Friday, July 27, 2012

My shifting politics of travel

When I was younger, travel was a race to pack in as many sights and attractions into my itinerary as possible. I would spend 3-5 days in each new city, making a tour of all the Lonely Planet recommended galleries and museums, restaurants and sites of interest. I had a terrific time hopping around, savouring each moment and I was always on a high as a result. It's only recently that I've discovered what Rolf Potts calls 'slow travel'... Slow travel is about getting to know a place in more depth by spending more time in one location, and getting to know some of its residents. Since I started doing this it has quickly become the preferable way to travel. What makes slow travel so lucrative is that it exposes the complexities of each locale, with their chiaroscuro of exciting and mundane, improbably welcoming and surprisingly off-putting, fabulous and dreary. The longer you stay, the more nuances you catch, the more layers you find, and the more that place leaves its mark on your psyche.

As I go back to Southeast Asia, a region I have been enchanted by, disappointed in, found overabundant and morbidly lacking in turns, I look forward to discovering something new. I don't know what it is yet, and that's part of the joy. The freedom to shape my own questions, discover myself in between the tones (of the languages), communicate with my eyes and my toes... such is the power of travel as a state of mind.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Towards Departure

In nine days I plan to be flying to Kuala Lumpur, the hub of AirAsia. I stay there for a night, then fly further north to Vientiane. From there I expect to travel up to Luang Prabang, east to Vietnam and go down the Viet coast... my Vietnamese must-sees have emerged as: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue and Hoi An... I'll try to strike a balance between relaxing and seeing the sights that most appeal to me. Depending on how much time I have, I could move further down to Dalat and HCMC (/Saigon). I have some very pleasant memories of Hoi An, Dalat and Nha Trang. I doubt I'll reach Tay Ninh again, the site of the Cao Dai Holy See, which I wasn't able to photograph back in 2005, but hopefully I'll bump into some Cao Dai sites of worship in the centre...

I've been feeling stifled by family life for some time, so I expect the sudden 6-week dose of freedom to revive my stuttering soul into a deeper, sweeter melody. I have no idea what I'm doing, which is always a desirable thing. My surroundings are irritating me so much that I have to remind myself to aim for equanimity all the time. Perhaps it would be an opportune moment in time to seek out a temple retreat, even though it's not presently on my agenda. Travel is always an enlivening, inspiring time... there's never a shortage of sights to marvel at in Southeast Asia, nor tastes to pursue, textures to caress and sounds to follow. I miss "white roses," the prawn dumplings of central Vietnam. I've never been to Laos before, but I already miss it. How can you not miss a place like this before you've even been there? :o)


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Something like 'Talking About It'

It is with some regret that I must admit that I'm not ready to take on all the responsibilities I set out to assume by participating in the Talk About It movement. Perhaps I'm being too much of a perfectionist in some ways, and I don't need to talk about everything in great detail... it does feel like if I do this, I need to do it properly, though. Both for my sake and the sake of all the other untold stories that are in silent circulation, informing every sentence we form on the page and every phoneme we speak... I hope to return to the topic of sexual consent and how often womens' (and mens' boundaries) are violated through revealing my own personal examples... it's just that, the more I went back to a time I have somewhat suppressed in my memory, the more down I was getting, and I fear that it's too much, too soon, to go back to that time. Perhaps just by writing about the experience of wanting to write about it, I can help people who see the value in lifting out of shameful silence the injustices committed against us.

Ok, here goes: It wasn't my fault that I was raped. The fault is solely that of the rapist.

One of the first things I wanted to talk about was the reaction I received from my parents. I told my parents in our living room one night, and was angered by the silence. It seemed to go on forever. When at last my mother said something, it was inadequate: I was expecting "Oh my god, are you alright? What happened? Did you recover physically without complications? Did you go to the police? How can we help you with your psychological recovery?" Instead, I remember the silence more than what was eventually said, because it spoke volumes. It said: Your rights are not as important to us as you think they are. You don't deserve emotional support because you probably asked for it on some level. 

