Some thoughts on #MeToo

When the #MeToo stories started flooding in, I watched horrified like many others. I felt for those who had been assaulted and abused but I didn’t think about me in this context. It was about other people and their stories. I read articles that were thought-provoking, like Bari Weiss’ The Limits of ‘Believe All Women’I talked about it with people but always looking on, not including myself in it because I haven’t suffered any serious assault. I know that it isn’t just about that. I know but I probably just didn’t want to delve into it too deeply. I thought: I have never experienced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace so I will empathise but I cannot see myself in this. That is what I thought until I read this: I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.

Grace’s story about her date with Aziz Ansari hits a lot closer to home. So much so that reading it this lunchtime triggered an anxiety episode that left me drained for most of the afternoon. This is very difficult to write, actually. I don’t think I can go into much detail but I can recognise this experience. I remember feeling pressured into doing things I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to do. I remember being in a situation where I asked someone repeatedly to let go of me and he didn’t. I remember walking home in tears and feeling unsafe. But what I remember the most are the experiences I had with this guy I dated, a nice guy by all accounts; a guy who was respectful, polite, a guy who was very funny and talented…a guy that everyone loved. The reality, however, is that he treated me like shit. And people still loved him. Many of my friends still loved him. (My housemate warned me about him but I didn’t listen.) I recognise Grace’s confusion at seeing this guy celebrated and congratulated. He’s there enjoying life, thinking that because he gave you some half hearted “I’m sorry” everything is okay, while you sit here with your pain thinking about how much of a fool you were, thinking that you let this happen. Thinking that maybe if you’d been more forceful, maybe if you hadn’t gone to his place, maybe if you had broken up… Maybe if you weren’t as sexual, you wouldn’t have invited this kind of behaviour.

For a while I felt confused about my experience with this guy. I felt hurt but I also felt responsible. I thought I’d given way for him to treat me the way he did. I accepted his apologies while the relationship lasted, which wasn’t long. The guy emotionally dragged me through the mud and his actions and words and my miseducation of what a woman should expect in her relationships resulted in me feeling responsible for what he did. I felt guilty. I thought that because I was making out with him, I was effectively obliged to go further even if I didn’t really want to. The time when he wouldn’t let me go, there came a point when I just stopped struggling.

He didn’t rape me and we never actually had penetrative sex. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I didn’t think about my own experiences when all these stories were emerging. I also have no interest in bringing this to his attention any longer. Another part of Grace’s story that resonates with me is that I’m pretty sure this man thinks that his actions were okay. There was a time when I wanted to expose it all; I wanted all our friends in common to hate him. I wanted him not to be invited to parties. I wanted him out of the fucking city. The anger came back today.

The reason I wanted to write about this is because what happened with this guy and what happened to Grace is probably quite common. These people will not appear before a judge. There won’t be anything other than feeble apologies. He apologised to me for the way he treated me but to me it seemed more like he wanted to make himself feel better. He wanted me to say “Yes, I forgive you” in order to reassure himself that he was still the nice, respectful guy everybody knew. There were other guys; an adult who thought it was okay to hold me against him and rub his erection on me when I was 8. I thought that was my fault because I had a bright pink skirt and I had worn lipstick. It was my first time wearing lipstick. I felt pretty that day. That day I also felt like looking pretty was dangerous. There was a classmate who thought it was okay to unzip his trousers and show me his penis after gym class; he did this a few times. He was one of the coolest guys in school. He was also an idiot, everybody knew that but I felt confused/excited. There was also someone a few years ago who, after making out with me, said “I could rape you, you know”. He also said it was a joke. I smiled awkwardly. We were alone in his house. That night I grabbed my things and left and never took another call or answered another text from him.

Speaking out is important. But we also need to start unpacking what’s underneath. It’s easy to look at men like Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK and distance ourselves from them. In the words of Emily Reynolds:

Someone committing multiple, serious sexual assaults and rapes is easy to characterise as a predator, a monster, and a thousand miles away from the lives and behaviours of the often well-meaning men who are trying to engage with this cultural moment. Ansari’s alleged behaviour, however, is likely to hit much closer to home.

I believe that all of us have to ask ourselves why we think that behaviour like Ansari’s is perceived as okay. Women: how did you come to the idea that you just have to put up with it? Start there. Start asking yourselves why it is that we seemed to be programmed to crave male attention to the point of thinking that this is just part of relationships. Men: ask yourselves why you believe that it’s okay to keep going after someone tells you they’re uncomfortable. If a bodily cue seems unclear to you, ask for clarity. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know something. It’s just part of being an adult.

We must shed the years of miseducation. We must look at the culture and where it promotes ideas about relationships that are harmful. We must challenge those ideas. We must learn to have respect, real, deep, respect for ourselves and others. We must do this for the sake of the people who fought so we could have choices. We must do it so we can have healthier lives. And we must do this for the generations that follow.

