Sunday, September 21, 2014

Title: Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice
Author: Ed. by Lisa Kemmerer
Genre: non-fiction, ecofeminism, food issues, animals

I found out about this intriguing title through my Women's Studies class and college library. Years ago I had read an article about animal welfare that casually mentioned in a sentence that eating dairy products was harmful to animals, but the author of the article didn't elaborate as to WHY this was wrong. This book does that and explains how veganism, feminism and social justice are related.

Ecofeminism is a termed that was invented in 1972 by a French author (14) and "focuses on interconnections between the domination/oppression of women and domination/oppression of nature" (14). How exactly are women and animals connected in our society? "Nature and women have been devalued, objectified or exploited for the benefit of the dominant culture" (15). This view of women and nature has manifested itself through the centuries as "both women and animals have historically been considered less intelligent, less rational and ...more primitive and closer to nature than men" (16). This mindset has led to "objectification, ridicule, and control of reproduction" (16).

Feminist vegans have turned to animal activism because "the majority of factory-farmed animals, more than 20 billion individuals a year, are female" (67). " To produce milk, cows undergo a cyclical process of forced impregnation and repeated separation from their young. The male calves often are crated and killed for veal. The females, like their mothers, will be turned into dairy machines" (91). The various essays in this book also show us that pigs, chickens and turkeys are not safe either. Parts of this book are graphic as industrialized agricultural living conditions are explained in gruesome detail: pigs and hens living in cramped cages with no room to turn around, living in humongous warehouses with no exposure to fresh air or sunlight, forced separation from their eggs or piglets. Being a "farm" animal in the US is not the peaceful, pastoral scene we imagine it to be. Death at the slaughterhouse is not quick. Due to increase in animals being butchered some animals are not stunned/incapacitated as they should be before they are killed.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Title: Hair Story: Untaming the Roots of Black Hair in America
Authors: Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps
Genre: non-fiction, beauty, anthropology, African-American issues, American history

I picked up a copy of this book at my local library. Even though I'm a former hairdresser, I never learned how to work on "ethnic" or "black" hair because there were no African-American students in my cosmetology class. If there were no African-American students enrolled in the cosmetology course at the local vocational school, African-American customers would not come into the beauty school. Same thing happened to me in the real world once I was employed at salons- no African-American hairdressers in the salon, no African-American customers. Because of this, African-American hair has fascinated me yet been out of reach. I have had conversations at work with patrons and coworkers about the African-American community's perception of hair and the reactions women receive when they wear their hair super short and natural.
As the title suggests, the authors dig deep into the roots of African-American hair culture- all the way back to Africa. In Africa, hairstyles were used to advertise marital status (or lack thereof0, "age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth and rank within the community" (p. 2). Because of the high status of hair within many numerous African cultures, when the slave traders shaved slaves' heads this caused great cultural shame "and the highest indignity. Arriving without their signature hairstyles, slaves.... entered the New World, just as Europeans intended, like anonymous chattel" (p. 10).
The American slave system and work hierarchy environment helped "develop the social structure of the slave community- 'light-skinned' house slaves and 'dark-skinned' field slaves; 'good hair' vs. 'bad hair' (p.18). This system of skin color gradients and hair types are still used within the African-American community today which has psychologically harmed millions of African-Americans as they use various products and chemicals in an attempt to fit into a rigid standard of beauty.
The book covers historical moments in African-American hair history such as: Madame C.J. Walker, the pressing comb, the relaxer, the Afro, wigs, weaves and the natural hair movement. Contemporary hair controversies (Gabby Douglas, Don Imus, Blue Ivy) are also discussed. As the natural hair movement becomes a global phenomenon (and business opportunity) many hair care companies are realizing that "the future of hair care is going to be about texture, not race" (p.224)