women of the developing world who are working to create and develop sustainable communities do not need to be oppressed by a colonialist ideology, regardless of its intentions. The parallels between the misuse of water resources and the oppression of women in communities are many, and tie women to water in ways beyond the fact that both are necessary for giving life, or the idea that there is an inherent quality of care-giving and nurturing present in both women and water.  Women are tied to water because both have been exploited and oppressed. Networks such as the Women for Water Partnership are helping to give voice to both women’s empowerment and the scarcity of water resources.


(Image Credit: Women for Water Partnership)


Abstract Space: That Wiley Girl

It always looked like there was a world of trouble in that Wiley girl’s face, well when I first looked at her-like she had gone and swallowed a thunder cloud and she was just waiting to rain, to bend trees, to flood banks, pick up cars with her small storm hands.

You know that Wiley girl I gathered had not always been like that-somewhere I did sums in my head and figured that something must have hit her that way-like some boulder found her playing in the road, playing in her scuffed jeans with the marbles in the pockets and the boulder rolled over her-and the sky turned for that Wiley girl, knocked her off her feet, flattened her, made her eyes open, made her eyes still and staring and she was trying to breathe she knows, just trying to breathe.

That Wiley girl liked praying before she knew how to stare, to stay still. She was a good Catholic girl-kneeling at the foot of her bed, praying for her sister, her mother and father, her grandparents-the people that had had no supper that night, the animals in the cold. She prayed with her small hands pressed together. The good Catholic girl who couldn’t wait to get her knickers off and commune with heavenly bodies, to sing different hallelujahs, scream different hallelujahs, she prayed not knowing that, never imaging that…while the prayer above her head spoke of shepherds and sheep and being watched over.

She liked to make people laugh before the boulder-liked to dress up and play at being other people-she would do shows in the living room, and the living room was a theatre and her family would laugh till tears streamed down their faces. Yes, that Wiley girl was a clown, even with her small feet and she was always funny. She liked herself she knew, knew she was brave, knew that she could do anything if she wanted to, she could be that fireman, that lawyer, or doctor, or the policeman with a gun at her hip.

She liked to swing on swings standing up, as high as she could go, as the sun was setting and then she would leap off, she had no idea where she would land, or if she would break something, but she liked flying-liked the way the pulsing orange sun felt so close as it slipped under the horizon, as if she had something to do with its leaving and its returning. As if she had made it go and she would make it come back.

Someone she loved in her family, loved like a child would their father-some fathers-the fathers that are kind and swing you around in their arms till the scenery blurs and it is a nice kind of dizzy-the fathers that put you high up on their shoulders and that Wiley girl would always ask this one she loved -please swing me around again. She was still small then, little then. The one she loved took her to a hill-told her how to do it, showed her how to do it, to make things rise in him-told her about light and light years, showed her how to take her knickers off and what was between her legs-and she had never looked, never felt-much of anything at all, like that, that way. She never breathed, lay like some frozen wooden thing-and she makes it up this way. Maybe she was very much older and he was some guy, someone-she had liked, and he took her driving in his car, got her in the backseat and she didn’t mind-she makes it like this to take the first breath that makes her shiver that makes her shake like she will never be warm- in that purple morning light-and he is in bed asleep for hours now and she was just staring-and not moving it was just a bed, a dark room, the smell and taste of beer in her mouth, other smells she never knew about and her lips chapped, kissed to bleeding at the corners of her mouth, no hills no car no liking-but something about dead stars.

That Wiley girl she takes up smoking because it is something to breathe. She smokes when she can, on the sly, out of her bedroom window-at the parks where she doesn’t swing anymore and she ain’t eleven yet. She smokes to forget, to feel grown up, the adulterated thing she now is, she smokes to bear.

She took that prayer off of her wall, put the rosary beads away, somewhere at the back of her cupboard-with the most dust…she never wants to go back there, but she wants to with all of her heart, back then, just for it to be how it was before, the same like before.

She gives all of her toys away. She says goodbye to them first, turning them in her hands, giving them a proper send off, someone else will make better use of them she thinks. She wears a denim jacket, with skulls and ugly bare things sewn on it-she talks tough like nothing would hurt her.

