Living

Tits Up

A few days ago I posted a collection of photos on my personal Facebook page titled ‘Houston Food and Art – a perfect weekend getaway!’ A few hours later I received a notification that one of the photos ‘violated the Facebook Community Standards’ which has rules on nudity, sexual and violent content.

The photo is of a sculpture by Australian artist, Ron Mueck, that is on exhibition at the Houston Fine Arts Museum. ‘Mother and Child’ depicts a newborn on its mother’s belly- and yes, there is a breast!

Facebook led me through a series of hoops, chastising me for posting the photo and essentially making me agree to be more careful before allowing me to access the rest of my account. At the end of the process I was asked to rate my experience and I expressed my distaste for this censorship – sadly I have not received a response, nor has the photo been restored.

Since then, I have heard about Facebook removing several photos of women breastfeeding. It’s 2017- breasts are EVERYWHERE and usually portrayed in an unrealistic and sexualized way. How is it we have created a culture in which posed sexualized photos are deemed ok, but photos of real women are considered offensive? I typed ‘boobs’ into my Facebook search and got a plethora of highly-sexualized images of topless women. There are even several pages devoted to the subject and all the photos privacy settings are public.

It is tempting to go into a rant regarding FBs guidelines however the real issue here is that if Facebook is a platform which is based on user content and these images are being removed- what does that say about the values and morality of the users? Plus, Facebook has the feature that if someone is offended by something I post they can opt not to see my stuff in the future- so if you are the person who ‘reported’ this photo, please feel free to unfollow me.

From an art perspective, one could even use Magritte’s argument and say that ‘Ceci n’est pas un sein’ (This is not a breast)- it is the representation of a breast made out of acrylic, fiberglass and silicone.  And while the museum offered a warning of nudity and graphic images at the entrance to the exhibition, I saw several children there with their parents.  I think good art should make you feel  and do you know what I felt as I saw the detailed and raw depictions of the human bodies in this exhibition? I felt inspired and good about my own human body. The sculptures are a far healthier portrayal than the images that come at us everyday from the culture we usually digest; advertising,  porn, movies and television. Personally, I am exhausted by the false-perfection we have been dishing up as a culture.

imageThe Ron Mueck sculpture ‘mother and child’ depicts the most basic of human experiences; the moment of birth. If you’re reading this- you’ve been there! How can something depicting this universal and authentic experience be censored? It’s been over 25 years since Demi Moore bravely graced the cover of Vanity Fair magazine when she was seven months pregnant.  It was a bold move for a Hollywood star considering they weren’t even allowed to use the word ‘pregnant’ in ‘I Love Lucy’ in the 1950s.

How far have we really evolved?

 

Living

On Technology…

april coverEditorial of the April issue of The Eye. Thanks for reading! http://www.TheEyeHuatulco.com

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

Albert Einstein

I am a technology resister- without a doubt more Wilma Flintstone than Judy Jetson. I read books not tablets – I love the smell and feel of paper over the subtle hum of electronics. My daily planner is one of those cumbersome paper ones and it never leaves my office. While some might view this as an inconvenient method to run a business, as I need to be physically in my office to schedule anything – for me it is a luxury.

I was very resistant to getting an iPhone. Did I really need email alerts at the grocery store or to check Facebook when I was out with real people? Eventually I gave in. When the screen got smashed up I continued to use it for months. It still worked – as a phone. Upon seeing my damaged phone, one woman remarked that I deserved a new one and that I should ‘treat’ myself. I responded that the treat was to not be so attached to my phone.

Don’t get me wrong – I think technology is cool, science is cool, talking to a friend on the other side of the planet with the touch of a button on a cordless device is super cool! But most us have become slaves to technology. We are desperately creating electronic scrapbooks of moments that are gone. Filling fake clouds with stuff we don’t even know why we’re saving, or what for. We are living with sound bites rather than substance. Our everyday lives have become a virtual existence rather than one based in reality – most of our communication is via devices and shared moments happen through screens, which capture the aesthetics of a moment but not the emotion – technology has not managed to capture the subtlety of human experience. There is no emoji to capture … all the best moments. The flicker of a feeling you get when you walk on a crisp fall day and for a second you know everything is going to be ok … a flicker of inner peace.

So has technology exceeded our humanity? Has it dumbed us down to communicate our feelings via emojis? Sanskrit has 96 words for love. We have happy faces with hearts for eyes.

Did Albert Einstein even really say that? I wish he had – it would fit perfectly with my beliefs – add some heft to the idea that what we are experiencing is a momentous and scary collective experience. But ironically there is no proof that he even said it. It is a perfect example of the soundbite machine roller coaster we are all on, where it seems if something gets repeated enough it could be true … alternative quotes.