I know otherwise. I know that I had (and still have) the right to have my sexual integrity respected, and it's horrible (not to mention illegal) that it wasn't. Rape is a violent act (nothing to do with sex) which is designed to terrorise, intimidate and otherwise disempower an individual. In my case, the rapist wanted to put me in my place because I demonstrated a lot of confidence and independence, which was threatening to him. I didn't need him, and he knew it. I was a white solo female traveller in China, and he was suffering from state-sanctioned structural gender inequality which prioritises patriarchy through brutal performances of dominence. You'd better believe that he was a seriously fucked up individual who needed to abuse to feel validated.

I guess I just began to Talk About It after all... ha!

Did I report the rape? Yes.

Did the police do anything about it? No - he basically got away with it. He told me that, when the police took him in for questioning, they beat him. But I'm not sure if he was telling the truth, or lying to seem more vulnerable and likeable.

Is this common? Yes - if I remember correctly, it is estimated that only about 1% of rapes are ever brought to justice. Most of them aren't reported, and this is because the abused individual often struggles to frame their experience as one of 'being raped' and 'requiring that it be brought to justice.'

What is rape culture? As an Australian and a global citizen, I live in a country and a world in which women are not treated as equal to their male counterparts. One extension of this structural inequality is Rape Culture. A good example of it is how the comedian Daniel Tosh joked about how it would be hilarious if a female audience member were to be gang raped in that moment. Rape is trivialised, normalised, made to be something other than what it is, which is a cowardly demonstration of control aimed at hurting another person physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Recently there was a phenomenon called SlutWalk, which I didn't participate in because I have never identified with its eponymous slur, much less the need to 'reclaim' it (I argue that creating extra circulation of this language is irresponsible and more damaging than helpful). Anyway, the point of these marches was to bring home the message that 'No means no' and that it doesn't matter what a woman is wearing, how much she has had a drink, how provocative she acts - if she indicates she doesn't want to have sex at some or any point in an interaction, that is her right, and our society needs to accept that as a basic truth.

What happened during the rape? I said Stop. He kept going. I was so shocked and traumatised that all I could do was lie still, trying to distract myself from the pain. It was traumatic and has had a big impact on my life (mostly negative, as can be expected).

What gave you the courage to speak out? Knowing that I'm not alone. Apparently 1 in 4 women will be raped before they graduate university, according to that news report. That doesn't take into account rapes that happen outside the college years. I belonged to a community about a year ago which was made for women by women, and as we started talking about our troubles, we started to talk about rape... and it emerged that most of the active participants (there were many) had been raped. We concluded that rape was prevalent, and did our best to be supportive of each other. It helped me understand my experience in context. Since then, I've joined other feminist groups, and read a lot about the subject. It has helped me find some peace, and Talk About It.

So if you're reading this and you've been raped (and don't forget that men are also subject to rape), remember: It's not your fault. You have the right to be angry, you have the right to be upset, you have the right to seek justice. No matter how society might seek to blame you for being abused, the blame lies solely with the rapist. Nobody ever "deserves" to be raped. Nobody ever "asks" for it. Do people "ask" to be murdered, or robbed? No. We would largely see such an attitude as horrible, and society is frequently horrible. It is all the more horrible because it doesn't largely recognise how horrible it is. (In the words of Mark Twain, Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.)  

Believe in yourself, and continue to empower yourself. One day, when we have true gender equality, rape culture will probably fade away. Help me spread the word to those more vulnerable than you: Rape is a tool for the oppression of women. The personal is political. Talk about it. (If you're on Twitter, you can use the hashtags #talkaboutit and #prataomdet.)

One more thing: You're gonna be okay. Time heals all wounds. And this is from someone who thought I'd never feel as good about my life as I do now.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Working up the nerve

I'm still figuring out how exactly to tell my story in a way that will have the best possible effect. In the meanwhile...

There are no two feminists alike. Some people are fighting for the right to abortions, some people are fighting to dismantle rape culture, some people care about heterosexual relationships above all, some people are engineering a new society without gender, some people are fighting for female quotas in parliament and the board room, some people are fighting to implement the Nordic model or better laws concerning prostitution, stripping and slavery, some people want to encourage everybody to hold women to a double standard when it comes to multiple sexual experience or going make-up free. Some people are fighting to make the word vagina obsolete due to its patriarchal origins. Some people are fighting for misogyny-free porn. The rights of pregnant women, the rights of queer, disabled, racially stigmatised women, the visibility of mothers, the need to mobilise men to get onboard the gender equality movement.

