15 December 2014

Stories From India - Publc Transport #3

In most of the parts in the world public transport is something normal, we even don't pay attention to it, we continue to plan our day, red a book, call someone, spend time on social media or whatsoever. Simple, insignificant part of our day. Not for a woman in India. Especially a foreign girl.

Auto Rickshaw/ Tuk-tuk the adventure starts from the moment you have to get one. You must find one, then to explain where you want to go (and I will not even talk about how drivers try to take advantage of foreigners). When it's done, you bargain for the price and go. In big cities it's not a problem and you can easily get a ride which will be comfortable. In rural areas the story is different. Firstly, Auto won't go until it's full (in rush hours) and by full I mean more than 10 people. Squeezed together with men, women, old and young. You are so close to other people that you can feel their heartbeat. Unfortunately it's a great place for men to take an advantage of women. You are simply so close to each other that you really don't understand if there is any touching happening or I am overreacting because of my stereotypes. Many times I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Either you get out, lose time or stress out and keep going!

Metro system is also not the same as we are used to. At least what I experienced in New Delhi was that last wagons are made just for women. At first it's hard to believe that such a thing rally exists. If men get caught in this area, then they get fined. Women are allowed to go in the rest of the wagons. The whole metro system is developed quite well and with unnecessary high security system. For me metro felt as the safest public transportation almost the same as at home. Nobody stares, different nations and people busy with themselves. Sad but it feels like home and comfort zone. But also it's different India. Modernized and westernised which makes you forget about the rest of the country. It's truly like parallel reality. Despite that there are still rape cases which I wouldn't expect if I didn't read it on news.

Buses used to freak me out the most. Firstly, there in unpredictable system from place to place. Here you have to buy ticket in bus, there you have to buy it at counter to get seat. Constant confusion. But as a foreigner you might always get seat because even if you try to explain that it's OK for you to stand, they just push you into the seat and now you have to be their friend. Secondly, in many buses works gender division. Front part usually is for women and back part for men. Another shocking thing is that in some states the bus tickets are cheaper for women. At first it seems as advantage but when you go deeper why is it so it's only an assault: "women are weak, women need support because they can't be on their own, women need help", it's like a charity from the "generous". Disgusting!
And those ayes that look at you constantly...you go by bus 4 hours and all 4 hours your every single move will be noticed. I did my mistake by staring back with an intention that they will get shameful and blench. I wanted to give an impression that I am not scared or less powerful..well, it does not work like that It only gave wrong vibes and expectations which I definitely didn't want to give. I understood too late that the aye contact in this culture has different meaning.
But when the bus is full, it is full. You might be hanging out from the doors and the only thing that matters is that you are somewhere inside.

Trains are my favourite type of transport! I never took first class because I wanted to feel the real India. During the travel I had unexpected period trouble when I started my fifty-five hour journey from Kerala to New Delhi. There was no possibility to buy any hygienic products. I had to use my own clothes because I simply didn't have a different option. And I am not the only woman who takes this long route. It's almost violent how these needs are denied. Not even a proper or separate toilet or bathroom where to refresh. Frustration.
Women never travel alone these long routes (lower class trains). Either there are group of women or some male companions. It's simply too dangerous to be alone in second class train. Majority passengers are shameless men who stare, take pictures, talk about a woman loudly and even catcall. And for that you don't need to be a foreigner. During the night it is especially scary because you can't really see the faces and how would that help if you have nowhere to run? We are always alarmed, it's the first rule: to be on track of what is happening around you.
So many times it simply pisses you off because you are less safe because of your gender! And then you get violent thoughts even if you wouldn't hurt a fly, you want to throw their phones away and stab them in the ayes just because all this insecurity and stress level makes you crazy.
My train travels were with my friend and/or Indian colleague. At all times I got instructions on what to say, what not to say, on who I should look and on who I shouldn't, with who I should talk and with who I shouldn't. I was thought to be suspicious to everyone. A 100% Indian person told me to never trust an Indian.

