I’ve been in Xela for nearly three weeks now and I think I’ve got my bearings. This is probably my 15th time visiting – most of my dad’s side of the family lives in Guatemala and he has always wanted me to know his home. The experience feels new, though, as it’s been 3+ years since I was last here.
Walking down the street, a few things catch my eye:
From my grandma, I’ve learned:
From the news, firsthand or through others, I’ve learned:
In Momos, the Kiche town in which my dad grew up, I learned:
Now, that last bullet point is a ray of light among the shadows. Nonetheless, I’m listening to Ciara’s Like A Boy and wondering how in the world DESGUA, a sustainable development organization for which I’m volunteering, is going to incorporate culturally appropriate feminist values into its work. DESGUA works primarily in rural indigenous communities, and concepts such as women’s liberation, gender conformity, or decolonization are too new or too lofty for most people to accept comfortably. How shall DESGUA move forward? Suggestions?
Magdalena Kaluza, desde Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
It would have been a typical day in my tenth grade Health class if we did not have a visitor that day.
I remembered looking at her confusingly as I tried to figure out why she was there. After she introduced herself and where she worked, she read a story to us…a story about a sophomore girl who went to prom with a senior guy who she had a crush on. As you can expect, she went on talking about how he persisted to pour drinks for her and how many drinks she ended up having that night. They went to somewhere private and he started to take her clothes off. She hesitated, said no, but they ended up having sex that night anyway. Another rape lesson, I thought.
After the story ended, she told us to organize ourselves and pick a table according to how strongly we feel about whose fault it was. The tables were arranged as “entirely the guy’s fault”, “mostly the guy’s fault”, “both parties’ faults equally”, “mostly girl’s fault”, and “entirely the girl’s fault”.
Majority of the class sat on the table that labeled “entirely the guy’s fault” with some disparity among other table, except for one table. The table I sat on was for “entire the GIRL’s fault”…and I was the only one.
The guest then devoured me with questions about why I felt so strongly that it was the girl’s fault. What I remembered is that other tables were not being asked the same questions I got asked. Regardless of how unfair I felt, I explained to her with my best knowledge of what I had been taught my entire life on the subject: if a girl is raped, she asked for it. Here is a background story that might help you understand my view a bit. I was born and grew up in a conservative small town outside the U.S., and I had only been in the United States for less than two years when this all happened. All my life I have seen how media and parents taught us that a good girl will not dress “slutty”. She will not speak to guys in a flirtatious way. A good girl will not go out with a guy alone, and if there is any alcohol involved, she is definitely the one to blame for no self-control. Therefore, if she had an unwanted sex, it is all her fault for not following those good-girl-guidelines. I was taught that sex is a natural thing for guys and they will always find ways to sleep with you…and girls are responsible for making sure that the unwanted sex situation does not happen.
So, I took my stance on this subject firm and proud I categorized myself as “a good girl” and blamed the girl in the scenario for losing her self-control.
There were many things happened in class that I did not understand. First, why did the guest asked me so many questions for saying that it is entirely the girl’s fault? Why did people on the opposite end were not being asked anything. I did not understand why there were so many people at the “entirely the guy’s fault” table. Moreover, many guys at that table seems unwilling to be there, as if they were there because it was what you supposed to choose. I also did not understand what I did wrong by speaking up for what I had been taught and for being the “good girl”. I did not understand why I was attacked like that.
I discovered answers to the questions I had that day during my years in college. I heard, witnessed, experienced similar situations. I learned that what she/he was wearing or how many drinks they had doesn’t matter. I learned that without a yes, it is a no. I learned that this subject cannot be taken lightly as the experience is not forgettable, impossible to forget, and the recovery takes years if not a lifetime. Most importantly, I learned how our education, media, and society have been “preventing” the issue by focusing on the wrong spot. They said that the more cleavage you show is like the closer you hold the meat in front of a shark; you cannot expect it to refuse and swim away. Well, guess what? Men have brains and they are capable of thinking and acting responsibly if they want to. They are not sharks and will not act out of instinct and eat the meat just because it is in front of them.
Now that I understood everything that happened that day, I felt deeply sorry for my action. Blaming the girl that day was not only disappoint the guest presenter and my teacher, I hurt my fellow classmates. I don’t know how many girls and guys in the class experienced sexual assault or know anyone who is a survivor. I cannot imagine how much damage I have done to my friends’ feelings with a small action in that Health class. How many people did I blame as a byproduct of my action and make them even more guilty for what happened to them? They were all my friends and I ruined them…I am sorry.
