Monthly Archives: November 2011

There is No Normal.

Standard

Reshaping what society perceives to be an obstacle into an opportunity, Aimee Mullins is a ground-breaking runner born without shins. In this video, she talks about how our languages have not come up with proper terms to fit humane perceptions, and how society’s perception of success (walking unscathed, unmarked, unharmed) can no longer be applied. Inaccurate terminology and improper definitions of these terminologies, in Aimee’s opinion, are keeping us from evolving.

Thank you Hayat for sharing this with me :*

Advertisements

What Makes a Girl Less of a Girl?

Standard

I read a short non-fictional memoir by Eli Clare called “Stones in My Pockets, Stones in My Heart” from a book called The Disability Studies Reader given to me by my sister Shahd, who has taken several Gender Studies courses and is opening my eyes to an assortment of topics that relate to my womanhood and humanity. It was a powerful literary piece discussing how Eli coped with her gender identity struggles, beginning with how her father and his friends regularly raped her so early on in her life that she does not remember a point where she was not raped, into her teenage years and how quietly she ignored the pressure to wear skirts, paint her face with make-up, kiss boys, date in high school, shave her legs, strut in heels. She went through high school as an outcast, a reject, someone who always felt like she didn’t belong, someone who always asked her mother, “Mama, am I feminine?”. As she entered university she began exploring the possibility of her being a lesbian, and came to terms with it later on. Eli not only struggled with gender-labels, but also suffered from a chronic condition which made her hands shake consistently. She was labeled a ‘freak’ in every way. It was a long, bitter struggle, one that she described very powerfully and had a great emotional impact on me.

Last year I took a Psychology class as an elective, and I now remember studying gender roles at one point. My teacher was a 50-something-year old traditionalist, and once very boldly said “Girls feel that their hair is a part of their identity as females.” Because there’s nothing I hate more than a man telling us what girls are like, I told him that was not true. The old creep laughed and said, “Is that so? Well, would you cut off all of your hair?” And I told him I would. And I would’ve. He actually promised me an A in his class if I showed up the next class with a boy haircut. I kid you not, I was dead serious when I told him I would go through with it. The extent to which I am always determined to prove someone wrong never fails to surprise me. But – at the end of that day, my teacher hunted me down and told me he was only joking, and that he didn’t want my parents calling him yelling at him for getting their daughter to cut off her hair. I finished his old-fashioned course with an A anyway, with my hair in tact.

But I still stand by my point. My hair does not determine my identity as a girl or as a female. In fact, not even my body determines my identity as a female. Breast cancer is hereditary in my family – if someday I lose my breasts, and I lose my hair, then will I be stripped of the term ‘woman’ just because I don’t possess “womanly traits”? Do I not have a say in it?

One of my classmates decided to get a Rihanna-like haircut during our Junior year of high school, a bold move on her part. At the time, this meant a boy haircut, but it also meant that both sides of her head would be shaved. It was different, but she liked it, and that should be enough, right?

Wrong. Not in this world. Not in this country. Not in our high school.

Besides the bad treatment she received, my friend went through an incident that should never have occurred. A classmate known for his sexism and poor treatment and perception of females decided it would be funny to ‘playfully’ slap her, because he didn’t like her hair. Our teacher, a woman, was outraged and asked him how he would ever dare lay his hand on a girl. The jerk’s idiotic response was “she is not a girl”.

Now, put aside the fact that he assaulted a female classmate. What on earth made this guy think he had the right to determine what did or didn’t make a girl a girl? This is someone who honestly thought that “imaginating” was a word. So it’s not like he’s gotten an A in a Gender Studies course, or attained a Masters Degree in some form of criticism. Perhaps he was merely reciting what society tells him – but what does that tell us? That half of our society consists of mindless sheep who follow and recite whatever the rest of the herd is doing and saying?

