Reality Bites

The first time I met an actual victim of sexual violence and knew it, hit me hard. I had studied education and all kinds of violence at university; I had volunteered at a women’s shelter for a short period of time (although all I can recall is my frustration with women going back to their husbands and the ‘no hierarchy’ delusion within the professional team); I quit my studies to become a self defence teacher. I knew what was going on in the world, and still, I was unprepared.

My son was only a few years old, and our au pair came home from her language class telling me about a young class mate who always wore sun glasses and lots of make-up and might be in a situation of violence. Should she help her or not? We discussed options and I offered my help should it be wanted.

A few days later I met a stunningly beautiful girl from Eastern Europe who stood in my hallway, tall and proud, and you could tell that she was not the one to be broken. Until the moment she took off her glasses only to reveal a fresh black eye. Her husband was hitting her regularly and she needed help to leave him as she had no right of residence apart from her right as his wife. Later on in the discussion she lowered her jeans and I saw exactly where he kicked her. I will never forget that picture. It was even worse than the black eye, as it was proof of something happening on a regular basis, not as a singular outburst of violence. This man thought he could treat her as shit because she depended on him. This woman was allowed to stay in my country as the possesion of a man but risked deportation when leaving him – although he was the perpetrator.

She had a long, hard journey in front of her. In  the end, she found a new place to live, a good job and a new family while her ex-husband was convicted for raping and hitting her repeatedly.

6 things I learned along the way

I, however, learned a lot during the process. How blind we are because of the way we live. Everybody considers normal what one experiences every day. One day I asked her: “Why don’t you just go back home? When my husband hit me, I would run straight to my mom.” I learned that there are countries – right next door, not on some far away sub-continent – where divorced women or victims of rape have no chance of getting back into their society as respectable women whatsoever.

How important it is to have native speaking consultants. She was unable to tell me about the rape just because she had no word for it. It was very important to meet someone speaking her language so she could talk about all the nuances of her feelings and experiences. I started to learn the languages of the people I work with. Not because I wouldn’t think they should learn the language of the country they live in (of course they should) but to show my support. Plus, learning new languages helps the brain stay healty, and it impresses people pretty much 🙂

That violence can happen to everybody. Yes, there are people who become victims repeatedly, and there are traits perpetrators look for. But that is no guarantee that it never happens to you or me. The only ‘mistake’ this woman made was trusting the man she loved and moving to his home country with him. Where she knew nobody except his mother who helped her son and who called the woman who accused her precious baby of rape and assault, a slut and a whore. What if our au pair had turned her back on her class mate as so many others did?

That you can survive everything if you refuse to let someone break you. He hit her. He raped her. He called her names. He locked her up. He kicked her. But he never managed to destroy her will and her dignity. He didn’t even manage to destroy her trust in other people.

That you need help, smart help. She did manage to keep her dignity and trust partly because she had help from great people. Our au pair being considerate in the first place. Me being concerned with sexual violence and knowing exactly where to turn for professional help. A consultant, a lawyer and police, even a judge, who all where very clear about who was the victim and who was the perpetrator. Nobody ever suggested that she had her share of guilt in the situation because she was dumb or tempted her husband or whatever the idiot’s arguments sometimes are when women are raped.

That you learn some skills in life only to hope you will never need them. Self defence is definitely my number one on that list.

Take care

Natalie

This article was originally posted on my new blog project Soulskin.news

My Why

The other day I had a heavy conversation with my 17 year old. I happen to call myself a feminist, and he happens to ‘hate feminism’. I wonder how come that he, of all young men, hates feminism when he was raised by a feminist. – Well, of course I do not REALLY wonder. We all wanted to distinguish ourselves from our parents, didn’t we?

What’s more interesting is his argument and what it did to me re-considering my values. The kid grew up in a time and place where women are in general equal – with all pro’s, con’s and flaws. On the contrary, research indicates, that e.g. in schools we have reached a point where it’s the boys who fall behind due to girl oriented schooling. He therefore has a completely different range of experiences with gender inequality than I have.

We talked about why I am into feminism – all humans are born equal – and he said: Yeah, but then what you’re talking about is not feminism, it’s egalitarianism, and I share this value. We agreed on that although I feel like his approach to feminism is flawed. But what can you do about it? It’s flawed for many people who do not want to digg into the various theories of feminism. As with every theory, there is more than one idea of what feminism is and I understand that most people are not attracted to mainstream feminism based on victimisation of females, devaluing men and so called ‘positive’ discrimination.

Egalitarianism?

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1

I love this quote. Of all writings, this is my favourite sentence. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. What a promise!

What people tend to forget is that those  rights are not universal. They are a social convention and as such a matter of change, different interpretations, and even resistance. My approach to rights has always been that rights are not just there, and they are not granted, they must be taken. And in a society they are more often than not subject to negotiation.

Of course I am aware that I live in relative equality. At least when it comes to judicial rights. There are groups which suffer a lot more discrimination than women in general, e.g. the disabled, refugees, mothers (oh, women again), the elderly, people of colour, the poor etc. But guess what? I am white as white can be, I am well educated, I am fairly healthy and I managed to escape the ‘poor’-trap single motherhood is for many. What negatively affects me is gender stereotyping and sexual harrassment.

I totally agree with Theresa Bäuerlein and Friederike Knüpling who write in their wonderful recap of the current state of feminism, ‘Tussikratie‘, that the relevant gap in our societies is no longer between men and women, but between the rich and the poor. Structurally, however, being a woman raises your risk of being poor, too. It’s women who earn less over their lifetime (let’s ignore the reasons here). It’s mostly women who face old-age poverty. It’s women who bear the highest statistical risk for poverty in my home country, namenly when they become single mothers. It’s women who face the toughest discrimination on the job market, namely when they are married mothers. I am not saying men have no problems. Nor am I saying women’s problems are not going hand in hand with men’s issues. They are. I am saying, I am not a man. I am a woman, and I think I should adress issues which affect me.

Therefore, my beloved son: Yes, I share your value of egalitarianism. But my way of living it is to encourage women to use their power.

Because women who take over responsibility for their lifes and decisions free men from the responsibility of caring for them. And that is equal dignity: Shared responsibility.

Putting it all together, feminism, my jobs and my musings on what makes me angry, what people thank me for and the revolution I want to lead, I think I have now extracted my Why.

I strive to establish balance of power. That’s the core of all my activities. Oh gosh, I am into tears. It feels good!

I strive to establish balance of power.

I do so in my job by educating students about the economy and management and I am considering sharing that knowledge with a greater audience through my professional blog (I am indecisive on that one because I feel that’s not my passion although I like my job and my topics). I do so in my hobby by performing as a political comedienne. And I think the passion I’m going to choose to Live my Legend will evolve around empowering women. I have been pondering about an idea for ages now. Maybe it’s time to bring it to light?

Love to all of you

Natalie