Creative Destruction

This is Felix. See that bag, there? It's full of tricks.

This is Felix. See that bag, there? It’s full of tricks.

I have a great many marketable skills at my disposal. I’m a good electrician, I can cook pretty well, I can sing on key, and I go big. Alright, so maybe that last isn’t really marketable, but my point is that I have developed a bag of tricks, so to speak. I keep adding to the bag as I get older, and now is no exception.

I have become quite gifted at the art of burning things down when I have decided it’s time to build something new. Well, folks, the time is nigh.

I’m coming home.

I’ve known for a while that this was an eventuality I was wrestling towards. It has honestly been one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I’ve come at it from places of guilt, of anger, of determination, and now of pride. It has slowly come to my attention over the last few months that I have not been happy here. Not just an inkling of displeasure but a genuine discomfort. Rule one is that if you are not happy you are the only person who can act to rectify that situation. So, I did. I acted. I changed the way I went to class, I added activities with local youth outside of school, I altered my workout regimen, I went through and systematically sorted through to try and squash this bug. But it didn’t die. I would leave my house in the morning and dread the ride to school. I would try and let off steam but the catcalls and comments would make me boil over. I was having arguments in my head before they could even became a reality. And finally the only thing I could see left to change was my environs.

No, but really. How could you not love this place?

No, but really. How could you not love this place?

I must take this moment to make it perfectly clear that I do, despite its quarks and irksome details, love Indonesia. I love it like the super annoying kid sibling that kicks you and laughs at your pain. Sometimes I want to strangle it, but even in those moments I have this deep and pure love for this country and its peoples. I have, generally, never been so completely welcomed by a group of complete strangers. My host mother took me into her home and treated me like her own child. My two best friends at school led me by the arm and made me feel included and welcome. My students grew to respect and love me as a mentor and teacher.

Despite all these wonderful and inspiring parts of my service, there is a darker side. I’m a big fan of lists and order. In any decision process you can generally pin me down and have me admit I made a pro/con list. I even broke up with a boy that way. And now, it seems, this list has come back to solve another relationship riddled with irreconcilable differences. There are a myriad things on the pros side of my list. As I mentioned, my students, my host family, my sheer will and pride, etc. However, on the cons side there were a few things and then this glaring singularity. It was this seemingly infinitely small thing but it was infinitely dense and could not be overcome. I no longer felt that the benefits outweighed the unwanted attention and outright sexual harassment to which I was being exposed.

Many of you may not know about this part. I’ve hinted at certain instances here and there but I try to keep it light in the blogosphere. This is not light. This is the heaviest of singularities. New universe, status. Peace Corps Indonesia is still considered an ‘adolescent’ program. We are no longer shiny and new with extra money at our disposal, but we’re still not a mature program with clean procedures and lines in place. To their credit, the staff have been working tirelessly to put these procedures in motion, however, one must consider the constant turnover in American staff (there are only ever three in country and they are required to change every 5 years or so) and the green nature of the program and, consequently, its local staff. We are only 5 years old. You can’t grow a program specific to a country in 5 years. You can have a damn good start, but it’s not a lego set with pre-printed instructions. It’s an ikea bookshelf with extra dowels leftover and directions in Swedish. So, with each group they listen to our feedback. They ask us questions and try to mold the program accordingly. Each individual’s needs will, of course, be different, and so unfortunately there is a requirement that they cater to the masses. In short: they’re trying to figure it out. Everything they learned from my experience will be applied to future groups and, indeed, already has been in some cases. I was able to help facilitate an open forum for communication about unwanted attention and sexual harassment in further trainings. They reached out to me and other volunteers to assist them in creating new sessions to ensure the continuation of important information to the volunteers to keep them safer and healthier. We are taking steps to arm every volunteer with the tools they will need to deal with the inevitabilities of these wretched events.

But that wasn’t enough to keep me here. Someone put it to my nerdy self in terms of physics. An object in motion requires very little energy to keep it in motion. It requires a great expenditure of energy, however, to stop an object already in motion. The easiest course might have been to continue my service and see it through to its terminus. The cons of such an action, however, were heavier than the pros, though the latter list was bursting. It was no longer a question of could I complete my service, but should I. And maybe that voice screaming at me to suck it up and carry on was coming from a place of hubris and folly.

My wonderful Ibu Haji Esin. I couldn't have done it without her.

My wonderful Ibu Haji Esin. I couldn’t have done it without her.

So. I made a tough call. I spent the last week in a living hell. I said goodbye to sobbing students and cried along with them as they told me how much I had changed their lives. I hugged my Ibu for the last time (for the foreseeable future) today. That woman who stood with me through everything and yelled at people on my behalf. I am leaving friends that I will keep for my lifetime to fend for themselves. I’m leaving my new home behind. This is not easy. But I’ve never been afraid of the tough choices before, and I certainly will not stand down now.

Venus, Mars, Jupiter… You know. One of those.

I live in a place where street harassment is a matter of course, where women are taught never to go anywhere alone, where sexual harassment is a woman’s fault. And, you know what, you probably do too. This isn’t a problem that is exclusive to Indonesia or developing countries. This isn’t a problem that you can ignore and say to yourself, “Well, this doesn’t really affect me.” A recent study states that 1 in 4 women will be raped before they get their college diploma. One in four. And that’s just in America. A worldwide study from 2013 states that “… figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced […] sexual violence in their lifetime.” That translates to 7 out of every 20 women in the world. This has weighed heavier on my mind since my recent trip home to America. I went back for a month and found that, while I could freely wear shorts and a tank without fear of retribution, I still got an odd whistle or two whilst riding my bike. It may seem small to some of you, I know. Just a little whistle out of someone’s window. What’s that in the grand scheme of things? He didn’t stop and ogle, he didn’t yell lecherous desires, he didn’t hurt you, right? Wrong. Even that small whistle, that odd comment, that sideways glance, or double-take hurts. It reinforces the sensation that even in my own country, in my hometown, in my own culture, I am an ‘other’. I am an object. A thing. Have you ever been a thing? Have you ever stopped to notice how often you are made to feel like a thing? Some object to be handled and touched or worshipped and ogled but never respected. After all, why would you respect a thing?

Uhm, what? I tell boys to fuck off all the time. In many languages.

Uhm, what? I tell boys to fuck off all the time. In many languages.

There has been a rash of attention around a recent anti-feminism movement. Women raising signs to declare why they don’t need feminism, why feminism is overrated or excessive or wrong. There are men and some women I have met who rail against their current perceived definition of feminism. People look at the movement now and say to themselves, “Why do women need special treatment? We’re equal now! They’re just making a stink about nothing!” And that sentiment truly, deeply, and profoundly causes me a visceral pain.

Everyone, therefore, seems to be writing about feminism of late. Everyone’s blog has something to say or some opinion to spout. I hesitated to attack this subject and, indeed, have rewritten this post several times because it didn’t ring. It didn’t resonate with new ideas or fresh, catchy one liners. It didn’t scream me. It was watered down and scared. And that was my problem with draft one…

and two…

and three.

I was scared to be honest. Scared to be wrong. Scared to be loud. Scared to be right. Scared to be another yelling feminist protecting my rights as an equal human being. I don’t take kindly to being intimidated. I don’t take kindly to being frightened by the trollers of blogs that have become the Big Bad Wolf. So I will not broach this subject with tact or trepidation or hesitation or any semblance of fear of retaliation or dissent.

Let me begin by saying I am not “Anti-man.” I quite like my boyfriend and, in fact, would venture to say that the majority of my close friends are, actually, male. I don’t judge a human for the genitals they have or the gender they project. As I’ve mentioned before, I was taught to get to know someone before I hate them. Now I just try and dislike everyone equally until they prove they’re not going to bother me overmuch.

Not necessary. Unless requested.

Not necessary. Unless requested.

However, when I am riding my bike through my village and there is a man on the side of the street, I give him a wide berth. Why? Is it because I inherently do not trust any men? Well, not exactly. Experience has taught me that if I give a bad person, of any gender, the opportunity to harass me, they just might. I have had no women reach out and grab some part of me while riding my bike. I have had no children jump in front of me to attempt to get me to stop. So, safety dictates I give men a little extra space so as not to present them with an easy target.

A good friend of mine seems to believe this behavior sets up an expectation for men to misbehave. A sort of permission. If I think they will behave like ruffians then it makes it ok for them to do so (in their mind). If I give them the benefit of the doubt and expect them to act like gentlemen, they just might rise to that expectation as well. I love this idea sort of like I like communism. It really sounds great on paper and in writing, but my faith in humanity is just not that great. How many potential opportunities for physical harassment would I have to face to give some men the chance to shine? How does that pro/con list turn out? I wish I could say I’m a big enough person to chase down the few that bother me and respect the rest even more, but something tells me I’ll just end up killing a man that way.

These problems are not some group hallucination all feminists share. I’m not imagining these things or hiding behind laws and court orders to do a job I feel incapable of doing. When something displeases me, I feel as though I am fairly straightforward and vocal about it. In fact, I seem to remember swearing at a man in three languages only a few weeks ago. Feminists don’t stop defending themselves because we have laws to help, but rather strive to correct and repair the institutionalized, ignored aspects of sexism that still exist. In my opinion, a proper feminist will look for inequalities in both directions, not just defending women’s rights, but also those of men and boys, children and the under privileged. In my less-than-humble opinion a true and good feminist will fight for Human Rights regardless of stipulation. Because, to me, that’s what a feminist is. Someone who stands their ground in order to get folks to stop taking away rights inherently allowed to fellow humans.

Human RightsThat said, women’s rights are not special rights. I don’t want special rights. I don’t need a leg up or special allowance. I don’t need anyone to makes excuses for me or pave the road for me. And, you know what, that really hasn’t happened. I want the right to be equal. I don’t think I should be able to take advantage of men or belittle them in order to advance. I don’t think I should get special treatment because I’ve been pulled back by institutionalized sexism. I just want to feel safe. I want to be comfortable. I want to worry less. I want boys to be taught not to rape girls instead of girls being taught never to leave their drink alone at a party. I want men to understand there are so many reasons for women to still be worried but I also want women to remember that not all men are bad. I want not to have to fight tooth and nail for some opportunities. I want to not have to break into the boy’s club for certain job opportunities. I just want to be equal. Does that sound so bad?

Human Rights WorldThis leads nicely into my biggest and baddest pet peeve. Why must you worry so about who is better, feminists or anti-feminists, men or women, gays or straights, Mars or Venus, cats or dogs, circles or squares? It is so easy to lose one’s self in the preoccupation of labels and picking sides and, consequently, to lose track of the goal. We seem to think there are these great caverns of difference that divide humans based on their gender identity and, I’m not sorry to say, it’s just not true. Ultimately, we’re all made of star stuff and should be treated as such. We share 50% of our DNA with bananas. We all entered this world smelly and covered in gore, screaming. So stop taking yourself so seriously and teach your children to perpetuate a world in which women are safe and where boys aren’t told to “Be a Man.