Header by Rory Midhani
Last Sunday, October 25, the inaugural Women’s Freedom Conference was held, live-streaming a full day of incredible programming by women of color from around the world. As I mentioned in yesterday’s news fix, I think this conference is one of the most exciting and important things to happen this year. If you want to grow as a feminist and a human being (which, yes, you absolutely do), go watch it now. You won’t regret it.
If you only have time for one panel, my favorite was the freestyle chat given by Lea S. Yu called “Flip of a Coin” — A Woman of Color Has Touched Everything That You Own, Use and Eat. I relate to it on so many levels! Maybe you will too.
Put simply, there is a woman of color behind every product on the market today, especially in apparel, packaged foods and household goods. … I want to use this time to reflect on these questions: What does it mean to me, to know that a woman of color is behind everything that I buy? How many women contributed to my Instagram feed? Even more disturbingly, how much of my female empowerment — whether it’s through fashion or DIY or delicious food — comes at the cost of another woman’s disempowerment?
These are such important questions, and ones that I think about regularly in my work (which currently involves pushing for quality improvements with a variety of overseas manufacturers). As an anti-oppression activist, I’m uncomfortable with the extent to which “outsourcing” often feels to me like a euphemism for “moving our problems onto people with less systematic power.” While we have relatively strong labor laws and environmental regulations in place to protect American workers, those protections tend to stop short at international borders. It makes me feel good at work when business interests align and I’m able to use my position to advocate for safer working environments (as well as safer end products). I’m lucky enough to be at a company where this happens regularly. This isn’t always the case, and I fear that for every conscientious decisionmaker out there, there are a handful of others who prioritize quite differently.
Here’s the video:
Like Yu, when I look at global manufacturing workforces, I see people who look like me. But even if I wasn’t Asian, I’d like to think I’d see the other side of the coin. Some time ago, Riese made an observation that has really stuck with me: “What can distinguish queer politics from mainstream politics is that our ‘outsider’ status should enable us to more readily question dominant culture and advocate for disenfranchised and mistreated humans.” If we truly care about equality, we can’t settle for empowering some people at the expense of others. As feminists, we need to advocate for all women.
The website Yu links to at the end of the video is Virtue.Us, the personal project she co-created to provide consumers with comparative research on what companies are actually doing. It’s a simple concept — some might say overly so — but I appreciate the premise and I’m excited to watch it grow. It’s not always clear what the best way forward is, but I find it very encouraging to see smart minds coming together and engaging with these issues.
If you liked the above video, you may also be interested in these panels from the conference:
- Loryn Wilson Carter – Black Girl in a Digital World: Creating Diversity in Digital Careers
- Mikki Kendall and Jamie Nesbitt Golden – Hood Feminism Presents: So, You’re A Geek With A Passion: Now What?
- Tiffany Yu – Crushing It in the Boardroom: 7 Hacks for Success in Finance/Business
And again: the full Women’s Freedom Conference is posted online. Go watch it!
Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.
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