Unaccompanied women

While in Paris for the weekend with a friend, we went to a bar Saturday night enjoying some drinks and nice conversation. At one point the ladies at the table next to us leave and it doesn’t take long until a guy takes a seat next to my friend and starts talking to us. Which is fine in itself, I guess. His English wasn’t very good so we barely understood him at first, but he tried to communicate and explain things as best he could. He was being “friendly” asking where we came from (which became a long ordeal for my friend seeing as he had never heard of her country, but oh well..) and trying to teach us French words/phrases. However, seeing as personal space here is not really the same as it is where I or my friend live, I quickly noticed that she was getting a bit uncomfortable every time he was talking because he kept leaning into her,  so I tried steering us back to our original conversation which only involved the two of us. Surely, he would get the hint. But they never do..

We managed eventually to return to our own discussion and all of a sudden some friend of his appeared joining the table so there I thought, now it should be ok cause he was probably just being social while waiting for his friend and now that he is here they will see to themselves. Sure, that worked for a while, until suddenly the guy starts talking to us again, being even more persistent, asking for our names (fake ones were given), how long we are staying in Paris and so on. The conversation then took a turn for the worse when he said, or pointed out inquiringly: “Oh, but you are here alone..” I frowned and responded: “No, we are not here alone, we are here together.” He then tried in a ridiculous way to explain that he meant that yeah we were technically here together but “separate” as in her and I were two women “alone”, as in not accompanied by men, as in single, and thus in “need” of male company. I was already pissed off at this point so I said: “No, we are together.” Because I learned a long time ago that the lesbian card is handy to use with your friends when trying to get rid of men who just simply cannot take a hint, or even a dozen. While he tried to figure out if what I said was true, we downed our drinks and left the bar.

So. Why is this upsetting to me? Well, it’s simple: In what logical, rational way, would it ever be considered normal for me to go up to two or more men hanging out and say to them that “hey, you are here alone ey *wink wink*”, when clearly, they are not alone, they are hanging out with each other, and that doesn’t automatically mean that they are single, or that they even want my company or anything other than that they are in fact hanging out. I would never even imagine doing something like that, and if I ever did, it would just be ridiculous. But for women to enjoy each others’ company while not accompanied by men, suddenly, they are alone, and of course they must therefore be single, and of course they must want some male company. How does that make any fucking sense?

And furthermore, even when I happen to be hanging out alone as in not with any friends or whatnot, that does not automatically mean that I want any, much less a strangers, company. I cannot even count how many times strange men have come up to me while I’ve been out in public enjoying my own company and just persisted to invade it, even though my words and body language say the same thing: I do not want your god damn company, go away.

Learn to take a hint guys, seriously. We would all be better off if you could check your privileges and stop assuming women, or anyone, want or need your company when they show you that they don’t.

Claiming space: Inconsiderate drunk men in public places

While writing this I am on a train ride home from attending a PhD seminar in Stockholm. Exhausted both physically and mentally. The seminar has been really great, but I am not used to being around 40ish people daily, constantly, while also paying attention and trying to understand what is presented and told, as well as articulate what ever the hell it is that I am doing. But anyway, this is not what I wanted to write about. No, the reason for this post is the fact that I just got to switch my seat because of a man sitting opposite of me, drunk off his arse. So here’s to you, Mr Shitfaced Man:

Cheers for getting on a 3+h train ride after drinking what must have been half a bar,  thus reeking of booze and polluting the air that we are supposed to share in this enclosed metal tube (space claiming: You 1 – Me 0). Cheers for cracking open yet another beer that you so cleverly brought with you on this journey where consuming alcohol is prohibited, seeing as how the 1000 you drank before getting on weren’t enough (You 2 – Me 0). Cheers for burping out loud (You 3 – Me 0). Cheers for scaring away the guy sitting next to me so that I was left alone in your unwanted company (You 4 – Me 0). Cheers for trying to make contact with me for one straight hour, when I had my headphones on, gaze on everything else but you, clearly not in the mood for any interaction (You 5 – Me 0). Cheers for being persistent! Cheers for assuming that I in any way had any desire what so freaking ever to speak to you. Cheers for imposing yourself on my personal space, and taking up more than your share of the table that we, again, are supposed to be sharing (You 6 – Me 0). Cheers for being so darn considerate. Cheers for taking up both seats on your side and falling asleep (You 7 – Me 0), finally not harassing me anymore. Cheers for falling down on the floor right when the train staff came to check tickets, so that I could tell them how uncomfortable I was in your presence and finally get to move way the hell away from you (You 8 – Me accepting defeat). I hope to never see you again, truly. Cheers.

It’s not that I am some sort of moralist who always looks down on people enjoying some alcohol, I would be a hypocrite not acknowledging my own alcohol consumption in public spaces. However, I have never in my life acted like that man was acting just now. Not even remotely close. Never. Sure, at times I have been a bit rowdy on bus or tram rides with friends while going from one bar to another, but those rides lasted around 10-20 minutes on vehicles that constantly (i.e. every 1-2 minutes) are stopping at various stations. Those were rides where the people on them are not stuck with one another for 3+ hours. Where fresh air gets in at every stop. Moreover, I (or my friends and I as a group) have never in a drunk state persistently tried to make contact with another person who ignored every one of my/our attempts. Not once. And what’s perhaps even more interesting: I have never myself experienced this type of behavior from a drunk woman (but surely, it happens too…right?). This was however, not my first encounter with a wasted man trying his darnedest to make contact with me without me wanting to or asking for that kind of harassing behavior. Of course, some might say, everything is not about gender so why even go there? Well, basically, everything is about gender. So that is why I am going there.

Now I know that there are countless studies about alcohol consumption and that men in general consume more alcohol than women (as far as I know), for various reasons. However, I do not really care about the consumption per se, but rather this ignorant, belligerent, inconsiderate, persistent, space claiming, harassing behavior that some men seem to develop as soon as they’ve reached a certain level of drunkenness. I do not want to hear any stupid excuses about alcohol making people dumb or behaving differently, cause guess what: 1. I know, 2. If you become an ass when you drink too much, what about drinking less or not at all? How is it everyone else’s fault that you cannot handle your own alcohol consumption? How about taking some responsibility over the way you act and being considerate of the people around you?

Uh geez, sorry, but this is getting ridiculous. Now another man who I saw in the train bistro drinking a beer a while ago, sitting on the other side of the aisle in the seat behind me has started talking out really crazy loud on his phone while making himself comfortable by taking off his shoes and placing his feet on the empty seat in front of him which happens to be directly to my right. I was wondering what that smell was, and now I know. Cheers for that Mr One of Way Too Many Men With The Same Pattern Of Inconsiderate Rude Space-Claiming Behavior.

I might just take off my boots that I have been wearing all damn day and stick my feet out towards him from my seat. The only problem is that there are people directly behind me who I do not wish to disturb in this inconsiderate way. Should I really have to sink to their levels in order for things to change? In order for them to understand what they are doing? I hope not.

Oh, and now he is drunkenly singing by himself and tapping on the table. How nice of him to share that with the rest of us, even though we never asked him to.

My first official day

So yesterday I officially started my phd. Needless to say, I was tense, tense and nervous. And excited, and scared, and freaking out, and in awe, and kind of calm and somewhat hopeful. And I went back and forth through all these emotions and states a couple of times throughout the day, but all in all, it was a good day.

It started out with me arriving at the building, finding the right place and being introduced to the Associate Professor and director of Post Graduate Studies. He shook my hand, I told him my name and he said he remembered who I was, told me he was delighted that I had gotten accepted, that my supervisor had spoken highly of me, that he liked my thesis and that they have high hopes for me there. That tiny conversation was a roller-coaster of emotions ending with the lovely tenseness taking a grip of me. Yay…

Then I got to meet my fellow researchers, which all seemed nice and I am sure we are going to get along just fine. Even though mine is the only research including gender studies (the majority seemed to be about sustainability) I hope to be able to share some thoughts, discuss and debate over the topics that interest me.

There was an introduction about the University, the Phd program and so on, which both enlightened and confused me, then a nice lunch where we all got the opportunity to present ourselves, our research field and topics that we are interested in. Some other professors joined the lunch, and many of them came up to me and commented on my research; they were pleased that they finally had gotten someone who introduced gender studies to their marketing department. While there are some, a few, others at the Uni that apply some type of gender-related studies to their research in other departments, the marketing dept. was sorely lacking. And that is exactly where I come in, I guess.

