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A Week of Women in Australasia

During the week before International Women’s Day on March 8, I had the privilege of attending two events about women’s issues with a variety of women speakers, and so for an event that I spoke at on the day, I decided to summarize and share some of the points that these women had made with my audience. These points give an indication of some of the current topics that women are dealing with and raise questions about what the way forward is when women are still less visible and considered less valuable than men.

Indigenous Women and LeadershipIndigenous-women-forum

The first event was the Indigenous Women and Leadership Speakers Forum hosted by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. Sacha McMeeking, head of the University of Canterbury’s Aotahi School of Māori & Indigenous Studies, spoke about the difference between Western styles of leadership and Māori styles. The Western style is often about having a charismatic leader who is a type of hero figure, whereas the Māori style recognizes a distributed network with servant-based leadership, where the leaders are supposed to be in it not for themselves but for their community. Māori women, she said, have been doing things that the storybooks don’t tell because they are behind the scenes, but we can miss them if we’re looking for a leader at the front. I thought this was a useful way of thinking about issues of gender, because something that comes up quite often is the struggle for women, especially in male-dominated fields, between adopting ‘masculine’ styles or operating in a different way and perhaps being penalized for it. Shifting our conception of leadership and not thinking that there is only way to be a leader is a way of breaking out of that mindset.

The next speaker was the president of the Māori Students Association, Hana Skerrett-White, who reiterated that she is who is today because of a long line of strong women modeling leadership to her. She said leadership isn’t singular, and even though women’s voices and indigenous voices have been muted at times, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. The final speaker was Arihia Bennett, who is Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and she encouraged young women to not wait until they’re older to step into leadership. She emphasized some characteristics of leaders that she thought were important, including competency, compassion, and character. She said to be confident, courageous, and speak your mind—don’t hold back—but also have someone alongside you to push you beyond your comfort zone. You can be humble while still recognizing that you have something to contribute, so listen to people who are encouraging you.

All About Women Satellite (#allaboutwomen)All-about-women-satellite

The second event was the annual All About Women Satellite streamed from the Sydney Opera House by WORD Christchurch. The actor Geena Davis spoke about women and the media, specifically how underrepresented women and girls are in films and television. She started a research institute to gather data and the results aren’t pretty. The good news is that the media is powerful and can be used to change people’s perceptions, and she said the year The Hunger Games and Brave movies came out (2012), girls’ interest in archery went up over 100%. Forensic science is attracting many women, even more than universities can keep up with, due to women in shows like CSI and Bones. But when it comes to the television shows made for children, the percentage of female characters is still pretty low, around 20%. This is similar to the percentage that women have stalled out at in other professions like engineering and IT. Crowd scenes are only about 17% female, making it seem like women don’t gather or aren’t valuable enough to be portrayed. The numbers are even worse in fiction than in real life, so women scientists and other women workers are a smaller percentage in media than in the real work force. There’s something called symbolic annihilation, which happens when you don’t see anyone who looks like you or reflects you. By feeding children this imbalance, she said, we are unwittingly teaching them that girls and women don’t matter as much or aren’t interesting.

Davis noted that overall, the ratio of men and women in film has remained about the same as it was in the 1940s, and when women are portrayed, they are often the sidekicks or romantic interest.  But although making changes in real life leadership, etc. are hard, she said that media could fix the problem it has created almost overnight if it changed to include more women. The next movies could show gender equality, show 50% women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, 50% women as presidents and members of parliament. One media producer has made the commitment to have 50% women crew behind the scenes as well, so that might be another way of driving change in the industry – for men in positions of power to commit to gender equality and actually follow through in their hiring practices.

