Addressing Our Global Crisis Of Disconnection

This blog post was originally written for and published in Akasha Innovation, a social enterprise that aims to prepare and empower young changemakers to become future sustainability leaders. Go check out their amazing work and be ready to become inspired!

While completing my social entrepreneurship minor at Hult IBS, I had the opportunity to take a class with Akasha’s Chief Innovation Officer Mike Edwards about the global environmental crisis and sustainability. With his open-ended assignments, he genuinely encouraged us to find our passions and seek ways to speak our truths. In one of the assignments, I decided to write for him about a realisation I had in that school term because of his class and my work as a facilitator (or teaching assistant, as it is called): our global crisis of disconnection.

But disconnection from what exactly? Most people argue this is the most connected we have ever been given the many ways (fastest methods of transportation, the Internet and other technologies) that we can connect to each other and to the world in this globalised era.

And perhaps, this is true. But I am talking about the global crisis of disconnection from nature and from each other that has reached its peak in the past few years. This disconnection has proven to be lethal, as it has worsened climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.

To radically transform our current state of disconnection, we need to get to the roots of the problem. What is causing this disconnection? How is this disconnection affecting us? And once we find those answers, we need to envision a viable solution.

Disconnection is one of the critical symptoms we suffer from by living in a system that alienates us from nature, our food and our communities. Marx and Engels tell us that alienation happens when individuals become estranged and detached from the world in which they live in. Consumers are alienated from the source of the products they buy because they rely on factories that abuse the land and other creatures to satisfy our needs. Businesses dehumanise people and exploit their labour in several countries of ‘the Global South’.

This alienation and the subsequent disconnection from nature and from each other has been furthered in our society by a history of uneven power relations and linear modes of production. Can you guess what I’m talking about by now?

Capitalism

That’s what we thought too. Credit: http://futureconomy.com

Our capitalist society and its never-ending need to consume has normalised the belief that everything is disposable. A thing that is disposable can be thrown away after use – similarly, a disposable person is considered to be owned and ready to be dismissed when the service is done. A culture of disposability enables linear modes of thought and action. Capitalism reproduces this linear model in two ways. Firstly, it promotes a society that likes to waste resources rather than preserving, recycling and reusing. Secondly, privileges a business model that dehumanises people and sees them as disposable and replaceable, rather than seeing them as whole persons with dignity and rights.

Not surprisingly though, this disposable culture that breeds disconnection from nature and each other has injected itself into every aspect of our lives – especially and most disturbingly, in the education system.

Over the decades, capitalism, has transformed the purpose of education and the ways we educate our children and youngsters. Henry Giroux explains that the purpose of education is to preserve our capitalist order by corporatising education. If individuals internalise corporate interests through the banking model of education, they will become subjects that fit within the mainstream cultural (corporate) norms of our society of economic growth and consumerism. This purpose is achieved by implementing pedagogical strategies such as the ‘the banking system’ of education.

Paulo Freire, considered one of the founding fathers of critical pedagogy, describes some of the features of this new ‘banking system’ of education in his book, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’:

  • It reproduces dichotomies such as teacher/student, active/passive, literate/illiterate, domineering/submissive and so on because of the positionality and power dynamics between teacher and student.
  • The teachers, the ones that possess the knowledge that the students ‘need’ to know, assume the role of a narrator that explains the students about the world outside the classroom.
  • The students become passive recipients that are supposed to fill their “empty heads” with the knowledge provided by the teacher. They become listeners that are completely disengaged and disconnected from the reality the teacher is supposed to be teaching them about.
  • The teacher  is considered to be a powerful and knowledgeable authority while the students are considered to be completely ignorant. This dehumanises the students by deeming them incapable of providing any kind of knowledge to the classroom.
  • The students exist to memorise, repeat and accept the information being taught without questioning or challenging it. As a result, they are left without understanding how this imparted “knowledge” is useful for them.
  • The teachers are better teachers the more they fill the students’ empty brains with information that they will memorise and repeat in a test. The more the students agree to accept this information and repeat it in the test, the better students they are.

The banking system of education is preventing learners from becoming agents of environmental and social change because of its lack of inquiry of practices, discourses and identities that we consider ‘normal’. 

The current environmental education content being taught in schools suffers from the narration sickness inherent in the banking system of education. Not only do students not get to experience the environment they are learning about (which means they learn out of context); but also, environmental education has become descriptive and passive. It focuses mostly on the description of our ecosystem’s processes in isolation from one another, reflecting the way we try to address environmental crises and its causes.

