Monday, October 28, 2013

THE FEMALE PRIVILEGE IS ALIVE AND KICKING



A while ago one of my classmates shared it on Facebook and the expectation was clear: As a fellow future counselor I was supposed to like it.

And as it frequently happens to me these days, I didn’t.

Now, I’m not saying that The Male Privilege Checklist doesn’t make any good points, because it totally does. But it also makes some that are questionable at least. And the main issue I have with it is that in its quest to convince the public about how oppressed women in America still are, it chooses to ignore many areas in which women are in fact the privileged ones. Because a very few things in this world are black or white; mostly we are looking at fifty or so shades of gray…

If you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, I have one specific female privilege in mind, which is one of the rare examples valid not only in the United States, but also in Czech Republic. It’s one that I feel VERY strongly about, having been once a victim of it myself (so the answer is yes, I AM biased).

But see for yourself: In the case of parents getting a divorce, it’s still extremely difficult for the father to get full custody of his children, even in a case when he is clearly a better parent than his soon-to-be ex-spouse.

When I came to the United States, I expected things to be different, because I soon noticed how much more were American fathers involved in care of their children. You have to understand - when I was growing up, it was virtually unheard of for a dad to change a diaper! I remember how shocked I was back in elementary school when one of my teachers told us about her neighbor, who despite of being male went on a paternity leave and not only cared for the baby, but even cooked dinner every night. My classmates and I were staring at each other in amazement because none of us has ever heard about such a thing before. And I also remember, God help me, telling my friends during the recess that “I would never want a husband like that because men who do these things cannot be normal.”

Yeah, I know :(

Anyway, the fact that women were the primary caregivers was supposed to be the reason why they were automatically granted full custody after the divorce. Naturally, when I saw men in the U.S. changing, feeding, and playing with their babies, I assumed that fathers had more rights here.

Apparently not.

I will never forget babysitting for a divorced dad who spent several years (and all his savings) fighting in court for a full custody. While he was a hard-working, tax-paying citizen with a clean record, whose only “crime” was sleeping with a wrong person in the wrong time (he married her when she became pregnant because he wanted to do right by her); his ex was both alcohol and cocaine addict with multiple DUI’s, unable to hold a job for more than several months, and a mother of two other children (each with a different partner) whom she was unable to support. Yet even the dad’s own lawyer was skeptical and warned his client that in the state of Illinois “they would have to find her half-comatose with the needle still in her arm to MAYBE  convince the judge that she is an unfit mother.” The only reason why the dad eventually won the case was that his ex was so fucked up that she failed to appear in the court so many times that eventually the judge lost his patience. And that makes the dad one of the few lucky ones.

So I’m asking – where is male privilege when you need one!?

Same situation, different country: My dad just recently told me on the phone about his friend who is going through the same thing. He had many people from his community testifying in court that his ex was indeed an unfit mother (when she was still living in his house, he would often find her so drunk that she didn’t wake up when the baby was screaming right next to her with hunger and he had to undress her and put the baby to her breast – and that’s just one example out of many). The result? Children belong to their mother, the judge said firmly. (And I’m sure that the fact that the judge was herself a divorced forty-something female had absolutely NOTHING to do with her decision.)

Strangely enough, the Male Privilege Checklist doesn’t bother to mention this HUGE advantage that women have over men in this matter. If you are a father who happens to love his children very much and if your bitchy ex is the one who won full custody, I can guarantee you that SHE is the one who has you by your balls, checklist or not.

And speaking of which, neither have I recently seen feminists addressing issues like using children as pawns to get more money from the ex-husband, or – and I consider this especially disgusting – false accusations of sexual molestation, which are apparently becoming increasingly popular in our society. If you are interested in this topic, check out for example http://www.innocentdads.org/ for some heartbreaking stories.

So – the point of my column is not to convince everyone that oppression of women doesn’t exist in our society; it does. But I believe that it’s important to be aware that oppression of men exists as well. Our society is very complex and with so many societal “rules” changing every day it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up and mainly, to see the big picture. There are multiple factors that determine who has the power and I think that there is enough evidence out there to indicate that it’s NOT necessarily always the person who has a penis.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

MAGDA BROWN - ONE OF THE REASONS WHY I AM BECOMING A BITCH



to Magda Brown


When I was very little, most schools in Czech Republic had what used to be called the “Hall of Traditions” and it was a space dedicated to memories of the WWII. Once or twice a year there would be a ceremony remembering the lives lost and the suffering the nation endured. I don’t remember much from that era, except for the photographs that have been haunting me ever since: Sometimes I always ended up standing on the left, too close to the authentic photograph display on the wall depicting children from Nazi concentration camps, specifically Auschwitz – Birkenau. There was one boy specifically whose hollow eyes I will probably never forget, even though the display is long gone; the new government considered Halls of Traditions a “communist” tradition and as such they were abandoned.

