Women’s Journey to Empowerment in the 21st Century: A Transnational Feminist Analysis of Women’s Lives in Modern Times Edited by Kristen Zaleski, Annalisa Enrile, Eugenia L. Weiss, and Xiying Wang. Oxford University Press, October 2019
Chapter on “The Silence of Women’s Voices in Egypt” by Gayle Kimball
“Women’s Voices in Egypt and Globally” reports on Egyptian feminist activism to make their experiences and thoughts heard and empowered. The chapter quotes brave women who spoke up for gender equality from 1919 to 2018, in opposition to the censorship of state feminism, Islamic extremists, or traditional beliefs that women’s place is in the home subordinant to her father or husband. Following Feminist Standpoint Theory, the author interviewed grassroots feminist organizers, including a teenager who participated in the front lines of the revolution of January 2011 that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Interviewees are currently pessimistic about freedom under current president General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi whose government jails activists, even for social media posts. However, groups like Girls Revolution and Young Egyptian Feminists League rely on the relative safety of social media to lobby for equal rights. The Internet and the cell phone provide women with the ability to organize from the safety of their bedrooms, without scrutiny from police or family—a global phenomenon. With increased access to education and the Internet, a “social nonmovement” is occurring, described by Iranian Asef Bayat as lifestyle rebellions that gradually create real change.
For an exam copy for instructors, email gkimball at csuchico dot edu
The print version is available from AK Press for $29.99 each volume. akpress.org
The e-books are available on various platforms.
Finally, we hear the authentic voices of young women from around the globe. Listen — they are the future. Encompassing views from traditional to radical, Brave… is a work unlike any other in the field of women’s studies. Rigorously researched, and including input from young women everywhere, it is a work not to be ignored. Morgan Brynnan, MLIS
Title: Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution (in two volumes) / Gayle Kimball. | Vol. 1 Issues | Vol. 2 Regional Activism |
Identifiers: ISBN 978-0-938795-57-5
Table of Contents
Volume 1 Themes
Chapter 1 The Future is Female
Young Women’s Aspirations, What Motivates a Young Activist? Young Women Leaders, Why so Brave? Media Influence on Girls, Anti-Neoliberal Inequality, Young Women’s Activist Tactics, United Nations and Governments Stimulate Equality, Is the Future Female? Young Men’s Issues and Viewpoints
Chapter 2 Global Desire for Equality
Equality is Desired Globally, Females More Egalitarian, Claims that Women Leaders are More Peaceful, Women Politicians Make a Difference, Maternal Qualities Idealized as Compassionate Leadership, Women are Better Leaders? Do Women Organize Differently than Men? Existing Models of Feminist Societies, Opposition to Prejudice, How to Increase Women’s Influence on Government
Chapter 3 Global Status of Young Women
Inequality, Rural vs. Urban Sex Roles, Feminization of Poverty, Education is the Key, Health Issues, Violence Against Women
Chapter 4 Consumerism Targets “Girl Power”
Consumer Youth Religion?; Teen Identity Through Consumption; Social Unrest from Rising Expectations; How Youth Are Manipulated by Multinational Corporations; Negative Consequences of Consumerism; Youth Views about Materialism and Getting Rich; Traditional and Modern Beliefs: Moving Towards the Middle
Chapter 5 Global MediaBothHelps and Inhibits Girls
Global Media is Pervasive and Changes Attitudes, Digital Divide, Teachers Compare their Generation With Their Students,
Indian Media, Mobile Phones and Social Media, The Internet Creates Global Youth Culture, Global Media Sells Consumerism, Media Addiction Creates Dumb Zombies, Media Exposure Makes Youth Opinionated and Brave, Hollywood Films Provide Global Activist Symbols, Media Facilitates Activism, Campaigns Against Sexualization of Girls, Covering Women’s News
Volume 2 Regions
Chapter 1 Feminist Waves in the West
Feminist Wave History, Second Wave Feminists, Second Wave Created Women’s Studies, Inequality Persists, Generation Gap, Third Wave Response, Rejection of Feminism? Fourth Wave, Women of Color, US Recent Feminist Actions
Chapter 2 Women and Development
Girls and Women’s Importance in Development, Transnational Feminism Opposes Neoliberalism, Post-Colonial Feminists and Development, Feminist Development Organizations
Chapter 3 Latin American Horizontalism
Latin American Young Women’s Issues, Poverty, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil
Chapter 4 TheAfrican Way
African Values, Poverty and Development, Health Issues, Education, Women’s Movements, Young Women Feminists
Chapter 5 Brave Women in Muslim Countries
The Middle East Background, The Most Gender Equal Arab Nations,
Women and Islam, Feminist Activists, Women’s Role in Recent Uprisings
Iran, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Morocco, Kurdish Rojava in Northern Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
Chapter 6 Egypt’s 18-Day Revolution
