Preliminary Reading/Viewing List

Feel free to add your own and contribute questions or comments.

Critical Development Studies and Failed Revolution

Maria Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development (A really excellent academic book about Che, Malcolm X, Rigoberta Menchú, and others)

More Revolutionary Testimonies

Malcolm X with Alex Haley, Autobiography of Malcolm X

Bobby Seale, Seize the Time

Assata Shakur, Assata

Rigoberta Menchú, I, Rigoberta Menchú

Good Recent Books about the Dominican Republic and Haiti

Junot Diaz, Drown

Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of the Bones

Postmodern and Postcolonial Novels and Short Stories

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (more accessible than Gravity’s Rainbow, but still very postmodern)

César Aira, How I Became a Nun (begins with an amazing farcical revision of the first scene in 100 years of solitude)

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Jamaica Kincaid, Autobiography of my Mother

Pettina Gappah, An Elegy for Easterly

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus (her wonderful first novel)

The Thing Around Your Neck (stories, also good)

Important (fairly) Recent Documentaries

Sir No Sir! (David Zeiger. GI resistance to the Vietnam War)

Life and Debt (Stephanie Black. excellent movie about neoliberalism based on Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place)

Slingshot Hip Hop (Jackie Salloum. Excellent introduction to the current struggle for Palestinian rights and also to Palestinian hip hop)

Postmodern/Post-Movement Feature Films

The Matrix trilogy (Wachowski brothers). Revolutionaries fight white men/machines and try to imagine freedom in postmodernity.

Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry. Lovely postmodern movie about history and movies)

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck. White liberal teachers and the death of social movements in the United States)

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Wrapping Up/Final Due Dates

Nice job today; sorry there wasn’t enough time to really get into many of the issues you raised in your very interesting and provocative presentations. But in any case, I hope you had a good time; you guys were great students all the way through and I’m very sad to see the course end.

So a few final things:

Final Response papers (to Adichie) are due Friday (July 16) by 5PM.

Makeup response papers, for any of the papers you feel like making up, are due Monday July 19 by NOON (just to make sure I have time to grade). I will replace the previous grade with the new one; just send me the old paper along with the replacement.

Finally, I’m not sure when I’ll get to grade and fully comment on your blog posts, so I don’t want to do a makeup one, but I decided to give you an extra credit assignment through which you can add up to 5 points to your grade on the blog post. The extra credit assignment is, make a comment of a few paragraphs on someone else’s post in which you connect something in  the post and/or the text described in it to one or more central ideas we’ve studied this summer, or elaborate on the connection the poster has already made. This is also due Monday by noon.

Finally, I’d like to put together a book list for further reading about some of these topics; if you have any suggestions, let me know.



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Revolution in 2009?

Marking the one year anniversary of the death of George Tiller, a prominent “abortion doctor”, I revisited an article written in the hours following his murder. In full disclosure, I will mention that I do not believe in abortion under any circumstance (though I do sympathize more with women who are faced with pregnancy in cases of rape than in other cases) and without hesitation contend that it is murder. With that said, what struck me about this article was beyond whether or not I agree with Tiller’s medical practices or I believe his murderer to be in the right. The lingering question I was left with at the end of the article was what constitutes a revolutionary? And more specifically, is Tiller’s killers a revolutionary figure?

Most times I find myself in conversations where the other person(s) is rolling their eyes at me, with me knowing they are thinking, “this is completely different”. My questions for them, and any readers who may be thinking the same thing about where I am going with this, is why is it different? Why can’t a pro-lifer use violence as a means of justice against somebody he considers a murderer; and not just a murderer, a mass murderer for hire?

The same general “liberal” population (I mean this to be people who classify themselves as  “liberal” and have found a way into my life – this is not meant to represent the opinion of all liberals, obviously) that stands in support of abortion rights—or as many would argue, not abortion rights per se, but reproductive and women’s rights—and outwardly scrutinize pro-life demonstrations and this subsequent murder, are the same grouping of people that stand in solidarity with such revolutionary individuals such as Malcolm X and Che Guevara.

So what? Well, let’s consider the fact they these particular individuals fought for what they considered grave injustices with violence. They were both once involved in acts that were categorized as “terrorism” and guerilla warfare (because it was not state sponsored perhaps?). So, why then, is it acceptable for these men to utilize violent tactics and not for George Tiller’s murder? When is revolution acceptable and when is it not?