To be honest I broke my "woman rules" many times and those were the best experiences of my life. Full of adrenaline because I was aware of possible outcome...but my observation was that it's not a dangerous thing to break the rules. Women are told to be quiet, say yes, follow the men and never protest, that she is weak and born to obey but when a woman is actually independent and stands for herself, then men get confused, almost scared. If I was confident to talk, express my thoughts, say no and stand for myself, then they don't feel comfortable in front of me any more. It feels like the model of how woman should act is only a strategy on how to rule the society not because culture made it so. Women oppression is not natural as some sources might affirm.
In my opinion women empowerment must be in first step towards gender equality. It's a beautiful thing to be a woman, not a stamp of weakness and restrictions. We have to understand it and then stand for it. Men will do whatever it takes to stop this progress because it creates the feeling of losing power. And they might call you in the worst names, try to label you and impress their "standards" of how woman should behave. Don't give up, we know the truth!

01 December 2014

1st of December: World AIDS Day

Annually 1 December is World's AIDS day and it is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show the support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.


In 2010, women and adolescent girls made up about one in four people living with HIV in the United States. Most of these infections (75%) were from sex with men, and the rest were from injection drug use Black woman are the most impacted by HIV Less 50% of woman have ever been tested for HIV in developed countries Women have a much higher risk for getting HIV during vaginal sex without a condom than men do The main risk group is youth 13-24 years, although there is no age limit to get infected Ninety-two percent of the estimated HIV diagnoses among Asian women were attributed to heterosexual contact 50% of HIV infected worldwide are women HIV can't be spread through daily activities - handshakes, hugs, kisses, using the same bathroom etc The number of people getting HIV+ is decreasing

28 November 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Wadjda (2012)


Wadjda (2012, Haifaa Al-Mansour) is exactly what you expect when watching a well made movie telling you tales about cultures very different from the one you live in: gives you a general picture of a society while stating very clearly that it's by no means completely homogeneous. Very well. And when such a movie come from the first ever Saudi-Arabian female movie director, your feminist obligation is to go and watch!

The premise is very simple and compelling: What happens when a girl that's already struggling with quite restrictive cultural norms of her society gets a strong urge to trespass even more? Or, in other words, what happens when Wadjda, a young Saudi-Arabian girl, wants a bicycle?

So get the movie, gather all the children (and not so children) you care about and watch Wadjda with them. And if you live in a context different of that of Wadjda be prepared to answer many questions. Why is everybody against her having a bicycle? Why are all the women covering themselves in black when leaving their own spaces? Why are girls not to be friends with boys? Why can men have several wives (and abandon their wives if they are unable to give them male children)? Why are girls followed very closely by their teachers to make sure they behave in a certain way? Why girls suspected of a lesbian relationship publicly shamed? And so on... Most importantly, what is likely to happen with Wadjda when she gets older? What kind of life is she likely to lead?

It may also help to ask those questions to yourself too. Just to realize what are the things that you most likely take for granted in life.

21 November 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Million Dollar Baby (2004)


This one might be too harsh to be inspirational. But you will have to judge that on your own. Million Dollar Baby (2004, Clint Eastwood) is a sports movie. A boxing movie. About hurt and suffering people.

As sports movie it goes pretty much as expected: we have a heroine who through hard work - mental and physical - gets to prove everybody how they were wrong about her abilities and character. Inspirational so far.

Even more, you get a story about several lives so empty and broken that the fight and success in the ring is the only way she perceives that allows self-realization and freedom. Then again, it's still brutal (and dangerous) fighting in men's world with other women... but who are we to question the dreams of well informed adults?

+ A movie where a woman in a central role is neither expect or made look conventionally pretty at any moment. Also, the sexist structures of the society (and sports!) are laid very bare.

+ The extremely multifaceted and talented Hilary Swank. Breathtaking!

- If you are sensitive to violence and not that into people having fist fights for fun (and money), the whole boxing context might result very crude and overwhelming.

14 November 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: I'ts Complicated (2009)


This is one to relax and take it easy, pros and cons will follow... I bring you It's Complicated (2009, Nancy Meyers). It may be actually aimed to your mom (or even grandmom) by the studio bosses, but what do they know about feminist movies? Clue: not much. So here I am, doing their work...

