Bonus: Talking Feminist Anthropology with Emma Backe
Host: Leila McNeill
Guest: Emma Louise Backe
Producer: Leila McNeill
Music: Love Science by Fast Lady
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In the second installment of our Lady Scientists series, Leila talks with anthropologist Emma Backe about the emergence of feminist practice within the field of anthropology, impact within the field, and how feminist anthropology is applied to analysis of gender-based violence.
Content warning: sexual violence
Transcribed by Rev.com
Leila: Welcome to this bonus episode of the Lady Science Podcast. I'm Leila McNeill, one of the regular hosts of the podcast, and one of the editors in chief of Lady Science Magazine. This is the second installment of our bonus episode series, in which I chat with practicing women scientists from a variety of fields about how feminism shapes the work that they do. For this episode, Emma Backe will join me to talk about the emergence of feminist practice within the field of anthropology, its impact within the field, and how feminist anthropology is applied to analysis of gender-based violence.
Leila: And, before we dive in, I do wanna give a content warning. We will be talking about sexual and domestic violence. So, without further ado, here we go. Emma Louise Backe is a Ph.D. student at George Washington University, where she studies medical anthropology. In addition to her fieldwork on trauma, gender based violence, and sexual and reproductive health, Emma also works as a consultant in international development and global health. In her spare time Emma manages and writes for The Geek Anthropologist and serves as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, with collective action for safe spaces. So, welcome.
E. Backe: Thank you so much.
Leila: So we actually met ... I would guess almost three years ago ... at the Pop Culture Conference in Seattle.
E. Backe: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we were both networking, and I think a little bit nervous about how to begin the process of networking a room full of people that we didn't know.
Leila: Yeah, one of those like, awkward, academic mixers where they have like, the free wine and cheese, and yeah. I think the extent of our networking, 'cause I was there with Anna, was you, and then we left.
E. Backe: Yeah, well it was a wonderful confluence of serendipity where I ... you two both seemed cool and approachable, and thankfully there was a fair amount of overlap between our work.
Leila: Yes, and since then. I guess it was a successful networking experience, 'cause after that we did an interview with Geek Anthropologist, and then since then you've written three pieces for our monthly issues, and now here we are. So we're having an ... as networking experiences at an academic conference can go, I think that was pretty good.
E. Backe: Yeah, absolutely, thank you Pop Culture Association for bringing us together.
Leila: Yes. Okay, so let's jump in. Why don't you kind of start off with talking a little bit about ... you don't have to spend too much time on going into what anthropology is ... but if you could just explain a little bit about what anthropology is, and then what specifically is feminist anthropology?
E. Backe: Absolutely. So, anthropology I think broadly is a sort of social science research approach that uses a lot of qualitative, and sometimes quantitative methods. The go-to that I always use as an elevator pitch, is the definition that was provided by Ruth Benedict, which is that anthropology is the study of human difference, and sort of making space for those differences.
E. Backe: I think what anthropology used to study in the past had a lot more to do with sort of these processes of exotification, and “the other,” and trying to create some kind of rationale out who “the other” was in spaces that were considered to be very separate from what we think of in terms of Western culture. But I would not say that anthropology is quite as invested in this idea of exotification. I think in part because of the post-colonial turn, and in part because of what feminist anthropology did, in terms of reorienting the kinds of work that we were doing, and the kinds of people that we were working with. And so I guess in answer to your second question, feminist anthropology created a very different approach to who was qualified to be an anthropologist.
E. Backe: Early anthropology was very much run by a white male vanguard. And then feminist anthropologists not only intervened to say that women should be a central part of this methodological practice, but that there were entire swathes of populations, particularly women in these communities, that weren't being talked to. There was this assumption that as long as you had talked to men in a particular community, you'd sort of gotten the entire picture of sort of what their political and economic system was. And it took a new vanguard of feminist anthropologists to really be critical of that, and within that there was also a very big turn in terms of more participatory approaches to research, and I think a more nuanced understanding of the way that gender, sexuality, and power plays into the study of culture.
Leila: And one of the pieces that you wrote for us, you talked about how the male anthropologists, like you said, would talk to the men of the group that they were studying, and the perspective that they would then present as research was filtered through like, two different kinds of gendered gazes and perspectives.
Leila: And I think that that's always something really important to highlight, when we're talking about feminist science, and what feminist science is. Scientists approach their work through different kinds of lenses, and when you only have the dominant, or privileged, or the more powerful doing the work, that the results that they present at the end are going to be limited and exclusive.
