27 October 2014

Girl Who Cycles the World: Shirine

"Anyone can follow their dreams, us girls included!" Shirine
At twenty years old I decided I was going to cycle around the world alone. Having been raised in a hippy Oregonian town in the United States, I never thought twice about the fact that as a women I was setting out to do what so many believe is impossible. I have always loved to travel, and having already spent an amazing year (at eighteen) backpacking alone through South America, I really didn't consider this next adventure to be all that crazy. I never thought twice about being at a disadvantage because of my gender because I was raised in a family and by a community that valued me just as much as they valued my brother. Gender had never been an issue for me so I had never given it much thought, I'm one of the lucky few who grew up reaping the benefits of the previous feminist movements before me and therefore grew up knowing without a doubt that I'm equal in every way to my male peers.

But then I spent six months cycling alone through India and my world was torn open in a painful yet insightful way. I couldn't stop to eat in some parts of the country because when I did, I would be surrounded by every single man in the village starring leeringly at me. I was grabbed multiple times as I quietly made my way down the road, and more than once men tried to push me down a ditch while I was cycling because they wanted to have their way with me. Men handed me porn asking for naked photos of me (because every white women in their mind is a porn star), men yelled "I want to fuck you" as I walked by, and worst of all, men considered me inherently inferior just because I was born with boobs instead of a penis. Of course, there are wonderful people in India, and there is a slowly growing movement for women's rights as well, but as a whole, India is one of the worst countries in the world for women - not just due to the constant rape and abuse - but because so many men, and even many women, truly believe they are inferior because they have been told so from birth.

Most of the women in India thought I was crazy - not just in the "oh wow that's a great adventure" - sort of way, but in a "what are you doing, this is not your place as a women." I was asked by every single women I encountered if I had run away, because they couldn't imagine a farther or husband allowing me to walk around alone, and they often couldn't get their mind around the fact that I didn't have a husband or father "controlling" me at all. I never felt unequal because I know that I'm not. I never felt that what I was doing was wrong, because I know it wasn't. But what about all of the girls who grow up believing they are inferior? What about the millions of girls who truthfully believe that rape, abuse, or unequal treatment of any kind is ok, because they have never been taught otherwise? 

I hope that every single girl or women reading this knows that they are equal in every single way to men. I hope that all of you realize that no matter how others treat you, what others say, or what your community wants you to believe, you are an amazing human being who deserves to be recognized and not just pushed to the side. As a women you can do anything, you can become a doctor, a teacher, a housewife, or, like me, you can cycle around the world all by yourself. This isn't a one sided fight though. This isn't about being superior to men, or hating men, or even disgracing men in anyway, it's about working with men to be considered their equals just as we need to consider them our equals as well. It's about someday having every singe man and women on this planet realize that we all deserve the same respect and kindness not matter who we are, or where we are born

This women kept me safe one night when I slept in a small roadside slum. The men were drunk and abusive, so the women kept out of their way and helped me do so as well. These women work all day alongside the men breaking large rocks into smaller stones on some of the worst roads in the world, yet when they come home exhausted, they are still expected to cook, clean, and fake cars of the children while the men wander around doing whatever they please. Even though they do all of the work, they get no respect whatsoever.



I stayed with these children and their parents for two weeks in a very small rural Indian village in the hills. I loved this family, especially the wife, as she was funny, happy, and an amazing mother. She had a supportive and loving husband who worked hard to provide for the family and let his wife run the house as she saw fit. Her children, these two kids below, were some of the most respectful and smart children I met throughout my stay in India because they had parents who taught them that everyone is equal.

This was a lovely women I stayed with in Spiti Valley, a high altitude Tibetan Buddhist region in northern India which I loved. Here the women are considered equal to their male counterparts, and do most of the work both around the house, in the fields, and with the animals. They are well respected and I enjoyed being with them because I was never treated as an inferior.


I loved the women throughout India and Nepal because they were fun, lively, and strong willed even though their husbands may not know it.