She fucks every village idiot that looks at her that way-in storm water drains so that the neighbours don’t see-she wants to take something back, and she doesn’t know what it is, but she is thinking if she is hurt it will make sense-the dark room, that she will come back gasping and screaming and be back in her body again. Then she would make the sun rise and set again and she would leap off swings. She doesn’t know if the village is talking, but she feels it is talking, pointing fingers, whispering and the lines are alive with hate for her and God likes to engulf her in damning flames, where all of the wrath she read about in the Bible is visited upon her. She never goes to church anymore but she has to confess at school, the school with the nuns and the priest once a month waiting for confessions, and she is hearing choirs and the hallelujahs and hymns again as she confesses to anything but that. And where is your rosary my child— but Father you know I forgot it.

There are others in her family that are this way-all these ugly older men, just waiting for something to fall down rotten. And the fingers are inside of her and she is trying to feel pretty-pretty in secrets, pretty in you can never tell. Jesus looking down on her from the wall in her grandmother’s house and he says while he puts her hand around him where no one will see, that we will burn in hell together-you who tempts me-you who does this to me-you who makes me do this-she can’t help coming————sometimes, a body is just a body that Wiley girl is thinking-nothing to feel inside of her anymore anyway and she hangs her head, hangs her body from ropes strong enough-in her mind– plagued by shame and guilt. She hangs it till it kicks no more.

She runs away often-to some place she thinks is sanctuary, was sanctuary once, to escape the village that turns this way around her now, like some bicycle wheel just spinning in the road, some bicycle she just left there while speeding down a hill and jumped off halfway to something else.

On the road and on the way she is forced to commune violently with a body so heavy it rips a hole in her-this time she ain’t freezing-this time she is howling-screaming begging-and the heavenly body clamps her mouth shut-tells her to shut it, to shut up and his fat hands are wet with her tears, wet with the screaming she isn’t screaming. She is alone after that, running the rest of the way to the sanctuary and it has shipped out, moved on—half empty and packed and she leans in the doorways smoking, trying not to think about being held, consoled.

The hole in her now makes her want to vomit, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t eat, and the doctors look at X-rays and tell her mother that she is too young for surgery-it is tricky at the best of times to fix that kind of tear, they say, so they say. No one knows but her, who put the hole in her-she loses weight, loses weight.

There are some kind people in her family, one who asks why she never smiles anymore-and where did that laughing clown go and what is all this skin and bone you have become? That Wiley girl who is now thirteen years old, trusts a little-still; maybe this one would make it stop, would make all of this go away. She tells of one thing, just one thing. The kind one is threatening murder, saying oh I will kill him-I will kill him! The Wiley girl becomes afraid, what has she done? The kind one says maybe it is not her place, to interfere, but she will do something-call upon the one who would care the most.

So the Wiley girl is hearing words like whore and slut and it was all lies, all of it. The Wiley girl she hangs on ropes strong enough again-but she was dead already and how would she hang a body that was already dead? She sits in her room, holding on to her knees-her legs with her arms, trying to rock herself, but there ain’t no comfort, none at all.

The other older ugly man is getting religious on her again, saying she will burn, he will burn. She wonders which side of the bed the aunt sleeps on-and that Wiley girl is climbing the steps to heaven, growing wings as he tries to get in her, get in her get in her-and she would snap pencils in half she knows with her teeth, she would bite down on her lips, with tears streaming down her face-she would lie forsaken in hell and in limbo forever.

She goes to church once more. She brings her other loud billowing aunt with her-told her she wanted to go to confession-not the confessional at school, but the real one in the church. Her other aunt asks if she has her rosary with her and that Wiley girl says yes. Her aunt says honey to her sometimes-and she says Honey it is your turn now.

The confessional smells like old wood like old wringing sweating hands confessing, saying sorry for being alive, always saying sorry. The priest slides the screen open. That Wiley girl can see the priest’s old face through tiny black holes.

She say Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been————since my last confession. She tells the priest about committing profane sexual acts with a man-with men. The priest says in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit…He gives her her penance.The priest doesn’t hear that her voice is the voice of a child. She has to say the whole rosary, says it in a back pew while her other aunt sits in front looking upward at the cross, praying silently. And that Wiley girl’s fingers are slipping and sliding over the rosary beads. The icons look upon her with grace, she must think, but she never knows grace, never knows mercy.

