Archive | February, 2012

Day 17: They [Rape Victims] Had It Coming? Stop Justifying Violence.

29 Feb

Despite the fact that facebook makes you waste a lot of time, it doesn’t matter so much to me now because I have almost too much time in my hand J. And facebook happens to be my news source where I encounter some quality articles and exchange different views with my friends. The article that I just read was posted by my friend Aarushi and published in the NYT.  It gave an excellent overview on the injustice regarding victims of sexual violence.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/asia/29iht-letter29.html?_r=2

It is talking about the “blame the victim” mentality in India in cases of sexual assaults while there are many holes in terms of policies and laws, policy makers’ views, and prejudices against women who are victims of such violence. Well, this proves that whether it is in a developed country like the US (remember my posting on Day 15 and Liz Trotta?) or a rapidly developing country like India, the victims of sexual assaults are tremendously stigmatized multiple times because of the society’s general support of violence.

Yes, I said it. Many societies support and justify violent men, because many think that that is just a part of their nature, and women just have to be careful about it (and if not, it’s considered all women’s fault, not men’s). We have to change this mentality. We need to nurture our society so that the violent “nature” does not prevail and get justified. And no, I don’t think violence is a given nature of men, and it’s rather a product of patriarchal nurturing.

Here are several words that I want to be ABSOLUTELY clear about sexual violence. Although I don’t claim to be an expert, I do believe that these are some absolute facts that all men and women should be aware.

A man does not have permission to sexually assault women at any time of the day. Whether it is during the broad daylight or 2:30am, no one has any right to impose such violence against women. At 2:30am, she might be coming back from work which supports her family, and don’t you ever blame her for being outside when it is so late. The fact that a woman is out late doesn’t give anyone the right to rape her.

It is a rape if you try to have sex with your girlfriend/wife/partner when she has clearly said no. The fact that you feel entitled to have sexual intercourse with your significant other doesn’t mean that you always have free pass to do so. That makes it an unequal relationship, and that is not healthy. Without mutual agreement, it is called spousal/date rape, and yes, you become a rapist without her consent.

A man does not have permission to have unwanted physical contact with women no matter what she is wearing. The standard for “revealing outfits” varies from country to country, and what one wears does not automatically invite you for any unpleasant contact or sexual assault. It is easy to blame women who wear “revealing” clothes, but a decent, normal man would not even think of such gross acts whatever he sees while rapists probably won’t even care what women wear (sadly true).

It is sexual assault if you try to have sex with a woman who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (which might have been taken against her will), because her ability to make reasonable decisions for herself is impaired (and same to you). FYI, big NO to date rape drugs that some men slip into women’s drinks and spike them up. You have to walk away.

It is a rape if you have sex with children who are in brothels. In many countries, girls are often trafficked, because there are families who are too poor and do not value girls and because there are many men who want to have sex with them very cheaply.

Of course, there are many grey areas when it comes to sexual assault, and that is precisely the reason why many women are at disadvantage in current legal systems. And I do not mean to victimize all women, especially the survivors of sexual assaults, but at the same time, the systematic injustice is precisely the reason why many of VAW cases are not reported and still considered “something that should be taken care of between the two people.” Well, the physical strength tends to take care of the business all the time. And in India’s case in the article above, the people who are making policies and laws are oblivious about what is considered violence against women. Maybe we should just invent a program that can educate these old top dogs and implant chips in all of their heads. Such ignorance on sexual violence/VAW is a social disease that should be cared as soon as possible.

Day 16: Being a 20-Something Woman Is…

28 Feb

When I was little, maybe when I was 5 or 6, I fantasized a lot about being a grown up, being 25 ot 26 perhaps. I thought, how great would it be to have a job I love, earn money and spend however I want? How awesome would it be to wear make-up and high heels? How happy would I be to be married and have 2 kids, hopefully a girl and a boy? How would it be to be a woman, not a girl? Well, these were the images of adults that I got from TV and my surroundings.

And 20 years later, here I am. I am pretty far away from the person that I dreamt of when I was 5 or 6.

I haven’t had a full-time job until now because I have been in school, basically just spending money and barely getting by to pay my bills, thanks to some of my part-time jobs. A job I love? I would be happy for any job at this point, because I know that I should not be depending on my parents. I’m too old and proud for that.

I wear make-up a handful of times a year, part of it because I am too lazy to put it on and remove it at the end of the day. I mean what’s the point? I wear my high heels fewer times than I wear my make-up, because they hurt my feet that happen to be slightly wider than they should be.