I understand that the revolutions the abovementioned men (and their groups), in a nutshell, were part of larger movements to end oppressive governmental forces throughout the world. More specifically, they were fighting against neoliberal and racist ideals and influence that strategically worked against minority and indigenous populations, ripping from them human dignity, the right of self-determination and equal access and rights to resources and a full and happy life.

In a challenge, however, I would ask each of us to consider what the pro-lifer who killed Tiller was fighting for. Was it any less of a just cause than what the 1960 revolutionaries were fighting for? Is abortion somehow a protection of humanity and equal rights? Are the unborn not the most vulnerable of citizens in need of rights? Are they part of the “choice” in whether or not they live? Tiller’s killer was standing against the senseless murder (as he and many others understand it) of approximately 1.3 million defenseless children per year in just the United States of America; and this in a country that provides able opportunity for children to be housed with one of the 1.5 million good and willing adoptive families registered. Millions of children’s heads are being crushed, brains being vacuumed out of the head, babies who could realistically survive out of his/her mother’s womb are being ripped from the only home they’ve known, being flipped and flopped on a cold table, wrapped in white wax paper and thrown in the rooms garbage bin—that is what Tiller’s murderer was fighting against.

And I do not know whether or not the man who killed Tiller tried to balance the rights of women and his stance against abortion, but as I juggle the two ideas I would also dare each of us to consider the similarities between the forced sterilization of women at the hands of the Peace Corps that sparked revolution in Bolivia and the abortion practices that are being challenged in this country. While I write with limited knowledge, and in all honesty, a less than developed opinion of women’s rights movements and Bolivia (which may be somewhat problematic in my trying to make the connection I mentioned between Bolivia in the 60s and abortion in the U.S.), from what I understand a component of the problem in Bolivia and sterilization was misrepresentation of the procedure, in addition to outright lies told to the indigenous population). The fact of the matter is that these women were being ripped of their right to information and the “after procedure” realities they would face. Similarly, abortion clinics, in particular Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, has been noted as less than forthcoming with information for women that are seeking advice concerning unplanned and possibly unwanted pregnancies. Rick Sadowski in his article “Planned Parenthood: The Baby Killing Machine”, questions:

Is Planned Parenthood really about “choice”?  If the grounds for abortion are to give women choices, one would think Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion, would present all choices or at least one alternative other than abortion.

Statistics show that for every 1 referral for adoption between 2000 and 2007, there were 140 abortion referrals (Adoption=Terror). Even more telling is the “undercover” visit Kristen Hawkins of Students for Life made to a Planned Parenthood clinic. The only service she was offered was abortion; no adoption information or even more information for a general OB/GYN visit was provided. This type of service begs the question of whether or not abortion clinics, including those funded by Planned Parenthood and other privately owned and operated ones, really exist to provide “choices” to women and help them in their most vulnerable of times, or are they playing the game of capitalism and profiting off of exploitation and murder. And if that is the case, is Tiller’s murderer fighting against the same overarching theme that pits revolutionaries against large corporations capitalizing on the needs and anxieties of a citizenry in an effort to accumulate wealth and power. (I recognize further development of this connection might be needed and this very general and basic conclusion might be a stretch to some, but on my journey of trying to dialogue and wrestle with the ideas of revolution and revolutionary characters, I think it is helpful, if only to me).

As Franz Fanon, revolutionary author, suggests, violence is the language of the oppressor. It is a responsive tactic that should be, and is arguably, the only way to overcome the violence of those who impede on true peace and tranquility of a people. The idea is that “humanity can only be realized, according to him, by violence. This violence …is necessary as a route towards a better world.”The revolutionary violence throughout Africa, Latin America and the United States and its figures are held as icons of revolution. Perhaps, like these revolutionary icons, Tiller’s murderer saw himself as a voice for those were “sub human” (or not even human at all, like many contend in regards to unborn children), that somehow their worth as a nation or grouping of peoples were not equal to those in power. In much the same way, it can be viewed as if the abortion doctor’s killer was awakened as a revolutionary leader to stand against the violent assault on America’s children that was seemingly more acceptable because of the fact that they are done in sterile doctor’s office, fueled by the American “apathy of ignorance.” Women are being coerced into abortions, thinking (or rather being told) that “choice” is the only choice, to fill the pockets of corporation, all while being left to deal with the psychological and physical trauma that consequently affects abortion patients, their families and their lives and children were being slaughtered. Tiller’s murderer may have found his place was to act against the doctor who was part of this system of violence, with, what else but violence.