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Unlearning insecurity

I have a confession; I feel insecure rather often.

After having a conversation with someone, I sometimes have this crushing feeling that all my ideas are just wrong or my knowledge incomplete. And that I would be safer and feel better if I just kept my thoughts to myself because everybody else knows better than I do. Recently I had a conversation with two other people and one of them wanted to talk about misogyny. He asked me what I thought about the #metoo campaign. I didn’t have a clear-cut answer. I think there’s something valuable about sharing experiences but I can accept that there are pitfalls with hashtag campaigns. He was very respectful of my opinions and seemed curious about what I thought. I walked away from the conversation feeling like I’d gained something from it and interested in looking up some book recommendations. But it didn’t take long for the insecurities to set in. “Why did you say that? What will they think? You don’t know enough to talk about that…” I hate that feeling and I have a suspicion that it’s something I picked up along the way. Surely it isn’t something one is born with. If it is something I learnt, then I would like to know how to unlearn it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is one simple fix for it. I guess in this particular situation, one of the things I can do is go out and have more conversations and be willing to be challenged on my opinions. I can also learn how to thoughtfully and respectfully challenge others.

Insecurity, however, goes beyond conversations with acquaintances. I think it shows up in my close relationships, in my work and in the way I see myself. I’m not sure that by learning how to behave in certain situations I will be able to root out what’s behind the unpleasant thoughts. I want to deal with the feeling as well as learning to improve in situations where I feel inferior.

It can be difficult for me to let go of thoughts that are critical. After that particular conversation, I couldn’t shake this feeling of dread on the tram on the way home. I kept thinking about what I should’ve said and about how I need to read more and learn more and listen better. Sometimes the thoughts take hold and I feel like a hurricane is tearing through my mind. Years ago, before I was diagnosed with depression, those thoughts were a lot bigger and wilder and scarier. I didn’t know what was happening to me. My inner voice would go on tirades about how bad I was or how fat I looked or how hideous my soul was… I would have awful dreams and imagine the most terrible things. Therapy helped with a lot of that but I have noticed that some of my insecurity remains. It seems to have morphed into something smaller, less threatening, less dogmatic. It’s not “You’re fundamentally evil and don’t deserve love” but “Your ideas aren’t refined enough; you need to learn more and before you speak/write/share”. It’s more of an invitation to retreat rather than a statement about who I am. It’s like my insecurity takes on the disguise of a helpful suggestion. It’s sneaky like that.

Knowing what’s happening to you is important when you struggle with feelings of insecurity. Being aware that I have this helps me catch the thoughts early and I do manage to stop them. Sometimes I get there late; when I’m tired or have period pains or something negative happened during the day, it can be a lot harder to get myself out of the thought spiral.

Writing this made me realise that I’ve linked depression to feeling insecure. I’m not sure if these two can be separated. Perhaps feeling insecure is part of having depression. Life is mostly good these days but these insecurities remind me of the more fragile, more obscure parts of my mind.

I have picked up so many unhelpful, inaccurate and damaging thoughts and beliefs and somehow made them my own. I know that the process of unlearning deeply rooted beliefs can’t be easy or quick. But I am hopeful and willing to do the work.

Why I don’t share more often…

Every couple of months I am utterly amazed at the amount of time has passed since my last post on here.

So here are my reasons:

I am skeptical about the amount of sharing we do as a society. 

A lot of it is noise. Some of it is even state-sponsored noise designed for a specific purpose.

I share pictures on Instagram fairly regularly, though. It’s my way of saying to the world: Look, there are beautiful things everywhere you go. In everyday life. There could be something beautiful or interesting or touching anywhere. You just have to know where to look.

I want to make my contributions to the world meaningful but the reality is that I’m not sure how to measure that. Part of my day job is to share content on social media on behalf of the organisation. So I wrestle with this every day: is what I’m sharing helpful? Is it meaningful in any way? On a personal level, those questions become even more important. Who wants to just add to the noise?

 

The format of much of the content available just gets boring after a while.

I consume a lot of content online. And whether you like it or not, it seems like in order to get people to read what you write your piece has to fall into a certain category, follow a certain pattern. It has to be a listicle or be a how-to or answer a specific question. Doesn’t it just get boring after a while?

I’m not sure I can conform to the patterns and that may just be a lack of practise or skill. What makes me uncomfortable about much of the content available to us is its lack of depth. A listicle about what to do about your depression can be helpful but it doesn’t look beyond to all the complexities of the illness. One can argue that that isn’t its purpose anyway but the size of the audience and the amount of times we share this kind of content ought to matter.

Listicles and how-to’s and very narrow questions also inform the way we think about our lives; they reinforce the idea that things need to be solved if you follow certain steps, that a little information is enough, or that there aren’t other questions to be asked.

