UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

South Asian women in Canada and media discourse : a feminist collaborative analysis Dubois, Marie-France 1993

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata

Download

Media
831-ubc_1993_fall_dubois_marie-france.pdf [ 2.58MB ]
Metadata
JSON: 831-1.0086239.json
JSON-LD: 831-1.0086239-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 831-1.0086239-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 831-1.0086239-rdf.json
Turtle: 831-1.0086239-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 831-1.0086239-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 831-1.0086239-source.json
Full Text
831-1.0086239-fulltext.txt
Citation
831-1.0086239.ris

Full Text

to the required standardSOUTH ASIAN WOMEN IN CANADA AND MEDIA DISCOURSE:A FEMINIST COLLABORATIVE ANALYSISbyMARIE-FRANCE DUBOISB.Sc., Université de Montréal, 1988A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIESDEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND SOCIOLOGYWe accept this thesis as conformingTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIASeptember 1993Marie-France Dubois, 1993In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)Department of (\rofn Luc-ayThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate^3o^9'13DE-6 (2/88)AbstractThis paper is a critical reflection upon commonly found distortions in therepresentations of the lives of Canadian women of South Asian origin in the Vancouver Sun.The strategy adopted consists in presenting first, the views of three South Asian womenactivists who acted as collaborators and analyzed the constituted sample of articles; second,feminist anthropological readings are used to draw upon a theory of discourse which looks atnews-products as active elements in the construction of reality. It is then argued that byfocusing on a narrow range of topics, the prevalent media discourse encourages news readersto develop a homogenous perspective on Canadian women of South Asian origin. Thedepictions in the press suggest that not only are these women oppressed, but this oppressionoriginates in elements of their own culture and assimilation is only possible by relinquishingthese "oppressive" cultural traits. It is argued that the media reinforces the dominantpatriarchal, racist and classist discourses prevailing in Canadian society.iiiiiTable of ContentsAbstract ^ iiTable of Contents ^ iiiAcknowledgment ivChapter One: INTRODUCTION ^ 1^1.1^Media Discourse and Hegemony: A Theory of Discourse ^ 11.2^Feminist Collaborative Methodology ^ 41.3^Methods ^ 6Chapter Two: MEDIA REPRESENTATION OF CANADIAN WOMEN OF SOUTHASIAN ORIGIN IN THE VANCOUVER SUN^ 7^2.1^Perspectives of Three South Asian Women Activists on MediaCoverage ^ 82.1.1 Conversing with Yasmin Jiwani ^ 82.1.2 Conversing with Amarjit Pannun 162.1.3 Conversing with Raminder Dosanjh 232.2^A Feminist Anthropological Analysis of the Vancouver SunCoverage of Canadian Women of South Asian Origin ^ 262.2.1 Arranged Marriages ^ 272.2.2 Dowry ^ 302.2.3 Sex Selection 342.2.4 Violence Against South Asian Women ^ 372.2.5 South Asian Women Voices in the Vancouver Sun ^ 39Chapter Three: CONCLUSION ^ 44Bibliography ^ 46ivAcknowledgmentI am especially grateful to Amarjit Pannun, Yasmin Jiwani and Raminder Dosanjh whoaccepted, in spite of their busy schedules, to collaborate with me in this endeavour. They gaveme invaluable insight as to what it means to be at the other end of the research process, andhow better bridges can be built between researchers and research participants. I would alsolike to thank Sunera Thobani whose comments on earlier versions of my research proposalgave new orientation to this project.I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the members of my advisory committee,my supervisor Dr. Elvi Whittaker for her patience with my "principles of collaboration" andDr. Bruce Miller for his support and great availability. I also thank Dr. Michael M. Ames,who acted as external reader, for his thoughtful comments on my work.Very special thanks go to my friends and collegues at U.B.C. - Virginia Appell, Lindy-Lou Flynn, Pat Kachuk, Susan Cole and Denise Nuttall who read, discussed and edited a lotof my work.My deepest thanks go to my family -- Jacqueline et Jean Dubois, Irene Tessier -- andmy close personal friends Linda Desormaux, Dominique Major and Ross Garrick.1Chapter One: INTRODUCTIONThis paper argues that the dominant discourses in the media constrain the representations ofCanadian women of South Asian origin in ways which both deny and suppress the diversity of theirexperiences as well as agency. An exploration of the "preferred meanings" or tolerated interpretationsof some aspects of the lives of Canadian women of South Asian origin reveals that these womenreceive attention only in relation to restricted topics such as arranged marriage, dowry, sex selectiontechnology, violence against women, conflicts around immigration, problems of child rearing and ofculture clashes for those of the second generation. Sporadically, the media also produce articles onSouth Asian women who are presented as role models because they appear successful in negotiatingbetween their cultural backgrounds and the dominant cultures in Canadian society.Writing about ethnicity, Indra (1981:64) suggested that by "associating only a very narrowrange of activities with ethnicity and by restricting the causes and effects of these activities to theimmediate past and present, the newspaper set the agenda within which ethnicity will be discussed."The three South Asian women activists with whom I conversed and I argue that a similar process takesplace in newspapers affecting the readers' perceptions of Canadian women of South Asian origin.1.1 Media Discourse and Hegemony: A Theory of Discourse My analysis draws from many media studies, emerging from the Centre for ContemporaryCultural Studies in Birmingham, especially the work of Stuart Hall (1977). I find relevance in mediacultural studies because of their grounding in Marxist theories of domination and their preoccupationwith questions of ideology, distorted communication and cultural hegemony (Davis 1985:45). Itsproponents discard Barthes' structuralist methods inspired by Saussurean linguistics, an approach whichdoes not adequately answer questions concerning the political and institutional forces determining therole of the media in society (Connell and Mills 1985:35). While I will be looking at specificjournalists' practices and at specific news-products, I understand those as circumscribed by and2embedded in the conditions of production and institutional relationships of cultural organisations, asdid Davis (1985:45) and Harris (1991:16). Moreover, news-products or media "texts" are taken notonly as objects of reality, but as active and constitutive elements in the production of that reality(Connell & Mills 1985:38). It is in this light that I approach news-discourse and its influential andrestrictive role in the construction of the lives of Canadian women of South Asian origin.Said (1979), drawing from Foucault and Hartley (1982), also values a theory which understandsdiscourse as contextualized in the social, political and historical conditions of its production:Our everyday interactions are structured by our social/economical/political relations;these relations are experienced through various discourses, and discourses are structuredby the generative system of language. ( . . . ) [we] must make sense of them throughthe meanings which discourses have established as the taken-for-granted routine of'reality' (Hartley 1982:6-7).Discourses, contextualized in specific historical conditions and power relations, are producersof meanings which we use to interpret the world. Looking at news discourse as texts, in their widersocial context, is what differentiates discourse analysis studies from the more conventional approachof content analysis. Because content analysis functions to create 'hard' facts about types ofrepresentations or cultural meanings, it neglects to contextualize media constructions in a process ofproduction in which societal power relations are activated (Jaddou and Williams 1981:106). Hence,the findings of content analysis have limited value in its uses for an understanding of the social forcesactivated through media discourses.A discourse analysis approach therefore leads towards an examination of power relations. Oneway in which societal power relations interfere, some argue (Hartley 1982:24; van Dijk 1987:360), isin the limits their specific discourses impose on the range of possible interpretations, by producing andprivileging some meanings over others. Hence, discourses produce "selected meanings" and areeffective in allowing some interpretations of the world to be more "socially credible" than others.Discourses do so by creating a certain consensus around particular meanings which tend to reinforce3the values of dominant cultures. Gramsci's notion of hegemony is helpful in suggesting howcontainment of cultural meaning takes place and manifests itself in capitalist democratic states. Hall,interpreting Gramsci's notion of hegemony, writes:Gramsci argued that 'hegemony' exists when a ruling class (or, rather, an alliance ofruling class fractions, a 'historical bloc') is able not only to coerce a subordinate classto conform to its interests, but exerts a 'total social authority' over those classes andthe social formation as a whole. 'Hegemony' is in operation when the dominant classfractions not only dominate but direct - lead: when they not only possess the powerto coerce but actively organize so as to command and win the consent of thesubordinated classes to their continuing sway. 'Hegemony' thus depends on acombination of force and consent. But - Gramsci argues - in the liberal capitaliststate, consent is normally in the lead, operating behind 'the armor of coercion'(Hall 1977:332) (my emphasis).It is through an ideology of value-free media practices or alleged commitment to impartialitythat consent is sought with populations of news consumers. If consent is won among subordinatedgroups or classes, the legitimation of beliefs and values reflecting the interest of an "alliance of classes"or "historical bloc" (in Gramscian terms), takes place. It is partially through the relative autonomy ofthe news media that the state, or dominant groups and classes, find the necessary conditions for theproduction, reproduction and diffusion of dominant ideological meanings (Hartley 1982:55).While organizing and orchestrating its information, the media engage in a process of encodingi.e., a process of selection of codes which assign meanings to events, including problematic ortroubling events. The selected codes "appear to embody the 'natural explanations which most membersof the society would accept (that is, which appear naturally to incarnate the 'rationality' of ourparticular society)" (Hall 1997:343). Segments of population, however, can escape the intentions ofthe media apparatus, which is to win consent to its preferred meanings. Because hegemony or controlover meanings is a process which "has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and modified"writes Williams (1977:122), it is also "continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged by pressuresnot at all its own." Hall also writes: " ( . . . ) hegemony is not a 'given' and permanent state of affairs,4but has to be actively won and secured: it can also be lost" (ibid., 333). Legitimation of preferredmeanings then occurs through incessant negotiations which also allow a space for resistance or counter-hegemony.The reality of any hegemony, in the extended political and cultural sense, is that, whileby definition it is always dominant, it is never either total or exclusive. At any time,forms of alternatives or directly oppositional politics and culture exist assignificant elements in the society (Williams 1977:113) (my emphasis).1.2 Feminist Collaborative Methodology No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak aboutyourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to knowyour story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you insuch a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you I write myself anew.I am still colonizer, the speaking subject and you are now at the centre of my talk(hooks 1990:343).In spite of the current debates about political implications of acts of representation and theacademic discourses on collaboration, little is done to address the problems feminists of colour suchas bell hooks (1984:12) see as a colonialism and paternalism endemic to white supremacist ideologyin research methodologies used by most researchers including white feminists.' The profusion ofanthropological writings on textual strategies, or what Abu-Lughod called "decolonizations at the levelof the text" (1991:143), has postponed constructive attempts at sharing power and authority with ourresearch collaborators 2 at the level of practice. Anthropologists might consider that there is too muchat stake in such a project, and this contributes to explaining a general resistance, in academia, toattempts at "decolonizations" at the level of anthropological practice.The problem of racism being at the forefront in feminist activist circles and in the feministacademic literature, I consider it essential as a feminist anthropologist to work towards establishing the' I refer to white feminists and feminists of colour as whole groups, although clearly, there are manydifferences among us.2 I use Kirby and McKenna's (1989:31) definition of collaborators as persons who do not necessarilyhave research experience but who have a wealth of experience in relation to the research question.5grounds for a more egalitarian anthropological research practice. In the context of this study, amethodology of collaboration has been a first step in addressing the sharing of power in researchpractices. Concurrently with Oja and Smulyan (1989:17), I see this type of methodology as animprovement to prevailing practices because it can more effectively contribute to research designs andpursuits which reflect the interests of the research participants.While there is always collaboration between researchers and research participants, amethodology based on collaboration ought to render explicit the nature and extent of collaboration inthe research process. Consequently, I shall discuss the collaborative components of the methodologyguiding this research. First, this media study was suggested by a South Asian woman activist whomI contacted, and was later confirmed as a relevant topic by other South Asian women I approached.Because feminist collaborative research is defined as research by, for, and with research collaborators(Boxer 1982:258; Kirby and McKenna 1989:28), the first step in this project consisted in formulatingresearch questions which are of interest to South Asian women activists in Vancouver. Secondly, thecollaborators read a sample of article I constituted,' and provided their analysis of the media coverage.Their words are then not objects of analysis, but contribute their perspectives on the treatment of howaspects of the lives of other South Asian women in Canada are represented in the Vancouver Sun. Athird component of this methodology involved collaborators reading and commenting on the writtendrafts of this work. Their insights and constructive criticism have influenced the shape of thisdocument. 