She leaves the Convent school, goes to some normal place without any nuns. The children there mock her because she is always so serious, sometimes, God she does laugh, sometimes, but mostly she is trying not to move, trying not to feel. They throw books at her, to try and get a reaction out of her. When the book hits her head hard enough she does cry, is that the reaction they wanted-from that Wiley girl, you know is that enough, got what you want now?

The ugly men don’t go away and she ain’t fucking no village idiots anymore-cause that never did bring her back-just the old ugly men, in her family, the men with nothing in them that put nothing in her.

One teacher won’t leave her alone, thinks she is stupid or slow or something-or you could do so much better, what is wrong with you, wrong WITH YOU-that Wiley girl she is all hard and cold when people want to dig in her-she says why don’t you tell me, ain’t nothing wrong..tells her without telling her that she could press a gun to her head and pull the trigger, be done with herself, blow herself away and she is sorry so fucking sorry that she won’t feel the next bullet and the next one, like it would take some automatic rifle- but she doesn’t tell the teacher that, what does that stupid girl do-she trusts, dig in her enough, dig kind and she will maybe say something real. The teacher arranges stuff-psychologists because she is really thinking there is something crooked in her, for her to tell lies like that-tells her like it is a fact, looks deep into that Wiley girl’s eyes at fourteen years old and tells her you will grow up into a sick and twisted adult.

That Wiley girl she still tries to walk with her back straight. She is still gentle-still kind to others, like it was some elusive holy grail to stay beautiful,to have compassion and empathy somewhere deep inside. She is never kind to herself.

To feel clean, to feel anything at all for herself, to punish herself she has to cut her arms to shreds, as if she were in a trance-deeper deeper, and she ain’t never seen so much blood, like she was slaughtering herself,and for a little while she feels alive, euphoric and she cleans herself up afterwards, sometimes her mother does with some kind of frantic look in her eyes-that look back at the Wiley girl’s dead eyes. She is never held, but her bones seem to ache, for that. Only the ugly old men hold her————— down. Tell her things like I got some animal instinct to fuck you, and another saying you are my girl, would just die without you…though I will burn.

At seventeen there was a car on a hill, one with fake leather seats and cruise control and the one who couldn’t live without her-finally getting what he wanted-cause he was always saying you just aren’t big enough and I don’t really want to hurt you, don’t really want to make you cry———-my girl. She gave no more to him, could give mo more to him, one last attempt to save her life and she said to him if you touch me again I will kill you. He ain’t looking so brave no more, he is looking worried, looking scared, like some small withered thing-that the secret would be out, that she would go on a path that would ruin him, that really would throw him in hell. He feels his ulcers flare up, like he made the Wiley girl’s ulcers flare up all those years.

But she be older now, of consensual age-and he really had nothing to worry about-how would it be proved and the village would cry whore you know, my girl.

But he never tries to touch her again, to get in her again. She doesn’t ruin him, ruin them, she thinks about the others it would hurt-and it wasn’t their fault.

That Wiley girl she grows up old, grows up sad, and on her knees, she makes mistakes, so many mistakes, she loses and loses, she gains, she loves and she loves and she loves, she tries to forget, she still tries not to feel, but still she cries. She wonders what it would be like to really not be here-you know that peace, the bliss that is spoken of, the thing that carries you away and heals you.

She looks at the scars on her arms the old faded scars and doesn’t mind them much. Lives with them, contemplates them. But she doesn’t want to just live with them, she wants to celebrate them, sometimes, she tries to celebrate them, maybe she has always tried.

What love would it take, and how many years would she wait for that love-till she was very old, till she was middle aged when when when, when would all of this be beautiful?

And the Wiley girl, and I we look at each other one day-you know all the distance we went and the way we were split into two into three four maybe six ways from Sunday and all that singing Hallelujah and singing hymns and she tries not to scream-puts her hands to her mouth, stuffs her fists into her mouth and feels tears run through her fingers-and you think I am still talking simple, maybe I am talking like rain and that thunder behind the windows, in front of the windows,blows this place apart till me and Wiley we can’t see no more, see no more and her bones and my bones dislocate come undone and where is Wiley going to put this crying for her for me where is she going to fit it, where is it going to go and will she die, and she is forgiving, forgiving forgiving and is she dying, she stuffs her storm fists deeper into her mouth, bends over, curls up, her eyes are not big enough big enough big enough and you think I am talking simple SIMPLE SIMPLE like I was stupid or something like I was talking funny but I is TALKING LIKE RAIN, LIKE rain like rain like rain, rain rain rain.


