Silent Victims of Love

Many theories have existed and evolved over time to attempt to grasp the reasons for unrestrained (and often unrestrainable) violence in human society.  Therefore, domestic violence can affect anyone of any age or gender. Whether it’s physical or psychological, domestic abuse is destructive for both the battered and the batterer. Its tendency to be passed down over generations makes it all the more important that we develop effective methods for combating abuse.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence is the intentional physical assault, intimidation, battery, sexual assault, and/or use of other threatening behavior by one member of a household against another. Other less obvious forms of abusive behavior include stalking, the use of threatening looks or gestures, attempts to control the reproductive health of an intimate partner (for example, refusing to use contraception during intercourse), and displays of psychological aggression such as putting down, humiliating, or isolating an intimate partner [1].

Domestic violence often has a ripple effect that tears through the fabric of the victim’s life. The psychological, emotional, and social impacts of domestic violence can linger long after the violence has subsided, and even after the victim has left the abusive partner.

The National Center for PTSD, a prominent research and education organization that studies the psychological effects of trauma, has identified several scenarios that indicate red flags in an unhealthy relationship. An unhealthy relationship may be indicated when one partner:

  • Has complete control of all household finances.
  • Limits or completely closes off the other partner’s social life. He or she may isolate the other partner from friends and family.
  • Consistently threatens to ruin the reputation of the other partner, especially after he or she has expressed a desire to end the relationship.
  • Repeatedly tries to scare the other by breaking things, punching holes in the wall, and hurting or threatening to hurt pets.
  • Systematically evokes feelings of guilt or shame in the other partner.

These types of coercive and controlling behaviors are often present in cases of domestic violence, and can have a profound impact on how a victim of abuse is able to function socially, even after leaving an abusive relationship. If an individual is financially dependent on his or her abusive partner, any decision to escape the abuse carries with it the real possibility of homelessness [2].

Social theories look at external factors in the offender’s environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning, and includes rational choice theories. For example, social learning theory suggests that people learn from observing and modeling after others’ behavior. With positive reinforcement, the behavior continues. If one observes violent behavior, one is more likely to imitate it. If there are no negative consequences (e. g. victim accepts the violence, with submission), then the behavior will likely continue [3].

Furthermore, power and control in abusive relationships is the way that abusers exert physical, sexual and other forms of abuse to gain control within relationships. A causalist view of domestic violence is that it is a strategy to gain or maintain power and control over the victim. This view is in alignment with Bancroft’s “cost-benefit” theory that abuse rewards the perpetrator in ways other than, or in addition to, simply exercising power over his or her target(s). He cites evidence in support of his argument that, in most cases, abusers are quite capable of exercising control over themselves, but choose not to do so for various reasons.

Sometimes, one person seeks complete power and control over their partner and uses different ways to achieve this, including resorting to physical violence. The perpetrator attempts to control all aspects of the victim’s life, such as their social, personal, professional and financial decisions [4].

Questions of power and control are integral to the widely utilized Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. They developed a “Power and Control Wheel” to illustrate this: it has power and control at the center, surrounded by spokes (techniques used), the titles of which include: coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children, economic abuse, and privilege (Figure 1).

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Figure 1

Critics of this model argue that it ignores research linking domestic violence to substance abuse and psychological problems. Some modern research into the patterns in domestic violence has found that women are more likely to be physically abusive towards their partner in relationships in which only one partner is violent, which draws the effectiveness of using concepts like male privilege to treat domestic violence into question. Some modern research into predictors of injury from domestic violence suggests that the strongest predictor of injury by domestic violence is participation in reciprocal domestic violence [4].

Another theory linked with domestic violence is the nonsubordination theory, sometimes called dominance theory, which is an area of feminist legal theory that focuses on the power differential between men and women. Nonsubordination theory takes the position that society, and more especially men in society, use sex differences between men and women to perpetuate this power imbalance. Unlike other topics within feminist legal theory, nonsubordination theory focuses specifically on certain sexual behaviors, including control of women’s sexuality, sexual harassment, pornography, and violence against women generally. Though nonsubordination theory has been discussed at great length in evaluating various forms of sexual violence against women, it also serves as a basis for understanding domestic violence and why it occurs. Nonsubordination theory tackles the issue of domestic violence as a subset of the broader problem of violence against women because domestic violence victims are overwhelmingly female [5].

Proponents of nonsubordination theory propose several reasons why it works best to explain domestic violence. First, there are certain recurring patterns in domestic violence that indicate it is not the result of intense anger or arguments, but rather is a form of subordination. This is evidenced in part by the fact that domestic violence victims are typically abused in a variety of situations and by a variety of means. For example, victims are sometimes beaten after they have been sleeping or have been separated from the batterer, and often the abuse takes on a financial or emotional form in addition to physical abuse. Supporters of nonsubordination theory use these examples to dispel the notion that battering is always the result of heat of the moment anger or intense arguments [5].

A good example of how power and control can end a marriage and make a woman suffer enormously is the case of Eleonora Pokola, a domestic violence survivor and an icon for many women in Cluj-Napoca and Romania.

