On Speaking Out Against Sexual Violence and Abuse

A friend forwarded me a newspaper article about a documentary titled Brave Miss World. It tells the story of how Linor Abgaili who was Miss Israel was violently raped at age 18, six weeks before she was crowned Miss World 1998, refused to be silent and spoke out against her attacker until he was jailed for 16 years. The documentary along with an international tour is her crusade against sexual violence. I applaud her efforts because as she rightly stated: “If you go through something very bad or very hard, the only pill you can take is to tell, to take it out of your system. Because if you don’t, it is like a tumour “it becomes bigger and bigger until it kills you”. The reality is that the majority of women and men that have experienced sexual violence particularly in their childhood don’t speak out because there is such a stigma attached to it; they keep quiet and spend their lives, slowly dying, traumatized and consequently so do those close to them. No one is ever traumatized in isolation.

 
On my recent visit to New York city I attended a support group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) though I consider myself healed from it but because I was curious to find out what it would have been like to have a community of fellow survivors to openly talk with it. At the meeting, the attendees ranged in colors, gender and age, the oldest in their 60s. As I listened to their stories on how the abused had impacted and still impact their lives, I thought what a tragedy it was to spend 50+ years not fully living due to serious side effects (you can find out more about the effects here) of a crime committed against them during childhood. I’ve been privileged to have healed in my 30s after over two decades of living a traumatized life, while so many never recover. I was reminded how vital it is that I (and others) speak out against all forms of sexual abuse, no one should spend their life traumatized and in shame. Further, I believe the more we speak out the less power we give to perpetrators. Writing my book I Woke Up In China (click to find out more)was my way of speaking out.

 
Of course not everybody will get the need to speak out. I’ve had people, question why would I reveal so much details of my personal life as if I should be ashamed. Well, I’m not ashamed, I did nothing wrong. What is wrong is how we as a society have stigmatize victims of sexual violence and abuse that they choose to remain silent, giving this far too common crime power to germinate. According to a 2013 Save The Children report, the UN estimates that up to 50% of sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls aged under 16. “One of the few global studies of the sexual abuse of children across a number of countries– mostly rich countries – found that 21.2% of females and 10.7% of males were victims of sexual abuse between the ages of zero to 18; this means an average of nearly 16% of all children.” The WHO reports that recent global prevalence figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. It is important to note that these figures are most likely an underestimate as most survivors don’t report the crime. Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate study titled Without Consent: estimates that 75–95% of rapes are never reported to the police in England.

Why celebrate the arrival of the new year?

The question why do we celebrate the arrival of the new year always pops up in my head this time of the year when I get quizzed about what’s my plan for the festive period. My “nothing” response is invariably met with surprise and some suspicion. Most would say to me: “you have to do something!”. No I don’t! Why would I want to pay triple of what I would normally pay to ring in the new year, or worse still, be in a very crowded and noisy bar or be out and about in the freezing cold watching fireworks? I hate fireworks! It’s not like years are far and few, they come round every twelve months! And as I get older they seem to come round faster and faster. So why all the hoo-ha?

 

I sought the consult of the intelligentsia on Quora but no-one has answered. I guess they are just as puzzled as me. Do we celebrate the arrival of the new year so we can make new goals and resolutions? I have stopped doing resolutions because I realized that I fail miserably like most people at keeping them. Even goals setting is a problem. How many years did “finish my book” feature on my new year goals list? Five times, that is, five long years before I achieved it!

 

This morning, thinking about common comments such as “I can’t wait for the new year to arrive, this year has been awful”, “next year will be better” and “Let’s start afresh in the new year”, it occurred to me that perhaps we celebrate the arrival of the new year to preserve hope. And it forces us to reflect on what we’ve achieved or not. If I hadn’t had the goal of finishing my book on my new year’s to do list for the five consecutive years it is highly probable I wouldn’t have made it. So I’m hopeful that JUST maybe those two goals that have been on my list for more years than I care to comment might be realized this year. Only next new year day will tell!