I still do not know whether George Tiller’s murderer is a revolutionary. (Who has the right to crown somebody a revolutionary anyways?!) However, in considering of the world’s most highlighted revolutionary leaders and ideals, I would contend that his actions are no less revolutionary than those which Fanon explicitly outlined and many people in history, like Che and Malcolm X, have adopted.

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Guantanamo is Closing Everybody Rejoice! (except Cuba, they still get screwed)

In the midst of all hell breaking loose as oil spills uncontrollably into the Gulf of Mexico, the economy still in shambles, and those two pesky wars being fought for God knows what reason, there lies a forgotten promise to the world; the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Shortly after his inauguration President Obama had ordered the closure of the infamous Guantanamo Bay by January 2010. The failure for this closure to actually occur is not an unforeseen one as the topic of Guantanamo Bay itself is one marred with red tape and taboo which will postpone the close of the prison camp until after Obama’s first term expires. Despite the postponement of the closing of Guantanamo Bay the consequences that accompany it cannot go unnoticed.

The closing of Guantanamo Bay is lauded as a means in which the United States can free itself from a symbol of oppression that serves as a rallying point for our current foes in the War on Terror, but ironically enough the very existence of the military base has been a symbol of oppression since its construction. Before Guantanamo Bay became a popular symbol for the evils of America it was once …another symbol of the evils of America. A brief history of the American establishment in Cuba demonstrates that since the Spanish-American war the United States has shown a need to assert its presence in Cuba, even when it was unwanted (Castro’s rise to power-Present). The contract signed allowing the United States to maintain its land claim in Cuba was done so by Batista, the puppet leader they established in the first place. This contract states that the agreement between Cuba and the United States can only be changed or terminated by a mutual agreement between the two countries leaving Cuba utterly powerless to do anything to remove their unwanted foreign presence.

This exercise in power has carried into the usage of Guantanamo to hold prisoners taken in the War on Terror effectively cementing its place in history as the one stop shop for all of your oppression needs by occupying one country against its will while displacing terror suspects from halfway across the world and holding them indefinitely. With such large scale operatuions being conducted through Guantanamo Bay it must be asked what will be done with the military base in Cuba after it is no longer used for the War on Terror? Nicholas D. Kristof suggests that returning the land to Cuba would serve as a type of dual atonement. By washing its hands of the Guantanamo prison camp the United States would be forfeiting the land for the sake of burying the events that transpired there (which is a leap of faith in its own right but I digress) and by returning the land to the Cubans it would be a gesture of good will towards Cuba of an unparalleled nature (unless the whole Elian Gonzalez ordeal still counts).

Regardless whether or not the land of Guantanamo Bay is returned to the Cuban people however is a moot point at the moment because the prison camp is still active and looks to be for the near future. Though I’m stating the obvious the clear first step is to begin to whittle down the usage of Guantanamo Bay as a terrorist detention center leading to its eventual close. The act of simply using a different facility to detain terror suspects in would: 1. Be a significant step in the right direction for the United States (Can anyone honestly think of Guantanamo Bay and not think of the scandalous pictures produced from some of our finest?) and 2. The Cubans would prefer to be absolutely free of our occupation, but I believe closing a prison camp utilizing interrogation techniques that require the most delicate of terminology to refrain from being declared torture as a solid first step towards mending the one of the many broken relations between nations.

For a president whose campaign was based on the premise of hope and change it would be damning to simply sweep his order to close Guantanamo Bay under the rug and simply push the matter to his second term or to his successor. Simply put the matter of closing Guantanamo Bay presents a crossroads of sorts for Obama, one from which he can demonstrate his message of hope on a worldwide scale by evacuating occupied lands that were taken unjustly and held as a sort of trophy of American dominance and used in vile fashion, or demonstrate that with one hell of a catchy message and enough grass roots campaigning you too could become the next president ready to push an agenda of more of the same crap peddled by the many predecessors before you despite giving it a fancy new exterior. Sadly the reality is that some half hearted resolution to end terrorist detention at Guantanamo will pass, but the ‘strategic need’ for the base will be pressing enough for it to remain under U.S occupation allowing it to remain the longstanding beacon of the assertion of American dominance and exploitation that it has become.