I am, not very surprisingly, still not married and not intending to get married anytime soon. For this, I have yet to get into a decent relationship where I can be happy and confidant about my commitment (“trial and error” they say, although I would have preferred fewer of them). Of course, I’m not intending to have children any time soon.

And despite my age of 20-something, I still feel like a girl, and I chuckle a bit when I think of myself being a woman. I don’t feel that much more different than when I was 16, in terms of recognition of my own age.

Basically, I haven’t achieved anything that the society has expected out of 20-something year olds.

But am I unhappy for not being able to be that woman that I wanted to be (or others said that I should become) 20 years ago?

Looking back, I am actually rather happy about the unexpected outcomes in my 20s so far than being disappointed about the things that I haven’t achieved (yet). I mean there is room for improvement always, and I am not a model citizen anywhere, but I think I’ve done alright.

I did not expect to live in and travel through various different countries. I have eaten different types of food from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Americas, and Africa, and honestly enjoyed all of them. I have become an aunt to many babies, whether they are my cousins’ or friends’ kids, and felt that I am really not just a kid anymore. I re-learned how to eat with my hands in Ghana (First time? It was when I started to eat some solid food, probably when I was 1 or 2, just like yourself) and practiced the same habit for Indian food. I got to speak and appreciate two languages and have enjoyed literature in both languages. I became friends who are of different countries, cultures, and religions and shared so many different views towards the world that we are living in (and really, it’s quite mind-blowing). I reconnected with my own culture and have made peace with myself that I can belong to all as long as I am proud of them all.

And I achieved all of the above without achieving any of the things that I imagined 20 years ago. My 20s has been filled with much more unexpected joy and learning, although some were more challenging than others. I haven’t had as much money as I would have worked, but hey, the extent of relationships that I have developed, all the food that I’ve tried, all the books that I read, and all the places I’ve traveled to enriched my experience tremendously. I am not a professional woman, not a beautifully decorated woman, and not a partner/wife/mother that I imagined I would be, but I wouldn’t give up all the experiences that I had for anything.

And most importantly, I still dream of more journeys that I can learn more about myself, about others, and about love, regardless of what others have to tell me what I should do. Being a 20-something woman has been awesome like that, and I hope I can say the same 20 years later reflecting back on my 20s.

Day 15: What Part of Violence against Women Is Acceptable to You? (Hope None)

27 Feb

Yes, I skipped a day of writing, part of it because of the lack of inspiration and unexpected work that overwhelmed me until today. But I’m back, so I hope that such slip would not happen again. And I’m back to a heavy topic: Violence against Women (VAW). This is inspired by the recent debate on Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the United States, and a VERY disturbing video clip of Liz Trotta’s rant on how feminists are increasing the military budget tremendously because they push for military women’s protection from sexual violence from other soldiers.

Initially, I ran into this Forbes article on facebook which talked about the Republican’s opposition on reauthorization of VAWA which has been in place since Clinton administration along with Trotta’s absurd junk on the Republican channel (Fox News). Then I was led to Liz Trotta’s video clip, which honestly upset me very much.

I have to admit that in American politics, everything has to be bipartisan (democracy? hmph…) even on the matter of women’s human rights. I hate this whole politicization of women’s bodies, while it is mostly patriarchal men (and women) talking about how they should be controlled.

But it is what it is at this point. And I must express that I’m strongly against the stance that some extreme conservatives are taking. They are saying that violence against certain women count more than violence against others. And these other women (and men) that cannot be protected are parts of undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ and Native American communities. Those who are not REAL Americans cannot be protected, in sum. Here, we see the political agenda deeply enrooted in the opposition as Republicans are generally for stricter border controls and against LGBTQ rights issues. But claiming that women in these minority communities deserve to get their rights freely violated (by not providing proper protection measures) is simply outrageous.

And according to Liz Trotta, military women should not be protected either, because they all cost too much of the precious military budget. Those who are risking their lives by taking professions which are often dominated by men (“masculine” professions) cannot be protected? And they should expect such violence, not coming from the enemies at the frontline but from their own comrades who are supposed to trust each other firmly? Well, I’m sure she was expecting such violence when she took on her career as a journalist.

Hence her anti-feminist ranting is mostly laughable. She herself, as you can see in the video, is quite an elite journalist, who has been to Vietnam War as a reporter and attended prestigious Columbia University. Well, excuse me, weren’t her professional field and high education all-men’s fields merely a few decades ago? Without feminist movement pushing boundaries for women to get into men’s territories in reporting and education, she would not even be talking on Fox News.