Leila: And to me that seems obvious, but when we're talking about scientific fields and this veneer of objectivity, that understanding of how people approach work with different lenses doesn't ... it's hard to break through that veneer of objectivity and understanding.
E. Backe: Yeah.
Leila: That type of thing.
E. Backe: Well, and I think it also then, if you have these multiple filtration systems where you are making certain assumptions in terms of sort of a more androcentric approach, you're also then reinforcing those narratives. And so, the more you have a very particular, male-oriented framework, the more you have social science literature that is sort of privileging a very particular kind of voice, and a very particular kind of experience.
E. Backe: And then there is a sort of symbolic violence, or symbolic power, that is being enacted through that process.
Leila: Right. So you can you go into a little bit more detail about how those early women anthropologists like Zora Neale Hurston, and Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead, how their approach to their work, and their methods, differed and kind of changed the way anthropology was done.
E. Backe: I'll [talk] about Margaret Mead especially, because part of what she was doing was making anthropology a little bit more public, so the sort of oeuvre of public anthropology is something that we've been talking about a lot. I think it's something that a lot of scientific fields are talking about, in terms of making their research a little bit more approachable.
E. Backe: But Margaret Mead was working in the South Pacific, and was very interested in the sort of normative roles of gender and sexuality that had been ascribed to her as a woman, and also as a scholar. And was interested in where this comes from, so there was this very ... there was this period of time when there was this dichotomy between nature and culture. So there was this idea that there are certain sort of, inbred biological traits of gender, which is something that obviously has been complicated.
E. Backe: But the time that she was conducting her work, she wanted to get a little bit more perspective of why is it that women in communities always have to sort of perform these domestic roles. Why is it that male sexual access and prowess tends to be privileged over women. And so when she was working in the South Pacific, she was actually very much complicating these narratives, and talking one on one with the women, as well as the men.
E. Backe: And I think part of this is also the positionality of the female anthropologist. One of the things that she brought is, male anthropologists probably would not have been able to have access to these female populations because of their gender, because of ideas about whether or not it would have even been appropriate to talk to the women and girls in those communities. And so even though anthropology is sort of seen as a softer science, because you're going in to the field and using a little bit more qualitative methods, it also creates a lot more flexibility in terms of the people that you're able to talk to.
E. Backe: And so as she was conducting research, she was sort of revealing the hidden transcripts of this alternative way of thinking about gender and sexuality in these communities. And so she wrote Coming of Age in Samoa. But she brought back her research to the United States, and was really ... was using it as a platform to say, "Look, these ideas of what we think about in terms of what it means to be a proper woman, what the gender roles are for men and women, they don't need to be this rigid. None of this is natural or inherent, or biologically defined. In fact, it's cultural."
E. Backe: And she was using that in part to sort of stage what was part of a feminist cultural revolution, about our ideas about gender roles, not necessarily being so inherent to our biology. Coming of Age in Samoa was published in 1928, so it was still fairly early, but I would say that she continued to publish and work on issues of gender and sexuality throughout the 1900s. But I think she sort of precipitated this move that, I think was a little bit more emergent in the 60s and the 70s, during some more second wave feminism, when feminists were approaching social scholars like anthropologists to get a better sense of sort of the historicity of these gender roles.
E. Backe: And so part of what Margaret Mead was doing was creating this problematization as sort of the backbone of modern anthropology.
Leila: So let's talk a little bit about ... 'cause your interest, one of your interests anyway, is looking at gender-based violence in your research. So that was another piece that you wrote for us as well, was about feminist anthropology and gender-based violence. So, what does anthropology look at when you're looking at gender-based violence?
E. Backe: Yeah. I mean the short answer is everything.
Leila: Right. Sure.
E. Backe: I would say that there are a few strands that anthropologists tend to draw upon when analyzing gender-based violence. One is the structural violence approach that was popularized by Paul Farmer, who was a medical anthropologist. And structural violence is sort of looking at the different institutions and frameworks that basically create conditions of marginalization. So issues like poverty, political demobilization, precarious housing, availability of jobs.
E. Backe: So all of the ways in which there are sort of these multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities, that then lead to conditions where agency is somewhat restricted. And in so doing, how do women and men potentially have to participate in practices that are not always necessarily safe, but are conducted as a form of survival. So, structural violence is sort of very big theoretical framework.