By Raluca Costea, Stefana Palade and Xiaotian Li

Sources:

[1] Amanda, Lauren. 2015. Domestic Violence in Families: Theory, Effects, and Intervention. June 25. Accessed June 02, 2017. http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2015/06/25/domestic-violence-families-theory-effects-intervention/.

[2] Doak, Melissa J. “Causes, Effects, and Prevention of Domestic Violence.” Child Abuse and Domestic Violence, 2009 ed., Gale, 2009. Information Plus Reference Series. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3011990107/OVIC?u=scschools&xid=8fbd5352. Accessed 2 June 2017.

[3] Loue, Sana Intimate Partner Violence: Societal, Medical, Legal and Individual Responses.  New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenium Publishers, 2001.

[4] Wikipedia. n.y. Domestic Violence. Accessed June 02, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_violence#Causes.

[5] Bostock, Jan, Maureen Plumpton, and Rebekah Pratt. 2009. “Domestic Violence Against Women: Understanding Social Processes and Women’s Experiences.” Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 95-110.

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More than Meets the Eye: Feminism through the Kaleidoscope

Oh, how far we have come as a race! Revolutionising life through progressive technology that facilitates medical services, travel styles, access to education and so much more. Looking back on our history, we should be proud of where we stand today. However, our history is also full of shameful acts we have committed over the years, and unfortunately one of the fundamental changes that would truly allow development is taking us ages to fully execute. Despite how far we have come, discrimination is still very much with us, and it is baffling to see the human race attempt development in such a disorderly manner. But true evolution is unattainable because we lack the proper foundation. If we as earthlings can’t work together, then we will never reach our full potential.

As we hungrily attempt to continuously climb the ladder of evolution, we retain a man-made set-back in gender equality all around us: girls are refused educational rights in many countries; women are looked down on while being taken advantage of in work environments; different religions force female subordination through their teachings and even lead to the implementation of laws that clearly favour men.

There are many people who believe that women are the lesser of the genders and even though there are also those who disagree, all around us there is proof that the former mindset prevails. Renowned writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed many relevant statements during a TedxEuston talk that she gave. She shared that she had been approached not only by a male journalist but also by a female academic who both shared the opinion that being a feminist is off-putting and generally improper. Realistically, these opinions are indeed so imbedded into society that many men and women see no other way of living. These are women and men that have been conditioned into thinking a certain way about a woman’s general appearance and conduct. Granted, judgement as a general phenomenon is unavoidable, but its execution should not be centred on gender.

As recently as the beginning of March 2017, 74-year old Polish member of the European Parliament, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, stated that women don’t deserve equal pay, using arguments to back his statement up such as: women are smaller, weaker and less intelligent than men. This is the type of counterargument that is out there in regards to gender equality; this is the type of counterargument against the cause to achieve gender equality that was brought forth on the European Union Parliament platform. What neutral party can hear that and deem it justifiable? Korwin-Mikke added, “Do you know how many women are in the first 100 of chess players? I tell you: no one.”

For such a global level of inhumane exposition, the only sanctions enforced by the European Union Parliament President Antonio Tajani were suspension from parliament for ten days, no daily allowance for 30 days and prohibition from representing the parliament on conferences and forums for a one-year period. For degrading half of the human species on an international platform, Mikke would barely feel a scratch from his punishment. It is a complete under-reaction in response to the level of affront directed at the part of the population that brings babies into this world. He even went on to say that international women’s day is a communist invention and that the left wants to promote women because women like to be protected.

Many were shocked that in this day and age we still have people in prestigious positions that think this way. It doesn’t shock me because for things to be maintained the way they are right now I realised that this mentality must subsist within many of the people we trust to conduct society. I am yet to understand how it is that even when such thoughts are exposed, we still allow the people that harbour them to coordinate our affairs and remain highly-held within the society. Mikke is only one of many; before he became the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump was exposed for degrading females and female genitalia in a recording. Despite this and so many other sexist characteristics, he won the election and now heads one of the world’s superpower nations. There are literally outspoken chauvinists out there that are still in respectable positions.

The fight for women’s suffrage by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many more in the last couple of centuries; the ongoing fight demanding equal pay for equal work regardless of gender; the elimination of pressure on women to look a certain way, dress a certain way, have a certain role, have a certain type of hair, etc.; these are feminism issues. What is the basis of gender discrimination? What are the motives behind the close-to-inexistent political representation of women in most of the world? What explanations have been brought forward as to why in some parts of the world the female gender has zero access to education? What is the reasoning behind women’s lower pay grade for the exact same job? What other reason can be behind all of this if not a superiority complex? In psychology, this complex is known as a defence mechanism that compensates for an inferiority complex; it conceals feelings of fear and inferiority. Why else would the world feel the need to constantly require submission from women?

Another justification behind the gender inequality is that men and women are too different to be considered equal. During her talk, Chimamanda also pointed out that in the past it was indeed sensible for men to rule the world because, “human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival… but today we live in a vastly different world; the person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person and there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative and to be innovative.”

