On February 16, we had our fourth session of Making Media that Matters. For this session, we had access to the Hālau O Haumea of Kamakakūokalani the Center for Hawaiian Studies. Unlike the past weeks, Vera warned me that this session might be a bit jumbled, especially since one of our coordinators had unfortunately fallen ill and many of the members weren’t able to stay for the whole evening. I was anticipating possible madness.
As the students trickled in, people meandered around to look at the grandness of the Hālau. A delicate array of shoes bordered the entrance and food was served.
The session began and the small groups of conversations came together to watch a presentation of each person's interpretation of Social Justice (we were instructed to bring in a few pictures that represent social justice). We recapped those who were able to present their pictures previously and also saw some new photographs. The subjects of the current session predominantly portrayed individuals and their ideas. With famous activists and women as role models to show us what we can achieve the impossible.
Two images stood out for me the most: a sparkly toilet and of a series of characters created by the Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki. The member that presented the toilet as her picture for social justice explained that social justice shouldn’t be defined by anything in particular, yet should be practiced every day. She talked about how the toilet represented the many members of the service industry who are underrepresented in social justice, and who are also very often immigrants that are low-paid and mistreated. The second picture with the Hayao Miyazaki characters was presented by another member, who remarked on Miyazaki’s progressive storytelling. While many legends or fairy tales feature women as damsels or in small side roles, Miyazaki’s narratives have strong female characters with heartfelt stories and complex emotions. While both presentations contrasted greatly (the toilet and Miyazaki images), both opinions were poignant. While it is important to have a greater push to incorporate strong female characters in the movie industry (this shouldn’t even be an issue anymore), social justice should be recognized simply as daily a practice of common courtesy, rather than be ridiculed or portrayed as an inconvenience among individuals unwilling to change their ways.
After the break, Laurie cued up three independent films to watch. The first movie was called Transgeneration, and was about children experiencing gender dysphoria and the lives of young transitioning or transgender individuals. The movie captures how unique and intricate the minds of children are, even at such a young age. While some believe children need guidance and constant supervision by adults, the children featured in the film display truly insightful youth; understanding their own emotions and harnessing their thoughts to create comprehensive statements about their current circumstances. The second movie talked about body image and eating disorders. The film, called Bully Me, covered the experience of a teenage boy struggling with body image which resulted to Bulimia. The film portrays the disorder as a monster to the boy, haunting him at every turn. Eventually, his young sister realizes what is going on and tries to get rid of the “monster” herself. With help from professionals and support from his family, he is healing. After the film, a couple of the members talked about their personal experiences with eating disorders. One of the members in talked about these disorders not only affect the victim, but also their family, who experience excruciating pain watching their loved one suffer. The third video was about the hardships of being an undocumented immigrant. The director of the video commented on how difficult it was to make this film, as many undocumented immigrants could not reveal themselves for their own safety. The individuals in the video talked about their daily struggles and how being an undocumented immigrant keeps them from so many simple human rights.
As Laurie was about to initiate the film discussion, I immediately took over the conversation. I ended up talking about my personal experience with immigration and racism. For me, undocumented and documented immigrants have always been the kindest, most helpful and hardworking people I have met. As a person of color, I have experienced the snarky comments like “Go back to your own country,” or “You don’t belong here” or racial slurs. When I was younger, I lived abroad in Germany and after some time I became proficient in the language and the culture; many had thought I was born and raised in Germany. While this would sounds like a major perk for being a newcomer in a foreign country, it unfortunately didn’t shield me from prejudice and racist remarks. I knew I was a foreigner, but if this was happening to me it was most certainly happening to German-born people that didn’t have a the typical German complexion. I eventually made friends with kids who were born in Germany whose parents were Turkish immigrants. While they knew more about German culture and history than full-blooded germans, they faced racism on a daily basis. When we talked about these incidents, my friends said they felt betrayed, excluded, and misunderstood. They were German through and through, and while they recognized their Turkish heritage, they felt more connected to Germany than any other country. After learning about my friends’ experiences, my parents informed me that this was not a problem solely in Germany, but in all parts of the world.
Never before has it been so apparent (to me) until after the most recent presidential election. Every day on social media, it seems that racist remarks and behavior is witnessed or experienced. There is no “legal” immigrant in the U.S. - legal immigrants are the Native Americans who have been pushed to the edge of our society by disease, religion, racism, intolerance, and simple entitlement. There is certainly a racist agenda against people of color.
As the first portion came to a close and the last of the departing members left, we discussed more areas of social justice. Where we had experienced or witnessed it, why was social injustice happening at that time, and how do we prevent it?
While I began contemplating personal experiences, some of the younger members chimed in by mentioning school dress codes. While many schools say they are preparing students for professional work environments, preventing “distractions,” or upholding school dress codes for safety, the participants explained that it was a sexist ploy to body shame and undermine the education, as well as the confidence among young girls. We talked about how it discriminates against girls of different body types, as certain friends who have developed faster than other girls are reprimanded more harshly for their choice of attire than other girls. The girls also mentioned how this policing clothing by teachers prioritizes the education of the boys versus that of the girls. And while schools claim to be creating an environment where students learn to be professional, the girls didn’t understand how professionalism was based on the size of the straps on one’s shirt.
As a college student, I completely agree with their stance on the matter. While I was in high school, my dress code seemed ridiculous (no shorts three inches above the knee, tank tops were prohibited if the straps weren’t two fingers thick, no leggings, skirts to be below the knees at all times, shirts weren't allowed to have necklines lower than three inches from your collar bone). Although this might seem fair in order to encourage modest dressing at a young age, there were very few rules for the boys. Often, enforcing these rules was of more importance than finishing out the school day. If girls were reprimanded, they were sometimes lectured on how their clothes wouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace or college, and how we needed to re-evaluate how we wanted to be perceived by society. My highschool, like many, focused more on covering up rather than actually preparing me for professionalism and college. Once I entered university, no one cared how I dressed unless I was entering a science laboratory, where lab coats and closed toed shoes were required. While my school had taught us that a simple long sleeve shirt with no writing on it and some slacks would be sufficient to apply to jobs, most interviewers prefer blazers, button up shirts, well-fitting slacks and tidy shoes. As clothing choice is unfortunately consequential to making a good first impression, highlighting desired skills, levels of education, capacity to work in variety of circumstances and extracurricular capabilities are essential in order to get the job you desire. It's unfortunate that my high school didn’t prioritize proper dress wear or how to advertise our expertise in order to succeed at a job interview, but instead focused on how much skin a girl is exposing.
As the evening concluded, my initial fear that mayhem would steer the session in various directions was severely misplaced. The participants are focused, poised, and have strong opinions regarding women's roles in society, which allowed us to have a productive and well-balanced session. After this meeting, it has become clear to me that not only do these women want the very best in society for women of all types, but they want to reform some of the most influential and monumental pillars that hold up our society as we know it: our schools. It is clear that dated mentalities and regulations have directed schools to become places of humiliation; practices that hold no place among generations to come.