Monday, February 24, 2014

Women’s contributions to LA Social Movements

Bernita Ruth Walker: LA native and community activist, Bernita Ruth Walker has championed a community movement against the widespread disease of domestic violence. She has established the Jenesse center, Project Peacemakers Inc., and the Oluremi Longhouse sober living facility, in addition to numerous other contributions through her appointments at the city, county, and state levels. She has dedicated over thirty years of her life to the city and continues to push her cause in order to create a safer LA for men, women, and their families.

Myrna Hant: a fellow Bruin, Dr. Hant received her PhD in Higher Education from UCLA, where she later became a college administrator, and an instructor in Women’s studies at Chapman University. She has also graciously created a CSW fellowship, named The Renaissance Award, that rewards the rebirth of academic aspirations among women whose college careers were interrupted or delayed by family and/or career obligations and encourages achievement in the pursuit of a bachelor's degree at UCLA. Her research, which focuses on the politics of aging and its representation on television, as well as on examining the lives of several iconic African American women including: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Bell Hooks, are her latest endeavors.

Sherna Berger Gluck: long time anti-war and anti-Zionist activist, Sherna Berger Gluck pioneered the Feminist Oral History project, has taught oral history at UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, and has directed the Cal State Long Beach Oral History program. She was also a member of the Women’s Liberation movement, volunteered at the Crenshaw Women’s center, and co-founded the Westside Women’s Center in 1972. Her relentless dedication to women and their stories make her a true treasure for the city.

Jane Bayes: Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute of Gender, Globalization, and Democracy at California State University, Northridge, Dr. Bayes is also the Director of the International Social Science Council’s Research Program on Gender, Globalization and Democratization (ISSC-GGD). Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of women and politics, political economy, and globalization and gender. She was honored with the “Phenomenal Woman Award” from the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at California State University, Northridge in October 2008, and has lead an exemplary academic-activist life and will continue to inspire generations to come.

Karen Brodkin: Professor Emerita of the Anthropology and Women’s Studies at University of California, Los Angeles, Karen Brodkin is one of the founders of feminist anthropology. After teaching at Fordham, Duke, American, and Oberlin universities, Brodkin was hired in 1987 by UCLA as the Director of the Women’s Studies program and as a Professor of Anthropology. In California, her activism efforts involved: labor unionization, the Lincoln Place tenants, and Common Threads; on campus, Brodkin vocally opposed Proposition 209 and SP-1/SP-2 initiatives and U.S. military involvement in Iraq, as well as rallied for LGBT equality and for the establishment of a Department of Chicana/o studies. She is also the recipient of Society for the Anthropology of North America’s Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America.

All of these distinguished women will be panelists at the Celebrating Los Angeles' Women's Social Movements on February 24, 2014 at UCLA.

--Radhika Mehlotra

Radhika Mehlotra is a Public Policy graduate student and a Researcher at the CSW


Nayereh Tohidi

Current and founding director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program at California State University Northridge (CSUN), Nayereh Tohidi is an esteemed Professor and former Chair at the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at CSUN. Tohidi is also a Research Associate at the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, where she has been coordinating the Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran since 2003. She was the Director and founding member of the International Committee for Women’s Rights in Iran in the early 1980s, and has taught at many colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area over the years. She has served as a board member for International Society for Azerbaijani Studies, Institute of Gender, Globalization and Democracy at CSUN, and Nairobi’s Forward-Looking Strategies at California State Polytechnic University. Tohidi’s professional and research interests include sociology of gender, religion (Islam in particular), ethnicity and democracy in the Middle East and post-Soviet Central Eurasia, especially Iran and Azerbaijan Republic.

Born and raised in Iran, Dr. Nayereh Tohidi earned her BS from the University of Tehran in Psychology and Sociology, her MA in Educational Psychology (Human Development) in 1979, and her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Socio-Cultural Perspectives) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1983. She has been honored with several grants, fellowships and research awards, “including a year of Fulbright lectureship and research at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University, the Hoover Institute of Stanford University, the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Keddie-Balzan Fellowship at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA.” Her scholarly pursuit has brought her visiting positions at University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, Harvard, UCLA, and USC.