As Ms. Adichie put it in a nutshell, the word feminist comes with so much negative baggage. There are many people that consider themselves feminists and discuss the concept with different approaches. From this, it stems that groups of people either box themselves or are boxed into certain criteria, and only then can they be feminists. Many (both men and women) attack the notion feminism itself, claiming that it is a biased paradigm and that if it were really about equality it would be named differently. What this idea does is only to unveil the ongoing attempt to hush those speaking out against the harmful prejudices that women are forced to face at different degrees in different places. Logically, feminism has to be biased even if not in its manifestation but definitely in its cause; women are more discriminated against than men, so that is bound to be the standpoint from which the topic is addressed.

Despite what some think, feminism is not in any way restricted to women. A feminist can be anyone that encourages gender quality and promotes unity within the society. A feminist values and respects both genders equally. Two years ago, actress and United Nations ambassador Emma Watson launched a campaign in which she asked men to fight with women against discriminatory behaviour. She pointed out that many view fighting for women’s rights as synonymous with man-hating. To dispel this, she clarifies that gender equality is everyone’s issue and that both men and women must work together in order to achieve balance. Men are victims of gender inequality also, because the society also has them imprisoned in gender stereotypes. Watson believes that progress can be attained by working together towards a better future.

My entire argument rests in one single word: logic. Clarity is essential in every aspect of life; whenever one beats around the bush, society experiences a slight inhibition from progression as a people. The more straightforward we are, the better for humankind. Ergo, where I stand on the matter is intentionally evident. There is a logical thought process which should lead to a logical course of actions, but for reasons beyond understanding society functions based on apparently illogical ideology. Women and men are equally humans, therefore should be treated as equal humans. Women and men may be different in physical features, but who or what exactly determines that one’s features are above another’s? On the contrary, because of our differences we should be equally important. For a species that claims to be extremely intelligent, we seem to ignore the logic in an issue as basic as gender equality.

Things could hardly be clearer than that. Yet, women are being told what to do with their bodies, being told how to live and being denied recognition of efforts where it is due. There is the constant attempt to control women and their existence, and the worst part is that most women have succumbed to it and feel that they can live no other way. This creates further hindrance to the cause of promoting equality.

Emma Watson was recently criticised and accused of anti-feminism because she posed for pictures in a see-through top for the March 2017 cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Watson vocally responded to the criticism, saying that feminism is about giving women a choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation. It’s about equality.” As long as the choice is theirs and not entirely due to societal pressure, it should be respected. As long as the choice does not bring harm to others, it should be tolerated.

I consider myself feminist, and my understanding and application of the notion is as a choice; the ever-so-coveted choice should remain within the margins of a woman’s wants, and whichever the choice made, equality between the genders should never waver. By this, I mean that a woman can decide her destiny, choosing to be what she wants (housewife or judge) and choosing to express herself whichever way she pleases (nudity or modesty) without the judgemental stereotypes that follow either extreme.

Realistically, it is impossible to completely eliminate stereotypes and in fact many stereotypes stem from truths (not just stereotypes referring to women but also general ones about different people from different walks of life). However, some of these preconceived notions are unfortunately harmful and should indeed reach the point of abrogation. Returning on-topic, they are harmful because they hinder evolution and stomp growth as a gender and as a society.

The current state of things means that we are inhibiting our own progression by setting ourselves backwards and suppressing potential contributions to advancement. Imagine the heights humanity could have reached by now if we didn’t try time after time to climb over one another in an attempt to subdue each other; slavery, colonisation, dictatorships and wars fought with this exact goal as its purpose. Remembering our history, discrimination has never contributed positively to humanity.

Instead of crying over spilt milk, however, let us focus on a more effective and permanent solution: re-orientation. As a child, unaware of prejudices, I observed the world and I could never quite get my head around the discrimination I would notice. This has shown me that all of this is not inherent but in fact constructed; it is not a natural reality but a nurtured one, and in the same way that we nurtured this mindset, we are capable of nurturing a new one. The values instilled in our young ones contribute to behaviours that are exhibited later in life. This is valid for both male and female persons. Parents can bring their children up teaching them that equality is not questionable and that superiority complexes are indeed signs of weakness. The roots of our problems are in the upbringing and in the foundation upon which the young ones are taught.

The most efficient resolve would be the re-orientation of future generations. This would require not only efforts made by families but also the help of the media and general public by stopping the projection of prejudiced images which affect thought construction and the formulation of opinions. Degradation and disrespect hinders human advancement. Women become demoralised and, because some people feel superior to others, regular altercations occur. The world must relinquish obstructing characteristics that are simply erroneous and offensive. We, both men and women, are the only ones that can sculpt a better future for ourselves. These issues should not be issues at all in the first place and it is long overdue that we, as a people, unite for the greater good.

As I read in an article titled ‘We shouldn’t fight for “gender equality”. We should fight to abolish gender’ by George Gillet for the online media house NewStatesman, “Gender is defined by the World Health Organisation as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women”. In other words, while sex refers to biological and physical characteristics, gender describes the behavioural roles that we associate with these features… The problems which surround gender encompass far more than a conventional inequality – our archaic belief in the concept of gender itself undermines ideals of personal freedom and liberation.”

As Gillet stated in his article, “Gender is flawed – no set of social scripts will ever represent the wonderful diversity and intricacy of human behaviour.” Feminism is a lot more than gender-based; automatically, by promoting the freedom of one gender, there are ripple effects that indirectly free the other gender(s) as well; it represents subject matters that affect us all. Feminism is the promotion of choice.