I know that I am not perfect, but I try to do my best to not hurt anyone else intentionally. If you are reading this as someone who feels that rape happens because the victim was asking for it, I beg you to give people a chance to explain to you. You will see things the way I see it now.
It is no longer Domestic Violence Awareness Month but we need to still be just as aware.
My ITunes was playing in the background the other day when Luka by Suzanne Vega began to play. Although I have always loved it, not until I was older did I truly listen to the lyrics of this piece. In its peppy and beautiful demeanor it tells the heart-wrenching story of a woman who is in an abusive relationship. The story reflects the reality of many individuals facing abuse in their physical or emotional home, the reality of living in a “fish bowl” as Lexis Manzara put it; the reality of creating a new identity to diminish the pain one is facing. I want to see a world free of this pain; that is my dream.
Vega’s piece inspired me to reflect on other songs that tell the stories of domestic violence. Check out the songs below by Suzzane Vega, Eve and Dessa. I am sure there are more to add, please share them in the comment section and please continue to tell the stories of those who have experienced abuse.
By keeping things “private” we only continue to silence and normalize these stories. Violence is not and should never be normal. And with all that said, survivors must tell these stories in a way comfortable and empowering to them.
Luka- Suzanne Vega
Suzanne Vega tells the story of a woman who tirelessly works to cover up the abuse she is experiencing. “Luka”, the narrator, shares her story in a form of conversation.
Love Is Blind-Eve
By discussing how feelings of love and loyalty can freeze individuals, Eve tells the story of her friend whom an abuser murdered. Abuse is manipulative and can be seen in so many layers.
Artful and poetic as she always writes, Dessa tells the story of an individual in an abusive and controlling situation without ever explicitly discussing violence. She tells the story from the perspective of a friend and place of support for the individual.
When I was around 12 years old, I was visiting my dad’s side of the family in Baltimore. I really liked going there: for one it showed me a place where a different kind of body type was not only more present but was appreciated. My body has always been very different than other girls my age, and has always been something that other people have commented on – most of the time it wasn’t malicious, but still causes me to think of myself differently. And secondly, I loved Baltimore because of the endless amount of cable TV I could watch. My family in Minnesota went in and out of having cable, so I always saw thought it was a luxury.
But maybe my mom was right not to have cable, when I was visiting my Dad I didn’t really have friends down there or homework to do, so I spent a lot of my time watching daytime TV. I would watch VH1, MTV, BET, etc. But the one show that really stuck out to me was some show about America’s Sexiest 100 women; some model (I can’t even remember her name) attributed her staying fit to sprinkling spicy dried peppers over every meal to speed up her metabolism. I saw her body – large bust, smaller waste, curvy figure and so of course 12-year me really wanted to be like her. I had my dad go out and buy those crushed red peppers and ate them on every food that I ate.
I thought back to that the other day and thought it was hilarious… but then I got really sad. Like think about that, a 12-year old girl so obsessed of being what society tells her is pretty that she does something ridiculous like barely eating and whatever she does eat loaded it up with crushed red peppers.
It’s just really sad to know that our society is so driven by looking a certain way and being a certain person that we push these young girls into body image issues that accentuate their insecurities – when we could just as easily promote confidence not matter what and that we’re all different which makes us beautiful!
This is a collaborative piece.
Having recently graduated from college and entering the working (“real”) world, we have begun to notice the gross reality of gender dynamics that exist in the work place. We’ve talked to other women about our experiences and feelings and found that many could relate.
Many argue that we have come a long way as a society in terms of educating and employing women. But if we get into professions just to be made to feel invalidated by particular male colleagues, then how far have we come culturally?
The purpose of this post is to share experiences that women face in the work place that often go unnoticed, unspoken, and in many cases have become normalized. Four stories are shared below and the women who have opted to contribute have also chosen to remain anonymous for the sake of their employment. Fear is something that comes along with speaking out and the risk involved in saying something is a very real chance we take. We would, of course, prefer to feel safe sharing these stories openly, but that is not a place that we have yet reached, as individuals and as a society.
EXCUSE ME, Shut Up
I’m not a fan of having to get dressed up for work. By all means, I like to look nice but if I could do my job in leggings and a loose tee every day, you bet I would. But I know that in my position, I gain respect from my clients by looking professional and put together. My clients need all the help and respect they can get in their lives so I take the dress code seriously balancing pencil skirts, blazers, heels, the ordinary combination of a professional female business wardrobe.