I learned about the horrors of Nazi concentration camps much earlier than I probably should have. We all did. Czechoslovakia was one of the first European countries taken over by Hitler and the Nazis, and the country remembered the 6 years of the “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” well. Most of my friends had grandparents who told stories; my favorite substitute teacher, a sweet old lady, was in Theresienstadt as a little girl with her mother (they both survived).

As a sensitive child with a vivid imagination I tried to fight nightmares by devouring every book related to concentration camp I could find – fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, you name it. What I was looking for is hard to tell. Maybe I assumed that knowing more would make it less scary. Maybe I was just trying to make some sense of it. Maybe I was trying to learn how to survive should anything like that ever happen to me. I honestly have no clue. But I spent a significant part of my childhood reading about things that no child should know about. My peers were reading Nancy Drew. I read the biography  of Fania Fénelon .

Fast-forward many years ahead (and no, I won’t write how many, so those of my classmates who are constantly trying to guess my age – tough luck!) and here I am, getting psyched after founding out that there was going to be an Auschwitz survivor, Magda Brown, speaking on campus. Despite of knowing so much about that damned camp (when I was little, I could draw the layout of the place out of memory) I have never met a true survivor in person and let’s face it, there are not that many of them around anymore. So I went, I listened, I cried a little bit, and I put a new name to my imaginary list of my personal heroes.

But apart from the honor of meeting Mrs. Brown face-to-face, there was another reason why this even was so deeply significant for me. It made me realize how strongly is my self-education about Holocaust linked to the struggle with the thin red line I described in one of my previous posts.  The older I get, the more passionate I feel about protecting human rights, and as such have zero patience with my neighbor who promotes racism, xenophobia, sexism, religion intolerance, and all other forms of oppression the human mind comes up with. Because we need to realize one thing, people: Even in case of such extreme events like Holocaust, THAT’S HOW IT ALL STARTED!!! I don’t expect most of my American readers being too educated about European history, but trust me on this one – the anti-Semitism in Germany started SLOW, okay?! Hitler did not appear in the middle of nowhere and ordered building of the camps right away. No, the German nation was desensitized step by step and it started with things that many of us still consider harmless, like for example racial jokes and “funny” caricatures in the newspapers. And that’s how our attitudes start changing, when this notion of “us against them” is fostered and nourished by the media, by politicians, by celebrities, by the WHOLE society. Throw in an economic hardship for which someone has to be blamed - and you have a new disaster on your hands.

That’s why Mrs. Brown, who as a lady in her mid-eighties could certainly use some rest, keeps touring schools and telling the kids about the dangers of bullying, because yes, as much as it might sound unbelievable to some, the connection between that and her Holocaust story IS there, you just need to listen for it. And that’s why I made a decision to stop being a Little Miss Sunshine and to speak up every time when someone starts marginalizing and ostracizing innocent people who didn’t commit any other crime than being different from the mainstream. True, I don’t particularly want to be known between my friends as a fanatic who can’t even take a joke and who is constantly challenging someone; despite of my strong personality I like getting along with people! But if I need to become bitchy for the higher good, well, I can do it too...

Because if there is one thing the history teaches us, it’s this: The price of silence is simply too high. And I, for one, am not willing to pay.

The photo was publicly accessible on Internet. Source: www.triblocal.com 



Sunday, October 13, 2013

LET’S FIGHT FOR GENDER EQUALITY: SHAME THOSE SLUTS!


“This was the eighties, when sex with a near stranger seemed feminist and daring, not self-harming and slutty. Actually, you know, in truth it’s probably all those things.”

(Mary O’Connell, The Sharp Time)
It’s awesome how this quote describes briefly yet accurately how attitudes towards sexual behavior change over time.

And why does it matter?

Because there are still way too many people out there who believe that there is a formula of some kind that prescribes how people should behave when it comes to sex and all things related. And they get very cranky when someone does not follow the path, especially when that somebody happens to be a woman.

