Archive

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Image

I woke up thinking about the German sociologist Georg Simmel and his theory about growing individualism in the metropolis. The up-side of individualism, as he saw it, was freedom to be. Freedom to choose one’s social circles, to belong and to be excluded from that which was or was not of interest. The down-side was that in order not to be swallowed up by the greatness of the city and its many diverse social groups, one had to become desensitized. One had to learn to brush off the unsightly in order to experience the greatness of the freedom of being whichever self one wanted to be. Unlike the country side where social cohesion was high and diversity of different selves was low, the city’s infinite possibilities meant the possibility to be indifferent to others and to become fully immersed in one’s own ego. In the 1900 when he wrote all of this, I tend to believe that he was being more of a visionary than providing an accurate description of his times. Modernity was causing a great deal of excitement but also a great deal of paranoia for the world’s great theorists. Being fearful of people becoming assholes and basically loose atoms with no real concern for, or connection to, the people around them was quite common in his time.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I find myself thinking that those predictions were pretty fucking spot-on. Look, I love cities. I love big cities. I love living in a place where people feel this freedom to be whoever the fuck they want to be, sure. It’s fantastic and I cannot possibly stress this enough. But does that really have to come at the cost of human decency? Maybe it’s my Disney movie corrupted mind at work again but I always used to think of the world as being split down the middle between goodies and baddies. And people who were good were helpful and kind and well-mannered and very considerate of other people’s feelings. People who were bad maybe had some interesting characteristics and we could keep them around and even occasionally interact with them but we would know, just by looking at them, that they were neither kind, nor helpful, nor well-mannered and very visibly inconsiderate. Unfortunately for my little sentimental heart that loves to build up expectations about people, we are living in a time where moral contradictions seem to be pretty acceptable.

I’m not claiming to be some sort of saint. On the contrary, I have hurt people and made some questionable decisions that really blew up in my face. But those few characteristics that I think are absolutely key to having what I would consider a moral character, I have always tried to not break. Friend of a friend needs a favor and if I move some things around in my diary I can help? You bet your ass I will be there. A shy friend arrives at a party and is looking a little lost? I will always keep an eye out and try to include them. If someone invites me to stay at their house, you can be sure that I will be on my best behavior making my mommy proud. Ask me to stay at my house and you will be treated with the kindness and respect that you deserve without late night shouting or turning on lights in your face while you sleep simply because you do not pay rent there. Basic shit right? Nope, not really. Apparently expecting this sort of, to me at least, very normal crap from people is expecting way too much. I cannot possibly express how often I’ve been taught this lesson yet somehow I am failing to learn it.

Now I cannot tell you if the country side is different because the only time I lived in what one may call the country (let’s say, somewhere where you’re dangerously close to a pasture and you know way too many of the people you pass by on the streets) I was still living as an expat and the international “allure” of the place made us all feel rather cosmopolitan in spite of the geographical reality of our location. But what I do know is that I am calling bullshit on this acceptable practice of being an inconsiderate person. Not cool, world. And you’re totally breaking my heart.

In all honesty maybe it’s my own hyper-individualism that causes me to apply my version of morality on my assessment of other people’s characters… But seriously, am I the only one who is having a hard time finding solid, good people lately? People who are human and make mistakes like everyone else but have the basic decency to give a shit about others and take other people into account always and unquestionably?

Advertisements

Image

The above quote comes from a movie I watched a few weeks ago called ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. It’s an absolutely touching movie about coming of age. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and do that. It’s about the tortured existence of just about anybody who is going through the painful experience that we all so casually call growing up. Growing up and then realizing that you’re not, in fact, part of the mainstream. And all I know is that the mainstream sounded pretty fucking amazing when I was in my late teens. I longed for the effortless belonging that some people my age felt and tried my very best to pass for uncomplicated.

Watching this movie these words really stuck with me for some reason. “We accept the love we think we deserve”. I guess it’s because they sound wise. And because, frankly, I experienced them to be true in my life to a certain extent. I guess it stuck with a lot of people too because an innocent image search on Google resulted in a ridiculous amount of versions of the quote in different fonts and a range of background images. Not to mention the images of these words tattooed on people’s ankles, ribs and arms. But is it in fact true?