Then there was a Nasty Women panel featuring Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Van Badham, and Lindy West, and chaired by Fauziah Ibrahim. They discussed a range of issues, including the need to stand together to gain strength and how to deal with trolls. West said that we have power and leverage only in numbers. If one woman stands up against sexual harassment in the office, she might be fired or ignored, but if every woman stands up against it, change can be more likely to happen. Abdel-Magied reminded everyone that historically it hasn’t been people in power saying Yes, we want to help the marginalized, it’s been masses of people demanding it. And if you’re fuming but don’t do anything about it, like contacting your representatives and talking to other people about the issues, nothing will change. West said that she tells people that running for office is not something that other people do, it’s something that’s part of civic responsibility. Regarding trolls, West said that it just wouldn’t happen that a panel of men would be sitting discussing Oh, yeah, I got a petition to have myself fired today, you know.. She said she’s tired of being told it’s just the internet, that’s the nature of how things are. We’re just trying to do our jobs, she said. The culture has to change. Badham said she would rather die on the right side than do nothing. When it gets hard, remember the women who went before you and the ones who will come after you. Women have died for the vote, for rights, for the freedoms we take for granted. Your actions are the most powerful political statement you can make, so make them count, she emphasized.

The broadcast is supposed to be made available sometime on YouTube.

Notes from Women’s Studies Association NZ Conference 2016

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended at the Women’s Studies Association (NZ) Pae Akoranga Wāhine Conference on September 1-2, 2016, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The conference theme was Re/generation: New Landscapes in Feminism and Women’s Studies and the hashtag was #wsapaw16. There was a strong Māori presence throughout – I have never been to such a conference with so many songs (!) (in both Te Reo and English) as well as traditions and another language integrated smoothly into the proceedings. It was a welcome and uplifting experience, and it showed the power of relaxing some of the traditional academic stiffness and embracing bodily voices and movement. The conference is biennial so this will likely be the only one I am able to attend (I also presented a paper on science fiction: “Beyond the Womb: Imagining Life Without Pregnancy”), but it had a good vibe and supportive attendees. Kia kaha e hoa mā!

Day 1

Wahine Kia Mau: Reflections for Re/generation by Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku

On the first day, after the Mihi Whakatau / Welcome, there was a keynote from Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. She provided a historical overview of her experience with feminism in New Zealand and offered sincere reflections about issues of biculturalism. She said she used to fret and worry about whether Māori women were in the room but now feels bad about this guilt-tripping of pakeha women. She said she is more mellow now and understands that Māori women have their own heroines and their own things to do, and that it is alright if they don’t always want to come to events. Apparently women’s groups have been harassed by engineering groups since the 70s, so it’s nothing new, and she was reprimanded by a senior female academic for publishing a piece on lesbianism, even though the person was a lesbian. She showed a headline from New Zealand Truth from May 4, 1982: “Lesbians Plan to Take Over NZ Town”. She mentioned Broadsheet, the collective, and Cherry Raymond, and she discussed when sexual violence became a big issue. She showed some examples of Pasifika Women’s Community texts: Tai: Heart of a Tree, Fast Talking Pt, Sai Figiel, Tail of the Taniwha, and Dream Fish Floating. She recommended the television show Transparent and asked the question: Would we benefit from Hilary Rodham Clinton or Helen Clark being elected? She discussed how institutional women’s studies was hijacked by the neoliberalism of the 1980s. But feminism is about community, and feminist scholarship and studies is an essential strategy and one to be proud of. Her final positive thought was that we (Māori) are no longer invisible. In response to a question about where does multiculturalism fit in a multicultural NZ going forward, she said that instead of the deficit talk (about jobs lost, etc.), she looks optimistically to the future at examples like Hawaii, where she did her PhD, where white people are in the minority.

Rape in New Zealand Newspapers: 1975-2015 by Ange Barton (Victoria University of Wellington)

Barton’s supervisor is Jan Jordan, whose project is Marsden-funded and who will be publishing a book on women’s experiences reporting rape to the police. Barton is searching through newspapers—New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post, The Press, Otago Daily Times, Sunday Start Times, Taranaki Daily News, and The Southland Times—looking at how women are represented and constructed in the articles regarding their relationship with the offender and the differences between newspapers’ accounts. Other aspects being looked at are what is gained from constructing women in this way, and what are the possibilities for action from this discourse. The project involves very laborious searching through microfilm. Also, keywords only come up in the feature articles, not the more minor crime reporting ones. Challenges in researching this kind of sensitive topic involve nightmares, loneliness, and mental and physical tiredness. Someone told her supervisor that if the research is so traumatising, then don’t do it, but this can be seen as the ultimate silencing technique. The National Sexual Violence Collective’s work on media in 2012 was mentioned as well.

