Tuesday, 28 April 2015

In the open

Sometimes my view makes up for what this city lacks. 

Time is getting away from me and I don't know how to make the seconds tick more slowly. The past week people have taken pieces of me, have surrounded me with whatever has been going wrong in their lives, and that is what I am here for: I will listen, if that is what you need.

At times I wish someone would listen, to me, too. That what I say is not dismissed so easily by others, and by myself. Whilst walking with a friend today I told her about a confrontation (was considering conversation/debate/argument, but it was one-sided) I had with my father where the utterance 'fuck you' was thrown at my head more than once. A few weeks have passed, and I tell it like a story I was not part of. Her reaction made me realise again that the behaviour was not ok, that I needn't accept it, that being treated like that was not deserving.

What a thing, to talk about your own life as though it is not yours to live.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Young and Beautiful

Earth Day slipped past me, unnoticed as we enjoyed the glorious rays of sunshine by the harbour. This is happiness, if only temporarily: the feeling of easy conversation, of trusting those you are with to be yourself.

Once at home the National Geographic's Instagram feed gave me this:

I couldn't want you anyway

Almost every Tuesday the nameless Zimbabwean would come to deliver the free weekly paper. I'd make him a sandwich, grab some fruit, and come out to hand him the food in between the bars of the enormous black gate. Me in the prison of my own home, handing him what probably amounted to the only sure meal of the day.

In light of the recent wave of xenophobic attacks I wonder what has become of him. Moreover, what has become of us. What have we as a people chosen to be, in this situation? When do other people cease to be people? When does one think it is within your right to take two Ethiopians, lock them into a container, and burn the container down? How can any person not see another as sister, brother, mother, father, as someone worthy of life? This I cannot understand. 

In 2008, when the first wave of xenophobic attacks happened, I was also safely far away. I was a foreigner in a foreign country, deserving of necklacing simply for existing there if one follows the logic of the perpetrators. Now, again, I am far away, a foreigner in a country I happen to have a passport for. 

This hatred for another, an Other one does not know, is overwhelming. At this hour, the personal, the political and the public fuse into an aching in the night for something to be better, at least for a moment. In South Africa, locals are murdering foreigners just for being foreign. In the Mediterranean, 800 people escaping their home countries in the hope of a better life elsewhere capsize and die. In Johannesburg, my friend worries because her insurance will not cover a treatment she needs. In Switzerland, after a glimmer of hope another friend has had unnecessary complexities added to her life. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, my mother is dealing with her own mother, forgetful, demanding and impatient at 86. My sister is ill and we are talking past one another, if at all. I worry about having saddled myself with too much, about the work interfering with the thesis, but depending on the money earned for survival nonetheless. I worry about what will happen come September 1 2015. I worry what will come next. 
In this light, in this hour, darkness drowns out the light, causing negative epiphanies. Everyone worries mostly about themselves, perhaps it is time that I follow suit. I am reminded of the Steinberg article about how things don't matter enough here, because the everyday is not tinted with the presence of danger and risk in most of the things we do. If I don't finish the thesis in time, I can get an extension. If the move to wherever doesn't pan out, fuck it, I'll stay another month. There are back-up plans in place for everything. 

But perhaps it is exactly this sense of things mattering that am desperately looking for again. Making that sandwich mattered. Giving mattered. Today an acquaintance asked if I could organise some bread for him (I work at a bakery) and although I was not working today, I gave him the contents of our freezer (which amounted to 3 loaves, 15 rolls and some scones) for an impeding trip. I enjoy giving without consequence, I enjoy being able to help. But this, this was strange. This felt strange. This was not a sandwich. This did not matter, because although here I might know his name, this person is flesh not friend and the bag of bread an empty gesture. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Thinking Out Loud

I was watching the newest episode of Black-ish, a sitcom about a black, American, upper-middle class family with four children and their trials and tribulations. In this episode, the wife discovers Facebook and sets up a dinner at her home with her old college friends, whom she intends to impress at this very dinner with how great her life is. Some of her husband's work friends are also in attendance, and as they linger around in the kitchen drinking Scotch or Whiskey or something the first couple arrives. What follows are two minutes of manly appreciation for the wife having lost a lot of weight (going from "fat" to "phat"), but now looking really good. A bit later in the episode, one of the colleagues comments that the women he sleeps with have all been recently dumped: he waits for the ones with the smeared mascara next to a food truck in front of clubs, so that when they drunkenly and sadly stumble towards a burrito he is there to catch them, so to speak, and tell them that they deserve better, just "not tonight" as he adds.

This may seem just like ordinary sitcom scripting. Haha, the joke is on the drunken, dumped girls. Or the fatties who are now phat. But for all this show could be, this episode just made me angry.
Ask yourself:
  • Why is it ok to spend 2 minutes of a 25-minute sitcom on the male description of a female body? 
  • Why is the conversation by the colleague not seen as extremely creepy? Irrespective of how drunk a girl or how much she is crying or what she looks like, it should not be ok to imply that any girl is "easy" and does not deserve to be treated respectfully. 
Here, I am not being oversensitive. I am asking you : what is popular culture teaching the next generation of of young people about how to interact with other humans? 

Consider this scenario: a young woman sends the guy she has been dating a text, saying "It has been nice knowing you", and next thing you know he is standing in her bedroom, surprising her, and they have sex. How did he get into her house? How does she not call the police and say a stalker is in her there and instead reacts overjoyed by dropping her panties?

Well, this is a scene from the box office hit 50 Shades of Gray. I realise this is a fictional story. But considering the audience of millions that the books and film(s) have, I cannot help but wonder why women have to regress into these subservient, superficial roles and why society (through portrayals of women in the media) seems to encourage this? 

Dove has been campaigning for years to 'real' women to accept themselves as beautiful. Always tried empowering young girls through its #LikeAGirl campaign, where doing things "like a girl" equals doing it well as opposed to weakly. BeyoncĂ© sings about women being 'flawless' ("I woke up like this"). There are so many women fighting for gender equality, and yet as soon as the word 'feminist' is mentioned people seem to lose their minds. Feminism does not mean that one gender is better than another, feminism wishes to promote the quality of the genders (if that was not clear). I certainly have to read up more specifically into the history and objectives of the various waves of feminism, but that is the central argument: we are all equal. 

Why then, in 2015, is it still a contested idea? Understandably, there are numerous cultures across the world with a strong history of patriarchy that is hard to erase. But I think that that is exactly the problem: what is the point in women fighting for equality when men do not do the same? 

I dislike being seen as a strong woman. The reason I believe I can cope with anything, the reason I chose to think that I can do anything, is because there was no one else. There was no man to save me, so the only option was to do it myself. Women are not stronger for having had to fight, for having had to do everything on their own. Women are not intimidating for having opinions, for standing their man (so to speak), for living proudly. Instead of falling into a trap of binary oppositions of gender and strengths/weaknesses, I think one person's belief in him/herself should be encouraging to others to do the same. 

Recently, a friend posted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDTalk We should all be feminists, where she recounts how a friend asked whether she was not afraid that men would find her intimidating. She replied that she had never thought about it, because she had no interest in men that would see her that way. 

I would dare to take it a step further even: rejecting gender stereotypes, we should (idealistically) not be afraid that anyone might find us intimidating, and instead see it as the opportunity to learn from someone who has more knowledge in a particular field than oneself does.