Category Archives: Culture

The dent in the locker

Standard

Like many others, gym class was the worst. Yes, I was nerdy, but the problem wasn’t that I wasn’t athletic. I was. I swam on the team year round and could hold my own in most sports. The problem was that I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t supposed to fit in or be part of the team. I wasn’t meant to be accepted. My place in life was to be picked last for the dodge-ball team. My place was to get hit out first, preferably with a ball to the face or some comically awkward fall.

Gym class was the worst, too, because of the locker room.  A lot happens in locker rooms.  Kids bodies are judged.  And they judge.  Some flaunt.  Some learn to change into their gym clothes while never getting naked.  Things are said in the locker room that wouldn’t fly in most other classrooms or anywhere with an adult.  Those moments before and after class are a danger zone where anything goes, and, like Vegas, most things are never reported.

I don’t remember what I did to piss off one of the school bullies.   I don’t remember what I was discussing with my friend, Kirsten, when the lock when flying between us.  I don’t remember if they bully said anything at all or if she just threw, with all her might, a lock towards my head. She missed. I was lucky.

I remember for two more years looking at the dent in the locker.  It was visible and deep.  I remember looking at that dent and wondering what the lock would have done to my skull.  I remember questioning if I would have been knocked out.  Would I have been taken to the hospital? Could it have killed me? What if it had hit Kirsten instead?  I remember imagining how embarrassing it would have been to be taken out of the school unconscious, semi-clothed.  How awful it would have been to admit defeat to this bully.  Someone, getting seriously hurt, would have been my fault.

I never did tell anyone about the incident.  Kirsten didn’t either.

Two years ago, while goofing around on Facebook, I saw her face.  The smiling face of the bully who had terrorized me.  She is a Mom.  She has some job as counselor for at-risk kids.  She works in a school.  I wonder if she remembers herself as a bully.  Or if she ever thinks about the lock that could have killed me.  Or if she worries about her own daughter being bullied.  I wonder what good she could possibly do for at risk kids, bullied themselves.

Part of me knows that people change, that she could have changed, that she might be wonderful at her job and as a mother.  The other part of me, possibly the stronger (and irrational) part of me, is still afraid of her.

***This is part of a series on bullying.  Check out the other posts: Intro, Friends vs. Bullies, They reached their peak, and researching LGBT teen suicide.

No Name Calling Week

Standard

I first heard about No Name Calling Week over at Lesbian Family. I thought the idea was great.

I have been thinking about bullying and what I want to say about it. This is a hard topic for me. I was bullied. But I was lucky– I have the personality and a strong support system that allowed me to walk away only slightly damaged. I certainly see how it affected and affects some others deeply. I worry about how my daughter will be treated and seen. So, this week, I am going to try and talk about bullying. Wish me luck!

About No Name-Calling Week

Coordinated by GLSEN in collaboration with over 60 national education organizational partners, No Name-Calling Week is an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities.

***This is part of a series on bullying.  Check out the other posts: Friends vs. Bullies, Physical Violence, They reached their peak, and researching LGBT teen suicide..

Bent, broken, powerless, childlike: Models in the real world

Standard

Messy Nessy did a great piece on What Model Posses Would Look Like in Real Life.  The above video is from that piece and shows reactions of public as average size women standing in public places in these awkward positions.   Check out the piece for the pictures and commentary by the artist who pulled these together.

As I look at magazines on plane trips or in doctors offices, I am routinely surprised by how everything is sexualized, women are made to look powerless or childlike, and bodies that are anorexic are contorted even further.  This is not something I want to aspire to be.  This is something, which now I can say, I am accepting not being.  This is something that when I was younger, I did secretly want.  This is something that I can now analyze and understand as wrong.  Why do we, as a society, accept this as beauty? Even make it the standard?

Who stands like this? It is awkward and uncomfortable.

Who stands like this? It is awkward and uncomfortable.

School girl fantasies. Why do we promote them? What does this teach our girls?  Honestly, what does it teach our boys?

School girl fantasies. Why do we promote them? What does this teach our girls? Honestly, what does it teach our boys?

What are we teaching with Disney Princesses?

Standard

What are the Disney Princesses teaching our daughters? And, frankly, what are they teaching our sons?

Yes, they are shinny and pretty and sparkly. Yes, they have lovely voices, can dance, talk to animals, and seem quite happy. Yes, smiles are plastered on their faces. Yes, they live in clean houses and aspire to (and attain) lives in the upper echelon of society.

No— this is not what I want for my daughter.  I want my daughter to be strong, independent, self-sufficient, smart, and happy!  I want her to make her own choices, dream for a fulfilling career, and put her own worth in her brain and personality as opposed to her body.

Thanks to The Second City Network, there is a series of videos that point out many of the problems I have with the Disney princess and what they teach.

Advice on life from the Little Mermaid:

Advice on life from Belle:

Advice on life from Snow White:

*This last one made me particularly laugh because of the comment on naming the dwarfs on their most prominent feature because in Chile (perhaps in the rest of Latin America) this is the status quo.  My mother-in-law is called “Chica” because she is short.  My husband is “Negro” because his skin is darker.  We have a blondish friend who is called “Gringo”.

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Standard

Being that I work overseas, you might expect that I would use today to talk about Trafficking in Persons in the country I live in currently (Albania). Or, the country I just came from (Kazakhstan). Or, the country where I did research on human trafficking (Chile). Or, the country where I knew children who were trafficked (Moldova). But, today I won’t do that. I want to talk about human trafficking int he country I call home (USA).