Sexual Violence in Ethnic Minority Communities in New Zealand: Findings from Two Honours Project by Shannon Kumar and Setayesh Rahmanipour (University of Auckland)

Out of 56 countries, New Zealand rates the third highest for sexual assaults. The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse shows that ethnic women had a lower rate of reporting an assault compared to European women. The Campaign for Consent based in Hamilton was mentioned. One challenge was there is no one definition of sexual violence. Western women might define it very differently from a non-Western women. Ex. catcalling. They discussed the need for education and awareness-raising within the wider community. Talking about sexual violence shouldn’t be discouraged. The major challenge is that there is a lack of data on ethnic women in New Zealand. Most studies are from the US or UK, or if from New Zealand, there is no information on ethnic women specifically. Wording is a big issue too. Using sexual violence is a strong term that women might not want to be associated with or own. It can be disempowering.

Sexual Violence in Ethnic Minority Communities: An Exploration of the Discourses of Violence and Vulnerability by Setayesh Rahmanipour (University of Auckland)

Rahmanipour mentioned there were three key themes in talking to women in ethnic minority communities: double silencing (in mainstream and by community), migrant defensiveness (maintaining cultural traditions), and discrimination (stereotypes and representation). Sexual violence is a silenced issue so a profile is difficult to establish, and it is under-reported even though rates are increasing. Sexual violence is often framed from a dominant or male gaze. Because there is no statistical evidence that there is a problem or funding for research to find out, it is not given funding or priority for government to address. There are issues of stigma, shame, and honor, as well as fear of community gossip (people understandably want to maintain their community reputation). But holding onto their culture can lead to being fundamentalist in their perception because they have little else to hold on to (white schools, friends, values, etc.). A defensiveness may emerge. Rahmanipour found it eye-opening that women sometimes are forced to marry their rapist because their family fears that they won’t be able to get married otherwise because they have ‘lost their virginity’. It was hard to believe it was happening in New Zealand but the interviews revealed that it was indeed happening.

Soapbox Session

The following six presentations were offered in a Soapbox session of shorter presentations by young women, some still in high school. The room was standing-room only and ‘Soapbox’ was talked about the rest of the conference because it was so enlightening, enjoyable, and refreshing to hear from such passionate, young feminists from all over the Pacific region.

The Prevalence and Impact of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence on Women in America and New Zealand, and the Barriers to Escaping and Reporting Intimate Partner Sexual Violence by Eliza Melling

The stereotype is that ‘real rape’ is the stranger in the darkened alley, rather than the often intimate partner violence that occurs in the U.S., New Zealand, and elsewhere. Why this matters is that it influences how the police view situations. Most victims know their offender. Melling referenced Themkin and Krahe’s (2008) Sexual Assault and the Justice Gap. She made a poster with a white bed ruffled with text of a rape myth on top (it’s impossible to be sexually assaulted by your intimate partner) and then the reality below (51.1% of sexual assault against women is perpetrated by an intimate partner or ex-partner). The bedroom is a private space so it is a powerful and controversial image. One of the audience members raised the issue of threats to animals being a barrier for women to leave or report. Also, there are threats with gun violence.

Ethnic Ambiguity: A New Beauty Myth? by Naomi Simon-Kumar (University of Auckland)

Simon-Kumar discussed how Caucasians are praised when they take on ‘ethnic’ characteristics like plumper lips and bigger butts, but ethnic women do not receive the same social benefits or are maligned for them. One poignant quote was: “Whiteness is the template on which desirable ethnic traits can be imprinted”. This occurs rather than celebrating hybrid identities. There were some questions about cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation. And Te Awekotuku made a comment about skinny women not being valued in Pacific cultures, yet there being high rates of anorexia among Maori and Pasifika girls.

A New Generation of Feminists by Ander Alrutz-Stierna (Auckland University of Technology)

Alrutz-Stierna has lived in many different countries and so witnessed all kinds of issues around gender. She said it is about privilege. One positive about New Zealand is that it has the smallest wage gap in the world. We no longer live in a Neolithic era, she said, so it does not make sense to go back to the biological, testosterone argument. Women can be creative too. She noted that the question we should ask ourselves as feminists today is: How can I change the world around me to create a better global community?