This banking model of education perpetuates social oppression and inequality since it is favoured against a model that aims for the liberation of oppressed groups of people such as queer pedagogy and critical pedagogy. To quote Henry Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy, the neoliberal education system “strips education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to the logic of privatisation, efficiency, flexibility, the accumulation of capital, and the destruction of the social state”. 

Since everyone can be a learner and an educator at the same time, how do you address our global crisis of disconnection? We need a revolutionary and vibrant form of education. By applying the principles of ecology (the language of nature) such as systems thinking, networks, cycles, interdependence and diversity to the way we teach and school curricula; we can achieve a truly sustainable change in education that will make us ‘see the world anew’. Fritjof Capra explains in ‘Ecological Literacy that in order to use resources and treat people in a way that does not compromise the ‘needs and aspirations’ of future generations, we need to imitate how sustainable natural ecosystems work.

Modeling the school curriculum and our pedagogical strategies on the principles of ecology allows us to understand the importance of connectedness, relationships, context and resilience. Education for sustainable communities teaches us to see environmental and social issues as a whole and not as isolated issues that have different causes and effects. It disrupts the teacher/student dichotomy by bringing equality to the classroom where everyone is both a learner and an educator. It teaches that when you get knocked down, you gotta get up again’ because that’s the essence of nature: rebirth, growth and transformation.

Current educators, leaders, business people, organisations, institutions and governments need to revolutionise education for it to challenge the environmental and social crises that are detrimental to the needs and aspirations of future generations.


If you want to support Akasha Innovation and its wonderful Young Pioneers Programme, please contribute to their kickstarter campaign here. It is of utmost important that we take steps towards a better future, and Akasha is doing just that by guiding young changemakers to become the change they wish to see in this world! Please contribute, these are the best people I know 🙂 ❤

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Street Harassment: Not Asking For It

This post does not imply that harassment only happens between men and women. Everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, class, or race can experience harassment. Street harassment happens between all groups and all groups have different experiences with it depending on their intersecting identities. Even though men do experience harassment, women (both cis and trans) and other subordinate groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community are more vulnerable to it, which is why this post focuses on such experiences and my experiences on harassment by men.

One of the most vivid memories I have as a child is, sadly, a really bitter one. When I was around 9 or 10, I remember being at one of the many beautiful beaches of La Isla de Margarita, a wonderful small island in the north-east of my country, on a family vacation. My mum and I decided to take a walk along the beach. Because I normally went to these beaches with my grandparents while my parents worked, I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.

Every time I walked alone with my mum I felt uncomfortable, fearful and in danger. This time, my emotions were exacerbated by the fact that she was wearing a tiny bikini that accentuated her best attributes. My mum is and has always been very coqueta and this was something that bothered me a lot because I believed it was the reason behind the cat-calls she always got.

“Mami, tu si estás rica!”

*whistles*

*blowing kisses*

Mira ese _____ y esas ______*

*turns around*

*licks his lips*

Me blaming my mother for the behaviour of these men was my internalised sexism, a product of my socialisation growing up female in Latin America (among other things like religious education, machismo culture, and so on). This was almost like slut-shaming her indirectly. This was my 9 or 10 years old self perpetuating rape culture. I always got angry at her because I thought that she put herself in danger (and when I was with her, I was in danger too) because of the way she decided to dress. In my head, those men were sort of guilt-free.

Ugh. Silly me.

I always asked her if the street and sexual harassment she faced bothered her and her answer was always a fake “no”. I thought to myself, “if it doesn’t bother her, how come she never smiles or takes these comments as compliments, but instead she walks faster and her facial expression becomes inscrutable?”. 

Of course it bothered her, she was being harassed.

Credit: stopstreetharassment.org

Cat-calling is just one form of street harassment. The organisation Stop Street Harassment defines it as:

Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.

Street harassment is so diverse, it ranges from leering, assaulting, whistling, flashing, masturbating in public, stalking, groping, cat-calling and much more. It is very scary.

Street harassment, which is one form of sexual harassment, perpetuates rape culture. This is important to mention because a lot of people believe that street harassment is only about unwanted attention and compliments, but it actually is about reinforcing power dynamics and the status quo. And this is at the core of rape culture. The dominant group, through street harassment, sexual harassment or rape, reminds the subordinate group where they supposedly belong (in the private sphere) and how vulnerable they are (in the public sphere). The subordinate group suffers street harassment fuelled with sexism, racism, ableism, transmisogyny, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, classism, sizeism and more depending on their identity.