Hava Nwamaka Nwakageo Rosenfeld

Voluntourism Today: Selfish or Selfless?

A while back, someone asked me how I would describe my 6 week volunteering experience in Thailand. The first thing that popped into my mind was selfish, but instead, my lips murmured, “challenging and rewarding,” the same two things I always say when asked that question. The rest of the conversation was me nodding to everything my friend was saying while trying to figure out why the first thing that my brain associated with the Thailand affair was selfishness. After all, it was a noble thing I did – leaving the comfort of my home, flying over 7500 km just to teach these poor Thai kids the marvels of the English language. Rather selfless on my side. Right?

Not right.

This social phenomenon, generically called voluntourism or travel philanthropy, is quickly becoming a norm given that more and more people, especially youngsters in their twenties, opt for this kind of vacation.  It has its perks and they aren’t easy to overlook. So if you are young, you have the money and the means – why not go to Kenya, Malaysia or Haiti to build a house or to teach some less fortunate child a language that is not even your own?  It will look great on your CV; it will give you a chance to see a new country and explore a new culture; it will bring exciting people in your way, and more importantly, it will fulfil the burning desire you feel inside your chest fueled by all those inspirational Tumblr quotes: You can change the world! Make the world a better place!

For the majority of people who engage in voluntourism, the ones mentioned above are the actual and only reasons for choosing to spend time in poorer countries doing some kind of philanthropic work. While these reasons are legitimate and, essentially, good enough to fuel a volunteering project abroad, having no other drive but satisfying the needs of the self is a rather selfish approach to a matter that should supposedly to be one the most selfless endeavors one’ll experience in one’s lifetime.  Albeit the intentions behind are noble, the self-serving approach some take to voluntourism can make it harmful.

Going in for a short period of time doesn’t allow an individual to properly get to know the community and their needs, and more importantly, adjust to them or comply with them. In some cases this can prove to be detrimental. One unfortunately common scenario deals with volunteers who work with little kids, orphans or people with disabilities. While the intentions might be indeed noble, research shows the aftermath can be rather unpleasant and sad for the children. Research shows that orphans need to form longer and more stable connections with people, and a volunteer, who is only present for a few weeks, is not exactly the definition of stability. [1]

I didn’t believe it was such a serious matter until it happened to me firsthand. In my school in Thailand, I had this kid in 6th grade, Aye. With no parents in the picture, his aunt was his only relative he had in Tamafaiwan.  He was so poor he couldn’t afford a new uniform and the one he had was more a worn out collection of pieces stitched together than a unit of clothing. He used to call me Teacher Big Eye, since Gianina was too hard for him to pronounce and I was the person with the biggest eyes he’d ever seen. Every day, he would pick a fruit and bring it to me: he would shyly knock on the door to the teacher’s room and hand me a baby banana, a dragon fruit or some freshly picked mangosteen. After class, every day without fail he would come to my desk, and with a slight bow he’d tell me, “Thank you, teacher Big Eye.” The day I left Thailand he didn’t show up to say goodbye – to him, my leaving felt like an abandonment. Aye had no phone, no internet, there was no way to stay in touch. All he was left with was yet another person in his life who ended up leaving.

When it comes to being voluntourism, people tend to choose a job they desire and not a job they have the proper skill set for the job. It is not uncommon for volunteers to be improperly (if at all) trained for the task. Aside from being selfish, it can prove to be harmful to the community. Building houses is not something one learns off YouTube, just as teaching is not something one wakes up one morning and decides he’s good at. When people’s lives are at stake, their livelihood and education hanging on one application form, one should really think through his qualifications before submitting the application.

Perhaps had I been trained in how to deal with orphans, my experience with Aye would have been entirely different. The frail heart of the child was broken by my lack of qualifications.

There is another reason why people engage in this voluntourism: in order for others to see. That’s a big part of the reasons volunteers post numerous photos, use hashtags (such as #instagrammingafrica, #getback), give their audiences constant status updates on Facebook and Instagram and so on. Regardless of whether they do it as a means to show off or because they seek approval, using their volunteering experience in a poor country as a social media content boost is, by definition, selfishness.  It makes you think if the poem by Nayyirah Waheed titled ‘A Question of Appropriation’ stands a bit more ground than we’d like to admit.

“Would
you still want to travel to
that
country
if
you could not take a camera with you.”

Another issue that could arise out of the ceaseless documentation of the trip is reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudices regarding a country or a people. Maybe even unknowingly, but every hashtag like #giveback, #saveafrica, #changingtheworld etc., and every photograph depicting the individual as a saviour in the midst of a group of hungry children leads to the conceptualisation of the ‘other’ as well as the rationalisation of poverty. The concept of otherness is central to the very construction of identity. In the words of Zygmunt Bauman: Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend.” However, when (and this happens a bit too often with voluntourism) the ‘other’ is regarded as the helpless, the impoverished, the desperate and the hopeless in a context in which the volunteer is portrayed as the saviour, hero or guardian angel, it leads to an unfortunate paradox that merely buttresses the foundation of human/country inequality.