Our society, according to most of the local male perceptions, believes that a girl with a boy hair cut is less of a girl. A girl that smokes is less of a girl. A girl that is not a virgin is less of a girl. A girl that is ‘too’ interested in sports is less of a girl. I know girls that have had their sexualities and gender-identity questioned because the people labeling them were genuinely jealous of what good athletes these girls were – girls that can beat any guy at any time.

We know that labeling stems from insecurity. But does that mean that our entire society is insecure? I would consider that possibility, but it’s difficult in our case. The people throwing labels around are too egotistical to be insecure.

Too egotistical to be insecure, and confident enough to believe they have the power and the right to decide not only what is right and what is wrong, but also what defines a man and what defines a woman. Though both standards are unrealistic, my personal point of view is that the standards set for a woman are much harsher.

The funny thing about smoking is, the idiots whose sole purpose in life is to put stickers on people, tend to use words that don’t really apply to the female smoker in question. There is no correlation whatsoever between smoking and sexuality, yet, these people attack her by calling her ‘promiscuous’, because that’s the only way they believe is a valid way of insulting a female’s womanhood. I can’t help but point out that it does nothing but prove their ignorance and stupidity, that they actually believe smoking is relevant to sexuality.

Smoking? Hair? Clothes (or lack thereof)? Is that all that defines what we are in society’s eyes?

Popcornopolis

Standard

Popcornopolis recently opened at Baroue, Avenues. I stopped by this afternoon to check it out and I was very impressed. It’s not as good as Garrett’s popcorn, but still pretty good. Service wasn’t so great and there was no actual line, all the turns kept getting mixed up and it took ages to actually pay. But food wise, it’s delicious. Besides an assortment of flavored popcorn, they had shaved ice spiked with your choice of flavor (banana, lime, strawberry, cola, raspberry, bubble gum) and a bunch of different sweets.

20111109-163059.jpg

20111109-163132.jpg

20111109-163116.jpg

20111109-163145.jpg

20111109-163158.jpg

20111109-163308.jpg

Society’s Chains?

Standard

We are born with an identity. Even as strangers we have some sort of identity. You are born a boy or a girl, a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu. You are rich or poor. You are ‘pure-blooded’ or you are ‘mixed’. “Mud blood”, as Harry Potter would say. If you’ve ever looked at newly born babies, and your mind is anything like mine, then you see them as people with identities, futures, obstacles they will have to overcome or succumb to.

For example, a girl born in Indonesia would have to endure female circumcision anywhere from being a few days old till she reaches puberty. For some reason it is more common for this brutal act to be performed when the girl is old enough to be conscious of it and to be permanently traumatized. Of course, this not only strips her of any self-respect she may have for herself as a woman in the future, it also tells her that the point of her existence is to be an object to be used for pleasure by a man who will probably be at least twice her age. Ironically, it is usually the girl’s mother who holds her down during the procedure, which, besides being monstrous, is done without anesthesia, and has a high risk of infecting the child with countless viruses.

An African-American child born in the 1800s, for example, would not have been born a ‘son’. He’s not even a person. He’s just a future slave, to be separated from his mother and sold to the highest bidder whenever he’s old enough to walk. He will live as a slave, a servant, and he will endure a lifetime of torture, humiliation, and hardships. He will not live past the age of 30, most likely because he will die of one too many beatings.

A baby boy whose father was an alcoholic and whose mother was a foreigner, will grow up watching his father abuse his mother and his mother accepting it. He will either follow in his father’s footsteps or he will struggle to protect his mother while still wondering why she is choosing to be defenseless when she can leave her husband.

How much of our choices are really ours? Is fate a fictional concept or are we really just slaves to predestined stories that we are mere characters in?

What determines our stories? Age? Gender? Who our parents are? What our status is? Where we grew up? What kind of health problems we encountered? Who we grew up loving? What religious faith we followed? What education was imposed upon us? What country we lived in? What political instability we had to endure? What loss we dealt with? What we were blamed for?

