It’s been about 3 months. Isn’t that crazy? I wrote a blog post and then deleted it about the ridiculousness of social media and technology… something that I’m still learning to love, but simultaneously hating at the same time. Why when I go out to dinner and drinks does everyone have their cell phone on the table? What is snapchat and why does it exist? But also, GPS is amazing… as are mobile check deposits. So as much as there is to complain about, there is to celebrate? We’ll see.
But in my final post on this blog, I won’t complain about social media or even talk about all of the delicious food I’m eating in America… I’m ready to dig into what it means to be a lady… locally, domestically, professionally, politically, and internationally. Everyone seems to go on their own journey during the Peace Corps… I think I went on many… working with kids, working in the arts, working in development… I’ve been drawn to and hooked on all of these paths… but at the end of the day, how I view myself and my fellow ladies in the socio-cultural realm of THE WORLD has been my most prominent lesson. Let’s start at the beginning….
In my sophomore year of Foundations of Drama, our teacher asked us to raise our hands if we considered ourselves feminists. I did not. My 20-year-old-self thought the word feminist meant “bra-burning, no-shaving, man-hating oddball.” So I kept my hand down while some girls launched theirs up, some boys awkwardly bobbled theirs up and down, looking at their male peers, and some, like myself, kept them at their sides.
Fast forward to about four years later as I sat in a small room with a wood burning stove with my new Moroccan family. My host dad was out teaching extra tutoring hours at the school and my host mom was getting ready to go to work as a mid-wife. She had just spent the entire day cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking, and after dinner was on the table around 11 pm, she would be out the door for another 7 or 8 hours of work delivering babies at the “hospital.” We sat on the couch together, and she told me why her family chose to host an American: “It’s good for my daughters, they can learn English” and then she paused “They can see what other cultures are like” she paused “I don’t want them to get married” longer pause “It isn’t fair.” I knew what she meant, as she went to go check the pressure cooker, and my host dad walked into the room, kicked off his shoes, stretched out on the couch, and said “wake me up when dinner is ready.” And thus begins my journey as an accidental feminist.
You could look back on this blog and see all of the obvious examples of my work and interest in gender and development. From “Taking the Lead” in both Errachidia and Tata province, to my opinions about how American politics based in women’s rights affected our work as volunteers in Morocco, I slowly dug into the deep-rooted conversation of where women stand, why they are there, and what their trajectory is in Morocco. But I was missing a main part of the puzzle… what was happening back in America? I mean I KNEW what was happening in America. Politicians Wendy Davis, Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and entertainers Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jenny Slate, Chelsea Peretti… there is/was a lot of obvious role models, positive voices, and confident examples of women on the rise. But something is/was still happening in the work place, the gym, and the constant every day locations that aren’t projected onto our television or computer screens that still mark an impression of women’s inequality. In America?
I joined a gym back in December, and decided to try a spin class. About mid-way through the class, the female teacher was doing the usual pep talk and said “and maybe some of you can turn up your resistance… maybe not the girls, but maybe some of you stronger men” I almost spewed my Gatorade. Really? And as I looked around the room, sure enough the guys turned up their resistance and the girls giggled at this poorly chosen comment and stayed at their current level. What if the instructor had given everyone the opportunity and not planted the idea that the men can do it but the girls can’t? What would have happened then? In Morocco, whenever I or another female PCV would complain about harassment to host country nationals, we were often met with “that’s just the way men are, they have to say those things because that is their nature and they can’t control themselves.” And while Moroccan girls giggle when a Moroccan man hisses at them, literally like a cat, American girls giggle while being surpassed in strength and endurance by men in the same class, with the same experience—because men are just stronger than women, right? It’s just their nature. Is that the idea?