 





































Check out more of my adventures:
Blog: awanderingphoto.wordpress.com
Twitter: @awanderingphoto

26 October 2014

Stories From India: Let me be naked #2

Imagine a hot day, above 30°C and high level of humidity. But you are there in jeans and a jacket, walking up to fifth floor, wishing to reach roof-top for a fresh and....and it just feels even hotter and less tolerable when you get there! The only thing you want is to be in shorts and light t-shirt or tank top but you can't! This is exactly how I felt in my first weeks during my 6 months stay in India. In first days it felt like I was constantly sweaty and salty. And it never was so much of a feeling of hotness and breathing, it was about the feeling of being dirty. The moments of taking a shower (in reality it was just an ice-bucket challenge) are priceless but as soon as you dress up again it feels like nothing have changed.

And all you want in this world is to be allowed to be in your own clothes! In first days it was simply uncomfortable but later on it made an impact on my psychology. I didn't feel good at all. My clothes became my own cage. I don't remember last time when I felt so trapped and oppressed. It was the feeling that your rights are simply taken away and you can't change anything. It felt like someone tied my arms and glued my mouth. I was craving and daydreaming about the shower. The only place where you can really be you. But how long can you be in a washroom if it feels wrong to touch a wall or a floor barefoot? When you have finally reached it, you just want to make it as fast as possible to not get any disease.

Being restricted can lead you into depressing state of mind. It makes you angry. And when you see a man who is walking next to you in shorts (or lungi) with a tank top...you just want to scream at him and the rest of the world for the injustice! Scream, cry and never stop! While a male can do whatever, I have to be dressed up like a Spiderman who is hiding his personality! I just want to be me but I can't because of my gender! Something as beautiful and wonderful as my gender was the cause for my troubles! I couldn't resist it, it felt so wrong but yet so true. Actually, India is a country where I've seen so many penises that I lost my count because these people (male) pee everywhere. You go by bus and you don't need to count stones or cows, you can count men who are peeing by the road! At first it seems either disgusting or amusing but then I understand that it is simply unfair. Women can't pee wherever they want! I couldn't pee wherever I want! And if I found a place where I can pee, it was so bad that I preferred that my organs explode inside me and I better die than stand in pee, feces and who knows where else. Once I went to a public washroom. Once.
Many times I was very close to tears. But then you are just there sitting on the floor sweaty and tired and if feels like your arms are tied behind your back. This feeling doesn't leave you until the hour when you can lock your doors and go to sleep in your underwear.

Only in Bollywood and very few parts of India girls can be found in suits where their stomach is uncovered and V line/ back line is very low. India has their dream just like Americans. In many parts of India, especially Haryana state where I was staying, a woman is treated very differently from a man. Every single female and male, either they are 5, 15 or 50-years-old, they know that she is less than he. If two kids are playing along but and suddenly doing something wrong, girl will be the one who will get slapped or spanked by their parents. Women are maids, delivers and accessory for a man. Women and man do not shake hands, it's inappropriate. She does what makes he happy. In a village where I was staying a women has to cover their face from the other man (except if it is her father, brother or husband). 

It's unbelievable that skin, just a bunch of different cells, blood vessels and nerves can be considered as something dirty and cheap. It's unbelievable that a simple knee, depending on if it's his or hers, is considered as something lewd! A man doesn't marry his wife but buys with a palatial wedding from her family. Buys her loyalty and body. They call it love but all I see is a market place where they sell meat because there isn't any opinion, ambition or faith. Like a dead body, she is covered from people ayes. And usually you don't talk about dead people but in this case everyone is allowed, to call her too fat or too skinny, beautiful or ugly, smart or stupid. And she will be there, listen to all this but keep doing what she is doing so she doesn't make anyone angry.

For me, as a foreigner, it was less and more difficult at the same time. Less difficult because I don't care so much what people say if I wear different clothes. Even though that I still covered everything I was supposed to cover (because most of my housemates were men) but it was more loose and relaxed. But also it was more difficult because I knew how it is to wear whatever I want and whenever I want, I knew the feeling to get out from shower only covered in a towel or go for a proper swim while for a woman in here it's difficult to imagine it. Especially doing it themselves. But also I got used to. And this also changed my stereotypes on body image that Western world was pushing on me through media my whole life. Woman should never have a limited choices (on anything). In our society boobies and booties are taking over while human being has so much more than a body. Sadly media isn't pushing on that. But if a woman loves to wiggle her booty - do it! If a woman likes to keep her body in privacy - do it! One right choice is soooo last century! Be you.