R. Tui discussing Samoan culture

She discussed some aspects of gender performance in Samoa, such as that it is acceptable for men to act like women (special term for this: fa’afafine) but not for women to be lesbians. In Samoan culture, daughters are sacred, so sons can get away with dropping out of school or sleeping around, but if a daughter is a lesbian, it is damaging to honor and pride. The religion teaches that God created a man and a woman. In the question time, there was a discussion about how British colonization changed cultures that previously had accepted same-sex relations (possibly Samoan, and African). Someone mentioned Betty Seal (sp?) (Samoan lesbian feminist in politics).

E. Ikiua discussing Pasifika customs

She discussed some customs in Pasifika culture, such as that the men are supposed to go first, which some in the audience couldn’t believe. Even smart women are expected to submit to their male relatives and stay quiet. She questioned the idea that the culture must remain static. It’s not the 1950s anymore. But the consequence for speaking out is that one would bring shame not only on themselves but on their family. Te Awekotuku commented that certain cultures do have ways of shaming and calling out men for their mistakes, though this may differ between Māori and Pasifika cultures.

C. Destrieux discussing stereotypes and new visions

She said she took it upon herself to educate herself about feminism and found it odd that other women she knows said they weren’t feminists. Stereotypes about bra-burning and hairy armpits were still present. She said that social media provides a great forum for women to talk and rant to other women, through blogs, etc. She then asked the audience about Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign and whether they thought men can be or should be feminists. That sparked some lively discussion and debate, with some agreeing and others disagreeing.

Panel: Gender, Generation and Care

Chair: Associate Professor Christa Fouche (University of Auckland)

Women of LiLACS NZ: Life and Living in Advanced Age, a Cohort Study in New Zealand by Professor Ngaire Kerse (University of Auckland)

Kerse is doing a longitudinal cohort study of advanced ageing to establish predictors of successful ageing for Māori and non-Māori. She shared several slides of statistics and explained some of the findings. Older women are very likely to be living alone and unmarried. Men tend to be married. There are hardly any Māori women living in retirement villages. Over 70% of Māori women own their own home (a little higher than for non-Māori). Despite health issues, older women still have relatively high independence in instrumental activities of daily living (shopping, traveling, going out, cooking, etc.).

Mai Te Wairua, Ko Te Reo Aroha: Māori Kaumātua End of Life Care by Dr. Tess Moeke-Maxwell (University of Auckland)

Moeke-Maxwell showed a clip from a film about end of life care. She said there is a strong Māori cultural imperative to provide care at end of life and after death (body not left alone). One gay, single man ‘threw a tantrum’ about having to care, said that he would not have had to do it if he were straight. Heterosexual men seem to avoid the responsibility. Interestingly, at the end when care gets too difficult, men transfer care to women or residential care facilities. She said the palliative care sector should recognize that Māori cultural customs mean that the family want to provide 24-hour end of life care and facilitate this.

Gender & Class in New Zealand Care/Work Regimes by Dr. Katherine Ravenswood (Auckland University of Technology)

Ravenswood referenced a Huffington Post article on men spending more time caring for pets than for children [may be this one: “There’s No Gender Gap in Caregiving for Pets. So Why Is There a Gap for Child Care?”]. She said gendered norms of care work are deeply held and enduring. The New Zealand Police Force won an award for a campaign to encourage women to join the force by highlighting the caring work that police do. If capitalism is about what you can sell in the labor market for money, then care work was outside of this system and considered something that women did naturally at home, not in the factory.

During questions, there was one for Kerse about what she and her colleagues are doing as a result of what they have found in their cohort study. She said that they are providing information to the District Health Boards, but that as academics it is hard to do anything else and it isn’t their responsibility to do more, that other groups are working on this. It was disappointing to hear this, because there are limited resources for other groups (especially not-for-profits) and academics often have the knowledge and/or resources that others lack. Someone asked if there were any care facilities she would recommend or not recommend, and she says she tries to avoid recommendations, but she tells people that you’ll know as soon as you walk in the door, like if people are smiling and talking. Usually in life, in the places where good things are happening, there are always people there because they want to be there. Another person raised the issue of immigrant women being low-paid and taken advantage of, and that New Zealanders bear some responsibility for this because they gave care over to the private sector. They believed that people need to get angrier and raise this issue at the next election. The day then concluded with singing.