Recently, I've been realising how much work needs to be done, in all those areas and more. Quite frankly, it's an overwhelming amount of work which requires a lot of energy, and so it's not surprising that many feminists would feel discouraged or daunted. As someone with depression and anxiety, sometimes I don't want to leave the house for all the misogyny I'll be exposed to, let alone challenge the deeply ingrained prejudices of people dishing it out (male of female).

At times, I am livid. How dare society be so conservative? Don't they see they are waging wars upon themselves, preventing themselves from achieving the happiness and peace of mind that they could claim as rightfully theirs? I don't understand this crazy world. At other times I am forced to understand its workings when I need to pay attention to some kind of procedure in order to increase my livelihood. At these times, previously disconnected fragments cluster together, and a new part of my experience becomes apparent. I try to communicate this for the people who are interested. I do my best to make the world a better place.

I am a bit gloomy today because I have a throat infection, but I'd just like to say that, for those of your despairing at the comprehension of how much effort is needed of us feminists - hang in there. You don't have to be an activist 24/7. You can take weeks or months off if you want to. No one will think less of you if you need to heal in order to do better work in the future. It's understandable if you can't give it your all as often as your high standards compel you to try to do - you are human, and you have the corresponding emotional needs.

These days I choose my fights carefully. I'm doing my best to accept the myriad of ways women express their sexuality in my culture and others, without judging or accusing. I'm doing my best to be compassionate and encouraging, because this is how I want to be treated in return. I want the freedom to do exactly what I decide is the best available option for me, without fearing others' judgements. Most of all, I want to find that space within myself where I can be as secure as possible.

This is why I prefer to go without a bra, don't wear make-up or high heels, don't wear revealing clothes, choose my sexual partners very carefully (I'm actually not sexually active at the moment - and happy about it), and am very picky about who I let into my social circle.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Enjoying life

In the near future I expect to be posting on a rather dark subject - the 'grey areas' around sexual consent. (The 'Prata om det' (Talk about it) campaign started in Sweden in 2010, as a response to the charges of rape and sexual assault brought against Julian Assange by two women in Stockholm. It became a Twitter phenomenon that is still continuing today under the hashtag #prataomdet, and there is an English section of their website.)

Today I woke up in a great mood that I wanted to share, though... so I will let the first song off Eric Saade's Vol 1. cd set the mood...


The news item of the day is Anderson Cooper's official coming out in the mainstream media. I shed some happy tears alternating between various write-ups and Tweets on this topic, because this is the most understated coming out of a famous person I've as yet seen, and the response has been rather a lot more positive than I was expecting. In fact, most commentators have focused on the lack of surprise associated with this news story. "Thank you Anderson Cooper for making America feel good about our gaydar,' twote @LOLGOP.

I have had the fortune to discover the English feminist Laurie Penny on Twitter, and am currently in the middle of reading her very insightful interview here. She writes, 'I think lost kids, the kids who the world nearly breaks, are the ones who will grow up to change it,' which makes me feel better for being medicated and often finding life pretty hard. Quickly becoming one of my favourite writers, she's one of those rare figures an activists for my 'big three' issues - gender, sexuality and race. Further, she also writes about mental health, which is something I aspire to do in the future.

I know I have a lot of male readers, and I think they'll find food for thought in one of the articles Laurie recently quoted: Straight White Male: The lowest difficulty setting there is. It's written by a member of the group he wishes to address, which may make it easier for some to relate to.

Next up, I found a tumblr dedicated to autodidactism! There are many wonderful strategies for learning that other people have come up with that we can all benefit from. Whether we're part of academic culture, or more freestyle in our ways, learning independently is both fun and deeply satisfying.

Guess what?! My poem, Up Against, was published by the Australian feminist site Settle Petal! Please show the page some love here. I'd like to thank my Nigerian friend Bello Saeed for his praise, without which I wouldn't have considered submitting the piece. :o) The Settle Petal editors included a magnetic image of an eye with my poem, showing that they know how to market my work better than I do (I rarely include images on this site).

In other great news, I'll be raving to Lady Gaga in concert on the other side of Australia in just five days, and I'll be catching my other favourite singer, Robyn, on the 30th of September in Sydney. Woohoo!

And I think I'll end with another Saade song with a message anyone can get behind... Have a great one! :oD