Monday, November 21, 2011

The Danger of a Single Story

Okay, so this is primarily about feminism as it relates to popular culture and society, but it's also my blog, and so for a short time this winter it's going to transition into a blog about volunteering in a clinic in Honduras. To prepare for this volunteer fellowship, I have done a lot of training (please go to eye doctors regularly, gross things can happen to eyes!), and one of the things I had to watch and summarize is the following video:


Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, and this TED talk from 2009 is about the dangers of having one-sided representation. Adichie talks about her own experience learning that the single story is not true (for example, that there were storybooks about people who didn't have blonde hair and blue eyes) and then confronting people who believed a single story about her (for example, her roommate at Drexel who believed that since Adichie was African she didn't know how to turn on a stove).

I think this idea of the danger a single story is an especially good one, and incredibly relevant to a lot of different fields. Last year I read a book about sex work, which argued that positing sex workers as solely victims takes away their agency. It fits a narrative we as a society have about sex work, and satisfies donors who see prostitution as something pitiable. It makes it really easy then, to forget that sex workers are people, and many of them do not think of themselves as victims. You can think of the danger of a single story in history classes, when we get a very one-sided account of US nation-building. You get it with the history of feminism, which has largely been written and directed by white women. You get it with the issue of gay marriage; many queer people don't want to get married, do not fit the picture of "traditional" gay marriage, or even the traditional ideas about "gay." Without a diversity of stories, we have a very dangerous and one-sided world.

I will be keeping this in mind when I go to Honduras, but I will also keep this in mind as a person in the context of my world. We have to remember that each person is more than one story, and that when you suspect that you are only hearing a single story, that you must seek other stories out.

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