The Limitations and Liberatory Potential of Feminist Anthropology (Part Two)

In Part Two of this series, we have more reflections from the authors of “Toward a Fugitive Anthropology: Gender, Race, and Violence in the Field,” published in Cultural Anthropology, on the limitations and liberatory potential for feminist anthropology to address racialized-sexualized-gendered violence in anthropological (activist) research.


Maya Berry

The recent calls that “justice be served” when it comes to addressing the longstanding impunity for sexual assault in the workplace leads me to the question raised in our article about the role and effects of the law with regards to retribution for sexual assault suffered in “the field.” We must not let the liberal bureaucratic and criminal justice systems available to us, programmed to individualize blame and leave oppressive structures intact, set the bar for how we can think through prevention or redress.

Whereas in racial states of domination, the mobilization of the violent force of the state has been justified in the name of protecting whiteness as property and the sanctity of white women, these systems of penalization have never cared about black life nor the dignity of black women’s bodies (Harris 1993). Such is the afterlife of slavery. The existing legal systems are not an equitable source of justice for all and get mobilized selectively according to historical structures of power (Crenshaw 1991). Black feminism urges that we rise to the imperative of envisioning justice for gender violence that doesn’t reify the illegitimate authority of the state or rely on policymakers to faithfully realize decolonial feminist demands (James 1996).

Furthermore, at the AAA 2017 roundtable, we learned that after violence and disclosure “at home,” women anthropologists become viewed by their universities as liabilities (Steffen 2017), and as burdens to the institution that insurance companies then find new metrics to calculate and monetize.

How can we theorize ground-up visions of restorative justice relational to different sociopolitical contexts and accountable to the situated positionalities of those involved? The current #MeToo moment can be a call to feminist anthropology to make itself known for theorizing and practicing collective divestment from white-heteropatriarchy in all its manifestations and envisioning new feminist futures.

Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada

Over the last couple of years, the feminist movement and the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns in the United States have led an energetic struggle against sexual violence that have brought down many white and some black and brown men in positions of power. Rather than only celebrating this success, the National Alliance of Farmworkers’s petition to the #Times Up movement for solidarity with women farmworkers, who often are indigenous and undocumented, called attention to interlocking injustices that the struggles against sexual assault most contest.

Many women working in the fields experience a multilayered daily terror. Sexual violence against black, brown, and indigenous women has been normalized, as part of the accepted forms of white male violence used to subjugate and colonize them and their communities. These racialized gendered hierarchies still define which women receive justice, and which do not.

Farmworker women are not only living with these legacies of colonialism but also with the constant fear and threat of deportation as well as everyday forms of sexual assault. Many are oppressed by citizenship, language, class and race and their demands for justice are frequently concealed by systems that push them to the margins of society (Crenshaw 1991; Hill Collins and Bilge 2016; Moraga and Anzaldúa 2015). The multiple layers of silence that need to be broken in order to speak up against sexual assault is not only exhausting, but can appear as a betrayal against other sisters, mothers, brothers, husbands as well as of the movement for social justice.

Feminist ethnography can push the debate on sexual harassment forward by examining how racialized and class-based violence interlock differently affecting women and some men situated at the bottom of systems of oppression and in making visible their demands for social justice. My hope is that a rigorous politically engaged knowledge production through the analytical lenses of a “fugitive anthropology” (Berry et al. 2018) will bring awareness about and inspire men and women across different backgrounds to create solidarity among the shared and distinct struggles to overturn those structures of power because of and regardless of our identities.

Claudia Chávez Argüelles

Anthropologists venture out into the world in search for answers. Our embodied realities—and many times, our life inquiries—filter the light that enters through our eyes. We constantly find what we are searching for, because we already know many of the answers to our questions. The encounter with the unexpected changes the way we see. It destructures our image of the world. New hues escape the outside world to enter into ours. They do so through the macro-cornea of our skin. We become interpolated by outside forces more than we interpolate them. When we remember that corneas have a refractive effect on light, we realize that the way in which this interpolation takes place is in the form of refraction.

The unexpected and the undesired—as is the case of all forms of violence—interrupt life, as well as our prefabricated notions of the real. New questions emerge, new forms of seeing. But how much do we need to be shocked in order to see different, in order to become more affected by our surroundings than what we want to affect them? Why is it required from some victims of sexual violence to pour out what is inside them in order to prove that the violence inflicted on them was real and continues to exist? In which moment does this form of establishing the truth become a material of consumption that feeds heteropatriarchal spectators’ hunger and expectations?

In the midst of these uncertainties, Mayan voices come to my mind, claiming that La Otra Justicia (The Other Justice) is possible. That resisting the system only strengthens its structure. That the good life resides in a world otherwise. And that this world begins with the stories we tell ourselves. Justice is not going to come from outside. We must provide justice to ourselves.

Emily de Wet and Julia Kowalski are contributing editors for the Association for Feminist Anthropology’s Anthropology News column. If you would like to contribute to this conversation or on other topics concerning Feminist Anthropology, contact us at [email protected] and/or [email protected].

Cite as: Berry, Maya, Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada, and Claudia Chávez Argüelles. 2018. “Reflections on the Limitations and Liberatory Potential of Feminist Anthropology (Part Two).” Anthropology News website, May 24, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1061

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