This dichotomy of the private/public = dominant/subordinate = normative/non-normative is constructed because of gender policingwhich functions to delegitimise and devalue the gender identity and/or expression of the individual being harassed. Spaces are policed because spaces are gendered. Historically, the public has been constructed as a masculine space and the private as a feminine one. So, when women are in the masculine public space, they are vulnerable to assault, violence and punishment because it is supposedly non-normative for them to be there.

If we translate this into a day-to-day and more up to date situation, we can understand how the dichotomies help explain power relations and how harassment works. In a society that values virginity over sexual liberation for women; where the gender binary, rigid gender roles and expressions and heteronormativity at the expense of queer and trans* folks; where being white is seen as more legitimate than being black, hispanic, asian or indigenous; where being wealthy means having more social advantages over people struggling with poverty; where people who are closer to unachievable beauty standards are considered more beautiful, smart, capable and much more than people that are fat, have stretch marks, small boobs, no thigh gaps and so on; where people with disabilities are somehow only worth the pity and awkwardness of those who do not have a disability – those that are on the receiving end of street harassment are considered non-normative identities and bodies that need to be policed and punished to not threaten the normative status quo.

This happens because we construct our identities based on what we are not: “I am what I am not”. And to define what we are not, we have to police the boundaries of what we are. “I am a man so I must not act like a woman” – BOOM! Gender policing at its finest.

Gender Policing Hurts Everyone and Contributes To Our Culture of Harassment. Credit: soul-gender.tumblr.com

Until I experienced street harassment myself, I kept blaming my mum and the way she dressed for the behaviour of these men. I noticed that even though I dressed differently, was younger and did not have my mum’s body, I got harassed too. That’s when I understood that it was not my mum’s or my fault to be objectified in this way – it is the cultural sickness of rape culture. And once I had that realisation, I felt helpless, vulnerable and sexually objectified.

Sexual objectification happens when a person is robbed of their desires, autonomy and dignity by being dehumanised, treated and seen merely as an object of sexual pleasure. This stems from the dichotomies of self/other, us/them, subject/object, mind/body. In our society, men are the sovereign subjects while women are the Other, the objects of men’s desires. As men represent the mind, women are reduced to their bodies which are often objectified, commodified and sexualised on a daily basis.

The feeling of helplessness, vulnerability, dehumanisation, indignity, filthiness, anger and fear that comes from the sexual objectification inherent in street harassment, while paralysing me, often feels like a call to action. Every time I face street harassment, I wish I could slap the attacker on the face for making me feel like less of a person than him. I wish I could ask him if he would like his mother, sisters or daughters to be reminded by strangers of the oppression and violence women have to face on a daily basis. I wish I could scream back at the harassers that my body is not for their entertainment and that it does not define my worth.

I wish I could simply walk on the streets – alone, at night, at daylight, with a short dress, a skirt, a ton of make-up and heels, cleavage, my belly showing, in a winter coat, in boots, in shorts, drunk, high, whatever the heck I want jeez even naked – and feel safe enough to do it. I remember in London walking late at night on my way back home from the library with the keys between my fingers just in case something would happen. I remember a guy trying to slap me on the face after I slapped his for grabbing my ass. I remember all the damn times a guy or older men asked me to smile at them because I look so cute and sweet and hot. I want everyone to be able to walk freely and safely on the streets without the fear of being harassed!

I have been harassed so many times and I am fucking angry about it. I want to scream back at the attackers and tell them that my body is mine and that I dress and walk and am out in the public sphere for myself and not for them to look at me or comment on my appearance. I am out in the public space just because I am just as entitled as anybody else to it because I am a person. I do not need anyone’s validation. People can keep it to themselves, I don’t want to hear it. Don’t approach me. Don’t touch me because I haven’t given you consent to do it. Don’t tell me to smile. Don’t force me to conversation. Don’t try to force eye contact with me. Don’t touch yourself looking at me. Don’t lick your lips. Don’t blow me kisses. Don’t whistle at me. Don’t stalk me. Don’t follow me on the streets. Don’t make a comment about how I look. Don’t objectify me. Just don’t.

street harassment

Credit: http://warblebee.tumblr.com She took the tagline “Women Are Not Outside For Your Entertainment” From Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile Campaign

Even though men are also vulnerable to street harassment (and sexual harassment in general), the #NotAllMen argument derails the conversation about how men perpetuate and benefit from rape culture (whether they want it or not). So, I understand a lot of guys get offended when the feminist community calls them out on raping or harassing women and trans women but, whether or #NotAllMen do it is completely irrelevant! Men need to check their privilege and how they benefit from our patriarchal/kyriarchal society and understand that #YesAllWomen are potential victims of or have experienced sexual and street harassment at some point in their lives.

