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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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women

Another Sex Attack

“I have something I need to tell you” my friend said to me. We were walking through the old town. It was her last night in this place. She was going home a few days later, to work at a great new job she’d managed to find.

“Last year I was attacked on my way home. I was walking up the stairs, from Unamuno plaza to Uribarri, and a man attacked me. He was touching me all over. I fought him off. I ran.

“Afterwards I couldn’t study. I didn’t go out. I only told my housemate”

The bottom fell out of my stomach. Horrible. Horrible. My friend had suffered, and she hadn’t told me. She hadn’t said anything.

Our immediate reaction is to make our loved one’s pain about us. Of course she couldn’t tell me. She was overwhelmed. I understood.

I asked her if she reported it and everything. She said she did.

“The police were great some times, other times not. They showed me photos and I had to identify the guy [who was non-European]. All the photos showed men with bruises on their faces. I think that the police had already beat them up.”

Men leave their home countries looking for a better life. Unable to progress or get decent work, they attack women to support their bruised masculinity. Then the police systematically abuse those men. Then they attack us more.

The circle of violence continues.

 

1 in 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

Men don’t realise this as this is our locker room talk, how to avoid being raped (Clue: there is no way to avoid it as we are not responsible for the sexual violence that we suffer. We survive psychologically under a mixture of denial of how bad the problem is or the notion that we can in some way control it)

 

Deciding not to have children

I’m 27 years old, and it started recently. People keep on speaking as if I’m going to have children.

I adopt a cat. There’s a phone interview. It is impressed upon me that cats are not a danger to babies.

I go to the doctor with a cold. He suggests I change my pill to a “softer” one “just in case” I decide to have a baby.

I have a hangover. My housemate suggests that I might be pregnant.

My cousins had their children (one each) when they were over 35. “Just hurry up and do it” they tell me and my sisters. “There’s nothing that compares to it. And if you have one late (like us) then you will only be able to have one. Do it young and you’ll have more energy.”

All very sensible.

At the moment, I just don’t want to have children. Money, time, energy, and (most importantly) selfishness.
Here’s a list of specific reasons why I don’t want to have children:
>I want to be a writer, which means…
>I need/want to get a PhD
I would love to get a PhD and work as a professor at a university (in person or online)
>I want to travel
I’d love to live in a mobile home and travel the world, working online, proofreading, editing, teaching.
>I don’t live near my relatives
If something bad happens, like a death, divorce, or illness, I don’t have anyone to help me with childcare
>My partner hates children
>My mother told me (before she died) that “children aren’t everything”. She sacrificed everything for us. I’m not capable of that.
>I don’t want to be incontinent after childbirth
>I despise going to the gynaecologist
>Patriarchy
In our society, child rearing is pushed on to women. That’s why women are almost automatically awarded custody of children in divorces, and why women are passed over for promotions and high powered/paying jobs.

The Problem with Penelope Trunk

I recently was talking to a friend of a friend about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, saying how I loved how it gave a broad overview to the conundrum of why women are doing better and better in university but these gains are not translating to women gaining powerful jobs. She suggested I read a blog that provides some counter arguments by a writer called Penelope Trunk. After reading the past year of blog posts from Trunk, I’ve compiled my response in this blog post, trying to be as brief as possible.

Here’s an example of some typical words of wisdom from Trunk:
I want people to feel like it’s fine to put getting married ahead of having a career. I want to feel like the friend who sits you down, with a hand on your shoulder to help steady you for the news. In this respect I think I’m part of a movement. And in that vein, here is a blog dedicated to showing the truth about life as a partner of a big law firm. I especially like the post that isan interview with a woman who couldn’t take maternity leave for either of her babies.”

Although she says “people”, I feel she’s specifically talking about/addressing women/women’s issues. As is typical with her writing/point of view, she accepts the status quo in the USA without question, celebrating/encouraging women to “lean out” of their carreers as being “better” for them (due to lack a societal/political protections), without showing awareness of having analysed other systems where there are fundamental differences, e.g. countries in which the state pays maternity/paternity leave, such as in Germany and Sweden.