I’ll admit, I do feel more the part when I’m dressed-up, a bit more powerful and confident about my ability, a bit more assured that my clients trust me to do my job and help them instead of write them off like everyone else in their lives. Most of my clients and colleagues are men. I can keep up with the office banter, grant it it’s a good thing I play fantasy football and can talk the normal Sports Center and beer lingo, being from Wisconsin. I sometimes wonder how they would react if I randomly decided to go on a tangent about what color I’m planning on dying my hair, but that’s besides the point.
I’ve come to love my job, even the dressing-up; it feels good to look good I can’t lie. But I absolutely, full-heartedly detest, no, loathe the extra shall we say “attention” I receive for the way my body looks in my clothing. I’m curvaceous, I have quite the rack (brought to you by both sides of the family), but never do I try to intentionally flaunt this at work. One day I borrowed a roommates dress that was a little tight; not doing that again. The first guy I see in the office says to me “well that is quite the pretty necklace you have, which boyfriend of yours got that for you?” If you know me, you know I was contemplating smacking him. EXCUSE ME. Thoughts in my head:
1 – Yeah, you’re looking at my necklace, my ass. He was staring directly at my rack and the dress I was wearing even went up to my neck. Subtle.
2 – I can buy my own fricken jewelry thank you very much, hell no do I need a man for that.
And 3 – To even imply that I would date multiple guys at once like some kinda gold digger is beyond insulting.
Sadly I’ve gotten use to the reactions I get any day I come to work looking a little too, let’s say appealing and my coworkers and clients alike, can’t help but issue a slew of “well ain’t you looking fancy today” or my personal favorite, “I see you white girl.” Shut-up.
My co-worker put it really well the other day. He said to me, “someone was talking to me about you the other day and the first thing that came out of the guy’s mouth was ‘she’s beautiful.’” My co-worker goes on to say how frustrating that is, that I’m chalked up to be a pretty girl, completely omitting the work that I do and the passion that I have for my job.
Compliments about appearance are nice; as someone who’s dealt with major body and confidence issues for a long while, sometimes it’s the morale boost I need. But if looking nice and professional comes at the price of being just another pretty girl in the office, peace out, I’m done.
I’ll continue to dress the part for the sake of my clients, but the next person that says “dang you look fine,” watch out. And for the love of women, can we design some professional clothing that aren’t created to make my butt look tight, my waste look small, and my legs look built!
I Can Build My Own Damn Bike
Ooh, I bet you got a lot of whistles this morning.” This is what I heard when I walked into work one day. I was dressed in a black pencil skirt, flowy top, tights and some pretty sleek boots. I looked good. Felt confident. But of course I knew I’d be receiving a comment about it. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, raging more and more every day. But when I dress for work, for anything, I do it for myself. Not to get stared at by every man on the bus, the street, at work. And certainly not to get whistled at like a dog.
Now, this comment was a compliment. But it bothered me. Especially because it came from a woman. We’ve become subliminally trained to dress to impress. Because that’s how we draw attention. That’s how we hold power. By how we put ourselves together in the morning. True, I feel more confident when I look good. But I do it for myself. Anyways, maybe I’m ranting too much and not getting into the real thick of it. The things that really get beneath my skin because I am a woman in my workplace.
Whenever I need to move something or take on a task that’s not so ladylike, I most certainly, without a doubt, will hear “Oh, you need a man to help you with that!”. Sometimes, I do need a hand, but I’ll be damned if I hand over a box or a task to a guy that thinks I can’t handle it. I recently got a new bike through work and planned to assemble it on my own. I can’t tell you how many pushy offers I received to have one of our male residents put it together. I’m a pretty avid bike rider, know how to fix a flat, and most importantly, know how to read instructions. So I felt like I was qualified enough to put a bike together. But at least 5 people didn’t think so.
Maybe it’s because I’m so headstrong, but I assembled that bike all by my damn self. I got stares of amazement. Many from fellow females who thought I should have handed the task to a man. This is what irked me the most. Where along the line were these women told they needed a man to help them? That they were less than capable. Perhaps I’m a raging, headstrong feminist, but I prefer to be thought of as a capable woman. Especially at work.
The Skanky Shorts
I have begun a new job at a progressive, young, nonprofit organization. The man who hands me my check each month is friendly, flirty even. It honestly makes me feel uncomfortable but I have never said anything about it. I mean, I am new here, I am young, and he is in a position of power. So, I think, flirting is harmless and avoid him.
A few weeks into the job I make it out to a happy hour with a few co-workers. It feels good to finally get out of the work cloths and hang out with the people I am around all day. I show up in jean shorts and a tee shirt, my typical summer apparel. My uncomfortably flirty friend shows up and offers to buy me drinks. I’m broke so hey, why not? We all sit together and are enjoying each other’s company.
The flirting coworker’s next move changed my mood for the remainder of the night. The man who hands me my pay checks looks at me, to poke fun, and in front of our entire group says “She can’t be trusted, just look at her skanky shorts.” My face just went blank, I was confused, shocked. The first thought that popped into my head was, first of all, how dumb his joke was. It made no sense (so if you are scratching your head wondering what the point of the joke was, there was none). It felt like it was just a random opportunity for him to say something about my clothing choice. That in itself confused and infuriated me.
Because he pointed out my clothing in front of a large group, I naturally felt everyone’s gaze. I just sat there, feeling exposed. I tugged at my shorts as if I could disprove his statement, maybe avoid the potential judgement of my colleagues who’s attention was now on my lower half. I didn’t want to stand up for the rest of the evening out of fear that everyone would look at my ass and judge the clothing I had chosen to wear. He, in that one statement, caused me to feel embarrassment, anger, fear, shame. I questioned how long he had been looking at my shorts, thinking they were skanky. Was it when he bought me a drink? I felt angry. He embarrassed me. I felt violated by his analysis of my outfit.
I sat in my own silence turning the comment over and over in my head. Why the fuck was he even looking at my shorts? Who gave him the right to draw his own conclusions on the style of clothes I choose to wear out? Weather it was in or out of the work place, he has no right to call my clothing skanky. What was he saying about me in that comment about my shorts? I don’t wear those shorts out anymore. He continues to flirt at work. I wonder if he thinks about what his simple words and actions have the power to make me feel.
The Questions Behind My Silence
I feel two simultaneous jabs on either side of my torso, just below my ribs. You know, the type that you might get teasingly from a significant other, or pesteringly from a little sibling. The kind meant to get a rise out of you, meant to make you jump, giggle, and turn around to teasingly slap the person who did the jabbing. This is not one of those times. I’m at work.
I’m caught off guard by the pokes. My body tenses involuntarily. My head whips around and my mind races. What was that? Who touched me? Why?
In the few split seconds that it took for me to turn around, my mind had not decided how I felt, let alone come up with how to react. I was surprised but not quite offended, confused but not quite angry. Mostly, I was just shocked and weirded out.
My eyes caught a glimpse of one of my male co-workers walking behind me. His head turned back to meet my bewildered glance and he smiled. I immediately knew then that he had poked me on my sides.
A hundred questions flooded my mind.
Is this normal? Should I be mad? Am I offended? Is this harassment? Should I tell someone? Why would he even do that? He’s married. Is he trying to bug me? I would never do that to anyone. Ever. Especially at work. He is a man and he is much older than me. I know he would never go up behind another male co-worker and do that. Is this a gender thing? An age thing? Do people even take me seriously? Or am I just some kid they can pick on? Is it a cultural thing? Is this teasing okay in some places? What am I supposed to do? How do I react? They never tell you what to do in these situations. Am I being silly? Should this not be something that bothers me? Does it bother me?
They, you know, the teachers, youth leaders, parents, and counselors, they always tell you to report sexual abuse. They tell you to let someone know if anyone verbally or physically harasses you. But what about all that grey area. What about when a male co-worker sneaks up and teasingly pokes you in your sides? What about when you don’t know whether it’s something inappropriate or if you’re just being too sensitive? What about when that person who makes you uncomfortable is one of your bosses?
I still don’t know exactly what I should have done in that situation. I told a few of my female co-workers that I trust about the incident and I was surprised to hear that they have had similar, and some worse, situations and stories involving that same male co-worker. One co-worker even reported one of the incidents, but apparently nothing really changed.
So what is my solution? For now, I avoid being alone with him. I respect him less. Sometimes I’m rude to him. Sometimes I rehearse in my mind how I will react or what I will say if he tries something else or says something inappropriate. Is that the right answer? I don’t really know, and I think the not knowing how to asses these situations bothers me just as much as the fact that these things happen in the first place.