A child whose mother died while giving birth to him may forever carry a burden on his shoulders because of that, as innocent as he is of her death. A girl who went to a religious school may grow up believing she is a walking subject of sin because of what her teachers would preach to her. Cinderella grew up lonely and oppressed because her mother died and she ended up living with an evil stepmother. Adolf Hitler decided to wipe off the Jewish race off the face of the Earth because his mother died of cancer and the Jewish doctor who treated her could not find a cure.

A stranger will look at you and write you a whole story. Based on your looks, he can determine your nationality – and he may be wrong. Maybe you have your mother’s blond hair, and the stranger will assume that you are foreign, when in fact your father is Arab. A stranger will look at you and make assumptions based on whether or not you are a veiled girl. He will look at you and decide how ‘virtuous’ you are based on how much of your skin is covered or exposed.

How much of our stories are actually written with our own pens? Is it even our pen that’s being used? Are we even put down on paper, blank and smooth at first, to be filled up with lines whose words we would determine? Or are we shackled and chained, expected to walk around with titanium cuffs around our wrists and our ankles for the rest of our lives?

What if we decide to break free from those chains? I mentioned this possibility to a friend the other day, and she said “but that’s so hard”.

Isn’t it supposed to be? What if we were literally chained? Breaking free is supposed to hurt, isn’t it? You’re supposed to end up with red, bloody wrists at the end of it. And you will have scars. And your captor will try to shut you up, and try to put you back in your place. Of course, giving up is easier. Accepting your fate as a slave, as a prisoner. Maybe even embracing those chains, figuring out ways to make them fashionable, see what else in your wardrobe would match them and make your outfit look nice. Heck, some people manage to brainwash themselves into believing they are free. Creating an alter-universe within the prison-cell they live in.

“I am free. I am choosing this fate. I am choosing to listen to all the miserable things society is expecting of me. I do not secretly desire to do all the things society tells me is taboo. I dream of  all the aspirations society wants me to do; I want to end up at a job where nothing is expected of me, I want to have children that I will spoil rotten, I want to watch them grow up to be brats, I want to live without purpose, I want to consume until I am consumed. I am happy. The person I married is someone I married of my own free will. The job I work at is a job that I enjoy; I put my feet up and I drink coffee from 8 AM till 2 PM. The friendships I have are meaningful. The car I own is not for the sake of impressing people I have never met. The clothes I wear are my own taste, and I would wear them even if they weren’t trendy. I don’t sleep to escape reality. I don’t watch TV to drown out the sound of my spouse’s screaming. These chains are comfortable. They protect me from harm. My captor knows what is best for me. I will obey and abide by his wishes.”

Society’s chains are made of titanium. But our spirits are too. Question is, how far is our mind-power willing to go to break those chains? Can our spirits conquer society? What is it that holds us back? What scares us so much that we’re too afraid to even consider breaking free? Is it that we would look odd, being the only ones walking around without any chains? Would we be accused of treason, of being disloyal to the chains? The holy chains. Sacred chains. Chains of sanctity and sin, contradicting everything they claim to stand for.

I wonder, how many people actually have embraced their chains, how many have quietly submitted to them, and how many are violently fighting to break free from them?

Mini Skirt of the Internet

Standard

This was trending on my Twitter timeline tonight: #mencallmethings, where female bloggers and writers tweeted some of the things they’ve been called online by men who wanted to discourage them and who believed they were ‘too outspoken’ for a woman. These were the ones that most grabbed my attention.

* Jerk at my school said this as a joke after my rape: “Whoa there, can’t get too close. After all you are damaged goods”

* I’ve spent most of my online life avoiding #mencallmethings by attempting a genderless identity. So they call me ‘him’

* “Self-absorbed/bragging/self-involved” thing might be my favorite #mencallmethings. Makes it clear that you liking yourself is the problem.

* Man-hater, sex-hater, Free Speech-hater, fun-hater, baby-hater, humor-hater

* Insert the ubiquitous “dyke” slur too – even though I’m not a lesbian

* Vengeful, attention-seeking, hypersensitive, showboating, cowardly, fraud, Orwellian, dogmatic

* “We used to confine people to sanitariums for these kinds of outbursts.”