Actually, at the very beginning when I was respecting the rules of this country I never fully got why is it so strictly. I thought that I might be seen as an easy woman, being disrespectful or offensive, as the one who is trying to enticing men until the day I saw  his ayes. It was in Delhi where usually these things are more relaxed. I was having lunch with my colleagues, couple of men with who I was talking once in a while. It seemed that I know them a bit. During lunchtime appeared new Scandinavian woman who was around forty years old. Not the only one in the office. She sat down with her long dress and took of the scarf that was covering her shoulders and back...the animal look and and gasp that one of my office mates made...it was simply scary. I haven't seen anything like that in any other persons ayes, he made an aye contact with the guy from another table and both smiled with this inhuman spark in their ayes. I got shivers and my appetite was gone. Still, I continued to eat but that gave me the real click on what was going on. Remembering it still gives me really bad feeling. And a strong belief on that this world is lacking humanity and equality.


24 October 2014

Stories From India: Introduction 1

Dear everyone,

This is going to be a brand new article series from a personal experience by Ilze from IHBG team who spent 6 months in different parts of India to do voluntary work! It will be an amazing adventure and possibility to sneak into the reality of an Indian society*. To see a different perspectives what it means to be a woman in more global picture and compare it with what we know and share our opinions in comments below!

In these stories we are going to live through personal and global stereotype breaking points together, learning lessons and maybe changing our opinions on topic of sexuality and gender equality together. Funny moments and the beauty of cultural shocks that entangles with seriousness and harsh reality. This is going to be a reflection of a crazy, life changing adventure and here you can become part of it!


*All of the article are subjective and it does not cover 100% the situation Indian society. These stories are coming from a rural area, the reality of a village person seen by European ayes and filtered with mindfulness and ♥ of BEING A GIRL


STAY TUNED! First story coming on Sunday,  26/10/2014

23 October 2014

Linda from the Fitness World

Hi, My name is Linda, I am 21 years-old and I love sweets...some people say that smile looks good on me!

I am a studying in Latvian Academy for Sport and Education as fitness trainer/pedagogue of physical education. Why this choice? Simply, since I started to walk sport was my passion! I've tried out different kind of sports like badminton, volleyball, football but currently my heart belongs to the gym. On 11th of November in Latvia we are celebrating important national day but this will be double celebration for me because exactly one year ago good friend of mine took me to the first training in the gym for a weight lifting.
This year have been life changing for my body and mind.  I am only halfway to my target but it feels fantastic already. I am absolutely grateful for everyone who was with me during this year because they are also the reason why I am who I have become. Support is the best motivation!

In our society and culture I've faced so many stereotypes and negativity for women who lift weights and are keen on to train their muscles. Many people have said to me that my lifestyle will make my feminine side to disappear and I will become more of a male than female. Also, there are thousands of prejudices about the diet I am following because of my physical workout intensity.
At the beginning it really pushed on my feelings and made me angry but actually I've understood that I shouldn't bother myself with negative emotions, I also have things what I like and understand and what I don't, just like the other people has.
I just enjoy doing what I like. Some people might like to do jogging, some people like painting but I love weightlifting. And weight lifting isn't just taking the heaviest barbell and pushing it up and down till I feel broken, it is mixture of knowledge about human body, what is good for it and what damages it. We are the masters of our own body and we make a choice how we want to see it. I've made my choice that makes me happy on daily basis, why should I exchange my happiness for some stereotypes?




Balanced diet is one of the main keys for healthy muscle development. Most of the people doesn't have any clue of this part and it creates a lot of myths. I suggest people to read more literature about this - what is allowed and what is not, about the protein cocktails and mixtures, why balanced diet is so importand and why eating plain grass and drinking only water won't work on anyone. In fitness diet doesn't mean starving yourself or taking food away, it's about making the best choice for your own good.
You know, fitness haven't changed only my body. During this year I have become another person. I am not anymore up in clouds, I am standing on ground with my both feet. I know what I want and how to reach my goals with a lot of work.

