Once a mother…

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“One day someone calls her “Mother”. That is what she remains for the rest of her life.”
Cao XueQin

Chinese-mother-baby

What a profound quote. And one which is open to many interpretations.

What does it mean to you? You women who are mothers, and who are not? Men who have known Mothers in your life?  What feelings rise to the fore as you read these words – joy, sadness, fear, resentment, uncertainty…?

My initial reaction was one of cynicism and somewhat scornful. So, this statement of popular sentiment became a subject for reflection. 

I don’t think Cao’s statement was intended to be limiting or denigrating to women. Here’s the context:

Cao was an 18th century Chinese writer whose novel “A Dream of Red Mansions” is considered a literary gem and was pronounced one of the Four Great Works of Chinese literature. The book was a romance novel on its face but represented a social commentary on family and social life within the Qing Dynasty. His book was, as Cao stated, “a memorial to the women he knew”, and the female protagonist though rebellious was a representation of aristocratic women of the times, restrained and fragile, and their unfortunate fate in feudal society. Cao’s awareness of the plight of women in a patriarchal and largely mysogynistic society suggests his sympathy.

So back to my less than enthusiastic reaction to this quote.

Like Cao, I am of Chinese origin. Unlike Cao, I am a modern woman and one who straddles two worlds – a woman who has lived in and thus familiar with a reserved collectivist Chinese culture and who now lives in a liberal individualistic ‘Western’ culture. I am a working mother of two, and myself a daughter who has experienced a version of ‘mother’.

Therefore, Cao’s statement is bittersweet.

The ‘bitter’ part of Cao’s statement is a suggestion on its face – that once a woman becomes a mother, that’s all she’ll ever be for the rest of her days. Her identity is entrenched in the role of ‘Mother’ and obliterating the other facets of ‘Woman’.

It brings forth the perceived universal ideals of ‘Mother’ – loving, caring, nurturing, protective, giving, selfless. But is it? These ideals have served to homogenise varied experiences of being a mother; they bind women in their expression of mothering. What of the mother who struggles to love her children, what of the mother who does not care or nurture according to societal expectations, what of the mother who ‘fails’ to protect, what of the mother who also takes?

Do these ideals give space for the “good enough” mother? I certainly prefer to operate on the ‘good enough’ principle, though my actions are informed in part by these ideals and will continue to do so, I’d imagine. I choose not to be bound by these ideals, and to celebrate the uniqueness of my individual children, my relationship with each of them and thus my mothering.

Cao’s reference to “Mother” may of course be intended to embrace the many faces of a mother. Of this, I will not know. Suffice to say, the ideals of ‘Mother’ are likely to be barriers to women’s social, economic and political empowerment. But only if we allow them to.

Am I a mother for the rest of my life? Yes, and with a joyous heart, I accepted this role many moons ago. I cannot unlearn what is within me nor do I want to. My children will always know me as mother and for that, I am grateful.

Am I the ‘Mother’? I don’t think so, and I am pleased.

Am I more than ‘mother’? Yes. As my children grow, they journey with me and experience me as a woman, whether they would be prescient to know this. They experience the mother as I am, and I fervently hope, a good enough mother.

Perhaps one day my children will see me as ‘Woman’ first, notwithstanding my mothering role – a woman who loves, who provides, who supports, who fights for those she loves and for her beliefs, who retreats to create peace, who forgives, who challenges, who celebrates her achievements, who creates. Perhaps one day, they may also forgive the woman who criticises, who gets angry because she was in a mood, who prefers to read instead of talking to them, who says ‘no’ without reason or explanation, who makes decisions without discussion. One day, they will see the complexity of the human experience, and that which I embody.

Woman is a ray of God: she is not the earthly beloved.
She is creative: you might say she is not created.
Rumi

– FlorenceT

[Edited 25 Nov 2016]

 

References:
Chineseculture.org, ‘Cao Xueqin’ at http://www1.chinaculture.org/library/2008-02/08/content_23134.htm
Wikipedia, ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_of_the_Red_Chamber

 

© 2014 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

#MakeItHappen – we all can

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Today, the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. It is a global event celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

In the 5th decade of life, I am a woman who has experienced many inequities in life:

  • I am the young girl filled with curiosity and intellect, but silenced.
  • I am the spunky adolescent expected to be ‘lady-like’ that is, demure and soft.
  • I am the smart teenager who knew to be compliant and bid her time.
  • I am the young lady who is vigilant, highly aware of the daily threat of violence.
  • I am the young woman knowing and instinctively trying to be ‘like a man’ in order to achieve success.
  • I am a professional woman who hears constant whispers for not being good enough, as a wife and mother.
  • I am the wife who hears the voices of generations of women advising her to be ‘humble and serve’, to be patient.
  • I am a mother who loves, expecting motherhood to be an encompassing act that comes naturally.

