Room for challenge?

Channel 4 recently put out a two-part series Genderquake which in their own words set out to explore “what it means to be a man or a woman [in 21st Century Britain as it is ever changing]”. I found this programmes to be of great interest as it made me reflect on a session where we looked ‘Reflecting on your own values’. This was particularly poignant in relation to the first two questions:

  1.  How would you describe your own identities; such as gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and so on?
  2. Would you say that your identities have changed over time? If so, how?

The incident outlined in the embedded video was one that caused me great concern and caused me to think about how as teaching staff/academics we may go about creating safe spaces for students to explore other identities/characteristics they do not hold. This is of great interest to me in devising methods to support this as I feel that my teaching practice moves in the direction of encouraging students to challenge an ask questions – however it is vital to ensure that boundaries and respect are given to all those involved in any form of discourse.

Moving forward I would like to research into theories that support and help me to better understand this area of teaching practice that I seem to be moving towards/drawn to.

Faith and University: Facts vs Beliefs

Teaching in the context of religion, belief and faith

When we think of religion, belief and faith we open ourselves to a mode of thinking which highlights the ‘individual’ along with their sense of self and strings together our collective similarities providing a space and vehicle for further and possible discussions around our differences as an opportunity for learning. Equally with the latter in mind, one must be mindful of the fact that students are perfectly within their rights to abstain from engaging in certain discussions that may infringe on their privacies, however, this raises questions about how we ensure that the classroom is a ‘safe space’ for all.

In the context of an art school/university religion, belief and faith serve an important role in the output of the work created by our students. Within my personal practice, I do not believe it to be possible to see or create art without feeling some form of emotion which is indirectly linked to religion, belief and faith in its broadest sense whether it be in support, a commentary or direct challenge of these modes.

In thinking of relation to how this may be applicable to my students, I believe this centres around the idea or rather so the acceptance and understanding that “one voice cannot drown the rest”.  this draws direct parallels with conversations that are being had specifically within the context of museums and the ever-evolving dialogue between the institution (museum) and audience when thinking about how to tell stories of objects which are have their rightful places within other cultures which may be heavily influenced by a religion or belief which ultimately determines their significance.

The video ‘Does Religion have a place in Modern Society?‘  provides an example of how we can start to understand and being accepting of one another.

Religion In Britain: Challenges in Higher Education

In reading the stimulus paper by Tariq Modood and Craig Calhoun it becomes clear that continual evolution is necessary to keep not just religion but also our societies alive. I think some of the most interesting themes to focus on in terms of how we view religion and the challenges it may face in Higher Education are the following; Western European moderate secularism, Multiculturalism, Minority Identities, The ‘vaguely Christian’ UK and Religion as a public good.

In looking at the complexities of religion it is necessary to consider the fact that specifically in the UK the state and church were once engaged meaning that the two ran alongside one another. Modood points out that organised religion can play a significant role in a number of factors including our cultural heritage and national identity which of course trickles down into the identities of the individual thus creating the personalities and markers of normality within our communities. It is also well acknowledged the strength in which religion displays in the context of bringing people together which can play a larger role in providing peace of mind for students (both Home and International) during a period of their life which can often prove to be one of the most challenging parts of adolescence and finding ones place in society. The latter shows religion in the form of public good but it is again important to look at wider context of religion and the intollerance which have caused rifts between different religious groups fractioning further into racial groups over time.

Further to this when we start to consider the connection between state and religion it is vital to emphasis that as educational establishments there is a sense of a duty of care to ensure that all religions are represented fairly and accurately.

In thinking about this some of the questions that have arisen are

Question 1: Who is it that decides the circumstances where religion becomes a ‘public good’ as we have seen throughout history cases where religion has been used to benefit the few rather than the masses

Question 2: Can state and religion ever be truly disengaged when many laws of the land are steeped in christianity?

On Creed

Listening to philosopher and theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah speaking On Creed left me with a smile on my face. Although it was a 30-minute lecture there were many back and forths at this address. What I found to be interesting within this talk was the interconnectivity between belief/religion, community and culture. Being born to Nigerian parents in the UK I felt some synergies with the way Appiah talked about the complexities of religion and how I whilst growing up saw those same complexities within the form of culture and religion intertwining which often caused confusion not just for me but for many of my peers. The latter also spoke to the concept of questioning – what is the difference between religion and belief? Furthermore, we start to look at the idea of interpretation and the unyielding need for religious structures to see its followers and the context of modern society and adapt.

