feminism: four examples

1.

I am twenty-two years old. I use the excuse that we are here for the memory of a friend’s sister, a woman who had been recently murdered by her husband and his girlfriend.

“She brought me to my first strip club,” my friend had said earlier, in a reminiscent way, “a male strip club.”

We walk over to a round black table next to a staircase that lead to a stage with two silver poles and two topless dancers. One is crawling on the ledge of the stage. The other is sliding down a pole upside down. A couple to our right is ceremoniously slipping ones into the crawling dancer’s red G-string. They smile and sit comfortably, the way a person does in their living room after a hard day at work, beer in hand. At the other end near the upside down dancer, a man’s eyes move up and down while he licks his lips.

We laugh about the absurdity of being in a strip club, after our ten years of friendship that started in the seventh grade. We comment on their bodies, which girl is dancing the best, which one has the nicest breasts, who has the prettiest face; we verbally place our bids on potential bodies for lap dances later. We forget names and are asking one another, “What did they say her name was, the one with the short blonde hair and pink underwear?” “What about that one with the pretty smile that did that thing on the pole?”

My friend leans over to me and says, “I wish they just used numbers instead of names.”

“Yeah, that would be easier,” I say.

2.

Dan, the kitchen manager, is talking about his love life, for all to hear and comment on, in the kitchen of the restaurant I work at. Again. He parades his not-so-new label of being single (it’s been five months now) in between shouts of “Runners!” and “Moroccan Chicken, talk to me. How long?”

Occasionally he brings up his ex fiancé, how she wants to go to lunch or get coffee to “talk.”

“Can you believe it? I told her no. No way.”

Kyle, a server, comes in and I catch the words, “engaged once.” I am in temporary disbelief. Kyle is a twenty-six-year-old who often gets mistaken for much younger. He is light-spoken and polite in a naïve manner, one that is rare in the staff of a restaurant. His baby face says twenty, maybe twenty-one.

“You, you were engaged?”

He says, “Yeah, I was engaged once-“

And then comes Jeremy, a line cook.

He interrupts Kyle and says, “I was engaged once too, but I killed her.”

He laughs and looks for recognition of his hilarious joke among the other line cooks.

“How is that funny?  That’s not funny,” I say.

He says how about if she was a hooker?

“If she was a hooker, she’s not a real person.”

3.

A study reported in the New York Times suggests that one in five adolescent girls become the victims of physical or sexual violence, or both, in a dating relationship.

In the year 2005, 1,181 women in the U.S. were murdered by an intimate partner. That’s an average of three women every day. Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.

Somewhere in America a woman is physically battered, usually by her intimate partner, every 15 seconds. 240 every hour. 5,760 every day.

4.

Tell a boy he:

-Looks like a girl
-Runs like a girl
-Smells like a girl
-Jumps like a girl
-Fights like a girl
-Throws like a girl
-Breathes like a girl

And you will destroy him. Better tell a boy to be a man.

Tell a man:

-Nice hair, faggot.
-Quit being a little bitch.
-What a sissy.
-You’re such a queer.
-What are you, homo?

And you will destroy him. Better tell a man to continue to be a man. Because it’s safer to grab pussies than to be one or have one.

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lullaby

I’ve been in a lull lately with everything that’s been going on in 2016 from all levels: America – my home, Thailand – my other home, the world – our home, and even down to my own little world in my classroom – yet another place I call “home.”

Being a teacher in Thailand is as real as being a teacher anywhere else. You can plan your lessons perfectly the night before and go to bed prepared to the fullest, ready to change lives, only see it crumble at the whiteboard the very next day in front of silent and deafening classes. I’ve dreaded going to certain classes because the kids don’t seem to care or they aren’t on the same level as other students. I’ve questioned why the hell am I over here more times than why the hell didn’t I come sooner.

But it’s the little things I hold onto that keep me going, and with what little energy I have at times, I know I need to find them or create them because they are always possible. Like asking my shiest and lowest-level kid how he is, helping him reply correctly, giving him a high five and then passing him later that day while he smiles, says “Good afternoon, Teacher,” and reaches out for another high five. Like my South African friends who have helped me at a moment’s notice: housing me in their place and driving me around because I didn’t feel safe being alone after getting mugged; including me in their adventure to Koh Phi Phi to get tattoos and dive with sharks. Like my roommate from England who cooked breakfast the first morning I stayed in our new home together; who hardly knows me and has let me sleep with her in her king-sized bed because I don’t have air con yet. Like having seven staff members at the local Tesco surround me and share their phones to help me figure out where I live so they can deliver my air con unit to me.

