Voluptuous

I’m getting round. While I haven’t put on much in the way of poundage, I’m definitely rounder. My breasts are fuller, my hips are widening, and my stomach in verging on rotund – especially after eating, or if I haven’t pooed in a while (It’s true! I’m short…there’s only so much space up in here.)

I can still hide my pregnancy if I wanted to (it would not be comfortable), but when I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself, there is no mistaking the development.

I am Venus.

While my body probably looks more like Botticelli’s version…

…there are plenty of days I feel more akin to the Willendorf variety.

Earlier today, I watched a BBC documentary called, When God Was A Girl, and it was about the history of religion and the important and powerful role women played, how humans used to believe in woman as the creator of life…and death…and the fertility of the earth was linked to the fertility of woman. That is, of course, until male patriarchy came into play and eradicated that train of thought.

I looked on at the statues and imagery of women, and they were all voluptuous and round. Full breasted and rotund, and even at this distance of time and space, they seemed to exude power. These were no waifs (which got me wondering whether the new societal ideal – it is relatively new, historically speaking – of the stick-figured woman is another form of patriarchy, holding up weak, undernourished women as sexy because they appear more easily dominated….but that’s a whole nother topic…). No cute little missies in history. No the powerful women of history could hold up their space.

It’s ironic that I spent the vast majority of my life obsessing over every inch and pound, wanting to get rid of several of them. And now, I run my hands down the sides of my breasts and over the fullness in my belly, and I feel vibrant. I feel alive. There is new life inside me and that is a heady feeling. My husband explores the new curves and weight and kisses where the babe grows inside. I enjoy the roundness of my body because it echoes the fullness of life, connecting me to the millennia of women before me, connecting me to Mother Earth herself.

I am woman, and that is a beautiful thing. It’s life-giving.

For the month of March, Bigger Picture Blogs is celebrating the turn from winter toward spring with the theme: Rejuvenate! Come join us: Rejuvenate your heart, rejuvenate your soul – pick up your pen, your camera, and your spirit!

Find all the ways you can blow some fresh air into life and link it up with us at Bigger Picture Blogs!

Live. LoveCapture. Encourage.

The Power of the Olympics, London 2012

With thanks to artist Pashabo and graphicleftovers.com

I was sitting around the TV with my family and dog watching the Olympics the other night, as the girls competed for the gold on the balance beam. As we switched from women’s gymnastics – a sport evidently designed to crush little girls’ dreams – to men’s vault and horizontal bars, I was struck by the difference in camaraderie between the athletes.

On the girls’ side, none of the athletes seemed to interact with any of the others, and most strikingly, when Deng Linlin surpassed her teammate by a tiny margin of .10 for the gold, Sui Lu, who ended up with the silver, broke out, not in smiles, but in tears. She sobbed on her coach’s shoulder, causing Deng Linlin to cry as well. Sui Lu refused to smile in photos and, once rid of the photographers, promptly ripped off her silver medal in temper. One might judge her for being a snot, but she has been training since the age of three, so one can only imagine the pressure she might have been under.

She’s not the only one who might need a little perspective check. Russian Aliya Mustafina was quoted as saying, “I’m not used to winning just one medal. You get a taste for it and you want a second medal, then a third.” And fellow Russian Victoria Komova expected golds, considering her efforts a complete failure as she only snagged two silvers.

We were kind of used to all that high drama. I still remember watching the Olympics in the ’80s, when the event was little more than a thinly veiled muscle match between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as each tried to prove themselves superior to the other via their nation’s athletes.

Heck, I still remember Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

However, a few teenage-girl snits aside, I began to wonder if there is a change in the attitude these athletes bring to the Games. I watched as American Sam Mikulak kissed the vault and swapped handshakes and high-fives with his fellow competitors after he scored fifth. I watched as German Fabian Hambuchen slipped from top position to second after Epke Zonderland’s stunning performance on the horizontal bars, and Fabian registered his own disappointment only briefly before clapping Epke on the back and shaking his hand in admiration. The two were exchanging hugs and congratulations like dear friends by the time they received their medals.