Due to her expertise, Dr. Tohidi has served as a consultant for the United Nations (UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, and WIDER) on projects concerning “gender and development, and women and civil society building in the Middle East and post-Soviet Eurasia. She represented women NGOs at both the third and fourth World Conferences on Women in Nairobi (NGO Forum 1985) and Beijing (NGO Forum 1995) on gender issues in Iran and the post-Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia.”

Tohidi’s publications include: Globalization, Gender and Religion: The Politics of Women’s Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts; Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity; and Feminism, Democracy and Islamism in Iran. “Much of her work has been translated and/or reprinted in several other languages and in different countries, including Iran, Russia, France, Austria, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Britain, Spain, India, Japan, Lebanon, and Brazil.”

Dr. Nayereh Tohidi will be a panelist at the Celebrating Los Angeles' Women's Social Movements on February 24, 2014 at UCLA.

--Radhika Mehlotra
Radhika Mehlotra is a Public Policy Graduate student at the Luskin School of Public Affairs and a Graduate Student Researcher at the CSW. 




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lawrence Cohen: The Gender of the Number, the Gender of the Card

On March 5th, Lawrence Cohen, renowned cultural anthropologist and professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley, will be speaking on “The Gender of the Number, the Gender of the Card: On the (Im)materiality of Governance and Biometric Identity in India.” CSW Associate Director Rachel Lee invited Prof Cohen to speak in CSW's Life (Un)Ltd. series because his work is important to her own research and pedagogical interests. “I regularly teach Cohen’s 1999 essay, 'Where It Hurts,'” she says. This essay addresses the topic of “Indian women from the Chennai slums who sell one of their kidneys in order to get their family out of debt. He argues that when 'bioethicists' focus merely on the voluntariness of the transaction—i.e., the exchange of a body part for a monetary sum—they miss the broader structures compelling these women to 'have to' sell their tissues, structures that include gendered relations within the family and the perpetuity of debt. He also wrote a memorable essay titled 'Operability,' which among other topics addressed the non-normativity of hijra politicians—their lack of biological children—as counterintuitively increasing their political capital precisely at a time when the corruption of Indian government officials was linked to their practices of nepotism.” She went on to note that "the subjects that he addresses range widely, though most of his work is characterized by a multifaceted engagement with ethics, pedagogy, politics, kinship, and a body part (the transplantable kidney) or bodily fluid (semen, milk, blood).”

Prof Cohen has published widely on subjects including: biocapital in human organ transplantation and trafficking, the socioeconomics and political capital of castration for hijras in North India, reading differing levels of male homosocial desire in secret literatures circulated during the Hindu festival of Holi in Banaras, and most recently thinking about the social similarities between the twin figures of the Buddhist guru and gay men through the idealization and fallibility of devotion. 

Trained in the fields of comparative religious studies, medicine and anthropology Cohen’s work centers on discourses of health, aging, gender and sexuality in India, equally immersed in the fields of transnational feminist and queer studies, and public health. Indeed, Cohen’s writing reflects a deep knowledge of and engagement with South Asian religious traditions and literatures, at times invoking the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics in his discussions of devotees’ devotion to gurus and the demonstration desire, and political and social power in public spaces through gender role inversion during the male penetration happy festival of Holi. Cohen has spent much time in India through research and fellowships, including time in Delhi and Simla, the urban cities of Banaras, Lucknow, Allahabad, the metropolis Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore, and the rural regions of states-Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. While urban North India is often the local setting of his field research, Cohen’s work is comparative and transnational in scope as seen in his first monograph No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things (1998).