Come on people, let’s be real. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, how can anyone be OK with the fact that 3 women are murdered everyday by their intimate partners, the fact that more than 600 women suffer sexual violence everyday, and the fact that young women and minority women are more easily exposed to sexual violence? (Information from National Organization for Women, USA) And this is the United States we are talking about, the land of freedom and democracy (so they say…). I can’t even imagine how many women are battered and raped around the world, and practically every woman lives in fear, because of the potential violence they may suffer any time during their life time.

How can anyone be OK with the fact that their own sisters, mothers, wives, partners, girlfriends and female friends suffering such tremendous violence, even more because they are discriminated against by a policy?

It’s not a problem that exists just in America. In many parts of the world, women are considered properties of their fathers and husbands, and they are often subjects of domestic violence, marital rape, human trafficking (often to brothels and as wives to older men) and other violence, and no statistics can explain the seriousness of the problem all around the world. And in some countries, there is no law protecting women who are endangered by sexual violence, and even if such laws existed, they are not enforced in serious manners.

Women don’t need special protections, just because they are these delicate entities that deserve protection and respect, as men have traditionally considered. Women need protections because women are still subjected to way more sexual (and other) violence, and they are certainly not equally protected by laws and policies that are often made with patriarchal biases. And women deserve protection and respect because we are human beings, just as much as men deserve them, too. If you think that feminists are claiming for contradictory stance (“we need more freedom” and “we need more protection”), you’d better realize that we want freedom from restrictions that does not allow the equal opportunities (such as joining the military) and protection from violence (from the fellow soldiers).

FYI, here are some links on opinion pieces on VAWA.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/violence-against-women-act_n_1273097.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/opinion/sunday/dowd-ghastly-outdated-party.html?_r=1&ref=maureendowd

Day 14: Nicholas Kristof Depresses Me

25 Feb

I’m gonna write something that is not directly related to women’s/gender issues. It is more on a particular writer and international development, but it is my belief that these are interconnected issues as many women (and men) of the world are still very much excluded from achieving better quality of lives and human rights.

I have read quite a few of Nicholas Kristof’s writing, and I even read a book written by him and his wife, Half the Sky. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he is a big time NYT columnist who has been writing extensively about women’s human rights in developing world.

But can someone tell me why his “courageous acts” never fails to appear to me as journeys based on “White Man’s Burden?” Watch this video first.

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/12/03/opinion/100000001203762/win-a-trip-2012.html

It just makes me feel uncomfortable that he often (dangerously and surprisingly naively) claims that people who might be ignorant but means well should get out of America (or whatever their comfort zone might be) and explore the developing countries. While these people may infinitely benefit from the life changing experience, I believe that their short visits are quite invasive to the daily lives of the people in the developing countries who have to live with poverty probably for the rest of their lives whether they come or not. Their visits may even give these people false hope that making personal relationship with them could possibly lift them out of poverty. I have seen such efforts, and it is quite heartbreaking and uncomfortable.

The “natives” or “those unfortunate women” being the elements that satisfy the voyeuristic pleasure. It doesn’t sit quite well with me. But then, isn’t all development literature coming from more or less that viewpoint? Aren’t we all, the citizens of developed countries (and those who are fortunate enough to get out of poverty or to be born in well-off families in developing countries), just talking gibberish about what poverty and injustice are to those who are subalterns (the entities who do not even have autonomy)? And who are we to call them subalterns? Or should we forget all of these “unproductive” arguments and just move on to come up with better solutions?

These questions ought to be constantly debated, and they are never going to have awesome answers for me (that could clear my head eventually), but those debates are honestly quite exhausting…

Day 13: Will Leadership Ever Feminize?

24 Feb

About a week ago, I ran into an opinion piece by Joseph Nye on Al Jazeera English titled “When Women Lead the World.” I assisted a research on women’s leadership in Asia briefly while I was in graduate school, so I was intrigued by what this international security guru has to say. This article was prompted by the recent book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and I would one day love to read the book on how a psychologist would put the current gender gap in women’s leadership.

Although I thought the article was OK (and I wasn’t disappointed), I still felt like something was missing. I mean, he isn’t the first person who has talked about the importance of more “feminine” style leadership and more women’s participation in leadership roles. Numerous people have already said that “we need more women in leadership positions” and “we need more people who have soft skills and feminine leadership styles,” and why does it ring a louder bell amongst people when a male leader speaks of the issue? (Answer? It’s a MAN speaking of a “women’s issue,” gasp! Well, you all know that it’s not just concerning women when it comes down to talking about a CEO of a global corporation or a prime minister of a country.)