E. Backe: And then another big feminist anthropologist named Nancy Scheper-Hughes has written a lot about sort of the continuum of normalized violence, and the ways in which gender-based violence oftentimes is seen as this very spectacular thing, so when we're talking about rape it's something that is often somewhat sensationalized. But it is very rarely the only form of violence that a person is experiencing in relation to their gender, so thinking about all the different forms of violences that are feeding into alternative forms of emotional violence, physical violence, symbolic violence, and then looking also at sort of hidden sites of violence.
E. Backe: So, thinking about the ways in which, for instance in the United States, you couldn't legally rape your wife, because if you had married someone, then you were basically considered to always have sexual access to their bodies. And so this was considered to be something that was private, it wasn't under the purview of the government, and was therefore hidden, or obscured. And so like, what are the forms of violence that are not necessarily noticed, or are taken for granted? And I think for a very long time, and even still today, gender-based violence is something that was potentially taken for granted, especially because there were other forms of violence that were seen as maybe being a little bit more interesting, or even, less politically fraught.
Leila: Yeah, that's interesting because that was something that we dealt a lot with when I was working at a domestic violence shelter. Was looking at how the structural violences that different women experienced, and how those were ... influenced [by] the interpersonal relationship between them and their partner. And so when you look at something like domestic violence, you can't just look at it all through the same definition of domestic violence, because the tools that an abuser uses [are] different depending on their socio-economic condition.
Leila: It's based also on the way that gay couples engage in gender-based violence, and people don't think of that as gender-based violence, because they're of the same sex or of the same gender. But sometimes the dominant partner will pull on the larger systemic gender discrimination that we have, and wield that against their partner. And so, I find that I never realized that the tools and education that we were using at the shelter kind of come from this work that anthropologists have been doing. I find that incredibly fascinating.
E. Backe: Yeah, I mean I think that there's a sort of recursive process that's happening. It was something that I similarly hadn't realized until I was actually attending a bystander intervention training. And even though the training itself wasn't framed in a super-theoretical way, there were a lot of, maybe not necessarily always anthropological, but sort of social science approaches. There was a certain amount of Michel Foucault, that was infused in it.
E. Backe: We were talking a lot about the ways in which manifestations of gender might invite certain attention, such as harassment, and there was a lot of dialog about the way that gender is a performance, which is very much drawing upon Judith Butler. And I think that part of what feminist scholars have been trying to do that is potentially different than other domains, is drawing upon the experiential, recognizing that your own personal experience can be a form of theory in and of itself. And also working interdisciplinarily, so not simply drawing upon one particular discipline, but looking at what other communities and other scholars are doing, and incorporating that into your practice as well.
Leila: One of the things that you talked about in that piece on sexual and gender-based violence that you wrote for us is that anthropologists in this regard have done a bad job of turning their own tools on themselves. And [they] have, in a way, seen themselves as exempt of perpetuating the same violence that they're studying in their work.
Leila: I know that in anthropology, you, in that field, have had your own kind of recent instance of something like this happening. So if you could kind of talk about that disconnect between practitioners not turning their own tools on themselves, and the thing that they study. And then kind of if you wanna talk a little bit about what's been going on in your field.
E. Backe: Yeah, I mean, I think that there is sort of this sense that if you are conversant in these theories of power, and most of what contemporary anthropological research works on are instances of abuse and oppression and discrimination, and really investigating all of the different thresholds and nodes through which those operate, and really being exceptionally critical of institutions. Especially institutions that sort of claim to be working on behalf of certain kinds of people while potentially oppressing others.
E. Backe: There's this assumption that, because you're so suffused in the scholarship, and you know this theory back and forth, that therefore you could never be a perpetrator of these same forms of violence that we study. And unfortunately that's simply not the case. Just because you have a certain theoretical orientation doesn't mean that you are actually able to practice it. Which is interesting because one of anthropology's central modalities is this concept of self-reflexivity, of doing that self investigative work to figure out, what are my biases, where am I coming from, what are the ideologies that I'm bring into the field, and doing my best to be critical of those.
E. Backe: And so there has still sort of been this assumption of the anthropologist as sort of, not necessarily the activist, because there's a lot of thought politics about activist anthropology, but that anthropologists are sort of doing the good work. But then not investigating within their own disciplines how they might be perpetuating these very same forms of injustice. And this especially came to a head this past summer, when [at] a very famous and popular journal called Hau, there were a bunch of former editors [who] published an article on another blog called Footnotes, basically dealing the ways in which the editor-in-chief had committed sexual harassment, financial exploitation, abuse.