Hailed as groundbreaking for both Cohen’s interdisciplinary methodology and non-linear narrative structure, No Aging in India juxtaposes the rise of discourse around Alzheimer’s disease and mental degeneration in the United States against an understanding of the senile parent as representative of the “bad family” in discourses of aging in Banaras. Reviews have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Current Anthropology, Anthropological Quarterly, Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Sociology of Health and Illness, Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, Contemporary Gerontology, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Pacific Affairs, Choice, Biblio, and The Statesman. Moving medical anthropology in new directions Cohen “was able to take the best of locality-based ethnographic practice and apply it in a transnational comparative mode.”[1] 

No Aging in India was also praised the ways in which “the text has a near-global perspective” yet “maintains a high level of intimacy’ (a trademark of Cohen’s writing also seen in his numerous articles on sexuality and various gender identities in urban north India). Author of Cultural Anthropology in a Globalizing World and The Endangered Sex: Neglect of Female Children in North India, Barbara D. Miller remarks that Cohen’s examination of the absence of framing aging as disease in India “provides a richly documented view of what is there, especially of how people talk about things like Westernization and nuclear families as “bad things.”[2] Joseph S. Alter author of Gandhi’s Body: Sex, Diet and the Politics of Nationalism aptly praises Cohen’s book when he writes, “In its attention to ethnographic detail, its transnational crosscutting of themes, its nonreductive comparative framework, and its critical, antirelativistic analysis of things Indian, [No Aging in India] is a superb piece of scholarship. Cohen has magnified our awareness of what the problems of growing old are, clearly articulated the important issues which are at stake…part of the problem is that aging in India, as a modern construct, has fractured ways of being human along class, caste, generational, and gendered lines.”[3] No Aging in India has won the 1998 Victor Turner Prize, the 1989 AES First Book Prize, and Honorable Mention for the 1999 Wellcome Medal.

Currently, Cohen is working on two projects: India Tonite “which examines homoerotic identification and representation in the context of political and market logics in urban north India” and, The Other Kidney “engaging the nature of immunosuppression and its accompanying global traffic in organs for transplant” which will be the subject of his upcoming talk.[4] While Cohen is particularly interested in how the body is understood meta-epistemologically, stretching the boundaries of ethnography through the interdisciplinary lens of religious studies, cultural anthropology, sexuality studies and science studies, his work also comments on the role of the ethnographic researcher as interpreter and translator of differential understandings of the body. His upacking of the representation of castration as differentially applied to and reenacted by hijras, jankhas, and academics in one of his early essays demonstrates Cohen’s attentiveness to the stakes of theorizing “third gender” and the ways academic cultural capital often translates to metropolitan academics from the global north making a living as gatekeepers. As he continues thinking about the various flows of capital produced on, through, by and about the body (and its various parts) in India and elsewhere it will be exciting to see how Cohen connects his discussions of gender, human organ trafficking, bioavailability and biopower to the ways knowledge is being produced. “With his more recent work focusing on the governmentality of the clinic and the database, I’ll be eager to hear how this focus intersects with discussions of gender and sexuality.” said Lee. “Cohen’s lecture will enrich the CSW Life (Un)Ltd research group’s exploration of biopolitics and tissue economies as they are wedded to contexts of postcolonialism, gender and sexuality.”

 Jacob Lau is a doctoral student in the Department of  Gender Studies at UCLA.

[1] Van Willigen, John, “No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s , The Bad Family, and Other Modern Things by Lawrence Cohen,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Dec., 1999), 507.
[2] Miller, Barbara, “No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s, The Bad Family, and Other Modern Things by Lawrence Cohen,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 1, (Spring 2000), 133.
[3] Alter, Joseph S., “Aging, in India, for Example (Cohen’s No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things),” Current Anthropology, Vol. 41, No. 2, (April 2000), 304-5.
[4] Cohen, Lawrence, “”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sandra Serrano Sewell

Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio in the early 1950s, in an environment, which she fondly recalls as ‘Suzy-homemaker-esque,’ Sandra Serrano Sewell began championing human rights at a very young age. Prompted by her parents’ involvement in the Progressive Party, liberal politics, and Communism during the McCarthy era of FBI investigations surrounding the ‘Red Scare,’ her early years were centered around celebrating Lorain International Week, dating boys of different ethnic backgrounds, and the steel mill (along with its Union), where her father worked. She said (jovially) in her oral history, “I remember, like, most kids are told fairy tales. I remember being told about the shirt factory fire in New York when I was little. I remember being told union stories, not Andersen’s fairy tales.” Her interest in labor unions and labor rights had peaked at a really young age, due to her family’s fervent beliefs.