 
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Celebration of the first day of 2014, skating on top of a frozen lake in the center of Beijing.

My First Ever Pair of Robert Clergerie’s

I believe in never giving up especially when it comes getting “that” pair of shoes. I had dreamt of owning a pair of Robert Clergerie shoes for years, ever since I discovered their store in Madrid. Then I was a 22 year old English teacher living in Spain’s capital and my wages couldn’t really stretch to purchase a pair. Fast forward a few years later, I was back in London with money but the Robert Clergerie store on Wigmore street never had my size! I went in time and time again with the hope that just once they would have a size 41.5 but I could squeeze my long feet into 41 if they were sandals. I left the store every time empty-handed and disappointed. So I settled to simply going into the store to feast my eyes.

 
What a feast it was! One fab shoe after another and my desire to own a pair never waned. What I have always I loved about Robert Clergerie shoes is that they don’t scream I’m expensive and trendy; I don’t remember ever seeing their shoes featured in magazines or a celeb is snapped wearing them. Instead their shoes ooze superior workmanship, panache, unique and quirky personality, strong but not over-powering that they steal the show from the wearer like a pair of Loubtins do. If anything I like to think that wearing a pair of Robert Clergerie shoes actually enhances the character of the wearer. Like clothes from Vivienne Westwood and Commes de Garcon, Robert Clergerie shoes don’t date.

 

Even after I had moved out of London, to Beijing, where there isn’t a Robert Clegerie store, I still continued feasting my eyes online. I was in London a couple of months ago and I popped into the Wigmore store as I usually do every time I was in town. The first thing I said to the man that cheerfully greeted me as I walked in was:

 

“I’m just here to look as you never have my size”.
“What size?”
“41 / 41.1/2”
“We can make them for you!” He said again cheerfully in his adorable french accent
“How long will it take?”
“About eight weeks.”
“I don’t live in London, I live in Beijing”. I said a little dejected
“We can send them to you in Beijing!” He said optimistically!
“Really?”
“Yes! Why don’t you try the ones you like on to gauge what size to order for you.”

 

I discovered the guy’s name is David. I have to say that in all the years I have been going to that store he is by far the friendliest and most helpful staff member I have come across. After trying several pairs I settled on a pair of funky silver Oxfords (see picture). I had bought my first pair of Robert Clegerie shoes! I left the store on a HIGH! I noted the name of other pair of shoes that could be a potential buy. I told him I would wait to see if the silver ones fit first before I ordered more. But I didn’t wait! After being reminded that none of the online stores I frequented ever had my size I asked David to order me the other pair. He did! Like that my shoe dream came true, not once but twice in one month!

 
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Disclosure: As I wrote in my book I Woke Up In China, I did 5 years ago have a pair of Robert Clegerie shoes bought for me in Brussels. But these don’t count coz they were from the diffusion and cheaper line and they were a gift. I wanted to buy the “real deal” and with my OWN money.

On Mandela

Many including Nigeria’s president Jonathan Goodluck have expressed how they hoped Mandela’ legacy can be a lesson for African politicians and leaders, this is pie in the sky. Mandela when he was alive didn’t inspire African leaders and he certainly wont dead. The thing is Mandela was cut from a different type of cloth. He didn’t go into politics to get rich, to aggrandize himself and his cronies. He became a politician because he wanted to fight for justice and freedom, he wanted to make the lives of his people better. He gave everything to achieve it. The best we can hope for is that the mammoth media coverage his death is receiving will inspire younger generations to demand (and become) politicians and leaders of integrity, principle and who have the courage to do the right thing.

This is my favorite picture of Mandela I could find
This is my favorite picture of Mandela I could find

Orange Day: for the elimination of violence against women

I was very surprised and honored when I was asked by the China country manager for UN Women to participate in their Orange Day campaign. The UN has declared November 25 as Orange Day to raise awareness about and demand the elimination of violence against women and girls. I don’t really like having my pictures taken, hence why for so long I didn’t put up a picture of myself on this site. But I gladly said yes to have my picture taken for the event because I strongly believe that violence against women and girls is violence against humanity.