E. Backe: Basically enumerating a number of ways in which scholars were feeling exploited physically, emotionally, sexually, and then a wave of other sort of senior editors resigned and apologized, and a bunch of junior scholars in the field basically calling out those senior scholars for saying, how could you not have known that this was happening? And so even [though] the epicenter of the debate was the editor-in-chief of this journal Hau, it ended up actually initiating a much larger conversation about #MeToo and anthropology, and the ways in which anthropology has yet to reckon with the ways in which we ask people to go into the field to conduct fieldwork for long periods of time, but we don't do any sort of safety planning or protocols for people who are going to be in vulnerable situations.
E. Backe: Especially if they're women, or queer, or scholars of color, or don't have enough money to cover basic safety planning, getting around their sites. The fact that senior scholars in a field may actually be perpetrating sexual harassment and assault within their discipline, and junior scholars don't feel like they can speak out because it would jeopardize their position at the school, it would prevent them from getting jobs. The ways in which, also, anthropology was supposed to have gone through a post-colonial turn that was supposed to be more open to scholars of color and indigeneity, and a feminist praxis, and in actuality, is still sort of centered on this male body.
E. Backe: And so it has basically initiated a lot of conversations about how anthropology both in the field, and in our classrooms, can address the fact that violence is not only happening to anthropologists, but is also being perpetrated by anthropologists.
Leila: Yeah. So how did, kind of the larger field respond to this?
E. Backe: Well it's still going on, sort of a slow-motion disaster. A lot of it has been unfolding on Twitter, and also on popular blogs, which I think is interesting in terms of thinking about open access, and the platforms that are available to precarious scholars who want to publish things anonymously. I think probably unsurprisingly, a lot of senior scholars have either feigned ignorance, or said that they don't actually think this is a problem, that potentially, we're overreacting.
E. Backe: And then a lot of junior scholars, or scholars of color, have written a number of rebuttals basically talking about the fact that we should not be surprised by this. So there was one article that was written in another blog called Allegra Lab, called Shocked Not Surprised, where the author argues that this is something that we should have seen coming from a mile away. And as evidence of the fact that even though this feminist anthropology revolution of the 70s and 80s was supposed to have fundamentally changed the way that we thought about safety in the field, the way that we thought about the kinds of bodies, and the kinds of people that could be anthropologists ... and also how we trained and prepared people for the field ... that those weren't actually instituted in our teaching practices, or our pedagogies, or the ways that we institute power structures.
E. Backe: And so it has also created a very interesting dialog about what constitutes evidence, what are proper forms of justice. One of the conversations has been about the politics of citations. So, should we continue to cite authors who have become sort of canonical within the anthropological discipline but might have, might come out that they were also perpetrators. Where do we get our theory? So do we continue to rely on sort of more old school forms of theory, and should we instead be looking at the more emergent forms of theory that are coming from the junior scholars who have been addressing these issues of violence for years, but they weren't being published in more mainstream journals? So things like that.
Leila: There was a part in one of your pieces that you wrote that ... I copied this down to point it out, and you just kind of pointed it out, that Margaret ... or sorry, Marilyn Strathern.
E. Backe: Strathern, yeah.
Leila: "In 1987," you said, "lamented the fact that rather than precipitate a radical transformation of the discipline, feminist anthropology was taken up as a niche subfield. One that was accommodated by other practitioners rather than applied to the discipline as a whole." That was in 1987.
E. Backe: Yeah.
Leila: And this is 2018, and I mean, I'm assuming still lamenting that exact same sentiment.
E. Backe: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there was sort of this period where anthropology was supposed to have done a lot of reckoning, in terms of its identity, in terms of making sure that it was participating in sort of an emancipatory, liberatory praxis. And then I think there was sort of this assumption that like, well we did the job, we figured it out, and we're just gonna shelve that and move on.
E. Backe: But it always needs to be an ongoing, continual practice, and I think part of that was, in addition to having feminist anthropology be seen as niche, it also meant that more applied forms of anthropology ... so what we think of in terms of working in the field as both an advocate and an ethnographer, which is something that I have worked on. I'm part of a topical interest group of other scholars who study gender based violence, and almost all of us fulfill dual roles of being both an advocate, or a crisis manager, and an ethnographer. And we see those as very much informing our scholarship, and in preventing more extractive forms of research.