Now, it’s no secret that our society has always had stricter rules for female sexuality. Historically, men could get away with much more than women. The fact that English doesn’t even have a male equivalent for the word “slut” is a big testimony to that. Men can do whatever they want and they don’t get labeled. Women, on the other hand…

One might wonder why, if I feel that way, became so alienated from the feminist movement. Feminists are supposed to fight for female liberation, right? And being liberated surely means being able to make one’s own decisions about one’s body without fear of judgment?

Wrong.

American attitudes toward human sexuality remain a never-ending source of frustration for me, because they are very conservative compared to Europe. What does fascinate me to no end though is how even those folks, who are supposed to actively fight for gender equality (like for example feminists – or multiculturally sensitive counselors), are convinced that they know exactly how all women should behave, and they are not afraid to call out every woman who for whatever reason doesn’t not submit to their rules.

I can’t quite believe it myself but it was all that hullaballoo about Miley Cyrus and her music videos that first inspired me to write this post.

Don’t take me wrong - before the (in) famous MTV Video Music Award performance, I was barely aware that Miley Cyrus existed. I don’t listen to popular music (I’m either an opera, or a heavy metal girl, depending on the day, thank you very much), and even if I did, I wouldn’t care what Miley Cyrus does with herself in her videos. (The public obsession with celebrities is one of the life mysteries I have yet to solve.) But after she did all that VMA twerking, people wouldn’t shut up about it on Facebook and so I felt obligated to google up the video to see what the fuss was all about.

To be honest, I was a little surprised that it was Miley who got the entire bad rap, because yes, it was her wiggling her ass around, but it was Robin Thicke, who was singing a song that basically glorifies a date rape. But hey, if the public is more concerned about the state of Miley’s bum than about the lyrics, be my guest – it’s live and let live, right?!

So I was ready to forget the whole thing, except that ever since it seems like everyone out there is concerned about Miley and her morals, and I’m getting a little tired of it, because to me, in the end it’s not about Miley. It’s about history repeating itself in that sense that us chicks are not allowed to express our sexuality as we see fit, because people around us are only too ready to pounce on everyone who doesn’t fit into their neat little box.

Yes, I do get that Miley Cyrus is a celebrity and that if she decides to do a performance like this in public, she has to count on the public reacting to it. But I find a little strange when people, who by default are supposed to be more accepting and open-minded than the average Joe (for example future counselors), show the same level of judgment that I would expect from a member of Westboro Baptist Church.

I’m a very opinionated person; that is, after all, one of the reasons why this blog exists :) But never ever in my life I would dare to assume that I’m qualified to make a decision for ALL women it the world about how they should live, sexually or otherwise. When a Facebook friend shares Sinead O’Connor’s letter to Miley and adds a comment that all the women who base their value exclusively on sex need to read it and wake up because we as women are not meat for men to play with, and that we don’t need to reference our bodies and/or sexual appeal; all I want to do is to scream that as far as I’m concerned, the only person who has the right to make a decision about whether I reference my sex-appeal is me and me alone, NOT anybody else - and certainly not Sinead O’Connor.

Why is it such a problem to understand that we are all different and that it’s okay? Just like the quote on the top says, one behavior can have two different meanings for two different people - and don't even get me started on how our perception of sex change not only over time, but also under the influence of whoever just happens to have the political power. (I can sense another column coming right up!)

But O’Connor’s letter is NOTHING compared to this gem that, alarmingly, was also shared on Facebook by a counseling colleague. And what worries me even more is that said colleague actually liked the article; a piece written by a female expert who perceives herself as qualified to decide what kind of women will get married and what kind will not. When it comes to singling out the wrong kind, she has no mercy, this Ally Batista (a self-proclaimed “housewife in training”) – the message of her article (by the way, very poorly written), is as follows: “If you are not behaving like I think that all women should, then you are a dysfunctional slut."

 What the hell!?

A slut-shaming in its worst. Apparently NOTHING has changed in our (supposedly) equalitarian society compared to the patriarchal past; when you are a woman, you better behave, or else!!! If you dare to make a decision about your sexuality that are not approved by me, than you are “disrespecting yourself” and I feel justified to call you a “slut” and a “bitch” at will. The idea that you might simply have a different life philosophy than me when it comes to sexuality doesn’t even cross my mind, because I am clearly the only person who can decide what is acceptable and what not!