Maybe that’s her defence mechanism. Contemplating changing society is too great for her,  so instead of comparing and contrasting different systems, she  vehemently embraces her situation and the society that made it difficult for her to carry on with her career. If she was really, truly satisfied with being a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mum, why have a blog as a platform to promote her books about career advice?

Although Trunk criticises Sandberg for lack of details about her home help (nannies, cleaners, child care etc), asking “how the single mother leans in”, she herself is also speaking from a position of privilege. The fact of the matter is that many households can’t afford for one partner not to work, or to work very little. Maybe Trunk can afford to do that as she took her own advice, going to business school “early” to “find a rich husband”
, as she advises young women to do.

I can’t help but think that Trunk’s vehement personal attacks on Sandberg, epitomised by her posts musing on whether Sandberg’s husband “killed himself” or not, come from some sort of feeling of guilt, as if she were being judged by society for making certain life choices (like giving up a career to focus on creating a family). This seems to cause a defensive reaction so great that she forgets about being compassionate towards a bereaved person, instead twisting the knife with a string of controversial posts, all for a few more paltry hits on her blog.

Dear Penelope Trunk,

Your personal life choices are exactly that: yours. No one has the right to make you feel bad about that. And I’m sorry that they do. People always have an opinion, and as women, we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

Please stop suggesting that women striving to have their own carreers causes their husbands to commit suicide, no matter how tempted you are by getting some extra blog hits. It is distasteful and damaging.

Also, not everyone wants to have children. And that’s OK too.

I leave you with this entertaining rant by John Oliver on the subject of paid family leave (maternity).

Rape Statistics from “Rape Crisis UK”

When I tell female friends that I’ll be starting a masters in Feminism and Gender in September, they tell me: “I’m so jealous. Let me know some really good statistics about issues that affect women!”. So here’s a collection I made after reading about the Femicide Census project, which aims to collate data of women murdered by men, in order to tackle violence against women more effectively. This is taken from Rape Crisis UK.

Myth Women shouldn’t go out alone, especially at night. Women are most likely to be raped outside, by strangers in dark alleyways, and this is the best way for a woman to protect herself.

Fact Women are often advised to avoid sexual violence by never walking alone at night. But in fact, only around 10% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’. Around 90% of rapes are committed by known men; someone who the survivor has previously known, trusted, often even loved. People are raped in their homes, their workplaces and other settings where they have previously felt safe. Sometimes, the myth that rape is most commonly perpetrated by strangers can make the majority of survivors, who have been raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know, even less likely to report to the police or even confide in someone close about their experiences, for fear of not being believed, out of a sense of shame or self-blame, and/or because they have mixed feelings about getting the perpetrator ‘into trouble’. This myth can also control women’s movements and restrict their rights and freedom.

Myth The woman was drunk / took drugs / was hitch hiking / wore tight clothes / worked in the sex industry / seduced him / probably got what she was asking for.

Fact If a person is unconscious or their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give consent. Having non-consensual sex with a person who is intoxicated is rape.

Rapists use a variety of excuses to attempt to discredit the women they rape and to justify their crimes. But no-one asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted and 100% of the responsibility for any act of sexual violence lies with its perpetrator.

Media often refer to women in the ‘roles’ that they have – ‘young mum’, ‘grandmother’, ‘doctor’s wife’, ‘prostitute’ etc. – and describe arbitrary factors like what she was wearing or how she’d been behaving when she was sexually assaulted. The implication is that some women are more ‘innocent’ victims than others, that some are more worthy of sympathy, or that some women are partly to blame for their experience of sexual violence.

The rules imposed on women’s behaviour allow rapists to shift the responsibility for rape onto women wherever possible, so that rapists are sometimes portrayed as victims of malicious allegations, carelessness or stupidity. There is no other crime in which so much effort is expended to make the victim appear responsible.

Myth Women often make up stories or lie about being raped.

Fact For anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, whether or not to report to the police can be a difficult decision.  At present, it’s estimated that only 15% of the 85,000 women who are raped and over 400,000 who are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year report. One significant reason many women and girls tell us they don’t go to the police is because of their fear of not being believed.

