Category Archives: Feminism in the Home

The Weight Of It All

I think the complexity of it — it being the effect of men on women, their weight and influence on our very existence — scares a lot of women from engaging in the conversation. We view our existence and our lives as our own; our ownership, our choices, our paths. But what if it’s not as simple as that? It’s much simpler to view it in black and white and peg us (females/feminists) as women who care too much/give a damn/make excuses/whatever. I wish women could be enthralled by the idea of diminishing the sexism and roadblocks, instead of being scared by it (it’s easier not to care, though). With the advent of sexism in the workplace and in daily life, I can only hope more and more women can be awakened to the barriers being placed on women. The weight of it all is real. The influence and weight men place on women is heavy and felt.

I’ve been networking the last few months, in preparation to begin a transition from current job into a new field. I made the decision earlier this summer to stop networking with men. It seems a brute and harsh reaction, but networking with men only led to not being taken seriously, connections not being made, and instead an offer to buy me drinks at another date, in perhaps a more “casual setting” (read: take me on a date). This happened to me and several other female friends, who all decided to refrain from networking with the opposite gender. What does it take to be taken seriously? We are all successful and driven; we even made a point to not wear tight-fitting clothes to these networking meetings. Though at the end, we were nothing more than a pretty face.

Though, what about how we women relate to each other? So often the first connection women make is whether or not they have a (male) partner. Half of the conversation is then spent comparing and contrasting experiences with males, with the important characteristics and facts about ourselves being saved for later. Why are men such a defining part of female existence?

Men continue to influence female workplace dress. Prior to interviews with men, I would agonize over what to wear. Would one dress emphasize my hips too much, in a manner that may be “suggestive”? What about a dress that hugged my curves and flaunted my figure? Would a pencil skirt imply I wanted to be fucked? In the end, I always choose clothes that fit somewhat loosely and give only an inkling of a figure underneath. I feel safer being bland and nondescript than being assessed on an underlying sexuality.

How much should we care? How much can be done? Earlier this week, I told a supervisor whom I admire and we have often had many a great talk about feminism, sexism in the work place, etc., that a client made a comment about my “pretty face”. I felt at great unease from this comment and was instantly distraught at the thought of my work being thought of as different, as attached to my body rather than my intellect and follow through. She essentially replied that I shouldn’t fuss/sweat it too much, since worse comments could have been made. Though I realize this is true, I was crushed at the fact that this woman, who has shattered many a glass ceiling in her day (hate that phrase, but it’s true in her case), could dismay my discomfort.

As a mental side project, started tallying how many times per day I’m catcalled on my 1/2 mile walk to and fro the public transit station I frequent for work. It’s disheartening, but telling. I’ve also made notes of whether the drivers are in vehicles that are clearly marked as part of a company, etc. I’ve often wanted to call these businesses and complain, but again, have feared the roadblock of a dissent manager getting in my way to do so. Despite often starting my day with such an upsetting experience, I’d rather brush it off and get on with my day than acknowledge it and have it be disregarded by someone who didn’t experience the tragedy of that moment.

A person very close to me, who is highly successful in a field in which men reign, hates the idea of feminism and all that goes along with it. She doesn’t see the point. She kept her mouth shut, did the work, and laid low to rise up. Why can’t we (again, feminists) do the same? It’s easier to assume instead of understand, and the sadness of that is difficult to bear.

The issue at hand is complex. In fact, there are many issues at hand. It’s more complex than it’s often given credit for (outside of liberal media, that is). The difficulty lies in the notion of getting people to feel that the idea is not “not complex”. There is weight and matters to be sorted through here, divided into layers and split up amongst their fixings.

The point, at the end of it all, is to have the voice be heard and the weight felt. To know that we don’t have to be silent, but that we can kick and cry and scream to move ourselves ahead if we need to. That we don’t need to mold into what is expected of us nor refrain from speaking our truths. We need not be discouraged. Hope is brewing, simmering, and rising.

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My Incompetence as a Farmer and Why I Blame Patriarchy

Okay, so some of you may think this is a stretch, but lemme give it a shot.

Here’s where I’ve thus proven myself incompetent on the farm (I’m interning on an 150-member organic Community Supported Agriculture farm; I’ve been here a month):

I lack hand and arm and core muscle.

I’m not drill savvy – I needed to get a screw into purling (for a hoop house we’re putting together) and I couldn’t tell forwards from backwards in terms of which way the screw was moving. I just struggled for a while and then assumed I didn’t have the arm strength to do it.

I didn’t know that for tractors and stick shift cars, you have to park them in a gear or they roll backwards. I failed at parking the tractor in the proper spot, after multiple tries, and I later almost caused the car to roll into a pond (I was able to save it with 2 meters to spare; it did take out the horse fence).

I didn’t and don’t know what to listen to in terms of an engine (i.e. how to tell when you’ve given it enough throttle).

I didn’t know how to hitch a trailer or a tractor accessory.

I can’t back up a trailer.

I am not very good at starting a fire.

I don’t know to look for plastic on or near a wood burning stove before lighting a fire. I just end up with a pool of melted plastic and a house full of fumes.

