Not All Westerners are Evil

Let’s get political up in here. Rafia Zakaria recently posted an article on Al Jazeera that really yanked my crank. It’s about the #bringbackourgirls campaign on Twitter regarding the 200 kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Here are my thoughts on it:

I understand the importance of social media in instances such as organizing protests and, yes, spreading awareness about injustice. However, too often I think that people equate spreading awareness with activism; it bugs the shit out of me when people post on social media about these issues or simply tweet a hashtag but then don’t do anything to address it or stop it in their real life. It’s like they think that tweeting a hashtag is their good deed of the day, and then they can go on with their lives without thinking twice about it.

Additionally, as this article discusses, using the uplifting of women as a means for justifying war- such as the Bush administration’s boasting about how the war in Afghanistan helped to liberate women- is also wrong. War helps no one, and there are ways to empower women without violence.

Hooowwwever, the rest of this article is shit. It basically says that the only reason why Westerners care about the abducted girls in Nigeria is that our Western Savior Complex makes us feel sorry for them and believe that we are the only ones who can help them. It states that, ignoring other, more complex problems in the developing world, we can only recognize the simplistic plight of young black and brown girls- calling this our “schoolgirl feminism.” Um, young girls are a legitimately and deeply oppressed group of people in the developing world. Reducing their problems to “schoolgirl feminism” is not only simplistic in of itself, it’s offensive. These girls often live in cultures that not only don’t want to help them but want to maintain the female inferiority and violence against women and girls status quo. I think that it’s okay for us to impose our Western value of gender equality in other countries. While it’s vital to use local resources and organizations instead of just blindly or ignorantly coming in to save the day, we can’t do nothing. No, we shouldn’t act violently. But this article condemns us for caring at all. Some of us are just caring people who see the abduction of a few hundred girls as the true atrocity that it is. We’re not all ignorant, egotistic people who simply need to save.

What would you prefer us to do, Ms. Zakaria- be unsympathetic, coldhearted robots who don’t want to help our fellow humans?

Feminists: Pick Your Battles

I’m a feminist, meaning that I believe that both women and men should be treated with the same respect and dignity. It means that I don’t believe that a person should be told that they can’t do something because of their gender, and that a person should not be sexually or physically violated because of their gender. Well, I don’t think that a person should ever be violated or told that they can’t do something for any reason, but reasons based on gender are thousands-of-years-old, deeply rooted issues in our world.

In our modern society, these issues range from basic human rights violations- such as girls being unable to attend school, girls being sold into sex slavery, or the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault against females- to economic issues such as women being paid less than men for doing the exact same jobs, to, in my opinion, less important things such as the fact that women have to tell men that they have a boyfriend to ward them off if they are not interested in them.  

Too often, particularly in our online, social media culture, us feminists dwell on the petty issues that don’t matter in the grander context of injustice against women worldwide. 

Yes, it’s annoying going to a bar an being hit on by someone whom I am not interested in and feeling the need to make up an excuse to get him to back off. However, I think it’s more annoying that women in Afghanistan can be jailed for fleeing their abusive husbands. It’s weird that 13-year-old Willow Smith was in a photo on a bed with a 20-year-old shirtless man, and some people on the internet blamed Willow and her parents for it and not the man. Yet, I think it’s weirder that the United States ranks 50th in maternal mortality rates worldwide (behind every other industrialized nation) because our healthcare system doesn’t provide affordable, accessible, and quality healthcare to all women. 

Sexism is alive and well in our culture and affects so many aspects of a woman’s life. However, we really need to determine what our priorities are. Maybe if the Internet focused more energy and attention on the fact that there are 914 girls for every 1,000 boys in India (a ratio definitely not caused by nature) than why Beyoncé shouldn’t name her tour “The Mrs. Carter Show,” then we could make some actual progress in the world.  

Finally, maybe if we internet consumers spent less time debating these issues in the comments of articles and more time in the real world doing something to combat them, then our society might be a better place. 

Aside

The People Who are Crazy Enough to Think That They Can Change the World…

I just had an hour and a half long conversation with this boy about space, the creation of Earth and humans, whether or not there is a God or an afterlife, whether or not white people have historically been the most evil group of people, and finally whether or not individuals can make a difference in the modern problems of the world. Whew. 

He believes that the world will eventually be peaceful, as people will have to realize that peace makes more sense than war. However, he thinks that those changes simply happen with time, and that there isn’t a whole lot that individual people can do about such massive, widespread problems. I, perhaps being the idealist (but maybe it is idealists who make changes on the planet…), disagree wholeheartedly.

