Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Utopia That Will Be

Emma Watson's incredible opening speech for the He For She campaign broke the ice and started a dialogue about feminism.

The twelve minute long speech broke the silence about what it is to be a feminist, and how important it is that we work together as a whole to make the world a better place.

I am only 34 years old, but twenty-three years ago, I went with the girls in my class to see the school nurse for a talk about our procreational organs and the biology of womanhood. We listened to the nurse talk about our periods and the monthly cycle, and how to avoid getting pregnant. 

The second part, how to avoid getting pregnant is not the lecture the boys heard. They were not told about periods or how the female body functions. And I too never heard the lecture they were given about how puberty affects them.

This was the first sign of the segregation of the sexes. Girls learned about their part in the procreational cycle and boys about their part. 

Then came the time when I experienced sexism first hand for the very first time. As a little girl, I understood the world didn't view me in the same light as the boys in my class. The sex education class was not even the first hint. But up until that point, I had been sheltered by doting parents who saw only the individual in their little girl.

I was 12 years old and the new school year was about to start. That year we got a new PE teacher. Up until then, I'd had the same PE teachers since first grade, a married couple who taught together and kept it fun and interesting.

In the first PE class of the new semester, the class was an assembly of curious pre-teens. The new teacher was a man probably in his mid to late twenties, perhaps early thirties. He was someone who was only interested in sports involving balls, that is, handball, football and basketball. I can't remember the very first time I realized he viewed the boys as superior sportsmen, but it happened early enough in the semester. 

Every single time football, handball or basketball was played in class, he split the class in two, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. He told the girls to play ball and that he would check upon us every now and then. For most of the class, he focused his attention on the boys. He was quite explicit, and even said so once, that girls were inferior sportsmen than boys. 

I understood this was not right. It was misogyny, a word I didn't know at the time. But the concept was no longer foreign to me. 

For the duration of the school year, the girls were excluded from playing sports with the boys, apart from the rare occasion when we played sports that did not require a ball to kick or throw.

Seeing that I grew up in a town where football, otherwise known as soccer, was the number one sport for both girls and boys, this was an odd arrangement. Our previous PE teachers had not divided us in teams based on our gender, but rather by number. 

In the following school yeara new PE teacher took his place and once again, we were divided into teams by number.

This first encounter with gender discrimination may seem harmless enough, and I may come across as petulant for recalling it still, but it is nonetheless no more acceptable than any other form of discrimination. 

Yes, we were not force-fed while imprisoned as our foresisters were in their battle for women's right to vote. But we did not deserve to be treated this way. We were young girls, only just beginning our journey to womanhood, and yet already battered by sexism.

Generations of women fought in body and mind to achieve equal rights for themselves and future generations of women. For their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and daughters, they fought and they achieved great many things. For some of these women, that meant a great personal sacrifice; exclusion, imprisonment, violence and hatred toward them was the day to day life.

Thanks to them, I started my life with a blank page.   

Generations of women throughout the ages were not so fortunate. The story of their lives was written for them, their life a script for which they claimed no authorship. Women were expected to read their lines like the good little girls they were, and for all of their existence be the dutiful daughters, wives and mothers.

The summary of their life was written by the men in their lives. A woman wed to a good man was perhaps protected from the violence she otherwise could be exposed to, and she may have been happy.
After all, men are not evil as a gender (and neither are women). Many husbands, and I'd like to believe that most did, loved their wives and daughters in all sincerity, and wanted nothing but the best for them.

The curse of the vast inequality of previous ages is simply that a woman was not believed to be capable of knowing what was best for her, or her children. She was as much a child as her own children.

Therefore, the real curse of men and women is the society that breeds a hierarchy of the sexes, the traditions and the beliefs that fuel society's standards, that are the devil. The rivalry of the sexes, the gender-biasism of stereotyping (and therefore condemning) each other into roles we are taught to believe are normal, is the great divider.

It is truly my belief that neither men or women can claim to be better than the other on the mere basis of their sex.  

To me, sex is the biological term for the body we are born with, and yes, as such men and women are different in various ways.

Gender on the other hand to me implies a notion, an idea of the sexes, of what they represent and of their supposed qualities. It's a neutral word with potentially explosive effects. 

To evaporate the explosive side of an otherwise perfectly neutral term, we need to investigate our prejudices, that is, the futile stereotyping of one another, and begin to see ourselves as people, as individuals of the human race. As such, we are allies. 

Our goal should be to build a society where we encourage individualism, where the belief in the good that is within us overpowers the poison of evil deeds in the name of gender. To be good, fair and kind should be the fuel that powers society.

My feminist ideal is simply the reinvigoration of the individual, and of liberating ourselves from the confinement of gender-based stereotyping.  

To give birth to such a society will require efforts to silence the prejudice that thrives in all societies (or so it seems), and to teach new generations - as well as firmly reiterate to generations already exposed to it - to always see the person before the gender.

It may seem futile to hold onto this utopian dream where humans exist without prejudice, but it seems to me that in order to see any progress at all, two steps are needed instead of just the one. 