Unfortunately, a disproportionate media focus on the very small number of cases each year that involve a so-called false allegation of sexual violence perpetuates the public perception that malicious false reporting is common. In fact, it is this perception that is entirely false. For many years, studies have suggested that false reporting rates for rape are no different from false reporting rates for any other crime, that is, around 4%. In March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are ‘very rare’ and suggesting they could make up less than 1% of all reports. Read more here.

Single White Female (Traveller)

“Oh Sarah”, said my mother, in that special tone of exasperation she seems to have only for me. “Why are you travelling alone? Don’t you have anyone you can go with? What if something happens”.  Let’s answer these questions one by one.

Don’t you have anyone you can go with? 

You can’t spend your whole life waiting for other people to do the cool shit you want to do. I became sick of missing out on life experiences merely because I didn’t already know someone who was going to do that thing. In short, travelling is a great way to make new friends.

What if something happens?

Here are my safety points.

1. never run out of cash

You never know when your bank card might mysteriously stop working, and as a person travelling alone, you have no friend that you could borrow money off in such a situation. Make sure you always have enough cash for a night in a hotel, a dinner, and a taxi ride to safety.

2. Keep your passport in your knickers.

When you’re wearing your backpack, it’s obvious that you have all your worldly possessions on you, so make sure you have your most important items (passports and emergency credit card) in a concealed money belt. If someone steals your phone or mp3 player, you’re gutted for a few days but life goes on. If someone takes your passport, you’ll have to go to the embassy to get a temporary document that is usually only good for one flight.

3. Don’t walk around alone at night.

Make friends with people in the hostel and explore with them.

 

Here are some photos of people I’ve made friends with on this trip:

Image

 

Having said all that, travelling solo does have it’s downsides. Firstly, accommodation can be trickier as you either end up paying 100% for a room (as opposed to splitting the cost with a friend) or staying in dorm rooms (which are cheap but rarely make for a good night’s sleep). Also, solo travel means doing 100% of the work, like reading up on stuff online, booking tickets, and all that other dull stuff that gets in the way of getting out there and enjoying whatever place you’re in.

But these are all small annoyances, and the benefits far outweigh them. My favourite “life skills” that I’ve learnt and continually refresh by travelling on my own is listening to myself and staying in the moment. What do I really want to do now? Am I hungry? Am I tired? With only myself for company and only myself to please the world is my oyster. Also, travelling means you can’t plan too much ahead. You can buy a flight, or reserve the odd bus, but in Central America the internet is much less used by businesses, so often it’s better to just rock up somewhere and take a look around to see what’s on offer.

All in all, travelling on my own isn’t my first choice, but I do feel a sense of achievement at all the stuff that I have done independently. But I’m also glad that my boyfriend and I have made a pact that the next time we do a big trip, we’re going to do it together, mainly because we are sick of spending 4 hours a week on Skype.

Monday Sexism

Today I had an interesting experience. I spoke with a man for 40 minutes, interpreting/helping a female coworker who is a highly qualified light/photography engineer. The man we were speaking to argued with us for 40 minutes about how what we wanted was wrong, but then immediately “understood” when our male coworker weighed in to explain. This leads me to come to the following conclusion:

“Women’s voices are high pitched, like dog whistles, and only some dogs can hear them.”

Joking aside, I’m pretty proud of myself for the way I handled it today. The last time I was in a similar situation, I let someone waste so much of my time that I finally said to the guy: “I’m going to be very direct. I wasn’t born yesterday. Please stop lying to me or I can’t help you”. I wish I was one of those people who could just smile and nod, but I’m not. Not yet. I wonder if I would still be me if I was that kind of person.

I suppose one has to choose their battles wisely, or else they will spend their whole life fighting. If someone is lying to me, my first instinct is to call them out, but in the world or work, that doesn’t usually result in cooperation, especially when dealing with male egos.