There’s more, too. We were watching the women running, and feeling a bit of pity for the women whose countries and religions ensured they were covered head-to-toe, as they came in dead last, long after everyone else had crossed the finish line. We speculated that perhaps their countries thought it wasn’t worth investing in those athletes because they were women, and perhaps wanted to prove to their audiences back home that “See? Women can’t perform well.” Except, if anything, it does the exact opposite. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei were pressured to have women compete (thank you, IOC!), and now they are forced to reveal the comparison: how well women athletes perform when you invest in them, compared with the countries who hold them back. It’s not the women who do poorly. It’s about an entire nation’s attitude. Their performance says nothing about the women as individuals and says everything about the power of women’s rights.

Tahmina Kohistani, from Afghanistan, was one such athlete whose nation did not properly support her efforts. But the surprise was, when she arrived at the Olympics, how many others cheered her on. She writes, “I wasn’t pleased with my time – I had trained so much, worked so hard. But it was still a good experience, and definitely the most important of my life. It was so good to be able to learn from all the other girls. I talked with a lot of the other runners, and they were all encouraging me….But I knew I was not going to win a medal when I came here; I am here to begin a new era for the women of Afghanistan to show people that we can do the same things that people from other countries can do. There is no difference between us.” Instead of coming to the Olympics and encountering sour and threatening rivals, Kohistani found support, mentorship, and encouragement. Instead of being trampled on, she was lifted up and given a chance to make a change for women back home.

This is what I believe the power and the promise of the Olympics and events like it can be. When it shifts from a muscle match to a show of true honor and sportsmanship, when competitors are not enemies but mentors to learn from, and when athletes demonstrate through camaraderie and hard work, skill, and determination what people can achieve, the Olympics can help pave the road of progress.

The Olympics has always been political. But I’m happy when the politics of sports means that countries are pressured to invest in their girls and that competition is not a zero-sum game – there is more to sport than winning the gold. There is teamwork and there is inspiration. Let us do better and be better, not to beat the other guy up, but to make us all the best we can be.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. CaptureShare. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Corinne’s!

Pinnacle Moments {Concluded}

As Cynthia brought us a very fitting beginning, she now concludes our series with a perfect end. This Pinnacle Moment is such a poignant reminder of the steps we take in moving forward. We don’t always have to see the end of the path to be at peace with the road we’re on. But I’ll let her tell you here, in her own words.
 

From Cynthia:

The last thing I remember as I went into surgery was the fear of waking up alone and discovering the staples.  Because if you tell a hypochondriac that she’ll come out of surgery with either a stapled abdomen and a fresh cancer diagnosis, or unscarred and at the tail end of a false alarm, she knows full well what outcome to expect.

I’d been vaguely afraid of this moment for a long time—most of my life, actually—but if you’d asked me at my routine gynecologist’s visit on Halloween 10 weeks earlier if I could imagine myself heading into surgery with an oncologist on standby, I definitely would have seen it coming.

Hypochondria has always been part of my life.  My earliest medical memory takes place in an examination room at my pediatrician’s office during a standard annual visit.  My sister was sucking on a lollipop while my feet hung heavily from the exam table as I waited for our doctor to return with what I was sure would be grim news.  I was shocked to be sent on my way with nothing more than a band aid over a routine injection site, along with a sticker of the just-for-fun variety.

It would have been great if the good office visit had made an impression, but my fears—rooted in an anxious psyche and early exposure to my grandmother’s inspirational literature—were firmly fixed.  A steady diet of periodicals brimming with triumphant accounts from burn victims and limbless mothers does something to a kid. Invariably, these stories began in the midst of the most bland of circumstances, when the victim least expected it. It seemed only logical, then, that the only hope one had to avoid becoming the tragic hero of literature of this kind was to be on constant lookout for hazards.  If you expect disaster, it can’t blindside you.  Vigilance, then, became my mantra.

When it came time in my life to begin annual gynecological exams, I became even more vigilant. After all, these visits held no pretense: they were looking for cancer, period. The increased specter of bad news caused me to be extra cautious with my scheduling.  I was always careful to schedule my visits during ordinary seasons, when resulting tests and procedures couldn’t mar my favorite time of the year: the 10 week period bookended by Halloween and New Year’s Day.

But that year? I screwed up. See, at the visit just before Things Went Bad, my nurse practitioner noted my to-the-day punctuality in visits, and suggested that such vigilance was probably unnecessary.  Considering my good overall history, she felt that I could feel good about stretching things out a bit by waiting 15, or even 18 months between appointments.

Which brought me to October.  So chagrined was I at the thought of Holiday medical drama, I considered skipping the appointment altogether.  But, remembering my good overall history, I decided to make a Good Faith effort and showed up for my appointment with an air of confidence that should have been a big red flag, but masqueraded as Acting Normal. Without even realizing it, I had, by degrees, let my guard down.  Chatting merrily about my daughter’s Toy Story costume as I lay on the cold steel table, bad news was the least thing I expected, so the call I received some 10 days later blindsided me with a report I should have seen coming.

My exam result was no simple pap blip on a pap test but a full-blown-call-in-the-oncologist report that called for multiple biopsies, scans, and tests.  Which were difficult to schedule what with the holidays upon us and all the peace, goodwill, and festivities taking place in all the doctor’s offices.

So it became, then, a Difficult Time.  For all the reasons you can imagine, but also because the faith I claim as an anchor in my life, and that I was supposed to be celebrating during the Christmas season, was being challenged.  I was supposed to believe—and really wanted to believe—that God wouldn’t give me more that I could handle, and that no matter what happened in my life, He would use it for His glory.  I wanted to believe that trusting God with my life meant just that—trusting that He would take care of me.  But the truth was that no one gets that guarantee.

It seemed clear to me that I was about to become the subject of an inspirational write up, and I felt so ill-equipped.  Other than being blindsided when I least expected it, I didn’t feel I met any of the criteria, and didn’t look like it, either, as I sobbed my way into the operating room a few days after the New Year for a surgery with an outcome no one could guess, even with all that testing.  If all went well, I would return to my normal life with an excellent prognosis.  If it went bad, I’d wake up stapled, with an uncertain future.

I awoke to a chorus of voices wishing me a Happy New Year.  Even though it was the one of the happiest moments of my life, I came to realize, later, that my future is still uncertain, and that is actually OK.  Neither vigilance nor lack of same can serve as a crystal ball.  I can try my hardest to control my fate, but reality tells a different story.  See, the appointment that I put off to October—the one I almost skipped– caught a pre-cancerous lesion at exactly the right moment.  Developed just enough to be caught, but not to the point of being a threat. And 10 years later, even though my hypochondria is not gone, it is tempered by the knowledge that I may be playing a role in an Inspirational story, but I am not the Author.  And waking up to that has got to be enough.

 

With that, we conclude our series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! I really loved hearing everyone’s stories and really appreciate everyone who joined in with a tale, read the stories of others, and/or joined the conversation with comments. Thank you all and happy holidays!
 

 

 

 

Pinnacle Moments {To Give Thanks}

The Pinnacle Moments series is taking a break this week for the Thanksgiving holidays, as everyone prepares to spend time with loved ones and consume delectable delights. For myself, I’d like to give thanks to everyone who has participated in the series thus far. It has been such a lovely conversation we’ve been having about the moments that have changed and defined our lives. This is one of my heart’s deepest interests about others: how they become the person they are, what shaped their thoughts and perspectives in life, what stands out to them as moments they can never forget.

And we have sure seen some unforgettable moments.

Cynthia started us off with a moment of inspiration, a moment where a daydream turned into a weekly communion of sisterhood and brownies, a communion that changed not only the girls she mentored, but Cynthia herself.

Queen Lucy showed us the power of a leap of faith, jumping into a whirlwind romance with nothing but her faith in Him to guide her.

From that peak, we walked with Brook into the valley of shadows, and learned what it took to get through to the other side.

Then I shared my tale, another abyss to traverse, where only a newfound understanding of weakness and courage gave strength to transcend the darkness.

And last week, Hyacynth encouraged us to confront our own humanity by sharing the moment in which she came face-to-face with hers.

If you’ve missed any of these, please do take a moment to hear the stories and join the conversation. These moments aren’t all unicorns and rainbows, but they do reflect some of the deepest parts of ourselves. There are some brave, brave women here. If there’s anything to be drawn from this series, I believe it is the indomitable power of our courage, to go where we might not otherwise go, because we decided we were more than our fears. I hope you’ll recognize a bit of yourself in some of these stories, draw strength where you need strength, find inspiration where you need to be inspired, and discover the tenderness of all our own vulnerabilities.