I have all my respect for people who are doing any sport. For me it doesn't matter if you are underweight or overweight, you have any disabilities or difficulties. Sport is for everyone and every single human being needs physical activities to be healthy in body and mind. I respect every single person who respects their body because our body is our temple and we have to take care of it.
For everyone who wishes to put themselves into the fitness (or any other type of sport), I wish dedications and to not give up! There will be difficulties and ups/downs, just like in any other niche of life. Usually the first difficulties are the strongest ones but you have to learn to deal with them! Later on it will become more easy. The only obstacle is you. Work, time, sweat and tears are worth it. After the first goals that you will reach you will get the addiction from the taste of success! And don't be afraid to fall and make mistakes, get up and work for your goal! If we stop because of fear to fall, we won't grow anymore.


I have not reached my goal but yet I am closer than I was yesterday!

Thank your time to read this!

10 October 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Harold and Maude (1971)

#inspirationalmovies


From the writer and director of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), here you have an even weirder piece on sentimental (and sexual) liberation: Harold and Maude (1971, Hal Ashby), a love story and life lesson neatly packed in total eccentricity! You are welcome!

While Harold's coming of age is the linchpin of the movie, he does that through his experience of meeting and getting to know Maude. Oh, Ruth Gordon, oh! At last, an inversion of the empowerment-through-romance-with-men we have seen so much (as in here, here, or here).

The special pluses:

+ Life is long and people can enjoy it at all ages!

+ And we are sexual, sensual beings at all ages!

+ Intergenerational love exists. And is also sexual.

+ The movie is a cult classic with very peculiar and most awesome esthetics. Rookie even suggests ways how to bring Maude in your warderobe.

07 October 2014

I ♥ Being a Girl people, Marie


Hello lovely people,

My name is Marie Matyas and being a girl :) 

Things I enjoy doing (besides working in the field of SRHR):
  • sing and dance
  • work with my musical-theater youth group
  • travel
I am a psychology student from Austria and I started to work in the field of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), because I would like to change a lot of things. Especially I am passionate about the issues comprehensive sexual education (CSE), gender equality, women's and LGBTQI's rights.

About three years ago I joined the organisation achtung°liebe (in english: “attention love”). It is a non-profit, volunteering project from the Austrian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA). Students do workshops in high schools and talk about issues concerning sexuality, relationships and love with the teenagers. Nowadays young people are confronted with sexuality at every turn and they often get contradictory or wrong information, especially from the internet. For me it is important to give them the opportunity to ask questions, without feeling ashamed, without prejudices and without avoiding topics, so that they can make responsible decisions. I really enjoy the work with young people.
One year ago I became youth board member of the Austrian Familyplanning Association. In February 2014 I got elected as Steering Committee member of YSAFE.

The world would be a better place if we would:
  • have a positive mind without discriminating and negative thoughts 
  • have more appreciation 
  • laugh more
  • help each other more

Before I’m 80 I want to have children, write a song, be very good in my job, do my best to make the people around me happy, do my PhD, travel a lot, establish CSE in austrian schools, never stop learning new things, get to know many different cultures, sing and dance a lot, climb a really high mountain and of course plant a tree :) 





03 October 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Dinner at Eight (1933)

#herstory


This one is educational instead of inspirational, be warned. Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor) is a manners comedy/drama and - despite having a marvelous ensemble of expressive actresses - not a feminist masterpiece. Nevertheless, it very clearly depicts the role of soft power that women have been relegated to in many times and places throughout the history, especially when separating her power inside the family and the expected persona of a sweet and demure wifey in public.

The cast does the job perfectly and - when everybody meets at the dinner table at eight, perfectly dressed and perfumed - almost none of the scheming and moving is visible.
Even more, the anxiety of the wives to influence and assure success (social and/or economic) is also to be understood in light of the realization that the husbands and their luck in business is all they have. Because, yes, you guessed right: it was believed to be unwomanly to work for a wage if that was avoidable. Think of the stress of being completely dependent and - supposedly - with no voting rights regarding the family finances! That's why Dinner at Eight ladies do their little secret planning and negotiations.

+ You get the adorable Jean Harlow as a very ambitious social climber! Power to her!