One should not feed his ego and fuel his Saviour complex to the detriment of other people nor should one’s actions lead to the suffering of others, either directly or indirectly, momentarily or in time.

Regarding the rationalization of poverty, extensive research has already studied the effects of humanitarian aids given as charity to developing countries. Some scholars argue that “the aid given to these countries is making them detrimentally dependent upon the charity of autonomous benefactors.”[2] Continuously expecting help from richer countries creates an environment of self-accepted poverty which interferes with any country’s potential development. And the rationalization of poverty does not limit itself to money. Therefore, volunteers unceasingly coming to aid poorer countries, sometimes consciously or subconsciously find themselves participating in the rationalization of one country’s lower status, inferior position and enduring poverty.

I’m not saying voluntourism is inherently evil. It isn’t. There are definitely those people whose actions speak louder than words, who in four weeks can do more than others in four months. There, most certainly, are people who go abroad with the purest of intentions to actually help. This is the type of volunteer traveller one must strive to be.

But in order to be one of them, one must analyse very closely one’s behaviour, one’s intentions and one’s motives. Only if the three align in accordance to personal values and ethical standards should one then decide to pursue the opportunity. One must take the volunteering project seriously by showing up prepared and choosing a task he or she is qualified for. Volunteers must do thorough research and choose the best suitable and ethical organization to entrust with the managing of his or her volunteering experience.

Only after having checked all of the above should you go: only if there’s a burning will within you to help others while helping yourself; only if you’ve got a flaming desire to embrace other cultures while sharing your own; only if you’re consumed by an incessant sense of responsibility regarding the fact that your actions will create a ripple effect in the host community. Go to see, to know, to explore, to embrace, to learn and to teach – but only if your heart is in the right place and selflessness is what drives you. Selfishness has nothing to do in matters of humanity.

Gianina Vulpe

 

[1] CARLSON, ELIZABETH A., SAMPSON, MEGAN C., SROUFE, L. ALAN. Implications of Attachment Theory and Research for Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. October, 2003. Volume 24. Issue 5. pp 364-379.

[2] Shaun Franco. The Effects of Poverty: Ignorance. The Borgen Project.

 

 

The Paradox of Fragile Masculinity in Today’s Society

 

Today’s society has to deal with global warming, terrorist attacks, hunger and poverty, among many other, but it still seems to be plagued by ‘concern’ showed to genders and their respective characteristics, more than by the issues just mentioned.

By this I mean that if you show people a video/article about global warming and ask them what they think about it and what changes could be made to improve the situation and a video/article about a man doing something that is not considered manly they wouldn’t know what to say about global warming and there is no guarantee that all of them would know what it entails but most of them would have plenty to say about the man not acting ‘properly’.

From here to hearing an astonishing number of times stereotypes like “You’re throwing like a girl!”; “That’s not a man’s job!”; “Girls can’t like or play sports!” or “That’s not a manly color!” during our lives is short way to go. Ever since our birth we are being “catalogued” and placed in a category, all based on the gender we are assigned by the medics at our birth.

From then on starts our education and every decision our parents make for us is shaping us little by little into the adults we’ll become one day. The thing is that some things related to our gender we are not being taught, those things are being infringed upon us so we unconsciously grow up to be a different version of ourselves than our true one.

It all starts when we’re still in the womb, when the parents find out the gender of the child and they start planning the names, room, clothes and toys. If it happens to be a boy, the room will be blue and the child will have only cars and soldiers as toys and if it happens to be a girl, there will be a pink room with lots of dolls and fluffy toys.

The moment after the child is born and the gender is assigned, the “it’s a boy/it’s a girl” phrase can be heard and those three words are the starting point of the gender stereotyping the child is going to face during his/her life.

Whether we talk about the bedtime stories children are read before going to sleep, games, TV series or cartoons, where the woman is supposed to be small, fragile and weak and the man always strong, brave and fearless, our society paints an ideal image that everyone grows up wanting to imitate.

Our society always taught our women to rely on men, to be dependent, quiet, thoughtless and invisible, to never act like they are strong and capable; to never try to accomplish their dreams if that meant to get in the way of men. This is a portrayal of how women weren’t supposed to be perfect or close to perfection while men were.

As the time passed though, society has started encouraging women to be brave, to be courageous and outspoken, to follow their dreams and not rely on the help of a man to accomplish their dreams but the pressure put on men, to always be strong, reliable, stoic and fearless has remained the same.

The biggest problem society has with this is the fact that men and women started borrowing, for some years now, characteristics from the other and while women borrowing male dressing style, ethics and attitudes, when men tries doing the same, society shames them.

What didn’t change over the years is the effect media has on people, especially when it comes to showcasing beauty. What is considered to be the beauty standard is not an ideal created by people from all over the world that chatted about this and pitched ideas about how an ideal person should look like (which as much as we don’t need a standard to tell us we are beautiful, would have been somehow acceptable) but an image the media feeds us on a daily bases, people all over the world hurting their minds and bodies in order to achieve the ideal.

That’s how beauty products and cosmetic surgery have become so famous and searched for by both men and women.