4 For example, Yasmin suggested that the oral accounts of the collaborators be presentedverbatim rather than through isolated quotes within the analysis as I had initially done in the first draft.She recommended I present excerpts of the conversations, including my questions, arguing that isolated3 Details on the sample of articles are given in the methods section.4 Within the format of the requirements for a Masters thesis in Anthropology at the University of BritishColumbia, collaborative writing could not be achieved.6quotes did not reflect satisfactorily the nature of the conversations and exchange that took place duringthe research process. I proceeded then to reconstruct the thesis and when the second draft wascirculated, Amarjit and Raminder both agreed that the new format was an improvement. Although thiscollaborative process produced a lengthier text and was more time-consuming, we acknowledge thatit created an honest and frank research relationships between us. An additional benefit to this processwas that it provided a period of reflection for the participants towards their own contributions to theresearch, as well as allowing opportunities to criticize, edit and comment on how I contextualized theirwords and analysis. Hence, using a methodology of collaboration sensitive to existing powerinequalities among those involved in the research process bears potential in preventing the perpetuationof these same inequalities.1.3 Methods The following discussion is based on a sample of twenty articles published in the VancouverSun, depicting Canadian women of South Asian origin. I used the Canadian News Index5 to compilearticles covering a four-year period (1989-1992). These articles include both, news articles written bySun reporters and articles published in the OP/ED section. The articles in the latter category arepublished by the Vancouver Sun as "unsolicited submissions". Because minorities occupy a marginalposition in the media, the OP/ED section constitutes a space where minority writers are invited toexpress their opinions. While these articles are not news as such, I included them in my samplebecause they succeeded in a process of selection and, consequently, are relevant in the overall contextof media discourse.The sample of articles was made available to three Canadian women activists of South Asian5 I read all articles referring to South Asians in the Vancouver Sun and discarded those which did notcontain representations of women. However, some articles which I previously collected had not beenitemized by the Canadian News Index (Canadian Press 1992; Dykk 1992; Gill 1991a; Wilson 1992).7origin in the Vancouver area who agreed to read and comment on the articles. 6 Semi-directedinterviews were then conducted with the research participants. Providing comments on the sample of20 articles required considerable time and work which explains why the research participants did notdiscuss all of them. While one could argue that the sample used is biased and non exhaustive, thenature of discourse analysis directed me to debate some articles more than others. A more rigoroussample would certainly have been necessary had I done a content analysis but that is beyond the scopeof this thesis.Chapter Two: MEDIA REPRESENTATION OF CANADIAN WOMEN OF SOUTH ASIANORIGIN IN THE VANCOUVER SUNThis chapter is divided in two sections, each presenting an analysis of the common-senseimages of Canadian women of South Asian origin which have currency in the Vancouver Sun. First,the perspectives of South Asian women activists I conversed with are presented, and in the secondpart, I offer my own feminist anthropological reading. While my analysis of the sample draws fromcultural and political writings by South Asian women,' my collaborators provided an insider's viewof media coverage by relating the sample of articles to their general experience of reading news aboutSouth Asian women in Canada in the mainstream press.' The two types of analysis are presentedseparately to respect the distinctions among the various analytical voices.6 I spoke to South Asian women activists because I wanted to access the positions of women who areinvolved in political work as advocates for other South Asian women.I consulted journals and magazines such as: Diva: A Quarterly Journal of South Asian Women;Rungh: A South Asian Quarterly of Culture, Comment and Criticism; Ankur; Sanvad; and Kinesis.8 In addition to our discussion on media representations, I asked my research collaborators threequestions regarding their self-identity i.e., if they identified as South Asian, as feminists, and as activists.These questions allowed the participants to define their own positionality.82.1^Perspectives of Three South Asian Women Activists on Media Coverage 2.1.1 Conversing with Yasmin Jiwani Do you identify as a South Asian woman?Yasmin: I identify as a South Asian woman but that identity is not something I see as primordial.Well, to some extent cultural ties are primordial and I think part of it has to do with being part of aparticular group and being socialized into that group. But, I think the South Asian label is a politicallabel and the affiliation of calling myself a South Asian, that identity is constructed for me in thedynamics of my being here in this society. I never classified or labelled myself as a South Asian whenI was in Africa. This is clearly something that is rooted, it's actually based on a dynamic that's two-sided. One side is the wider response I have had from the wider society which has categorized me asan East Indian woman and it's a label that I resent. I think it's pejorative in terms of it's connotationand it is based on ignorance and outright racism. It's an exclusionary device and in an effort tocounter that, because I'm not East Indian . . . there is no country called East India, the idea of EastIndia is, I think, based on the British East India company . . . You don't call people by a company'sname, even if that company was a tool of colonization. We don't call natives Hudson Bayers, do we?So, I think that the whole notion of East Indians also has this negative charge to it. And, it'salmost a contemporary polite way of saying what was said before about people of South Asian origin,which was they were "rag-heads". I almost see the two terms as equivalent because racism isn't static.It changes over time, it too evolves given the evolution of society. Discourse changes but the powerrelationships that the discourse covers or communicates are often very much the same. To me the labelSouth Asia is inclusive. It includes people from South Asian countries and it includes people withorigin in South Asia, which includes myself because I was born in Africa. I have never seen India,my parents went there once for a visit, they weren't born there. My grandparents weren't born thereeither. It [the South Asian label] includes that tie which is a very strong cultural tie, but at the same9time, gives me the feeling of inclusion, of being with other people who are like myself. It's apreferable alternative to the term East Indian or Indo-Canadian because not all South Asians areCanadian and not all South Asians were born in India. But, I think of it as a political term. I thinkof it as having an identity foisted on me. It is not that I want to be identified as "separate from" butbecause this society works on separating our differences. Given that, I'm already marginalized, alreadypositioned in a particular way, I would rather take this label than another. For me, the other insight ofthat dynamic is that it resonates with who I am culturally, and it's inclusive.One of the reasons why I'm asking about the label of South Asia is because in anthropology we createcategories by using unifying criteria for selecting people. It gives a certain uniformity to the group ofpeople considered. But this can also suppress or minimize differences between individuals. I amasking you how you identifi) because I assumed a number of things when I approached you but I don'twant to take those things for granted. I'm asking about the South Asian identity because I have seenit in journals where women with roots in the India subcontinent use it. I'm wondering if you see somepower in this label in terms of activism?Yasmin: The very act of self-definition is itself an act of activism because what it is, is an attemptto counter the definitions that are imposed on us. ( . . . ) So, the label of South Asia, or having thechance to define ourselves regardless of who is going to believe us . . . for example you still have thepress calling us East Indian. A lot of people still do that. People within the community callthemselves that, having internalized the label. But for the sector of us who are activists, or who areaware of the issues, or who are somehow engaged in the struggle, that act of self-definition is crucial. . . it's the first step in which we can counter images of ourselves and definitions of ourselves thatmight be in currency outside. In a way, the journal of South Asian women [Diva], it's talking to SouthAsian women. It's an internal discourse that occasionally punctures the containers that surrounds usand spills it into the outside world.10So, you are an activist, what motivates you for being an activist?Yasmin: I don't think one chooses to be an activist, one has to be an activist. I don't think we chooseto be politicized. I think that by and large, most people are comfortable and if they are comfortable,they are not going to be jarred out of their comfortable ways. But, I think that it is the social effectof being positioned in the margins and of feeling it every day -- it's what Sunera [Thobani] definedas the indignities of everyday life. Of constantly having to face this struggle day in and day out . .. that politicizes you, it is what makes you an activist. ( . . . ) I see activism as almost like . . . in theface of the constant demeaning, humiliating and dehumanizing effects of living in this society, the veryfact that I can get up everyday and do what I have to do is, I think, activism. And, if there is oneperson you can change or you can influence to see the world in a different way, or to see it from yourperspective, that's activism! ( . . . ) If you are not there, who will? You know that nobody is goingto step in for you, and you know that if you don't say anything in that little space that is allowed, itwill just go on. The thing about countering this kind of work is that it works at every level, from thelevel of lived reality, your daily encounters in the world with the people around you, to the level ofinstitutions. It's almost, you do get a sense of fatigue because the focus is on one area, and that's theonly area in which you can respond. That is the only area in which there is a latitude or permissibilityfor you to respond. You have to jump in and use the opportunity as you can.What is that area?Yasmin: That area has to do with those articles. What are the areas in which the South Asian womanis constructed in the public arena? Arranged marriages, racism, backward cultural traditions,oppressive cultural traditions and, cultural conflicts -- that's basically it. These are the four areas andit's only in these four areas that South Asians are asked to respond. The whole thing coheres arounda confrontational dynamic in which this particular group is portrayed in a highly specific way, largelyto reaffirm Western society's notion of itself as a sanitized, superior and progressive entity.11Are there some articles that you think are better than others? There are different kinds of articles inthere. Some are written by South Asian woman activists [Thobani 1992a], some are written by SouthAsian male freelancers [Dhillon 1991; Gill 1991a, 1991b], some are written by white reporters [seeGriffin, Wigod, Parton, Aird and others] -- so it comes from different perspectives.Yasmin: It comes from different perspectives but look at the process of selection. Sunera's article[Thobani 1992a:A13] is in there because she wrote an article after seeing that article citing MobinaWier [Gill 1991b:A19]. Sunera sent that article. It was printed in the OP/ED page and you canclearly see the writing at the end by the Sun editor, that these are unsolicited opinions and not of theSun. Usually the criteria of news is anything unexpected, that's deviant, that basically rupturesexpectations, that silences, that resonates with the cultural framework of the people -- and bad news,right? It has to be negative. Bad news is what usually makes it. ( . . . ) Sunera's article got inbecause the Sun also has to maintain it's credibility, that it is presenting all sides of the issue, or anotion of balance. And so, what it tends to do is to use oppositional perspectives in small doses toinoculate the audience. But, the content in Sunera's article is that last piece by the editor. The contentin the Veil issue,' is the fact that the group of Muslim women who wrote to the editor to complainabout the coverage were subsequently presented in the newspaper as either being born or educatedhere, which completely positioned them outside. So, the articles may be different but what they haveto say fits in the larger picture and the larger picture inevitably distances this community as acommunity that is oppressive, backward, that propagates violence against women, is highly sexist andtraditional . . . the idea of a frozen culture -- so you have a community that is basically deviant.Even Deepa Mehta's article [Aird 1991:C1], sure Deepa wants to destroy illusion, destroystereotypes and things like that. But, what is the whole purpose of mentioning Mehta smoking9 The Vancouver Sun published a series of six articles by Deborah Scroggins, in July 1992, aboutMuslim women in Afghanistan. The articles focused on rape, legal bondage to men, surgical mutilation, etc.12cigarettes . . . the fact that these films are irreverent. 