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Blog Entry – Christine Sands

A topic of concern brought to my attention is the promised closing of the Guantánamo prison located in Cuba.  Closing Guantánamo prison was a promise made by President Obama on 22 January 2009 near the beginning of his US Presidency.  Under the Bush administration in 2002, prisoners associated with terrorists groups or military operations located in Afghanistan and neighboring countries were – and have continued to be – transported, detained, and tortured at Guantánamo prison.  The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s Final Report states that, “Since 2002, a total of 779 individuals have been detained at Guantánamo in connection with the war against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces”.  This report, which was released in May of this year, shows the examination processes and information needed to evaluate which of the remaining 240 prisoners at the Guantánamo prison facility will be prosecuted, transferred, released or detained indefinitely.  The completion of this report on Guantánamo is viewed as having “fulfill[ed] a central element of the President’s order” to close the Guantánamo prison.

However, closing the Guantánamo prison was to take place within a year from the President’s order back on 22 January 2009.  It appears that shutting down the Guantánamo prison has been delayed due to attempted acts of terrorism and opposition from politicians in the United States.  For example, a Nigerian terrorist, named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to ignite explosives on a plane landing in Detroit on 25 December of last year, causing great concern within the US since Abdulmatallab had ties to the al-Qaida in Yemen.  Events such as this have installed fear in the American public at the proposal of moving the Guantánamo detainees into a maximum-security prison located in Thomson, Illinois.  Although a location for the new prison has been identified showing some progress in the attempts to close the Guantánamo prison, New York Times journalist Charlie Savage discusses how many politicians still feel the Obama administration isn’t doing enough.  This leads to that belief that closing the prison is no longer an important priority of the American government.  Savage also brings to attention the fact that “Guantánamo is a [negative] symbol in the Muslim world of past detainee abuses”.

The Obama administration is also taking criticism from other journalists, such as New York Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof.  At the end of January 2009, Kristof’s column in the New York Times questioned President Obama’s decision to ignore “calls for an investigation into torture and other abuses during the Bush years” regarding the Guantánamo prison.  Kristof even goes as far as to make suggestions about how to go about closing the prison; however, he makes the absurd statement that giving the Guantánamo Bay back to the Cubans is not “politically realistic”, and instead suggests transforming the prison into a research center for tropical diseases.  It disturbs me to realize that whatever the United States chooses to do with the Guantánamo prison facility, whether to just hand it over to the Cubans or to transform it into some sort of research facility, is based primarily on politics.  If the Guantánamo prison were made into a tropical disease research center,  “the United States Government would directly address poverty and health disparities in the worst-off nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean”, as stated by Peter J. Hotez, the editor for the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journal Neglected Tropical Diseases.  Hotez also states that, “It is a moral outrage that a wealthy country like the United States allows its closest neighbors to suffer from some of the world’s worst levels of disease, poverty, and malnutrition.  Reinventing Gitmo to address our hemisphere’s most pressing neglected health problems could help change America’s reputation and legacy in the region”.  This shows the political goals that exist even in the actions that benefit the world’s people: changing Guantánamo into a disease research center would serve as a way to show US concern and cooperation into international needs, therefore possibly building positive alliances with other nations.  However, I believe that transforming the prison into a positive facility would be extensively beneficial.  In my opinion, making progress in the vaccination and elimination of diseases is a wonderful idea.  It is the human rights violations that are of greater concern to me; most journalists only briefly discuss the fact that detainees at the Guantánamo prison endure torture and horrible treatment that violate their human rights.  Also, many detainees are denied repatriation.

An independent journalist that clearly constructs the issues present within the Guantánamo prison and the necessity to shut it down is Andy Worthington.  He is also the author of a book titled The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.  In his section ‘Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who is at Guantánamo?’, Worthington appears very knowledgeable about the situations present in the Guantánamo prison and the problems with evidence acquired from the detainees through means of torture.  He argues that Obama has taken similar stances about the Guantánamo detainees that former President Bush had taken: “support of indefinite detention without charge or trial”, as worded by Worthington.  Based on the reasoning for the delay in closing the prison, I agree with Worthington.  Instead of considering the detainees prisoners of war, who would be protected under the Geneva Conventions as Worthington explains, the detainees are held under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allows the President to take any action, or force, deemed necessary in the fight against terrorism.  Charlie Savage claims that President Obama has “banned brutal interrogations”, but where is the proof?  How do we, the public, know that preventative measures against torture are being enforced?  The uncertainty arising from Obama’s actions and decisions regarding the Guantánamo prison is discouraging for the public and the other nations opposed to the US military base and prison in Cuba.  I believe this issue is of great importance considering the brutality of the past, both through US imperialism and desire to advance counterterrorist operations.  Therefore, Obama should be determined to finally achieve his goal of closing Guantánamo prison and transporting the remaining detainees to the new facility in Illinois while also attempting to repatriate or prosecute them if possible.