As Emma Watson so beautifully reminded us, feminism is not the foe of men. The foe of men and women is inequality because whether we like to admit it or not, both women and men suffer for it while we let it exist. 

Feminism is but a word, a powerful word for a belief system that seeks to balance the inequality of this world. It is a word with historical reference to a movement that has truly changed the world for the better. Last but not least, it is an academic word for an ideology, an umbrella term for many different branches of thought.

Feminism explores the roles of genders in our society, and seeks now as always to even out the inequality. As such, the quest for individuals to be authentic in their own unique way, and to be the only writers to the story of their life, is fueled by feminist beliefs. 

It may seem futile to sign the pledge and declare your support for women's rights. But it isn't if all who sign act accordingly. If all of us, men and women, actively rebel against sexism either way it goes, we are making a worthwhile effort. 

Emma Watson gave us all a reason to join the movement of change in her launching speech for the He for She campaign. She asked herself who was she to launch such a big campaign. How could a 24 years old actress be the one to start such an important campaign. Well, if not her, then who, and if not at the age of 24, then when. 

And the same goes for all us, regardless of our age and sex. It's never too late to make a difference.

Next time I encounter sexism and hesitate before protesting, I shall ask myself that very same question, "if not me, who and if not now, when".

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Heart Has a Way

I once wrote that it was not my destiny to fall in love, to find a soulmate to share the ups and downs of life with. I was only 22 and only just starting out my life as a young adult. Life was a black hole of opportunities, and yet in my naivety, I had written off companionship.

The reason was simple. A broken heart, an illusion of the one and only, and youth's impatience for all of life's answers to reveal themselves to me, not just the moments along the way. 

The paragraphs of my writing at the time paint a picture of a vivacious but shy, hopeful but sad, happy but confused and yet already brave enough to take a risk and make a dream come true.

A few pages of dwelling in the past, of looking back in time and meeting me, a young and insecure me with a beautiful independent spirit. It's funny to look straight into the raw centre of the self and discover how early I found my two passions, traveling and writing. 

It seems it was always meant to be. Those two passions gave life a meaning before I understood how they've shaped my every step in life.

In writing, it's not just the act of writing. It's the act of reading, of bathing in words that are attached to a white slender sheet or a soft beige page on which words, sentences and paragraphs decipher the mysteries of this world.

A single word moves the soul across the horizon and all the way to the sun. Even though this universe is but a reflection of the past, a glimpse into a past, life happens in the moment. This life is reflected on the pages of great literature, and moves the soul. It brings joy, sadness and amusement - a roller coaster of emotions as the eyes scan the pages to find the answer to the mystery, finiteness to the story.

Traveling on the other hand is a curious journey with no predefined end. And one ending often leads to another beginning. It's the journey of continuity, one that answers the questions I didn't think I wanted an answer to.

It's a mirror for the soul. On the road that is travelled the light of knowledge glows brighter than ever, and the senses are wide awake. Each day is a new adventure, a new dimension, a new look on life and this incredible planet of ours, and the extraordinary people on it.

Both passions are still as strong as they were twelve years ago. The urge to explore and the urge to express is bursting within, like a bubble about to burst from excitement. 

Much has changed since I took my first steps into adulthood. I no longer live in Paris even though my love for Paris is as strong as ever. I have seen more of the world and learnt to land on my feet no matter what with relative ease. I have travelled down the road of literary academia, and fallen deeper in love with words and their infinity. 

The one thing I learnt along the way is that life has a way. The map is not mapped out by fate or a plan that is decided for us. It's the decisions that we make along the way, followed by the one after that, and so on. 

The only compass is the heart, and thankfully, I listened to mine and found myself on a path that is entirely mine. I share it with the love of my life, who celebrates his 34th birthday for another  half hour or so, and encourages me to pursue the passions that still give my life a greater meaning - as I encourage him. 

At 22, I didn't know true companionship, the kind where mutual respect and deeply rooted affection for one another - one that is born out of love and continues to thrive in love - and this as it turned out to be,   is the surprise I treasure the most.

Life is indeed a beautiful journey of unpredictability with no fated end. 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Erupting Bang of the Bunga

As the world knows by now, the awesome forces of nature are at work in the remote highlands of Iceland. This is an extraordinary event, something so unspeakably beautiful that finding a word powerful enough to describe its magnitude is nigh-impossible. 

Many want to travel to the site of this great event, and there are those who have tried. It's understandable but it's unacceptable, and high fines are the price to pay. The site is only for scientists and journalists whose job it is to research and report on the ongoing activity.

Sightseeing tours to the eruption by air - in a safe distance - is probably the closest look the general public can expect to get of this dramatic display of nature. 

And how wondrous that would be!

But with journalists on site we, the public, catch a distant glimpse of this amazing perfection of nature. Images and video clips of the eruption  bring awe to our bodies and soul, leaving a permanent impression of the grandeur of this world of ours. 

This footage by Jón Gústafsson and this footage from the Icelandic Broadcasting Company is truly magnificent.

How insignificant we are in the presence of such greatness! 

How small and unimportant in comparison to this true wonder of nature!