E. Backe: So, this assumption that you can just go into the field and people will inevitably want to work with you, especially if they're in vulnerable situations, feels very neo-imperialistic.
Leila: Right. Of course, yeah.
E. Backe: And so from a feminist applied praxis, you are also potentially providing what I think about in terms of ethnographic care. That you are serving the needs of the community while at the same time helping to build new forms of knowledge through your ethnographic work. But even that is seen as fringe, it's not seen as objective, it's not seen as laudatory in terms of the kinds of ethnographic research that's getting funding, that's getting published.
E. Backe: And so even thinking about how we recenter all of this work that is really revolutionizing the way that we think about anthropology, but the people who hold the power are still the ones who are determining sort of which voices are heard, and which kinds of scholarships are seen as valid, and valuable.
Leila: Yeah. I wanna come back to what you said about a kind of clash over citations, and who to cite, and do we continue to cite prominent scholars in the field who have been perpetrators. And I think that this is something that like, all academic fields need to contend with. That includes the sciences and the humanities, but I'm wondering where kind of anthropologists are now, with that argument.
E. Backe: I think it's tough, because as people know when they are publishing work, if you're going through a peer review, more often than not, the editors who are providing comments are going to identify what they see as gaps. And so for authors and scholars who are seen as canonical, and have very much informed the discipline, and are seen as sort of one of the key texts that you're supposed to cite if you're talking about subject X or subject Y, it is also dependent upon those editors. Are they gonna flag that?
E. Backe: And say, you need to include this as a citation? Do junior scholars who are still getting their footing and really need that publication, especially if they're looking for tenure, are they gonna feel comfortable pushing back and sort of laying out a claim for why they're not citing? Is that something that that journal will accept as valid?
E. Backe: So the extent to which they do believe that citations are political, I think it's something that has also very much been taken up in how we put together syllabi and curricula, so, in an Intro to Anthropology class, do you teach the old school anthropologists that were considered to be the "handmaidens of colonialism", and do you include ethnographies that were very critical to the development of anthropology but were still using terms like primitive, and savage? Or do you teach more contemporary work, do you do the work to potentially teach the critique of that work?
E. Backe: So if you're teaching, say, Marcel Mauss's The Gift, [which] is often seen as a very important text, where he talks about hau, which is where the journal article title Hau came from. But during the debate that happened this summer, a bunch of indigenous Maori, New Zealand scholars, where the term hau comes from, wrote an article, talking about why this was appropriation, and how it’s indigenous scholars who should be defining this term, and should be using it.
E. Backe: And so even thinking about where you're drawing your research from. So that rebuttal was, again, published on a public blog, rather than behind a paywall in a very famous journal. And so it's ... I think that there's a lot of triangulation, and I think because this is all so new, and we're still trying to figure it out, there hasn't been any consensus yet.
Leila: Yeah. I think talking about how a lot of these conversations are happening outside of journals, and on Twitter, and on blogs, and stuff like that, where you don't have kind of that gatekeeping that can keep those criticisms out, or silenced. I think this is a good time to talk about cyber feminism, and kind of the promise of the internet for marginalized and silenced people, versus kind of the peril of the internet as well. So yeah, go ahead, and kind of talk about your thoughts on that. You wrote a piece for us on that, not too long ago, called “Left To Their Own Devices: Gender, Cyber Violence, and the Internet.”
E. Backe: Sure. So I think cyber feminism was yet another sort of wave of feminism that was very much informed, again, by an anthropologist by the name of Donna Haraway, who wrote a lot about the cyborg as a subversive technological character. And there was this idea when the internet was first coming into its own that, with the recognition that there are so many institutions and power structures sort of IRL, that are preventing women from speaking. So thinking about publishing practices, whether or not women's voices are believed, even just sort of the economic precarity of publishing and things like that.
E. Backe: This idea [was] that the internet could potentially be this new space in which women's voices and ideas could be circulated. That there were opportunities for transnational feminism, for different feminist groups to connect with one another, share resources, share ideas, and not be constricted by some of the more material elements of the patriarchy that they lived in? And I think to a certain extent, the internet has in many ways enabled a profusion of feminist thought and ideas to circulate.