 
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Why Swimming Makes You Feel Better

A couple of days ago I woke up feeling down in the dumps, I didn’t care that the sun was shinning outside and we were blessed with a clear blue sky, an increasing rarity in Beijing. I did my morning meditation, it did nothing to lift my spirit. It did help me realize what was going on: I had been invaded by the all powerful menstrual hormonal monsters! Defenseless against their hold on me, I knew the first thing to do was to avoid people. Thankfully, I had no meetings until late afternoon so I had time to recover I thought optimistically. I dragged myself to my home desk which looks out to the near pristine blue sky, but it might as well had been cloudy and grey because that was all I could see. Work was not what I wanted but to do the second thing–curl up and watch a movie–I normally do when the monsters are around would make matters worse; I would feel like the laziest person in the world, a total loser watching a movie right in the middle of a work day. I soldiered on until lunchtime when I was due to go for a swim.

 

As much as I love swimming, I didn’t want to go, I just wanted to go to bed and sleep forever because life sucked. Luckily the old adage of ‘it is hard to break a habit of a life time’ is true, menstrual hormonal monsters don’t have control over my physical exercise routine. I flopped into the pool instead of my usual jump. I slow motioned the first lap, on the second I picked up a little speed, by the third lap, I felt that life wasn’t so bad after all. I switched from freestyle to legs only back stroke on the tenth lap, as I kicked my legs while I gazed at the glass ceiling, I thought how wonderful it is to be in the pool and how I LOVED swimming. When my one hour session was up, I wanted to continue to swim for eternity but I came out of the pool, I had to get back to work. I felt that I could do anything, and that life was beautiful.

 

As I walked back to work feeling taller and stronger, taking in the sunny and clear day, I wondered what is it about swimming that never fails to inject a sense of euphoria in me regardless of how bad I was feeling. I do other exercises too: weights, pilates, power-walking, cycling and in the past, running, they make me feel good but they pail in comparison to swimming. When I got back to my desk, I googled ‘why swimming makes you feel better’. I found on psychcentral.com an article titled: “how swimming reduces depression.” The author like me expressed how swimming more than any other sport seems to zap his bad mood more efficiently. It turns out that swimming:
 
On the physiological level, hard swimming workouts release endorphins, natural feel-good compounds whose very name derives from “endogenous” and “morphine.” Swimming serves, as well, to sop us excess fight-or-flight stress hormones, converting free-floating angst into muscle relaxation. It can even promote so-called “hippocampal neurogenesis” – the growth of new brain cells in a part of the brain that atrophies under chronic stress.
 
Moby Coquillard, a psychotherapist and swimmer from San Mateo, Calif., is so convinced that he prescribes exercise to depressed patients. “I absolutely believe swimming can serve as a kind of medicine. For me, it represents a potent adjunct to antidepressant medications and, for some patients, it’s something you can take in lieu of pills.”
 
“Swimming, because of its repetitive nature, is incredibly meditative,” Coquillard says. There’s even a built-in mantra, be this the slow count of laps, or self-directed thoughts like “relax” or “stay smooth.”
 
It all makes sense, I can’t wait for my next swimming session!

How To Appreciate Grass

I never thought the day would come that I would say this but I APPRECIATE grass! I know what you are thinking that I’m referring to the “other” grass. Erhm, actually, I’m talking about the grass, grass! You know, the common, green thin leaves, usually short, spikes that cover soil, that you could walk on or sit on or roll on. Anyway, it turns out that grass, like common sense, isn’t common after all!

 

I consider myself a city girl, the bigger, the better, full of buildings made of stone, concrete, glass, subway systems, buses, cool shops and the like. But parks and grass were never on my list of what a city should offer. When I lived in NYC I scoffed at the idea of walking blocks (or taking the subway) all the way up to Central Park from my apartment in Chelsea. I could count on one hand how many times I went to Madrid’s magnificent El Retro park when the city was my home for three years, and I lived fifteen minutes walk away from it. Living in London I took for granted that I could look out of my windows and see gardens with grass, trees, plants and flowers all year round, and I could exercise whenever I wanted at Greenwich or Hilly Field parks.