According to a study conducted by BuzzFeed, the number of beauty male products increased by more than 74% worldwide between 2012-2014 and the same study, based on information gathered from professional publications, entertainment and social media, determined what are considered to be the beauty standards for men around the world.

  • The Americans prefer the muscular, bearded, manly men – the “Lumberjack”, the Mexicans prefer the “macho” type, while Mexican men have been identified as being the vainest worldwide, behind Venezuela, in a study from 2000.
  • Brazilians consider the ideal man to be mixed-race, tanned and with Germanic features and in Brazil cosmetic surgery for men has become something very normal.
  • Nigerians as well consider masculinity as being the most important criteria of the perfect man, and according to a study from 2007, Nigerians in their 20s viewed masculinity as “culturally superior” to femininity.
  • The ideal Turkish man is often found in the dramas, the man shifting from the rough masculine type, to the romantic, sensible one, while the most fashionable grooming services for men in the country are body hair removal.
  • The country considered “The pinnacle of men’s fashion”, Italy considers the ideal man to be one wearing tailored clothes and not afraid to wear colors considered feminine.
  • The British, as the Americans, prefer their men to be buff and facial hair combined with grooming, including ‘manscaping’, have become increasingly popular among British men.
  • The ideal men in India are not afraid or ashamed of maintain their beauty using beauty products on a daily basis, the largest demographic of men’s skincare consumers being Asia Pacific region, which makes up 65% of worldwide sales, skin lightening creams becoming more and more popular among men and being endorsed by Bollywood starts.
  • In South Korea, entertainment is dominated by the pop culture, the male beauty standard being that of K-pop idols, which combine muscular, lean bodies with soft features and make-up, plastic surgery practices such as double eyelids, bigger eyes and high bridged nose becoming the norm, in order to obtain the ideal features.
  • In the Philippines, the “macho ideal” has given way to the booming male beauty market as men embraced “metrosexuality”.
  • The Australians’ biggest worry body-wise is the fact that they want to be bigger, more muscular or leaner, the Hemsworth brothers being considered the ideal for male beauty down under.

After seeing these beauty ideals it is impossible not to notice the fact that most of them involve practices that are considered feminine but without whose ‘help’ the ideals can’t be achieved. This points out the hypocrisy of our society, seeing as how men are told by society how they are supposed to look while at the same time shaming them for trying to achieve those standards.

And the biggest misconception people have about men using what are considered to be female products and practices to improve their looks, is that those men look and act ‘feminine’, which couldn’t be further away from the truth.

So what are men supposed to do in today’s society so they can feel good in their own skin and still be accepted?

 

By Patricia Blaj and Diana Cozan

Romania and the Fight for and against Love

by Alexandra Denisa Neagoe

A highly debated subject in Romania these days is the revision of the article 48 of the Romanian Constitution. The article states that “family is founded on the freely consented marriage of the spouses, their full equality, as well as the right and duty of the parents to ensure the upbringing, education and instruction of their children.” The modification debated is the replacement of term “spouses” with the terms “man and woman”, because the former is thought to be too vague, making it possible for gay couples to marry, which, God forbid, would be something completely wrong.

It all started with the group “Coalition for Family” (RO: Coaliția pentru familie), gathering 3 million signatures in favor of this replacement to happen and asking for a referendum to take place in order to revise the Constitution.

They claim this revision is necessary in order to protect “the primordial role of the family”, that is essential to be formed by a man and a woman in order to “assure a proper environment to raising and educating children”. I will say, that I partly agree with their statement. It is important to assure a good environment for children in a family. However, I don’t see how it is essential for it to be formed between a man and a woman. There are countless examples of Romanian children living in poor conditions, with parents who abuse them and who are not taking care of them, leaving them to be raised by grandmothers or sometimes by themselves or each other. According to a study made in 2014, by the Ministry of Labor and the organization “Save the Children” (RO: Salvați copiii), over 60% of the children are being abused by their family.[1] How can this be okay as long as the family is formed from a man and a woman? Why wouldn’t it be acceptable for two women or two men to raise a kid together as long as the child is properly raised and educated?

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And just how there are countless examples of children not being raised properly by “normal” families, there are also countless same sex families, who raise their children in a loving and caring environments. Two of the better known LGBT+ families are the ones formed by Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka who have two twins and Sir Elton John and David Furnish, who again have two young boys that are properly cared for, surrounded by all the love they need.

Such examples happen even in our country. My mother is a kindergarten teacher where, of course, the majority of the families are formed between a man and woman. However, this year she also has a kid in her class who is raised by two women. The two are a couple and they both raise him together, even though only one of them appears in documents as his mother, since the law doesn’t permit it otherwise. He addresses them both as “mom” and he is a very well educated child. He is properly dressed, fed and has everything a kid needs to be happy and more.

Another reason behind this referendum and the replacement of the term “spouses” is the need for the family to procreate in order to perpetuate the human race. This, of course, logically speaking, it is true. You do need a man and a woman to conceive a child, or at least parts of each of them. However, in this day and age there are numerous methods through which one can have a child: in vitro fertilization, intrauterine inseminations, donor eggs and embryos, surrogate mothers and many others. People no longer have to strictly have sexual relations in order to have child, so the problem with procreation shouldn’t be considered an issue anymore. Plus, there are many children in orphanages that could be adopted but these families and be raised and educated in better environments.