(Re)Producing Gender: The Ant Tribe

Her mother had worked in a factory. When the factory relocated, her home had gone with it. With nowhere else to turn, the mother moved into her daughter’s college dorm room. Through delayed payments and loans, the daughter was able to finish her education. She was able to get a couple of jobs, here and there, all temporary. She decided to go back to school, partially with the hopes that again her mother would be able to share the room as her health was deteriorating. The school refused. In December, the young graduate student killed herself.

But that is only part of the story. She is a member of the Ant Tribe.

This new tribe has been “discovered” in China, living in the capital city of Beijing. They are not marked by Orientalist caricatures like the other Nationalities (a euphemism for various ethnicities living in China). Indeed they are seemingly invisible. They are the Ant Tribe – a new term coined by Lian Si, a post-doctoral fellow at Beijing University, to describe an educated generation of anonymous workers in their 20’s, living and working in incredibly small and cramped quarters, also know as “colonies.” The Ants represent the latest generation of college-educated adults, and, like their US generational counterparts, they are largely unemployed.

Moreover, they are migrants. Nearly all of the members of the Ant Tribe have left their homes in the rural reaches of the nation in search of an education. Like their little sisters, they flow from potential job to potential job in search of the job that was said to await them. These jobs promised to withdraw all of the knowledge that had been deposited over the years of education. Maybe it would even pay interest. And like their sisters, they inserted themselves into a mechanized factory of production where they might become the citizens of consumption demanded by the market, the type of citizens that might become members of the emergent middle classes. Such citizenship would mean never having to return to the backwards ways of the village. They could become modern.

There is, however, a key difference between the dagongmei and the Ant Tribe. Though they are both described as flows, the former are imagined to be a class of undesirable migrants, a plague that descends upon an industrial center that threatens to contaminate the area with their unrefined presence. Conversely the Ants are trying to do something that will ‘actually’ benefit society.

In all this, Lian Si seems to neglect gender. Like actual ants, in his mind there is little to tell them apart from one another.

The reach of the impact that the Ant Tribe will have on the social and political landscape is not limited to their recent emergence. They are also some of the first children born under the One-Child Policy. As such,  they have a perspective that is completely different from that of their elders, and they are faced with a different set of responsibilities – particularly the most important responsibility of elder care.

In the past, Confucian tradition dictated that sons ensure that the needs of their parents were met, since daughters would join her husband’s family and shoulder the primary burden of caring for his parents. With the advent of the One-Child Policy, the government began an aggressive campaign to foster the belief that daughters were just as valuable as sons, that they could still be able to care for their own parents after they got married. And the daughters believed it. They were encouraged to pursue realms previously inaccessible, such as education and careers, rather than be brought up on the premise that their primary social function was that of reproduction. While there are those in the US and elsewhere in the Global North who would demonize the policy for its strict controls over bodily autonomy (and often failing to turn that same gaze upon their own social systems), many woman who now comprise the Ant Tribe view the policy as integral to their own personal achievements. Where their mothers were told that they were responsible for holding up half the sky, the daughters thought that they actually could.

Despite all this, these women are still held within a rigid construct of feminine performance and presence. Part of this is domestic labor. Many of their parents had already sacrificed their savings so that their child could get the chance at social mobility, either through factories or universities. The daughters felt that they needed to be able to care for their parents, since they were getting older. And then there weren’t any jobs to be had.

Some did what they could, like the young graduate student. Sometimes it just isn’t enough. While members of the Ant Tribe struggle to provide support themselves, their roommates, and their families, Chinese bloggers fear that these young individuals will not be able to find someone to marry, since marriage is conditional on having privacy between partners and on the idea that the husband will be able to support his wife. Without marriage there can be no reproduction and without reproduction there will be no one to care for them as they age. In a move common to US beliefs about poverty, a hostess of a day-time talk show asked several female Ants if they had considered marriage as a pathway out of their condition. It is perhaps telling that none of the women thought that was a possibility.

