So, You’re Jewish

download (3)I was riding the train home tonight and spoke with one of the passengers about his glasses. I told him that I needed new glasses. He nodded, paused the conversation, then asked, “Are you Jewish?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so.” he nodded again as if proud of his Jew-dar. He asked me, “Is she Jewish too?” He meant the woman sitting next to me, a woman I had never met before.

She told him she wasn’t and he said, “Oh well, I was right fifty percent. Fifty fifty odds.” He was smiling as we both got off the train.

I don’t know what to make of this conversation or this man. I don’t understand. I didn’t do anything that should have singled me out. Maybe I look Jewish. I don’t know. My Jewish education taught me to fear Antisemitism to a debilitating extreme. My great-aunt reminds me to be afraid but also proud of my heritage but also conceal that I’m Jewish because it’s dangerous. I don’t want her to be right. I live with enough repressed fear walking around as a woman with the audacity to travel alone. Living under rape culture is enough to be afraid of.

I didn’t feel threatened on the train, though maybe I should have. I don’t understand what happened. If anyone has any insight or advice, please let me know. I appreciate it.

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Are you married? and other loaded questions

I bus tables at a restaurant and a coworker today asked me if I was married. He’s older, in his thirties or forties and though I knew he wasn’t asking me out, I was deeply uncomfortable.

I told him no, I’m not married and he proceeds to tell me that he’s surprised because with my sweet personality he’s sure some nice guy will snatch me up soon. Bull shit.  He thinks this a compliment but I went from being uncomfortable to being offended. I don’t want to be snatched up! I’m not some dessert made for someone’s pleasure. Who I am cannot be broken down into ‘sweet’ and if I am sweet it is not for the benefit of anyone else, regardless of sex or gender.

The worst part was he was trying to be nice! But questions like this are heteronormative. He assumed I was straight, assumed I wanted (and needed) a man in my life and assumed that I had the privilege of being able to get married if I so choose. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong again. I have ace friend who worked at a restaurant and she pretended to be a lesbian because it was more convenient for her than having to explain being ace. I don’t want to pretend to be anything. I am asexual and I don’t want to hide this fact, but I don’t know how to bring it up. It’s not my place to explain my sexuality to my coworker and I am not comfortable having that conversation at work, especially with an older man I barely know.

I feel gross and objectified. I’m not a person in his eyes because all I am is a sweet girl ripe for marriage. Is it so much to ask to be treated as a human being?

I pulled him aside and told him his comment made me uncomfortable. He asked why and I said because it was a personal question. This is true; it is a personal question. But more than that, it’s a loaded question. Even with the best intentions, asking someone questions about romantic or sexual relationships can make the other person feel threatened. I am immediately on edge if someone asks me if I have a boyfriend. Even the non gender specific question of “Are you dating anyone?” holds assumptions about my sexuality and I will inevitably disappoint with my answer.

Does anyone have advice on answering or diverting loaded questions? Any advice on how to watch your language so you don’t make someone else feel unsafe? I would appreciate the feedback. Thank you.

Asexual Flag. Proud to be ace.

Asexual Flag. Proud to be ace.

Motivation: As Narrated by Men

If you look up motivational videos on youtube you’ll notice a disturbing trend. Whether it’s one long speech or a compilation of movie speeches, motivational quotes and intense action or training montages, the videos are always narrated by men.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsSC2vx7zFQ

How about:

And:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2WVHIau77Q

If I want to find women narrating to me about motivation and pushing myself to be better than my best, I have to look specifically for “motivational videos women.” Women are not the norm but the deviation. But women do not need specific motivation geared toward us!  The same ideas about “fall 7 seven times get up 8 times” about “take hits because life is tough but we are tougher” are not advice just for men. There is no monopoly on success but mainstream media wants us to believe women are inherently different.

There is no gender monopoly on success and motivation! We do not need “motivational videos for women.” We need non-gender specific motivation that recognizes human potential for success not male potential or female potential. We all can get beaten down by life and we all deserve to be told not to sit down and take it.

Take Up Space

It is not difficult to look into a room and know immediately who controls the area. Watch people’s body language. How do they sit? Who is standing? Where are they gathered and around who are they gathered? Who looks the most comfortable in the space? Chances are the ones in control of the space are men.

Count how many women sit with their legs or ankles crossed.  Count how many men sit with their legs splayed. Who is controlling the space?