The sad truth is that human trafficking continues to be a problem in the US.  Yes, in large cities: New York, LA, Boston.  But also in rural areas of the country, small towns, suburbia.

A few jobs ago, I worked with some victims of human trafficking.  Men who were lured to the US with promises of jobs and money to send home and instead ended up working in slave like conditions in Middle America with their passports confiscated and the door to the house they lived in padlocked from the outside.  After several months, someone put in a tip and they were freed.  They were freed, but they weren’t compensated for their losses.  They were free, but they still had to explain to wives and children what happened to them.  They have been free for years now, but I am sure their experience still haunts them.  Honestly, their stories still haunt me.

An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. (U.S. Department of Justice Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons)

These numbers are staggering and the realities are bleak. However, in the US, there are places you can report suspected cases of trafficking.  Polaris Project suggests:

If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to report the situation. Click here to learn more about reporting potential human trafficking situations. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative.

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

Other

  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
To request assessment tools and for more information about reporting trafficking click here. For resource packs on human trafficking and how to recognize the signs click here.

Exploring the arts

Standard
This is Little Elephant's very first piece of art.  Chalk on chalk board, Dec 27, 2012.

This is Little Elephant’s very first piece of art. Chalk on chalk board, Dec 27, 2012.

A couple weeks back I posted about buying paints for Little Elephant to start playing with.  They haven’t arrived yet so I don’t have an update.  She did, however, get an easel (both magnetic side and chalkboard side with a clip for paper) from Santa.  She loved trying out the chalk and understood right away what she could do.  She was a bit dismayed that I only let her have one piece of chalk the first time— we will explore color later when I am ready to keep her from coloring my whole house with chalk!

I love watching her explore the arts and I hope that this is something I can encourage for her whole childhood.  I want her to try all different arts and craft from a practical perspective, but also to see art.  I want to take her musicals, art fairs, museums, and architecture tours.   I am not saying she will grow to be a great artist— but hopefully to at least have an appreciation and general knowledge.

Plus, as a bonus, Parenting Magazine tells me that art makes kids smarter.

Clare Says Art

Gender-free parenting?

Standard

I am not sure exactly how we got on the subject, but my husband asked if I would treat our child different if she were a boy.  He ascertains that he has (and everyone should have) a gender-less approach to parenting where sons and daughters are treated exactly the same.

I had to think about this.

The answer is “no”. And the answer is “yes”. It depends on how you answer the question.

I would treat them the same in that I fight for my children not to be boxed in by society’s gender roles.  I want my girls to explore science. To not be afraid of being strong, outspoken leaders. And I want my boys to explore the arts. To not be afraid of showing their feelings and being honest about what is important to them (even if it is not “manly”).

However, in that treating them the same and being the voice inside their head that speaks out against the ways society restricts them, my actions might be different.  I might spend more time encouraging my son to talk about and express a whole range of emotions.  I might spend more time encouraging my daughter to be interested in engineering.  Why? Because those are areas where our culture (in my estimation) is failing all children.

So, which is it? Would I treat a son different than a daughter?

Men talking about being taught

Standard

I hear women talk about feminism. I, as a woman, talk about my experiences. I am shaped by them. Feminism is a a piece of a road out that I hope I can build for my daughter.

Too rarely do I hear men talking about feminism, about the female experience.  There are exceptions– my own father being one of those– where men talk about the importance of feminism in their lives and about the way men are hindered by gender roles and segregation.

On Saturday, the annual 16 days of activism against gender based violence began.  Usually my posts revolve around how gender based violence effects women.  And it does.  Hugely!  Do you know that violence kills and disables as many women around the world as cancer does?  That is staggering.

This year, however, I want to start by talking about how gender roles and the way we inflict them on people negatively affects our boys and men.  They may not be victims of violence in the same way— but they certainly are victimized as well.

I came across this video and wanted to share.  Tony Porter is self-reflective, articulate, charismatic, and right.  Please watch.

Am I teaching my toddler to trade affection for money?

Standard

My daughter has learned how to gives hugs. She gives great hugs. Personally, I believe, the best in the world. Of course, I might be biased.

In the neighborhood, Little Elephant is wonderful about sharing hugs with all our neighbors, adult and child. She usually gives them freely. However, sometimes, she doesn’t want to hug. At those times, neighbors will say “Little Elephant, if you give me a hug, I will give you some of my water” or “Little Elephant, if you give me a hug, I will take you to the play ground”. Of course, they say her real name. The things they offer are varying.

I am not at all condemning my neighbors actions. Heck, I bet I do it too.

That said, I have started to realize how we are teaching my daughter (and daughters– and probably sons- everywhere) to trade affection for favors and/or goods. What message does this send? Are we unintentionally teaching children that they affections are like currency?

Okay, you probably think I am going overboard and over thinking this. Maybe I am.

But.

Abused children are often controlled because they think they deserved to be sexually abused because they were compensated. Children trafficked into prostitution may be convinced that they are good to be sold and traded. Self esteem may become interlinked with what they can “get” using their bodies.

Yes. There is a jump between asking for a hug and prostituting minors. However, is the underlying message the same?

***Disclaimer: Please note that I do not think my neighbors are intentionally sending this message nor do I see warning signs that my daughter is at risk of being sexually abused by any of them. I use this as a wider conversation piece and not as an attack on those in my life.