Then please don’t forget to join us again next week! There are more tales to come!

In the meantime, we give thanks.

Pinnacle Moments {Brook}

Welcome to the third edition of Pinnacle Moments! We’re really ramping up here, and I’m so excited! For those just joining us, Pinnacle Moments is a series where we share a defining moment in our lives…maybe it’s a day you had an epiphany, or made a choice or faced a circumstance that changed the course of your life, or realized something about who you are deep down, etc. Or it can even be about your sweetest romantic memory…a defining moment in your relationship with your spouse or significant other! Last week, Queen Lucy the Valiant shared her magical tale of love and a leap of faith. This week, Brook from Red Head Reverie is going to push us a little deeper into the recesses of the heart. She has an incredible story to share. It’s an awe-inspiring tale of strength and of hope. It is a must-read, and I invite you to join us here now as she shares this part of her life.
 

From Brook:

I want to warn you this isn’t one of those warm fuzzy stories. When Jade asked us to dig deep and find our Pinnacle Moment, I just kept coming back to this moment in time, a time of hope and healing.

“Do you want to be a victim or a survivor,” my therapist asked me.

I couldn’t answer her.

This was my fourth suicide attempt. This time it was BAD. ER doctors, stomach pumping, a two-day stint in ICU, and a week stint in the psych ward kind of bad. I guess that’s what happens when you down half a bottle of your anti-depressants with a Captain Morgan chaser.

How the hell did I get here?

I met a guy and after a whirlwind romance we moved in with each other. Everything was great I thought I was in love and this was it “the one”.

Then it happened.

“You’re a fucking bitch.”

I stood there like a deer in headlights. Was he talking to me?

Then he said it again and laughed. “Oh, I’m just kidding, can’t you take a joke.”

Really…I was speechless. The warning alarm kept sounding in my head, but I ignored it.

For a while life was good. He would say how lucky he was that he found me, and we would talk about getting married. But then out of the blue I’d hear, “Stop eating your cereal like that you sound like a pig.”

As the months passed I spent my time walking on eggshells wondering what in the world would set him off. One day it could be that I wore too much make-up. “You look like a whore with that shit on your face.” The next he would be sweet as sugar talking about buying rings and spending the rest of our lives together.

“Whore”

“White trash”

“Fucking Bitch”

Words I began to hear on a daily basis.

To him I was a verbal punching bag. And while no one could see the bruises, they were there on the inside.

I was in a constant state of fear and self-loathing. My formally healthy 120 pound frame dwindled to 90 pounds, I cried at the drop of a hat and became needy and co-dependent. Everything I never wanted to be, in essence I was a victim. The only way to find relief was to find a way out. “The boyfriend” had isolated me from all my friends, so I didn’t have a support system to turn to. Instead, I decided I’d just “end it”.

And that’s what led me to this moment.

I sat in that office that I knew so well. In the yellow gingham overstuffed chair which was more comfortable than the couch and closer to the Kleenex. And with tears streaming down my face I said “Survivor.”

I met my husband a year after this incident and ten years and two kids later I have found joy. I would never want to go through that again, but it made me realize that I FINALLY did deserve to be happy. FINALLY…

I don’t know about you, but I had tears in my eyes when I read Brook’s word “Survivor.” What an incredibly strong woman she is, to make that choice. I hope you drew inspiration from her story as I did, and I hope you’ll join us again next week. If you have a Pinnacle Moment to share: a transcendent moment, a crossroads, a turn in the path that changed your life forever, please email me or leave me a comment and I’ll send you the details. ‘Till next week then!
 

Capturing imaginations – finding the bigger picture

Sometimes awareness comes in startling revelations. Sometimes there is a moment so simple that the stunning part is how subtly it clued you in to tiny revelations accumulated over time.

I was sitting at the resource center and had finished up some small bit of work. I turned to the group of girls who had been playing together while waiting for me to finish working and join them.

“So you girls want to watch a Disney movie?” I asked.

Squeals of delight erupted and they clambered over to the couch while I pulled out the DVDs. “Which one do you want to watch?”

Without hesitation: “Cinderella!”

I chuckled over their love of an old Disney classic and was intrigued since I hadn’t seen it more than a couple of times when I was a kid. But as I watched it, it seemed to me to be such a stark contrast from my personal Disney favorite, “Beauty and the Beast”. “Cinderella” is a story that captured the imaginations of little girls of the 1950s and 60s and follows the traditional story line of an impoverished and used girl who must be rescued by magic and a prince to find love and freedom. Both Cinderella and her prince are thin on personality; they are primarily just pawns moved about by larger forces (some benevolent, like the King, some malicious, like the wicked stepmother). Slightly different from my favorite, where the heroine must overcome her own fear and prejudice to find love and freedom with a hero who looks terrible from the outside but has similar intelligence and sensibilities underneath.

But “Cinderella” is the one these girls want to see. And as we watch, the tiny memories started to accumulate into one larger revelation.

When I was at their families’ home on Saturday night, the girls were watching cartoons on TV and interspersed between the cartoons were popular music videos. These girls, all around ages 6-8 or so, were belting out the tunes at the top of their lungs. I laughed at the cuteness, though I felt a little disturbed because all (and I mean ALL) the songs were about two girls fighting over a man.

And then I remembered my cousins doing the same thing when we were teens: watching music videos and singing happily about betrayal and loss.

And I thought about all the popular Thai music videos I’ve seen, waiting in bus stations, sitting on the bus, playing in cafes and hair salons, and in shop windows…

Almost all of them feature a woman left behind by a man. A lover who moves on to be with another woman. Two women fighting over a man. Men make all the choices. The women are portrayed as scheming and over-crazed by emotions. And they haven’t the self-respect to walk away.

And as I looked at these young girls, the same age as my nieces, singing lovingly about heartbreak and affairs, jealousy and betrayal, I realize just how ubiquitous this theme is in Thai culture. How do we teach empowerment, when they’re taught to romanticize love triangles and inferiority to men at such tender ages? I’m not going to sit here and blame popular music for how these girls think. Rather, I believe that these songs strike such a chord with them because the stories are so deeply embedded in the consciousness of the culture.

In reality, most Thai women I know are actually incredibly strong. But they are also rather jaded on the whole idea of romance. I’d venture to guess it’s because what is portrayed as romance in the popular culture is really just women being weak.

I want love for these girls. When they get older, I want them to find joy in romance; stability, comfort and honor in marriage. (If marriage is indeed what they want.) I’d hope they don’t have to push away love to survive, for love and strength don’t have to be at odds with one another. In fact, they should support each other. What I don’t want is for these girls to sit around waiting to be rescued. I don’t want them to ever feel like they don’t have the power to make choices. It took forty years for the story of a generation to shift from “Cinderella” to the likes of “Beauty and the Beast”. I wonder what it will take to help even just one little girl see how much power she really has over her own life.

I wonder, if I ever have a daughter of my own, what story will capture her imagination?

What Disney film captured your imagination? What bigger picture did you see this week? Join in at This Heavenly Life!

 

 

a second cup of coffee

Can I do a do-over for virtual coffee this week? Or how about just invite you all over for a second cup?

I need a second cup because there’s something I want to talk to you about. Lean in close because I want to shout it across the skies. I’ve been overwhelmed with the positive words and support I’ve gotten since I first announced I’d be working with SOLD, and then especially since we actually arrived in Thailand and started doing it.

It was a year ago, I first read a book (Half the Sky) and got an idea and watched a summit and got INSPIRED.

And now that summit is BACK!

I really really wish we were meeting for coffee today, because if we were, I would drag you to the nearest computer and make you watch this summit with me. But since we are doing this virtually, I’m just going to pretend I have you by the hand and am tugging at you.

This summit is the Women In the World Summit. It involves women from all over the world…women including: Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, Christiane Amanpour, Melinda Gates, Amy Gutmann, Cherie Blair, Amy Chua, Aung San Suu Kyi, Barbara Walters…oh god the list goes on. It also includes amazing and inspiring women working in their own communities to educate and empower women to tackle some of the most difficult questions of our time.

Questions like: how do we get more women in leadership roles; how do we deal with gender equality in countries like China; how do we make sure more women survive childbirth; how do we stop the trafficking of young girls; how do we stop the use of rape as a weapon of war; how do we stop acid attacks & FGM; what (if anything) should be done about the use of the Muslim veil in European countries – and how does this affect multiculturalism?

What it is NOT about is wallowing in self-pity about the problems of the world. It is NOT about pushing the liberal elite guilt button. It’s NOT even about bra-burning feminism.

It is about our responsibility to empower and educate our young women, in ways that break the cycles of poverty and abuse. It’s about having the freedom to live the life we choose, whether that involves raising families and future generations or leading nations.

There is no Democrat. There is no Republican. There is no red or blue. (That doesn’t even make sense once you start talking global.) Just real world problems and real women coming together to offer their unique and local, grassroots perspectives on how to solve them. Most often, solutions don’t require more money. They require thinking about problems differently. These women have done extraordinary work, but to look at them you realize how very much like you and me they are.

If there is any one thing I can say about my experience living in Thailand and working for SOLD is that living abroad is like having the gauze ripped off you. Life in the States was safe…and numb. Sure there are problems and joys, but some days you really gotta’ dig deep to feel. And I’m a feeling kinda’ gal. Here, I experience everything as if there is no barrier between me and the rest of life. Watching the Women in the World Summit is much the same. It’s like living more deeply. It’s like discovering, ah, real life. The real world. There you are. For before now, I had only been dabbling in real.

Have you ever felt like you just don’t have the time or energy to look beyond our borders (however those are defined)? Like, gawddamn I have enough sh*t to deal with just trying to get my own stuff taken care of, I couldn’t handle even thinking about the problems half a world away. Trust me, if you’ve felt this way, I totally understand.

But I dare you to listen to these women’s stories and NOT feel inspired, and NOT feel more powerful about your own life: your capabilities and the wealth of choice that’s actually available to you. I dare you to watch for 10 minutes and not get sucked in. Even just put it on in the background as you go about your regular business.

If you’re willing to take my dare, here’s the info you need:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsmaker/women-in-the-world/

RSVP to watch the livestream here:

http://fb.me/BlmigHs2

And then can we get back together and talk about how alive we all feel?

* This doesn’t fit neatly under Bigger Picture Moments, but I’m linking up because I think it’s just the kind of thing you gals would be interested in. Then again…it was a simple moment that changed my life, so maybe it does fit after all.

Being a Woman in Thailand

* BIG HUGE CAVEAT * I’ve been here just a few days shy of a month, so these are first impressions and observations only.

One thing that must first be made clear is that Thailand is not a country built upon values of equality. There are very clear rules guiding behavior according to social status, and while not quite as rigid as the Indian caste system, hierarchy here is accepted and indispensible.

Men and women are not equals, but guidelines dictating their roles and spheres of influence are not straightforward either. For example, women are not allowed to touch monks. If a woman wants to hand something to a monk, it must be done indirectly, either through a man, or by placing the item on a special cloth for that purpose. Women may own property, but after they are married, any future property must be in their husbands’ name. However, in many marriages, the woman is the one to control the finances.

{Also, let’s not even get into gender equality at work. We’ll just say that when I looked at the faculty of the political science department at one of the universities the male-to-female ratio was not exactly 1:1. Or even 5:1. Perhaps not a representative sample of office politics, I will admit.}

Surprisingly, the tension between women who work outside the home and those who are housewives seems similar to that in the U.S. Women are often expected to help bring money home, and people may look a little surprised if you say you don’t work. However, many women are homemakers, especially after having children if they can afford to do so.

And then there’s the cattiness and the judging, of women and by women. One of the bigger issues I’ve bumped up against is dress. Thai people are considered to be very fastidious. They are clean and they care about their appearances to the nth degree. But to my eye, at least, their sense of fashion seems to be stuck in the 80s castaway section of Ross or Mervyns. I really don’t mean to be derogatory here, but the best visual I can come up with is that it is clothing we might associate with recent immigrants in the U.S. Bright colors, stripes, polka dots, ensembles that may or may not match and tops that often are just a tad too big for the person in question. I’m not even convinced many women here even wear makeup most days of the year. In America, I wear a more bohemian, artist style – something along the lines of what you might see in Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters. Not full on catalogue, but we’ll say “inspired by.” Here, many of my shirts are considered too low cut because they dip below the tops of my armpits, and the long draping lines appear slovenly.

You’ll definitely see girls in teeny, tiny short cutoffs and shirts that say ferocious and pornographic things, but these are not respectable ladies and the social price for wearing such things can be severe. Some of the hipster fashion is showing up here too, but it appears that the general line on fashion in Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok is “be fashionable, but not too fashionable”, which is ironic considering how interested Thai people are in fashion and being cool.

So for me, finding clothes that I can feel comfortable in but that still are appropriate for the various social and business occasions I find myself in is quite a challenge. As much as we’ve had a simply awe-filled time here, this seemingly innocuous problem contributes to – and maybe even in representative of – some of the many moments in which I feel completely overwhelmed. Moments where I sense I’ve given offense, but everyone is too polite to explain how or why. It’s simply up to me to intuit what went wrong.

There are times that, as a woman and a foreigner here, I feel that I am without power, without voice. There are moments in which I feel like I have to fight for myself against everyone else, and these are moments in which I feel very alone.

Post Women Unbound Challenge

"unchain my heart! set me free..."I’m beginning to sense that my attempt at the Women Unbound challenge would be incomplete without a reflection on what I’ve gained from it. At the start of the challenge, I was asked what feminism meant to me. I responded: “To me, feminism is about achieving not only equality, but also liberty: the freedom to be who you are and choose the life you wish to lead, to offer your own unique contribution to the world.” When asked whether I considered myself a feminist, I said: “The term is so loaded these days, and I’m not sure I consciously apply that label to myself. I’m a ‘humanist’, I guess. I don’t support one race or gender over another, but seek to promote inclusion and understanding, so that we might all understand our need of each other. As Desmond Tutu once said, “I am, because other people are.” I’m a ‘thoughtist’ in the sense that I advocate thoughtfulness, not only in understanding others, but also in understanding ourselves.”

Through this challenge, I think my definition of feminism has not really changed, but I am much more inclined to call myself a feminist. I am a feminist in the sense that I care deeply about women’s issues and righting injustices and preventing harm from coming to the innocent.

BUT.

Though I call myself a feminist, I find myself increasingly disenchanted with a lot of feminist media these days. I’ve been following Bitch PhD and Bitch Magazine, and at first I appreciated their insight…until it started to seem as though “bitch” refers less to “empowered, self-realized woman” and more to the verb: for bitching seems to be just about all they do.

I have a problem with feminism when it says we need to break down societal expectations of what WOMAN should be – only to hiss and moan when women don’t choose their particular “liberated” vision of woman. It denies freedom of choice. It denies individual expression. It denies that there might be some value to the way some things have been done for centuries. And it denies the hard fact of biological proclivities. Women should not be forced to stay in the kitchen if their talents and interests push them into the office. But neither is it bad if a woman actually enjoys what she does in the kitchen. It’s stupid to pretend everything is socially constructed.

I have a problem with feminism when all it does is complain about the media. Bitch Magazine is one long series of gripes about some aspect of popular culture that did something to get their panties in a twist – interspersed with maybe a few anecdotes of examples that suit their ideal. It’s not a call to action; it’s a glorified tally sheet. It doesn’t inspire; it just hits the same button ad nauseum like a Pavlovian dog. It’s not forward thinking; it has become reactionary. Yes, there are problems with today’s media. Yes, there are elements of patriarchy dominating society (75 cents on the dollar, anyone?). But as far as I’m concerned, you can only push the victim button so many times before I lose sympathy – even if I’m in the same boat. There’s only so many times you can cry “victim” before I’m going to ask: Ok, but what are you doing to become a “survivor”?

I have a problem with feminism when it seeks to include minority voices – but then rejects the legitimacy of white, male voices. Far be it from me to be the vanguard of privileged white males! And I’m pretty sure anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis would know that. But I think it’s a false claim of “open, honest discussion” when white males are excluded. Yeah they’ve dominated the discussion for centuries, and yeah I’ll think some opinions are total crap, but that doesn’t mean they should be denied a place at the table when we discuss what we want of our society. (Maybe that’s because my husband is white and male, but I do value his opinion.)