I also thought that he was combining and mixing up two different –although often overlapping and difficult to separate– concepts: “feminine” style of leadership and women leaders. It seems like he’s talking about two different problems as if they are the same one: 1. There are not enough women leaders (hence we need more), and 2. Leaders need more “feminine” skills. Here, his assumption is that having more women would help feminizing leadership.

What Nye referred as “feminine style of leadership” is the antithesis of the old (and masculine) concept of leadership, a style (or multiple styles) that is more collaborative, conversational, participatory and soft skill-oriented, hence feminine. Yes, it is more likely that a woman leader tends to have more feminine style of doing work and going about her businesses, mostly because of the way that she has been educated in terms of how to perform her gender on everyday basis. But I believe that the current female leaders’ leadership styles are more likely to be masculine than feminine, because of the greater societal structure that still favors the masculine style more, and if she wants to be a top dog, she still has to play “fair” with the boys, with the rules that men have set within their club for ages.

I cannot help but thinking that the concept of leadership itself is already masculine but now it just wants to have some sprinkles of “feminine” elements, while it will fundamentally never change its masculine nature. In my radical mind, I believe that without the effort to completely challenge and uproot what it means by leadership, the gender binary will continue to exist with the constant challenge of how to feminize leadership. And let’s not forget that in the world of binaries, the elements that have been identified with masculinity have mostly held positive connotations (think of words like “strong,” “power,” “charisma,” etc.) while elements identified with femininity have been associated with negative connotations (words like “soft,” “indirect,” “peace,” mostly considered weak hence not proper for leaders) especially in leadership sphere.

So back to my point earlier. Here’s what I think.

The reason why we need more women in leadership positions is because women, for ages, have been systematically prevented from making effective political, financial, social and other major decisions that concern the wellbeing of greater population, including both women and men. Often the decisions concerned the wellbeing of free men (excluding women, men of lower classes, people of certain ethnicity/race, people of disability, etc.) and overlooked the concerns for “the others” whose lives were still very valuable.

The reason why we need more “feminine leadership” is because the old concept of masculine leadership is not properly functioning within the more diverse, rapidly changing society and population (with more women participating in various functions of the society) where ideas are constantly challenged and are in need of changes. The “old” concept of leadership has been generated mostly by men, and the leadership skill sets they held have not necessarily corresponded to the needs of the greater human race.

Yes, there are overlapping elements in between, but the two are distinguishable as well.

Also as a side note… I believe that there are plenty of women leaders around the world, especially at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, they are often underappreciated, which is another proof that the definition of leader and leadership is often limited by male discourse. For example, what about Somaly Mam of Cambidia who was sexually enslaved while she was a child, yet overcame her past and established an organization advocating for many children who suffer the same brutal sexual violence because of poverty? What she has done certainly requires tremendous courage and leadership. While new leaders have emerged from these “soft power” sectors (the arts, academia, NGOs, education, etc), the way that society still defines leadership is very much confined to politics, corporate sector and military where the real power lies (talking about the very real presence of patriarchy everywhere).

Hmmm… there’s simply too much to think about, especially when it’s on gender and power relations. I think the world would be a better place if women have ruled the world from the beginning , haha –or at least easier on my brain. Let me leave you with a humorous writing written by Gloria Steinem, “If Men Could Menstruate.” I think this is my favorite piece written by her.

Day 12: Donna Haraway Never Stops Intimidating Me

23 Feb

“One is too few, but two are too many.”

Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto

This is when learning feminism became very confusing and fascinating all at the same time. I have yet to figure it out, and I’m gonna sleep on the sentence. I’ll save my words today, because my words are way too many.

Day 11: On Korean Drama Series…

22 Feb

I have a lot of time nowadays. In fact, I have enormous amount of time that I end up doing the least productive things throughout my days. One of the (terrible) hobbies that I picked up to fill up my time during my “post-school transition period” is watching TV. It’s one of those habits that once you pick up, you can’t get away from it, sort of like an addiction problem (gasp, it might actually be addiction!).

So today, I decided to do something productive out of my mindless hobby: writing about the things I observe and being the critique of it from a gender analysis perspective. I admit that I’m pretty rusty on all the feminist theories and what not, but heck, I’ll just do what I’ve been doing over the past 10 days, and hope you’re OK with my critiquing on K-drama scene.

Living in Southeast Asia for a while, I experienced and lived through the popularity of Korean pop culture. Unlike in the US, I think there are much more common threads between Korean and Southeast Asian cultures, hence Korean drama series are very popular. Trust me, I met so many people who are very much into Korean drama series or Korean novelas as Filipinos call them. It was, in a way, a shock to be reconnected to the culture that I was not a big part of, and hey, I think it actually improves the reputation of Korean people in general in the continent, so I have nothing against the overall positive outcomes and influences.