Most obviously, what if Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, had felt like powerless individuals who couldn’t make a difference?

What if Somaly Mam, a Cambodian survivor of both the Khmer Rouge and sex slavery documented in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s fantastic book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, hadn’t started the Somaly Mam Foundation? Instead of believing that she herself wasn’t capable of creating change, she now works passionately toward eradicating human trafficking in Southeast Asia and helping victims. ***

What if Edna Adan hadn’t created her maternity hospital in Somaliland, because she felt that the problems of maternal and infant mortality and female genital mutilation were too big for her to tackle?

What if Kennedy Odede had believed that creating Shining Hope for Communities, a girls’ school in a Kenyan slum, wouldn’t be able to tackle poverty and gender inequity?

Yes, the aforementioned individuals dedicate their lives to their respective causes. And yes, the problems of sex slavery, maternal and infant mortality, female genital mutilation, poverty, and gender inequity are very much alive still. However, these organizations still help thousands of people directly, who can then spread their knowledge gained to others in the community. Isn’t helping thousands of people better than helping no people?

Even those who don’t start organizations or spend their whole lives working on one cause can still travel to these places and volunteer. I just met this guy the other day who took two years off of university to rescue sex slaves in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Ah, my boy says, but most people have jobs and lives- they can’t just abandon those to, say, go volunteer in Africa for a year.

I reminded him that not only is it possible to save up money and subsequently quit one’s job to travel or volunteer abroad, but that people do it all the time. One need only take a look at Nomadic Matt’s website to gain inspiration.

Ah, he says, but I have my life here that I love and am comfortable with. How can I help people in Kenya when I don’t really want to go there for an extended amount of time?

Well, one can donate money. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money at all. In the Catholic tradition, people are expected to donate 10% of their income to charity. Thus, even if one’s income is very small, he or she still reserves at least a tiny bit of it for charitable purposes. Loan someone in a developing country $25 to help him or her start or run a business. Not only is $25 not very much money, but it is in the form of a loan that will be repaid.

Finally, one can volunteer in one’s own community. Developing countries have lots of devastating problems, but we in the U.S. have issues in our own backyards. One need only listen to Kendrick Lamar’s album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, to understand the poverty, gang violence, and prostitution that befalls on a city 20 minutes away from my house. I unfortunately am not familiar with organizations working to combat poverty in the area, but I know of lots that help domestic violence victims and prostitutes; WomenShelter of Long Beach, YWCA of greater Los Angeles, Rainbow Services of San Pedro, and 1736 Family Crisis Center of greater Los Angeles, just to name a few, help domestic violence victims; The Mary Magdalene Project of Van Nuys helps women out of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Finally, as the boy with whom I was speaking is a musician, I reminded him how music, art, literature, etc. have been used since the beginning of time to make changes and spread awareness about issues that matter.

The world does have a lot of issues, and one individual alone can’t solve all of them or even completely eradicate one of them. However, we each need to find the cause that stirs our soul and do what we can with what we have to help- for it is better to help a few people or even one person than nobody. Just imagine what would happen if each person did this, and what significant changes we would see on the planet as a result. We all must follow one of my favorite quotes of all time by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

419039_10150519561508342_668548611_n

***Somaly Mam has been under investigation for lying about her background as a former sex slave. She has since resigned from the organization bearing her name. This goes to show how careful one must be with choosing where to donate one’s money- however, when Nick Kristof of the New York Times is endorsing an NGO, that tends to legitimize it. Kristof has since stopped supporting Mam and has said that he wish he had never written about her . There are good charitable organizations out there, so don’t lose hope, but it’s a shame that some NGOs are run by people with questionable motives.

Scatterbrained

Sometimes, I think that I have too many interests in life. I love writing, as is probably evident by this blog, but I don’t just like essay writing- I also like poetry and spoken word. I also love listening to rap music, so then I think to myself that I should translate my spoken word poetry into rap. Musicians and rappers dedicate their whole selves to their craft, so I decide to commit to that. 

1234611_596784990375343_1432281768_n
(Doing the spoken word thang)

Oh, but boy do I love traveling! Nothing thrills me more than thinking about a trip, planning a trip, and arriving at the airport about to embark on a new adventure. Reading travel blogs inspires me so much, so I think to myself that I should be a travel blogger “when I grow up.” I’ll be a hippie backpacker who still tries to smell nice, and I will encourage my peers that they, too, can do the same. Yeah, that’s the best way to combine my two interests of writing and traveling.