Men are taught to take up space when they enter a room. Whether that is literally inhabiting more area by sitting with their legs splayed, or standing with confidence to dominate those who are sitting, men are taught they enter a space and they own it. Any competition to be top-dog exists between men only. Women in the space are fixtures of beauty to be acted upon and brought into their sphere of influence.

Just the other day I was standing and drinking tea with a male professor. Another man came by and asked if I was cold. I was not cold and for a moment I did not understand. Then it became clear: I was standing with my tea cup grasped with both hands in front of my chest and my shoulders hunched together. I looked cold because I was unconsciously trying to take up less room.

While men are taught to dominate public spaces, women are taught that their presence is tolerated so long as they don’t speak up or take the spotlight from men. It’s so easy to sink into the shadows when you’ve been taught your whole life the public sphere is not for you. It’s easy to relinquish control to the idea of male domination because most of this power dynamic is incredibly subtle.

It’s me standing with my whole body hunched in on itself to give my professor more room. It’s me walking just slightly behind a male companion to let him lead. It’s me readily giving up my control of a situation. Because that’s what this concept of public space is about: control.

If you control the space, you control the people in the space. You set the agenda for what is heard, what is said and what is taken seriously. With myself included, women need to take up more space. It won’t be easy because a woman who takes up space is a woman with a voice and a woman with a voice is a woman who is shot down at every turn. It is “unladylike” and you will be criticized for it. But it is better to have a voice and push to be heard because eventually you will succeed. With more and more women understanding this idea of body politics, we will succeed.

When women take up space we create a more equal playing field before words are even spoken. We challenge the status quo by putting our bodies out there as whole people who deserve respect. Respect yourself and take up more space.

Dear Men: A list of what I do not owe you

In a hypothetical situation that very closely (some might even go so far as to say exactly) mirrors reality, I am walking down the street in Istanbul trying to find my way to the shuttle that will take me to the airport. A shoe-shine man drops one of his brushes. I pick it up and hand it back to him.

Dear Shoe-Shine Man:

I do not owe you

  1. where I am from
  2. my name
  3. my age
  4. my marital status
  5. my time

I helped you, but that does not mean you delay me by insisting you shine my shoes and asking me personal questions. My life is my own. My time is my own. I do not not owe you my time. Just because I am a woman walking down the street without a man does not mean I am available.

Do not take my help as flirting. I did nothing to invite your attention and I do not want your attention. Please, shoe-shine man, get a grip on your ego and do not assume that I am straight or that I am automatically interested in you.

Thank you and please be a decent human being.

Another hypothetical situation:

I am walking by myself in Izmir killing some time and decide to get a cup of tea. After passing by  multiple places I deem to be a bit too sketchy, I pick a restaurant, sit down and order.

Dear Waiter,

I do not owe you:

  1. my name
  2. my age
  3. my facebook information
  4. my phone number

I am buying a cup of tea. A woman by herself should not be a walking anomaly. I might give you my name to be polite, but you do not need to know my age. Especially when you tell me you think I’m 15. When I correct you and say that I am twenty, it is poor manners to say “Me too!” and ask if I’m on facebook then hand over your phone for my number. We do not know each other. I have given no indication that I am interested in you in a romantic fashion. Being alone and being American does not make me more available or more flirtatious. It means I’m alone and I’m American.

In the future, please check your ego before you speak to your female customers.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

People have told me the above scenarios are a cultural issue, not a sexist issue. They tell me it is to be expected if I am traveling alone. I tell them that it should never be expected for a woman to receive harassment because that is condoning oppressive treatment.

In addition there is nothing cultural about men believing they have the right to pick up women wherever they are. The same attitude from men exists in America. The pervasive attitude is that all women exist to serve men and that if a man gives you a compliment or asks for your phone number you should be elated. A man showed interest in you! That’s one step closer to the womanly ideal of marriage and a family! And while those ideals are fine for some women as long as it’s what they want, they are not fine for all women. They are certainly not fine for me.

It’s difficult to tell men “no” because of how much we’ve been conditioned to acquiesce to the “more dominant sex.” But as women we need to realize the power in saying “no”. And understanding that we don’t owe men our time simply because we are women.

Go Alone

Being alone in a public space is heavily stigmatized. From the moment we step into elementary school and are told to be social we begin to understand that to be in a group offers protection, even if it’s just from a school bully. You never want to be by yourself because suddenly, you’re loner or the outsider. It means you are not capable of making friends and being “normal.” On a larger level it sends a message that you have people who care about you and are therefore a more difficult target to threaten.

