It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.
So, without further ado…
Here’s Emily Heroy of Gender Across Borders!
Emily Heroy is the Executive Editor and a founder of Gender Across Borders, an international feminist community and global feminist blog, created in April 2009 out of her interest in international development work and feminism. In this community, issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class are discussed and critically examined. It embraces people of all backgrounds to come together to voice and progress positive gender relations worldwide. In March 2011, Emily was named one of the top 100 ”most inspiring people delivering for girls and women ” from the NGO Women Deliver.
Gender Across Borders is an acclaimed blog that suggests gender relations can be progressed worldwide through critical inquiry. Admirably, it is particularly aware of its position of privilege as from the dominant, US perspective. Can you talk a little about why you started the blog and why this awareness is especially important?
This blog was started back in April 2009, when there were no feminist blogs dedicated to highlighting international issues. It is extremely important for us, as global feminists, to continually acknowledge privilege in the fight for gender equality. Not only does it not only engage more with international readers, but we don’t want our U.S. readers to be in the dark about the position of power we have.
Gender and sexuality based oppressions are intersectional ones and often locate themselves within other forms of oppressions such as race/ class/ ability. How do you think your work in Global Feminism and broadening western feminist perspectives can help advance discussions about addressing inequality abroad// inform foreign aid campaigns.
Gender and sexuality cannot be discussed without addressing issues of race/class/ability/religion/etc. When it comes down to it, feminists want equality for all. However many movements have failed to address intersectionality. For example, the Feminist movement in the 1970s and even today ignored and continue to ignore black women’s rights—and this implies inequality. That’s why we talk about other issues that feminists face on GAB—racism, classism, ableism, immigrant rights, etc. Without discussing these forms of oppression, we’re putting feminism on a pedestal and saying that all other movements and issues aren’t as important.
Some western feminists seem to think that feminist issues outside of the U.S. aren’t as important local feminist issues. At GAB we’re trying to show that gender issues live “across borders.” For example, my issue of abortion rights in the U.S. may vary in content from a Moroccan woman’s issue of economic power, but we’re both dealing with a similar kind of inequality because of our gender. Solutions to our problems will not be the same, but just like intersectionality, we have to be inclusive in our end goal: equality for all.
Are your personal experiences and identity important to your activism? Can you speak a little more as to how or why?
I am a white upper-class woman from the U.S. My family traveled a lot when I was younger—Egypt, Morocco, Czech Republic, Germany, France, England, Italy, Austria, etc. From that I got a sense of cultural awareness– something that I realize not many Americans have (because of lack of funds) or value. My family is somewhat politically middle-of-the-road but more importantly, fiscally conservative. I think that because of this, I didn’t have a sense of politics until I got to college in 2003.
Once I got to college, after a year or so, I declared my major in Gender and Sexuality studies and declared myself a feminist. I interned at small nonprofits in New York City (where I went to college) where I could work with underprivileged girls. I wanted to combine my interest in international cultures and feminism—so I traveled abroad in the summers between my years in college doing international volunteer work in India, Brazil, Peru, and Thailand—mostly working with women and children. After college, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps in Morocco to further my interest in international development and feminism.
I don’t think I would identify as a “global feminist” had I not had these experiences both abroad and in the U.S. Working with different groups of women and girls, those who are less privileged than I am, put my own experiences into perspective.
How has technology helped with your activism? Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching/ global in fact necessary marginalises certain groups? How can we address this?
Technology has helped with my activism—I’m able to connect with other feminists around the globe more easily. I want to also stress that blogging is not activism—it does spark change and can grow into activism, but it is not activism in it and of itself.
I do agree that technology is an economic privilege. While almost everywhere, for the most part, is connected to the internet—it certainly doesn’t mean everyone is able to use the internet. Especially in underdeveloped countries, the majority of people using the internet are men, because after all in these countries, families cannot afford computers at home or internet connectivity. There are internet cafes all around—which are great, don’t get me wrong, but some women in these countries just don’t go out of the house very much. Or many countries have issues with power—power is not reliable and goes off frequently. Or they don’t know how to use a computer.
Some of these problems can be answered with better infrastructure—countries don’t have the money to spend or the politicians to implement developing a more internet-accessible country.
We’ve recently faced many challenges to our right to reproductive justice – but this is a fight that’s remained largely US centric – how do you feel about the dominant perspectives of feminist activists nowadays? Do you feel they are limited?
I think there are a few feminists out there who think that one issue trumps the other. Reproductive justice is currently being attacked from just about everywhere in the U.S.—from Republicans and Democrats, to prolife interest groups to evangelical Christians, which is why it’s the center of the movement here, and I understand that we as feminists must band together to defend our reproductive rights, but there are so many equally important issues and problems at stake in terms of gender equality. As feminists in the U.S., we need to make every issue important and at the forefront of feminism. I feel like we are only limited because of what we limit ourselves—we need to branch out to other people and other groups to let them speak, discuss, and voice their opinions on gender equality.
We at Where Is Your Line are all about sex positive education and consent – and hope to continue disseminating our message internationally. But cultural relativity can be tricky when it comes to issues of sexuality. What are your thoughts?
I agree—cultural relativity can be very tricky in terms of talking about sexuality. I remember back when I was living with Morocco a few years ago, some Peace Corps volunteers had organized a women’s health seminar where they went around to local villages telling them about safe sex. Because of the social conservative culture, all men were asked to leave the room during the seminar and we weren’t allowed to hand out condoms to the women. How do you promote positive sex education without handing out condoms? The least we could do was discuss condoms and tell them how they worked and why they should use them. Not the best sex education, but in this instance, women were very curious about condoms as most of them had never used them or knew what they were. I’d like to think that bringing up the issue of safe sex allowed for some sort of acceptance that condoms were okay, even in a small conservative village in Morocco.
But when it comes down to it, the way you approach sexuality in the U.S. is very different from approaching sexuality in other countries and cultures. Being cognizant of the culture is first and foremost when teaching about positive sex—for example, in Morocco, some women expressed that they didn’t want to have as many kids as their mothers did. We used that to our advantage—in telling them that condoms also prevent pregnancy. But I also think that there are limitations within conservative cultures, and you can’t overstep that boundary.
How can we best continue to raise awareness of a global feminist perspective in this age where information can be too overwhelming and people have more of an eye towards home?
There’s more to global feminism than technology—which, with the internet, makes the dissemination of information very overwhelming. We can truly raise awareness of global feminism with discussions between people, face-to-face. While much of this discussion happens online, it’s important to take this discussion offline—connecting at a local level, and relating how these local feminist issues are similar to the broader feminist movement internationally. How do we expect to achieve gender equality without banding together with women across the globe?