If any of these reminds you of your sister, your mother, your daughter or you… or anyone you know, then you are a witness to the courage, tenacity and love which women are capable of, women around the world who push on every day.

In the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995, 189 countries voted on an international platform to eradicate gender inequality and promote women’s rights.  Twenty years on, how far have we come?

Here are some global images of a woman’s world and of International Women’s Day.

It would be easy for me to list all the goals not reached, the continuing disparity between women and men’s economic power, the persistent aggression and violence against women in private and public spheres and in times of national conflicts…but I know that you are aware of them. The question is, when will they end?

A while back, I posted a speech by Emma WatsonGoodwill Ambassador for UN Women, when she launched HeforShe – a Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality in 2014.  Well, on 8th of March, Emma will be holding a Gender Equality Q&A in London 1pm EDT/5pm GMT, live stream on Facebook.  Drop in if you can.

And when women, who comprises more than half of the world population, becomes a target of the Global Poverty Project, I believe it is time to seriously reflect on how our world is not valuing women.

So let’s be smart and sexy about it… be a feminist!

I am older now, and life has delivered its lessons and will continue to do so, I have no doubt.  I own my solitude, my space, my selfish needs and wants.  I choose not to be so hard on myself.  I choose to speak out on gender inequality.

It is time to change the paradigm that maintains gender inequality, power imbalances and gender stereotypes.

– FlorenceT

 

© 2015 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

A feminist – He & She

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Gender stereotypes affect both women and men.

How?  Watch this enlightening video of Harry Potter girl’s (Emma Watson) speech at the United Nations for UN Women.

 

 

So men, join women in supporting feminism.   Be a feminist – who, by definition, is a person who believes and supports women and men to have equal economic, social, and political rights and opportunities.

Let’s look to a future where our sisters, our daughters will not be ‘less’ or ‘can only be’ just because they are women, where our brothers, our sons will cease being ‘not enough’ just because they are men.

Personally I hope my children get the message of gender equality… well, they are on my ‘brainwashing program’ :-). But seriously, I believe my role as parent and guide requires me to educate and role-model respect for and embracing of difference, to appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of each of us, to refuse to polarize humanity into right and wrong, better and lesser.  To do that, there will be the need to question the dominant paradigm of sexism, and to take a stand for equality of the sexes.

I look to a time when my ‘brainwashing program’ will no longer be required.

What do you do or how do you be, in your life in order to say ‘yes’ to gender equality?

– FlorenceT

 

© 2014 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

Monogamy is overrated

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A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.   Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

Monogamy is overrated, I once told a friend. And I still stand by the statement.

I wrote a post on romantic love as a construct akin to addiction, inspired by a TED Talk. This post is similarly inspired, that is by a TED Talk which I have included below. But this time, we are dealing with a construct namely monogamy, that is potentially more susceptible to abuse and has greater impact on society in general.

The construct of monogamy has facilitated the objectification and subjugation of women for centuries. How? It provides a justification for the control of women’s sexuality, women’s sexual expression and freedom, and to some extent, women’s participation in society including economic freedom and independence. This is not old news, it is not past phenomenon…it is still happening in various part of the world.

Let me clarify, I am NOT saying monogamy is wrong. What I AM saying is that monogamy can be a choice for many, but it ought not be the dominant standard by which others are measured and perhaps found wanting, or worse, ‘bad’.

monogamy-nonBeyond certain religious beliefs, commitment and bonding – the elements of monogamy that are important – can exist outside this construct. Commitment to two or more persons at any one time, commitment to a specific relationship unit, bonding within three or more individuals, bonding between any two individuals in a group of individuals … the variations are endless. These commitments and bondings are no less valid or significant or real. Truly, is monogamy the only way we humans ought to bond?

If purpose is considered important, then we might need to question the basis from which the purpose is derived and whether it remains valid. Is monogamy the only way humans ought to procreate? Is purity of genes, the notion that a child ought to know his or her one true father, crucial to the survival of our species?

For all that is beautiful, comfortable and agreeable about monogamy, the awareness that monogamy is not the only way of being for relationships serves as a reminder in times when I make judgments on others and their way of life, no matter how unintentional or well-intentioned I may be.

– FlorenceT

© 2014 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Witches and Modern Women

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Words can no longer hurt, if we re-claim them for ourselves – crone, witch…

The Geek Anthropologist

Two weeks ago, I published a piece on modern monsters and their meanings within contemporary pop culture. Though I dug through the remains of zombies, vampires and kaiju, I intentionally avoided analysis of witches—I wanted to devote an entire piece that would provide me with the space to unpack the cultural resurgence of witches this year. I’m not talking about Hogwarts students—I’m talking toil and trouble, dances with the Devil in the pale moonlight, bad bitches hex magic witches. American Horror Story’s third season, Coven (2013-2014), conjured up a cast of New Orleans witches grappling to manifest the Seven Wonders and subsequently catapulted witches into the pop culture limelight yet again. While I have argued that zombies and vampires speak to concerns about climate change, capitalism and germ warfare, these witches serve a very different cultural purpose. With new shows like Salem (2014) and Witches of East End (2013-) on…

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My sisters in poverty

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Beach in ThailandI hurt.