After lunch we had a recess, I managed to sort some things out, but not all, and then we had an introduction for the two courses we will study these first few months. Needless to say, there is a lot to read and write in both courses. I mean, a lot, really, a whole lot. Phew! I actually wanted to write this blog post yesterday evening, but I was just so slammed with all sorts of papers, new systems to get access to, articles to read, reports to write and so on that I just did not have any time. Actually I barely have time now, just finished my first report so I figured I could spare the rest of the night to other activities, but come tomorrow, I have to start reading a book that I should have read and reported on for a seminar next Tuesday. At least, I will now, for the four years to come, always have something to do. Idle hands and all that…not for me!

(A classmate uploaded this image to our brand new facebook-group, I think it very accurately sums up what this journey is going to be. :] )


Från Rumänien till Sverige och allt däremellan

(First of all, sorry all you non-Swedish-speaking readers out there, but I have to write this blog post in Swedish, please come again! :] )

Mamma tipsade mig om Alice Teodorescus sommarprat i P1, och när jag lyssnar på något som får det att tåras i mina ögon så måste jag också skriva om det. Om ni som läser detta har tid och lust så lyssna igenom hela, det är värt det. För er andra, kommer jag lite kort berätta vad hennes prat handlar om genom hela min egna historia.

Alice berättar om sin uppväxt och sina erfarenheter, född i Rumänien under Ceausescus tid är det en berättelse full av förtryck, rädsla och sorg, men även hopp. Som barn kom hon till Sverige och var då tvungen att i princip lära sig leva från scratch; nytt land, ny kultur, nya människor, nytt språk och helt nya möjligheter samt svårigheter att ta sig igenom. Hennes berättelse påminner så otroligt mycket om min familjs flykt från Rumänien till Sverige. Jag har så många gånger suttit och lyssnat på mammas historier om när hon var barn, tonåring och tillslut vuxen i ett samhälle där folk spionerade på varandra, där man stod och köade för en limpa bröd mitt i natten i flera timmar, där man antingen var en med samhället och led med resten av folket, eller emot och hamnade i fängelse. Där man inte fick vara sig själv.

Alice minns sin resa till Sverige, jag å andra sidan var alldeles för liten för att minnas. 1989 flydde min mamma till Sverige helt själv, hon lämnade sitt hem, sina föräldrar, sin man, och inte minst sina barn efter sig för att skapa en grund för oss alla, en ny början. Jag var endast ett år gammal då, min syster Anna var fem. I Sverige lyckades mamma på något sätt att få tag på en lägenhet, att börja lära sig språket, börja lära sig att bli svensk och passa in. Det tog ett år innan pappa, Anna och jag också kom hit, ett år innan vi fick återförenas med mamma. Min syster som var stor nog att minnas saker och ting hade saknat mamma och kände igen henne direkt, jag däremot, jag visste inte vem den främmande kvinnan framför mig var. Tydligen höll jag fast vid ett gammalt fotografi av mamma, och envisades om att DET var mamma, inte du, framför mig med usträckta armar som försöker övertala mig om att du är mamma. Jag minns detta såklart inte, har fått det återberättat flera gånger, och den smärta mamma måste ha känt i sitt bröst när hennes tvååring inte känner igen henne och vägrar gå till hennes famn måste fått henne att tvivla på om hon faktiskt gjorde rätt val.

Tids nog kom jag över det, jag fick på nytt lära mig vem mamma var, och för mig måste flykten till Sverige trots allt ha varit den lättaste av oss alla. Jag tänker att det måste varit enkelt för mig att vänja mig vid mitt nya hem, då jag inte haft så mycket tid att skapa starka band till det gamla. Jag minns inte svårigheten i att lära mig svenska då det kom naturligt, för resten av min familj var det dock en svår väg uppåt på en väldigt brant backe. Min syster vantrivdes i skolan, hon tyckte inte om den svenska maten och vägrade äta, mina föräldrar kämpade som dårar för att få jobb och kunna stå på egna ben. Sakta men säkert har dem tagit sig in och uppåt, sakta men säkert kämpar dem vidare mot kulturella och etniska hinder som än idag sätter fällben för dem. Jag hade det lätt. Väldigt lätt, när allt kommer omkring. Men trots det, så har även jag känt mig som en främling i detta land. Sen jag var liten visste jag att det var något med mig, något annorlunda, jag lärde mig tidigt att jag inte var helsvensk och att jag var tjej. Tjej och invandrare, något som för mig aldrig varit det minsta konstigt blev helt plötsligt två hinder att försöka kravla sig över. Jag förstod aldrig, och jag kommer nog aldrig riktigt att förstå, vad problemet är, varför det ens skulle vara ett problem. Men, det jag lärt mig, är att det är ett problem. Inte alltid så klart, inte för alla, tack och lov. Men att vara rumän, den enda rumänen i min umgängeskrets, har lett till många psykiska smällar. Folk, även vänner, har ibland skämtat om det faktum att jag är rumän, och även om jag inte förstått det roliga i skämtet så har jag skrattat med för inte ska väl jag vara den som är den? Well. Det skämtet är inte speciellt roligt faktiskt.

Något som alltid svidit är när jag hört svenskar som knappt klivit utanför landsgränsen, prata ignorant nonsens om rumäner eller andra människor ifrån så kallade “u-länder”. Det är så jävla lätt att som svensk eller utomstående snacka strunt och titta ner på folk som är fattigare eller har det sämre ställt. Men vad fan vet ni om fattigdom egentligen? Vad fan vet ni om diktatur eller krig? När Sverige inte krigat på flera hundratals år, när svenskar inte under de senaste decennierna eller sekel känt någon form av förtryck. Vilka är ni att uttala er om andra vars situationer ni inte ens i era mardrömmar kan föreställa er? Den förundran Alice hade när hon klev in i en svensk mataffär, det överflöd hon fann där, precis så var det för min familj när vi kom hit. Min syster såg en banan för första gången när hon var sex år gammal och trodde att det var en gurka, mina föräldrar fick smuggla mat, bensin och allt möjligt för att överleva i Rumänien. Och här i Sverige så fanns allt man ville och behövde uppstaplat fint på butikshyllorna. Jag säger inte att krig är bra, jag säger inte att förtryck är något som någon borde uppleva. Men om man gått igenom något sådant, om ens familj är präglad av sådant, så får man i alla fall lite nya perspektiv på saker och ting. Man lär sig uppskatta sånt som andra tar för givet.

När Alice pratade om “duktigheten”, och berättade hur hon kämpat i skolan för att tillslut bli så duktig att lärare blivit skeptiska och anklagat henne för fusk, då brast det inombords. Även om jag som barn inte kunde minnas vart jag föddes, så hade jag alltid något dolt hinder inpräntat i bakhuvudet, av någon anledning så visste jag att jag behövde kämpa mer än dem andra barnen och jag försökte alltid att göra så bra ifrån mig som jag bara kunde i skolan. Jag var alltid den duktiga. Men att vara den duktiga, även den duktigaste, spelar inte alltid någon roll. Det spelade ingen roll för femteklassläraren att jag kommit 2o sidor längre i boken än den svenska tjejen, det var ändå bara hon som fick beröm. Det spelade ingen roll för en föredetta chef att jag hade mer erfarenhet och högre utbildning, det var ändå den svenska tjejen som fick en högre position och högre lön än mig. Ibland känns det som att det inte spelar någon roll hur mycket jag än kämpar, hur duktig jag än blir. Jag kommer alltid att vara invandrare och kvinna, jag kommer alltid att behöva bekräfta min kompetens, jag kommer alltid att behöva bevisa hur duktig jag är.

Men det är ok.

Jag älskar nämligen att bevisa folk fel. Jag älskar att slänga mina prestationer i tvivlande folks ansikten. Varje gång någon auktoritär person i mitt liv, främst lärare, har sagt: Du kan inte göra det där, du kommer inte klara av det där, du får nog tänka om… har dem tänt en gnista i mig, ett driv som inte går att stoppa. Jag har, om så bara för att jävlas med dem, kämpat in i det sista för att visa dem fel. Och alla dem har haft fel. Varje gång. Det spelar ingen roll för mig om jag är kvinna, eller rumän, eller bådadera, jag löser det ändå, jag klarar av alla mål jag ställer upp för mig själv, trots att jag är invandrare och kvinna. Eller kanske, därför att jag är det.