My partner asked me what would happen if a guy approach a girl with good intentions (let’s say they are genuinely interested in the book the girl is reading at that time) and the girl would think the guy is harassing her. I answered that even though we know that #NotAllMen are harassers, #YesAllWomen have been conditioned to always be alert against possible predators. We grow up in this mentality of not walking home alone at night, not leaving our drinks unattended, not talking to strangers, always looking at our surroundings, try to take a self-defence class and so on. For this reason, in that hypothetical situation, I answered that the guy must not feel offended but should understand why women react in a certain way, like ignoring him, walking away or being defensive – we need to always be alert!

Credit; Tumblr

This post was originally going to be about the ways we can react when we are going through street harassment, but I personally feel very angry about this topic and have always wanted to express those feelings. However, I do want to share an article, organisations and projects that aim to empower victims of street harassment. Maybe I can write a blog post about those some other time 🙂

Have you experienced any form of street harassment? How did you react? Did you care? Did it make you mad? Would you give the cat-caller one of the cards? Why? Why not? Would you holla’d back? Would you say something back at the harasser? Are you usually afraid to do so?

Please share your stories with me in the comment section below! 🙂

What Would Queer Sex-Ed Look Like?

After exploring the reasons why we have never heard about queer sex-ed in our schools in last week’s post, it’s time to imagine what queer sex education would look like.

And to imagine what queer sex-ed would look like, we need to keep in mind these four fundamental things as the foundation for our new sex-ed:

  1. Gender Is Not Binary, Gender Is A Spectrum:

Gender Identity is a person’s inner sense of self. This can be as man, woman, something other entirely or something in between. There are people, whose sex doesn’t match their gender identity, who identify as transgender.

Gender is a social construction because there’s nothing really natural, inherent or essential in a person’s gender identity. Society has constructed gender as a set of norms, roles and scripted expectations that determine how people within the gender binary (man and woman) should look, think and behave.

Our job as educators is to break the gender binary and construct gender as a spectrum. This means that a person’s gender is not about either/or, but about both/and. No one on this planet is made to perfectly fix society’s boxes of “men” and “women” and these categories are not in opposition against each other. Men have feminine traits in their character and vice versa. There are trans* folk who feel that they don’t belong to any gender or have traits of both of them and feel somewhere in between. There are people that feel another non-binary gender in its entirety. There are people that feel they have no gender identity at all.

  1. Sexual Orientation Is Not Fixed, Sexual Orientation Is Fluid

There are many sexual orientations! Think about all the labels people can choose to identify with: gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, queer or no label at all. We know sexual orientation is very diverse and, as such, it is not binary.

Sexual orientation is the sexual or romantic attraction (yes, they are separate things) a person feels towards other people. Much like gender, sexual orientation has nothing natural, essential or inherent about it. In fact, it only became an identity marker around the 19th century (thanks for the info, Foucault).

This attraction felt by people towards others is just pure desire and desire cannot be regulated or controlled by social norms. So, a person’s sexual orientation cannot strictly fit society’s boxes of “heterosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” and so on. Identitis fluid and can change overtime, but this is not to say that everyone’s sexual orientation changes. Some people know they are gay and identify that way their whole life just as others ‘come out’ many times in their lifetime. It really depends on the individual and his, her or hir past experiences.

  1. Sex Is Not Just Male and Female, Sex Can Be Everything In Between: 

Have you ever heard about a person being Intersex?

Just like gender identity and sexual orientation, biological sex is a spectrum. Some people are born with genitalia that is not exclusively male or female and/or with chromosomes other than XX and XY. Intersex people are born with biological traits that do not fit the sex binary of male/female and these traits can be chromosomal, hormonal and/or physical.

Our society tries to normalise these bodies through corrective surgery from the moment they are born. This is because our society wants to maintain the (binary and limiting) status quo regarding sex, gender and sexual orientation. All this is to preserve the privilege and power of those that are cis-het people with normative genitalia (because they are in power and are wary of people that are different taking their power… duh) *rolls eyes*

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

  1. Sex ≠ Gender ≠ Sexual Orientation

All these categories have one thing in common. This one thing is what our current sex-ed and society wants us to ignore: sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are not binary, black and white categorical boxes. These identity markers are diverse spectrums. 

Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation do not determine each other, but are extremely linked and influence one another.