 

Day 2

The second day started with a panel on justice, which covered some contentious issues around the law.

Panel: New Directions in Justice

Feminist Knowledge and Legal Discourse by Professor Rosemary Hunter (Queen Mary University London) 

Hunter discussed her work on the feminist judging project. She mentioned the concept of ‘femocrats’, or women driving change from within government bureaucracy, which was especially prevalent in Australia and New Zealand in the second-wave.

Mary Jane Mossman’s article “Feminism and Legal Method” (1987) said that legal methods’ elements are categorization, precedent, and statutory interpretation (legislation). She argued these were impervious to a feminist argumentation or understanding. Carol Smart’s book Feminism and the Power of Law (1989) said that legal discourse is powerful and productive. It does not just prevent things, but actively produces its subjects. Who is the woman of law that the law produces? Part of the power of law is its ability to trump other accounts of law, like a feminist one. Sandra Burns’ book To Speak as a Judge (1999) saw judging as a particular type of performance and authority. It was impossible to have judgement and feminist speech. Feminist judgement was an oxymoron in a sense.

Hunter’s own book on Domestic Violence (Domestic Violence Law Reform and Women’s Experience in Court: The Implementation of Feminist Reforms in Civil Proceedings (2008)) looks at how the law does not view it in the same way that we as people understand it. It sees it as discrete events that have to be categorized. Even if we have feminist law reform, it ends up being administered by the usual legal personnel (still male-dominated field), which is a problem. And many of these people have no interest in deviating from business as usual and can make their own interpretations still. Example: discrimination law. The Feminist Judgments Project is about not waiting 200 years to see what would happen if there were more feminist judges. It was invented by a group of Canadians.

One question was how do you protect feminists against the retaliatory exclusion that this kind of project might elicit? For example, men basically blacklisting activist feminists from becoming judges. The conclusion was that feminists might need some kind of protection beyond the informal network of support.

Behind the Wire: Maori Women and Prison by Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh (New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence)

This was a similar presentation to the one McIntosh gave at a previous conference [see notes from Trans/forming Feminisms]. Two interesting things mentioned were that besides war, mass incarceration is one of the most effective government social programs of our time, and that it is important to work with like-minded as well as unlike-minded people to be able to learn.

Re-thinking Feminist Informed Criminal Law Reform by Associate Professor Elisabeth McDonald (Victoria University of Wellington)

McDonald first gave a warning that she would be talking about rape in her presentation. She said she is working with Rosemary Hunter on the Feminist Judgments Project. In New Zealand, the Court of Appeals has a rape band which includes a traditional rape definition as well as other forms. She is trying to get the government to allow sexual assault support advisors to be at the victim’s side throughout the process of the criminal justice system. The victim might be more comfortable disclosing details to that person, and that could become part of the record. She mentioned the case of Mr. Bourke in the Waikato region who was acquitted within an hour! There is a problem with prior sexual experience not being allowed to be argued, because this rule can also be used when prior experience might actually help support the victim’s case (ex. virginity, normally would not do certain things, being lesbian, etc.). There needs to be more nuance in the law or interpretation.

There was a question about if having a gender continuum rather than a binary (to be more inclusive of trans-women, for example) will mean that women’s issues and oppression might be lost. McDonald said that we have to ask ourselves what are we giving up by going down the gender-neutrality track and what kind of outcomes do we want. McIntosh later asked why it is that people with the least power are seen as the most dangerous, whereas judges with privilege and power say their hands are tied and they cannot do anything.