I arrive anticipating rays of sunshine, rumbling of waves, golden glimmer of sand, and friendly folks. I find them, and more.

Walking through the streets, buzzing with energy and vibrant colours, I notice them outside one massage parlour, then another, then another on a street that seems never-ending. I know it is purportedly ‘the oldest profession in the world’ but being confronted with these young women ‘plying their trade’, it becomes a heart wrenching reality.

The vacant smiles, the calculating eyes, the hopeless gestures… they are my sisters. My sisters who have few choices to survive their existence, whose ‘career choice’ may be a family inheritance. I do not presume to know their lives, but I know it must not be wholesome to see one’s own body as a commodity instead of a sacred private temple, to see one’s own body abused and sometimes brutalised instead of respected and worshipped. I can only imagine the damaged psyche that accompanies each of them.

Why am I here?

For it is people such as I who contribute to the economy here, made up primarily of tourism. I know my tourism monies contribute to other things, beyond prostitution. I know the economics of demand and supply. So, it is also I who violate them. For aren’t we one? Aren’t I not part of the humanity which does this?

PatongGirls

No, I will not blame, for history will tell us, blame is destructive. I will not fault my sisters for doing what is necessary to survive their existence, for wanting a better material life. I am not naïve – some of these women choose to be here, though I cannot put aside the idea that a forced choice is not a choice at all. They, my sisters, bear the brunt of poverty. For this is systemic, outcome of a flawed economic structure and an unforgiving patriarchal legacy.

Then I look at the men – yes, they are all men that I can see on the street who buy ‘the services’, and I wonder what brought them here. Are we born with a disrespect for our sisters, are we conditioned to sexually objectify them? Does this then justify our actions, allow us to do what we do with less regret, less shame? What circumstances compel them to seek here? How sad is our humanity that somehow this is perceived as pleasure? That the harm to another is not seen thus ignored? How sad is our humanity that this is what we resort to in our bid for intimacy, sex, companionship, connection…?

And yes, I have used the pejorative ‘we’ because we are responsible for each other, in our humanity. 

I do not have the answers, I do not presume to understand, and I am doing my best not to judge.

Bear witness
If I offend with this post, it is not my intention.  I post this because this experience strikes me in such a visceral manner, I am in pain. I post this because I wish to bear witness.

 

Catch me when I fall

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Togetherness

All of us desire and long to know we are connected to someone or something meaningful and valuable to us, no matter what gender we are.

One of those connections may be with our beloved.   And within this connection, there is the feeling of “I would like someone to take care of me” – at the end of the day when I am weary, when work seems overwhelming, when disappointments strike.  We want someone whom we can rely on to provide the safety net, who will catch us no matter what.

the feeling that I would like someone to take care of me – See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/men-worthy-despite-taught-fiff/#sthash.agnRZjeB.dpuf

I am a feminist.  I am not going to explain what this means for me, even as I acknowledge that perceptions of feminism are so varied.  Maybe another time…  Why am I writing about this?  Because I have encountered many voices in recent weeks espousing the need for women to feel safe.  I agree wholeheartedly.

Let us not forget men too are deserving of this gift.  It is after all the essence of the human connection.  Am I safe with you?  Will you catch me when I fall?

So, here’s an article for your reading pleasure and pondering – Men Are Worthy, Despite What We’re Taught.

We are humanity!

With love,
– FlorenceT

Men Are Worthy, Despite What We’re Taught

All about That Bass

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I have a big smile on my face… I know you can’t see it so I’m telling – so you can ‘hear’ my smiling voice when I say what I have to say.

The TV was on whilst I was cooking, when I heard this vibrant rhythm began –  rather unique for this day and age.  What, rock n roll?  Of course, I checked it out and voila! the second surprise.  The music video – which I have included below – has men and women dressed well, instead of dressed exposed.  The most risque outfit might shock a 1950s audience, if that.

Besides the rhythm and melody, there is the song’s empowering lyrics:

You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

Then there is the dig at the media’s misrepresentation of women, creating a false and unachievable body image:

I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop

Girls cannot be what they cannot see, and there has been a lot of music and music video depicting girls and women solely as sexual beings, looking like Barbie, playing supporting roles to men.  Well, not this one.

The music genre may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but the message is loud and clear:

If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up
Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top

There is hope yet!   So, watch the video of Meghan Trainor’s ‘All about That Bass’ for yourself 🙂