Friday, December 2, 2011
By Sikivu Hutchinson
The Feminist Wire
What will need to happen to achieve the goal of eliminating new HIV infections, AIDS related deaths, and discrimination? What can we do, collectively, to get to zero?
Young women of color are at the epicenter of this crisis. Our Women’s Leadership Project students are kicked off two days of World AIDS Day peer education at Gardena High School and Washington Prep High School. As an educator in South Los Angeles schools, I believe preventive education has to begin with breaking down the myths and stereotypes associated with heterosexist relationships, misogynist media images and patriarchal gender norms that undermine young women’s right to self-determination. Increasingly, working class African American and Latina women are being indoctrinated into a decidedly misogynist, anti-feminist view of womanhood and sexuality that has both a secular and faith-based tenor. Coming from highly religious households, many of my students have been socialized to believe that their “authentic” destinies lie in getting and pleasing a man. They struggle with the challenge of developing their own voices, preparing for college, careers and intellectual pursuits whilst battling the insidious tide of a so-called post-feminist universe where hypersexuality is conflated with liberated femininity. Young men of color are also imperiled by heterosexist, masculinist gender norms that promote hard thugged-out male identities at the expense of women’s human rights as well as loving/respectful homo-social, heterosexual and same-sex relationships and families. Getting AIDS cases down to zero must involve a revolution of mind and deed; a transformation of the way masculinity, femininity, and sexuality are perceived in the U.S.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Imani Moses is a young activist and freshman at California State University Long Beach (Cal State Long Beach). She is the former president of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) at Gardena High School. During her tenure as president, she spearheaded numerous projects and presentations on gender justice, countering sexual harassment, reproductive justice, and much more.
Interview by Diane Arellano
Diane Arellano (DA): Imani, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to chat with us, so let’s start with the basics…
Imani Moses (IM): Well, my name is Imani Moses; I’m a freshman in college at Cal State Long Beach. My major is nursing and I’m minoring in Spanish.
DA: Oh wow, that’s so cool! So, tell me about some of the obstacles you faced in getting to college?
IM: I thought because of my GPA, I wasn’t going to get accepted. Also, I know my writing skills need improvement, so I was afraid I wouldn’t be prepared enough to be at a four-year university. I felt that in high school, I didn’t get the help that I needed, especially in English.
DA: Tell me more about how Gardena High did or didn’t prepare you for college.
IM: In some ways Gardena [high school] did prepare me and in some ways no… I would say having WLP on campus was a big part of getting me ready for college. I think that if it weren’t for WLP, I would have probably just kept to myself [during my high school years] and missed out on conferences, field trips, learning to speak in public and lots more. Joining WLP made me more confident to be out there and seek help. On the other hand I would say, no, Gardena [high school] didn’t prepare me especially when it comes to the education we received in English. In my senior year’s English class, the most challenging assignments expected us to write 5 paragraph essays—so it was an easy rubric for students to pass. In college, we are expected to write several pages with specific deadlines, leaving those of us who come from schools like Gardena with a lot of catching up to do. …So no, I don’t feel like Gardena prepared us at all.
DA: What are some issues or ideas that WLP introduce to you?
IM: The struggles that all women go through, especially the things that women of color go through. I never really questioned how the media portrays women of color. So, having WLP teach us how to observe and analyze the media helped me understand why young girls feel pressured to have “that long hair”, “those blue eyes”—even if they are contacts, and “that nice body.” Aside from learning how to recognize these issues, we also did a lot of work to fight things that like sexual harassment. I know some people may say, “oh, just ignore it,” but it’s not ok to ignore sexual harassment because by staying quiet, you begin to normalize it. It was an everyday thing to walk through Gardena [high school] and hear young women of color being degraded. I think being in college also allows me to look back and think of the harassment young of color go through because when I walk through Cal State Long Beach, I don’t walk expecting to have to fight boys who think it’s their right to put their hands on young women. It’s just not like that at all here—its nothing like my former high school.
DA: Tell me about the impact WLP personally had on you.
IM: It made me more confident. It taught me how to be a stronger person inside and out. It taught me not to worry so much about what other people say because you are what matters. I learned a lot about the different things that women of color go through. I learned to see the expectations that brown and black women are surrounded by. I remember thinking, wow we really need to rise above this and show ourselves that we can be somebody else, not just what you expect us to be. It made me focus on the impossible and think seriously about college.
DA: Tell me more about the expectations for young women of color.
IM: Well things like they’re going to come out of high school pregnant, or if they do manage to get out of high school with a good GPA and go to college, they’ll probably end up dropping out. They’re just not expected to make it. They’re expected to always be dependent on some one else---some man. It’s sad that there continue to be such degrading views women of color in the media.
DA: So I heard through the grape vine, Marlene*, that you continue to be involved in social justice issues and causes that you were introduced to as a high school student through WLP. Tell us about your activism on campus as a college student.
IM: I’m involved in F.U.E.L. (Future Underrepresented Educated Leaders) It’s a support organization for undocumented students and their allies. Yes, this is an issue I was introduced to my junior and senior year in WLP. I’m involved with FUEL because I think its unfair what undocumented students have to go through, such as not being able to get driver’s licenses or apply for jobs that they are extremely qualified for.
DA: Tell me about your favorite WLP memory.
IM: Oh man, I don’t have one specific memory, there are a lot of them. To be honest, the ones I cherish the most are the classroom presentation and bringing awareness on many topics. It made me feel good to know that people were listening to us and learning. Also, it was very comfortable being around WLP, especially the time we spent out of school. We got the chance to connect without being so serious all the time, we were able to laugh, joke, and play around.
DA: What was it like being president of WLP?
IM: It was cool! I really liked taking on that role. WLP was a great support system. I learned a lot of stuff and even though it wasn’t a huge role like being president of the United States, it still meant a lot to me because I was president. Not that it was “my group” but it was something that I dedicated four years of my life to and it meant a lot to me. …it still does to this day.
DA: What inspires you and what makes you happy.
IM: The freedom! I get to choose my own classes. I get to come to school at 8am one day and 11am the other. On Fridays I just have one class, so that’s almost like a free day. You get the chance to do everything at your own pace. I like that I’m kinda far away from home so I get some “me time” to do whatever I have to do.
DA: As, I remember you’re the oldest sibling in your family. What does it feel to be the first sibling to go off to college?
IM: It feels good! I feel like if I can do it, then my sisters definitely can do it too! I feel good that by going to college, I am defying the expectations for people of color.
DA: What advice do you have for current WLP members?
IM: Have fun, while you can. Don’t be afraid to get the help you need in English or math. It’s going to make a big difference—getting that help. Maybe you don’t want to look for help but you really are going to needed it, especially if you’re going to go to a four-year school. WLP is a really great learning experience, especially if you are willing to sacrifice some time with your friends or your boo. If you choose to make that commitment to WLP, then I assure you that your scarifies will be worth it.
DA: Great, thanks Imani, is there anything else you would like to say?
IM: I just want to say that Ms. Hutchinson and Ms. Diane are very inspiring women and I love them very much. I’m very happy that I got the chance to meet them---it changed my whole life.
*Through out the academic year, WLP members work closely with a variety activists from many fields. Marlene, is a young college activist who has worked extensively with WLP members on developing awareness and advocacy for undocumented students at Gardena High School.