See you next month,

Jane

 

Living

Happy Love Month!

february-coverHappy Love Month! This is my editorial from The Eye magazine this month. For those of you who don’t me personally, I am the editor of an English-language magazine in Mexico called The Eye, in addition to owning a restaurant and a cooking school. The magazine really allows me to explore different aspects of life in Mexico and connect with amazing writers and of course our readers. You can check out current and back issues online at http://www.TheEyeHuatulco.com or if you are fortunate enough to be in Oaxaca or Huatulco you can pick up a hard copy.

 

Editor’s Letter | Beach, Village & Urban Living in Oaxaca

“I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.”

― Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

I am feeling very exhausted. Everywhere people are bubbling over with their opinions, demanding their right to be heard but it seems we are so busy talking that the entire planet has actually stopped listening. All mouths are open and everyone I meet is ready to let me know where they stand on the state of world politics – by this I mean American politics – since WWII, America has prided itself on being the leader of the Free World and the consequence is that much of the world feels totally within its rights to weigh in. Add that to the fact that America has rarely hesitated to weigh in on the politics of other nations – and we all carry our opinions about those actions – layers and layers of ‘I thinks’ and ‘I believes’- each of us holding onto these values, believing that they have come to define us.

Strangely for me, an outspoken feminist, the day of The March did not incite in me the feeling of power it seemed to for the rest of my contemporaries. As I looked through my social media feed and saw photos of many people I respected taking to the streets, I felt sad rather than exhilarated. I felt even sadder when I read comments from those who were against the march. I asked myself… ‘Can I respect people whose opinions are so offensive to me and different from my own?’

Here’s what I realized. The wall has already been built. Without laying a single brick we have completely divided ourselves by allowing our beliefs to define and separate us. None of the issues being presented at the moment are new; access to abortion, equal pay, sexual assault, immigration reform, gay rights, police brutality. These are not just issues concerning the USA – these are issues we need to be concerned about worldwide. Human rights are a problem worldwide. There are many people around the world who do not have the privilege and freedom to attend a march or have access to rant on social media. If you are even reading this, you are most likely a lot ‘freer’ than the rest of the world.

If we really don’t want a wall, we need to stop talking. We need to stop shouting at people to love more. Shhhhhhh. Enjoy the silence. Listen to your heart beating inside your body. Before your gender, your culture, the randomness of the country where you were born, the religious and political beliefs you were raised with- before all that, you were just a beating heart, in the bubble of quiet of your mother’s womb. It was safe. You were most definitely loved.

Can I respect people whose opinions are offensive to me and different from my own? If I really want to be a part of the change I want to see, then I am going to have to learn to.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Jane

Food, Living

It takes a village… the building of our Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School

picmonkey-collageI have been involved in several building projects while living in Mexico but none has been as exciting or as rewarding for me as our Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School. Located in the village of Zimatan, I wanted the building to fit in with the architecture of the buildings in this rural area. Most of the houses in the village are rectangular with small windows and galvanized metal roofing. Since our cooking classes showcase the beauty and dignity of Oaxacan cooking, our building needed to be a testament to that as well. In the same way a mole recipe evolves using the ingredients of a particular area, our building needed to use materials that were found around us; river rock, stone, wood and I felt the same should be applied to labor.

Village life is very gender segregated. Women in my village are not even permitted to attend town meetings unless they are the ‘head of their household’- meaning they have no husband. So I was more than a little nervous as this project was my first time building without a husband to negotiate and deal with decisions such as where to put the septic tank.

Blandino, the mason, and his two sons, who live in the village, collected rock from around the property to build our retaining wall and patio. In other projects I have been involved with we always ordered our cement blocks already made from the hardware store. Blandino mentioned that Andres, a man in our village, made blocks, so we decided to make them on-site. This decision led to us having a higher quality block, it was about the same price as buying the ready-made blocks, but we also created a job.

Seeing Andres make blocks was amazing. All cement was mixed by hand, poured into molds and then set in the sun to dry. When it came time to get a door, the metal smith in the village made one and the electrician who installed the lights lives just a few doors down.

In the cooking classes I talk a lot about the dignity of what we term ‘women’s work’- cooking, housekeeping, child rearing. My experience of being a stay-at-home mother in Mexico during my daughter’s early years was life changing and forced me to reevaluate my own ideas about gender. It was the beauty of this time that led me to want to give cooking classes.

I always have thought of the cooking classes as a way of shedding light on the dignity of ‘women’s work’ but as I look around the cooking school it dawns on me that the building is truly a testament to the beauty of ‘men’s work’.  Much in the same way it takes a village to make a tortilla; men to grow the corn and women to grind, form and cook it on the comal, our cooking school is the product of a long line of tradition.