DSC00805
(Frolicking at the Black Sea in Turkey. P.S. it’s actually blue.)

However, some friends will invite me to go out swing dancing, and it’s so fun- yet being a beginner at it can be slightly frustrating. Whilst dancing with someone who tries to do a move that I can’t recognize, I decide that I need to spend more time in swing dance classes. (I’m too new at swing to have pictures of myself doing it…)

Then, my old salsa teacher will announce a new class series that he is starting. Man, I realize, it has been a few weeks too long since I have done any salsa dancing! I want to be the queen of the salsa dance floor. Sign me up, and perhaps I should finally invest in a new pair of dancing shoes. 

DSC00389
(Rooftop salsa)

You know what I haven’t done in months and months, yet might ultimately might be my favorite form of dance? Hip-hop. I started doing hip-hop at age 9, and every single time that I go to class, I feel alive. I feel like I was born to do it. It’s just so much fun and also a really cool expression of my appreciation for hip-hop music. 

DSCN1596
(Um… here’s me dancing on a bus in India)

Maybe I could be a rapper who dances hip-hop at her concerts. As Beyoncé once said, “When I shake my butt, I feel it in my soul.” As Pinterest once said, “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” 

Yet, being a dancer, a writer, a rapper, a travel blogger- these careers are all just pipe dreams, right? Very few people actually achieve success in those fields. And people might look at me funny when I tell them that those are my aspirations. Maybe I should pursue a career in a different interest of mine- nonprofit work. I really love helping people, and I’m particularly interested in preventing domestic violence and helping abused women. That’s a career that would be rewarding and, though it might not pay a ton, still be more stable than that of an artist. Maybe I have more of a social science brain than an artistic brain. I do love volunteering, reading the newspaper, and learning about sociological/cultural issues. 

IMG_1805
(Volunteering in India)

I could travel to a developing country and work with oppressed women there.

And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances. 

As I stretch out across my bed whilst writing this, I think to myself that going to yoga class today sure would be nice. Oh that’s right, I love yoga, too. I’ve always wanted to do yoga teacher training as well. 

IMG_1421
(Tree pose! This is quickly turning into a nostalgic India photo album)

Speaking of yoga, I’m very interested in deepening my spirituality and learning about the world’s religious beliefs. Maybe I should go back to school and become a Religious Studies major. 

IMG_7839
(Sleeping is meditative, right?)

Okay. I could travel to a developing country and teach yoga to oppressed women there. And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances. 

Back to traveling- I enjoy learning other languages and feel, honestly, morally obligated to do so. I love speaking French and just started learning Spanish. 

IMG_1680
(Um, here’s a crêpe that I ate once…)

Okay, I can travel to a French- or Spanish- speaking country and teach yoga to oppressed women there. And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances.

Why can’t I just like one thing. 

The F Word

I don’t want to be annoying. I like bras and my long hair and boys. I like boys so much that I’m afraid to drop the F-bomb on them: Feminist. It was never something that I questioned before, having assumed that, obviously, everyone else in the world had the same definition of feminism as me- which consisted not of “hating men” or believing that women should be treated as if they were men; I believe that women and men should be treated equally as humans, and something as simple as that I thought was universally understood. However, on my third or fourth date with a boy whom, prior to this moment, I honestly believed to be my soul mate, I casually mentioned that I was a feminist and earnestly asked him if he was as well. We were in Southern California, after all, and in this modern age it was only natural for me to assume he’d say yes, right?

Wrong. I proceeded to give him the death glare after he ineloquently explained to me how women and men are “different” and naturally gravitate towards different roles, with women tending to me more family-oriented and men wanting to be the provider. He couldn’t call himself a feminist because he didn’t believe that women should hate men (when I, for some reason, continued to see this guy, he later told me that he “wasn’t informed enough” about feminism to make a judgment on whether or not he agreed with it). This was my first encounter with the double-edged sword of calling oneself a feminist, and to this day, as wrong as it is, I continue to struggle with this label.

How can I, at once, be a strong, independent female working to uplift other females when, God dammit, I like boys a lot? How do I be “feminine and dainty and flirty” in order to attract the opposite sex all the while vocalizing the oppressing effects of our patriarchal society? In other words, how do I not come off as a “scary feminist” when I’m on a date with a hot guy?