Like meeting so many people around the world, including Thailand, who just want to sit down with me to laugh and eat good food. There are a lot of those moments especially.

I could go on, but do you see the pattern?

In the midst of really shitty times, I have it within me to pause and appreciate this unwritten adventure of a lifetime that I am living, and it’s because of that risk of using my heart and sharing it with other human beings that I can do that – and it always will be.

what i talk about when i talk about love

I like to talk about love, and when I do, it’s usually about self-love or letting go of love. Even when I’ve thought myself to be in love, I’ve never really written about that person. And it’s always bothered me – to not be able to express myself about the one I love through the very thing I love most to do, write.

Originally, when I wrote this post, I started to go on and on about all the ways I am in love with Jon – this man I’ve found myself constantly thinking about since I’ve met him, but, ironically, I decided to delete it. Because yes, while it is important to be able to write about how amazing and important someone is to you – I realize I’ve been doing it all along the time we’ve had together – with him in intimate moments through an array of modern technological platforms: emails, iMessages, WhatsApp chats, Instagram messages, and even through chats on Words with Friends – but not the world. And one day I will share more, but for now – the pillar of this article is one thing, for those who struggle with the constant feeling of loneliness and self-diagnosed forever-prescribed isolationism: there is love after “love,” and it will be more than you could have ever imagined.

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a living, breathing, teaching heart

I’ve been pushing myself to learn everything in Thailand. Learn the language; learn how to ride Lady Ivy (my trusty, lime-green steed); learn directions to the restaurant with the best food, the market and airport; learn the students’ names; learn what room I’m supposed to go to when I teach – normal stuff. But I’ve also been forcing myself to learn how to teach, which, ironically enough, I’ve learned is the worst thing I can do.

In the past few weeks, some days I went up and just wrote grammar rules on the board and read from a book. Some days I created group work and sat at my desk, hoping for student independence and teacher relaxation. But, of course, I never relaxed. I felt guilty and knew it was a waste of time. That wasn’t teaching – it wasn’t even living.

If my kids are going to learn English, they need me to do more than just show up. I needed that from teachers when I was a student, and my kids need it now from me as a teacher. They need me making a fool of myself. They need my heart in every assignment and lesson I create. I flew 9,000 miles to do just that – to be a living, breathing, teaching heart. And instead of vigorously seeking that lesson, it vigorously sought me in the middle of jumping up and down, my hair matted with sweat and my face smudged with blue marker, waving my arms around, smiling, teaching the word “excited”.

 

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the rug

Four years ago, a man attacked me during a shift at a restaurant.

Adam was a server and I was a bartender. After shouting at me for not making his drink quickly enough, I told him I was going to speak to management. He charged at me, grabbed my arm – pressed down until my skin turned hot and red – and threw me across the room while I shouted, “Is anyone seeing this?”

Out of the 15 people at the bar, only three of them looked.

He ran inside where he proceeded to tell his story first while I corrected his accusations.

He said words. “That didn’t happen.” I said words. “I could sue you for what you did to me.” Management said words. “Adam, let’s go talk.”

15 minutes later after I finished worrying about serving my guests at the bar and wondering when management would come over, I found myself crying in the kitchen of the restaurant, unable to voice what just happened to the back of the house workers – just uncontrollable sobs.

After I gathered myself, I went to the general manager and asked him why hadn’t anyone come to me to see if I was okay or ask what happened.

“Go to table 92.”

“Colleen, Adam told me you were being snooty. Is that correct now? Were you being snooty?”
“Adam said you cursed. Did you curse?”
“Colleen, I have a feeling you were being snooty. You can be that way.”

This is something I know all too well as a woman – being judged off of illogical and irrational opinion. And recently I read something that put this into words beautifully.

“I see a pattern emerging in rape culture that suggest women have a past, while men have a potential.”

Now, this was not a rape, but this was still an assault. And even though I didn’t receive any real lasting damage, I will never forget how I felt – the most scared I’ve ever felt in my life.