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According to a study from the United States, an estimated 16.000 same sex couples raise more than 22.000 children in the US. In the same study it is shown that more than 100.000 same sex households include over 200.000 children under the age of 18 and more than 100.000 same sex couples, raise approximately 170.000 biological, step or adopted children.[2]

A concrete example in this direction is that of a boy from the United States, named Michael, who was put in the foster system at the age of 7. Most families that adopt, want babies or very young children. As the year passed the chances of him finding a home grew smaller and smaller. However, at the age of 16 he was adopted by a lesbian couple who raised him with all the love and care he didn’t have from his real parents. Now, he is attending college and went from being an isolated person to being a very friendly one. All because of a same sex couple that offered him a chance to a better life.[3]

There is, however a downside to raising children in same sex marriages or families. Living in a country like Romania where being different or loving different than the norm, is a quite the challenge. Therefore raising a child in an environment like this might result difficult, given the fact that she or he might be bullied or seen as different because of his or her family. People complain and wonder how to explain to a child why two men or two women are holding hands or kissing, but if you think about it, can you imagine how difficult it is to explain to a child why some people are against love and judge their happiness and their family? Children don’t care that your parents are two moms or two dads, unless taught otherwise. They just want to play and make friends. Sure, they might ask questions, but we shouldn’t be afraid to answer them. Isn’t it easier to explain to a child that love is love, rather than teaching them that loving different is wrong?

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So in that sense, raising a child in a hostile environment towards same sex couple will be a challenge for the years to come. The child might be bullied, laughed at and fought with, making life a bit harder. Still, this only proves that the problem doesn’t come from the family being different but rather from the problem we have, as a society, of accepting others who don’t fit in the norm.

All in all, I would say that such groups and actions taken against a certain group of people are discriminatory and not only do they promote intolerance but also hate crime, contributing to the oppression of LGBT+ community in Romania. And the topic of same sex marriage, although still taboo, is one that can and should be discussed by both sides of this issue, giving that there’s plenty to talk about. All people have to do is to be open to a dialogue and listen. Until then I will leave with this question: why fight against love when you can fight for love?

[1] http://www.descopera.ro/dnews/13236201-studiu-socant-in-romania-peste-60-dintre-copii-sunt-supusi-violentei-in-familie

[2] https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/LGBT-Parenting.pdf

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/10/michael-let-love-define_n_7746696.html

Constructing gender identity in a repressive society

by Evelyn Jozsa

The most important thing people can learn is how to be comfortable in their own skin. We are constantly in search of our identity as if we have lost it before we were even born. Another theory is that the story starts right there: at the moment you were born. Everyone starts with a blank page and during the journey we construct the person we wish to be.

We build our national and gender identity and our personality as individuals. However, the process is not as simple as it sounds. Gender inequality has a long history everywhere in the world, and some societies still fail to acknowledge women and girls as human beings. Iran is one of those countries, where women are still the object of the men who have the authority to kill their daughters or wives without legal consequences. In Iran, women and girls are put behind one mask: their headscarves. The world defines them by that one item. Has it ever occurred to you that there’s a complex personality behind a hijab?

Queen of Luna is an artist who turns herself into famous characters, using make up and wearing a hijab.

While some girls obey the rules and become the puppet of their culture others fight to give voice to their full personalities and learn how to be a woman beyond the boundaries. Farideh[1] is a 26 year old girl from Tehran, the capital of Iran and after a long fight with her parents; she left the country in order to pursue her dream to become an artist.

Farideh discovered her passion for art at a very young age, however she was convinced to pursue a degree in computer engineering, because the options were limited. This degree did not satisfy her. “I wanted something that I really like, something that won’t turn into a routine. Therefore I chose animation, for the reason that I love art. I like to read, to draw. I want to do something special before I die. Art is something that makes me forget everything about society. I want to do something for humans, because we only live once,” said Farideh “The system in Iran made me forget about my passion for art.” Iran is highly repressive when it comes to arts, and in case of the women it is even stricter. For instance, women are not allowed to sing in public, because their voices cannot be heard by men other than their husbands. Woman singers in Iran have to be very inventive and creative to be able to perform. “These women have to do all sorts of tricks,” Farideh describes.

Queen of Luna is an artist who turns herself into famous characters.

She believes that it is very unfortunate that she was born in a third world country, where women’s rights are radically restricted. Nevertheless, she considers that growing up in an Iranian society made her stronger. “On the other hand I was so lucky, because if you live for example in a country like America, you don’t have any restrictions, in my idea. You can do anything you want like the other humans, it’s easy, you can go to the university, you can sing, you can dance, you can do everything. But in Iran you have to pass these restrictions, and then become who you want to be.”

Farideh has walked a long road in order to become the woman and the person she wants to be. She lived through difficulties and overcame her restrictions. “If you want to live as a girl in Iran, you have to hide everything from your parents. Women are forced to not live as they want to live.” Her parents wanted to arrange a marriage for her several times; however she did not give in to it, she has a boyfriend and she believes that it is only her decision what she’s supposed to do with her life and who she should marry. “It´s human rights, you have to decide about your body, it´s your body, your spirit, your soul, you have to decide about it, and no one else, not even your parents and the rest of your family can choose for you.” Farideh’s relationship with her parents is not a good one; she fought for herself and was not afraid to talk about the things that bothered her. She calls herself a rebel, someone who goes against the system. Farideh experienced the worse and when she tried to talk about it to her mother she got the response that what happened is her fault.