I never quite thought of it in that way but the destructive relationships that people get into and the suffocating feeling we all get when someone loves us too much – the same love we later crave when we look back and realize we had something amazing and didn’t value it – is that in fact a type of self-loathing? I’ve seen some pretty exceptional people that I love very much enter and willingly continue some of the most disastrous relationships I have ever had the displeasure of being around for. And if you think about it, we actually tend to refer to reciprocal, caring, supportive love in terms of being ‘lucky’. So do we ever really consider ourselves deserving of true love?

I think that, for starters, we have fairly unrealistic ideas about love. “Romantic love is an invention”, my Social theories of Sexuality lecturer told us. He argued his point with a bunch of literature that seemed to make sense at the time but I still think it sounds a little bitter and cynical. I think romance exists. I think romantic love exists. We all feel like being a little corny when we’re in love. Whether this is learned social behavior or who exactly teaches it is another story. It’s not so much the romance part of love that I am concerned with though. What I find problematic about narratives about love is that they usually end at the peak of passion. The great love stories of the world, be they Disney fairy-tales or Shakespearean tragedies, usually end when love is still fully equated with desire and butterflies. I would argue that real life generally drags desire and butterflies down one of two avenues: Monotony and Habit Road or Heartbreak Hotel Boulevard. And when that happens we are very unprepared as to how to cope.

If you started reading this post thinking I might have an answer for the question posed at the top of this page, I am sorry to disappoint you. It is more of a reflection than anything else. But I invite you to do the same because as much as I identify with the message, I cannot help but think that saying we control what love we accept is little else than an elegant form of blaming the victim.

So I was asked to speak about the position of women in Brazilian society last week. The talk was to serve as an introduction to a play called A Voz Humana, directed by an Amsterdam-based Brazilian director named Marcos Rabello. In light of International Women’s day, the author and director of the play thought it would be interesting to have someone contextualize the reality that Brazilian women live in. I was asked to keep the talk under 15 minutes, which I think was a good exercise because I actually managed to do it without having to simplify what I wanted to say too much.

It was my first ever public lecture (!). I studied sociology in my undergrad and am now following an urban studies research program in grad school. I have always been interested in questions of gender and sexuality and I actually specialized in those themes during my undergrad. It changed my world completely.I had always been sensitive to these issues, but I had no idea what I had coming to me when I signed up to my first gender class in the political sciences department.

See, I was forced to look at myself in a way I had never done before. Biases, prejudices, sexism, privilege. I thought being a woman and an immigrant from the global-south as well as a sociology student pretty much meant I was saved from being an asshole. But here’s the thing: we all live in the same twisted society. And, as much as I tried to deny it, I was no exception. I grew up watching the same Disney movies and romcoms and action films and reading the same glossy magazines that cloud everyone’s better judgement. I learned to hate my body and think in a dichotomy of men-versus-women my entire life. And, not at all unimportant: I’m a fairly middle-class, educated girl who has traveled the world. I was just as susceptible to becoming an opinionated yet somewhat ignorant shit as the next person. Slowly, and god-awfully painfully, all of this started to change.

I like to think of gender studies as the study of diversity. It’s almost like a pair of glasses that you put on that make everything so much clearer, brighter and real.The only problem is that often the real is pretty ugly and let me tell you, try as you may – mostly to keep yourself from hating the people you love who say pretty fucking offensive shit all the time – those damn glasses do not come off.

This talk was particularly special to me because never before had I had the chance to be the one to expose people to these ideas about gender equality that had changed my life years earlier. Terrified as I was about whether I would be able to keep my nerves under control and deliver my message, doing it was an absolutely empowering  experience. Standing in front of some of the people I have known my entire life and saying “I’m a feminist” leads to enough hostility sometimes. Still I felt that saying it in front of this group of strangers was absolutely necessary. Firstly because no, I was not trying to play the tiresome role of the unbiased scientist on that occasion. I was stepping out of academia for the night and I was just going to be Laura the girl for once. But secondly because people need to stop thinking of feminism as a dirty, uncool word. Women need to start having some courage to admit to themselves and the world that equality has not yet been achieved and that we still think that’s some seriously unacceptable bullshit! Whatever stereotypes people have developed around feminism should really be set aside because, frankly, so long as there are people telling women to ‘go make a sandwich’, we really (yes, you too) do still need feminism.

The YouTube link below has a short introduction in Dutch but the talk is in English: