Sunday, 18 January 2015

I blocked my stalker! (Internet Harassment and Street Harassment: two sides of rape culture)

About a month ago I met this guy on a stall where I was volunteering. We started talking and I could see we had a lot in common: migrants, activists, idealists. As the conversation evolved, we added each other on facebook. I thought he was a little OTT while narrating his roles and achievements in Ireland, but nothing to be worried about. Besides, I usually like to self-reflect whenever I think someone is making me uncomfortable, because that might just stem from something I find nasty about my own personality. You know. People = Mirrors. 

But then, I invited him and the whole bunch to join me in another activists' assembly. A different cause, but also related to human rights. Nobody could make it in the end, but he did. In the meeting, he began with the whole showing off stunt again, and I was definitely annoyed by them. My friend noticed that he was, indeed, strange and OTT. Meeting over, he decided to walk me home, since that was also the way to his address. As we stopped in front of my house, he appeared to be willing to get in, and I soon dismissed him saying that my place was a mess, that I'd invite him for coffee some other time, you know, NOT NOW. He was standing there trying to continue the conversation and I was massively disturbed, so I just got in and literally banged the door on his face. 

Next morning, early morning, he called me. I felt a gelid wind go up and down my spine, and decided not to pick up the phone. Then, he texted me on facebook. I replied, don't know what exactly, but always trying to keep friendliness in mind. I thought he was just being plain annoying, and that maybe he was only excited to have a new friend. I honestly relate to that feeling. You know, being a migrant, one of the first things you realize when you're away from your home country is how hard it is to make and keep new friends. As we apparently come from similar backgrounds (we are both non-white people from the Global South), I thought it could be just a natural reaction of enthusiasm. 

So I tried my best to bear with him. Like, he kept on calling for days, and I would never pick up the phone. I would, if I honestly thought he was worthy of a conversation. The anticipation of that guy going on about his achievements as an activist in Ireland made me cringe every time my phone rang. So I never picked it. I thought he would just get the message across and leave me alone. Now, there is definitely that part of me that sees myself in his actions. And I hate it. Like, I acknowledge that I too am annoying. I realize the cultural dimension of the whole "let's be friends" thing. I'm slowly learning the "Western" way, which means: keep some distance. I think I made many people cringe whenever I came across them. But you know, I realize things soon enough. And I leave people alone. I feel ashamed that I disturbed them, even though I don't think I am that level of 'too much'. After all, I've been socialized into being self-conscious at all times, and even if my culture allows for more openness, I do get back to my state of feeling inconvenient and that is good for my survival here, as I end up getting in the shell again.

Although his calls became sparse, he never really got it completely. We would chat sometimes on fb. I mean, often times I ignored him completely, but other times I just made an effort to be nice and diplomatic. Like the other day when he invited me for some seminary. I replied that I was occupied with something else, and thanked for the invitation. Never really said 'hey, but let's meet some other time'. So the other day he tried to start a conversation and I was totally not in mood for it. I couldn't, even. So I just left his "hi, how are you" hanging there, without response. 

Inside my mind, however, I always tried to be compassionate and understanding. Because I saw myself reflected in his actions. Even though I eyed the worst part of me, I did try to acknowledge and just forgive and be understanding. Sometimes we just don't realize we are being annoying. Sometimes we just don't realize we are being nosy, invasive. Sometimes we get a little attention and we are used to getting so little that we think we can overindulge in that tiny gap people give us to express whatever it is that we wish to say. It happened to me, countless times. I was lucky enough to get a few friends who sort of get it, and they set their boundaries and I am fine with that because I realize that I TOO AM IRRITATING. Some people "can't even" with me, and I took their "can't even" as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being.

But then, there is this guy. What is it exactly that made him not realize that I wasn't keen on interacting? I mean, I gave clear signals that I did not want to deepen our friendship (never picked up the phone, sparse and short replies on fb, can't we all agree those are signs that someone is not really that interested?). Well, it really puzzles me, and I cannot fathom of any explanation other than male entitlement. Am I saying he was trying to flirt me? Not really. I don't know his intentions. I honestly believe he was just excited to have a new friend, and as I explained above, I do understand and relate to that feeling. However, when I think of his actions and compare them to mine, I do feel it boils down to our socialization into gender roles. 

Again, as I explained, I too have overwhelmed people in the past. Talking to my therapist, I came to learn that I'm not alone in this. However, what I find really disturbing in this story is the fact that I usually realize soon enough (for instance, if someone doesn't reply to my messages I just leave it there) whereas he didn't. Considering his background, which I don't think it's appropriate to expose here (hint: it involves religion), I think it is fair enough to conclude that he only did that out of a feeling that he had the absolute right to do so. I do not think it is a mere coincidence that men account for the majority of stalkers. I believe gender does play a role in that, but it appears to me that society is reluctant to point to that factor. 

So I think this is it: I felt stalked. Trust me, for me to say that I felt stalked, things were really getting out of hand. I think I'm extremely cool in that respect. I am generally unassuming and my level of tolerance is way higher than most of my friends'. I think there is a cultural element to that, as well. Now that I live in the West, I realize the stereotype that Latinos are very passionate is not altogether wrong. That can convert in the way we see relationships, and I'm well aware that what is little to me may be too much to most of my (Western, usually white) friends. So yes, even with all the societal constructs in mind, I felt stalked. And intimidated. And unsafe. 

Last evening, the last straw finally hit me. I went online and saw there was a message. When I looked at it, I couldn't really believe what he was saying: "Your cover photo is hilarious one… reminds me about you :D". I took a moment staring at that word. Hilarious. I looked at my cover picture and saw absolutely nothing hilarious about it. In fact, I only decided to go for it because to me it is beautiful, artistic and serious. Not even in my wildest dreams could I ever have conceived of the image I paste below as hilarious. 

So I just asked him: "Hilarious?" 

And he gave me the answer: "Bitch in the shower - lol! ;)" "Funny picture :D" 

Driven by a sense of complete disbelief and powerlessness, I went ahead and blocked him. I managed to take a screenshot of the interaction, but now I regret that I did not capture all conversations. I mean, they weren't that many, but there was that one when he came to my inbox to give me feedback on a video I'd shared. It is basically a contemporary dance video I love. I feel it is about the struggles involved in relationships. He saw it as explicit sex. I thought it was down to his own worldview, and tried not to bother much, then. Now I realize I should have blocked him straight away, instead of just waiting for things to escalate this way. 

But yeah, that's what happened. After I blocked him, he came up with a second profile (????) to give me an 'explanation', which reads "The picture was sexy. But I was joking as a friend. I was not flirting. I think there is a misunderstanding. Good night friend :)". To which I replied "you are not my friend. Please don't talk to me again". And then I blocked this second profile as well. But at that point, I was feeling intimidated and unsafe again. So I decided to deactivate my account. I didn't do that with a detox in mind. I did that because I was afraid he would pop again and be inconvenient again. Isn't this terrible? Isn't this exactly what men are used to doing while harassing women on the streets?

Now, I understand he was telling the truth: this is not about flirting. Who on Earth would think this is flirting, anyhow? It is clearly about making the other person uncomfortable. It is clearly about power. I would easily place his actions on the same category as street harassment, which is something that has nothing to do with flirting and courtship. It is about power, about putting women in their place. When he made a comment about my cover picture, he wasn't really being my "friend". He probably thought that since I posted something 'sexy', I'm out there to take shit. That puts me automatically in the category of the 'whore', because if I expose myself that way, then I should obviously acquiesce to his nasty remarks. 

Well. I don't really know what else to say and this text is long enough, so let me leave you with my questions: Why can't we just move beyond hierarchy and treat everyone, I mean EVERYONE, with kindness and respect? Why is it that he saw me as not respectable enough in order to go ahead with his sick comments? Why do we still insist on hierarchizing women this way, deeming them as deserving respect or not according to their capacity to keep silent and hide themselves? How does the public/private divide normalizes rape culture? What does the 'perfect victim' narrative tell about our whole culture, a culture where disrespect towards those outside the norm is, unfortunately, a given? 

Was I 'asking for it' when I posted that picture?

Friday, 5 December 2014

Why I am disappointed with Carlos Latuff

16:10 Posted by Afro Latina , , No comments

So cartoonist Carlos Latuff has declared war on Radical Feminism. Well, for a myriad of reasons I try not to expect much from men, anyway. But I must confess I feel pretty hurt with the news that I saw with my very own eyes, today. 

It saddens me that I have to write this post. Here is the cartoon he drew earlier in the day. In it, he claims there is two types of feminism. One, supposedly a "good" one, where women fight against patriarchy, and the "bad" feminism, which happens to be radical feminism, that wants to destroy men. 

Note he didn't even draw a different woman to represent his version of "radical" feminist, maybe because in the end he just sees us as being all the same.

But what exactly triggered a man who is well-known to take a stand for the oppressed, being vocal about the injustices that go on in Palestine and supporting leftist causes and revolution? It appears to me that the answer is quite simple: the possibility of having his male privilege tainted. That's the only possible reason, in my humble opinion. The whole story behind his reaction is still developing and all I can say is: it involves women being emotionally abused and apparently, there was pedophilia too.

There is this big Brazilian blogger who is also a professor in the United States, his name is Idelber Avelar, and from what I can infer, he is close enough to Latuff to make him go so far as comparing what is going on with the U.S lynchings of black people. Yes, in a big post which can be read in Portuguese here, Latuff resorts to the argument that Avelar, a white privileged male, is being a victim of 'lynching' in the same fashion African Americans were in the 60s. Yep, he went that far. 

Avelar, a self-declared feminist male, apparently has the habit of flirting married women who are NOT in open/polyamory arrangements, because he enjoys laughing on their betrayed men. So much that there is a print circulating in Brazil where he jokes about one such husband keeping his wife at gunpoint upon discovering the affair she had with him. 

There's many tales going around the web and they all reveal a man who is far away from being feminist. It shows a guy who is comfortable in his position of a white privileged male and who is fine with calling women names they are clearly not comfortable with. He is now ranting Brazilian feminists are 'moralists' and whatever he does in his private life should be none of our business. The only problem is, those women got vocal about the issue and collectively created a Tumblr where they expose all the abusive chats they had with the guy. 

I am pretty sure nothing will really happen to him, even though one of the girls he was targeting was only 15 (apparently he gave up on her upon learning her age, but she was already tainted by the aggressive tone of the talks). Also, there was a 17-year-old who actually got to go out with him, they went to a motel together (cultural note - in Brazil, a motel is a place people go to have sex away from their homes, there's all sorts of motels, from very cheap to very sophisticated ones). Getting there he began the unsolicited dirty talk calling her - repeatedly - a whore. She got terrified and asked him to take her back home and he dropped her, not without claiming she was a 'moralist' and cursing her all through. 

Well, I trust those women. I honestly don't know if they took the right course of action, but I am sure something had to be done. Their intention was clearly to raise awareness for such cases, to tell other women that they felt abused and gaslighted by that professor and also that we should all be careful not to idealise the so-called 'feminist men' too much, for we don't really know whether that's only a social mask they are wearing just to attract more women and then have fun at their expenses. 

What I do know is that I am disappointed with Latuff's reaction. I had him in high esteem and somehow feel let down by his arrogant posts. I decided to translate an excerpt from a facebook status update that captures well what is really going on in Brazil (and maybe everywhere else, really): 

"Leftist guys are able to recognize institutional and economic oppression easily. They can spot whenever a rich guy has oppressed a poor one, they can see whenever a boss is a dick with a worker, when a policeman abuses a citizen, they can see economic, racial, sexual orientation and elitist oppression. They know how hard it is to collect evidence whenever the violence has not been physical, when it is symbolical and institutional and they are usually quite contented with the account given by the oppressed. They only fail to analyse class when the class under scrutiny is gender. You are all brothers because you have been socialized into being so, just so you won't review your privileges and therefore lose structural power over women" - Daiane Novaes. 

I really don't know if this post is clear enough, as I am really tired at the moment. All I can say is I am largely disappointed with Latuff's position right now. That is not who I thought him to be. He probably has the best intentions in his mind, like he wants things to be discussed in a civilized manner without the metaphorical lynching of anyone, but let's face it, the guy is talking about misandry, as if that was really a thing. Will men ever be able to honestly, earnestly, sincerely review their privileges?

If you are into reading/translating Portuguese, the whole story can be read here


Okay, so he apologized. I still find it quite bizarre that a guy like Latuff could not review his privileges before attacking radical feminism in order to defend a white, privileged man who is being accused of pedophilia. I just feel sorry for the whole thing but quite relieved with his latest take on the issue. I just wish this got broader attention, maybe from international media, because it really is something we should be discussing more: are all leftist men gender aware? I'd say no.

Translating here what he said: "Feminism is necessary and relevant, indeed, however aggressive their approach might appear, the Radfems are not the ones who kill in Brazil and in the world, what kills is machismo".

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

I don't blame women.

10:48 Posted by Afro Latina , No comments

Today I came across a quote the internet attributes to Amy Poehler, allegedly about women who renounce feminism, and it reads "That's like someone being like, 'I don't really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don't know what I would do without it'."

I took a deep breath and responded to it, and the backlash was immediate. I understand I might have sounded a bit confusing in my discomfort with said remarks, so I decided to blog about it, in order to try to clarify where I stand in relation to this type of argument, which unfortunately keeps popping time and again in many mainstream feminist online pages. 

First off, this is not about Amy Poehler. Her analogy is one in millions, but somehow I had time to argue and now I avail of the patience to try to develop it further, although I am not quite sure I would be able to express everything in one blog post - that's how complex this is. But here, I am a feminist who used to engage in that very type of reasoning, by blogging and even thundering things like "being woman and not supporting feminism is like being black and racist, gay and homophobic, jew and nazi, a cat person who adopts a dog" and so on. 

I did that until someone pointed out to me that I was actually blaming the victims. And I know liberal feminism is particularly attached to the notion of 'agency', but failing to understand why someone does not subscribe to a certain view because it OBVIOUSLY benefits her is, to say the least, arrogant and condescending. Not only it fails to take women who fall outside the category "white-middle-class" into consideration, it also exempts men from any guilt. And I do believe men are the main perpetrators of violence in patriarchy. I wouldn't be a feminist if I thought it is merely half-half. 

That said, I also do need to point out that many people think I just can't argue this is victim blaming, because otherwise I would need to be as compassionate with men, for that's just how both males and females are raised in a patriarchal society. Now it is time for me to inhale and unhurriedly let the air out of my lungs until I am calm enough to say: if that was the case, such quotes wouldn't really exist, they wouldn't be so popular. Their popularity lies precisely in the fact they are directed at women. Apparently, Amy did not have men in mind when she uttered those words, and in all honesty I also didn't when I used to subscribe to such view. That's why I feel it is an oversimplification to assert that the oppressed who agree with the system are part of the problem. 

So I realized it is a counterproductive thing to do in my personal practice and, even though that particular page might be directed at the white, middle-class niche of North America, I do think we need more intersectional considerations before we just go ahead with certain posts. The most obvious reason is, we live in a globalized world where English is the lingua franca and that is reason enough to efface other practices, other points of view that might be of particular relevance to any given discussion. So I think it's a good idea to contemplate whether a quote is important in any context other than that of privileged women, just for a change. 

I also believe my experience is relevant, otherwise I wouldn't be blogging about it. Like, I clearly remember when I quit straightening my hair. As a black woman, I've been always aware that racism is beyond terrible. However, for over 20 years I tried to disguise the blackest thing about my being, which is my hair, in the name of unattainable beauty standards that somehow benefited me, as I would 'pass' as non-black in many contexts, and even be able to gain access to a job I wouldn't have gotten with natural curls. In other words, my hair feels offensive to many people, and when I decided to love it, a revolution took place in my life. 

However, I grew resented of others who weren't as 'enlightened' as I was, those friends who insisted in ironing their tresses in order to benefit a little from the system. Thankfully, I realized my narcissism soon enough. So today I wouldn't say I cannot understand what it is that makes women of color straighten their hair. Because I do - sadly, I do. I comprehend them well enough to refrain from judging. And I think that's precisely what is missing from feminism. Looking back in time and realizing that maybe those women who 'renounce' feminism are not really different from what I was is essential to keep my struggle humane, I guess.

And let's be careful with lines such as "MRA's use women, homossexuals and people of color who rebuff activism in order to validate their arguments". As militants, we should be able to recognize tokenism well enough to refrain from it. Again, I am not here saying what you should and shouldn't be doing in your activism. I am not a mind colonizer. I just felt I should clarify where I stand in this, and I believe many people would give it a second thought and re-direct their attention to the root of the issue: men oppressing women. 

So this is what I have to say today. I am not denying the agency of women, I am just stating that maybe the limitations patriarchy imposes in such agency make it even harder to engage in facile, black-and-white statements. And again, I fight for women. I acknowledge and celebrate the fact that men can benefit from feminism as well, but today, at this very minute, I want to be with women, embrace them, not judge them, for patriarchy does that all the time. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Menstrual cups

19:46 Posted by Afro Latina , No comments

I need to write about something light. Sometimes I feel I am too old school to try certain things. So I take my time, and it means I usually take longer than other people and I presume that is why I hardly ever appear to be acting in accordance to the age I have. From the very moment I understood myself as a person, and that also took a little while more than usual, I decided I would do things in my own time, not in the frame of others. It clearly does not work if you conceive of yourself in capitalistic terms, but if you take profit out of the equation, you realize it actually is liberating, and you then feel good about yourself.