And now, I’m based in Korea, I get to watch many more of them, and every day, I go in front of the TV at 10pm to watch my regulars. While I watch them without thinking so much, I feel a little bit of guilt, especially looking into the very apparent stories that I know for sure how it’s gonna end, especially in terms of relationships. Yes, the actors and actresses are unbelievably good looking, and that for sure is unrealistic. But what I’m trying to point out is not so much of the unrealistic looks, but more of the gender role that female characters play, and how the media at large is reinforcing how women should be like if they want to have their fairytales and happy endings achieved.

Firstly, I have made a list of female characters that may show in Korean drama series.

Type 1. The beautiful one who has lost everything but has the men of her dreams nearby

This is the most common one I think. As I said earlier, most of the actors are beautiful in the series, but the female protagonist is always the most beautiful one. She often possesses next to nothing (maybe an orphan, or with an alcoholic father, or left with younger siblings that she has to support by herself), but she is always an optimist. She is unbelievably nice, so the world may give her all the difficulties possible, but she always survives, often with the help of a nice guy (that she will end up being together “happily ever after” by the end of the series). She doesn’t know how to be angry, so a jealous girl (who will be explained as a “type 2” character) may do everything possible with her will power and money, but she eventually wins. There are usually two guys, who are very handsome of course and hey, very wealthy as well. They can be cousins or very good friends who end up competing for the unfortunate nice girl.

Female Type 2. The beautiful one who has it all but wants to take away the main male character from the nice girl

She seems to have everything, wealthy family, a good job, and what not. The world envies her for what she has, and she is admired by those who surround her. But she is often very unhappy and bitchy. All she wants to do is taking away the only happiness that the Type 1 girl has: the main male character (who is really nice, good-looking and rich). She does anything and everything possible to get his attention, and he may pity her as a friend, but his heart is always with the type 1 girl. She will never get her happy ending, because she is the “evil” one who pursues what she wants.

Female Type 3. The lovely tomboy who eventually realizes her feminine side eventually (and gets to live in her fairytale eventually)

This is the newest development in K-drama, I believe. More of romantic comedy material character. She is someone who is definitely not perfect in terms of her behavior. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she sometimes acts like boys (and this is supposed to be the proof of her imperfection). She is clumsy, too. Usually, the main male character doesn’t consider her has a potential romantic partner, but hey, it’s OK. The way she acts is so lovely that he will eventually fall for her. She gradually develops her love for the guy and tries to act more “like a girl” so that he will pay attention to her. By going through lots of accidents together, they eventually realize that they are in love, hence, happily ever after.

 

Yes, these are stereotypes, and each story carries different characters, but I think these are pretty much what I have seen over the past years when I have had the chance to watch a series even partially.

As I said in my previous posting, I believe that the media tells the viewers a lot about how they should be like in their everyday behaviors, while the ideal is often impossible. Whether we want it or not, the drama series are of great influence on the society’s imagination of “perfect womanhood.” And the influence that they have on women, especially young women in their 20s and 30s, is rather uncomfortable for me.

Through the unreal characters like the three types above and their romantic and human relationships in general, the viewers unconsciously learn about how their behaviors and relationships “should be.” The shows tell the viewers how women should be like if they want to be loved, whether by a potential romantic partners or by the world. If one wants to be liked, she has to be nice, but it’s OK if she is clumsy and not so smart. She is always in need of help, and the prince will surely help resolve the issue, while she by herself often can’t get out of the mess that she is in. But she should never be assertive, because being assertive means that she speaks her minds, and of course no one likes a girl who is expressive. She doesn’t know how to actively pursue what she wants (whether social status or the love of her life), but she sits there and waits until they come to her. And hey, don’t forget that she is flawlessly beautiful. In other words, a smart, confident, go-getter woman cannot be someone who is loved, but someone who is just foolishly nice and needy can achieve a successful relationship with the man of her dreams and with the world. WHAT?

Yes, it’s easy to tell people, “well don’t watch the shows if you don’t want the influence.” But how could that be even possible while internet portal sites are talking about the stories, the main topic of conversation amongst your friends are about the series, and the current cultural trends simply carry these stories in our everyday lives? Everyone knows that they are not real.  But the shows magically realize our fantasy world as if they can become real, something that could potentially happen. The show producers constantly produce and reproduce the unreal images, and they sell really well, not just in Korea, but in many other countries, too.

But how many more of the three types of women do we have to bear, simply to satisfy our voyeurism for impossible fairytales?