“Rape happens every day around the world, but in Iran, because of the religious problem you shouldn´t say anything, or even if your parents know about that thing they are just like: “Be quiet, don´t tell anyone about that situation that happened to you” and these things happen especially for the children – the girls.” She continued, “It happens to you by your close relative, especially with your close relative, not with strange people in the street. And you should just keep all these things to yourself. It´s really hard, it´s really, really hard and I have to say that I experienced this, I experienced this situation and I told my parents when I was… I think, I think I was 7 or 6 years old, or maybe younger. But my mom told me: “No, you were the one, who made a mistake, nothing has happened” I didn´t know about that rape thing at that age, you know, but I felt that it´s strange that someone touches you when you are a kid. And this happened to me three times…Three times, I think it´s a lot and now when I am here I think it´s weird, because this thing really affects your mind, affects your situation.”

Farideh managed to overcome this with the help of her open-minded boyfriend and she is currently working on an animated book that tells her story. However she is still concerned about whether she’ll be able to reveal that it is her own story. “I’m really thinking about whether I can ever write my name on the cover of the book. Is it possible, or can I say it´s my life?”

Her wish is to become an inspiration for the girls living in Iran. She wants to show them that they can become themselves and should not be afraid to express their true identity as women. Farideh had to leave Iran to become the person she desires to be. She had to leave behind her national identity to be comfortable in her skin as a woman and as an artist.

“I want to live according to my style, I don´t want to live by the rules in Iran,” said Farideh.

[1] The real name of the person was replaced in order to protect her identity.

 

Appreciation of Cultural Heritage at Music Festivals

At long last, the music festivals season is finally here or, put another way, the season of selfie festivals that happen to have music has kicked off with the start of Coachella 2017.

For all those selfies to get the most likes and boost that self-esteem, the Instagram babes put together the boldest and barest outfits. Bindis, dashikis, war paint and Native American headdresses are just some of the items festival attendees opt for.

Nevertheless, the choice of these styles is not as predictable and clichéd as the inevitable accusations of cultural appropriation that come along every year.

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Most of the times the debate about the culturally appropriated looks that crop up at music festivals get more social media and mass-media coverage than the event itself. Celebrities, music festgoers and designers usually come under fire for donning jewellery, garments, costumes and decorations which are inspired from someone else’s culture.

Critics bring charges of cultural degradation as they claim that appropriators steal their cultural identity and profane their sacred practices. I take the stand of cultural appreciation since getting inspiration from the artefacts, treasures and practices of other cultures that differ from their own is a proof of admiration and appreciation.

As Bruce H. Ziff and Pratima V. Rao put it in Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation, because “appropriation connotes some form of taking, it contemplates a relationship between persons and groups.” Therefore, if thinking about cultural appropriation in this way, it not only encourages communication and social interactions amongst the members of different cultures but also favours the vivid exchange of literary and intellectual properties.

The decision to wear a headdress at a festival involves at least searching for some basic information about the origin and importance of the object. And if that doesn’t happen, as music fest crowds grow in diversity, on the scene an enthusiast will be more than eager to elaborate on the Native American culture. Pepsi can’t solve all the world’s problems, but being more open and understanding is a huge step forward in our pursuit of cultural unity and peace.

The problem with cultural appropriation critique is that it usually implies the binary of “the first world” and “the third world” concepts. ​In her article for The Atlantic, Fashion’s Cultural-Appropriation Debate: Pointless, Minh-Ha T. Pham claims that the discussion around cultural appropriation in fashion “proceeds as if there are only two places in the world: “Western capitalist institution” and “slum”.” All the fuss over what people decide to wear at festivals is just another issue that exacerbates the racial divide, the labelling problem and global inequality.

Today I (a Moldavian) ate a croissant (French) for breakfast wearing denim jeans (American) and listening to AnnenMayKantereit (German) and nobody would ever call it cultural appropriation. However, if I place a bindi on my forehead or show up wearing cornrows, someone will go berserk and get me a lifetime United Airlines subscription.

While I do understand the symbolism of these cultural practices, I like how I look when I wear my hair braided that way or when I have that red bindi drawn on my forehead just as I enjoy the taste of that croissant. Moreover, I think that festival attendees who choose to get inspiration from other cultures embrace cultural diversity, contribute to the valorisation of cultural artefacts and reduce the risk of them being forgotten.

Culture evolves and so do all the symbols that define that culture. One must be proud that somebody found an aspect of their culture beautiful and worth wearing. We should start accepting and celebrating cross-cultural friendship which is able to transcend religion and class.

Then again, before putting on those statement pieces, getting informed about their history, cultural meaning and significance doubles the chances of that look to be regarded as cultural appreciation rather than appropriation. It’s cool to appreciate and honour a cultural practice and artefact but only if its origins are not ignored and trivialized.

  • Daniela Mihailuta