Living

Election Thoughts

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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.