Nice, isn’t it?! But the fact that a person like Ally exists (and unfortunately, writes) doesn’t bother me as much, because it’s not exactly news to me that people like her are out there. What I find more ironic that I, who is currently at odds with most of my multiculturally sensitive colleagues when it comes to gender issues, because I often find their arguments about female oppression in America petty, am apparently also the one who is willing to give other women the freedom to make their own choices without labeling them or judging them.

So tell me honestly, in the end, WHO is more oppressive here: A person who has her mouth full of gender equality but is ready to throw a stone when another woman dares to show more skin than she approves of, or a person who might not have the need for feminism in her life, but is perfectly willing to give other women their freedom to choose how they want to live?

You tell me, my dear reader!

Monday, October 7, 2013

GLOBAL CHICK VERSUS FEMINISM



Once again, I’m at the point in my life when I don’t consider myself a feminist.

My close friends probably know that I have had this love-hate relationship with feminism my whole life. I would identify myself as a feminist, but only until other feminists piss me off, at which point I declare that I don’t want to have anything to do with the whole business – until I find out about some blatant example of oppression against women and decide that feminism is not and cannot be dead, and that I have to stick around for the higher good. Speak about a roller-coaster! I attempted to describe what feminism means to me in an article I wrote for www.mookychick.co.uk a couple of years ago; you are welcome to read it here. But you know, a lot has changed ever since.

The main reason why I currently don’t feel like a feminist is that I’m enrolled in a counseling program that focuses on social justice and multicultural competence, and as such has been trying to convince me for a past year or so that as a woman in the United States, I am very, very oppressed. I found this rather surprising, because the fact that I feel much more validated and empowered as a woman here than anywhere else (yeah, take that, Czech Republic!!!) is one of the main reasons why I decided to stay here in the first place. But there are some things you simply cannot reason with counselors about: Women in the United States are (terribly) oppressed, period, and if I don’t FEEL oppressed, it probably means that there is something wrong on my side!

Now, it’s true that my operational definition of the word “oppressed” does seem to be different from the rest of my classmates. When you say the word, I picture things like women not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia (by the way, check out my girl Rajaa Alsanea’s novel Girls from Riyadh, it’s really interesting!), a young girl gang-raped in India, or, for that matter, battered women’s shelters here in the United States. These, together with many others, are worthy causes I feel passionate about. But I can’t quite force myself to get all worked up because of some things which are apparently a big no-no in the multiculturally sensitive counseling world: For example when a guy in a dance club stares at two of my classmates who are dancing back-to-back, all sexy and shit, they bring it up in class all outraged about how that fucker was objectifying them; without providing an explanation why, if they don’t want people looking at them, would they go shaking their bums in cute little dresses in public.

See!? A completely different thinking!

So as a result, I told last week during dinner to one of my favorite classmates, let’s nickname her Little Firecracker, that I was NOT a feminist.

She refused to believe me.

I tried to give her some examples of how some behaviors that are perceived as oppressive, insulting, and chauvinistic by the rest of the counseling program don’t bother me at all and how I generally feel that the United States are not a bad place for a chick to be living in, but she didn’t buy it.

“Do you consider men and women to be equal?” she asked sternly.

I admitted that I did indeed consider men and women equal, at least in that sense that both sexes are (or should be) equally entitled to make their own choices and have the same rights in the society.

“Then you are a feminist,” Little Firecracker said.

This time I didn’t buy it. Because I also happen to believe that people of different colors are born equal, and that homosexuals should have the same right like heterosexuals, and that all religions can be either great and uplifting, or bad and oppressive – depending on what mood I am in when someone asks. So when I say that I’m a feminist, I argued, it reduces my life philosophy to the gap between men and women, and doesn’t at all reflect how I feel about equality of all people in the world.

This argument worked.

“I see,” Little Fireckacker responded. “You don’t want to identify yourself as a feminist anymore because it’s too EXCLUSIVE!”

While I was a little disappointed that my argument about how I liked me a nice little catcall every now and then neither convinced, nor shocked Little Firecracker, I had to admit that she was right. Based on my own conclusion I reached in the aforementioned article on Mookychick, no one should have the right to tell me that I can’t be a feminist just because I have a different opinion about things than the feminist majority (or counselors). However, I don’t feel comfortable with wearing this label anymore simply because I am concerned with the rights of EVERYONE on this planet, animals and plants included, and gender issue is an important, but still only ONE piece of the big puzzle.

So, the matter’s been officially resolved and I’m now allowed to call myself whatever. And as for you, young male hotties out there, please, feel free to whistle at me on street any time you feel like it – I promise that you will NOT get sued ;)