E. Backe: I mean, even just thinking about the feminist blogosphere, and the ways in which the Break the Silence movements within rape advocacy groups did very much turn to the internet, and did create opportunities for anonymity, but also to spread stories that weren't necessarily being told in traditional media. But then the drawback of this idea of a liberatory cyber feminist approach was that the web is still built by us. It is still a construct of our own making, and is therefore informed by our own prejudices and ideas about the way that the world should operate.
E. Backe: So there have been a lot of conversations lately about like, AI, and robots, and the ways in which we sort of assume that if we are creating certain kinds of algorithms, those algorithms aren't going to be racist, or sexist. But if it's humans that are creating the algorithms, then there is a ideological interface that is happening there. And so the internet is always going to be an extension, and a continuation, of the same sort of politics at play that don't occur on the web.
Leila: Yeah. It's ... we did an interview with Safiya Noble, who wrote Algorithms of Oppression, and looked at mainly Google, but just how search engines kind of reinforce and perpetuate violence against marginalized communities, but especially black women. I think still most people who don't immediately experience violence online understand the extent to which it happens. Because I've been writing about feminism as a woman on the internet for a few years now, and I still get it all of the time, and it's gotten so common that I don't mention it to most people. But like ...
E. Backe: Which, there's something to be said for that process of normalization.
Leila: Of course, yeah, and it's really sad, and I remember the first time that I had like a huge army of, you know, anti-feminists coming after me online, that it was really ... It was very jarring the very first time, because I had never experienced ... I'd experienced violence from men before, but never in that kind of a space, and the space itself, that it was happening on the internet, allowed so many men to do it at once.
E. Backe: The dog piling effect.
Leila: Right. And that ... the sheer number of men that were able to engage in that type of violence was really jarring for me, and really shocking. And I think that that kind of speaks to the way that like, even in the space that, by cyber feminists has been conceptualized to be a place where marginalized people can have a voice without power structures to silence them ... If we're gonna have an open space like that, these other people are also participating in that open space, and so it's like this great thing [that has] allowed me to have these feminist opinions on a platform, but then it also left the door open for a type of violence that I'd never experienced before to come in after it.
E. Backe: Yeah. Well, and I think, you know, I'm sure that when that happened you didn't really know what modes of recourse were available to you, because there is a sense that this is a type of violence that isn't as legitimate, it's a lot harder to sort of qualify and quantify. There is a sense of silencing that happens around it, which then, I think only increases vulnerability. There is not a very strong sense of where you can get help, so a lot of people have talked about how Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram don't have very good help modules for dealing with women who report these instances of abuse, and don't actually get the support they need.
E. Backe: Our legal system is woefully under prepared to deal with this, very few police officers or other state agents understand the problem, and are able to respond to it. And then I think, to one of your other points, there is this sense of sort of saying, well, the internet is trash, or the internet is wonderful. And it's always going to be somewhere in between, you know, it's a garbage fire but maybe sometimes those toxic fumes can be productive, who can say.
E. Backe: But I think part of what researchers are trying to figure out is, as we're now studying this and trying to get a better sense of what this looks like in terms of the scale and scope, is the questions of, you know, to what extent are these platforms preventing or enabling this kind of violence? How are these platforms constructed in such a way, does that play a role? How does anonymity play a role, both in terms of being able to speak, but then being able to perpetrate this form of violence?
E. Backe: Basic digital literacy, so the ways in which we sort of have to create our own forms of knowledge, and sort of drawing on online support systems from other women who have experienced this. And then another question is also, is this violence different in some way than the offline violence, or do we need to fold it into, again, this idea of a longer continuum of gender and sexual based violence? And I think that we also know that people of color experience it, queer and gender nonconforming [people]. So like, there are a multitude of identities that are affected by this, and so how do we study, and quantify it, and understand it, using the tools that we have from sort of offline violence?
Leila: That kind of reminds me also of what's going on with the Shitty Men In Media list right now? With Moira Donegan, right? Yeah, she created the Shitty Men In Media list, I guess about a year ago.
E. Backe: Yeah, that was a year ago. Anniversary of the #MeToo movement.
Leila: Yeah, and for those listening who might not know what this list was, it's basically a list that all women in any field have for each other, we just haven't written it down before. And so what she did was she made a public document, where women in media could anonymously write down the names and accusations against shitty men in media, who had been perpetrating various levels of violence. From sexual harassment, all the way to rape.
Leila: And one of the men who was on that list has decided to sue her, and he is trying to unmask all of the women who anonymously wrote on that list. And so I think there's a lot of concern about how tech is going to respond to that request. And it's a really scary position, I think, for women who were part of that, because tech companies and tech platforms have not really been coming down on the side of women who have, you know, been experiencing violence online.