For more information about our classes: www.HuatulcoCookingClasses.com

Living

Election Thoughts

libertycrying1

It’s an awkward situation. You can hear your neighbor next door raising his voice, punching a wall, talking shit. Should you say anything? Is it any of your business? It’s so ugly. The voices get louder, he’s calling her all sorts of names, the kids are crying and then a fatal punch… boom.

It’s late. I should be in bed as I have to get up early, but I am drawn to the election results like a bad accident and as the numbers go up in favor of Donald Trump I feel sick. I am not American- is it even my problem? Am I entitled to feel the complete disgust that is washing over me?

I loved the posts earlier in the day of women flocking to Susan B Anthony’s grave because it highlighted the importance of gender in this election- wait… that is still too narrow, as ‘election’ implies that for just this moment, as though it is important- because maybe something just happened. But that’s not it… Gender is ALWAYS the issue. Yet, it is the issue that gets brushed aside like some Mad Men ad exec asking a woman to bring him coffee with a hearty guffaw and then calling her uppity if she dares to protest.

The election season in the US has been a shit-show, a live-Jerry-Springer for those of us on the outside, but during the whole thing I have been amazed at how gender has taken a backseat to ‘black-lives-matter’ and the economy (women still earning 77 cents on the dollar with men in the US) with a gentle pat on the back and condescending ‘we’ll get to you later dear… calm down.’

In many places throughout the world, women are denied access to education, married as children or forced into human trafficking. Gender issues transcend race by being inclusive of the majority of the population and yet in this past election were sidebars. Anti-women propaganda and behavior was labeled ‘inappropriate’ rather than criminal and women’s issues were barely discussed with any real seriousness.

With the results of the US election, I feel a great sadness for the women that came before me. For the first time, it feels like their strides have been too short. I feel sadness for myself and my daughter, for the women in my Mexican village who are not allowed to attend town meetings, for the single mothers of the world, for women earning half of what men earn, for the women who believe their sexuality is their greatest asset, for the women wishing they had a voice in their own homes, for the women who need to work against ‘feeling’ like a victim in a society that victimizes them every day with a worldwide political system that belittles their power.

I am so tired of Donald Trump and the culture of slicing and dicing up our self-esteem and measuring our worth. I am sick of the American media machine that had a female candidate defending being ‘nasty’. Enough! There are more important issues and they involve humanity. They involve slowing down the ‘hate and winning machine’ and working on ‘empowering, cooperation and finding solutions.’

What do you say to your neighbor when you see her the next day with a black eye and a swollen lip? I don’t know.

 

 

Living

Supporting Girls’ Education

PicMonkey CollageFifteen is a magical age- in Mexico it is the time of quinceañeras and celebration as girls teeter on the brink of womanhood. It is also the age of high teen pregnancy rates- especially in lower income areas. The report — “Maternity childhood” Population Fund United Nations (UNFPA) revealed that Mexico is the leading nation in teen pregnancies with the alarming rate of 64.2 teen pregnancies per thousand births. Generally speaking, teen pregnancies are associated with poorer living conditions and the girls receiving lower levels of education. Girls with a higher education level, with a dream for the future and with a hope of success are much less likely to get pregnant.
A few years ago I met Johanne Lalonde in one of my cooking classes. In my classes I talk a great deal about the magic of the tiny village where I live- just 25 minutes from a world-class resort area but a world away- with no telephones, internet and many households still cooking on open fire, growing their own corn and maintaining an incredible amount of self-sufficient living. The village has a kindergarten, an elementary school and a secondary school (grades 7, 8 and 9)- making it possible for children to be educated within the village until that magical age of 15.
I started to notice that while some girls continued studying to high school even though their families now had to cover transportation costs to attend the high school in a neighboring village- many did not. Many got pregnant.
While some studies point to the lack of contraceptive education or acceptance with regards to teen pregnancy. I firmly believe that education, visualization and hope of a future are much bigger factors. Young women and girls need to proactively choose their future.
From this idea, Johanne and I started a program we named ‘Sigue Estudiando’ (Keep Studying) with the goal of keeping girls in school. One girl from each grade in secondary school would receive a scholarship towards her future educational needs.
Unicef reports in their study on gender equality ‘Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.’
When we support girl’s education we are supporting not only the individuals but helping communities to break the cycle of poverty. We are in the second year of the program currently have 6 scholarship recipients and while it is early to track the success of such a program, I have no doubt that it is having a positive effect. I asked last year’s recipients to write a letter to Johanne and I was very moved when one of the young women succinctly wrote that the biggest gift, more so than the money, was the knowledge and encouragement that came from knowing someone was caring for their education.
If you are interested in helping or getting involved please contact me through The Eye.
theeyehuatulco@gmail.com
Currently I am trying to get laptops for this years recipients- if you would like to donate one or have a gently used one that you don’t use, please let me know.
Living

Raising a Woman

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Being a woman is difficult. From the moment we become aware of our female-ness we struggle between the desire to be the adored princess and to protect our dignity. The virgin/ whore dichotomy of the female sex is universal and as old as time.  If managing my own womanliness has been difficult, raising a woman is proving to be a constant revision of my own morals, hopes and expectations.