+ Nancy is a female writer and director that has made it big big big in Hollywood. With romantic comedies mostly, that's true, some ore feminist than others but still very big. I have a special weakness for female directors, what can I do?

+ Romantic comedy about people in their 50s or 60s... having romantic affairs and sex, apart from active professional and otherwise social lives. No as daring as Harold and Maude (1971) - hey, this is the big Hollywood Christmas fun movie for women (I'm sure that's how the marketers categorize this movie) after all - but still very valid image of people having fun and enjoying their sexualities.

+ Despite quite obvious love triangle, the ending is - spoiler! - not as you would expect. Neither life or movie ends with a happily ever after i.e. girls gets the boy she wants most. Life is not that easy. And the heroine is pretty OK as she is.

+ Meryl Streep. Who else? I'm deeply and passionately in love with her work, and this is a very nice fun bit.

- Jane, the central heroine, in this movie is a somewhat very softened example of a woman of career. Se has a cake shop that she does not spend her days in. Her hobby after a working day is to cook abundantly and extravagantly to her children, ex-husband, architect, whomever... her life story implies studying the fine art of French cooking abroad but with little consequences apart from croissants (think about Julia Child but much more demure).

- The families depicted live in a fantasy land of material abundance and their worries are pastries and house refurbishment into something even more amazing, etc. No worries about business, salaries, college funds for all the kids, etc. A Christmas fantasy movie indeed.

To conclude: watch this with your mom, aunties, grandmother... gonna be fun!

07 November 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Hanna (2011)


Hold on to your chairs... because here you have a quite classical thriller centered around a girl. Hanna (2011) is a weird story, no doubt. And I'm perfectly fine with debating - as in the case of Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) - if being raised in a way that's alternative to the great majority and puts children in harms way is child abuse. Probably it is. But then again, raising a child on just Cartoon Network and candy could be considered very limiting and severely suboptimal too. Also, Hanna is 16 instead of 6-year-old Hushpuppy. Evolving capacities, people, evolving capacities. And a rather sci-fi narrative. Let's focus on the particular piece of fiction then.

It's eerie to watch it. Especially if you are sensitive to cinematographic violence. And it makes you question social conventions around the way we socialize our children, teaching them what's acceptable and what's not. Completely arbitrary sets of values, of course.

Also, by showing a quite rare narrative (Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita (1990) and Léon: The Professional (1994) come quite close, though), forces you to realize how internalized in this culture are the idea that violence is something that only adult men do. It's weird and doesn't feel right to see the dreamy Saoirse Ronan killing animals and people. It takes a movie like this to get hit by the hard truth that the violence is heavily gendered. Culturally obvious, but tricky still.

A little bonus just for you: the haunting Hanna's theme. You are welcome!

31 October 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Matilda (1996)


Ok, consider that this is as Halloweenish/All Saints/All Dead I'll go. Here you have superpowers, intimidated children, terrible parents and teachers, and scaring people out of their wits. And the love for books... and Roald Dahl.

Matilda (1996) is a very sweet and very 1990's version of Dahl's tale about:

1) A little girl that has landed in the wrong family by birth. But, as the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb, finds her happiness in books first and then in leaving them behind once she has found an alternative, better suiting family.

2) A little girl with superpowers that permit her to fight against injustice, punish the meanies, and have fun.

3) A little bibliophile obsessed with the escape and horizons that books offer.

4) A little smartass that instead of formal schooling chooses unschooling at home as her happy ending.

That's why Matilda is a superheroine I'd chose over Hit-Girl. Also, the crucial story is centered around three female protagonists: Matilda, Miss. Honey and Trunchbull. And that's an emanicpatory thing: you get to see that there are many ways how anyone - also anyone gendered as a girl/woman - can yield power. While the level of stereotypical masculinization of Trunchbull can be discussed (is she depicted as masculine in order to be more of an Other, more scarier?), the very fact that it's a female-dominated narrative (+ Matilda's father) is already note worthy.

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.