Feminism on Facebook

I got this mail on Facebook the other day, sent to me and approximately twenty other people.

December 2 at 11:46pm Reply • Report
Someone has proposed that we females do something special on Facebook in support of women with Breast Cancer.

Last year it was about writing the colour of the bra you were wearing in your FB status... and it left men wondering for days why did the girls have colours (apparently random) in our status.

This year it has to do with our love relationships, in other words, for the moment you are going through with your relationships.
Alcohol choices:

tequila: I'm a single woman

rum: I'm a touch and go woman

champagne: I'm an engaged woman

redbull: I'm a woman in a relationship

beer: I'm a married woman

vodka: I'm the "other one"

sprite: I'm a woman that can't find the right man

whisky: I'm a single woman but with friends that won't stop partying

liquor: I'm a woman that wishes she was single.

gin: I'm a woman that wants to get married..

sambucca : I'm a woman that has Male friends with Benefits!!

Now all you need to do is write down the answer for your situation in your FB status (don't reply this email, just put it in your status). Also, cut and paste this message and send it to all your girl-friends as a message

This was my reply, sent as reply-all to all 20.

December 5 at 10:55am

The last breast cancer support meme that I remember was something about purses, which I didn't bother with as I don't even carry a purse. When I saw this one hit my email box, I read only a little bit before my heart sank.

As a woman, I am continually under pressure to define myself not as myself, but in context of relationships to men. I am taught to be focused on this idea that my femininity is tied to my views on men; to be unconcerned with the issue is a bizarre zero-sum game in the masculine/feminine yin yang, and earns me peculiar (and subtly negative) labels usually ascribed to masculinity.

That a woman's identity is based around her relationship with male figures isn't a new concept. It's reinforced in media of every kind throughout our lives, sometimes in ways that are incredibly subtle. We're bombarded with female role models in film and books that are sold to us as "strong" women -- but if you remove the men from the story...well, there's no story. The "strong" female who focuses on a career or studies? That's just a front. By the end she realizes she's terribly wrong, and letting that one man into her life was all she really needed.

Look up the Bechdel Test if you haven't heard of it, and next time you watch a movie keep it in mind. I've certainly been surprised more than once.

Which is why, in a nutshell, this meme rubbed me the wrong way. As an isolated game for fun, hey why not. But in a campaign meant to unify women (and men!) in a fight against one of our most prevalent killers, there must be better ways we can do so as professionals and as individuals -- without the subtle implication that in order to participate as females we must look at ourselves based on what we are or wish we could be to a man. And let's not forget that many women are not sexually attracted to men. No less valid as women in this unified stand.

I don't know most of you, and it may seem odd that I hit reply all to this. I did it so that if you want to write back, you certainly can. Just no name calling please; I've heard it all already.

Thanks for reading.

I expect the flames to begin shortly.


30 years old is one of those pivotal points in life. Not because one's gotten old, but because there's an expectation that the recklessness of one's 20s has simmered down enough that you can finally turn around and start dishing out 'been there done that's' to the younger crowd.

For a female, you're finally crossing over into real womanhood. There's just one problem -- how it's defined.

The expectation when I was in China was that we were young and flighty, and hardly ready to do anything stupid like "settle down". After I rolled over 25 it came slowly, but I did notice a change beginning. Wedding pictures spattered here and there, emails mentioning buying houses and thinking about having children. I left South America at 29, and gradually I noted Facebook statuses of women I'd been in Chile with who'd decided to stay and get married. Pictures of babies had gotten more frequent from old high school friends.

I had turned 30, and suddenly I had stepped through the looking glass into to a mad world where my marital status and the proper function of my ovaries has just become assumed.

In 2009, we had a stand through a particularly dull orientation to the campus library. As my class (10 females, 1 male) was led to the banks of computers set aside for personal slacking off, the librarian smiled perkily and explained that these machines could be used for "your own email needs -- you know, for letting your husband know what to get from the store".

I know she saw me roll my eyes, because she quickly added on: "Or, uh...your wife".

30 is finally that point where it's less of an abomination to be gay than to be single.

Childlessness is even more a bizarre problem. Saying I didn't want children at 18 was usually met with a patronizing smile that clearly said "oh, you'll change your mind". Saying it at 30, now the smiles have gotten a little more manic, and a particular kind of desperation shows through when they say: "Oh, but you still can!". Or: "Believe me, you'll be so much happier when you're a mother".

Or my all-time favorite: "Aren't you being selfish?"

There seems to be this need in people to convince me that a life of cupcake-baking normalcy could be right around the corner, that sooner or later everyone flips a switch and develops a burning desire for two mortgages in the suburbs, a weekly grocery trip, and a ticket in the divorce lottery.

Some people wouldn't trade their stable lives for anything in the world, and have told me I'll have that sort of conviction one day. But what they don't realize is there's already something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

My freedom.


My last entry was 111 weeks ago, written after a day trip to Valparaiso, Chile.

Since then I have:
- Quit my job.
- Quit the job after that.
- Moved countries.
- Changed fields.
- Gotten a cat.
- Grown dreadlocks.
- Cut them off.
- Been bitten by a poisonous spider.
- Discovered I adore havarti cheese.
- Decided to get my BSN in nursing.
- Started school again.
- Quit and unquit smoking.
- Aged.

So here I am in Virginia, after a long, long time. Not forever, that's for sure. I'm way too young for forever.

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I was on the bus to Valparaiso, Chile with a friend of mine yesterday, as we were discussing future travel plans around South America. Argentina, Peru, Colombia. I mentioned that I really wanted to visit Macchu Picchu, and he asked me if that was I dreamed of doing first.

"Not necessarily," I told him, quite happy about the answer. "I don't put my dreams in order."

He told me he'd never thought to consider his life like that. And I spent the next while on the bus thinking about how that one phrase has guided my own life up until now.

I'd just never before put it into words.
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As I was lying in bed this morning, I randomly started thinking about the first time I taught ESL.

It was 1998. I had signed up with an organization in Atlanta that sent (mostly untrained, but eager) volunteers to teach English to local refugees. My first student was an Iraqi woman who had fled to the States with her husband and two young children.

During our second session, as I was fumbling my way through teaching her how to ask for someone's full name, she learned that my first name was an Arabic one: 'Karima'. She suddenly got up and embraced me, then made me sit down while she made me some food. From then on she was much more open with me. She welcomed me each time with an embrace, and insisted on teaching me some Arabic after her English lesson. About three weeks later she showed me a picture of a little girl, held in someone's arms and looking at the camera.

"Karima", she told me. "In Iraq. Dead."

I kept up lessons with her for about six months, then her family moved. I never saw her again, nor did I ever find out exactly who this other Karima was to her. Or what had happened to her.

This morning as I thought about her, I felt a chill. It's hard for me to imagine what flip of the coin made me the Karima that I am, and not the little girl whose blood was left in Iraq.

I wonder just how narrow the chance is that we could have been reversed.
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