10 The whole frame of the article really raisesquestions about the positioning. What is Aird trying to do here? And, not so much Aird but the editorbecause he has obviously selected this article to be put in a certain place. But again, it's usuallyaround issues of racism -- minorities complaining -- that's a common theme in the coverage of otherminorities, other than South Asian.( . . . ) The media always de-historicizes. But the historical context is alarmingly absent whenit comes to issues of racism but alarmingly present when it comes to issues of dowry. But even then -- there is no comparison in the sense that, it's just like in the article, the people said, arrangedmarriages have been around for a long time, the Japanese practice arranged marriages. How come theJapanese arranged marriages are never a focus of attention in the press? The whole institution ofdowry has been around for a long time and is practised by many cultures. That's never been broughtup! It's always this community is this way, this community is that way!Women are also often presented as complaining. Our claims are presented as complaints, in spite ofobvious sexual inequalities and differential access to power. Do you think there are similarities in theways women in general and women from the minorities are presented in the press?Yasmin: Yes! women are significantly under-represented. Valerie Casselton mentioned at the NationalAssociation of Women and the Law (NAWL) 1993 conference, that out of approximately 1400 articlespublished on Meech Lake, only 5 looked at it from a woman's perspective. That is shocking and shehad similar statistics about the constitution. But what I found in my reading of the newspaper is thatthere is more use of statistics -- hard facts when it comes to white women than for women ofminorities. When do you see statistics on the inequality in employment for people of colour? There10 Mehta's film Sam and Me was presented at the 1991 Vancouver Film Festival. In Aird's words, itis "a bittersweet look at the relationship between two outsiders, one a young man just off the plane fromIndia, the other a rebellious old Jew who just wants to go back to Israel to die" (Aird 1991:C1).13are government statistics showing that people of colour hired in federal government departments, doingthe same work, end up getting payed less than their white counterparts. This is the government whoembraces the policy of employment equity. If this happens in a federal department, can you imaginewhat it is outside, but there are never any comparable statistics. When it comes to women, we learnthat women earn 66 cents to every dollar a man earns Immediately, we learn hard statistics. Howmany women are raped every minute in Canada. How many are molested, how many have a chanceof being beaten up once in their lifetime. All of these fact sheets are right there, but when it comesto minorities, there is nothing. There is just this sort of "They [minorities] are saying they are notgetting equal opportunities," or "they are saying this," or "they are saying that." But, there is nothingto support it and so, the image one gets is that these guys don't even have a ground to stand on.This is made even more trenchant by the fact that here, immigration laws are presented as theliberalization of immigration in 1967 which allowed these people to come in. Even within that image,the cracks are never examined. Who does Canada allow to come in? Even, among the refugees, italways chooses the "cream of the crop". Why are former Yugoslavian refugees being treated better?Why are there more of them allowed in than Somalian refugees? The Sun has printed story after storyof Somalian refugees abusing the welfare system, as criminals, as here under false pretences, and whohave to be deported.There is a real race prejudice and you can see that. With the Somalians, what are they lookingat? Female circumcision, arranged marriages . . . the whole idea is to portray these people as sexist,as backward, oppressive, and as being too different to accept them here. In one of the newscast,Valcourt [Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Immigration] actually used the term: "they are too different -- they are nomads," and nobody asked him what he meant, everyone is different, right?Was there some positive aspects in these articles?Yasmin: I don't see it so much in terms of positive or negative as much as I see it as some kind of1 4framing of these issues and the whole frame as such is negatively charged. There is an agenda. Insome instances, this is where the role of the advocate or an activist clashes with academic disciplines.As an academic, you are not supposed to be an activist, you are supposed to think about these things -- see them objectively. Being part of this culture and identifying myself as such, you can't divorcethat. It's my lived reality that's an issue here. And so, I can't say that these framings are the way thatideology works and that's the way the system works. It's having direct impact on me, on the way Iam seen. The fact that my credentials are constantly questioned -- that my views are constantlyinterrogated because I'm not allowed to have views, right?You are saying that for you, there are real contradictions in doing academic work. As a South Asianwoman, you cannot not be an advocate for the group of women with whom you identify. Why do youbring this up in the context of news framing?Yasmin: There is a tendency to discount the views that I have presented. It's based on a conspiracytheory -- the same accusation that is levelled at Noam Chomsky's work -- that is, it is a conspiracytheory of the media. Well, it's a conspiracy theory if one wants to look at it from that "academic"perspective -- ivory tower perspective. When you are in it, it's not a conspiracy theory. It's the realitythat is constantly being portrayed to you. If you are judged on the basis of what is written about youor your community, you become almost unwillingly the ambassador of that community wherever youare.When I talk outside, it's often expected that I am talking about the entire South Asian women'scommunity. And I often have to make it a point that I am not. You cannot make this generalizationor the categorization that because I happen to be of South Asian origin and culture that I willnecessarily articulate the views of all South Asians because that is assuming that we have a mindsetthat's the same, and that's not true! But, my argument had more to do with the notion that as anactivist and an academic, you are not allowed to get into this, there is a contradiction involved.15However, if you are a feminist and an academic ( . . . ), it's fine to have a feminist perspective whenyou do a certain piece of work. But, when you have a race perspective, you are accused of not beingobjective. What I am referring primarily to is that, if a white feminist were to become an advocatefor a group of people of colour, that would be fine. But, if it is a woman of colour who is workingin her own community and who studies her own community, suddenly, it is problematic. That's wherethe racism comes in and, that's where the whole debate on objectivity comes in. Yes, sure, everybodyhas read van den Berghe [Race and Racism, 1967], but suddenly it becomes an issue. Or, you aretaken to be the sole representative of that community and you are put in that binary position, neitherof which you can fulfil. Racism is never seen as a legitimized issue. There are inequalities in society,these are historically entrenched and need to be dealt with. That [addressing the issue of racism] isnever there and you can see it really clearly. I mean, the assumption is so grounded in the fact thatwe are all the same, that if I look at the South Asian community, I am "subjected". It is too close tome but, if a white researcher looks at the South Asian community, it's different. The fact that thereare so many differences within the South Asian community is never the issue. The fact that theaxiomatic principle of intercultural communication which is that there is more differences in a groupthan between groups is never brought up. No, these are MY peoples. They say: Yes , you are right!We have been telling your stories for a long time. Now, you have the right to tell your own story.But, it's delegitimized.Do you define yourself as a feminist?Yasmin: I identify myself as a feminist but my definition of feminism is a very basic one. You arestruggling for equal rights as a woman. And that's it. You don't want to be treated like a doormat,you're a feminist! And to me, that's my version and that's the thing: that version has never beenaccepted as being equivalent to Western notions of feminism and dictated by the feminist movementin the West. So, my mother's feminism would never be recognized. The feminist perspective that I16embrace includes the notion of race and gender in it. It's not just the notion of gender because womenof colour will turn into their communities, will turn to their families for protection from a racistenvironment. Whereas Western feminism always sees the home and the family as a source ofoppression.2.1.2 Conversing with Amarjit Pannun As you read these articles and encountered representations of South Asian women, how did you relateto these representations?Amarjit: Some of them are very stereotypical, fall under certain categories: arranged marriages, dowryor seeing South Asian women as some kind of anomaly coming from this backward culture andtradition. And in terms of who the writers were, even people of South Asian origin fed into thestereotypes. They would talk about their culture in terms of being backwards, or try to explain itsanomalous nature to a white audience but there was never any discussion, except for the article bySunera [Thobani 1992a:A13] ( . . . ) in terms of how this fits into . . . let's see arranged marriages,how they occurred in Europe and elsewhere. Even in the aristocracy now, it exists. But nobody everlooked at it as a phenomenon in totality. Such things are always a kind of anomaly, this sort of highlysignified other. In terms of that, I would not go out of my way to read articles written either by SouthAsians or non South Asians. It doesn't interest me because of the vein in which it is written. Thereare some pieces, a couple, that are really nice, like one human being talking to another, for instancethat father who has two children and his wife died of cancer [Sahota 1992:A3]. That was real, thatwas like a human phenomenon. It didn't matter that he was Sikh, that he wore a turban, the colourof his skin. He is someone who lost his partner and he is now raising his children. I mean it was niceand neutral ( . . . ) in terms of how one wants to be understood.He [Sahota] is talking about an experience which could happen to anybody regardless of her/hisculture. It's not a sensationalized issue that is discussed.17Amarjit: That's right, yet that's the way many other articles are written. People are presented as theexception to the rule. There are a couple of these that are about arranged marriages which worked outreally well but which showed people as exceptions, or people rebelling against their own culture.Somehow they see their cultural values as oppressive, they are not analyzed, only compared to Westernvalues. Somehow, there is no context, no historicity to it. And then, the titles -- I guess it'snewspaper writing -- but, for example, "repels others" [speaking of the practice of arranged marriagein Wigod (1989b:E13)], really really loaded descriptions ( . . . ) That's difficult! It's very loaded, it'snot saying that some people opt out [of arranged marriages], it's not a neutral description, it'ssomething to be despised, or it's repellent in some way.There is a description by one of the authors [Parton 1991:B1] of some Indian woman and theauthor uses classic adjectives about her being doe-eyed, which for example occurs in Sanskrit literature. . . some of the stories about the gods in the Hindu scriptures and how women are described. Menare described as strong and what not, women are slim waisted, fair skin, voluptuous and doe-eyed.And so, to see this in a newspaper article written by a white woman and, just the way she wasdescribed . . . I guess I always saw it [doe-eyed] as gentle, submissive, serene, etc.Did you find there were different views, different representations of South Asian women?Amarjit: Some of them are quite excellent, they challenge how people think. They are representativeand respectful of reality. For example how Mehta [Aird 1991:C1] presents herself, that's just the wayit is, people are resistant to being categorized. For instance, this "South Asian" term, I never use it todescribe myself. I've always been Punjabi Sikh. That's my identity and I have never used Indo-Canadian. Only, I have to acknowledge that this is how other people categorize this community, interms of politics. ( . . . ) Some of these [articles], I think, are much more representative of howpeople