Public spaces are group spaces. You run errands and it’s fine to go by yourself. But the moment you go to the movies, go out to eat, go to a sporting event, or any other public venue, social structure dictates that you have to have at least one person by your side. I know if I enter a party or a cafeteria by myself and sit  alone I feel as if 100 eyes are on my back. Whispering voices in my head tell me: Everyone else has friends here. Why are you coming alone? The public space becomes hostile. Of course, in reality, people are more concerned with their own lives than watching for individuals to pity or threaten. But still, it’s a stigma to be alone.

However, being alone in public places can be one of the most empowering experiences. Although men undergo the same pressure to be in a group, the pressure does not come from the same cause of seeking protection. Women are not told to be independent like men are and so are doubly under the standard to move in a pack. Women are expected to be protected, either by men (society’s ideal) or by a group of women. So, for women, especially, I recommend taking a trip by yourself and experiencing a freedom most people don’t even realize they lack. This doesn’t need to be a road trip by yourself or something that makes you feel unsafe, but it should be something that makes you challenge your comfort zone.

Yesterday I went ice-skating. I didn’t ask anyone to come, just decided  I wanted to ice skate and left. And it was a frightening experience, not because I felt I would be attacked, but because I was clearly operating against the norm. No one was on the ice when I arrived and no one but the man behind the desk was even in the ice rink building. I feared that when I asked for my skates he could turn me away for breaking the unwritten rule of “travel in a group.” But he didn’t and I spent my time ice-skating alone and it was wonderful.

I didn’t have to impress anyone. I didn’t have to compare myself to anyone. I didn’t have to consider when someone else wanted to leave. This was self-assurance and independence. All the protection we’re taught to look for by doing social activities in groups, I found in myself. The best satisfaction was knowing that my fears in being rejected for the audacity to go alone had no ground.

Going alone to public spaces is one of the best ways to build self-confidence and start to chip away at both gender norms and over all unquestioned norms of society.

Hate is not a Perspective

I’m studying abroad in Istanbul! I’m in Istanbul right now and will be in Turkey until June and I tell you this to put this story into context.

Istanbul From Space with Place-Names

Our whole study abroad group of Americans went out into the city the other night for us to get accustomed to the city and know the transportation. We wind up at a club around 11:30 or so and I don’t drink and I rarely dance. The bass music was jarring, but not any worse than I was expecting,even as it rocked its way up through my bones.

But it wasn’t the volume of the music that left me seething. It wasn’t the flashing lights.

It was the misogyny of the music and the music videos. Blasting in my ears was date-rape song blurred lines, songs about dicks and  grabbing hold of your own sexy lady for a night of manly fun. The songs were American, but I didn’t know half of them. Still, I knew enough to hear the words and feel violently ill. The music videos were just as bad if not worse. It’s nothing new for music and music videos to sexualize women, so I know this isn’t groundbreaking news. But, in any other situation I would have had the opportunity to leave. However, I’m in Istanbul. I don’t know my way down the block let alone the public transit two hour commute back to campus. I don’t speak much Turkish. So I stand and I seethe and no one approaches me until finally other girls in our group ask if I want to leave.

As we hail a taxi, someone comments on how the club was too empty. I say it was full of hate and misogyny. One  of the girls laughs, not a mean spirited  laugh, but an awkward laugh because she doesn’t know what to say and she’s amazed I’m being honest. I’m crying now from so much pent up emotions and a Turkish student who accompanied us to the club says he never thought of it from that perspective before.

He was trying to help, but hate is not a perspective you can validate or invalidate. Hate is a fact. Yes, you can choose to notice it or not, but that doesn’t make it any less real or impactful. But it’s simple to see hate as just a way of looking at the world: half full or half empty. In other words, if you choose to see a hateful world that’s your problem and your judgment should be adjusted accordingly.

This is why it’s so difficult to speak candidly about oppression against any marginalized group! Far too often you’re invalidated and told that you’re just misinterpreting the situation. Shift your perspective and suddenly the awful racist comment is just a joke. Or the sexualization of women (and specifically women of color) in music videos is just clever marketing for their target male audience. Suddenly you are the overly sensitive one, ruining the rose-colored glasses of those around you. How dare you see the world for what it is and want to make change.

But though I felt awful crying in front of people I met just the day before, I felt validated that I had stood up against hatred and did not shy away from telling the truth. Hate is currently an ugly truth of the world and it cannot be combated until it is recognized as a real problem that needs immediate attention. If anything, those who deny hatred and bigotry need to shift their perspective.