Traditional Male Dominance; Education; A Pioneering Feminist: Dr. Nawal El Saadawi’s Egyptian Union for Women; Precursors to Women Revolutionaries of 2011; Young Women in the 2011 Revolution; After the Revolution; Sexual Harassment is Common; Recent Feminism
Chapter 7 Russia Turns to Glamour
Traditional Gender Roles, Consumerism and Glamour, Putin Teaches Youth to be Nationalistic, Attitudes Towards Feminism, Female Rebels Against Putin
Chapter 8 China Fears Feminists
Maoist Marxism, Traditional Beliefs, China’s Gender Issues, Rural vs. Urban Youth Issues, Youth Issues in an Era of Change from Maoism to Capitalism, Current Chinese Issues, Recent Feminism
Chapter 9 India’s Grassroots Feminism
Youth Issues, The Gap Between Urban and Rural, Violence Against Girls and Women, The Impact of Religion on Gender Roles, Changing Sex Roles, Youth Activism in Politics, Feminism
Other Books by the Author
50/50 Marriage (Beacon Press)
50/50 Parenting (Lexington Books)
Ed. Women’s Culture (Scarecrow Press)
Ed. Women’s Culture Revisited. (Scarecrow Press)
The Religious Ideas of Harriet Beecher Stowe (Edwin Mellen Press)
Essential Energy Tools book and 3 videos. (Equality Press)
21st Century Families: Blueprints for Family-Friendly Workplaces,
Schools and Governments. (Equality Press)
The Teen Trip: The Complete Resource Guide (Equality Press)
Ed. Everything You Need to Know to Succeed After College (Equality
How to Survive Your Parents’ Divorce (Equality Press)
Your Mindful Guide to Academic Success: Beat Burnout (Equality Press)
Ageism in Youth Studies: A Maligned Generation (Cambridge Scholars Publishing)
Global Youth Values Transforming Our Future (Cambridge Scholars Press)
Democracy Uprisings Led by Global Youth
Resist! Tactics and Goals for Changemaking
Thanks, Dr. Kimball, for giving us this opportunity to say what we want to say. As the old saying goes, the most ordinary people are the most beautiful. Spring Grass, 15, f, China
I’m afraid of no one. Pakistani activist Malala Yusafzay
I never knew there were such remarkable moments where not only women alone, but some men, and more importantly youth standing up and fighting for what they believe is right. It takes courage and dedication to not simply just go with the flow or hope that someone else will step in and make that change. I was surprised and so inspired by all of these courageous people and most being younger than me really puts me in my place when it comes to believing in a lot of what they are fighting for yet I’m doing close to nothing about it. Martha, 22, California
Our human future is precarious due to our self-centeredness and shortsightedness in not meeting the challenges of climate change and growing inequality between rich and poor. Even Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund– not regarded as a liberal institution, is concerned about these huge problems. This book explores the ideas and actions of young people from 88 countries. Their electronically connected activism is transforming global culture. My surveys of 4,149 young people from 2004 to 2016 aimed to see how they are transforming our lives and planetary future, as I summarize in a TED-style slide show.[ii] The survey questions, main answers, and list of the 88 countries are listed on the book webpage, links listed below. I aimed to survey people under age 20 because of their frankness and interviewed activists in their 20s. The surveys and interviews indicate that the new generation is uniquely altruistic, committed to peace and collaboration, and interconnected. Exceptionally brave girls and young women lead uprisings for democracy in tackling major political issues, as highlighted in the list of recent youth-led uprisings that follows this introduction.
Young people are the large majority in developing nations and the best-educated generation in history. Yet half of the new generation is poor and one fourth live on less than $1 a day.[iii] With the power given them by their numbers and their ability to communicate electronically with a global network, they catalyzed global uprisings. What I call the Relationship Generation tends to defy or ignore large bureaucratic institutions including government and religion, leading to the false charge of being apathetic, but they focus instead on direct democracy on the local level and loving their family and friends.
The dozen books I’ve written may seem to be on very different topics, but the common theme is exploring the ideas of groups who were neglected by researchers, writing among the first books on women’s culture, egalitarian couples and global (rather than regional) youth activism. I taught Women’s Studies and Sociology courses such as “Women Internationally” at California State University, Chico (CSUC) and struggled to find an interesting text on global women’s issues that wasn’t a disconnected anthology of ethnographies. Doing research on global youth activism, I especially searched for young women activists. Videos shown on TV news usually feature young men protesters on the streets but women lead or are important partners in fomenting global change. The book includes the sexist and ageist obstacles that girls face and their courage in challenging religious and political authorities. It’s part of a series of four, listed above in other books by the author.