feel and see their lives. So the Mehta article [Aird 1991:C1] and the one of women whoorganized out of Abbotsford [Griffin 1991:B3] and Sunera Thobani's one [Thobani 1992:A13], I think,18are much more representative of women's situations and women's realities. It's just respectful. It'stalking about those individuals and what they are facing rather than looking at them under amicroscope. It's taking what they are doing and what they are like as interesting.Do you think that the subject, the person who is being interviewed really makes a difference in the endproduct, i.e., in what is going to end up in the paper? In Aird's article, Deepa Mehta challenges howwomen are usually represented Elizabeth Aird had to deal with the question of representation becauseDeepa Mehta pointed it out. Mehta wanted to make sure that she was going to be represented in theway she perceives herself She did make strong statements about that.Amarjit: Yes, this is why I think this is interesting. It's interesting in that she is being interviewedbecause she made a movie, and the movie did well. They are interviewing the director, then becausethe director is Indian and because the movie has this theme [refer to footnote #10], they have to takeinto account her cultural heritage, the immigrant experience and all those kinds of issues. In here[Griffin 1991:B3], it feels sort of the same way, these people fighting against racism and setting upservices to help themselves and in that way there is a lot of self-definition because the group is beingexplored. They are looking at the organization they set up. And then Sunera's [Thobani 1992a:A13]is a response to a call. She isn't being defined on the basis of her cultural background and yet, theseexternal categories of information are what the white Western audience or non-Indian audience wouldwant to know about. ( . . . ) Here, because the issues are different and defined differently, it tendsto be more respectful. There is integrity to it.The rest of the articles are in response to how others see us. They don't want to know aboutour daily lives but they want to know about these bizarre cultural practices we have . . . aboutpreferring men, you know male children, and dowries or arranged marriages, or the clash between Eastand West in our children or in our minds. They are not really interested in us, they want eithercontradictions for us or contradictions in their own heads that they think would exist for us. And then,19these "weird cultural practices" that they think are alien, [it is] because we come from a culture wherethey are still practised to a large extent, and the West no longer practices them. I'm talking aboutEuropean history, you have similar cultural histories in terms of how European cultures changed.We became an object of study. It's not us deciding what's interesting, to an extent it is whitepeople . . . for instance, a white reporter . . . Ah! you see that's the thing, it's hard for me to thinkin terms of colour. Everything is a cultural phenomenon, it's pan-human in a way, but, how come theydon't do articles on male drinking culture? Or why the colour white has come into existence forwedding dresses? Or, how this notion of love marriage came about? Or, you know, things that happenhere that are the norm because it's the dominant practice? And then, as Indian, I'm also a visibleminority. I don't know . . . it just doesn't help our position in this society to help us assimilate better. . . if that's one's goal.Is that your goal?Amarjit: No, but it doesn't help people have insight into us. It segregates us as some sort of alien,that we have such bizarre, such different cultural practices. And then, our colour on top of that .. .tabooed. It's going to be next to impossible to understand us, you know, trying to be sensitive, so thatpeople can get their heads around us when they see some guy with a turban or an Indian womanwearing an Indian suit.You mentioned that you would like to see articles on some cultural aspects of the lives of white people.But, I see a lot of articles on the dominant cultures in this country. Are you saying that the pressfocuses on particular topics for South Asians and other topics for white people?Amarjit: Yes, for the most part we recognize that we live in a multicultural society and everybody hasto be represented. But, the representations of us tend to be what the dominant culture would considerproblematic or of interest. When, for example, articles are written about native communities, topicsoften revolve around alcoholism or sexual abuse. Rather, they could be looking at structures that20promote racist ideology and how it impacts on different groups in our society. For instance, in thecase of South Asians, the focus could be their struggles in particular jobs or industry and what not.Those articles exist in academic journals but they don't make it into the public media. And, that'swhere understanding is really necessary. That's real information, useful information. How is theexploration of arranged marriages, in the way it is taken up in the articles, useful for anybody? Unlesssomeone was thinking about having an arranged marriage and happened not to be South Asian, butotherwise it is not useful information. These articles are for the mainstream definitely, for thedominant culture! They are not informative, the practices covered are shown as anomalous. In fact,some of these topics are even anomalous to me even though I belong to this community. They arewild and wacko! You know, it's not something that I would support myself because of the way it ispresented, it is presented as a South Asian phenomenon and people generalize. It's presented in sucha way that the exceptions become the norm.What do you mean by these things that are "wacko"? You say that you would not support them butyou recognize that they exist?Amarjit: Oh! sure, but they are exceptions. For instance, these people going down to Bellingham todetermine the sex of their child and then abort female children .. .These are exceptions?Amarjit: I believe so, if you were to look at it in terms of percentage of South Asians, I think youwould discover that they are exceptions [refers to Dhillon 1991].That's not the way they are presented in the articles.Amarjit: No, it's not. They make it sound as if everyone that's brown and pregnant is heading outto Bellingham. You know, that isn't it! When they write about particular women who are doing well,they look at women that crossed over to an extent or weren't "traditional". Like Jaffer for example[Gill 1991b:A19], or Raminder Dosanjh [Griffin 1990a:B2] -- she is portrayed as already a rebel in2 1her own society and so that's why she was successful here. It is presented in that way, rather than interms of an ongoing negotiation between that particular individual, her or his family, that's what thereality is. The reality is not that people are rejecting their culture. They are negotiating. If you wereto talk to women I went to school with, some are still single and they are my peers or older, somehave had semi-arranged marriages, some had formerly arranged marriages and then there were somethat lived with their partners before they got married, and some that married out of the community.The one woman who lived with her partner, he was Indian. It wasn't that she took off . . . There isa continuum of experiences and that's not what is represented. What is represented is what will besensational for the mainstream, but it creates, it generates alienation.I would like to talk about Gill's article Woman in the Middle (Gill 1991b) .. .Amarjit: I don't know how to respond to that one because there is a strange dynamic here. Thiswriter is trying to explain an insider to his culture, and then explain his culture to mainstream society.Jaffer [Mobina Jaffer, the "Woman in the Middle"], some of her success in the community ofmulticulturalism is because of the mere fact that she is Indian. If she was a white woman, and haddone all this [she is the first Indo-Canadian lawyer to practice in British Columbia], it would beinconsequential. Part of her fame and fortune is because she is brown, so . . . She is in the sameposition that he [Gill] places himself, that is to explain the predicament of Indian women, thepredicament that the mainstream culture sees them in. That they don't leave their homes, only breedbabies and whatever else. And then, the statement that they are not part of the flow of life in Canada,well . . . Indian women do janitorial work in all major cities in Canada. It is Indian women in B.C.who harvest the food . . . so, they are very much part of the flow of life in Canada.In that same article, there is also mention of another woman, Sashi Assanand, who says that there aretypes of Indian women. I am wondering if you think that it is useful to present it in that way to thegeneral public, that there are categories of Indian women?22Amarjit: Well, it's not useful in the way it is presented. The first group of women who are described[role has been defined as "a bearer of children, who abides by her husband's wishes and cares for hisfamily . . . these women are only to be seen not heard . . . very submissive" (Gill 1991b:A19)], isright out of the stereotype of what Indian women are perceived to be ( . . . ) the issue is that sheshould be talking about the isolation people experience as a result of the immigrant experience and lackof English. There is a lack of ESL programming in the community. It should have been talked aboutin that way, not that these women are somehow to blame.Do you identify as an activist?Amarjit: I identify as a community worker and I do advocacy so I guess, it is activism. I suppose theword activist encompasses some of that.Would you define yourself as a feminist and if so, can you explain what that means to you?Amarjit: Yes, I identify as a feminist. If I am talking to another woman that I know is a feminist, Iwill identify as a feminist. My feminism is that I am opposed to all forms of domination. I definemyself as a feminist/humanist. I use the humanist definition because people understand it. It is mysocial philosophy.Is feminism basically a philosophical position for you?Amarjit: No. I believe in the marriage of theory and practice (...) My feminism means: anti-racist,anti-sexist, also anti-capitalist and anti-classist. That is how I live my life, in terms of how I interactwith people, stances I take in conversations . . . I espouse feminist ideals.Has your philosophy influenced your criticism of these articles? In other words, would you consideryour reading of these articles a feminist reading?Amarjit: Yes. I responded as a South Asian woman who lives here but wasn't born here and continueto be in contact with my cultural values. I looked at these articles defining South Asian women interms of their roles and lives. I saw them [the articles] as very much male biased, they are informed23by a patriarchal structure. I was looking at how South Asian writers or not were constructingdifference, defining their own positions in the case of South Asian writers and I guess interpreting.I have done unlearning racism work so I guess I looked at internalized racism and racist ideology. Icome from a working class background and I work with a cross-section, a spectrum of Indians fromdifferent socio-economic backgrounds. So, I was sensitive to who was getting voiced and how theywere being portrayed.Can this work that we have just done inform feminist anthropologists about writing about people fromdifferent cultures than their own?Amarjit: You have to be sensitized to the concept of race and how mainstream society uses it toinform its processes. So, I think a South Asian woman like Sunera [Thobani] -- how she is respondingnot to look at what I see as racist assumptions about cultural differences, arranged marriages, dowry,sex selection. These aren't cultural racial phenomena. These are results of other larger structures.Definitely, I think that talking to or working with women of colour would inform white feminism.2.1.3 Conversing with Raminder Dosanjh Do you identify as an activist?Raminder: Yes, I do. I look at myself as an activist because I look at things around me and try tochange them. I can't look at things and say "Ok, it's happening, let's forget it!" When I seesomething that needs to be challenged, I try to find time and address it in my own little way. To bean activist for me, means various things. It means first of all to unlearn the learned stereotypes andcontinuously challenge the sexism, racism, poverty and other inequities around us, starting withoneself, one's family and the society in general.Do you identify as a feminist?Raminder: I would say so. I think I am a feminist. Again, different people have different definitions24of feminism. For me feminism means that all women should be treated with dignity and respect,regardless of whatever choices they make, whether they are married, living at home, raising childrenor whether they are out pursuing their career. And, unfortunately, that is not so here, and that is notso in many other countries in the world. I see the inequities and I've spent some time working ateradicating some of them because I would like to see that day when everybody is treated with respectand as equal partners.What do you think of the representation of South Asian women in this sample of articles?Raminder: Every time you hear about the South Asian women in the media, you hear about themduring the sex selection campaign, you hear about them when they are in situations of arrangedmarriages, when they talk about dowry or dowry deaths, bride burning or Sati. Of all of theseincidents, there was one that took place in India in all these years, some time ago. Related to that, wewere invited to talk about this issue on a radio program. We told them, Sati is not a common practicehere or in India. This incident of Sati was a totally isolated incident. But you know, all of a sudden,there was this interest in this thing. But, when there are good things happening, you don't hear aboutthem. Also, when one such incident takes place, it is attributed to