In conclusion, I really do feel that religious identities connect us with some of the oldest stories that we have. As someone who is captivated often through the personal experiences of others it is apt to say that religions do not speak with a single voice. Our identities are utterly personal but this notion of identity can seemingly be shared by thousands which seems to present itself as a re-occurring theme when talking about this topic.

 

Revisiting Gender

Following our session which looked at Gender, I was curious to find out more about how various cultures broach the conversations. I found this documentary which explored how religion, culture and gender start to intersect.

I was particularly interested in the idea of the third gender in the form of the Waria who are culturally accepted in their country of Indonesia but conflicts with religious beliefs – this being a majority Islamic country. I think this could be a good tool in exploring the complexities of society through aspects that may be individually recognisable but difficult to grasp together.

 

On Gender

Gender Diversity at UAL

Working with students who fall within the Culture & enterprise programme it is imperative that they understand a wide range of view points. Their studies are mainly focused on historical facts which is often painted as objective but is regularly characterised and enhanced through the revelation of personal and more subjective histories which draws parallels with the ability and more importantly freedom to as ones desired gender. I would be inclined to approach exploring a subject such as this through the use of an activity to explore empathy. However an important takeaway from must be to never make the assumption of how another group may feel but to simply get into the habit of listening more.

My personal practice often surrounds exposing hidden narratives of groups that for so long have been oppressed by dominant cultures and groups through the initiation of dialogue and the staging of other interventions.

A consideration: Understanding Patriarchy

The extract is explosive and instantly the first line drives home the urgency for breaking down patriarchal systems within society.

Point one: Gender roles are learnt/taught/forced and not innate

Hooks describes perfectly the widely accepted gender roles within the western society which have for so long been actioned in homes, religious institutions, educational establishments and work environments with the use of a personal anecdote. The description of the unfiltered emotions surrounding an interaction she had with her brother demonstrate that traits such as competitiveness and aggression were not reserved for boys/men and on the contrary very natural emotions to feel in said context. Although she acknowledged that her story of being beaten into submission by her father wasn’t isolated, unique nor special it is poignant in mirroring the way in which those same traits and more are seen us undesirable in women in wider society with judgements often being made on their home life, relationship status and character impacting negatively where the same traits would be praised in men and seen as a sign of (false) strength as pinpointed in the text

Point two: Desire can override repulsion and morals

Although many of us within society are aware of the devastation or as Hooks puts it the “life-threatening” nature of patriarchy there will more often than not be a tendency to openly display patriarchal behaviours. The cyclical nature of patriarchy being reinforced in homes within each generation sees a pushing away from associated behaviours because of the internal moral compass or one being on the receiving end of these systems. However, when the desires of an individual are suddenly within reach it is often easy to bypass previously held views when it becomes evident that patriarchy is rewarded and may accelerate your efforts.

 

Question/provocation: Are we indirectly feeding into patriarchal systems by blaming women and mothers for reinforcing patriarchy in the socialisation of their children/friends/family as ‘traditional caregivers’ when in fact they are most oppressed?

A reflection: Pay it No Mind – The life and times of Marsha P. Johnson

Image source: www.thedailybeast.com
Marsha P. Johnson

Watching Pay it No Mind – The life and time of Marsha P. Johnson was not the first time I had encountered the iconic smile as through watching similar docufilms such as Paris Is Burning which came after led me to other footage/videos where I had become aware of Marsha’s work within the LGBTQ community. It’s strange because watching the film felt like ‘home’ in the sense that Marsha’s warmth radiated through the screen. In a way, it seems like a total contradiction that someone who had experienced such brutality from constantly being othered was still able to be so selfless as the countless anecdotes of Marsha’s close friends and non-biological kin attested.

As I think back to watching the film with a great degree of interest the thing that stood out to me the most is that although all of the people within the film appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet whilst talking about Marsha’s vibrancy and sometimes outrageousness which made Marsha so well loved, there was never quite a consensus amongst all these narratives on Marsha’s identity. The interviews flittered between referring to Marsha as ‘he’ and ‘she’. I was left wondering about the fluidity of Marsha’s identity and whether or not the reference points made by her friends and non-biological kin really did Marsha justice as it seemed that Marsha’s drag was no longer a performance but an integral part of a built identity which enabled a life lived in truth and to the fullest.