So through a closer look, I’ve discovered that a lot of feminism is pretty much what I thought it was, and that is sad. However, through reading a lot of literature about strong women, I’ve come to remember once again what it is about the feminine voice that is worth listening to. Hearing women’s perspectives on the world and learning more about women’s contributions to society has animated me and activated me to do something more to help where it hurts. I don’t cry foul when girls wear pink, but I do take umbrage when girls give up on an education one week out of every month because they don’t have a bathroom separate from the boys. I don’t think it’s a travesty if women find role models from generations past, but I do shed tears when women are mutilated because it’s taboo to say “stop”. I don’t really care about the messages that pervade pop culture. I do care about the messages sent by parents, teachers, and church leaders, for these are messages sent every day by the people children love. They’re not something that can be shut off with a flick of a power switch. So, I haven’t become a feminist of the academic variety. Instead, I’ve become inspired to pursue my own brand of feminism, for whatever that’s worth.

the sold project – and a call to arms!

So last week I mentioned that when we move to Thailand, I will be working with an advocacy group. Today I want to tell you a little bit about them. The SOLD Project is a group of American twenty-somethings who created a documentary exposing the massive sex industry in Thailand, and how little girls and boys are abducted and sold into prostitution. They thought they were just doing a hard-core expose. Little did they know their hearts would tug and break in the meantime! Some of the children end up in brothels because they were trying to find jobs at restaurants in Bangkok to help support their families. Others are trafficked in from oppressed ethnic groups in neighboring countries like Burma.

The documentary is intense and emotional – once you hear the actual stories of these children, it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the issue. When the documentary was released, people began asking how they could help…and thus a non-profit was born.

The SOLD Project starts with prevention and their aim is four-fold: they hope to 1) provide scholarships to children through individual donors like you and me so that at-risk children don’t have to pay for their education, thus easing the grip of extreme poverty, 2) provide mentors for each child with a scholarship, 3) build a resource center for the community, and 4) develop awareness programs in schools to help children learn how to protect themselves.

While I am there, I will be doing two things. I plan on volunteering time to tutor and mentor children at the resource center as well as lead weekly rotating seminars open to the community, focusing on various professional skills: computer literacy, basic accounting, college application/grant writing, etc. But my little baby is a project called “Operation Shackle Free”. I’m setting up an email exchange program between the sponsored children in Thailand and students in the US and other western nations. The goal is to give the kids in Thailand a chance to practice their English literacy skills – giving them an edge in the job market – and to motivate them to dream of a better life, one that is far away from the brothels. For the students here in the US, the goal is to raise global awareness and cultural sensitivity, and show them how one little action, as simple as sending emails has global implications not only in the lives of their Thai counterparts but also for GDP, national health – even reducing terrorism.

A lot of this will be happening at the resource center The SOLD Project is trying to build. Check out how it’s coming along! And feel free to browse The SOLD Project website to find out more about what they do. You can even host your own documentary viewing party!

The resource center is well under way, BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP! We need help raising funds for supplies like children’s books (we {heart} the Seuss), desks, stationary, computers, a security system (so no A-hole jacks our computers), and staff support (because, yo, we’ll need to eat too).

If you look to the top right of this page you’ll see a link to donate. I’ve created a profile through CrowdRise and I’ve set an {albeit ambitious} goal of raising $1,000 by June 1 to go to building and running this resource center. Do you think we can do it? I think we can do it!

Every dollar helps! I think it’s easy to forget these days just how far a dollar can go. But for these girls and boys in Thailand, $1 is all it takes to keep one kid in school one day more.

If there’s anyone who can be counted on for love and support, I know it’s the blogging community. Bloggers and blog readers alike, you all are such amazing people with such large, warm hearts. Every day, there’s an unbelievable outpouring of affection, advice, and well-wishes to friends in need. So I’m just asking for a little help for some very little friends in need: the young girls and boys in Thailand who want nothing more than to just be home with their families, go to school, and live a decent life. Let’s keep them home with their families and away from pervy men and brothel gangstas!

Related Posts with Thumbnails