 

My move to Beijing over six years ago caused me to give up power-walking and running outside as there were no parks or pretty areas in my neighbourhood. All there were, were plenty of tall and mostly grey concrete-after-concrete and dust coated glass edifices. I didn’t mind because I had access to swimming pools that were way better than what I had in London, so swimming became my main form of exercise. I grew to love swimming! There were many other things that took my attention away from the lack of parks: learning Mandarin, work and having a nervous breakdown (you can read more about this in my book I Woke Up In China). About three years ago I noticed that I had been choosing places low on concrete and high on nature for vacation. I wanted ocean, river, deserted sandy beaches, mountains, trees and grass, even if they came with mosquitos which I loath. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to see Tokyo. When I did see it, I thought it was just another big-ass city and I longed to escape back to the wonderful gardens of Kyoto.

 

I just got back from London, like all the other times I have been there in past couple of years, I spent an awful lot of time in parks. In twelve years that I lived in London I never once visit Richmond park. However, I went for the first time earlier this year and I was so blown away by its beauty that I expressed it to every single passersby. I stomped, danced and walked on the grass over and over again. I even posted a picture of me standing on grass on Facebook. I left the park that day on a high, that buying ten pairs of the most outrageously stylist and expensive shoes could never give me. In the week I was in London, I went to Hampstead Heath three times and Regents Park four times, more times than I ever did when it was home. On one day, I visited Hampstead Heath twice, first with my adorable god-daughter and then alone. I was so taken by the lushness and serenity of my surrounding that I slipped and fell right on my ass, covering my new expensive Paige jeans with mud. I was jubilant! I couldn’t remember when was the last time I had slipped on muddy grass. I thanked Mother Nature for such a precious gift. I made no attempt to dust off the mud. I continued my exploration of the park, proudly showing off my muddy ass to dogs, runners and other passersby.

 

This doesn’t mean I now dislike Beijing, on the contrary, I still love it. This concrete planet of a city has given me so much (again, see my book) over the years, now I have another thing to add to the list, an immerse appreciation of grass, trees and everything that nature has to offer.

I Wasn’t Prepared!

When my book I Woke Up In China was first published a friend asked me if I was prepared for the attention it would bring. I responded of course I was, that I had had a long time—almost 6 years—to be ready. Within the week or so that I started receiving feedback from people who had bought and read the book it transpired that I wasn’t at all prepared for people’s reaction. The truth was I didn’t really know how people would react; I had only thought as far as being comfortable with making personal details of my life public. You are probably wondering why just after a week, well it seems that a few readers finished my book pretty quickly. The initial comments I got from people upon first setting eyes on the paperback version of the book is: “Wow what a big book!” To which I replied: “Yep! I’ve got PLENTY to say!” So when they came back to me to say they couldn’t put the book down, that they read it in two days, I was pleasantly surprised. My response was: “You read my 510 page book in two days! Did I tell you that it took me four and half years to write?” I am very humbled that folks have enjoyed reading my book including those who were very reluctant to read a book on the impact of sexual abuse.
 

I received emails from people telling me of their own experience and family members’ experiences of sexual abuse. One lady wrote about how her mother was so traumatized from sexual abuse that she became a drug addict and psychotic, and that they as her children suffered enormously from it. In fact, this lady herself took to drugs. The only way I knew to react was cry. I cried for being reminded that the sexual abuse of just one child can impact the lives of so many and span generations.