So the days come to an end. The weeks pass by. The comments are made and then they fade. We get stares and whistles, snide comments, uncomfortable feelings. We hope for an end. Some of us will speak up. Some of us won’t. Some of us will get angry and take action. Some of us will be scared. We will stand up for ourselves and for women as a whole, for equality and for liberty.
We will speak and act for the future and for hope. For now, we hope that you join us in this effort and raise the awareness and share your own stories. Listen to other’s stories and listen to yourself.
We hope that the accounts you read and the real women behind them stirred your hearts. We hope that you will bring this challenge and this awareness into your own communities, families, and workplaces, and give someone else hope.
I don’t know if you watch Scandal. I do — I’m a politics junkie, I’m excited it has a female protagonist that is both feminine and strong, and its entertaining. But regardless of your feelings about the show, below is a clip that should be watched.
Lisa Kudrow plays a female Senator who is running for President. The clip below is her first “primetime interview” and her character has never been confrontational before. The host of the interview omits her service in the armed forces and instead portrays her as a docile homemaker. Her response follows here:
So, yes, Scandal is a fictitious show that often has outrageous plot lines that are far from realistic. But when it comes to addressing the sexism that continuously accompanies the careers of female politicians, Scandal has done a better job addressing the matter than any pundits have in real life. Though this clip only exists the fantasy world of Olivia Pope, the issue of sexism and stereotyping of female politicians is very real.
There are many, many examples of female politicians being portrayed in ways that rely on traditional notions of femininity and traditional gender roles. For example, Samantha Power was interviewed after her appointment as United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
I just want to point out that this segment of the interview was taped in the United Nations Security Council. Somehow the caption still seemed relevant in that location.
The interview spanned a variety of topics, but the brilliant folks at the Today Show felt that “diplomacy and diapers” best encapsulated the themes discussed. Others have written about the absurdity of this footer, but I want to consider this specific example in the context of female politicians and public figures more broadly.
The example above and the clip from Scandal demonstrate two obvious situations where a female politician’s gender was emphasized rather than their qualifications. It’s pretty hard to imagine any male politician or public figure being questioned about his parenting style or how he finds time for his kids with his busy schedule.
Another way this commonly plays out in the media is when describing the twenty female senators currently serving their terms right now. During the government shutdown, this group of senators was lauded as being integral to re-opening the government. I’m glad that they are receiving recognition for their work, but I’m frustrated by the way that they are portrayed in the media. For example, when discussing one of their meetings during the shutdown, one author stated, “In policy terms, it was a potluck dinner.” It doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking to notice that a meeting of male senators would never be described as a potluck. The same author wrote a similarly irritating characterization about these senators when describing “11 Things You Don’t Know About the Senate Sisterhood.” In it, he noted, “women believe in the power of food” and that “women may look sweet, but don’t assume that they don’t know anything about guns and violence.” The author is discussing twenty United States senators and yet somehow feels that its important to note that they actually know something about “hard issues” like guns and violence.
Additionally, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked about the two competing reform bills for sexual assault in the military, he stated that it was difficult for him because he is fond of both Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. How are we supposed to take these senators seriously when their colleagues act as though their feelings are more important than the legislation at hand?
Each of these scenarios are examples in which female public figures are portrayed as women first and public figures second. Though women are now widely accepted as members of the workforce, when they are public figures they are frequently described as caretakers and homemakers. Neither of these things are bad, but men in similar positions do not receive the same treatment or characterization. Female ambassadors, senators, or public figures of any kind should be capable of having families without it eclipsing their relevant qualifications and experiences. When they are questioned about these topics instead of the very real issues that confront them at work, their personal lives become more important than the public roles they occupy and they are perceived as being less capable of dealing with the “hard issues” than their male counterparts.
I hope that eventually we will get to a point where the fact that a woman has reached a certain position is no longer noticeable, but in order to get there the media and male public figures need to stop treating their gender as exceptional or indicative of anything about them. There are no universally feminine characteristics or topics of interest and its not productive nor benign to pretend otherwise. This behavior is ultimately damaging to the advancement of women in positions of power and I hope that more women will be able to confront this type of sexism the way that the fictional Scandal senator could. More importantly, I hope that female public figures won’t have to grapple with how to respond to sexist interviews, articles, or comments because they will be treated with the same respect and reverence given to their male colleagues.