And guess what? All of these identities exist, all of them deserve respect and recognition and all of them are normalSo let’s start teaching sex, gender and sexuality as they really are and not as we’ve been conditioned to think they should be.

So what does this look like?

If queer sex-ed has as its foundation the four criteria explained above, it is automatically more inclusive and a more accurate representation of what sex, gender identity and sexuality really are. This means queer sex-ed needs to include traditionally marginalised voices within the queer movement like trans*, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual and intersex.

There are no assumptions of anyone’s gender identity, sex or sexual orientation and this means two things. Firstly, this creates a safe space and opens the conversation about how everyone feels and identifies, without being judged or considered an outcast. Secondly, the class needs to be taught accordingly, queering pedagogical methods (like using examples of queer people, asking for preferred pronouns, diversifying the literature to include queer voices).

Queer sex-ed should be leading the way towards a pleasure-based sexual health education. This means that, unlike abstinence-only education that focuses on babies and the (false) consequences of sex and contraception, queer sex-ed should be about learning to safely pleasure oneself and one’s partner. And this pleasuring should be without boundaries, which means acknowledging every gender identity and sexual orientation.

Queer sex-ed should be sex positive. Sex positive goddess Laci Green explains that sex positivity is about embracing one’s sexuality (no matter what that is) in a safe and consensual way. Sex positivity goes against the fear, shame and judgement that sex-negative societal attitudes seek to reproduce (mostly through sex-negative abstinence only ed), like slut-shaming. Sex-positivity calls for the freedom to express one’s sexuality alone or with a partner (or many!). But most importantly, sex positivity emphasises the need for consensual acts and advocates that only yes means yes. Important to say that ALL sexual relationships need consent, regardless of the genders and sexual orientations involved.

Yes only means Yes! Credit: http://tumblr.safercampus.org

And last but not least, queer sex-ed should be body-positive. This means that part of sexuality education needs to focus on developing a positive and healthy relationship with our body image, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. This should focus on building acceptance, respect, love and admiration for our own bodies no matter what size we are. Also, to broaden our understanding of diversity, body-positivity fights against ableism, since this is another axis of oppression in relation to bodies in our society.

Surprisingly, there are a few organisations and academics (like me in the future, just saying) that are developing general guidelines and building curricula to queer sex-ed or make sex-ed queer. And this is not only regarding sex-ed, but to queer education in general. These awesome people have realised that in regular sex-ed, or even worse, abstinence-only education,  queer sexualities and non-conforming gender identities are not only invisible, but they are considered threatening and immoral. 

Think of the stigma, depression, loneliness, anxiety, sadness, bullying and other horrible consequences queer and trans* kids face in school (if not all of their lives) because they are taught that their experiences are considered unworthy of acknowledgement (to say the least!).

Credit: US Teen Culture

Beyond including facts and figures about the LGBTQIA+ community, queering sex-ed is about challenging the status quo. This surely sounds like big words to you, but it is indeed a big thing to celebrate. Queering sex-ed is about pushing boundaries and re-imagining the world we live in. And in doing so, paving the way towards a more equal and fair society.

Are you still not convinced of the need to teach a queer sex-ed? No? Okay. Just ask the following question: why is queer sex-ed important?

Well, basically because it is important that members of a marginalised community have the right to know how to have safe and consensual sex and be represented in the school curricula: LGBTQIA+ YOUTH. This type of education validates their experience in a world that constantly tells them that they are wrong and they shouldn’t exist.

This type of education promotes and promises LGBTQIA+ youth a better relationship and understanding of their identities, their bodies and their desires. They will learn how to have safe sex and enjoy it. They will learn how to prevent STIs and HIV. They will learn that consent is necessary in all kinds of relationship. They will learn that they too can form families.

Queer sex-ed not only benefits LGBTQIA+ students but everyone. This means that cisnormative heterosexual students can learn to accept and respect people that identify differently. This means that this cis-het students will learn about their identity privilege and will be encouraged to engage in active self-reflection about their role in oppressive structures.

Queer sex-ed dismantles the taboo status regarding sexual education (queer or not, to be honest!). It helps to see other identities and orientations as normal and helps dissolve the tension and fear of coming out. It will, by default, decrease the homophobic and transphobic bullying that is so rampant in our schools.

Queer sex-ed teaches gender identity, sexual orientation and biological sex as they actually are and not how we have been conditioned to think they should be. 

So, I don’t know about you, but this sounds like my cup of tea 😉 I love me some queer sex-ed.

If you have any suggestions or ideas that you think should be included in queer sex-ed, please feel free to post them in the comment section 🙂