 

The most common feedback on the book has been how courageous I was to write it, and even more so to be unflinchingly honest. I thought what the commenters were really trying to say was that I was “crazy”. I was initially dismissive. I couldn’t see how courage was required to speak the truth. The more I heard that feedback the more I was forced to ponder on it. I realized people were right: it did take guts, but not in the way they thought. I think the courage I had was actually being honest with myself. For so long I told myself all kinds of stories about who I was that I was strong, straight, carefree, and so forth. It was comfortable, it sounded good and together, much better than the real story which was haunting and tumultuous that I had buried. The thing is that trauma and turmoil don’t stay hidden, they always find a way to rear their ugly heads. There are easy ways to pacify them: more fictional stories, drugs, alcohol, violence and the like. But I couldn’t go down this route, I wanted a peaceful and fulfilling life, and I knew it wouldn’t happen unless I was honest with myself. I had to face up. To achieve this goal I gave up all the fanciful stories I had told myself, along with all the creature comforts I had amassed and wandered thousands of miles into the unknown that was China, and consequently into the black hole that was my past. It was the scariest and most difficult thing I had ever done. You can find out what happened in the book. I will say though that once I sought the truth about me and accepted it, it became much easier to be honest with other people.
 

One comment about the book that I should have discounted more than I did initially, came from a girl I had gone to school with in Bath, England. She wrote on amazon.co.uk that:
 

I was keen to read this book as a fellow classmate of Kehinde. The first half of the book I found very good and didn’t want to put it down but the second half I found rather repetitive and quite distasteful to the point of racist with the constant reminders of “white person” “typical of white people” etc and very stretched in the truth of Kehinde being such a minority with the colour of her skin when it came to her school days and Bath. I admire kehinde’s strength in writing this book book did find the constant spelling, grammar and editing mistakes quite annoying and plentiful.

 

When I first saw this I was absolutely livid because she was basically accusing me of being a liar and a racist. As a friend pointed out, it is very easy to check the demography of Bath, and of its secondary girls schools in the mid 1980s to early 1990s. Bath was a pre-dominantly white city, a simple fact. I haven’t been to Bath in almost 20 years but according to my sister-in-law who visited recently it is still very much a racially homogenous city. Judging by the tone of the Amazon review, it was clearly written by a white classmate. Which begs the question how would she know what it was like for me as a minority at the school and in the city of Bath? Did she live my life? Did she have her kinky hair touched time and time again? Did people call her a “darkie” to her face? The thing is when you are a minority in any realm you don’t forget your experience easily. Not only do I remember clearly my experience living in Bath, but I also recall the names of other black girls I was at school with while I have forgotten the names of the majority of my other classmates. I have since reconnected on Facebook with some of my classmates from the school in Bath (in fact, one of them is a very close friend) and some of them have read the book so if I was lying about my minority status, others would have picked up me up on this.
 

I thought her point about my repetitive reference to “white person” or what was “typical of white people” to be both unfounded and misleading. I did a find search of the many times I used the words “white person” and “typical of white people” in the book, the former only four times, the latter none. Additionally I used the term “white people” three times. Making the total of seven times “white” person or people was used in a book of over 182,000 words, and all as racial or cultural identifiers and not in the slightest derogatory. In contrast, the terms “black person” and “black people” were adopted a lot more, four and eleven times respectively. Furthermore, as the reviewer went to the same school I’m sure she knows that Mr Jepson, the art teacher from school whom I mentioned has been one of the most influential people in my life is a “white person”. I never mentioned his skin colour in the book and I didn’t of many others who have played and continue to play important roles in my life because their “whiteness” is a non-factor for me.
 

The only valid criticism this reviewer had was that they were many typos and editing errors in the book. A couple of people had already mentioned this to me and I have since taken steps to fix them. It turned out that the comprehensive editing services I paid for wasn’t so “comprehensive” after all. I thought I had done every thing right as advised in several self-publishing books and blog I had consulted: hired an expensive professional editor, tripled checked many times over the book proofs sent to me. So to hear that there were still quite a few typos and grammatical errors was very upsetting for me. When I complained to the editing service company, they reminded me that editing is subject to human error. I hired a new editor someone that I could actually speak to as apposed to via a project manager as was the case with the previous editor. My sister and my friend Dayo despite their crazy busy schedule made time to meticulously review my manuscript and the work of the new editor. I feel with these three people’s input that book is in a much better shape.
 