With few career prospects after high school, Sandra spontaneously moved to Pasadena, without any notification or discussion, in hopes of discovering her passions, away from the Midwest. Soon after her hesitant arrival to southern California, Sandra immersed herself in the Robert F. Kennedy campaign, Young Democrats, and Martin Luther King Westside Study Center. Meeting her future husband [Mario Sewell] at a Peace and Freedom meeting through Young Democrats, gave her a glimpse into the ‘Hippie’ California culture of the time. Soon after a quick marriage and a life dedicated to the “mommy” world, Sandra’s distance from political advocacy began to take a toll on her. She broke from her mommy routine soon after, by attending her very first NOW (National Organization for Women) meeting. The meeting however, turned into a gathering of scrutiny against Sandra. Her decked up going out attire, complete with makeup and done-up hair was not welcomed by the crowd of “Anglo women in jeans, no bras, and sweatshirts, and all looking pretty skuzzy.” Her bold (and expected) response to the situation however, was to defend her choice of lifestyle. “I didn’t feel ashamed that I was a homemaker and I didn’t feel ashamed that I had two children and I didn’t feel ashamed that I didn’t finish my formal education.” Scarred from the NOW meeting, Sandra very hesitantly attended the Comision Femenil Mexicana Nacional just a few months later, after her husband’s deliberate insistence. There, Sandra discovered her passions at the intersection of women’s leadership and Chicano politics.

Four years after her attendance at the Comision Femenil Mexicana Nacional conference, Sandra was the national president of the organization. In advocating for equal treatment of women regardless of their education or career choices (formal education or lack thereof and homemaker or career woman), Sandra’s dedication to the truest values of the organization won her the seat as the president. In her oral history she confirmed, “I wanted to raise the profile of the homemaker [as President], and…I wanted us to take a stand on choice, on sexual preference and choice. That was an issue that we had been avoiding as an organization because most of the women were Catholic.”

In the years of her presidency and leadership, the activist women in Sandra’s immediate surroundings were mostly single. The way, in which Sandra was able to be attentive to her children, her marriage, and her work, was truly exemplary. Her children attended many of her meetings with her and developed an early sense of activism from their surroundings. As the Commissioner on the Pasadena Commission for the Status of Women, Sandra was uncomfortable by the numeric and ethnic representation of the women on the commission and advocated for diverse opinions, which impacted all women, rather than giving attention to particular racial issues. In her role as a Latina commissioner, for example, she was asked to design a program, which would encourage Latina women to take birth control. When Sandra questioned the reasoning behind the need for this program, the answers pointed towards “issues of trying to control the fertility of Latinas.” Dissatisfied with the operations of the commission, which had so much potential to create effective change, Sandra fought through, true to nature.
In 1972, the ComisiĆ³n Femenil Mexicana Nacional founded Centro de Ninos. The organization provides free and low cost quality childcare/child development, social welfare and education services to families in a safe, secure, learning environment where parents can confidently leave their child during the work-week. Without any formal training, and only one-year of community college, Sandra stepped in to serve as the director. And took it upon herself to make Centro de Ninos a vessel for community change. Sandra stands as a testimony to the need for sheer passion in order to affect change.

Sandra Serrano Sewell will be a panelist at the Celebrating Los Angeles' Women's Social Movements on February 24, 2014 at UCLA.

--Radhika Mehlotra

Radhika Mehlotra is a Public Policy Graduate Student at the Luskin School of Public Affairs and a Graduate Student Researcher for the CSW.