the whole community, it's madeto look as if it is a common practice in the community.You mentioned something about sex selection. Dhillon [1991] is talking about his aunt going toBlaine, Washington for sex selection. I talked to other women who said they had never heard aboutthat.Raminder: The headlines have made it to look like it is a common practice among Indo-Canadians.It's not uncommon to find people with preference for male children when you live in a male dominatedsociety where women are devalued all the time. But the fact is that we had not heard about sexselection being practiced in our community until this doctor targeted our community with his addcampaign. For instance, I don't have a daughter and I have always missed not having one. In fact,25we even had an application in to adopt one. Both times we had sons, we had names selected for a girl.When you read that stuff in the media, you immediately think that every South Asian or Indo-Canadianperson wants a boy. The Indo-Canadian community is not different from the rest of society.Preference for male offspring exists in this community as in many communities around the world.There are many voices fighting a battle to eradicate this acute form of discrimination. But, theunfortunate part is that you only hear one side of the story. The report in the media leaves a verystereotypical image of the community by focusing on a few individuals who have internalized thesexism around them and have been victimized by Stephen's add campaign. In essence, the real issueis lost and you are left with a very biased view of the community.Especially when this practice is not exclusive to Indian people.Raminder: That's exactly what I was going to say, that it's not exclusive to the Indian community atall. There is all kind of research that shows that preference for male offspring exists in many partsof the world including for example, Britain, the United States and Danemark. There is a clinic inToronto which has been frequented not only by Indo-Canadians but by many others. In fact, it's beenmore of a mainstream practice where people have gone to have the sex selected and statistics show thatpeople are from different backgrounds. But that never came into light through these articles. Instead,the articles left the impression that the Indo-Canadian culture condones this horrible practice whilethere was no reflection of the intensity of this doctor's campaign or his moral and ethicalresponsibilities. Any store you went to, you saw his leaflets, any newspaper you opened, you saw hisadvertisements. What he was doing was actually planting the idea and taking no responsibility forperpetuating this practice and its consequences on women's lives. In fact, he blamed it on the Indo-Canadian culture while he profited by exploiting the community for his own gain.262.2^^A Feminist Anthropological Analysis of the Vancouver Sun Coverage of Canadian Womenof South Asian Origin Because minorities have not been gatekeepers in mainstream mass media, Wilson and Gutierrezfound that in the United States, the frequency and nature of minority coverage in mainstream reportingreflect the values and attitudes of the majority of the population.By their professional judgments, the gatekeepers of news reveal how consequentialminorities are to American society and determine the ways in which they areinterpreted to the majority audience (Wilson and Gutierrez 1985:134).Although he did not consider factors of ethnicity, Whitlow (1977) also found that somegatekeepers of both sexes tended to reject news items about women in non-traditional sex roles. Thiscontributes to explaining why topics of interest in news and feature articles about South Asian womenin the Vancouver Sun revolve around a limited range of topics such as arranged marriages, sexselection, dowry, violence against women, immigration, multiculturalism and culture clashes betweenEast and West. All of these domains are dealt with in a culturally-based framework i.e., as emergingor originating from an Indian culture. Similarly, three articles (Aird 1991; Wilson 1992; Dykk 1992)which constitute exceptions from the above mentioned topics, discuss art-related issues such as filmdirection and plays in relation to multiculturalism. The media then offers channels of diffusion for theideological effect of the state's policy of multiculturalism.The state has to come up with policies which maintain the status quo (i.e., keeps cheap"coloured" labour accessible to capital) while giving the public, both white and non-white, the impression that the state is combatting racism and promoting racial equality(Bolaria and Li 1985:29, quoted in Srivastava and Ames 1989:19).It is relevant to examine the messages conveyed by news discourses seen as producers ofrestricted, preferred or constraining meanings. What is the discourse underlying the topics assumedrelevant in relation to South Asian women, by gatekeepers, for the readers of the Vancouver Sun.What are the underlying assumptions of preferred meanings associated with Canadian women of South27Asian origin? There is a preferred meaning of the "Canadian woman of South Asian origin": Herpredicament is to live under her family's authority, go through a marriage arranged by her parents, tobe considered according to the value of her dowry, and as resorting to sex selection technology tofavour male children. She is also often portrayed at the receiving end of violence perpetrated bymales in her household. These topics are domains which are not usually associated with the lives ofCanadian women who are not of South Asian origin. The dissemination of such a predicament forSouth Asian women in Canada has advantages for those who do not fit into this category:The circulation of images of South Asian women as tradition-bound, submissive, weak,and victimized affirms the image of the West as an advanced and progressive entity(Jiwani 1992:45).I will now deal with five topics which come back with regularity in media coverage and whichconstrain the reader's perceptions of South Asian women in Canada.2.2.1 Arranged marriages The regularity with which articles on South Asian arranged marriages are published (five outof the nineteen articles constituting the sample considered for this paper look at the practice ofarranged marriages) suggests that discussions of the marital status of Canadian women of South Asianorigin, have the press criteria of newsworthiness. In a first article, Wigod (1989a) describes theprocedures families undertake to find future partners for their children:From the time a child becomes a teenager, the family researches prospective partnersfor him or her, taking into account factors like caste, wealth and social status. (. . .)Acting en bloc, the family takes responsibility for marrying off its members. It doesthis work diligently, researching a candidate's every trait (Wigod 1989a:E13).A similar process takes place in Parton's article (1991) in which she explains how Meena Dhir's familytravelled to India to select "with great care" a future husband for her.The following day, in her birthplace in Ludhiana in the Punjab, her family gave a party at hermother's sister's house. They invited the Chosen One and his family, and everyone knew thereason. The party offered a place for their arranged introduction -- a chance, if either wanted,to back out. She eventually gave a slight nod, and everyone understood. He was acceptable.28She would marry him. They had never held hands; never kissed or had a date; never spent amoment alone. She had yet to learn his full name, but she would marry him (Parton 1991:B1).The latter part of the above quote reminds readers of a certain peculiarity attached to thepractice of arranged marriages compared to the Canadian standard of so-called "love marriages."Traditionally, the future bride and groom within an arranged marriage, did not usually know each otherbut Wigod (1989a) points out that this is changing in the Canadian context. On the other hand,Parton's article emphasizes the fact that the future bride and groom do not know each other. Thiscontributes to the portrayal of arranged marriages as a restrictive practice which condones thecontemporary Western pre-marriage liberties.The idea of arranged marriage horrifies Westerners, who recoil at its seeming disregard forpersonal freedom. Says Hemi Dhanoa, a social worker with the Vancouver multicultural groupMosaic: "The mainstream community, when they look at arranged marriages, it flashes beforethem as a very negative thing" (Wigod 1989a:E13).Consequently, discussions on arranged marriages in the Vancouver Sun present women withvery little agency with regard to when, and with whom, they will marry. Umendra Singh, assistanteditor of The Link, describes the role of women in the negotiation preceding the marriage, as forexample, when potential candidates are introduced to the woman and her family, in this fashion:At the first meeting, when "the girl comes in, she usually serves the tea or food.That's how it's done. The boy sees the girl then" (Wigod 1989a:E13).By highlighting the restrictions imposed on their behaviour before marriage, various articles alsoemphasize that it is a woman's responsibility to safeguard the family's honour:Unmarried girls are not allowed to mix with boys because any misconduct would sullya family's honor. "When you are born, you are your parent's daughter," saysRaminder Dosanjh, a founding member of the India Mahila Association, a Vancouvergroup with feminist leanings. "You have to really watch what you do so you don'tbring any disrespect to your father's family" (ibid., E13).Nothing is mentioned as to what constitutes acceptable behaviour for unmarried boys. Therefore, thenotion that a family's good reputation rests solely on the socially acceptable conduct of its female29members is maintained. Wigod's second article (1989b) on the same topic and published just belowthe first one, is written in the same vein, as only young women and no men are asked about theirviews on the practice. Wigod is careful in presenting two views against and two views in favour ofit. But, why does it fall only on women to discuss the good and the bad of this form of marriage?Once again, marriage and relationships are portrayed as a woman's domain, one in which South Asianwomen can demonstrate their analytical skills and express an opinion. Elements of coercion orpressure exercised on women of marriageable age are raised by some women and emphasized in thenewspaper as a contentious issue.Perminder Hari, a 22 year old Delta woman would like to marry another Sikh and wouldn'tmind if her parents introduced her to eligible men. But she won't be coerced. "If it'ssomething I didn't want to do, I wouldn't agree with it," she says (Wigod 1989b:E13).Similarly,Sat Basi feels under considerable pressure to marry. The 28 year-old woman, who lives withher parents in Vancouver says: "We get people -- friends, relatives -- phoning all the time,[saying], 'We've got a guy for your daughter."Basi disagrees with arranged marriages because couples aren't allowed to date. Shesays: "I can't meet a guy for an hour and say 'Yes, I'll marry him.' You have to getto know that person (Wigod 1989a:E13).Another opposing view, attributed to a 30 year-old Burnaby woman born into a Hindu family in Kenyagoes like this:Having seen her best friend undergo an arranged marriage and then flee her in-laws'house in despair three months later, she set her heart against arranged marriage whenshe was 18. Her main objection is one a Westerner would raise. "There is noconnection between the people," she says. "When you meet a person on their own,you develop a history with them . . . You get to know the person separately from yourfamilies. She also deplores semi-arranged marriage -- the freer modern variant inwhich young people may veto the mates their parents offer them. 'You can say no,but how many times can you say no? You're still expected to say yes' (ibid., E13).Dating and getting to know a potential future partner are the reasons indicated by some women whohave reservations an arranged marriage. These however, are practices which are part of mainstream30Canadian culture and they contribute to the glorification of Canadian mainstream values which leaveit up to the couple to decide when and how they will marry if they decide to do so. The viewspresented above and credited to young South Asian women make a more compelling argument againstthis practice as women are said to directly suffer as a result of this form of marriage. Whereas viewssuch as "I really don't mind the idea," or "wouldn't mind if her parents introduced her to eligiblemen," seem to passively accept rather than affirm the values of arranged marriage.2.2.2 Dowry The article The Worth of A Wife (Gill 1991 a) deals with the practice of dowry in the Vancouverarea. More specifically, this article addresses the issue of insufficient and exorbitant dowries. Dowryas a social practice does not exist exclusively among people of Indian origin. The article recognizesthis, yet emphasizes that while "This custom has faded in many cultures, among Indo-Canadians it hasbeen gaining momentum since the early 1980s" (Gill 1991a:A15). This point leaves ambiguities aboutthe uniqueness of this phenomenon. Is it only in the Canadian context that dowries have gainedmomentum? The article The Worth of a Wife presents dowries as a social practice surviving onlyamong peoples of Indian origin. While this is the case in some countries of the Indian diaspora, othercommunities of overseas Indians have abandoned dowry practices, for example in contemporary ruralTrinidad (Nevadomsky 1983:197).As is frequently the case in newspaper discussions of phenomena associated with people ofcolour, in The Worth of a Wife, dowries are presented as negative or in deviant forms. In the case ofone particular woman, the dowry was considered insufficient, and discussed more generally in thecontext of excessive dowry costs. The consequences of discussing dowries in this kind of frameworkis that dowries become a sort of "evil" and South Asian women are seen as lacking control overdowry-related