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Forum: Minority women face more obstacles

Minority women face the same obstacles as other women but with the addition of norms and values that differ from mainstream society, said panelists at the forum "Global and Cultural Issues for Women: Research By and About Women of Color."

At the Oct. 29 discussion, panelists talked about how minority women are impacted by social, cultural and political issues and values in the United States and abroad.

Latinas, for instance, face the dual threat of sexual racism, said Lilia Cortina, assistant professor in the psychology and women's studies departments, and an assistant professor and assistant research scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG). When jokes about "hot-blooded Latinas" are made, these women feel threatened, she said. Cortina said jokes and comments that may seem innocent to the joke-teller actually are irritating and bullying to the targeted Latina women.

"There is no word for sexual harassment in Spanish," she said, noting that actions have different repercussions for Latina and non-Latina women. Latina women see any sexual advance, be it whistling or standing too close, as threatening because, in their culture, any sexual advance outside of marriage is interpreted as menacing, she said. Though these women feel threatened, they may not take actions to stop the behavior because many Latina women are influenced by the cultural importance of hierarchy and the desire to maintain happiness within a social group, she said.

Other panelists discussed issues faced by women, including the unique situation of women in China and global feminism.

The Chinese feminist movement developed as changes in China's economy led to a new role of the family, said Wang Zheng, associate professor of women's studies and associate research scientist at the IRWG. Inspired by the women's movement in the United States, Chinese women formed their own process of liberation to fight for equality among men and women and have made some progress, Zheng said. Still, "it is necessary to train the young generation to think differently," Zheng said. The resources to do this are scarce but necessary if a new generation of Chinese feminists and feminist studies is to be established, Zheng said.

Though differences among groups of women and the movements they support exist, there are similarities in the experiences of minority women throughout the world, said Janet Hart, associate professor of anthropology. Hart said in her past work with Greek women who were working in opposition to the Nazis, she felt a kinship because of her own experience with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Such similarity also is evidence of a formation of global feminism, which, while seemingly beneficial, actually is detrimental, said Haiping Yan, associate professor in the Theater and Dance Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Yan said the formation of global feminism combines "different women with different histories," which can result in the suppressing of some cultures and the domination of others. Yan said that although a unity between women is necessary, it cannot be developed at the expense of the expression of each individual woman's needs.

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