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“Achie Nonaûmwem” (Nic’s post)

While I was eating my cereal laden with Land O’Lakes milk, I stumbled upon an article regarding the remembrance ceremony of Deer Island concentration camp victims. For those of us who are not familiar with geography or history, Deer Island is one of the Boston Harbor Islands located along Tafts Avenue in Winthrop, MA. Deer Island was connected to Winthrop by filled land and it has been used by Native Americans, immigrants, military personnel, paupers and currently the home of the new Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant. The concentration camp in Deer Island was established as a result of Metacom’s (King Philip) War against the English settlers after decades of land grabbing and subjugation. The Massachusetts Council signed a law on October 13, 1675 stating that “all those Indians that are desirous to Approve themselves Faithful to the English, be Confined to their several Plantations under-written, until the Council shall take further Order, and that none of them do presume to Travel above one Mile from the Center of such their Dwelling unless in Company with some English.” All of the Native Americans, including those who converted to Christianity, were rounded up and transferred to the internment camp in Deer Island. The ceremony was attended by at least 40 people including City Councilor Felix Arroyo who placed a wreath on the site and relates the brutal winds that day to the brutal winter that the Native Americans experienced 300 years ago. What struck me the most in the article is about bringing the history of American Indians in the spotlight which was normally hidden or silenced from memory. I will argue about the importance of public history venues in expanding their narratives to incorporate voices that had been silenced for long. That the reasons why Native Americans had been absent from public history discourse are insufficient resources and explanatory biases that attested the domination of racial/class powers. That adding these lost stories back into the historical record is not about trying to change history but about changing the attitudes that keep Native Americans in the place of exclusion and where one part of history is perceived as a whole and therefore represents the only truth.

Why is Native American history hidden or silenced? One of the reasons is the lack of written records prior to colonization. Instead of writing their story, Native Americans rely on oral traditions in propagating their history and commit them to the memory of the community where they can gain pride in knowing their traditions. Native Americans rely on stories and traditions in giving guidelines for the entire tribe and these stories are transmitted from one generation to another by mouth. Oral traditions are so important because it represents their heritage and memory that story tellers were selected at a very young age to remember each story and relate it to the people of the community. The irreverence toward oral traditions that epitomizes the West’s intercourse with the Natives ultimately leads to the denouement of the Natives innate depravity. The lack of written records, in the sentiment of the West, is proof of their lack of history prior to European contact and this poverty of history is due to their savage nature and barbarity. This perspective ultimately leads to the notion that the European settlers gave Native Americans a sense of history and provided them with culture which bestowed dignity to their once uncivilized state. This “noble” cause of the settlers became an ambiguity when they saw the richness of the land that is fresh for the taking. Instead of bringing culture to these “savages” who owned acres of lands, the settlers take it away from them through brute force and intractable savagery. It all boils down in protecting and owning the land. I do believe John Sam Sapiel, a Penobscot, when he said that “the only thing my people were doing during the King Philip’s War was trying to protect our lands…they’re still doing it today in Palestine and all through that area – stealing land trying to get their resources.” The magnanimity of the land is very important in Native American way of life because it is where they can get their livelihood. The land ties them to the tribe and in turn ties them to their ancestors who are buried in this land. One can see the analogy of King Philip’s War to the Israeli-Arab conflict as trying to protect the land. But one should ask who the settler is and who the native is in this ever-growing struggle.

The dominant racial and class force is able to control the historical record and this control eliminated things like the presence of Native American’s in 19th century communities. Unseen Neighbors argues that the canonical prospect of “vanishing” Native Americans is due to the social construction of the dominant class. The dominant class refuses to see the Indian because they did not “behave” as Indian and they were biologically mixed with other races. The identity of an Indian became the creature of white imagination: inebriated, corrupt, or credulous. The authorized version treated American Indians as economically exploited and people at the edge who are disconnected from the social landscape. This single story about “vanishing” Native Americans becomes thoroughly inculcated into the public imagination that we have preconceptions of what constitutes a Native American. A single story is where the same story gets repeated forever while we do not know the story first-hand. This leads to crude stereotypes and paints a false picture of the world. An example of a single story is many Americans think that Africa is full of wild animals and starving children, not a place for businesses and suburbs. This single story is ultimately rejected when we examine records such as treaties with the Natives, enumeration as Indian for the State, and documentation in original birth certificates etc. that demonstrates the Native affirming their individuality and collectivity. The American Indian is only “vanishing” in 19th century discourse because the dominant cultural force purposely ignored them and they were not recognized as being properly Indian anymore.