In the next article, The Sexless Class, I will explore the shift from revolutionary comrades to gendered partners and how this relates to the anxiety over the sexual capacities of the Ant Tribe. Until then, I welcome any insight, thoughts, or questions on the topic.


(Photo Credit: ChinaHush)

Ultimate responsibility for the ordinary

On May 22, 2009, a fire broke out in the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, in Alexandria, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. Seven girls were burned to death. Five died the night of the fire: Ann-Marie Samuels, Nerrissa King, and Rachael King, all 16 years old; and Kaychell Nelson and Shauna-Lee Kerr, both 15. Later, two more died from the fire: Georgina Saunders, 16, Stephanie Smith, 17.

There were 23 girls in a small space. Sixteen managed to crawl through the fire, to the narrow windows, and out.

Armadale was shut down. An inquiry was launched. The Armadale Enquiry Commission met for over nine months. Its report roundly condemns the government. The fire was set by a spark from a tear gas canister, tossed in the room by a guard. The straw bedding ignited.

On March 2, 2010, Prime Minister Bruce Golding reported to Parliament. The Jamaican press reports that the government “accepts `ultimate responsibility’ for Armadale.” Advocates on all sides debate the government response.

In his remarks, the Prime Minister, not surprisingly, frames the story as tragedy. He opens with tragedy: “The report of the Commission of Enquiry into the tragedy that occurred at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre on May 22, 2009 is being tabled in the House today.”

He closes with tragedy: “The awful tragedy that occurred at Armadale should not have been allowed to happen. We must ensure that no such tragedy ever again occurs. Some wards of our juvenile correctional institutions have turned out to be exceptionally good and successful adults. We must strive to ensure that they are not the exception but become the norm.”

He articulates `ultimate responsibility’ as a function of tragedy: “While public officers must be held accountable for the discharge of their duties, the government must accept ultimate responsibility for the circumstances that led to the Armadale tragedy and for the inadequate facilities provided to care for children who are placed in juvenile correctional or remand facilities. Resource constraints do impose a heavy burden on public officers who work in these facilities but it cannot explain or excuse negligence or inertia.”

What exactly is the tragedy here, and how is ultimate responsibility to be understood?

Almost one hundred years ago, there was another fire, women killed, tragedy invoked.

March 25, 1911: “Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.”

What happened that Saturday, in New York City? When the fire struck, the workers, almost all women, almost all recent immigrants, ran to the fire exits and found them locked, rushed to the windows only to find that the ladders and the water hoses didn’t reach that high. The young women then decided … to die by the flame or to leap and die in the fall. Who had decided to build such tall buildings? Who had decided to lock the doors?

The Triangle fire had been replayed as tragedy, as destiny, as horror story, as political catalyst. Now it would be examined once more, as a question of justice: Was it right to hold anyone personally responsible? And if it was right, was it possible?”

There is no distance in time or miles between the 1911 Triangle Waist Factory, New York, fire, and the 2009 Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, St Ann Parish, one. What, then, is the tragedy; is it possible to hold anyone responsible?

If women are locked in, sooner or later the fires will kill them. If women are forced into overcrowded spaces, sooner or later the fires will kill them. How can planned death be accidental? How can a horrible event that is not destined but rather designed by human beings and perfectly obvious in its detail, how exactly can that event be called a tragedy?

The nobility of the tragic that was so quickly, so easily painted across the face of these two events is a means of obscuring their ordinariness. And it is the ordinariness of the deaths at Armadale and at Triangle that haunts. These are stories of the ways in which death sentences are imposed on women workers, on women prisoners, on women.

Someone was meant to die at Armadale, and that someone was meant to be a young woman, a girl. Which girl, how many girls, remained open. But someone was meant to die there, in a fire. And someone did. And she was a young woman, a girl. And absolutely no one can claim ultimate responsibility for that until they have transformed the everyday world of ordinary women and girls in which women are the fastest growing prison population, and women are the majority of sweatshop workers.


(Photo Credit: Armadale: Children on Fire // UNICEF Jamaica / YouTube)