Here’s why I think some of these incompetencies wouldn’t exist if patriarchy weren’t shedding it’s lovely shadow over our existence: 

I didn’t have a dad around for much of my life to show me how to use tools. When he was around, tools weren’t something he could afford to buy, and there wasn’t the time or money to do things like camp or hunt. My mom, while quite skillful in a lot of areas, doesn’t usually fix things herself. It might be a lack of time, as she works a lot (blame other structures for that, such as academia and capitalism and the nonprofit industrial complex), but it could also be that her dad passed his fix it skills onto the boys in the family – all my mom’s brothers are pretty savvy – and not the girls. Similarly, my mom’s brother and other men in our lives who were handy didn’t pass their skills onto me. Sure, they tickled and teased me (and there was the time that our tree trimmer friend put me in the harness and let me go up into the elm, and he gave my barbie the name Tree Trimmer Barbie) but even when I got to go fishing, they didn’t put a hook on my line! And I’m convinced it was not because I was 3, but because I was a girl raised by a single mother and an immigrant dad.

Maybe this is a stretch.

The point is, I feel incompetent out here on the farm. I guess that’s what you get with a city girl goes to western Wisconsin. It is quite possible that programs such as Boy Scouts prepare guys for country living a little more than what’s available for girls. And men are told to train their bodies, be tough – women aren’t. Men are supposed to be the handy ones, so I’m guessing they’re more likely to seek out or, through social pressure, be exposed to tools and machines and mechanical skills. Leaving me in the dust.

The farmer I work for is a single woman and she is often defending her know how and her ability to do things herself – whether it’s carrying a heavy load, trouble shooting the new sand point well, or getting the water feature working on her antique transplanter. She tells stories of always being the minority, and perceiving certain attitudes when at a meeting or buying supplies. I am interested in interviewing her about her experience as a single woman farmer in rural Wisconsin. If anyone has interview question suggestions, please post them in the comments. 

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I can, at least, bottle feed the calves.

Ideally, I would have done some research for this post to back up some of my claims about male handiness being socially constructed, but life on the farm means I need to be rushing outside right now. Wish us luck transplanting today!

Written by Magdalena Kaluza

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Rewriting our Story: Equal Pay

RSVP for Panel Discussion Attendance

Tuesday, April 8 is National Equal Pay Day.  A day dedicated to advocating, highlighting and eliminating the wage gap between men and women. Even after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, women in 2014 are paid $0.77 to the dollar earned by a man. On the other hand, women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) make 33 percent more on average. With the demand for STEM jobs and equal pay, join the conversation on #EqualPay and #STEM.

The YWCA’s across the US and the Department of Energy are teaming up to host a live panel and Tweet Up on “The STEM Promise: Opportunities for Economic Empowerment.” The conversation will focus on #EqualPay #STEMjobs and how the wage gap can be impacted.

TWEET with US! Raise awareness and join the conversation on April 8, 2014, from 3-4pm EST

• Watch #STEMEqualPay on Tuesday – @YWCA_NCA, @ENERGY, @YWCAUSA, @wusa9 talking #womeninSTEM go.usa.gov/KhMY

• #womeninSTEM have smaller wage gap. Join @ENERGY and @YWCAUSA on Tues to hear why. go.usa.gov/KhMY (#STEMEqualPay)

• join @ENERGY @YWCA_NCA #STEMEqualPay Tweet Up Tuesday & share entry-level #STEM job advice to advance pay equality go.usa.gov/KhMY

 

 

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Last Names: Yours, Mine or Ours?

Last name options once you are married include: keep your maiden name, adopt your partner’s name, hyphenate or create a new name all together. The last option is one I have never considered, but if both parties are willing, why not? Not that I need to make a decision about last name’s any time soon nor do I have a child on the way (not in a rush, at all!) but this is a conversation I have had several times with some of my closest girl friends, and I’d like to share my thoughts on what I see is an issue.

A Huffington Post article discussed how The Daily Beast and Facebook teamed up last year and looked at the names of 14 million women who are married and active Facebook users (Huff Post, 2013). 65% of women in their 20s and 30s stated they changed their last name when they got married and the percentages rose the older the women were. This can be due to a variety of reasons; I’m just not fully convinced as to why I should give up my name completely.

When deciding whether to keep one’s maiden name or not, there is so much to consider. The debate over the partial loss of one’s identity; familial reactions and opinions; and overall whether we as women are succumbing to societal pressures/norms by just giving it up.

At the end of the day, I don’t want my family name to disappear. My parents were blessed with two girls, so the Neguse name would end with us if I would follow cultural traditions and be complacent with the idea of taking my future husband’s last name. Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely against the idea, but I envision an egalitarian partnership and it would not be one-hundred percent fair in my eyes if my last name was not about of the union.

Not only do I have the desire to keep my last name, but I would love for my future children to carry on my family name as well (this could also be hyphenated with my future husband’s last name). It’s only fair, right? They will be growing in my uterus for nine months and pushed out of my vagina, so trust me when I say, Neguse will be a proud part of their last name.