arrangements or are almost referred to as "marketable goods." Articles on dowriesprovide a limited understanding of the practice and ways in which dowries may facilitate women's31control. There are studies in the British context which challenge mass media stereotypes of Asianwomen portrayed both as victims engaged in constant struggles against 'oppressive' cultural traits, andas passive subjects unable to engage with the British economy (Bhachu 1991:402).Dowries -- daajs -- represent the legitimate and recognized property rights of womenand have been elaborated since migration to Britain as a result of women's entry intothe waged labor market. Young Sikh women play a central role in manufacturingthem, because the arena of dowry in the '80s and '90s in Britain has become a moreimportant area of consumption than in the past ( . . . ) It is a cultural idiom that hasalways been relevant but which has seen significant inflation and which is controlledby the specificities of their class positions and sub-cultural consumptions patterns(Bhachu 1991:403).While there is no research equivalent to Bhachu's in the Canadian context, we learn from her workthat it is not only in Canada that dowries have taken such proportions. More importantly, Sikh womenin Britain are active agents in manufacturing inflated dowries. In The Worth of a Wife, there is nomention of whether or not South Asian women play a role in contributing to their own dowries. Whatwe see next to the text, is the drawing of a woman on her knees carrying a gigantic box wrapped likea gift onto her frail body.In the same article, the views on dowries of various members of South Asian communities arepresented. The explanation given by Ragh Singh Bains, a counsellor at Immigrant Services Society,for his assertion that "never before have the demands for dowry been so exorbitant and so widespreadas today in Canada" is that "people have stronger ties to their families in India than ever before". Theauthor then uses Bain's comment to provide information about dowry practices in the Indian context,beginning with statistics on women abuse and wife burning in India. The assessment of the situationin India is also problematic because equally characterized with an obliteration of Indian women'sagency and their activism in what is called the dowry debate. About dowries in India, it says:One of the reasons families come under great pressure to offer material goods isbecause in the old days Indian laws did not allow women to inherit an equal familyproperty or income. And the proponents of dowry justify it on the ground that it is away of providing the bride with a share of the family wealth (Gill 1991a:A15).32Hence, dowries in India are contextualized in a discussion of inheritance rights. It is explainedthat, in the old days, dowries in India provided a sort of compensation for women in lieu of a shareof the family inheritance. Today, the laws in India recognize women's equal right to inheritancethrough the 1956 Hindu Succession Act (Kishwar 1989:4). In practice however, Indian women veryoften are disinherited. In Gill's article, the state of affairs is presented as follows:Now, the Hindu Succession Act gives women the right to inherit an equal share of theproperty. But traditions die hard, and in most cases the family property is given tomale members of the family. Women do not usually contest this, and therefore itonly strengthens the argument that dowry alone ensures the fair share of thefamily's wealth (ibid., A15) (my emphasis).There are reasons why Indian women do not usually contest the conception that their dowry constitutesa fair share of the family's wealth and consequently, Gill's statement needs to be qualified. It ismentioned that the dowry has been outlawed in India since 1961, "but because of vague regulationsand ill-equipped and indifferent police force, the victims are largely unprotected" (ibid., A15). Indianfeminists writing in Manushi, a women's journal in India, also situate the dowry debate as closelyrelated with questions of inheritance rights for Indian women. However, they do not considerambiguous laws and the indifference of police as the only causes of this problem for Indian women.While these factors help maintain the status quo, women's inheritance is rooted in the ideology of apatriarchal society. If dowries, and consequently exclusive property inheritance to male heirs are seenas "traditions", it is relevant to raise the fact that men in India have been actively preserving men'sinterests.It is significant that historically, any attempt to ensure women's inheritance rights hasbeen violently opposed by women's fathers and brothers (the supposed victims of thedowry system). For instance, a perusal of the parliamentary debates in the yearspreceding the passing of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, is very instructive in thisregard. Men were united across party lines in opposing equal inheritance rights forwomen on the ground that it would create discord between brothers and sisters. Inother words, they virtually admitted that a key element in the asserted harmonybetween brothers and sisters is the disinheritance of the women (Kishwar 1989:4).33Analyzed in the context of patriarchal family structures, dowry is not seen as a "tradition"maintained and perpetuated on its own but rather, as enduring because of the direct actions and rhetoricwhich Indian men have evoked in their opposition to women's equal access to family inheritance.Women in India have explained that it is the forces supporting the power relations within the familyand not "tradition" that hinder their rights.While the majority of women in India do not demand implementation of the laws with regardsto their equal rights to inheritance, some women do (Kishwar 1989:6). However, women who takelegal actions expose themselves to being ostracized by their villages and families as well as thedifficulties of fighting against a discriminatory and hostile legal system.One reason is that our legal system works in a way that it safeguards only thoseindividuals who are in a position to claim their rights by fighting long, costly and ofteninconclusive battles. Women as individuals are rarely in a position to do this (Kishwar1989:6).To endorse the view that the effect of the majority of women in India not contesting the situation,"strengthens the argument that dowry alone ensures the fair share of the family's wealth", is equivalentto making women responsible for the injustices they suffer.A common reaction to the fact that the antidowry campaign is ineffective becausewomen are too backward to respond to it, and it is primarily because women lackcourage to refuse dowry that it continues. It seems to me that such a response isuninformed and insensitive (Kishwar 1989:3).The women's movement in India has been fighting for many years the consequences dowrieshave on women not accessing their share of inheritance. A small number of women have takenindividual actions against their families, and collectively women have not been passive about this issue.Evidence from Manushi shows that Indian women have contested and mobilized themselves againstpower relations within the family which have deprived them of their inheritance rights.Going back to the country of origin is a common strategy for those trying to find explanationsfor social practices common among people of colour established in countries of migration. However,34such strategies have a tendency to position social and cultural practices outside of the social contextin which they are practised, a social context which may contribute to their development andperpetuation. While it is true that some families in the Canadian context might have strongconnections with India, for many South Asian women, Canada may be the second and third countryof migration.Again and again we hear of the backwardness of our culture which is to be blamed forwomen's exploitation in our community. Rarely do we hear how patriarchal relationswithin the Indo-Canadian community are transformed and strengthened through theworkings of the Canadian patriarchal and racist state and economy (Thobani 1990:13).Similarly, this process of abstraction from prevailing social structures is seen by PratibhaParmar, a British sociologist, as a limitating culturalist bias:The emphasis in the work ( . . . ) is on Asian communities themselves, rather than onthe economic, political and ideological structures which reproduce Asian women as aspecific class category. The hazards of this approach are that it becomes easy to blamecultural, religious and communal factors for the subordinate positions which Asianwomen occupy in the British social structure (Parmar 1982:238).Looking at India for explanations concerning an increase in dowries in a migratory context such asCanada, ignores any role the nature of the Canadian economy and patriarchal relations play in theirinteraction with social practices of Canadians of South Asian origin.2.1.3 Sex Selection In 1990, John D. Stephens, a doctor from the United States, targeted South Asian women inVancouver with an aggressive marketing campaign promoting ultrasound techniques to determine thesex of fetuses at 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Vancouver-based South Asian feminist Sunera Thobaninotes that sex selection technology is essentially a process of "male selection" because it isoverwhelmingly used to abort female fetuses (1992b:19). While two articles in the Vancouver Sun by35Griffin (1990a, 1990b) include the responses of South Asian women critics, another article by Dhillon(1991) shows total ignorance of the activism of South Asian women who have challenged sexist andracist myths with regards to sex selection techniques.In It's a boy (Dhillon 1991:A11), the author tells of a trip to Blaine, Washington, with hispregnant aunt and uncle who have an appointment with Dr. Stephens. They are resorting to theultrasound scanning technique to determine the sex of their fetus. While in some ways the authorpresents himself as the outside observer capable of "objectively" assessing the situation, he alsocontextualizes the issue as a personal one, judging himself partly responsible if his relatives opted foran abortion based on the sex of the fetus. He displays his "superiority" in presenting the situation inthis manner:Had I thought everything through? After all, there was a question of life and death.If it turned out that it wasn't a boy, and that they decided to have an abortion becausethey didn't want another girl (they have two), I would be committing a crime byhelping to take a life just because it wasn't the right sex. Now, I'm not pro-choice orpro-life, but I did feel very guilty. Then I assessed the situation: two uneducatedpeople [he had initially presented them as barely speaking English] desperatelysearching for a son to fulfil their personal but more importantly, their social lives.Now, many people may blame me for not doing the right thing. They would say that it is upto me to offer an educated opinion, to show them that it's not right to do this, to tell them thatthey may be taking a life, even if they're not aware of the rights of the fetus. I did explainover and over again, but you're not going to convince a woman who has already had fourpregnancies: two girls and two miscarriages. They want that boy and they're willing to doanything to get it (Dhillon 1991:A11) (my emphasis).The author circumscribes the problem as his own inability to convince his "uneducated"relatives about the wrongness of their actions. His lack of success is explained in part by the way herepresents the other parties involved in the situation. It is both his aunt and uncle who "desperately[are] searching for a son to fulfil their personal but more importantly their social lives", but it is the"woman who has already had four pregnancies" whom he cannot convince. The author barelyrecognizes the social aspect of his relatives wanting a son. However, the discussion makes it a36personal issue. In this personalization centred on the author himself, the South Asian woman involvedin this story is not asked why a son is so important.By disassociating himself both from pro-choicers and anti-choicers, the author of It's a Boyinfers that sex selection is to be looked at in light of the issues raised in the debate about the right toabortion rather than in the context of abortion of female fetuses resulting from sex selectiontechnology. Raising his own feeling of guilt, he avoids taking any political stance on the issue of maleselection. "South Asian women clearly understand that this technology [sex selection] is not an issueof "choice" but rather an expression of the devaluation of women in a patriarchal world" (Thobani1992b: 19).In reality, these technologies have very little to do with women's choice, thetechnologies are to be understood within the context of the power relations of ourworld today and, collectively, women have very little power in this world. (. . .)Reproductive technologies target all women, although specific groups of women arebeing targeted with specific techniques which reflect these divisions of race and classamong women (Thobani 1990:12).The other problem raised in this article is that it reinforces the myth of preference for male childrenas culturally related and characteristic only of South Asian communities:In our community, a family with sons is looked upon as a very blessed and proudfamily, even if those sons turn out to be druggies and alcoholics. A family withdaughters is always seen as unfortunate and lacking (Dhillon 1991:A11) (myemphasis).Evidence from the political writings of South Asian women and from the interviews presented earliersuggests that the homogenous view of South Asian communities preferring male children raisesproblems:Clearly it is not only women of Indian origin and their use of sex selection who areprovoking this kind of response [to sex selection technology] all over the world. Yet,while these practices occur in the mainstream white community too, the myth beingcreated is that only Thirld World communities -- the Indian