Growing up with Hardcore: Exploring the Meanings of Pornography in the Digital Age by Samantha Keene (Victoria University of Wellington) 

Keene discussed some of the challenges with doing research on the controversial topic of pornography, including the fact that there isn’t much research on it in New Zealand and that those who do research it are sometimes seen as deviant or dodgy. Virtual reality pornography now exists (through wearing a headset) and POV shot style pornography is rapidly becoming popular. What was once usually in written or magazine form has adapted to changing technology. She noted that the ‘sex wars’ over pornography in the second wave feminist movement are still going on today, and there is still fierce debate in the scholarship – either very anti- or pro-. There is a Netflix documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” exploring amateur pornography industry in the U.S. Three pornography sites sit within the top 100 websites in the world, as well as New Zealand. One in five young New Zealand women access pornography, so it is not just a guys’ thing. Her study aims to understand what people construct as pornography, the meanings that people attribute to it, and the gendered differences in those meanings. The encrypted, anonymous messaging platform Kik is being used, and there have been ethics issues regarding criminal activity. But this is something that criminologists often have to face, because people won’t be honest if they know they are incriminating themselves. It’s not unique to research on pornography.

Freddie Montgomery, Matrixial Trickster: Representing The Feminine in The Narratives of John Banville by Michael Monaghan (Dublin City University)

Monaghan presented an analysis of some of the work of John Banville, an Irish writer who is very popular at the moment in Ireland. He discussed ekphrasis, which is “a verbal representation of graphic representation” (Heffernan, 1991, pg. 299), Judith Butler’s “Bracha’s Eurydice” (2006), and The Matrixial Borderspace (2006) by Bracha Ettinger, an Israeli visual artist, philosopher, psychoanalyst, and writer. In simplified terms, one of Banville’s male characters kills a woman and then tries to come to terms with this through art. There is the issue of the male gaze (common in film, literature, and art). The takeaway appears to be to stop aestheticizing one’s view of women and one might be able to represent them in a better, less invasive way. One can then see a woman as a whole person, rather than an amazing specimen, for example.

Disrupting Misogyny on Social Media – A BYOD Workshop by Jenny Rankine (University of Auckland)

For this workshop, Rankine provided a brief overview of how social media can be used to build a media advocacy campaign within feminist and other activist groups, then advised participants to choose an issue and brainstorm ideas for funny memes that get a certain message across. The first step in setting up a campaign is to look at the themes in whatever you are upset about and unpack it, looking at the assumptions and worldview behind it. The second step is to develop a response. It needs to be funny if you want it to be shared. This could mean being whimsical, ironic, sarcastic, or parodic. You should focus on the contradictions because every dominant discourse has them and it is the best place to drive a wedge and make people think twice. The third step is to post it on lots of social media platforms and come up with a hashtag if it is on Twitter. Finally, you should evaluate whether it made a difference. This involves looking at the average likes and retweets for your platform so you can measure whether you were successful. You can also use Google reverse image search to see which ones were shared the most. It is a good idea to use non-copyright images (through free image sites like www.pexels.com, www.pixabay.com, www.freeimages.com, and Wikimedia Commons) or try meme generators. The max size is 600 x 600 pixels for Facebook and Twitter. The key is to be effective in a small space with few words.

Margot Roth Inaugural Lecture:
Feminist Futures in the Anthropocene: Sustainable Citizenship and the Challenges of Climate Change and Social Justice by Professor Priya Kurian (University of Waikato)

Kurian opened by defining the Anthropocene for those who were not familiar with the term. It is a term that was coined by biologist Eugene Stoermer in the early 1980s and popularized by chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000. It is the age where humans have become a destructive and disruptive force of conquering nature. Kurian also used other rich vocabulary like capitalics, which is “a politics fuelled by global capital” (Munshi and Kurian, 2005; 2009) and inchoate and knotty. She noted that New Zealand received “The Fossil of the Day Award” at the UNFCCC Conference in Paris in December 2015 for being among the worst performers of climate action. This surprised her students, who have the perception that New Zealand is one of the good ones. With the current hegemonic focus on things like climate change, it can lead to a muzzling of democratic avenues, as happened in Canterbury in the name of urgency. She acknowledged Rachel Carson from the 1960s as one of the women at the forefront of dealing with environmental degradation. All of the advice to use eco-friendly light bulbs, drive less, etc. tells us nothing about collaborative political action. An environmental group interrogated a political candidate recently for her personal choices on whether she drives and other environmental issues, without providing for context. A single mother, for example, might have reasons for why she has to make certain environmental choices. Kurian emphasized that sustainable citizenship is an active citizenship. She closed strongly by saying that we need messy democratic and egalitarian politics, because this will lead to feminist futures for all of us.

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