This man was real. He wasn’t imaginary or something I thought up whenever I was alone in the dark, whether it was in my bed or out with friends – natural thoughts for a female in the dark. But this man attacked me in daylight, a time I had mistakenly thought would always be okay. Never the nighttime – I had always had the day.

This moment was enough to release a certain kind of fear I had never experienced before. And now the very people who were supposed to protect me at work were attempting to sweep my experience under the rug. My feelings were dirt no one wanted to look at.

This is all coming up because of this Brock Turner case. After reading the victim’s letter yesterday and then reading Turner’s father’s response, I felt heavy. A large part of my soul was grieving. So much so, I went home and took a three-hour nap. I couldn’t handle the emotions – the anger, the exhaustion, the disappointment, but mostly the sadness.

I was and am so terribly sad for the victim, for her sister, for her family and boyfriend – for anyone who has ever experienced any kind of assault, especially sexual assault. For anyone brave who ever had a story to tell to release their pain and was instead directed to answer questions designed to steal away feelings and power. I’m sorry. I’m sorry people like Brock, his father, the probation officer, and Judge Persky exist. I’m sorry it’s 2016 and a letter written by the victim herself, and not a judge, had to dissect every single piece of a case to explain that being raped by a young, white athlete simply means being raped – period. I just hope it’s the last time, but a large part of me knows we have more work to do. And that makes me sad too.

Both managers involved in the attack at my work were on the same side – I deserved to be grabbed because I was being snooty. I’d bet everything that if this happened to either of their daughters, sisters, or mothers their feelings would have been different. Ironic how that works; it only becomes important if it’s related to them – not the sole fact that someone was attacked. And I bet if I hadn’t grown up around strong women and hadn’t just learned all about feminism in a class one semester before, my “dirt”, my feelings, my story would have been swept away. But they weren’t.

I told the managers I could have been the biggest bitch in the world and that still didn’t grant Adam permission to touch me. I told them it was sexist to assume I was being a certain type of way. I told them it was insane to base a decision off the “feeling” that I was being snooty. I laughed. I told them to fuck off. I told them I’d be talking to corporate, and I left.

The only thing that provides a glimmer of hope and happiness about this rape case are the words the victim wrote in her letter. Her story. The one that she pulled out from underneath the rug and is now being read by millions of people who know what should have happened and what should happen for anyone who rapes.

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To sign the petition to have Judge Persky recalled, please visit: http://act.weareultraviolet.org/sign/stanford_judgeperskyrecall/
https://www.change.org/p/update-join-official-brock-turner-rape-judge-recall-movement?recruiter=552492395&utm_source=petitions_share&utm_medium=copylink

 

 

 

 

 

sweet sticky rice

From the strangers I traveled with on the last of my three flights it took to get to Thailand, to the chaotic and pungent streets of Bangkok, all the way to Nakhon Sri Thammarat in Southern Thailand, the Land of Smiles has put some of the nicest faces in front of me, and one of my favorites is Phi Nee’s.

Phi Nee was the first name I learned at school and I remembered it after only learning once, not only because it was pretty damn easy compared to most names here, but because she was the one whom everyone made sure I knew. (Phi, pronounced ‘pee’, is the respectful name for an elder and means ‘older brother or sister.’)

Phi Nee isn’t a fellow teacher or principal. She isn’t my director or the superintendent. Phi Nee is a janitor at Benjamarachutit School.

I don’t know much about Phi Nee or her life, because she only knows so much English and I only know so much Thai, but I know the most important things about her – the most important things that anyone should ever know about anyone else.

Phi Nee is kind. Phi Nee is generous, hardworking and patient. She is usually the first to greet me, always in English, and repeatedly greets me anytime I run into her, usually while sweeping the shining tile floor or bringing desserts wrapped in soft banana leaves to the teacher break room. She smiles; she tells me to stop washing the dish I just used to eat sweet sticky rice on; she tells me thank you, you’re beautiful; and she calls me ‘Nong C.’ (Nong means ‘younger brother or sister.’ Out of quick thinking, I chose my nickname to be ‘C’. You could say I’m a creative genius.)

She is the best relationship I’ve kindled so far in my town, and I don’t even know her last name.

And it’s not just Phi Nee’s face that I love seeing every day, but it’s who I am when I’m around her and who everyone else becomes too, mirrors of Phi Nee’s spirit and selfless love – the first of many gifts I know I’ll bring back home to the U.S.