Young people want to be heard with an open mind; this book provides a forum for the insights of the largest youth generation in history—1.5 billion ages 10 to 24, given various names such as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y and Z. In his most recent work, generations expert Neil Howe defines Gen Y as people born from 1982 to 2004. The period between childhood and adulthood is expanding as “tweens” are stimulated by media to act like teens, youth enter biological adolescence earlier, spend more time in school and therefore delay job seeking and marriage. The United Nations defines youth as ages 15 to 24 and adolescents as ages 10 to 19; I surveyed and interviewed young people younger than 20 and interviewed activists in their teens and 20s.
To learn how Generations Y and Z are shaping our future, I discovered a worldwide source of youth informants, many of them contacted through their teachers. I visited them in their homes and schools in Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, England, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Switzerland and Tanzania, and Turkey, as well as in all regions of the US. Dialogues ranged from Tahrir Square in Cairo; to Rio slums; to remote villages in Tanzania, India and Indonesia; to middle-class London and Shanghai homes; and Japanese and Turkish schools.
The best part of globetrotting was talking with young people in places as varied as Tahrir Square, tiny apartments in China, a colorfully painted home in Brazil, and large two-story homes in London and Northern India as well as email and Skype dialogues. Photographs of some of the young people can be seen on our Facebook Global Youth SpeakOut page and videotaped interviews are on YouTube’s “The Global Youth” channel (links below).
Any time I met people from another country, I asked them if they knew youth or their teachers in their country of origin. Over 80 teachers mailed or emailed their students’ responses to the 12 book questions, acknowledgements and questions are on the book webpage. I met some of the educators when they came to CSUC for a six-week study program for English teachers offered several times a year. People I meet at the gym led me to contacts in Korea, Brazil, and Mexico. I attended a Global Uprisings conference in Amsterdam in November 2013 where activists, journalists and academics presented their analysis of the upheavals that started with the Arab Spring in 2010. I interviewed activists there and continued discussion with them via email.
Snowball sampling was used when some teachers and students referred others. It’s a convenience sample rather than a statistically random sample, but respondents includes a wide variety of backgrounds: hundreds of rural Chinese students (see photos[iv]) village youth from Tanzania and Indonesia, students in a village in Northern India so remote the teacher has to walk an hour up hills to reach his classroom, kids from Rio and Shanghai slums, and demonstrators in Cairo, Athens, and Istanbul and in my hometown in Chico, California. In Tanzania, for example, a young guide I met there interviewed rural village youngsters in the north and the principal of a Muslim school I visited in Dar es Salaam assigned the questions to some of his students.
About 500 respondents came from Internet sites such as Sit Diary and Our Shared Shelf feminist book club on Goodreads, youth groups like Students Against Violence Everywhere, and educational organizations like the Yellow Sheep River Foundation that assists poor rural Chinese students. Various friends or language majors at CSUC translated the questions. I posted on all the Facebook pages listed under global youth but only got a few replies, as when Kevin in Trinidad introduced me to Taika in Ethiopia who recruited respondents at her school.
My main contact in China is Yuan whose English teacher (a former student of mine) gave the book questions to her university freshman in Wuhan. His answers were so thoughtful I followed up with more questions. We’ve been in close contact for almost a decade. He and his friends translated hundreds of surveys I got from an educational organization for rural students I found online. A friend of an Indian woman in Chico where I live in Northern California introduced me to a friend who I met in Singapore who gave me the name of his friend, a high school administrator in Southern India. An Indian student responded to an Internet post I made asking for input and he asked his father, a principal in Central India, to assign the book questions. I met principals when I was in Northern India and other principals through them, and got several Indian names from Youth-Leader magazine headquartered in Berlin.
The editor of the magazine, Eric Schneider, commented, “This huge study, with elaborate analysis of the early 21st Century youth environment is massive. We have not come across anything like it, before, and–no wonder, considering Kimball quoted voices of 4,000 youth.” Each of the 88 countries has a different access story, so this is not a uniform sample of middle-class youth answering multiple-choice questions on the Internet. For those who did have Internet, I was able to follow-up with more questions.
For the quantitative approach, over 4,000 written surveys were coded by frequency of response with 57% female respondents. All of the answers were quantified by creating categories based on frequency of the answer, summarized in the book website.[v] The questions are open-ended. Rather than starting with a thesis, I used Grounded Theory in that I collected the data, then coded it myself to be consistent as themes and patterns appeared after the fact, to develop a conclusion—globally, girls are bravely stepping out of old gender straightjackets. The data was analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. SPSS was used to see differences based on gender, age, and region—more differences showed up in the latter as gender differences were small.
