Tag Archives: Equality

Get Your Eyes Off My Thighs

So I live in this neighborhood that’s . . . well, not exactly like the safety bubble I had experienced in college. I recall the good old days where I could scooter over to class wearing a jumble of tye-dye sleeveless shirts and camo shorts or if it was really hot, a yellow cotton halter and a loose-fitting mid-cut skirt. I never left the house worrying what others thought of me. I was never bothered. The only signals I got were the occasional wave and/or verbal greeting from a friend or classmate. What I wore didn’t matter to anyone. Those that knew me knew my personality and those who didn’t know me, well … got out of my way before I ran them over with my razor scooter.

Then I moved. I moved to a some-what financially distressed, socially oppressed neighborhood in Brooklyn where the schools were struggling and the graduation rate was teetering. That’s when I noticed. I noticed that my body was being followed by dozens of eyes. The first thing I did was look down to see if a button was missing … or maybe a third eyeball had grown out of my cheek. But I saw no signs that would lead to alienation. I must admit, I was puzzled. Why would anyone do that? What’s there to see anyway? I’m just another human being walking down the street. Isn’t that what we all are?

So when I took on a job that had a fairly materialistic dress code that required “trendy attire,” I panicked. I panicked for the first time since I was four years old – about what I should wear. I knew that if I had received stares and taunts now, imagine what I would get when I was wearing flashy blouses and black dress pants with heels trotting down the street. For the first time, I walked outside of my apartment not with the thought of what I was going to do or who I was going to see, but how I could make myself as invisible as possible. I made sure that, no matter how high the temperatures reached during the soggy summer days, I always had a zip-up sweater over me. It was like a comfort blanket to me and I felt that without it, things would be a lot worse.

As I said goodbye to the tingling rays of sunlight and warm temperatures, and welcomed in the winter season, I felt a sigh of relief. Yes, now I would be wearing bulky jackets and surely now I won’t receive any attention! This is what I told myself, but when I started taking a tally and calculated the ratio between people on the street and number of glances/cat calls, I noticed that the numbers during the winter time reflected the numbers during the summer time.

Then a small miraculous gift came into my world: an iPod shuffle. I played my anthems and speed-walked down the street changing my atmosphere into a fake playground of bass lines and pure funk. For those of you who believe that I am just ignoring the problem, have no fear. One of the first tasks I did when I moved to my neighborhood was to print out fliers and hand them to every pervert on the street who dare mentioned a word. Don’t get me wrong, at first I was shy and just walked away, but I found myself unable to contain my anger as time went by. I found relief in replying with a few nasty words myself, shaking my fist or a combination of pointing my finger and swearing in different languages. I feel it’s important to let the perpetrators know that what they’re doing is not acceptable. After all, it may be possible that some of them believe women like to be treated as sub-human.

One day, my shuffle ran out of batteries while I was still on the subway. Being somewhat lazy at times, I left the ear pieces in and, being the somewhat forgetful person I am, I forgot that the ear pieces were still in my ear as I walked down the street. That day, no one said a word, and the obvious glaring was non-existent. I didn’t think anything of it until I reached my door and reflected. The next day, I resolved to partake in this experiment and walked with my ear pieces in sans music. It was the same deal; no one even attempted to harass me.

My experience with street harassment isn’t special or an exception by any means. Coincidentally, a recent article in the Gotham Gazette called to light the issue of street/subway harassment and the growing popularity of the website, “Holla Back” a resource that invites New Yorkers to share their experiences and anecdotes in an online forum. But before this website was even created in 2005, filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West created a documentary in 1998 that focused on men who harass women entitled “War Zone” that still receives publicity to this day.

According to the Gotham Gazette, group of women from Brownsville Brooklyn, inspired by this documentary, congregated to form Girls for Gender Equity. They’ve set out to create “harassment-free zones” in their neighborhoods and, according to Executive Director Joanne Smith, train the girls to “Own up to their own comfort zone and identify what they think is harassment.” The girls are encouraged to hang posters to raise awareness and to take part in the battle by letting their perpetrators know that they are uncomfortable with that type of behavior.

As ineffective as some may claim this approach is, I do believe that this can be used as a crucial tactic. I recall a story I was told about a friend who was getting harassed on a fairly filled subway car. This friend pointed at the man and proclaimed loudly “Dirty man!” Everyone on the train looked over to the man, who immediately ceased his taunts. Not only did this effectively shut him up for the time being, but perhaps taught him a lesson to never harass again. Of course there are more physical ways to approach this dilemma, such as the instance where four women stabbed and beat a harasser in Greenwich village with a steak knife, but I would like to stay away from advocating violence unless necessary.

On a positive note, I was happy to find that I wasn’t the only one handing out fliers, and relieved to see that I was certainly not alone when I say that I know that sexual harassment is unacceptable. And for the sarcastic commentators: no, my fliers weren’t banal. They did not simply say “Don’t look at me.” They called upon the fact that I am a human being: a daughter a sister and a girlfriend. (People forget those things, you know.) They also defined what a rape culture is and how that harasser is contributing to it and how it affects our future . . . perhaps even that harasser’s future daughter. Those fliers helped define me as a human and hopefully made them see the situation from my point of view so that I’m not just tits and ass floating down the street, I’m alive and have feelings. They need to know that their words aren’t just words, their words are poison to the community, to the victim and even to the harassers themselves.

As for blaming attire . . . it really urks me when a woman is harassed or even raped and people ask what she was wearing at the time. First of all, not only is it irrelevant, but it doesn’t make any sense – what was “trampy” back in the fifties, wasn’t “trampy” in the 70’s. What’s tasteful fluctuates with time. What people need to get off of their minds is this myth that what women wear determines if a man will “lose it” or not. What people need to realize is that everything from cat calls to rape to domestic violence is all about power. And no wonder these issues are prevalent in low-income neighborhoods. They are oppressed socially and economically and in most cases, will stay hovering among the lower rungs of the ladder by the corrupt powers that be. According to sociologist Laura Beth Nielson who was quoted in the Gotham Gazette, sexual harassment “[Is] a mechanism designed to reinforce [traditional] status hierarchies.” I couldn’t agree more.

A part of me tries to find a thread of compassion, but it’s hard to look through your enemy to see the battered soul that feels that there is nothing left to lose. The anger I feel is the most prevalent emotion I experience and I have to admit that it’s a good idea that I stay away from firearms. But there also exists a small ray of hope that tries to show me that it doesn’t have to be like this. After all, I lived in a community where I felt completely at ease – these places exist! Why not make it happen everywhere else? Why not dream and work on that day where you can walk outside your home wearing whatever you want and for once, not think about how modest or appropriate you are in other’s eyes for your safety against men’s “weakness”, (cough cough, BULLSHIT) but instead focus on what goodness your day can bring.

– written by Elena Gaudino

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Filed under Feminism, Mental Environment, Social Justice

America’s Fear of a Woman with Power

Now don’t get me wrong, when it comes to politics I don’t consider myself any sort of guru, although I know enough not to believe anything on Fox News. Overall, politics can get sticky and the lines between the bad and the ugly can begin to blur. What I have noticed for the duration of 2007 into 2008 is a prominent bashing against Senator Hillary Clinton. Again, I don’t consider myself a political analyst, but I can’t help but question the validity behind the seemingly shallow hatred. This is mostly because of the fact that when I ask people why they hate her, I’m most often met with the vague, bandwagon response along the lines of “She’s a bitch” or “She’s a femi-nazi.” 

So I looked into Senator Clinton’s policies and compared them to her competitors in order to find any sign leading to “femi-nazism”  Needless to say, the only evidence I found was a policy that supports women’s reproductive health care issues and a stance that desired compromise between the two sides. Clinton has been quoted saying that she strongly believes in Roe vs. Wade, but also believes in taking preventative measures to encourage abortion alternatives, even embracing the possible use of religion and morals to promote abstinence. So this is what a femi-nazi is? 

Now, I hate this term “femi-nazi” and for good reason. I believe it was derived from the far right to connect their female enemies with negative associations. Ask anyone who a femi-nazi is and they’ll refer to a bra-burning, man-hating woman on steroids, even though the notorious bra-burning scenario was a completely false illusion created by sensationalized journalists and almost anyone would have some sort of dissent against someone else who has cheated them out of fair pay and equality for thousands of years.  So why would conservatives want to take power away from women? Easy, because women gaining power means they (our beloved wealthy white men) will be losing power, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep it. 

A recent Op-Ed in The New York Times by Gloria Steinhem was called to my attention today, which brought up the fact that during Clinton and Obama’s two overlapping years in the senate, they have voted the same 90 percent of the time. If you place their view points on reproductive rights, climate change and war side by side, they appear to run parallel to one another, plus or minus a few tweaks. Yet, the Clinton-bashing brigade strengthens, feeding off of any insignificant detail that could be used against her. She remains stern, she’s a robot. She cries, she’s an emotional wreck unfit to run a country. One has to ask, is it really Clinton as a candidate or the fact that she has a vagina that leads ignorant forces to prompt a fight against her? 

Charlotte Whitton once quoted: “Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good,” mostly because there are very black and white definitions that are carried with the label of “woman.” If she is attractive, then certainly, she is a whore. If she is not feminine, then she is a dyke. If she’s emotional, she is a “typical woman” and if she holds back the emotion and runs the show with a firm hand, then she is a bitch.  Any woman who breaks out of the mold is seen as having penis envy, unnatural, etc. and here we have our first front-running female presidential candidate marking U.S. history and low and behold, she is the most ridiculed of them all. 

I applaud Clinton’s efforts and shout loudly “It’s about f-ing time!”  I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that there have been no presidential candidates up until now that were either female or of a different race.  How can citizens tout their tattering American flags out their car windows or claim our country is the greatest when the government, a so-called democracy, does not rightly represent the demographics of the American people? 

What I find even more interesting concerning this issue are our misled citizens’ claims that women in other countries have it a lot worse. But as we all know, the recently assassinated Bhutto, who was the first female prime minister for a Muslim nation, was elected into office in Pakistan, not in this decade, not in the 90’s, but in 1988 – twenty years before we saw a woman candidate. As for sympathized South America; Argentina and Chile already have had a taste of having a woman in power. 

The worst aspect of this situation is hearing these formless claims coming from the mouths of fellow women. Oh, I understand all right. I was raised in a family where abortion was a huge no-no and quite possibly the biggest deciding factor. But women must realize that just because they are women, does not exempt you from feeling the pangs of living in a patriarchal society that has catered towards men in power. Quite frankly, most of us do not realize the basic realities and faults of our current system and find it all normal, because that’s just how it always was. Fortunately, I was saved from the lie that condemning abortion would save our nation. Unfortunately for the rest, believing in a woman receiving hygienic health care versus throwing herself down a flight of stairs or finding a wire hanger simply seems absurd.

I’m not telling you to vote for Hillary.  I’m not running a campaign site here.  I am just plain sick and tired of such uninformed groups of people preemptively judging and blurting false accusations.  All I ask is that you judge each candidate, not by their looks, gender or ethnicity, but by his/her experience, integrity and policies towards what our nation is and what it can and should be.

– written by Elena Gaudino

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Filed under Feminism, Politics