I’ve informed my male coworkers who aren’t cave dwellers that from now on, I want them to speak to this third party. I can’t change him and his ingrained opinions, nor the fact that he refuses to listen to smart women who have different ideas from him. Life would be much easier if I were a man (e.g.not having so much ridiculous and time consuming pressure on my appearance, traveling on my own, people taking me more seriously and allowing me to be a leader instead of cutting me down), but I’m not, and that’s that. I’m only here a few more weeks, I don’t care about this guy, and if he wants to discount what I have to say out of hand because I am a woman then he can talk to my male coworkers, they can say the same thing, and he might be less emasculated by that. But I need to bite my tongue from saying “You’re not listening because we are women”, because unlike Madrid, few people are direct here, least of all women to men. (After all the difficulties that I overcame in Madrid, who ever thought I would miss that city?)

Needless to say, it made me miss my partner terribly. He speaks to me like an equal in all things, he’s not scared to tell me that he disagrees with me, nor is he scared to admit when I am right. He never suggests that my map reading abilities may be sub par, even though we often “discover new destinations” when I am copilot in the car. He’s man enough to cook, and sing, and laugh and be silly.

Then I think about the girls at the home. They live here, they live in this culture. They are highly intelligent, beautiful young women, on their way to university. Will they internalise this crap, sitting in some office doing someone’s paperwork, thinking more about their hair, nails, and makeup, than they do about who they are and what they really want from life?

 

 

Help! I’m volunteering with teenage girls!

There’s nothing that strikes fear in my heart like the thought of working with other women, especially working with teenage ones. I have learned so much from all of my volunteering and subsequent youth work roles over the past 5 years and, but to be quite frank, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Personality clashes, gossip, activities that don’t match the student’s level, unwanted attention from men… But I have learned so much, and every success and defeat has lead me to this point.

There is no such thing as a bad experience. Learn From it!

I’ve spoken to a few friends who work in various fields with young people, and they have all told me one thing:

Building a relationship is the key.

I’ll be walking into yet another situation where I am “the new girl” (and not in a hot way, like Zooey Deschanel in the hit TV show) who doesn’t know where anything is or who is the best person to ask to get things done, but at least this time, I speak decent Spanish and I know enough to keep my mouth shut, my ears open until I know more about what makes the people around me tick.

Here is my plan on how I’m going  get to know the girls.

1. Introduce myself to all the girls on the first night.

Teenagers can smell fear, so in order to pretend that I’m not afraid, I’m going to bring a small something to give to each girl as a gift. One of my skills is arts and crafts, so I’m going to bring enough materials for each girl to make her own head band. On the first night, I’ll introduce myself to each girl, and give her a ribbon (which will be hers to keep to use in the workshop)

2. Bring a Frisbee.

The girls love to play sports at night to blow off steam, but when their ball goes over the wall they can’t retrieve it as it goes into El Bordo, a neighbourhood that is too dangerous to enter on foot. Hopefully by bringing a Frisbee we can get some informal games of Ultimate Frisbee going, which means that we can play without risk of losing the equipment.

3. Juggling.

Acting, theatre, and circus skills help people in their daily lives, from staying focused and calm while under pressure, to helping you to speak confidently in meetings and while giving presentations. I’m going to bring my juggling balls, and if there aren’t mandarin oranges available, get my driver to take me to a local market to pick up 20 or so to use as juggling balls for the girls.

4. Bring T-shirt customizing pens.

A few years ago, I invested in a set of T-shirt customizing pens. I’ve only used them once, so I’ll be taking them with me just in case there is some fabric that I can work with on a project with the girls.

5. Bring a harmonica.

A harmonica is a simple enough instrument that I can use it with the girls while doing rhythm and percussion activities. I know that they already have a guitar, but string instruments have never made sense to me, so I’ll bring something simple, lightweight, and cheap, in case I want to give it away when I leave.

All of these activities require minimal linguistic abilities. My role there isn’t as “English Teacher”, but “Stage Manager and Event Coordinator”, meaning that I need to motivate the girls and help them with rehearsals as well as being a bridge between the film crew and the school. But first I need to lay the groundwork for this, by building relationships with the girls, familiarizing myself with the facilities available, and settling in general.

How can I be confident in this new situation?

I think I’ll feel much more “official” if I make myself a name badge and get a t-shirt printed. That way, there will be no confusion about who I am or what I’m doing there, which often happens to new recruits in organisations both big and small.