One of the biggest lessons I’ve gained from this first writing and publishing experience is that when you create something not everyone is going to like what you produce, and that there are people who, for whatever reason strive to bring down your work. I am very proud of my book I Woke Up In China with or without typos. No amount of negative reviews or comments is going to stop me, I shall continue to write and create whatever work I fancy, no doubt heeding to the many more helpful voices who wish to see more and better.

What is perfect?

It was close to mid-night, I was heading back home after power-walking several circumferences of a large artsy-posh apartment complex a mile away from my place. I often go to the complex to walk because it is the most quiet and aesthetically pleasing space in my entire neigbhourhood! There, I don’t have to worry about bumping into people on foot or being run over by electric bikes, or traffic noise intercepting the high tempo sound coming out of my iPod earphones. The complex has lots of trees and plants (a rarity in Beijing), and a central plaza of a pond adorned with low wooden bridges decorated with lights to take you across it in several directions. It is quite a site at night when lit up. As I walked back I felt euphoric that the creepy-crawly force (otherwise known as RLS) in my limbs that had dragged me out of my flat had waned. I thought how crazy it was that there was something so wrong with me I had to exercise late at night.
 
I then started making a mental list of all my other defects (I shall not state them here, otherwise this would make for a long and boring piece). I felt like one of those marginally defective dolls, that isn’t quite good enough to be sold at full price, but not bad enough to be thrown out. Then I remembered a phrase a friend used to say, “no-one is perfect!” which always comes in handy at a time like this. I asked myself what is the point of the word “perfect” anyhow? If we, human beings are not perfect, or nothing is perfect, why does the word exist?
 
It dawned on me the word perfect is like the words “heaven” and “paradise”. We don’t know if heaven exists or not, but many hold on to the belief it does, that there is an idyllic place waiting for us after death, free of suffering, mortgage repayments, career development plans etc. Paradise, we think, we know what it is: usually flawless sandy beaches with crystal clear and pristine ocean, hot all year round, far, far away from our everyday world, on an Island sparely populated with luxury villas or five star hotel staffed with people at our beck and call, to answer to our every wimp. We dream of visiting paradise and work towards it for years. Once you do get to paradise, you can’t stay there for too long as there is a limit to how long you are willing to pay $20 dollars for a can of coke. Further, after about a week or so, you start getting restless and wonder away from the confines of your luxury pad, then you discover that the staff who have been serving you live in shacks and on pittance.
 
Perfect, we like to think exist and that it is attainable. When we get what we believe would be perfect, for example, the mate we’ve dreamt of all our lives, we soon discover, usually within a matter of weeks when the nagging starts or toilet seat can never go down, that perfect isn’t perfect after all. So we settle. It seems then, that the point of perfect is for us to learn to accept the imperfect.

Is there still such a thing as a feminist movement?

Full disclosure, I’m a podcast junkie! I get off on the radio waves of voices that fill my ears with views on all sorts while I do mundane stuff like sit-ups. I consume a lot of podcasts so you will hear me from time to time refer to things I’ve heard on them. One of the podcasts I enjoy listening to is Hardtalk from the BBC. The program, as the name suggests, it is about difficult conversations. I love to hear how the guests answer or dodge tough questions from the show’s hosts. A recent guest was Gloria Steinem. I remember her from doing Sociology bachelors degree in the early 90s. I know her to be one of the pioneering members of the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. I wondered why she was there; is there still such a thing as a feminism movement? The host Stephen Sackur (SS) started the conversation by asking Gloria Steinem (GS): “Does the feminist cause feel as urgent today as it did when you rose to international prominence in the late 1960s, early 70s?”
 
GS: “More.” I thought, really? I listened on with some incredulity.
 
She went on to explain that thanks to various studies there is now a much better and deeper understanding of injustices against women in society. It has been proven that the single most important factor of whether a country is violent in itself, or willing to use military violence against other countries, is violence against females because that in varying degrees normalizes it everywhere else. SS wanted to clarify was she saying that the feminist movement has moved away from the knots and bolts of equal pay to more intangible cause?
 