To remind that the ethos of scheming behind the partner's back in the family still hasn't died even in postindustrial societies, see, for example, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002):

02 October 2014

The Poetry Bit: Venessa Marco - "Patriarchy" (WoWPS 2014)

#empowerment #smashthepatriarchy


For those days when everybody on the planet seem to have conspired against you and you gender (when not your sex even), here you have a bit of poetry from Vanessa Marco.

More inspirational word art can be found under our tag "poetry". You are most welcome!

26 September 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Turn Left at the End of the World (2004)

#inspirationalmovies


Somehow I've got the impression that there are more coming-of-age stories about boys than girls... and that's why the effort here is to pay attention to the ones telling the stories of girls, and preferably not only those made in USA. As a result of that, here you have Turn Left at the End of the World (2004, Avi Nesher).

The plot is that of an encounter of two girls - both immigrants in 1960's Israel - and forging a friendship while sailing the troubled waters of deciding futures, bending cultural restrictions, falling in love, discovering that people might not be the ones you believed them to be... the usual growing up stuff that hurts so much at the moment.

The most similar of our past suggestions is Towelhead (2007). Turn Left... is a much milder version of the cultural and sexual tensions, though. Sara and Nicole - the central characters of Turn Left... - are almost grown-ups themselves and in position to negotiate their lives with much more agency than little Jasira, despite the fact that the time and place depicted is supposedly so much more conservative.

Plus points are gained with:
- Scene of female masturbation (still too rare in movies).
- Depiction of a close friendship that's intense and sensual but does not enter the territory of a full-blown romance. Romance is good (see Show Me Love (1998) for that, by the way), of course. Nevertheless, there's a whole vast area of attractions and intimacies that happen in friendships that balance on becoming a love affair but never get there, and it's nice to see them depicted in cinema.

25 September 2014

Thinking bit: the Empowering Advertisement, the oxymoron


Depending on where you live and what media you consume, you may have seen more or less of this rather confusing genre of advertisement. But they are all over the social media the next day causing a debate among allies over their pros and cons...

Below you can find three examples that came out quite recently and can serve as good enough illustrations to the puzzle that they are.

+ They call attention on a topic - how gendering character traits, hobbies, and professions hurt people (and knowledge driven societies) - to audiences that never venture to read the latest outrage in the feminist blogosphere. Therefore, much good may be had if viewing such an ad would lead to a reconsideration of the behavior of parents, teachers, etc.

- They serve to sell the products, obviously. And even in this very small sample the relevance of the products varies greatly. All menstrual hygiene products  - no matter the brand, the type, or even if they are industrially made (see this great practice from Nepal) - are crucial for women to be able to get out of the house and lead an active and participatory life (google "dignity packs" for this).
Still, it's mostly Always toying with what it means to be girly without ever linking it to the product. Then the shampoo and shiny hair would still actually playing into the "be (even more) perfect (with our product) (because people may discriminate you less if your hair is shiny)" dynamics. And then Verizon who tries to get you to buy their wireless because they are concerned about the proportion of women in STEM. Slightly confusing. I'm all for corporate responsibility, but I don't need corporations telling me the status quo of the structural discrimination of women.
The action - apart from better perception of the products - that they offer are "inspire more kids to get involved with STEM" and "ban bossy [from your vocabulary as an adult qualifying the behavior of girls]". Nice, but far from revolutionary. And nothing for the already grown-up shampoo users, from what I gather.

- If they invert the traditional, discriminatory narrative, telling us - once again - that all the stakes are against them, the this is a stereotype ridden world where you will be called either girly or bossy, pushy, vain, and pretty over smart or brilliant. Much more emphasis put on that instead of alternatives. Not fun. At all.

- There are accuracy gaps. The truth is not all rosy, of course, but there are ways how - without inventing stuff - all these ads could've been made using a positive narrative of different femininities, different ideas of success (including interest for science, leadership roles, and careers in STEM for those passionate in that direction) instead of clashing traditional feminine with traditional masculine, insisting that the traditional masculine is much more valuable and perceived as more valuable... and promising an eternal fight (and frustration) for equality. Thank you very much, I already get that from the news!

+ On the other hand, provided that we live bombarded by advertisments, most of them extremely toxic and sexist, I much prefer any of the below than any disgusting Snickers BS on the "natural" sexism of a well eaten builder.