I saw these photos this morning, and it made me think.

couples-switch-outfits-switcheroo-project-hana-pesut-291__88

http://www.boredpanda.org/switcharoo-couples-switch-outfits-hana-pesut/

I wouldn’t describe myself as a transvestite, but I am a female who has always been drawn to “boys” clothing. Even from as young as 10, I questioned why the school uniform for my tiny village school meant that girls wore tights and skirts in winter and not trousers. I tried to start a petition in the school, but my mother strongly discouraged me from being “different”. She wanted to protect me and she told me that doing that would get me into trouble, and so I felt that I had no choice but to forget about it until I was old enough to make my own decisions and speak my mind.

So many of my ideas and opinions seem to go against “the majority”. As a young child, I listened to my mother and followed her instructions without questioning why “everyone does thing x”, like wearing bras and shaving, but as an adult woman, I’m coming to realise that I only have 1 life and I can’t live someone else’s anymore. But how to gain the confidence and bravery to be who you really are when we are products of a society that tells women to “think before they speak”, yet seemingly gives men free reignWomen are “bossy”, whereas men are “authoritative”.

I would say that about 40% of my female friends in high school were “bisexual”, later coming out as gay (cue the “bi now, gay later” joke. Sigh. It’s all a spectrum, people). But when that happened, we were no longer friends anymore. They had joined a world that I was not allowed to join, because I happened to be straight. Often, I feel like I have more in common with homosexual women than heterosexual women, yet I’m mostly physically attracted to men, even though most of them are repelled by my “bossy” and “opinionated” ways, or else seeming attracted to conquering “a challenge” (but my gay friends tell me that dating women is no picnic either). I am incredibly happy in my current relationship, as my partner is one of the kindest, sweetest, most considerate straight males that I have ever come into contact with, and yet I can’t help but thinking he is “one of a kind”, as it’s not often I can say this about a man and then still actually fancy him.

Sometimes, I feel that it’s been one of the disappointments of my adult life finding out that I wasn’t gay, which is obviously a ridiculous thing to say (click here to see an amazing poem, Dear Straight People) as it must be horrible to live with people being prejudiced towards you or even just asking you personal questions like “Where did the sperm come from then?” when you have a babyI suppose this is just a case of the grass being always greener on the other side and if I had to live with that stuff EVERY day then I would change my tune. 

When I hear about things like women only gyms, cafes, and bars, I immediately want to go there. I grew up in a small town, where women were on the periphery of male groupings. As in, men have their camaraderie from being on the football team, and women (for whatever reason) don’t have a group of their own, and are just friends with their boyfriend’s friends’ girlfriends. Maybe this is why there is little sisterhood, as women are taught from early on that they are competing with each other for something, like male attention/recognition. Males hold the power, and women must dance to their tune to be “given” their share.

I leave you with another amazing poem, “Confessions of an Uneducated Queer” by Lauren Zuniga

Fear of…Teenage Girls

OLR

In 7 days, I’m headed to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, (dubbed by the media as “the murder capital of the world”), to work with the girls and young women at Our Little Roses. I have a lot of experience with under 11s, but working with the age bracket 15 and up scares me slightly.

I think the root of my fear of working with this age group is that I was a bit of a lost soul at that age myself. It was a dark time in my life, where I had a dim view of a system that I had seen fail me and many others, and I especially disliked people who I considered to be “do-gooders”. I was so desperate for peer recognition that I did every rebellious thing that I could, regardless of whether I enjoyed it or not, like smoking, drinking, and going to music festivals.

I made a point of associating with people older than me, and I had zero positive role models. Not that I wanted any anyway; as far as I was concerned, the world was broken, and I had completely lost faith in any force for good.
Although the girls at the home and I are from worlds apart, I know what it is like to feel alone and abandoned. Maybe these girls will be different from how I was; I had seen it all and I wasn’t interested in anything you had to tell me. I really hope that I don’t find anyone there who is as disillusioned as I was.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I’ve managed to make some peace with the past, rediscovering who I am and what I really like to do. I’m very aware that I am privileged to be involved in this project, and I want to be of as much use there as possible. I hope I have the confidence to be myself with these girls. Maybe they have more to teach me than I have to teach them.

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