Folk frågar mig ibland om jag känner mig svensk eller rumänsk och jag brukar lite skämtsamt svara: Jag känner mig som en rumän i Sverige, och som en svensk i Rumänien. Jag är någonstans mittemellan, med en fot i båda länder. No man’s land. Men istället för att känna mig som en främling i båda länder, väljer jag att känna mig dubbelt så lottad. Jag är en svensk rumänsk kvinna, och jag är jävligt glad för det. Jag är jävligt glad för att jag haft en extra kultur som präglat mig, ett extra perspektiv att förhålla mig till, ett extra språk att kommunicera på. För att jag har ett extra land att kalla hem.

Talking to girls

I was bored and perusing Facebook when I came across this interesting blog post.

The fact that we talk to girls and boys differently shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but it should upset us all. The social norms we live by are not something we are born with, it’s infused in us as children. We learn early on how girls and boys should look and act, respectively. These norms are then passed on from generation to generation, from fathers to sons, mother to daughters, from our teachers, friends and even strangers. We all learn to conform to our gender. But gender, be it masculinity or femininity, is just something we have made up, so what is stopping us from reinventing these age old norms? Well, nothing really. The problem is that norms that are so deeply rooted are difficult to break from, they are engraved in our minds and our selves, therefore we have to actively think and decide to act differently, in order to make any change. This is not an easy task. I know. But it’s still worth it. If we can try changing bit by bit, making it possible to talk to girls about what they like and do, instead of how they look, asking boys about their feelings and stop pressuring them about being “strong” and “manly”. How great would it be if both girls and boys were encouraged for the same things, being complemented for the same achievements?

This issue is also deeply related to media and advertising, since ads reflect our culture and society, therefore reinforcing the norms we live in. So many ads are portraying women and men like the stereotypical image of gender we have been taught growing up: Women are beautiful and passive, Men are strong and active. As John Berger put it:

“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision:
a sight.”

Growing up my mother always told me I was beautiful, being her child of course she thought and said so, as any mother would. This probably gave me some form of confidence boost that girls get from (being taught) hearing that. Still, more than praising my looks, she always encouraged me to use my brain. As a kid I was good at math, which thrilled my mother, and in the 4th grade it was me and this boy who were the best in class. However, while he was praised and acknowledged about his math skills, I was not. Needless to say, this really upset me so I told my mother about the boy and he being “better than me”. There and then, she made me a proposal: “How would you like to beat him at math and be the best?” I don’t know why but something in me triggered that day, my competitive instinct kicked in, I was sold. Of course I wanted to beat that boy in math, what ever it took. So from that day on I studied harder than before and sailed through the entire math book, I got so far ahead that in 5th grade I was reading the 7th grade math books. All the while my mother kept encouraging me and pushing me forward, praising not only my looks but also my smarts. So yeah, I did beat the boy, and that gave me a bigger confidence boost than any compliment about my appearance ever has.

I love my mother of course, but even more I am grateful for the way she raised me, being a strong independent woman herself, she always encouraged me to think, act and do. Not just be.

Thank you mom.

Let’s do this

OK then, so this is my new blog devoted to my PhD studies, most importantly my research of sexism in ads. For all of you who don’t already know, I am pretty passionate about this subject, and relentless when it comes to sexist ads. It all started some four years ago when I stumbled upon a video on Youtube with Jean Kilbourne talking about sexism in advertising, how it has developed over the years, how it has only gotten worse, how it is a real issue that concerns all of us. I knew then and there that this was something I had to get involved in, so I decided to start studying business and marketing, just so I could write a bachelor thesis about this. And well, long story short, two years later I did.

For all of you who are interested, or have nothing better to do, have a go at it why don’t you:

The objectification of women in advertising through a female perspective

Also, here’s a little video of Jean Kilbourne speaking at TEDx. It’s not the same as the one I saw all those years ago, but it will give you a glimpse of this incredible woman and her journey through this vast field of sexist, offensive and demoralizing imagery we call advertisements: