Tomorrow, In Mexico, A Day Without Women

Femicide. It’s a word I’d never heard until a friend of mine in Mexico introduced me to it. It seems that violence against women is an ever-increasing trend in that country. In fact, according to this article, they averaged three femicides a day in 2019 and one in three Mexican women is a victim of sexual harassment or violence. That’s horrifying and unacceptable.

As is typical of most governments these days, the Mexican government doesn’t seem to be taking women’s issues seriously at all. So there has been an outcry on social media asking women in that country to “disappear” for a day. Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go out at all. Women comprise 52 percent of the population, 50 percent of the students, and 40 percent of the work force, so this could potentially have a huge impact on the country.

According to the New York Times, this day was sparked, in particular, by two recent femicides that rocked the nation. (Brace yourself.):

Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled. Her body was found on Feb. 9, and photos of her mutilated body were leaked to tabloids, which published the images on their front pages, adding to the public outrage.

On Feb. 11, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, 7, was abducted from her primary school in Mexico City and her body was discovered wrapped in a plastic bag next to a construction site on the outskirts of the capital.

If enough women participate in this day without women, it could cost the Mexican economy 1.37 billion. (I’m unsure if that’s pesos or dollars. The Times didn’t specify. Still, it’s a lot.)

Protest today, March 8th, International Women’s Day. Take to the streets, if you feel safe doing so with COVID-19 lurking about. (I know the Women’s March here in Seattle has been cancelled, and even though that’s understandable, it saddens me.) Then drop out tomorrow. Let them see that they can’t survive without you.

Please join me in standing in solidarity with the Women of Mexico in their efforts to feel safe in their own land. Every woman, every human being, deserves that basic human right.

#UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS, (A Day Without Us).

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Why I Struggle with Joe Biden

Yes, I know there are an unprecedented number of Democratic candidates this time out. All but one will fall by the wayside. And it’s fairly obvious, already, which ones will do the falling. That’s what’s making me sweat.

Unfortunately, Joe Biden has name recognition on his side. As we’ve learned all too well, that is often all that it takes. And there are a lot of things about Joe Biden that I really like.

But the things that I like do not offset the things that I don’t. Not by a long shot. And I’m not the only one out there who is saying this. I only wish my party would listen this time. Because we’re playing for all the marbles here, folks. It really won’t do to screw this one up.

Here are my three basic issues with Joe:

His treatment of Anita Hill. Yes, the Clarence Thomas hearings were three decades ago, and people were disgustingly backward about sexual harassment back then. But Biden bungled those hearings. There was no good reason for his not allowing the other female witnesses to come forward and corroborate her testimony. His choices then have impacted decades of women who have suffered the abuse of men.

Recently he apologized to Ms. Hill. Why now? Not because of remorse. Because he’s running for president. And from the sound of it, he didn’t seem particularly remorseful to me. She was not satisfied. Nor am I.

The second issue I have with him is the way he inappropriately touches women. So many of his photos make me squirm, because I can tell that the women in them are squirming, too. He claims he meant nothing by these actions, and that may be true, but I’m sorry, how many times do you have to be told it’s wrong before you listen? His apology for his behavior was, “I’m sorry you were offended.” That’s more of an I’m sorry for your reaction than it is an I’m sorry for what I did.

And issue three is this quote, which I mentioned in a post years ago. During a visit to Japan, he asked some women, “Do your husbands like you working full time?”

This goes to a mindset that should have been left behind in 1950. I mean, seriously? This man is not a president for the modern era, in so many, many ways. I can’t overlook these things, despite the good stuff.

And yet, if it comes down to a choice between Biden and Trump, I’ll be forced to hold my nose and vote for Biden. Because the pussy grabber is even worse, with his trophy wife and his inappropriate references to vaginal bleeding. The Republicans have made it blatantly clear that they have no moral compass with regard to this issue, so they’re not going to vote their conscience. I have to do what I can to at least partially reset the scale that is so heinously weighed down against women. Nothing quite like the lesser of two evils, no?

Okay, now that I’ve admitted that. I’m going to go take a shower and try to wash off the shame and disgust. I hope it doesn’t clog the pipes.

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A Wonderful Public Awareness Campaign in Mexico City

When I was 19 years old, I was traveling through Mexico City, and I hopped on the metro. It was so packed with commuters that I was barely able to move. Think sardines in a can.