After the commemoration ceremony, Nipmuck Indians plans to have a Native American memorial on Deer Island. I believe that the creation of a memorial is very important in educating people about the long standing culture of Native Americans that has a deep respect with the land. In a city full of sculptures of historical markers and memorials, it is interesting that there is no public display about the people who lived here many generations before the colonist arrived. The memorial will showcase a tragic piece of U.S. history that serves as a reminder for us not to tolerate such things to happen again. The idea of adding back events into the historical record is not about “changing” history. Not telling what happened does not change the fact of its happening. The memorial will also expand the narrative of the single story about Native Americans and will change our attitudes where one side of history is perceived as the whole. The memorial will primarily serve as a beacon of hope for people like Kenneth, a Nipmuck Indian in South Central Massachusetts, who was asked about the significance of the Deer Island concentration camp and said in a simple statement full of pride and defiance, “We are still here. We were here then and we are here now, living our lives and raising our families.”

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Blog Assignment/Becky Ravenelle

Protecting Whose Future?

P&G Commercial

Proctor & Gamble is a massive transnational company, producer of such name brands as Tide, Always, Tampax, Iams, Pampers, Duracell, Swiffer etc. The company owns at last count 86 well know household, and health & beauty brands.  If you claim to not have a P&G product at home right now I do not believe you. P&G has never been shy about advertising their ‘charitable’ efforts- one of the more recent being the Tide Loads of Hope campaign which they have made the focus of several commercials. You may remember in late 2007 through 2008, under the name brands of Always and Tampax, P&G released a series of commercials highlighting their new Protecting Futures campaign. A nice play on words here I think as the company is setting out- according to their commercials and press releases- to protect young girls’ futures, dignity and clothing (from those embarrassing stains they claim the girls will otherwise suffer) in sub-Sahara Africa by providing them with name brand sanitary products. According to P&G many girls must stay home from school when menstruating because they lack proper sanitary protection and facilities at school and over time this absence leads to increased drop out rates. But if you want to help it is easy (or so P&G would like you to think). When purchasing your feminine care products choose Always or Tampax to help support their campaign to provide girls with the protection they need to stay in school and succeed.

Before even critically thinking about the actual campaign it seems vital to ask whether this is indeed a real issue at all. If so many girls have been missing school for so long because of their periods why are we just now hearing about it? Did we all miss women of sub-Sahara Africa asking for more options to deal with menstruation? No. The answer is that P&G isn’t lying, so much as they are not telling the whole truth- a common trait amongst all multinational companies (and politicians) in this postmodern world of ours. They essentially created their own truth- the facts are what they say are the facts and it appears few people are questioning it. According to a lone cynical article in the New York Times the ‘many’ girls who are missing school is in actuality 1 in 10; the average school days missed is about a week per month but amongst both girls and boys. Although there is some research to indicate that menstruation can conflict so to speak with attending school (when the school lacks proper bathrooms, not because the young woman lacks menstrual products) the more common reason is a lack of money in the family to buy a uniform, school supplies, or the children are needed at home.

Aside from the fact that P&G has essentially created this story in sub-Sahara Africa to preach to the rest of the ‘developed’ world about the ‘poor girls in primitive’ Africa, a very shallow and naïve interpretation of this commercial, and of the entire Protecting Futures campaign, would have viewers assuming that P&G is acting out of the goodness of their corporate hearts. Nothing could be further from the truth. The commercials themselves were shot to illustrate a stereotypical, and I am sure fictitious, African village. They were designed to pull at the heart-strings of all women, especially those who have had the benefit of an education I am sure, to ensure the viewers are sucked into the P&G message. P&G is not engaging in this campaign to earn some karma points, they are in it to earn money because this is Procter & Gamble, a company with a stock portfolio worth about a hundred billion (yes billion with a B) dollars and we are living in a world ruled by global capitalism. P&G is only seeing dollar signs and millions of potential customers in the relatively untapped market that is sub-Sahara Africa.