* unworthy of being addressed as “Ms.”

* you always remember the first time someone threatens to rape you, or kill you, or urinate on you.

* Does he know what it feels like to be subjected to regular rape threats or death threats? To have people send you emails quoting your address, or outlining their sexual fantasies about you?

* What frightens me the most is when an abusive message includes my personal details. I’ve had my own address quoted at me with a rape threat and — yes — that is terrifying. That’s when I call the police; they’re not much help.

* I was so nervous about the abuse I would receive when I wrote an article about cultural misogyny. It felt like I was exposing myself as a feminist.

* they focused on my age, used phrases like “little girl”, described rape fantasies involving me and called me “ugly” and “disgusting”. Initially it was shocking: in the space of a week, I received a rabid email that included my home address, phone number and workplace address, included as a kind of threat. Then, after tweeting that I’d been waiting for a night bus for ages, someone replied that they hoped I’d get raped at the bus stop.

* if the best argument someone can come up with against something I’ve written is to call me fat, I’ll consider that a win.

Read the article here: A Woman’s Opinion is the Mini Skirt of the Internet

You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you’re political. You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats. After a while, the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance, something to phone your girlfriends about, seeking safety in hollow laughter.

An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation and abuse.

Perhaps it should be comforting when calling a woman fat and ugly is the best response to her arguments, but it’s a chill comfort, especially when one realises, as I have come to realise over the past year, just how much time and effort some vicious people are prepared to expend trying to punish and silence a woman who dares to be ambitious, outspoken, or merely present in a public space.

No journalist worth reading expects zero criticism, and the internet has made it easier for readers to critique and engage. This is to be welcomed, and I have long felt that many more established columnists’ complaints about the comments they receive spring, in part, from resentment at having their readers suddenly talk back. In my experience, however, the charges of stupidity, hypocrisy, Stalinism and poor personal hygiene which are a sure sign that any left-wing columnist is at least upsetting the right people, come spiced with a large and debilitating helping of violent misogyny, and not only from the far-right.

Many commentators, wondering aloud where all the strong female voices are, close their eyes to how normal this sort of threat has become. Most mornings, when I go to check my email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, I have to sift through threats of violence, public speculations about my sexual preference and the odour and capacity of my genitals, and attempts to write off challenging ideas with the declaration that, since I and my friends are so very unattractive, anything we have to say must be irrelevant.

The implication that a woman must be sexually appealing to be taken seriously as a thinker did not start with the internet: it’s a charge that has been used to shame and dismiss women’s ideas since long before Mary Wollestonecraft was called “a hyena in petticoats”. The internet, however, makes it easier for boys in lonely bedrooms to become bullies. It’s not only journalists, bloggers and activists who are targeted. Businesswomen, women who play games online and schoolgirls who post video-diaries on YouTube have all been subject to campaigns of intimidation designed to drive them off the internet, by people who seem to believe that the only use a woman should make of modern technology is to show her breasts to the world for a fee.

Like many others, I have also received more direct threats, like the men who hunted down and threatened to publish old photographs of me which are relevant to my work only if one believes that any budding feminist journalist should remain entirely sober, fully clothed and completely vertical for the entirety of her first year of university. Efforts, too, were made to track down and harass my family, including my two school-age sisters. After one particular round of rape threats, including the suggestion that, for criticising neoliberal economic policymaking, I should be made to fellate a row of bankers at knifepoint, I was informed that people were searching for my home address. I could go on.

I’d like to say that none of this bothered me – to be one of those women who are strong enough to brush off the abuse, which is always the advice given by people who don’t believe bullies and bigots can be fought. Sometimes I feel that speaking about the strength it takes just to turn on the computer, or how I’ve been afraid to leave my house, is an admission of weakness. Fear that it’s somehow your fault for not being strong enough is, of course, what allows abusers to continue to abuse.

I believe the time for silence is over. If we want to build a truly fair and vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline, it’s not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour who dare to have opinions. Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who can do so are white, straight men, the internet is not as free as we’d like to believe.