A lot of the content we create, consume and pass on seems to stun rather than encourage curiosity and creativity.

The stuff I want to share is messy and uncomfortable and it stirs too many emotions (mainly mine). 

Recently I read a piece called The African Enlightenment. It is a great piece. Reading it made me think about an ongoing conversation I have with my boyfriend: what ideas underpin racist beliefs? How can we move past them? How do we challenge people? And ourselves?

Talking about something like racism is never easy. Anyone who’s ever stood for something they believe in online knows how it can backfire.

Some of the things I think about a lot include:

Mental health; does depression every go away? Will mine? Are people really as reluctant to talk about it as they seem?
Sexism
Domestic abuse
Religion
What makes a healthy relationship? A real one, not a film-friendly one, not an Instagram one, not a “we-have-everything-in-common-and-have-so-much-fun-all-the-time” one.

These things aren’t comfortable; they aren’t comfortable for me, mainly. They cut deep into places I’m often afraid of going. At least publicly.

I haven’t yet learned how to write (or think) in little bits. In my mind, and for lack of a better expression, everything is connected. I haven’t learned how to keep to the 500-800 word norm of the internet. Maybe it’s lack of skill. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of the response. Maybe it’s lack of confidence: whatever I say, someone else has said it or will say it better.

So in the spirit of the New Year (and because this will be the last year of my 20s *gasp*), I want to challenge myself to learn how to write better. I want to challenge myself to share my thoughts and hopefully contribute something meaningful in the process. I can’t really confine myself to a single topic or a single format but I will try to bring something interesting. I hope you join me in the journey.

Happy 2018!

Yessica.

 

 

Staying current or staying sane?

My Facebook feed is home to a variety of perspectives; some of them I applaud, some of them I disagree with, some of them are full-on triggers for all things negative in my head and sometimes my heart.

Today someone posted an article about the rights of EU/UK citizens and Brexit, I read the article and then I read the comments section on the post. The person who posted enjoys discussing politics on Facebook and is rather good at it. One of the comments, however, displayed one of those opinions that trigger me. Out of respect, I cannot copy and paste it here but the contents of it essentially said that UK citizens in the EU contribute to the economy, whilst EU citizens in the UK are merely here for the money, competing for limited jobs and using the UK’s under-pressure public services.

Nobody replied to this person and I considered it for a moment but what do I say? How do I say it? Am I allowed to say it?

I don’t know how to engage in conversations about migration where people have opinions such as the one above. I haven’t learnt to distance myself from the issue – I cannot stand back and discuss like my acquaintance who posted the article. I just sat there and felt hurt. I told myself off for letting this person hurt me, this person who is a “friend of a friend” (on Facebook!). My insecurities, my identity issues rush to the surface when I read things like these.

You see, I want to be a well-informed, open-minded individual who is not afraid to hear other people’s opinions. I also think it’s important to challenge people’s views if you don’t agree but when it comes to migration, I am at a loss. I am a migrant, I will always be and when accusations of job-grabbing, public service-draining, etc. fly about, I feel like I am the one being accused. Now I know that people who know me don’t see me that way and I know that because some of them have told me. “No, it’s not you, it’s those other people.” And I know what they mean but it still pisses me off. It pisses me off because what they mean is: you look white, your accent is not that offensive to my ears, you have a job, you don’t dress a certain way (and by that they mean that I’m not a Muslim woman in visibly Muslim clothing), you don’t seem foreign (most of the time)…

Mental health and newsfeeds

When I talk about triggers I mean things that really hit me emotionally. I used to have depression and these days I feel fine but there’s always the chance that it could come back. I have the odd moment where I feel so overwhelmed that my heart starts racing and I just sob – like this morning at my desk. Winters are hard because of the lack of light. The referendum last year was hard because I felt like I wasn’t welcome. My newsfeed is hard because people say things about “the other” without thinking that someone in that group will read what they say. Do they say it to hurt? Do they want to offend people on the “other” side – that other religion, that other ethnic group, that other gender, that other sexual identity…

There are definitely people who make their points with a degree of decency and respect – they make me think and that’s good. But so much of our media, and that includes social media, is full of poison or what I perceive as poison. This is not about one comment on one post on Facebook. This is about what the most popular newspapers publish on their pages and websites every day. This is about the conversations I overhear on the bus. This is about hearing “for the many, not for the few” and having a suspicion that ultimately you’re not included.

Maybe I am too sensitive to certain things – I am sensitive when it comes to migration. I struggle to see where I belong in society because to some extent what defines who I am is that I migrated. The first few moves were out of my hands and then I made the decision to move here and I stayed.

So what do I do? Do I engage and challenge and argue? Do I read/listen to different perspectives on sensitive issues even though they might open up the gates to a place I don’t want to go? I am terrified of depression. It is the ugliest place I’ve ever been.

