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 any 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.

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Not all men

I recently came across this article (in Swedish), in regards to the “not all men” debate, about how men, ordinary Swedish (or other..) men, help themselves to women’s bodies. Somehow, the “right” that men (think they) have to put their hands on women, surpasses the woman’s own rights to her own body. How is that normal? How can anyone think that this is ok, truly, really, ever?

The author of the article, an ordinary Swedish man, talks about this skewed, unjust problem, and tells stories about how this all started in middle school, where boys, ordinary boys, chased girls, put their hands on them, looked down their pants. How it then morphed in adulthood and was translated into more violent sexual assaults and rape. The author saw his friends, co-workers, acquaintances, all ordinary men, help themselves in different ways to women’s bodies, and he thought, foolishly, that he would never, could never, do something like that. Until he did. Cause the problem here is not that the rapists, assailants, grabbers are all monsters that hide during the day and come creeping out of the bushes at night. No, it’s that they are ordinary men, who take a step, or two, or a hundred, too far, who help themselves to something that they have been brought up to think, is rightfully theirs.

The stories he told all sound familiar to me, and I am sure, to all of my female friends, however my, our, point of view is from the other side. I too remember how the ordinary boys in middle school all of a sudden started to grab us girls, how they sometimes playfully, sometimes violently, put their hands on our bodies. How we were just supposed to deal with it, to feel flattered by it, how “boys will be boys” was an ever present echo in the air. I cannot possibly recall all the numerous times that my ass was grabbed by an ordinary boy in school, but I do remember a specific instant: a regular day when I was sitting on a table outside the lunch room, waiting for my friends, and this ordinary boy, one of the cute older boys, came sitting next to me, how we talked, joked, and how he suddenly slipped his hand on my butt, like it was inevitable, normal, something that I should feel good about. And the problem was, that I in one sense did feel good since that was what I was supposed to feel; if the cute boy at school put his hands on you, you were supposed to feel proud, flattered, happy. The question of whether or not you wanted his hands on your body at that particular moment, was not even a question at all. Obviously, whenever he felt that some ass-grabbing was due, that was always the appropriate time. So while I sat there, feeling his hand on my butt, I felt nervously happy, but at the same time, very, very uncomfortable. In my head, I tried to convince myself that it was ok, that it was something good, that I should just shut up and be glad about it, about getting this sort of attention. Cause if I told him off, surely, I would be the biggest dork ever. Right? He would then probably tease me, or even worse: never pay attention to me again. And since my “worth”, my raison d’être was (I was taught) linked to the amount of attention received from the cute ordinary boys at school, I could never say no. Looking back now, I wish I had done something, but while thinking this, I get angry, because no; it was not my responsibility to not get grabbed by him. It was his responsibility to not put his hands on me. It was not my fault then, and it was not my fault years later when snorkeling in Egypt, where a guide decided to conduct me away from the group and put his hands on my breasts inside my bikini. It was not my fault any of the numerous times while out dancing with my friends when  someone came and touched me from behind. It was not my fault when I was grabbed on the tram. It was never my fault when some ordinary man put his hands on me without my consent. It’s their fault, always.

And like the author in the article argued: this is such a regular, normal, ordinary thing that happens to everyone, and if you cannot count at least 10 women who have been sexually assaulted in some way, and 10 men who have assaulted a woman, that is because they have not told you about it. It is not because it does not exist in your immediate circle of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, it is not because the ones who do that are monsters in hiding, or because “not all men” do that. All men, ordinary men, are capable of doing that, even the nicest ones, even the ones who “would never”. That is why the “not all men” argument has to die out. It has to be buried and forgotten so we can move forward and deal with the issue at hand, the norms that teaches ordinary men that they have the right to women’s bodies, that they may put their hands wherever they want, whenever they want.

This is a man’s issue, a woman’s issue, a human issue, everyone is involved, in some way or another, even those who de facto do not put their hands where they do not belong, if you are silently letting that happen around you, it makes you culpable too.

All men, ordinary men; it’s time to take a stand.

March 8th

Here’s to all women and people subscribing to the female sex:

Happy International Women’s day!

Please: Keep fighting for equality, keep being strong, keep standing up for yourselves and others, keep being who you want to be and don’t take crap from anyone.
Today is a day to acknowledge yourselves and the injustices of a patriarchal power structure, today is a day to celebrate all women and their daily fight.

And for all you non-women out there, I hope you have or had a lovely day as well. I hope you took or will take the opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate the women around you who make your lives worthwhile: your mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, partners, girlfriends, friends, colleagues and so forth. Why not support them, why not tell them that you are proud of them and happy to be a part of their lives? It shouldn’t be that difficult to celebrate others who may not necessarily be you.

While some may ask why this day is important or even needed, let me just say that, sadly, it is. I wish that we didn’t need it, but apparently, we do. It is important because it gives people an opportunity, a “reason” to at least once a year acknowledge the huge gaps that still exist between women and men. It is needed because women, and men, have for so long been trying to bridge the gaps and make them smaller, and to a degree, they have, but still, we have not yet reached equality. For all of you who feel that it is “unequal” to have a women’s day and not a men’s day, I can just say this: I would happily trade this day in order to get real equality in return, every day. But until that happens, no. Sorry, this day is reserved for women. So, women, let’s hear you roar.

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Be happy and proud to be a woman, but remember that you are so much more than your gender.

 

10 commandments for men

In a Swedish newspaper there was a debate article yesterday that made me happy and hopeful. It was written by a man who in his frustration regarding the recent writings in media about sexual assault towards women in different parts throughout the world, lead him to compose 10 commandments that he thought every man should read and follow.

Translated from Swedish, the commandments are as follows:

  1. Never let your sex drive compass over your respect for other people’s integrity.
  2. Learn to read other people’s signals, especially those that imply that what you are doing is not desirable behaviour.
  3. If someone sends out signals described in point 2, stop immediately whatever it was that you were doing.
  4. If it becomes more difficult to follow points 1-3 under the influence of alcohol, learn where to draw the line, or abstain completely from drinking.
  5. If other heterosexual men in your surroundings have problems following points 1-4, make it a habit to always reprehend them verbally.
  6. Make sure that you in depth understand the meaning of concepts like feminism, gender-power order and privileges.
  7. Help other heterosexual men to in depth understand the concepts in point 6.
  8. Understand that you in the reigning gender-power order are one of the most privileged people in society.
  9. Use your privileged position to lift someone who is less privileged.
  10. A gentleman is strong, brave, unselfish and puts others’ well-being before his own. Be a gentleman!

He wrote these because he felt and saw a need for drawing lines, since apparently, many do not know when they are crossing them. Because it is time for men to take their responsibilities and stop blaming women for their own assaults. Because these assaults are not “freak events”; they happen daily, regularly, to women all over the world.

I would like to make my own contribution in the spirit of his. But my attention is towards women instead. Here are 10 suggestions for women (I deliberately did not want to call them commandments, since women have in my opinion, been commanded to do this and that, be this and that, since the beginning of time, and who am I to command anyone to do anything?):

  1. Do not be afraid to speak up; speak your mind. After all: you are woman, let’s hear you roar.
  2. Do not be afraid to say No; nobody should try to force or convince you to do anything that you do not wish to do. No still means no.
  3. Do not feel ashamed if you have ever experienced any form of sexual assault; try talking about it and of course report the incident if possible. Remember that these things happen to most women in some degree, and it is not something that you should feel ashamed of, it is a shame on the society in which you live and it’s the assailant who should feel shame. Not you.
  4. Dress however you feel like dressing, use make-up, or don’t, shave your legs/armpits/whatnot, or don’t. Just remember that the choice is supposed to be yours. Do not let anyone or anything (for instance advertising..) try to convince you that you are less of a woman or a person if you do not follow their standards. There is no such thing as “normal”, it’s just something people have made up.
  5. Remember Spice girls? Well, one thing they did very right was express the importance of “Girl Power”. Remember this concept, cherish it, live by it.
  6. Do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist: even though there are people with wild misconceptions about this term, the basis of feminism is equality. It is not about man-hating hairy women without bra’s wanting to abolish men and all their misogynist ways. No, it’s about fighting for each and every individual’s right in society = Women and Men.
  7. Stop being so judgemental towards other women. There are countless studies that have shown how men in organizations for instance, help other men reach the top (eg. see Kanter), while women on the other hand are fighting both other women and other men. But who helps women? We must help ourselves, let’s change that and help each other as well. We are sisters, not enemies.
  8. Remember that being a woman is a social construction: It is not something biological, it is not something stable, it is not something universal. Thus, be whatever woman you want to be, just be yourself.
  9. Learn more about concepts such as feminism, gender, power structures, institutionalization, norms, patriarchy and so on. They will help you understand what it means to be a “woman” in today’s world, and thus, help you to fight against old-fashioned notions that should just be put out of their misery already. For more information, read: The second sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. She explains it all so well.
  10. Encourage other women around you to follow suggestions 1-9.

 

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.