Staying in family homes can be referred to as a form of ethnographic fieldwork. Qualitative insights were gained from in-person, Skype, and email interviews with young people as revealed in quotations throughout the book. Our dialogues were sometimes supportive as when a gay Chinese youth felt safe to talk to me and a Pakistani girl I’ve talked with since she was in high school emailed on her graduation from medical school, “Gayle Kimball, thank you for making me realize the light in me.” As Professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett pointed out, we learn more from interviews than survey questions with determined responses, although current research is “heavily in favor of quantitative methods.” From the point of view of the study of social movements, I examined what resources enable an uprising to succeed. From the feminist point of view, I sought out female viewpoints and leadership in researching social movements and interviews with young changemakers. “History from the bottom” and feminist Standpoint Theory starts with the voices of un-famous young people, rather than famous “great men.” These approaches value and listen to unknown and oppressed groups, rather than studying powerful men or women who act like them such as Margaret Thatcher. Grounded theory is similar in valuing research drawn from the lived experiences of the target group. Chapters include many quotes in order to communicate the actual voices of youth who are usually discounted, as primary sources are the most innovative form of research.
Researchers Neglect Global Youth
Other large global youth studies often draw from young people who have access to Internet, as listed on the book webpage. Many are conducted for marketing research. For example, Don Tapscott surveyed youth from 12 countries but most of his book quotes from the Digital Generation are North Americans, mainly his children. Other marketers are Habbo and InSites Consulting virtual world surveys, Martin Lindstrom’s BRANDchild, and Elissa Moses. The Varkey Foundation released a study that claims to be the first and largest global survey of Generation Z attitudes in 2017 because there’s “very little in-depth reputable polling on the opinions and attitudes of Generation Z.” [vi]It surveyed 20,088 young people with Internet access, ages 15 to 21 from 20 representative countries in 2016. It confirmed my survey findings that youth have a global culture. The lead researcher of a global marketing survey of kids aged six to 12 replied to my question about their respondents, “The survey was an online study, which means that respondents in all of the countries have sufficient income to have a computer/mobile device and internet service. Also, our research vendor screened out the lowest incomes, because the consumer group we are interested in marketing to is not at poverty level.” In contrast, this book includes slum dwellers and rural youth who may not have electricity. Surveys are also conducted by non-government agencies like UNICEF or Fondation Pour L’Innovation Politique whose findings are not available in books. Many of these NGO global youth surveys are about tobacco use or other health issues.
Youth Studies have been published in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence since in 1972, followed by Youth Studies in 1998, the Journal of Youth Studies in 2000, and Youth Voice Journal since 2010 and others.[vii] Universities like the University of Minnesota offer a major in Youth Studies, but “youth-centered definitions of their lives remain largely absent. Young people have not been enfranchised by the research conducted on their lives.”[viii] Youth studies focused on developmental stages in the transition to adulthood, with the more recent stage of “emerging adulthood,” as young people delay marriage and careers. Australian youth studies professor Anita Harris advocates that youth researchers do “participatory action research” and become less fixated on linear developmental stages, work and employment, because youth are interested in culture, leisure and sexuality.[ix] The focus on youth development as influenced by their particular generation is called the social generational paradigm, which some scholars criticize as the “new orthodoxy” in Youth Studies.[x]
Another approach, used in this book, looks at social generations as influenced by their particular historic circumstances, such as recession and the Internet for the current “App Generation” (the title of a 2014 book).[xi] The focus on youth development as influenced by their particular generation is called the social generational paradigm, which some scholars criticize as the “new orthodoxy” in Youth Studies.[xii] Sociologist Karl Mannheim discussed “The problem of generations” in a 1923 essay. Other scholars like Canadian James Côté emphasize the negative impact of neoliberal capitalism and growing inequality with high youth un- or under-employment that impacts various generations. Along this line, British scholars like Alan France and Steven Roberts think class is an important determinant of youth issues rather than generational differences, similar to the earlier interest in subcultures of working class boys at the influential Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s. I don’t see any conflicts, just different focal points as class and precarious employment are both influential.
My scan of the Journal of Youth Studies from 2011 to 2014 found only 26 titles on youth activism or political attitudes out of 224 articles and 10 of the titles were about youth attitudes towards traditional politics.[xiii] Amazingly, not one article was about the uprisings that started in 2011 discussed in this book. A similar search of the Journal of Adolescence found only one issue on political engagement but not rebellions (June 2012), with no other such articles in other issues.[xiv]Current Sociology published an issue on “From Indignation to Occupation” in 2013 reporting on the 2011 uprisings but without focus on youth.[xv] Online journals–Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements and ROAR, do provide current information about social movements but not specifically about youth. A scholarly publication about social movements is Mobilization and its blog Mobilizing Ideas.[xvi]Reflections on a Revolution (ROAR) is more international and less academic than the US-dominated Mobilization.
Psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett pointed out that the study of adolescence began in the US early in the 20th century and the study of US adolescents still dominates the field.[xvii] He reports that most of the scholarly journals devoted to the age group 10 to 25 are mostly from the US with an occasional European researcher. The Journal of Youth Studies includes studies from Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden, as well as the US and the UK. Girls Studies includes courses, an international association, online faculty discussion group, and Girlhood Studies journal, with especially active British Commonwealth researchers.[xviii] Women’s Studies has spread to over 600 universities around the world, with an National Women’s Studies Association headquartered in Maryland.
Brave focuses on countries where most young people live because many of the books about Generation Y describe how to manage them in the US workforce. Much of the generational research is done in the US and the UK. Most of the academic books on global youth are anthologies of specialized ethnographies about small groups of young people in various regions without much connection between chapters. While these anthologies have opened important conversations, one such book includes chapters on Thai makeup saleswomen, former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, Latino use of political graphic art, a Sri Lankan refugee, etc. Searching through 15 pages of Amazon.com books listed under “global youth,” I found anthologies, youth ministry, how to market to youth, deviant behavior, by country (such as youth in China), or unemployment, but no overviews of global youth activism except this series.
Books that report on young feminists include Defending Our Dreams: Global Feminist Voices for a New Generation (2005), an anthology written by transnational feminists in their late 20s and early 30s.[xix] They emphasize international human rights law as the key to women’s liberation in the only book I found representing young feminists from many continents. Half the Sky, a book and video by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, tells the story of women activists of various ages in Africa and Asia (2010). Three books interviewed urban youth activists in the Americas before the global uprisings of 2011: Jessica Taft, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas, 2010; Hava Rachel Gordon, We Fight to Win: Inequality and the Politics of Youth Activism (2010); and Maria De Los Angeles Torres, Irene Rizzini, and Norma Del Rio, Citizens in the Present: Youth Civic Engagement in the Americas, 2013. US feminists report on their activism in Mary Trigg’s Leading the Way: Young Women’s Activism for Social Change (2010). Girls’ media activism in Australia, England and the US is discussed in Next Wave Cultures: Feminism, Subcultures, Activism (2008), edited by Australian Anita Harris. She pointed out, “Very little has been said about either the political participation or nonparticipation of young women in particular,” with the exception of feminist “generation wars” and criticisms of the quieter political activism of the Third Wave of young feminists.
Similar to Harris, Taft reported in Rebel Girls that, “Despite their activism, girls are rarely considered and written about as significant political actors. They appear but do not speak.” They’re left out of academic research on girls’ studies and on youth movements. Taft says that the focus is on college students rather than teenagers. Despite the increasing interest in girls’ studies over the last two decades, Emily Bent agrees that “the research on girls and politics is surprisingly incomplete” and invisible.[xx] Most of the interest in girls’ studies, youth studies, and children’s rights focuses on their future impact on politics when they can vote rather than girls’ current activism. Youth want to be leaders now. However, several international studies cited by Bent found that girls valued political participation as much or more than boys, although some of them view it as a masculine arena. Girls were more likely to imagine themselves becoming politically involved in the future if the media discussed women politicians. Anita Harris points out that some girls are interested in politics, but consider the traditional forms corrupt and dismissive of their views. An editor of We Got Issues! A Young Woman’s Guide to a Bold, Courageous and Empowered Life (2006), reported, “Young women in this country expect to be ignored. Most young women believe that people don’t really want to know what we think.”[xxi]
The editors of a book on Student Activism in Asia (2012), like the few other researchers on youth activism, complain that despite the visibility of student protests and their vanguard actions, because it is so common, “It seems to require no explanation.”[xxii] They point out the lack of comparative research on the causes and effects of student activism, with the exception of some interest in specific local uprisings in the 1960s and 70s. I in turn wonder about their lack of mention of young women’s roles or feminism. Editor Meredith Weiss kindly emailed in 2015, “You will find women involved alongside men in activism in all states in the region, across periods, but I can’t think off-hand of any Asian (or other) state in which feminism per se has been a guiding frame or objective for student mobilization overall. “
The only books specifically about youth and the recent uprisings are about the Middle East: Maytha Alhassen and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, editors, Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions, 2012; Alcinda Honwana, Youth and Revolution in Tunisia, 2013; Juan Cole, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East (2014); and Ahmed Tohamy Abdelhay. Youth Activism in Egypt: Islamism, Political Protest and Revolution, 2015. The book is $104, inaccessible to most. I turned down book contract offers from two academic publishers who intended to charge $100 for a hardback book.
Four books published from 2012 to 2016 cover the global uprisings but not with analysis of the role of young people: Paul Mason, Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions; an anthology by Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen, From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices From the Global Spring including activists in their 20s and 30s. Internet ebooks by Werner Puschra and Sara Burke are titled The Future We the People Need: Voices from New Social Movements and World Protests 2006-2013. The latest books are They Can’t Represent us! Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy by Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzellini (2014) and Occupy! A Global Movement (2014), a $150 anthology edited by Jenny Pickerill, et al. In Youth Rising? The Politics of Youth in the Global Economy (2015) Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock do focus on the portrayal of youth in global uprisings, but acknowledge that they too do not include their actual voices. Their thesis is that although youth played a vital part as activists, their role is exaggerated in order to benefit the interests of neoliberal elites to deflect attention from the structural problems in the existing capitalist system. They don’t consider sex roles in activist groups: Fascism is included in the index but not feminism. The 2016 book This is an Uprising by Mark Engler and Paul Engler focuses on nonviolent direct action but barely mentions youth leadership. I advocate that researchers address ageism and change the common practice of speaking about youth without including their voices.
This book contributes to Women’s Studies, Girls’ Studies, Youth Studies, Global Studies and International Education. My perspective fits with Women’s Studies (my teaching background), Cultural Studies, public sociology advocacy and Political Science’s Social Movement Theory. My interviews with youth are oral history, first-person narratives with people who participated in or observed uprisings. Feminism can serve to “undermine what has been the dominant tendency of academic and organization thought: a strongly objectivist tendency, uncomfortable with the modes of intuitive observation and ambiguous responses.” [xxiii] The pretense of an objective observer is replaced with an activist scholar who aims to be of use to the people she or he studies. Both the study of art and feminism “subvert the very structure of thought.”
Feminist scholarship takes seriously the lives of the undervalued and marginal, such as youth or lower classes, and facilitates working for social transformation, creating “history from the bottom up.” Feminist interest in marginalized people as the focus of study is called Standpoint Theory where the observations of the grassroots and marginalized are valued. It developed in the 1970s out of Marxist feminist thought, maintaining that research that focuses on power relations should start with the oppressed. I agree with Chandra Talpade Mohanty who advocates that feminists should focus on activism in opposition to neoliberal capitalism and use advocacy research or “militant research,” defined as the place where academia and activism meet. Rather than just observe, activist scholars participate in political movements that create new values and relationships. My research, for example, led me to start a literacy program for Pakistani girls including a fundraiser cookbook of quick healthy recipes, and assist some of the book respondents with college applications, as a sounding board for personal issues. What motivated me to research for a decade was being on a treasure hunt. With such a paucity of research on youth activism, I relished each discovery and each new activist who shared her experiences with me.
The main theoretical approaches to studying girls and young women are feminism and youth subcultures like punks or hip-hop that both involve resistance to dominant authorities.[xxiv] Youth subcultures were first studied at the University of Chicago starting in the 1920s with a focus on street gangs as a strategy to cope with poverty. Youth subcultures were made famous at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies starting in 1964. Their early studies were criticized by feminist scholars for focusing on class conflict among working class “lads” and their use of public spaces, ignoring what girls did in more private spaces at home. With the development of global marketing aimed at youth and neoliberal individualization, class became less relevant. Instead, scholars discussed nonactivist neotribes such as club scenes, lifestyles, networks, communities, etc. Anita Harris stated in 2008, “There is no longer any such thing as the truly ‘resistant’ youth subculture, because youth style and cultures have been appropriated by the consumer industries, depoliticized and packaged back to youth.”
In the focus on subcultures, youth social action was left out of the Birmingham School approach.[xxv] Sociologists have been criticized for neglecting the tactics of social movements “with their emphasis upon structural strain, generalized belief, and deprivation.”[xxvi] “Post-subcultural” debates ensued, interested in multinational and cross-generational projects. Professor Peter Kelly cautions against the influence of “governmentalized” studies of interest to government departments, corporations and NGOs, who are interested in topics like consumption preferences and youth alcohol and drug use.[xxvii]
Canadian James Côté explained that since the 1980s youth studies has focused on working class youth cultures, “increasingly preoccupied with subjectivities,” rather than approaching youth as a whole as a disadvantaged class or proletariat, to use Marxist terminology, disadvantaged economically as a class.[xxviii] He argues for “a new political economy of youth,” a conflict theory that generates radical solutions to these material problems. He opposes liberal reformist structural approaches that accept the neoliberal status quo. Côté faults youth studies for ignoring the negative impact of neoliberalism on youth who face an uncertain future while the number of very rich families that can pay for their children to attend expensive universities increases. Additionally, he warns of “growing stigmatization of youth over the past century,” especially in terms of claims of “biological inferiority” regarding the adolescent brain as being less rational and more impulsive than adult brains. Schools perpetuate subordination by teaching obedience to hierarchical authority. Côté said the flip side of this trend over the last two decades is increasingly painting adults as superior, responsible, and mature, although I would add that an objective look at the news does not back up this belief. As 13-year-old SpeakOut respondent Lia said in California, “For those who created this mess in a world of chaos, just like you said to us about our rooms, “Clean it up!”
Globalization and new media changed girls’ way of doing politics starting in the late 1980s in North America with grrrl power media, including zines, music like punk and rap, the Internet and its blogs and webcams opening up since 1991. Young women engage in culture jamming of commercial media and graffiti, creating a “new form of citizenship” and a new form of cultural politics in postmodern subcultures. The editors of Riot Grrrl zine wrote in 1992, “We’re tired of being written out–out of history, out of the ‘scene’, out of our bodies … for this reason we have created our zine and scene … be proud of being a grrrl.” Feminist girls around the world created a Third Wave partly in reaction to the Second Wave and social media, discussed in Volume 2 Chapter 1. This wave was based on a more fluid and hybrid notion of gender and resistance to multinational corporations’ power, sometimes surpassing national governments as the target for resistance.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Youth Studies has been interested in transition to adulthood; characteristics of Generations X, Y, and Z; and adolescent brain development’s influence on risk taking, as seen in Australian Andy Furlong’s Youth Studies: An Introduction (2012). The newer concerns of youth studies are the complexity of the creation of youth identity and culture, international influences with global media and migration, and identifying ways to support positive youth development, as with school-based health centers.
The developmental approach is criticized for a myopic focus on economic transition from school to workplace and for assuming that the process of individualization is similar for adolescents everywhere. Definitions of youth behavior are socially constructed, thus relative. For example, children used to be viewed as little adults and still are in cultures that send children to hard work in mines, construction, sorting landfills and other dangerous jobs. In some cultures children are treated as little animals, as explained by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her biography Infidel (2007), about growing up in Somalia. The focus on child development in stages that we accept as obvious began in the 19th century as a spin off of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
As relativists, recent theorists believe that the writer and reader are subjective rather than objective and concepts change over time. Not just class, but gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual preference shape intersecting hybrid (a frequent concept about youth cultures) youth identities, as well as the influences of an adolescent’s home, school and work. Australian Johanna Wyn observes that ideas about youth as a social category are “likely to be at odds with young people’s own perceptions and experiences.”[xxix] Hence the need to consult with youth about policies that affect them, which seems obvious, but an ageist blind spot about youth concerns often gets in the way. (More on scholars’ ageism is discussed in Democracy Uprisings Led by Global Youth.)
The postmodern subcultural approach is more interested in the individual and intersecting categories. Moving away from the dualistic notion of male and female, for example, Facebook responded by adding 50 choices for gender preference for English-speaking users, including categories like androgyny, intersex, transgender, neither, gender questioning and pangender. It’s no longer cool to do binary thinking as in female and male, he or she. “Genderqueer” or “agender” people use pronouns like “ou” to replace he and she. Youth identity is shaped by gender, class, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. This approach in turn created criticism in a dialectical process. Critical of postmodern or poststructural approaches, UCLA philosophy professor Douglas Kellner faults academics for “subjectivism and relativism, often bordering on nihilism,” and advocates instead critical theory associated with the Frankfurt School, a German Marxist-oriented research center.[xxx] This approach aims to be applicable to social change that can emerge from contradictions and crisis in capitalist societies and faults social theory today for being in “acute crisis” with its “fragmentation, trivialization, and academicization.”
Young people’s own words and thoughts weave through every chapter of Brave. Young people critiqued every chapter. My main intent is to facilitate their voices being heard as they requested, to reveal their lived experiences of being female in a patriarchal global culture. To give a feeling for daily life in different countries, I refer to photographs and videos I’ve taken as well as commercial media. A filmography is listed in book webpage. Each chapter ends with discussion questions to ponder, activities, and films to watch.
Student comments are organized by age, with younger ones first. Some of the ages for the same person change throughout the book as we’ve corresponded for years. They’re identified by their first name or nickname– what ever they selected, age and gender as in “Chris, 16, f, England.” I corrected spelling and punctuation. Respondents are referred to as SpeakOut youth. They’re divided into “kids” 12 and younger, and “teens” 13 and older. I avoid “American” to describe people from the US, because a teacher from El Salvador pointed out he’s a Central American, Canadians are North Americans, and so on. The youth advisory board critiqued chapters and answered my questions. Anyone I quoted was emailed a copy of how I wrote about his or her statements or a follow-up question, if an email was available
Volume 1 looks at global issues that impact girls and women such as consumerism and media and the desire for equality and equal rights. Volume 2 discusses regional issues and activism in Muslim countries, developing countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and former communist countries of China and Russia.
Khue, a 16-year-old from Vietnam, asked me, “I would love to know your opinion of us, of people from my generation. During your journey did you find any new perspectives? Does your journey affect you in some ways?” I told her that traveling and talking to young people face-to-face and establishing relationships touched my heart and earned my respect for their openness and willingness to question authority. Teachers and students around the world are enduring friends who answer my unending questions, including book board member Hassan. Like Yuan in China, his answers to the book questions were so thoughtful, we engaged in long-lasting dialogue. He and I started a literacy program where he goes to villages near Peshawar, Pakistan to teach illiterate kids. Maheen, a young woman student at Hassan’s university, started teaching in our Open Doors Literacy Program in 2014. I’m impressed by young people’s wisdom and insights, but there seems to be a gulf between thoughtful caring ones who criticize their superficial peers who care about material things too much and ignore critical issues like climate change and inequality.
What surprised me was the similarity of urban youth viewpoints. Geographical differences did appear, such as concern about pollution in Eastern Europe, violence in US schools, the importance of having children in Sub-Saharan Africa, and anxiety about the college entrance exam in Asia. There’s a large difference in developed and developing nations on a continuum of individuality (valued in the West) and group identity and respect for elders valued in more traditional societies. I was interested to talk with highly educated young adults who expect their families to select their spouses, as in India, Pakistan, and Egypt. However, the Internet connects a global youth culture that shares a common slang, clothes, and music such as hip-hop with local variations. Youth activists I interviewed in places as far apart as Egypt, Brazil , Greece, Turkey and California prided themselves on being leaderless, operating with a new model. Influenced by their frequent contact with the decentralized and democratic World Wide Web, the old model of a pyramid with its hierarchy of power is irrelevant to many young people. This more democratic model will no doubt change the world as we know it, as practiced earlier in the global justice movement, feminism, and anarchist societies.
SpeakOut respondents are “green,” concerned about saving the planet from global warming and other human destruction, as they mentioned in their written responses. The exception is village youth like those I talked with in Indonesia and Pakistan who don’t know about climate change. Middle-class youth share being “wired” in frequent contact using their electronic devices and the Internet. “Sometimes I spend my time in front of laptop from afternoon until night. I really would like to change my bad habit,” reports Annisa in Indonesia (age 16). Some urban youth who can’t afford to buy computers or have access to them in school use Internet cafes and rent inexpensive cell phones with Internet access. They’re more egalitarian and accepting of diversity than older generations, less trusting of politicians.
I realized more fully that many people around the world do not share beliefs I accept as given. I think of marriage as based on falling in love; in Muslim and Hindu parts of the world, “love marriages,” are not the norm. A Saudi girl told me “they don’t work” and Indian teens said they’re based on lust. I don’t think of women’s hair as indecent, while some Muslim women are harassed if they don’t wear a headscarf. I’d never known an illiterate person, but some rural Chinese and East African students commented about their illiterate parents and a compelling interview with an illiterate village girl included in Chapter 3. I spoke with a West African who grew up routinely eating only every three days in the dry period of the year, making hunger more than an abstract concept. What SpeakOut young people and I share is a desire to end poverty, protect the environment, and to have peace.
Please respond with your comments and observations on the book website or to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m especially interested in your ideas about solutions to global economic, environmental and social problems for a future solutions book. Photos mentioned in the text are found on Facebook and the book website and video interviews are on YouTube.
Following are the topics and date posted online that pertain to young women: how to involve young Canadian women in provincial public police development (August 2012), Peruvian youth activism for sexual health (November 2012), Australian girls’ attitudes towards women leaders (January 2013).
[xix] Shamillah Wilson, Anasuya Sengupta, Kristy Evans, eds. Defending Our Dreams: Global Feminist Voices for a New Generation. Zed Books and AWID, 2005.
[xx] Emily Bent, “The Boundaries of Girls’ Political Participation: A Critical Exploration of Girls’ Experiences as Delegates to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women,” Global Studies of Childhood, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2013, p. 174.
[xxi] Rha Goddess and JLove Calderón. We Got Issues! A Young Woman’s Guide to a Bold, Courageous and Empowered Life. Inner Ocean Publishing, 2006.
[xxii] Meridith Weiss and Edward Aspinall, eds. Student Activism in Asia: Between Protest and Powerlessness. University of Minnesota Press, 2012, p. 1.
[xxiii] Shamillah Wilson, Anasuya Sengupta, Kristy Evans, eds. Defending Our Dreams: Global Feminist Voices for a New Generation. Zed Books and AWID, 2005, p. 205..