The Good Immigrant: some thoughts on language and national identity.

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This is not a review. Just some thoughts on what struck me when reading this book. It brought up many memories of my own story and some thoughts that I would like to share.

First things first, if you don’t know about this book, go and check out their website at Unbound.

The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays by British black, Asian and minority ethnic writers, poets, journalists and artists. In this book, edited by Nikesh Shukla, they share some of their experiences of growing up in the UK, what it was like for them, the difficulties and joys they encountered and how they live now as British people with an immigrant background.

I found some of the stories very moving , like Kieran Yates’ On Going Home; stories of arrivals and departures always strike a cord with me. She also writes about language:

I know language can be painful, and so too do a generation of immigrants who have arrived here through different pathways. For them, language is the great battle to fight, and for many it’s a war you always feel like you’re losing. Even when you get the language, unless you shed your accent, you’re continually reminded of your difference.

Reading this brings up thoughts about my parents and the time we spent in the Netherlands when I was younger. I did not understand that it was harder for them to grasp the language than it was for my brother and I. I took to it with delight, I was excited to be able to communicate with people from so many different countries. My 11-year-old self thought Amsterdam was the best thing that had happened to me. Nowadays, I see how my parents suffered and I know that at least some of that was connected to language. Being able to communicate is essential when you’re an immigrant, especially when you’re an immigrant from the Global South in the Northern hemisphere.

For me, learning Dutch and English was the gateway to exploring ideas and ways of being in the world that my family perhaps did not understand or approved of. Above all, I saw language as a way of being accepted by the country where I thought I’d live indefinitely. Little did I know that we would all move to Spain, where my Latin American accent would stand out and where I’d be confronted with a people much more extroverted than I was comfortable with.

Being Latin American in Spain is an interesting thing, especially as an Ecuadorian. There are just so many of us! You’d think that’s a good thing but I hated my first few years in Spain. I hated that opening my mouth meant people would know I wasn’t from there. The few Latin American kids in my school disliked me and I must admit that it was my fault — I was judgemental and a bit of a snob. But language…language is still uncomfortable, painful sometimes. Spanish is uncomfortable even though it is my native language. I am not sure where it comes from but I always panic slightly when someone unexpectedly speaks Spanish to me. I have to mentally prepare myself for interactions when I’m on a plane on my way to Madrid. I have felt overwhelmed by emotion when listening to songs in Spanish, something that doesn’t happen at all when listening to music in any other language. Living life in English, including in my head, feels easier and safer somehow. Spanish feels like an earthquake.


There are other essays in The Good Immigrant that touch on the subject of language. In Namaste, Nikesh Shukla writes about his different voices. Reading his essay, I felt like he writes with a kind of assurance that I haven’t yet grasped. In fact, that is the feeling I got when reading many of the essays. I wonder if it is because many of the authors were born or grew up mostly in one country, whilst I lived in a few. Maybe it’s just my personality. In any case, I admire these writers’ honesty when sharing their stories. I admire their boldness. I sometimes wish that I could claim some kind of national identity — I was asked by one of my friends once whether I considered myself Spanish and I didn’t know what to say. All I could think is, what does that mean? The writers in this book mostly identify as British and even though it is an abstract, hard to define concept, I wish I could say it and for it to mean something to me.

I will leave you with some of the other essays that stood out to me:

A Guide to Being Black by Varaidzo
Kendo Nagasaki and Me by Daniel York Loh
Flags by Coco Khan
Shade by Salena Godden
The Ungrateful Country by Musa Okwonga

 

 

Media//Questions

I stay home
whilst nature takes revenge outside
With the world
pouring out from my screen
incoherent
wild
compassionate
angry
senseless

Would it be better
to go out into the storm?

Would my mind find refuge
from the stream
of images
of war?

Is it worth knowing
what happens,
if only for those
few
stories of hope?

Summer Colours.

A couple of weeks ago I posted my Summer in Grayscale. Well, this is the colourful side of summer. I’ve enjoyed this summer very much and I am thankful for all the people who’ve made it possible. Most of all, I am thankful to God for giving me the opportunity of witnessing such beauty. I’ve also been reading a book called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; it’s such a good book! Below you can see a photo of one of my favourite passages, where the author reflects on the purpose of a novel.
Earlier this year I went through some pretty sad stuff and one of my friends told me that maybe the spring would bring a little rebirth. The spring wasn’t that great but this summer has definitely felt like a renewal in lots of ways, especially emotionally. Apart from friends, family and the wonderful people I’ve been working with; taking photographs and reading Nafisi’s book have helped a lot, as has upbeat hip-hop! I am immeasurably thankful.

“There’s so much more to life than we’ve been told
it’s full of beauty that will unfold
and shine like you struck gold my wayward son…”
Josh Garrels, Farther along.

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