According to the company, their goal is to reach one million girls by 2012. ‘Reaching’ here seems to imply that they will be distributing their products to one million girls in sub-Sahara Africa, end of story. However the campaign is not that simple, not only is P&G trying to force these girls into using their products but to do so they are also attempting to alter the very communities the girls live in to ensure they will accept their modern (and therefore supposedly superior) products.

Traditionally in most areas of sub-Sahara Africa young women will use pads composed of rags and camel skin- they are reusable if the women have access to clean water and sanitation services (if anything the clean water and sanitation is the blockade for these women). Although I myself admit that disposable is always easier, it is not always better. It is easier to throw away the plastic flatware than to wash the real silverware after dinner but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right choice. P&G will be providing for free, for five years only, disposable products. Which is where this campaign begins to become complex- the communities P&G want to distribute to are not set up to handle large amounts of waste products due to the lack of sanitation and refuse collection and containment facilities. So what is a giant corporation to do? In the case of P&G they have allocated money from the campaign to build girls only bathrooms allowing them a place to change their disposable products, and are piping in water (sometimes at a distance of over two miles) to install indoor plumbing. Although I feel that the addition of clean water and bathrooms to schools is a plus (maybe this should be the sole focus of the campaign if they are feeling truly ‘charitable’), but P&G had to find a way to not only dispose of their products safely but to do so in a manner that will not upset many of the students, because in many areas where P&G want to operate there is a strongly held belief that exposed blood can be used to cast spells. Undaunted by this cultural difference, P&G devised a solution: they trained the teachers to incinerate used products in a specially designed collection box. Yes, they are going to have to burn all of the used pads from the one million girls. If I had to do this for myself every month, I would stop using these products immediately but P&G still maintains that their products will have a positive impact on these girls and therefore all of this elaborate planning is worth it.

And why will it be worth it? Not because these girls will be able to keep up in their studies but because P&G sees a large payoff at the end of the campaign. Not only do they count on more American women purchasing their products to help support a company that supports a ‘great cause’ but the free product distribution will only last through 2012. After these girls complete their education (thanks to their Always Maximum Protection Ultra Thin with Flexi-Wings pads and not due to their intelligence or grades I am sure) they will supposedly become paying customers who will want to continue using P&G products. In addition while still receiving the free products P&G is hoping their female relatives will want to purchase the products for themselves.

P&G is not the first company to try to create a market for ‘Western’ items in Africa. In the late 1970’s Nestle, through heavy marketing and free distribution of baby formula, began convincing many mothers in Africa and other ‘less developed’ areas, that their infant formula was superior to breast milk. This was not a misguided information exchange on the companies part, Nestle wanted their money and they flat-out lied to millions of woman to try to get it. Even when given free powder formula mix, most of the woman lacked sanitary water for preparation, or because they could literally not read the instructions (in most cases they were printed in English only) they over diluted the formula. Many communities saw drastic increases in diarrhea, gastrointestinal diseases and malnutrition amongst the infants receiving the formula and unfortunately many infants did not survive or were worse off than if they had been fed breast milk.

Although I think you would be hard pressed to argue that using disposable sanitary products will cause the severe health issues as seen in the case of Nestle (although I am sure it will cause an increase in the already too numerous environmental issues of the continent cause by ‘helpful’ corporations), P&G has the same goals and general marketing ideas in practice- convince those in the ‘underdeveloped’ world that their modern products are superior to traditional practices (which are often not suitable, i.e. profitable, to a capitalist society) and through marketing and free samples make them want the ‘superior’ product. In both cases these companies targeted women, claiming that their products will help them live better, even easier, lives. And despite the feminist spin P&G has put on the campaign, they did not ask for input from the very women they are hoping to ‘help’. This is not just a cynical analysis of the situation- focusing heavily on marketing towards youth is a common, albeit immoral way companies operate to enforce their Western ideals on others. Case in point, in reaction to the Protecting Futures campaign one Simmons School of Management Professor made a statement which I believe sums up a large part of why P&G is going so far to ensure young school age women will turn into capitalist consumers (I mean they just as easily could have developed a campaign to help adult women receive ‘protection’ to ensure they are able to attend a job outside of the home etc.), “When you want to change a culture, it’s a good strategy to start with the younger generation”; a true and ominous statement spoken from a spot on developmentalist perspective.

~Becky Ravenelle~

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