GS clarified: “The root of democracy outside the home, is democracy inside the home. The root of violence elsewhere is the normalization of violence in an intimate way in the home.”
 
SS: “Wouldn’t most women in the Western developed world feel that they have democracy in the home?”
 
GS: “No! Of course not! Are you kidding? Do men raise children as much as women?” (You can listen to the full program here)
 
There Gloria Steinem had me! I thought about all the women I know in my generation, born in the late 1960s and 1970s, Western, educated, with professional careers and financially independent. They believed themselves to be equal to men, that their chosen husbands have bought into the idea that women were their equal, and upon marriage they would do their “equal” share of household duties. No sooner had they married did reality became apparent. First, the women gave up their surnames to take on their husbands’. One friend said her husband had asked her to take his name. She didn’t see anything wrong in saying yes. Another friend agreed, she had done the same thing at her husband’s request. A third friend said her husband didn’t ask but she volunteered as she wanted to have the same name as her kids and husband so they could be recognized as a family. Why didn’t the husband feel the need to change his name to hers? Why do the children have to bear only the father’s surname? I know there are countries where this is a exception like Spain, children bear both parent’s surname and women don’t change their name. For other friends there was never any requests or discussion, it was simply assumed they would become Mrs their husbands’ surname and they did. I was appalled that these women could so easily give up their identity in favour of their husbands’ in this day and age. Some might argue becoming Mrs somebody doesn’t mean they have given up their identity. Err hmmm yes it does! It isn’t like just wearing a jacket with Mrs husband’s surname printed on it as Madonna once did when she was married to Guy Richie, these women actually changed their names where it matters, that is, legally binding at the bank, on passport, even as far as work and personal email addresses.
 
Once married their husbands did give up some rights too. The right to do household chores. Men who when they were single were perfectly capable of cleaning and cooking, upon coupledom forget how to put detergent on a sponge to wash a cup. One of my brothers who was a very good cook gave it up to eat his wife’s very average cooking. All these women can do is complain and nag and even attempt to “train” their husbands. Alternatively, the well-financed of them throw money at this problem, they hire cleaners. The issue of child care isn’t as easy to fix with money for those who can afford the hefty price of nannies, children need their parents, or as most men believe, their mothers. Even when both parents work full-time, mothers end up doing the bulk of child care. Mothers think of what the kids are going to eat, get up in the middle of the night to feed or comfort them, get them ready for school, spend hours playing with them without losing interest. The fathers, on the other hand, spend five minutes playing with their children and they are tired or distracted by watching a game or a phone call and they can’t seem to remember the steps involved in getting children ready for school. Of course women complain over and over again on the unfairness of the whole thing. I hear time and time again, “why can’t he just spend time with his child?”, “Why can’t he be on time for once picking up his son?” “I can’t believe he didn’t change her pampers for hours!” When the father attempts to “help out” (as I’ve heard many women refer to their husbands doing household duties) by for example, burping the baby after a feed, he is scolded for not “patting gently enough” or “patting in the wrong part of the back” and the mother grabs the child a little miffed by the incompetency of her husband. To avoid further and constant criticism, the father stays clear of this task and consequently others. I suggested to a couple of friends when they moaned to me about their husbands’ minimum or lack of involvement in childcare, to go out for the afternoon or day leave their husbands with their children and avoid picking up the phone. One friend was offended I would suggest she abandon her child, others honestly replied “I don’t trust my husband with my child”. I further asked how would the fathers learn if they weren’t given space and forced to, and did they, the mothers, have the children alone? I’ve also asked these women if they didn’t know they would be the primary carer, they all said they didn’t know. Their response really surprised me because it is something I have thought about and very much aware of.
 