E. Backe: Yeah, I mean there are a lot of sort of legal loopholes that enable tech companies or platforms to circumvent responsibility. So especially for instances like revenge porn, in which someone might have taken nude photos for a very particular partner, and maybe those photos were without their consent shared online with the explicit intent of sort of shaming, or harassing the person that was the subject of that photography. If it's posted on sort of a third party account, that platform isn't responsible, because they are not the ones who posted it initially, they're just the ones who are sort of sharing that content, and because it was posted anonymously you can't sort of track it back to the initial poster.
E. Backe: And so there are all these ways in which, again, this sort of like digital architecture that we assume to be objective, the more we dig into it the more we sort of realize that it is leading to sort of continued practices of oppression, or absolution for perpetrators.
Leila: I want to wrap up soon, because we've been going for a while, but I know that you wanted to talk a little bit about what's being done in feminist anthropology in regards to reproductive and sexual health? So if you wanna talk a little bit about that.
E. Backe: Yeah, I mean I think there's been ... I think reproductive and sexual health, and then also advocacy on behalf of survivor communities I was thinking about this, especially just because with the Kavanaugh nomination and the laws that are being put into place by states regarding abortion. The ways in which people like Paul Ryan have called upon women to perform their role as women, and therefore reproduce. The ways in which abstinence-only education has been scaled up with things like the global gag rule, prevention of comprehensive sexual education.
E. Backe: We're seeing this very pro-natalist move that is also very much informative of our immigration policies, when we think about the ways in which we have women who are traveling to the US explicitly to seek abortions, and they have permission from medical providers, but we are actively preventing them from getting those abortions. And so the ways in which we have what Rayna Rapp refers to as sort of stratified reproduction. So, what kinds of bodies are allowed to reproduce? What kinds of mothers are we supporting? So these, also these ideas of sort of like, the welfare queen.
E. Backe: There's been a lot of research lately about the sort of precarious position that women find themselves in when they're pregnant. So two that come to mind is, one is in ethnography by Carolyn Sufrin, called Jailcare, where she looks at women in San Francisco who become pregnant, might be drug users, are often precariously housed and may not have stable jobs. The only ways that they're actually able to seek any kind of prenatal care is actually to get themselves put in jail, where they will be able to get that kind of prenatal care.
Leila: Wow. Holy shit.
E. Backe: Yes. And then the ways in which that jail sort of is supposed to fill in the gaps of a social services. But then once the women do deliver, oftentimes they deliver in shackles, oftentimes the state will come in and child protective services will take that child away, so creating a foster care system. And then basically, once the women have delivered there is no sort of care, or provision of services to ensure that they can sort of get back on their feet and potentially get that child again. Especially if they had sort of set up a way that one of their kin could take care of their child until they were able to recover.
E. Backe: Another is a ethnography by Kelly Knight called Addicted, Pregnant, Poor, where she looks at a the similar ways in which women who are seeking some kind of social services because they want to recover from issues of addiction, they find themselves pregnant, and they do generally want to get some kind of medical care. But because of the way that our welfare system works, it penalizes, and in many cases also criminalizes very particular kinds of mothers and forms of pregnancy.
E. Backe: And so I think that there is a lot of really interesting anthropological work that is being done in the US to really investigate these really pernicious forms of reproductive and sexual violence. And the ways in which we construct ideas of deservingness, of who is and should be a mother.
Leila: Yeah. Wow, that sounds really interesting. That is something definitely that you should write an article for us on.
E. Backe: Yeah. Maybe over my winter break, after the semester has calmed down a bit.
Leila: Yeah. Well is there anything else that you just want to add before we close up?
E. Backe: No, I mean I think that, I just wanted to thank you, and I think that Lady Science is doing really incredible things. I mean I think ideally what feminism is about is sort of sharing resources and ideas, and trying to sort of build a community together. And yeah, I'm always excited to see what the content that you create.
Leila: Oh, well thank you. And thank you for sharing your time with us, and talking with me about your work in feminist anthropology. So thanks.
E. Backe: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
Leila: If you want to learn more about what Emma is doing, give her a follow on Twitter at EmmaLouiseBacke, and check out her website, thegeekanthropologist.com. Thanks for listening, and be sure that you subscribe to the Lady Science Podcast so that you don't miss the next episode in our series.