The whole introduction above is just to illustrate my difficulties in starting new things, like creating new habits. I've been struggling to eat better these days, but I realize I have so many deeply entrenched bad habits that eating well is something that would require a gargantuan effort on my part, and I don't know if I am quite ready for that. Isn't it crazy that we are not really ready for things that would greatly improve our lives? There you go, sometimes we just aren't, and there is no point in fighting hard to prove otherwise. On the other hand, if we never fight our comfort zone, we will never reach there and it makes me angry that we need to think in such terms, but it is just true that certain things will only improve with practice. I am not, for obvious reasons, talking about the lives of the workers that never seem to get any better, regardless of how much hard work they put in whatever they are doing. 

Then there is this new trend, which is using menstrual cups instead of pads and tampons. I run a blog with a few Brazilian friends of mine, and one of our most popular posts is about said cups. They are what every modern, environmentally conscious girl seems to be doing right now. I reckon whoever designed that might be floating in an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with money. That idea seems unappealing to me, though. Anyway. There is this cup, and there is me, and the thousands of excuses I have been giving myself in order to avoid it. But you know, we women who bleed, we hear about things. And we want to try them. Because trying new things is what keeps you feeling awesome and a little less preoccupied with your decaying cells and all privileges you are slowly losing due to a clock that won't cease gulping all your milliseconds away. 

I want to try this cup. The main challenge I think I will face is the second day of my menstruation, that one which looks a lot like I am about to drown in my own blood. Because no matter how much my friends assure me that it won't be an issue, I just don't seem to be able to come to terms with going out and having to take that thing out to empty it in some random toilet. In my mind, I go and take it out and throw the blood away. Then, what am I supposed to do with a dirty cup in my hands? Just reinsert it into my vagina? I don't know if I feel comfortable with that idea. I would need to rinse it off somehow and I just cannot picture myself getting out with a cup that will be probably dripping blood and washing it in some sink where other ladies will be probably washing their hands and they would gape their eyes in horror and I don't even wanna think about what would happen next.

I could get two cups, I reckon. That would save me the hassle of having to worry about washing it before I can tuck it in again. Yes, I think I am comfortable enough with two cups, even though I will have to carry a dirty one in my bag. But why is it that we feel blood is so dirty? What's so inherently wrong about touching your body, touching your blood? And why is it that we should spare others the view of our very red fluids? Why can't we all bleed together? 

Well, I've seen some pretty cool art done with menstrual blood. Google it, you might even want to try making some art for yourself. I will probably do that if I get to wear the menstrual cups :D


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

They shall not pass - Não passarão!

I should have gotten used to it by now but bigotry makes me feel incredibly sad. Today a guy directed some racially charged abuse towards me and I know that is probably always going to happen not only to me but to many, many people everywhere on this planet but the thing is I feel so sorry for this guy and at the same time the whole thing is representative of such a tragic system that well… sadness is the only thing left to me at the moment.

I suppose this is a very daring thing to do. You see, I am a woman, but on top of being woman, I am also what some would call "of color". So I decide to get out in the open to fight for my rights to have a body. I decide to go fight for the right to be a person, because the way things are today, we women are relegated to a status that is lower than personhood. But then, people see me there, daring to wear a tee with the sound print "MY BODY, MY RIGHTS" in it and I suppose it is too much for them to take, really. Because, if they regard women to a lower status than that of men, to us women of color there is nothing left, really. It was like they were saying "Do you want rights? But you're just an animal, you cannot think". That's precisely what that guy said to me, with other words, obviously. But you know what? I just gotta be strong, and I will keep on swimming, like Dorie from Finding Nemo. Except that I will not forget, and those very words he said to me, I am saving them: there will be some literature. 

And don't worry about me. I will be able to laugh again. I will laugh, I will swim, I will rise. But all this is still very, very unfortunate. 

Friday, 21 November 2014

06:10 Posted by Afro Latina No comments
Just came across this one and its brilliance had me post it here. I cannot believe only now I am getting to see Anton Kennemeyer's work. I'd totally post it to my fb wall but away from social networks for a a while.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

01:06 Posted by Afro Latina No comments
Life is that very moment you download a new operating system and cringe at how stupid developers can be, so you feel like crawling into a dark hole where you could stay forever, with your teethy mouth gaped and your eyes firmly shut, so you could feel the decay of each cell in your body in peace. But then you resign to the fact that said developers are like gods and they actually get to tell you that whatever change they have implemented is an <<enhancement>> and you don't really want to go back to the previous OS because that would feel even more stupid and there is nothing else to do besides being annoyed for a few days and then getting used to it. Why, we tend to get used to shit.