Once the train left the station, the man behind me started groping me. There wasn’t even enough room to turn around to glare at him. So I slid my hand along my thigh until I could get it behind me… and then I clenched his privates in a vise-like grip and twisted as hard as I could.

If he could have sunk to his knees, I’m sure he would have. Instead, he let out an agonized squeak and took his hands off me. When the doors opened at the next stop, we were all ejected from the train like lava from a volcano, so I never saw the culprit. But I’d like to think I taught him a lesson.

So imagine my delight when I saw this article about a public awareness campaign in Mexico City. The first part shows a subway seat that’s designated for men only. Its back looks like a man’s naked torso, so you can just imagine what the seat looks like. On the floor in front of the seat is as sign that says, “It’s no fun to travel like this, but it doesn’t compare to the sexual violence that women put up with in their daily commutes.”

The second part of the campaign involved aiming cameras at men’s behinds while they wait for the train. Those images are then projected on a TV screen. After a while, a message pops up and says, “Thousands of women put up with this every day.”

According to the article, the Mexican government started this campaign because they discovered that 65 percent of Mexico City women have been sexually harassed on the city’s buses and trains, and that 9 out of 10 women in the city have been victims of some form of sexual violence.

All I can say is that I’m really proud that this campaign was implemented, and I hope it yields results. If I were to experience that trauma again, I’d do exactly the same thing, with one difference: I’d also speak loud and clear. “This asshole behind me is touching me. I can’t see him, but many of you can. Don’t let him get away with this.”

Shame is a great deterrent. And knowledge is power. I know a lot of chivalrous Mexicans. Had I spoken up at the time, I suspect that pig would have come away with more than bruised balls.

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College Later in Life: A New Perspective on Professors

The first time I went to college I was 18 years old, and I had struggled so hard to be there that I kind of looked upon the professors as Gods. They constituted this great pantheon of pedagoguery and I was eager to soak up whatever knowledge they saw fit to impart. I didn’t question their motives or their philosophies. I just feasted on the crumbs of their wisdom and considered myself lucky for the meal. But at the same time, I considered that meal an automatic golden ticket toward my unquestionable future success. Silly me.

Thirty years later when I decided to return to school, my perspective had changed greatly. I still had respect for the teaching profession. I always will. But the professors had become my contemporaries, and as such I could only view them as flawed human beings. And this time I took the knowledge they imparted greedily, like a person lost in the desert desperate for water. I needed this information to get on with my life. I needed it to change my fate. (Little did I know it would turn out to be a massive waste of time and money, but I’ve already covered that in my blog entry Back to School at 46.)

So when my Physics teacher turned out to be a sexist pig who was stuck in the dark ages, I wasn’t as shocked as I would have been decades previously. I was just massively irritated and felt protective of the younger students who couldn’t see the outrageous behavior for what it was: unacceptable.

Here are just a few of this man’s pearls of wisdom.

  • For some reason he got on the subject of the health food store where he shops. He mentioned that the clerk there was so good looking that, “ladies, you’d know just what to do with him.”
  • He stated that he wouldn’t sell his used vehicle to a female because if it broke down, a female couldn’t walk, whereas a male could.
  • He stated that he felt comfortable letting his girlfriend pilot his boat, because after all, it only has two gears, so a female should be able to handle that. (He was serious!)
  • He constantly called female students “Sweetie” or “Sweetheart” or “Honey”.
  • When one student apologized for missing class because her car broke down, he said, “You’re good looking, got all the guys around you, they’ll fix it.”
  • He told that same girl in a separate incident, “I’ll want an autograph when you’re Miss America in a couple years.”
  • Every single class, he would tell at least one female that she was good looking.

The general consensus of the students I talked to seemed to be that he was “creepy” because he was saying things that someone his age should not be saying to people their age. What they were not yet mature enough to understand, I feared, is that “creepy” is unacceptable.

After a great deal of soul searching, I decided that I had to report the guy because I doubted that the 19 year old girls in the class would have the courage or the life experience to do so. This man had been with the school for 20 years. He needed to be made aware that his actions were grossly inappropriate. He should not be allowed to make female students squirm simply because they needed his class and had paid good money to attend it.

Needless to say, my report caused a major uproar. I got called in to the Dean’s office and it wasn’t just the Dean sitting there. It was an entire panel. I told them the story, I answered questions. I gave them details. They asked me what I wanted to happen.

I told them I wasn’t looking to get anyone fired in this economy, and that in fact the man really did know his physics, but his behavior had to change. He needed to be called on the carpet, trained and monitored. They said they would do all of the above.

I honestly doubt it made much difference, but it made me feel better, and it also made me realize that I had come a long way since my first college experience.

And I have to admit I got a bit of a cheap thrill from the fact that the man got to read my written report and therefore learned that he’s considered a creepy old man. If he came away with nothing else, he’ll have that morsel to chew upon whilst he examines his crows feet in the mirror.

The truth hurts, sweetie.

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It’s World Hijab Day. Should I Care?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Muslim. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. But I have worn a hijab on two occasions. Since I am not a Hijabi (which is a woman who wears a hijab), and have not experienced what it is like to wear a head scarf day in and day out, I cannot speak to that part of the issue. I’ve never experienced the heightened respect nor the prejudice that this simple piece of fabric can evoke. But I am a woman, so I will speak in that capacity.

Women wear the hijab for many reasons. The purest of which, in my opinion, is the voluntary wearing of the hijab due to one’s religious belief. I have complete and utter respect for this choice. If a Catholic woman can hold a rosary, then a Muslim woman has the very same right to wear a hijab.

Other women simply wear it as a fashion statement. And I have to agree that there is something quite beautiful and even ethereal about a woman in a hijab. I imagine that it makes people look at you differently. Those without prejudice have to see you for you, and not be distracted by your exterior. That appeals to me greatly. I get so tired of constantly being compared to other women. In that scenario, someone is bound to be found wanting, and just as often as not, it is me. This can be quite draining. Unfortunately, prejudiced people will not see you for you at all. They ONLY see the scarf and make assumptions, quite often political ones, from there. This is not a reflection on the Hijabi. This is evidence of the ugliness in the prejudiced person’s soul. I firmly believe that a woman should have a right to wear whatever she chooses.

The two occasions when I wore a hijab were both during visits to mosques in Istanbul, Turkey. I did so happily, and out of respect. I was well aware that I was a visitor in a place of worship, and as such I had absolutely no problem complying with their rules of proper etiquette. I must say I was surprised at the instant difference I felt within myself. I was calmer, and I felt more reflective. I also felt more formally beautiful, which was a nice feeling indeed.

Barb in proper mosque attire Me at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Regrettably, there are also negative reasons for wearing a hijab. I was listening to a radio show called BBC’s World Have Your Say today, and the topic was World Hijab Day. Many women called in to discuss the positive reasons for wearing the head scarf, but a lady called in from Egypt who said that many women there wear the hijab in public simply to avoid sexual harassment. Some people do believe that men cannot control themselves and therefore the women must cover up. I find this to be tragic. I think it underestimates men and causes women to live in fear. In countries where the hijab is not common, you don’t regularly see women being attacked in the streets, so men can be civilized, especially in an atmosphere where respect is expected of them. In places where laws are not enforced, sadly, mob rule often takes over. That is the nature of humanity, and it’s heartbreaking to contemplate.

On the most extreme end of the spectrum you have women in fundamentalist areas, such as Iran, who are forced to wear the hijab. You can actually be jailed in Iran for not doing so. I think the Iranian government is making a very drastic mistake by doing this. Forcing something upon any person, man or woman, will simply encourage rebellion in their hearts. It will not make someone want to be a devout Muslim. It will simply engender depression, resentment, suicide and every other thing besides spirituality. In my opinion, in situations like these the beautiful and religious and modest hijab has been warped into a tool of control and imprisonment. It is the very opposite of faith and therefore the worst type of violation.

So, if I see you on the street and you are wearing a hijab, I must apologize in advance for staring at you. I’m not doing it for negative reasons. I’m not looking at you as a freak. In fact, I most likely think you’re beautiful. Chances are I’m just wondering about you and your motivations, and hoping, for your sake, that they are pure and positive and liberating, not dark and negative and repressing. I want only good things for you, and wish you well.

So should I care that it’s World Hijab Day? Yes, indeed, and for more reasons than one might imagine on the surface. This is a deep and complex issue that needs more exposure, if you’ll excuse the pun.