community in this case --practice femicide. Furthermore, femicide by selective abortion is now presented as part37of our "culture" (Thobani 1990:12)."It is precisely for these reasons that the sex selection campaign has been criticized by SouthAsian women activists in Vancouver as sexist and racist.The Indo-Canadian community is not a monolith with identical attitudes and practices.If there are people in our communities who defend such practices, there are many whoare outraged and determined to stop it. Again and again, we are quoted the statisticsof this practice in India. Rarely do we hear of the women's movement in India andthe militant activism around this issue (Thobani 1990:13).By virtue of his "educated" opinion, Dhillon's strategy is to situate himself outside of what heclaims are the beliefs and attitudes of his community. He dissociates himself from what he claims isa culturally grounded problem. He also implies that those preferring male children do so because theyare like his "uneducated" relatives in suggesting that "more education is needed in the community"(Dhillon 1991:A11). He himself does not fall in this "cultural backwardness" category preciselybecause he has lived in Canada for most of his life, while his relatives "have been in the country onlythree years" (ibid., A 11). Implicit in that view is that the more recent an immigrant, the more you are"contaminated" with the "backwardness" of Indian culture.2.2.4 Violence Against South Asian Women In the article The Worth of a Wife, Gill writes that it is to "spare embarrassment to family andfriends" that few women [who are abused by their husbands] report assault charges to the police, orleave their husbands. While it is known that women often stay in abusive relationships, it negates thefact that women "find themselves being pressured not to take any radical actions (such as making theirgrievance public) that might damage the honourable name of their family" (Thakur 1992:31). Theabove article also suggests that if women were to report to the police, their situation would improve." Statistics and examples of male selection were given for Canada, Britain, U.S., Denmark in Thobani'sarticle. As well, "a doctor who has sex selection clinics in 46 countries in Europe, America, Asia and LatinAmerica stated that of 263 couples who had approached him, 248 selected to have boys" (Thobani 1990:12).38This is an oversimplification of what women go through when dealing with the patriarchal and racistpolice authorities in Canada. This view not only overrides the racism women face when dealing withthe police force, it also ignores the fact that women very often are not believed when they reportviolence to the authorities. Also,When women do press charges, they face legal and other obstacles. The woman whopressed charges against a violent men is not allowed to have her own lawyer in court.It is the State's Crown Prosecutor who supposedly acts on her behalf. Hence, sheappears in court only as a witness to her own case. To make matters worse, due totime constraints and case overload (30 to 40 cases must be dealt with each morning),the Crown Prosecutor is unable to properly represent the abused women (Thakur1992:31).Confronting husbands and in-laws in the prevalent Canadian legal context is not difficult only forSouth Asian women, but it has to be done within the overall "inadequacy of structures and servicesin our society which could be accessed by victims [survivors] of male violence" (Thakur 1992:30).Even when the South Asian family is a site of gender oppression, it is also a refuge against racism(Dua 1992:8). This problem has also been raised by Black feminists:Whatever inequalities exist in such households, they are clearly also sites of supportfor their members. In saying this we are recognizing that black women may havesignificant issues to face within black households. Struggles over sexuality and againstdomestic violence, for example, have been important issues for all feminists, and haveinvolved confronting assumptions about domestic relationships. But at the same timethe black family is a source of support in the context of harassment and attacks fromwhite people (Bhavani and Coulson 1986:88).Clearly, the suggestion that women do not report violence to spare embarrassment to their relatives andfriends totally constrains South Asian women in passive and submissive roles. They are presented aschoosing the more deserving reputation of their husband and in-laws over their own well-being or thatof their children. This view is rather ill-informed about the power relations at work in Canadiansociety when women of colour come forward to denounce the violence they endure. It also denies theagency of South Asian women as they have been fighting violence against women via theirinvolvement in their communities, in feminist organizations, women's shelters and rape crisis centres39across Canada.2.2.5 South Asian Women Voices in the Vancouver Sun In her study of media representation of Native women, Harris suggests that newspapers do notcompletely silence women's voices. It would be impossible, she says, to:silence the very voices upon which the press is dependent for news, for it is oftenwomen negotiators and spokespeople who are the main source for the journalists.However, the news sample is quite particular in its selection of who may legitimatelyspeak as a Native woman in the patriarchal/racist hegemonic discourse of the press(1991:17).Wilson and Gutidrrez (1985) also argue that while ethnic minority elites have little access to the media,they have practically none if they represent "radical" views. It is in this context that I will examinethe voices upon which the press in Vancouver has made itself dependent for news about South Asianwomen, and the ways in which these women are permitted to speak within the discourse promoted bythe news media.This discussion is based more specifically on four articles: "Woman in the middle" (Gill1991b), "Indo-Canadian woman aims to reduce racial stereotyping" (Griffin 1991), "East Indianwomen find strong voice in Mahila leader" (Griffin 1990a) and, "Mehta pokes holes in our shallowassumptions about minorities" (Aird 1991). These articles introduce us to South Asian women whoare considered, or claim themselves to be, role models for other women in their communities on thebasis of their success at negotiating between cultural systems. As Yasmin Jiwani pointed out, thesewomen can be designated as "cultural power brokers". I shall now briefly draw up the newspaperportraits of these women.Mobina Jaffer, born in Uganda and educated in England, the first Indo-Canadian lawyer topractise in British Columbia, is presented as a successful woman who is also "caught between the waysof the old world and those of the new. And neither seems to care about her" (Gill 1991b:A19). Jafferis given a voice in this article because she was considered by Gill, the reporter and an editor at the40Vancouver Sun, as a suitable representative of those women who:With struggle, persistence and patience, have gained enough self-confidence to voicetheir concerns and advocate change (ibid., A19) (my emphasis).What is required therefore to advocate change and voice concerns on behalf of South Asianwomen is self-confidence. In other words, South Asian women are assumed to be without self-confidence and the latter can only be acquired through a long (patient) process (struggle) steeped intenacity (persistence). Hence, the energy and stamina needed from South Asian women is gearedtowards the acquisition of self-confidence rather than at fighting what needs to be changed. No doubtJaffer, trained as a lawyer, has enough self-confidence to be an advocate for women. But what wouldshe advocate in terms of changes for South Asian women and how is it framed? Here is a portion ofthe text presented as introduction:(. . .) little has changed for Canadian women of East Indian origin. They remain ina frozen culture that refuses to grant them either the permission or the opportunity forprogress. In some instances, Indo-Canadian women have actually taken a stepbackward to the days when they first left India 20 or 30 years ago.Indo-Canadian women face two barriers: sexism and racism. Racism or bigotry is sopervasive that it is not only encountered by recent immigrant women, but evenprofessionals such as Jaffer (Gill 1991b:A19) (my emphasis).This is the context, not unproblematic, in which Jaffer is invited to express her views about other SouthAsian women:They have been conditioned not to change (. . .)We work outside the home where we follow the fresh, vibrant, Canadian culture, butin our homes we are supposed to follow the culture of our birthplace . . . a culturethat does not even exist any more in that birthplace.The situation [barriers of sexism and racism] is even more serious among women whoare unable to speak English. The evolution that has taken place among mainstreamCanadian women has not touched immigrant women or women of color in any ways( . . . ) These women [unable to speak English] are not even part of the flow of lifein Canada (Gill 1991b:A19) (my emphasis).According to this article, if nothing has changed for South Asian women in Canada, it is41because they "remain in a frozen culture" (ibid., p. A19). It is that same "frozen culture" whichassumes that all Indian women who immigrated to Canada share one culture regardless of theirupbringing, class, caste, religion and education, that restrains them from "progress". What is believedas constituting progress is clearly participation in the "fresh, vibrant, Canadian culture" and the "flowof life in Canada" (ibid., p. A19).Having identified the problems of South Asian women as circumscribed in their homes wherecultural codes prevail, Jaffer says that this cultural heritage which once existed in her birthplace "doesnot even exist anymore in that birthplace" (ibid., p. A19). That statement suggests that in Uganda,Jaffer's birthplace, people with origins in the Indian subcontinent have assimilated into the dominantculture. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. What is relevant though, is that Jaffer advocates thatit is through assimilation that the emancipation of South Asian women in Canada will come.Also problematic in this notion of "frozen culture" is the implication that the cultures ofpeoples of South Asian origin are static and isolated from outside cultural influences. Jaffer's successcomes from her positioning outside of her community and thus she is able to assert that "they havebeen conditioned not to change" (Gill 1991b:A19). In situating herself outside, she implies that sheescaped this so-called conditioning. It is not explained how this fact was accomplished nor why, inJaffer's eyes, other South Asian women have not done so. The problems of South Asian women inCanada are attributed to their "cultural" conditioning not to change or act differently from what theircultural codes dictate. While Jaffer addresses the issue of racism by giving an example of how sheexperiences it in her workplace, she does not consider the racism endured by other South Asianwomen. In the same article, Judy Tyabji, Liberal MLA for Okanagan East, is quoted:Change is one of the biggest fears, especially for the first generation (. . .) My offeringto the Indo-Canadian community is by being a role model (. . .) Women have to beshown that they can get the best of both worlds, without fears (ibid., A19).According to Tyabji, it is because South Asian women are afraid that they resist change. Both Jaffer42and Tyabji look at themselves as role models because they have overcome the so-called conditioningof their cultures, or the fears associated with changes. They both advocate changes although Tyabjisupports partial assimilation.Satwinder Bains, another "cultural power broker" is presented in an article entitled "Indo-Canadian woman aims to reduce racial stereotyping" (Griffin 1991:B3). Bains is described as havinghad a "bicultural upbringing in what was once the summer capital of the British Empire in the Indiansubcontinent [Simla in northern India]" (ibid., p. B3), as well as having "attended a very British schoolnamed Auckland House where exams came from and were marked by staff at Cambridge Universityin England" (ibid., p. B3). One of the goals of this article is to announce a one-day workshoporganized by the Indo-Canadian Women's Organization (ICWO), a secular organization forprofessional women. ICWO provides opportunities for women to "become politically active" as wellas to "ensure the public becomes aware of the wide diversity among Indo-Canadian women" (ibid., p.B3). While it is true that women's organizations contribute to, and facilitate women's politicalinvolvement, they are not the only channels nor the most efficient ones for women's advocacy throughpolitics. The reasons South Asian women establish their own organizations is not only to createopportunities for themselves, but also to point to the racism prevailing in mainstream Canadianwomen's organizations.This exclusion and silencing of the voices of women of colour continues unabated afterseveral years of the unlearning [racism] process, and was clearly evident during somemajor IWD [International Women's Day] events in Vancouver (Thobani 1991:7).Also relevant is the fact that Bains is presented as critical towards her community:Bains is also capable of criticizing her own community. She doesn't always agree withSikhs quoted in the media as speaking for the community, and suggests that maybeIndo-Canadians, especially women, are partially at fault for not speaking up andorganizing themselves (ibid., p.B4).As a "cultural power broker", Bains does not fit with the "preferred meanings" associated with43South Asian women in the news media discourse. She is portrayed as a politically active Indo-Canadian woman, but more importantly, she can criticize her own community, including the womenwho "fit" into the news media discourse of preferred meanings. In doing so, however, Bains adoptsa woman-blaming type of attitude and ignores a history of efforts by South Asian women who have"spoken up" and founded women's organization such as India Mahila Association and the South AsianWomen's Action Network, both Vancouver-based organizations.Another South Asian woman who does not fit "the popular picture of the ethereal, sari-cladcreature from India, soft-spoken and spiritual" (Aird 1991:C1) is Deepa Mehta, a Toronto filmmaker."She smokes a lot of Rothman's and uses a lot of words that can't be printed in a family newspaper"(ibid., C1). Mehta is presented as critical of multiculturalism which "simplifies our notion of eachother" (ibid., C1) and critical of the "well-meaning but silly assumptions that native-born Canadiansmake about immigrants," (ibid., C1). Contrasted with the previous article, where the focus of thecriticism is located within the South Asian community, the discourse here allows a critique by a SouthAsian woman of Canadian society. "If this emerging breed of irreverent films [Sam and Me] makespolite Canadians squirm, that's just what Mehta wants," (ibid., C1). Deepa Mehta is depicted as atroublemaker, which could have the effect of discrediting her views potentially perceived as too"radical" in the eyes of a "polite Canadian public".The last woman I consider is Raminder Dosanjh who was at the time, director of India MahilaAssociation, the first Indo-Canadian women's organization in British Columbia. The article mentionedher as one of the organizers of the protest against the sex selection marketing campaign discussedearlier. As someone "who is comfortable straddling the multicultural fence" (Griffin 1990a:B2),Dosanjh differs from Jaffer and Bains in that she criticizes racism and sexism in Canadian society.In other words, she does not reproduce the dominant discourse often making South Asian womenresponsible for the systematic barriers they encounter in Canadian society. Dosanjh also criticizes the44media and stresses the importance of Canadians realizing the non-homogeneity of South Asiancommunities:Most of the images in the media of South Asian women are images where they areseen as powerless, dependant, traditional, Dosanjh said. I think it is important forpeople to see that every community has a wide spectrum of people (ibid., p. B2).While acknowledging Dosanjh's activism, it also presents her as someone who "crossed over". Themessage one gets reading this article is that women who are seen as "cultural power brokers" are non-"traditional" meaning that they have life experiences which differentiates them from the majority ofSouth Asian women. For example, it is because of Dosanjh's cosmopolitan upbringing and of herparents' strong belief in education that she can successfully negotiate between her own culturalbackground and the dominant cultures of Canada. She is portrayed as having opposed her parents withher refusal to have an arranged marriage. This reinforces the notion that South Asian women who areassertive and make their own decisions about their future need to do so by rejecting values attachedto their cultural heritage.Chapter Three: CONCLUSIONIndra (1981:65) found, in her study of women and ethnicity in Vancouver newspapers over theperiod 1905-1976, that the coverage of women in news with ethnic content has been insignificant andhas shown no signs of increase in volume. The sample used for this paper, however shows that thishas changed in the last two decades. This increase indicates to some degree, that the Vancouver presshas reconsidered its stance on advocating the situations of Canadian women of South Asian origin.An analysis constituted of the readings of my collaborators, three Canadian women activistsof South Asian origin, and my own feminist anthropological reading revealed that the messagesconveyed through the "preferred meanings" that is the common-sense images of Canadian women ofSouth Asian origin reveals a homogenous portrayal of the lives of Canadian women of South Asian45origin.The strategy of the press, which has been to present issues of arranged marriages, dowry, sexselection and violence against women as the most relevant topics of interest in relation to South Asianwomen in Canada, emphasizes the differences between women from that community and otherCanadian women. These differences are contextualized as culturally bound and outside the Canadiansocial patriarchal and sexist context, the context within which these differences are given currency.The prevalent media discourse in the Vancouver Sun implies that the assimilation of South Asianwomen to Canadian society is hindered by those very cultural differences which are constructed asproblematic and "deviant". This suggests three things to newspaper readers. The first is that SouthAsian women in Canada want and need to assimilate in order to neutralize contradictions between theircultural heritage and dominant mainstream values of Canadian society. Second, it suggests that SouthAsian women are oppressed and the source of their oppression is cultural. And last, South Asianwomen are so radically "different" culturally that assimilation is only possible at the cost of giving upsome of those "oppressive" cultural traits.While my collaborators and I have discussed issues and statements attributed to specificCanadian women of South Asian origin, to specific reporters, both white and South Asian, our criticismhas not been directed at individuals. Rather, the theoretical position adopted considering media "texts"as constitutive elements in the production of reality, as well as understanding the media's "preferredmeanings" as being circumscribed and validated within a media discourse, revealed that the VancouverSun has been effective in establishing the homogenous portrayal of Canadian women of South Asianorigin discussed in this essay as the taken-for-granted reality.46BIBLIOGRAPHYABU-LUGHOD, Lila1991 Writing Against Culture. In Recapturing Anthropology: Workings in the Present. RichardG. Fox, ed. Pp.137-162. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press.AIRD, Elizabeth1991 Mehta Pokes Holes in Shallow Assumptions About Minorities. Vancouver Sun, Oct.18, C 1.BHACHU, Parminder1991 Culture, Ethnicity and Class Among Punjabi Sikh Women in 1990s Britain. New Community17:3 :401-412.BHAVANI, Kum-Kum and Margaret COULSON1986 Transforming Socialist-Feminism: The Challenge of Racism. Feminist Review 23:81-92.BOLARIA, B. Singh and Peter S. LI1985 Racial Oppression in Canada. Toronto: Garamond Press.BOXER, Marilyn1982 For and About Women: The Theory and Practice of Women's Studies in the United States.In Feminist Theory: A Critique of Ideology. N. Keohane, M. Rosaldo and B. Gelpi, eds. Pp.237-271. Brighton: Harvester Press.Canadian Press1992 Missing Medical Report Cited as Reason to Deport Longtime Resident. Vancouver Sun, Jul.17,A3.CONNELL, Ian and Adam MILLS1985 Text, Discourse and Mass Communication. In Discourse and Communication: NewApproaches to the Analysis of Mass Media Discourse and Communication. T. A. van Dijk,ed. Pp. 26-43. New York: Walter de Gruyter.DAVIS, Howard H.1985 Discourse and Media Influence. In Discourse and Communication: New Approaches to theAnalysis of Mass Media Discourse and Communication. T. A. van Dijk, ed. Pp. 44-59. NewYork: Walter de Gruyter.MELLON, Paul1991 It's a Boy. But What if it Had Been a Girl? Vancouver Sun, Aug.9, All.DUA, Enakshi1992 Racism or Gender? Understanding Oppression of South Asian Women. Canadian WomanStudies/ Les cahiers de la femme 13:1:6-10.DYKK, Lloyd1992 Maharani's in a Muddle. Vancouver Sun, Oct.23, C3.47FISHMAN, M.1980 Manufacturing the News. Austin: University of Texas Press.GANS, H.1979 Deciding What's News. New York: Pantheon Books.GILL, Gobinder1991a The Worth of a Wife. Vancouver Sun, Sept.10, A15.1991b Woman in the Middle. Vancouver Sun, Dec.20, A19.GRIFFIN, Kevin1991 Indo-Canadian Woman Aims to Reduce Racial Stereotyping. Vancouver Sun, Nov.4, B3.1990a East Indian Women Find Strong Voice in Mahila Leader. Vancouver Sun, Dec.10, B2.1990b Campaign Promotes Female Fetus Abortion, Critics Say. Vancouver Sun, Sept.19, B4.HALL, Neal1991 Husband Found Guilty of Setting Wife on Fire After she Refused Sex. Vancouver Sun,Dec.21, A1,A3.HALL, Stuart1977 Culture, the Media and the 'Ideological Effect'. In Mass Communication and Society. J.Curran, M. Gurevitch and J. Woollacott, eds. Pp.315-348. London: The Open UniversityPress.HARTLEY, John1982 Understanding News. London: Methuen.HARRIS, Debbie-Wise1991 Colonizing Mohawk Women: Representation of Women in the Mainstream Media. Resourcesfor Feminist Research/ Documentation sur la recherche feministe 20:1-2:15-20.hooks, bell1990 Marginality as Site of Resistance. In Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Colors.R. Ferguson, ed. Pp.341-343. Cambridge: MIT Press.1984 Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Boston: South End Press.INDRA, Doreen1981 The Invisible Mosaic: Women, Ethnicity and the Vancouver Press, 1905-1976. CanadianEthnic Studies/ Etudes ethniques au Canada 13:1:63-74.1979 South Asian Stereotypes in the Vancouver Press. Ethnic and Racial Studies 2:2:166-189.48JADDOU, Liliane and Jon WILLIAMS1981 A Theoretical Contribution to the Struggle Against the Dominant Representations of Women.Media, Culture and Society 3:105-124.JIWANI, Yasmin1992 The Exotic, the Erotic and the Dangerous: South Asian Women in Popular Film. CanadianWoman Studies/ Les cahiers de la femme 13:1:42-46.1991 The Mediation of Inequality. In Beyond the Printed Word. R. Lochead, ed. Pp.300-308.Kingston: Quarry Press.KAPOOR, Sarah1992 Talk About My Second Generation. Vancouver Sun, Aug.15, D6,D7.KIRBY, Sandra and Kate McKENNA1989 Experience, Research, Social Change: Methods From the Margins. Toronto: Garamond Press.KISHWAR, Madhu1989 Towards More Just Norms for Marriage: Continuing the Dowry Debate. Manushi 53:2-9.KURIAN, George and Ram P. SRIVASTAVA, eds.1983 Overseas Indians: A Study in Adaptation. Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.LEARS, T. J. Jackson1985 The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities. American Historical Review90:567-593.MATHUR, Saloni1990 South Asian Women: Towards A Critical Construction. Diva 2:3:6-14.McMARTIN, Pete1991 Political Prejudice. Vancouver Sun, Oct.15, Bl, B3.MOHANTY, Chandra Talpade1991 Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. In Third World Womenand the Politics of Feminism. C. T. Mohanty et al., eds. Pp.51-80. Indiana: IndianaUniversity Press.NEVADOMSKY, Joseph1983 Changes Over Time and Space in the East Indian Family in Rural Trinidad. In OverseasIndians: A Study in Adaptation. G. Kurian and R. P. Srivastava, eds. Pp.180-214. Delhi:Vikas Publishing House.OJA, Sharon Nodie and Lisa SMULYAN1989 Collaborative Action Research: A Developmental Approach. Social Research and EducationalSeries #7. London: The Falmer Press.49PARMAR, Pratibha1982 Gender, Race and Class: Asian Women in Resistance. In The Empire Strikes Back: Race andRacism in 70s Britain. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, ed. Pp.236-275. London:Hutchinson.PARTON, Nicole1991 Wedded Bliss Hindu Style. Vancouver Sun, Aug.19, B 1, B2.SAHOTA, Kalwant1992 Sky fell on the day wife died of cancer. Vancouver Sun, Jul.15, A3.SAID, Edward1979 Orientalism. New York: Random House.SCANLON, Joseph1977 The Sikh of Vancouver: A Case Study of the Role of the Media in Ethnic Relations. InEthnicity and the Media. Pp.193-261. Paris: Unesco.SHEKHER, Chandra1991 It's Time to Grow up. Vancouver Sun, Sept.7, C7.SINGER, Benjamin D.1982 Minorities and the Media: A Content Analysis of Native Canadians in the Daily Press.Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 19:3:348-359.SRIVASTAVA, Anila and Michael M. AMES1989 Issues in the Adaptation of South Asians to the Canadian Environment: Women's experienceof gender, race and class. Unpublished paper presented at the Conference on Ethnicity,Migration: The South Asian Experience, Toronto, Dec.STAINSBY, Mia1991 Cultural Crossroads. Vancouver Sun, Jul.16, Cl.THAKUR, Usha1992 Combatting Family Violence: The South Asian Experience in Canada. Canadian WomanStudies/ Les cahiers de la femme 13:1:30-32.THOBANI, Sunera1992a Culture isn't cause of violence. Vancouver Sun, Jan.3, A13.1992b Making the Links: South Asian Women and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights. CanadianWoman Studies/ Les cahiers de la femme 13:1:19-22.1990 More Than Sexist. Kinesis, Nov. Pp. 12-13.UNGERLEIDER, Charles S.1991 Media, Minorities, and Misconceptions: The Portrayal by and Representation of Minorities in50Canadian News Media. Canadian Ethnic Studies/ Etudes ethniques au Canada 23:3:158-164.van den BERGHE, Pierre L.1967 Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective. New York: Wiley.van DIJK, Teun A.1987 Communicating Racism. California: Sage Publications.WHITLOW, S. Scott1977 How Male and Female Gatekeepers Respond to News Stories of Women. JournalismQuarterly 54:3:573-579.WIGOD, Rebecca1989a The Arrangement. Vancouver Sun, Jul.15, E13.1989b Tradition That Suits Some People and Repels Others. Vancouver Sun, Jul.15, E13.WILLIAMS, Raymond1977 Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.WILSON, Clint C. and Felix GUTIERREZ1985 Minorities and Media: Diversity and the End of Mass Communication. London: SagePublications.WILSON, Peter1992 Derbyshire Takes Humorous (Gasp) Multicultural Story Further. Vancouver Sun, Oct.20, C3.

Cite

Citation Scheme:

        

Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics

Share

Embed

Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                        
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            src="{[{embed.src}]}"
                            data-item="{[{embed.item}]}"
                            data-collection="{[{embed.collection}]}"
                            data-metadata="{[{embed.showMetadata}]}"
                            data-width="{[{embed.width}]}"
                            async >
                            </script>
                            </div>
                        
                    
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:
http://iiif.library.ubc.ca/presentation/dsp.831.1-0086239/manifest

Comment

Related Items