When my daughter was born she all loveliness and beauty which seemed like a blessing. As a woman I was well aware of the dangers and pitfalls of all that loveliness and I straddled wanting her to feel empowered yet cautious without scaring her- I didn’t want her experience in the world to violate the trust and faith about how beautiful life can be.

But the truth is that being a woman is difficult. When she was little I worried about pedophiles… what parent who hasn’t watched Law and Order hasn’t? We live in a world where after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean one of the biggest concern was all the children at risk for human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children. Trafficking primarily involves exploitation which comes in many forms, including: forcing victims into prostitution, subjecting victims to slavery or involuntary servitude and compelling victims to commit sex acts for the purpose of creating pornography.

I consider myself someone who escaped the treacherous waters of childhood and adolescence somewhat unscathed; there was the man who exposed his penis to me in the park when I was 9, there was the man on the crowded bus when I was 12 who stuck his hand between my legs and gave me my first feeling of shame when I found myself too stunned to move or cry out, there was the ‘friend’ in college who pressed me against the pinball machine in a crowded bar and told me that for his birthday he wanted to rape me ‘Jodie Foster- style’. This is what I consider unscathed. Many of my friends- middle-class, University educated, strong women- have been raped, some by even several men at once, some by men they considered friends. Their stories weren’t made into Lifetime movies of the week- some of them said nothing, feeling that it was easier to forget, to move on. Now that my daughter is growing into womanhood I worry about everyone.

While I was at university, a ‘walksafe’ program was implemented and women were cautioned against walking alone after dark- in Canada after dark in the winter is 4pm! We thought this was normal. I found comfort studying Women Studies and feeling grateful that I wasn’t living in West Africa where female genital mutilation is still practiced (More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia) or Saudi Arabia where women aren’t even allowed to drive. I read Andrea Dworkin and Camille Paglia for guidelines on how to interpret this lurking feeling of persecution.  I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco…. I still do. I struggled with wanting to feel sexy yet dignified.

People haven’t changed but our culture has. An article on how female athletes in the Olympics get more comments about their appearance than male athletes recently circulated. This is a nice safe subject compared to the one about the 16 year old girl who was raped in Rio by over 30 men (7 have been charged). Female sexuality is more pervasive than ever; Kim Kardashian posts nude selfies and gets called brave, Fifty Shades of Grey made submissiveness mainstream and with a marketing sleight of hand turned it into some kind of distorted version of empowerment.

Growing up in a world with ‘walksafe’ programs at least we were talking about the issues. Raising a daughter in the Kardashian age can make you want to punch someone in the face. Sexuality today is not something to protect, it is something every girl can own and feel empowered by….Really? I have my doubts. Paglia wrote that we can’t count on morality to protect us, while it seemed extreme and bordering on ‘blame the victim’ in the 90s I think it is a must in today’s Kardashian age.

At my daughters school last year there was a petition because a girl was sent home for inappropriate dress; too revealing. ‘We should be able to wear what we want!’ my daughter exclaimed like she was Rosa Parks fighting for a seat on the bus. I didn’t sign the petition. I don’t think it is fair to put the ‘choice’ on fifteen year old girls when we are raising them in a culture that has sexualized them from such a young age. Is it really a choice when societal values are so crass?

My daughter is growing up. She is beautiful, a very good and nice person. Sometimes she wears short shorts and tight tops that accentuate her breasts. I sometimes make her change her clothes. I want her to feel beautiful, loved and powerful. I want her to make good choices, but I know how difficult this must be in the Kardashian age. There is a lot I am sure I don’t hear about, but I hear about enough to know that my daughter cannot make these choices on her own. I have heard about other parents playing beer pong with fifteen-year-olds and letting them go to nightclubs when they are supposed to be having sleepovers.

I don’t care if my daughter is mad at me for being ‘strict’, for the midnight curfew- it was good enough for Cinderella-, for occasionally making her change her clothes, for taking away her phone when she is caught lying. My job as a parent is to protect and educate her so that when she is out in the world she is making choices that afford her dignity and self-respect. Because while she may look like a woman, she is still very much a little girl- we all are.