Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Ego, Self-promotion & Empowering Minority Voice

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These reflections are inspired by 4 women I respect (and dare I say love?) very much. And as I wrote this, I realized that I interacted w all of them in one way or another 2 nights ago, and that I have writing and research projects with each one of them in progress! How cool is that!

Sherri’s recent post, On the Other Side of a Twitter Tizzy highlights how it feels to recognize, as a minority, that your voice is excluded from certain conversations, but goes one crucial step beyond it to recognize the element of ego in wanting our own (as a person, not as a category) voice to be heard, opinion to be listened to. Sherri so candidly reflects:

As I began to break it down for myself I also could see that past the righteous indignation about turf claiming on social media, I had my own little ego show going on. A further part of my frustration through the course of my reaction to this conversation had to do with not feeling adequately recognized, as if I had said nothing at all. My ego was bruised. And there’s the kicker: I was in some ways guilty of the very same motives I was negatively assigning to others. I wanted to gain the attention I believed I deserved and since that wasn’t happening I was also beginning to stew.

I read this and felt an “ouch”. I was definitely guilty of the same thing. Regularly. I commented on her post, which I read immediately after the #dmlcommons hangout, which took place a few days after my Unbearable Whiteness blogpost, both of which are offshoots of a tweet by Lee on gender… Here is an excerpt from my comment:

Right after u tweeted this (but before i read it), i was part of a hangout because i’d been invited based on a convo of “all males” that i extended to “all white WEstern males” and i said in my blogpost follow up that i almost imposed myself as a “token international” – and by my tweet. Even tho i know everyone in that hangout apprecitates me for myself, my token internationalness is really not just a way to remind ppl to acknowledge diverse others but also an ego trip for me. It’s not actually fair to other minorities if i am the only ego minority that pops up everywhere!

Now, I love how Sherri concludes this, because it is a positive step forward:

Even my “side” of the story turns out to be multifaceted. My challenge going forward will be in allowing others to live and express their multifaceted identities and ideas particularly when they do not align with my own.

This reminded me that EdContexts, an idea Shyam Sharma developed and shared with me when we first met (and which now is almost a year old and has facilitators and authors from all over the world) is such a space: where we amplify the voices of minorities but also recognize the voices of people who are more privileged but have great ideas to share that are context-sensitive.

It also reminded me to remember to recognize that even those with privileged have many dimensions to them, if less prominently visible.

Which brings me to Lee Skallerup Bessette’s re-post on Medium of a 2011 post on Shameless Self-Promotion, something I have been accused of. And which I am always aware of. Lee writes:

Good Female Academics are mild and quiet and work away at their jobs, hoping to get noticed, but well aware that any attempt at blowing their own horn will be met with derision and dismissal. Bad Female Academics put themselves out there. Repeatedly and persistently.

On the one hand, I am hyper-aware of how my individual ego/status as a token international in many spaces (e.g. #et4online, hybridped) is privileged; on the other hand, I cannot but take advantage of this new power and use it. Sure, part of it is an ego trip for me; but a big part of it is also beneficial to minorities in general, getting a minority voice out there, and beyond that: getting a minority voice listened to – if I get the platform, i’ll be damned if I am not going to use it. I was particularly pleased that my ProfHacker post on introducing a young scholar to Twitter got retweeted so often (wow!) and interestingly it was not one that emphasized who I was or where I was from, except a mention in passing about timezones.

Though I do not believe any individual need take on the responsibility of representing others (nor do they even have the right to), but it can never be a bad thing to get represented. The key, I think, is to not stop there, and find ways of expanding minority input into spaces – as is the case again for edcontexts. I also know the generous and open-minded folks at Hybridped listen very carefully to some of my critical suggestions (this is kind of easy because I agree with most of what they do, so these are very small in comparison) and this helps with inclusivity in general, if that makes sense? Lee ends her post this way, and this point hit home for me big time:

Because shameless self-promotion isn’t about just you; it’s about being better because of the people you’ve reached.

Well said, as always, Lee.

The third post, quite related to Lee’s in terms of gender focus, is Patrice’s, on persistent issues in women’s representation in STEM fields. She shows how it is not enough to let women know they “can do anything” because there still remain issues that hinder women’s continuation in STEM fields. Amen. I commented about all the physics and math teachers I tried to talk to about gender issues: how using examples from sports and cars are gendered, not because women cannot like these things (I personally do, and I was a tomboy growing up – as Lee says she was in a different post – need to unpack the power issues in tomboyness someday) but because society generally discourages women liking them too fully. E.g. Here in Egypt, people will teach and allow boys to drive before legal age so that by legal age they’re master drivers; girls, on the other hand, often learn older, are subject to more restrictions as to where to drive and at what times, and don’t get me started on the abuse of male drivers to female drivers (though admittedly some drive badly ahem – wonder why?). And also this brings up all the mansplaining Audrey Watters has talked about and we all experience. All. The. Time. By teachers, by peers, by parents, by students? Over and out. On the mansplaning, for now.

The fourth person who inspires me in so many ways is Rusul AlRubail. We’ve been working on co-authoring something on a similar topic for ages. We’re going to get around to finishing it soon, I hope 🙂 But many conversations with Rusul, and this blogpost she wrote during #moocmooc, are really inspiring to me. The ending paragraph hit home (is that expression that I used twice today a baseball metaphor? How Americanist of me! Writing about inclusion using the language and metaphors of the dominant…)

So for me the biggest more impactful acts of oppression are the silent ones. We cannot stay silent through these acts though. We must fight these acts of silence through words and actions. Perhaps a good start is through these words that you and I can share together.

And omigosh this post about how ppl should not need to tolerate bigotry that asks them to apologize for being themselves and speaking a language other than English.

And so I conclude that “token” voices (like bell hooks as black feminist educator) are needed, and I learn from these 4 wonderful women to…

  • Stay loud
  • But

  • Continue to use my platform to amplify others
  • And

  • Be more cognizant of the place of my ego in all of this
  • And yet…

  • To recognize why I need to protect my inner voice from all the attacks it receives from just my identity as a non-Western female, mom (yes, mom! Society imposes so much on women once they become moms), dissenting voice
  • Here’s to the feminist dimension of blogging!

    And now… Back to writing those things I am working on with these wonderful women. Thanks for inspiring me every day.

    2 Comments

    1. Dear Maha,
      I am so honored and also proud to be included here as someone who has pushed your thinking. And with this post you take my thinking a step further. The deeper we delve into this topic in all its iterations, the more convinced I become that I have something to contribute and that there is still more to discover. For now I want to think more about what it would mean for me to “stay loud” and how the world might be served by my doing so, also in concert with others such as you and Rusul who have contributed so greatly to my growing bravery in these newer spaces of interaction. Let’s kick it!

    2. Pingback: ME in MEdia | Five Flames 4 Learning

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