 

*Statistics were found in, “Changing Your Last Name: Research Reveals How Many Women Give Up Their Names” (Huffington Post, 2013)*

 

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Reflections on Violence Against Women in Guatemala

I have a lot more reading and writing to do on the subject of violence against women in Guatemala, but for starters, I can say: 1) that the state of fear women here face is historically rooted (thank you, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism, for the destruction of a people and continued institutional corruption and violence) and 2) that the collective embracing of individual sexual liberation – of women, especially – can help dismantle the culture of fear (alongside policy change, of course, such as better sexual education and more transparent spending on public services and infrastructure).

A kiss on a cheek is a typical greeting here in Guatemala. A kiss on the edge of the mouth is not, yet I’ve gotten several of those. I’ve received lingering handshakes with a squeeze at the end, vivid stares, and pushy requests for my phone number. These experiences are not Guatemala-exclusive, though they have been happening to me more often and more audibly here. And while it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between cultural norms and abuse, there have been moments of obvious harassment. Whose business is it if I have a boyfriend? What do you care if I’m traveling alone? Why am I expected to respond to a ts ts ts from across the street? As a friend of mine and fellow Latin@ poet said, “words and actions can both be sexual violence.”

I typically move on from these uncomfortable experiences without much thought. However, a friend here described a recent and nasty verbal attack. She mentioned her resulting fears about where the line between words and actions is drawn. I reassessed my own emotions after certain experiences on the street, and decided that I, too, have been pushed to places of fear, tension, and distrust. Some of my experiences may be unique, being a foreigner, but I can confidently say that living in a constant state of fear is a very real oppression faced by all women here.

Many Guatemalans I’ve met have described Guatemala as having a culture of fear or a culture of silence. Anthropologists have used the phrases “death as a way of life” and “fear as a way of life” to describe Guatemalan existence. In her book Fear As a Way of Life: Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala, Linda Green quotes Cynthia Enloe: “Wars don’t simply end / And wars don’t end simply.” While Guatemala’s Civil War ended over two decades ago, death and violence persist. According to the World Health Organization, 10 or more murders a day per 100,000 people is classified as an epidemic. Guatemala qualifies, along with 10 other Latin American countries. Violence has been normalized, as a legacy of ingrained intimidation, residue of the war, stubbornly persists.

What is the connection between a history of violence, current violence, and mindsets of fear? To be always afraid is to be truly oppressed. Seeing the fear that my dad manifests often evokes anger for me – I find his distrust unreasonable. But I must remind myself that he lived through a war. For him, distrust meant survival.

I hope that, through education, we can little by little dismantle the fear in which we live, replacing it with strong community ties and respect for women. Projects such as Colectiva Siluetas’ show AFUERA, about being a lesbian in Guatemala, and Rebecca Lane’s music (like this song about liberation and self love) are great first steps. Also check out this documentary about sex workers in Guatemala who started a soccer team and joined a league in order to call attention to the violence and abuse they faced. My friend also told me about a radio show on which Guatemalan women described their experiences masturbating. Revolutionary! Maybe we can even get a good burlesque class going here so women can go straight to positive pride in sexuality and self-confidence.

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Cheers to a New Year

DSCN1140_2An old poem to ring in the new year, and a new version in Spanish to keep us on our toes. Sending power and love to all my builders and fighters out there! Feliz año nuevo. ***Read out LOUD

Grrrl

Spit some poetry

Attack corporate crap

Shake yo booty

Diverge from all that’s wack

Tear off your bra

Go nakey if ya want

Liberate itty bitty titties and big ol’ butts

Show the world how you strut your stuff

Grrrrl

Unicorns and tie dye

A boombox and high tops

Reclaim the streets

Beat up bad cops

Street art

Street dance

Parking lots and rooftops

That’s what I’m talking bout

Grrrl

You fly

Grrrrl

You strong

I wish you a free mind

Social prison, be gone!

Chica

Escupa la poesía

Ataque mierda corporativa

Mueva tus nalgas

Espero que te salgas

de la ropa chambona

Libera pechos pequeños

y caderas campeonas

Mostrale al mundo

el poder que es tuyo

Chica

Unicornios y tinta

Una mano que pinta

Reclame las calles

Y nunca te caes

Calle baile, calle arte

En techos y parques

De eso hablo

Chica

Sos busa

Chica

Sos fuerte

No te frustras

La libertad esta pendiente

Comienza con tu mente

Written by Magdalena Kaluza

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Rewriting our Story: Unspeakable Truths

To have a friend is to share truths,
but what if yours are unspeakable truths?

To have a friend means you cannot spread lies,
but what if your life is tangled in lies?

To have a friend means you cannot have secrets,
but what if you have horrible secrets?

To have a friend means you need to get close,
but what if you, your mind and heart are isolated?

To have a friend means a new concept of space,
but what if you have no room?

I lost my friends because of you.
Or was it because I was so consumed in our relationship?

I lost my worldview because of you.
Or was it because of all the lies I had to tell?

I lost my sense in self because of you,
or was it because I held both your and my secrets so tight.

I have many unspeakable truths and they begin long ago,

but the hardest truth is learning to commit to the most important person, myself.

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