Yet, it is here that I have to stop and think: do I honestly want to date a guy who uses expressions such as “scary feminist?” While I don’t necessarily need to be with a guy who is exactly like me, I’m forgetting that a relationship needs to be built on a common set of beliefs. Sure, it might turn off a misogynistic guy to discuss my passion for female empowerment, but what do I care about impressing a misogynist anyway! Rather than downplaying my own self so as not to impede upon a guy’s sense of masculine dominance, I think that my real soul mate will want to grab the bullhorn with me to fight against the laundry list of violence and injustices that women face around this world. 

Why Are Girls so Obsessed with Getting Married?

 I succumbed and created a Pinterest account. The only people I knew who had Pinterest accounts were baking and knitting enthusiasts, so for quite some time I had written it off as being a housewife website. Finally, one day, a friend of mine showed me her Pinterest homepage, all filled with beautiful shoes and clothes that did me in. I created boards for fashion that I like, quotes that inspire me, and photos of faraway lands that I would like to travel to- never minding the fact that I was just helping corporations with some free advertisement by “re-pinning” photos of their products… Anyhow, the one board that I have steered clear of creating for myself is the wedding board, which is probably the most popular category of boards on Pinterest.

Yes, that’s right- millions of girls create virtual bulletin boards on which to plan out their future (heterosexual) wedding, even if they are not engaged. Even if they are not even in a relationship. Even if they are twenty-one years old and not in a relationship and not getting married anytime soon. Even in these conditions, girls devote hours to planning out one day of their life that, who knows, might not happen until ten years from now. This absurd phenomenon represents the greater sociological issue of Why Are Girls so Obsessed with Getting Married?

When first pondering this, my initial conclusion was that girls are stupid, desperate, and insecure. They cannot be happy without guys in their lives, and even so, just having a boyfriend is not good enough. They put arbitrary timelines onto their lives and relationships, i.e., “I want to be married by the time I’m twenty-seven,” and, “We’ve been dating for 365 days- why hasn’t he proposed yet?” They spend countless hours looking at wedding dresses, diamond rings, floral arrangements, bridesmaids dresses, invitations, lighting arrangements, blah blah blah blah blah. Into what other single day in one’s life does one put that much time, effort, and tens of thousands of dollars? Would someone ever throw that elaborate of a party for oneself to celebrate, oh I don’t know, graduating from college or landing a dream job? And would one plan it out years in advance?

Would a heterosexual guy ever create a wedding board on Pinterest?

No, because his wedding day is not the most important day of his life.

However, while pondering all of this, I began to remember that so many girls are not insecure and obsessed with marriage because they are stupid- it is because we have been taught to be this way since birth.

One of my earliest memories was of watching my favorite childhood movie: Cinderella. This classic tale tells the story of a poor girl who is saved from her shitty life as her stepfamily’s maid by the grace of a handsome, wealthy prince. So goes the tale of basically every Disney movie, drilling the message into girls’ heads that the only path to happiness and financial stability is through a guy. The movie The Beauty and the Beast goes so far as to tell girls to stay with a guy who is violent, temperamental, and controlling; who is, well, a beast. Alas, the message is conveyed that underneath that beastly, scary person is a nice, handsome guy- and that the girl just has to help him reveal his true self by kissing him.

We play with baby dolls to prep us for motherhood. We play with Barbies who are our role models for pretty- who has a hot boyfriend, and whose real-life measurements would force her to walk on all fours and not have enough space in her waist for all of her organs. We are told to lie awake at night envisioning our perfect wedding.

As we grow older, we continue to be told to lie awake at night envisioning our perfect wedding. The movies geared toward us become romantic comedies- adult Cinderella stories in which the female protagonist finally finds happiness through marriage. We read magazines solely devoted to how to keep a guy and why you should be concerned that he hasn’t proposed yet- oh and also how to lose weight. Our families start asking us why we are not married yet. Girls loathe other girls who post photos of their engagement rings on Facebook. We support the entire makeup industry, wherein we paint our faces to look like different faces because ours are not pretty enough naturally. We walk on stilts and wear shiny jewelry so that guys will look towards us in all of our flashy distraction.

A single guy with no makeup on is okay. A single girl with no makeup on is sad.

Now, I do not think that marriage is an inherently bad thing. I think what is bad is how much emphasis our society puts on weddings, in particular for females. Instead of marriage being about the relationship, it becomes about a ceremony, a party, a dress, a diamond. A girl is with her boyfriend not for the sake of being with her boyfriend, but because come X amount of time he will propose.

Why do girls care so much about this damn ceremony? Because she has been told throughout her life that her wedding day is the most important day of her life.

Why is her wedding day the most important day of her life? Because she has been repeatedly told that she is incapable of being a confident, happy, and worthwhile person without a husband.