As I sat in the volunteer lounge before my language exam during my close of service conference, I was going over some words and asking a fellow PCV for pronunciation and vocabulary help. Another volunteer from afar commented that if I didn’t know it now, then I shouldn’t be using it in my language exam, which at the time, I thought was a fair comment. It didn’t cross my mind until I returned why the language exam seemed somewhat unfair. In the past three months, I have been asked hundreds of times about my “experience” in Morocco. No big deal, I was expecting this, and I now have a short few minute speech about my work, maybe a funny experience or a weird food I ate, and a few notable cities I traveled to, all squeezed down into that time limit right before the person’s eyes glaze over from boredom. But finding that speech wasn’t as easy as I thought… what did I do in Morocco? Obviously I did something; blog posts, journals, pictures, my DOS, all had solid examples of my work, but was this something I had ever truly spoken about? No. In Morocco, it was common for male PCVs to sit and have tea with men in their community and talk about all their “work” and the “associations” they were starting and their “futures”. When I sat in a woman’s house, I was asked when I would be getting married, when I would be having children, how I could bear living alone in an apartment without family or a man, and if I knew how to cook and do laundry. There were never really conversations about my work in the neddi or the dar chebab, even if my site mate and I wanted to plan a project, no one asked us why or how or where or when, we just did it and kids came. No one in my community asked me if I was going to grad school, no one asked me what I wanted my career to be, no one asked me what my hobbies were or what my favorite books were about… they just wanted to know when I would be fulfilling my duties of getting married and progressing the human race. So was it ridiculous that when I took a language exam about my career, my future, specifics about my projects, and my work, I was a little lost… because that wasn’t something I ever really talked about in Arabic. Even in our little PCV bubble of female equality and understanding, there was still this discrepancy.
It would be easy to pass off the last two examples (spin class and the LPI) as subconscious instances. Men look muscular, so we associate that with strength and Peace Corps was our job so we should be tested on our job in our language exam. We, as women, should just make the concession to understand that these subversions are evolving through generations, and maybe one day these comments won’t be made, but for now it’s part of a process. Have you seen this video?
“And I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking. Making space for the entrance of men into their lives. Not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave. I have been taught accommodation.”
Because we should be letting men push themselves at the gym while we sit back, we should let them express their “natural” impulse to disrespect us in public while we ignore it, and we should let them fill up space in our lives while we shrink to accommodate it. Is that the idea?
Because when a third grade boy at my job wants to join hair and nails club, and I hear a staff person make the comment “can’t wait for you dad to see that” and when I ask my girl power club what jobs only men do, they immediately say “be president” and when I look at the plays, directors, producers, artistic directors, and leaders in my own community track the path of being white and male and privileged and I read this article:
and realize it actually happens in every community, all the ideas I had about what America was and what America stood for in regards to women’s equality is challenged.
One more video. It’s long, but if you’re reading this, I’d like for you to watch it, maybe load it and listen to it in the car, or take the 20 minutes you were going to check facebook (had to get in a little social media shaming) to do this instead. I’ve never been one for tabloids or the Real Housewives of Community X… so when I started watching this TedTalk, I turned it off after 5 minutes and rolled my eyes as someone trying to justify “gossip”. But it is a Ted Talk, right? There is usually some sort of merit in the speeches and speakers they choose, so I gave it another chance. The turn this video takes at around 9 minutes is boundless. The “celebrity ecosystem” Elaine Lui talks about in this video is the perfect example of how our social culture, specifically as Americans or Westerners affects the way we treat and view women. Do you think when we broadcast these ideas in an international medium, it may be affecting women all over the world, even in Morocco?
“And what does it say about our society that the guy who did this [picture of Rihanna after being beaten by Chris Brown], he went on to top the billboard charts? That’s sales. And win a Grammy this year. And get his girlfriend back. […] Is this just a gossip story, their reconciliation? Or is this reconciliation of theirs a reflection of society’s attitude toward violence towards women? […] The fans are supporting Chris Brown, he’s selling records they’re seeing his shows they’re watching his videos, they’ve elevated him to a level of fame he’s never had before. How are they, these fans? You know them. Your sons, daughters, granddaughters, neighbors, nephews, people you live with in your community, people you raised, they are us. So in 500 years when they see that we’ve turn this [picture of Rihanna after being beaten by Chris Brown] into this [picture of Chris Brown holding a Grammy], will we be judged as the society that celebrates a guy who beats a girl? Or will we be celebrated as a society that forgives a guy that beats a girl?”