I think Western women in my generation and later have become in a way complacent and confused the fact that we have equal access to education, can work outside the home and do the same jobs as men, and we can delay (thanks to contraceptives and professional careers) or choose not to have children with equality. We forget that we are product of hundreds of years of families where mothers are the ones stuck at home looking after the children. Why do we believe this was going to change in a couple of decades? They say the first step to solving a problem is awareness, the thing is many Western women are not really aware of the situation despite the plethora of information at our disposal. Just because we have equality laws doesn’t mean we have equality. Equal pay between women and men doing the same jobs have been in place in the US and Europe for fifty years. According to the latest stats from European Commission (EC), for the economy as a whole, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 16 % below those of men in 2011 in the European Union as well as in the euro area (full stats here). In the US it is said that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. The EC was quick to state that there could be many reasons for this disparity, e.g. women taking a career break to have children, part-time work etc… However, a recent study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) that analyzed the take home wages of both female and male recent graduates who studied the same subjects and across various sectors, found that men are paid more than women, demonstrating that gender inequality start much earlier in our careers than previously thought.
 
I can’t say like Gloria Steinem if the feminist cause feels more urgent than before, I do believe though that there is pressing need to promote gender equality in the home because until we have it, any form of perceived equality we have outside the home is wobbly. For example, we know thanks to various studies (for example OECD report on gender equality in education) that women are better educated than men yet they are not reaching the top jobs or they drop out of the workforce altogether. The push for change must start with women as they are the STILL primary carers. Women can start by allowing men to do their share and not “help out” so children can see their fathers doing things around the house and see their mothers doing less. At the same time, we need more prominent advocates like Gloria Steinem but younger (she is in her seventies) to remind us we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do before we have gender equality.
 
I thought about who are the feminists of my generation, I didn’t know any! So I googled it. I came cross a list of feminists on Wikipedia, I jumped to the part to the mid and late 20th-century and all 21st-century feminists. It was a very long list, I scrolled through it to see which names I recognized. Worryingly I only recognized fourteen names most of which are actresses and singers. It wasn’t obvious to me why they were there so I clicked on them to find out. Tori Amos, the red-haired piano-playing singer, was there because she co-founded The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a toll-free help line in the US connecting callers with their local rape crisis center. Madonna, no need to click to know, we all know about her but is she a feminist I asked? I guess she is, she did and is doing “it” her way. Next were actresses Sandra Oh (of Grey’s Anatomy) and Ellen Page (of Juno and Inception), no clue to why they were on the list other than the latter describing herself as a “pro-choice feminist”. I thought maybe it is because they are both Canadians. Aren’t Canadians supposed to be by default feminists, pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-peace etc? Holly Hunter and Julie Delpy, I have no idea how they’ve earned their place on the list. Hillary Clinton, yes, she had a stellar law career, went for the highest ranking job in politics and later became secretary of state. But the woman took on her husband’s last name and stayed with him after Monica Lewisky et al. affairs. They were a couple of men on the list too, Kurt Cobain and John Lennon, I was like who cares, they are dead! Besides, I never got the whole Beatles and Lennon thing! The only names from the very short list of recognized names I understood why they were there, that gave me some confidence are Angela Davis, Alice Walker and Naomi Wolf. It struck me that the youngest of these three women is fifty years old. I asked myself is this really a cause for concern? Yes it is. The thing is, we live in a world today where we are bombarded with so much fluff – reality tv stars, pop stars, romantic hollywood films and the like – it is increasingly harder to think, question and challenge. When I look at my nieces, born in the 80s and 90s, I’m quite sure they have never considered or questioned gender roles in the home. I had one niece actually tell me that the man is the head of the family and thought it was fine to take the name of her future husband. I fear upon marriage or cohabiting they would simply slip into the traditional roles of allowing men to “help out”.
 
I was speaking with a male friend, W, the other day about women issues and equality, and he proudly told me he is a feminist because he believes in equal rights for men and women. I was struck by how easy it was for him to call himself a feminist. I realized after our conversation that I don’t need to look far for feminists of my generation, that are activists and/or famous. I too can say with pride that I am a feminist because I believe in and demand equals rights for women first in the home and then outside. And in me, my friend W and others out there, the feminism movement continues.