“Don’t Say Such Things About Yourself!”

I was talking to a colleague about the difficulty of buying pants.

“I’m not thin,” I said. “So buying pants is always difficult.”

The colleague looked horrified. She grabbed my arm, looked me deep in the eye, and said passionately, “Of course you are thin! Don’t say such things about yourself.”

The thing is that I wasn’t trying to be coy or self-deprecatory with my statement. I was just mentioning a fact of objective reality. I’m not thin. Like I’m not male, not Japanese, and not an airplane. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a fact.

So I tried to convey this to the colleague.

In response, she offered me a mini-speech on the importance of a positive body image and self-confidence. Of course, I had always thought that positive body image and self-confidence had more to do with being capable of stating that you are not thin when that’s how things are than with pretending to be what you are not. But I guess different people have different definitions for these concepts.

My Romantic Journey, Part II

I had no idea that B. was very happy with the kind of existence we led. I was very young and inexperienced and I strongly believed that he simply had to share my disappointment and boredom with our hopeless, stunted lifestyle. He was never a great talker, and I was not then (and probably still am not) a good listener. I kept prattling about how amazing things would be in Canada, he listened and never objected, so I was convinced he was as excited as I was about my plans for the new life that awaited us.

It turned out, however, that B. had been accumulating a lot of resentment against me. My earnings, my publications, my grades, even the fact that people kept referring to me as “a star” made him feel eclipsed and inferior. When we moved to Canada, he decided that it was the perfect time to make me pay for this string of humiliations and the great life we had had in Ukraine and that I had disrupted on a whim. We had been together for six years, and when you know a person this well, it is quite easy to find things that would make their life intolerable.

So I left him. (More on this in the series titled “My Feminist Journey” that is coming soon to Clarissa’s Blog.) I started a new life as a single woman in Montreal. I was terrified of getting sucked into yet another serious relationship that was going to impoverish my life. For some weird reason, I happen to be the kind of woman that makes men think of nothing but marriage. Usually, words “commitment”, “serious relationship”, “marriage” and “a lifetime together” start cropping up on a second date. This, of course, scared me stiff and made me lose interest.

I remember once I was at a restaurant with a man I was seeing.

“Could you bring a glass for my girlfriend, please?” he asked the waiter.

I was incensed.

“This jerk!” I thought. “How dare he call me his girlfriend? What kind of woman does he think I am?”

At this stage in my life, the last thing I wanted was a relationship of any kind. I just wanted to have fun.

As I grew older, however, I felt that I was finally ready to enter into a more permanent relationship with a man. This, however, proved to be quite complicated.

(To be continued. . .)

Professional Victims

Another mind-boggling story from College Misery:

Today I received a voice mail from a student asking me to call them back over an “urgent” matter. The voice mail was pleasant enough so I take a deep breath and dial the number. I am greeted by a screaming banshee on the other end of the line. The urgent manner, the student not agreeing with my late policy which is clearly stated in the syllabus. I take a deep breath and reiterate the syllabus, no assignments are accepted late unless there is an emergency blah blah blah. The student can’t hear me however because they are too busy screaming that I am “mean” and other less than flattering adjectives.

I want to hang up but I do not, because unlike this student I understand professional behavior. I guess they realized that this amazing display of a temper tantrum was not going to get their assignment accepted because they stopped yelling – 30 minutes later.

The only area in which this educator is a professional is victimhood. An individual who allows people to yell at them for 30 minutes is nothing but a professional victim.

How can you even begin to expect students to respect you if you don’t respect yourself in this way?

Besides, what’s up with calling students back? What are you, a used car salesperson? A secretary?

My Romantic Journey, Part I

Since these autobiographical posts are proving to be so popular, I decided to write a series about my romantic journey.

When I was 16, I met the man who three years later became my husband. For the purposes of this series, I will refer to him as B. This was never a relationship based on a huge passion or anything of the kind. I felt it was cool to have a boyfriend who was much older (B. was 20, and seemed like advanced old age to a 16-year-old) and a university student. In general, I didn’t like him much but I though I could improve him with time.

At that point, good girls from nice families in my country didn’t move in with their boyfriends. If you went out with somebody for a couple of years, everybody expected you either to get married or break up. I wasn’t particularly interested in getting married, but marriage was going to offer me an opportunity to live independently, have my own place, and feel like a real adult. I knew the entire time that this was not the kind of a relationship that I would want to be in for the rest of my life, which is the kind of attitude that doesn’t bode well for a new marriage.

For the most part, things went really well in the marriage. I went to school during the day and worked on my computer all night long. B. would go to bed very early, so we barely ever met. This wasn’t hard to achieve in our big apartment. On weekends, I worked even more than during the week, while he spent time with his mother. I was mostly interested in making money and only wanted to be left alone in order to be able to do that. Of course, I felt that something was wrong and that young people of my age were not supposed to live in a boring, passion-free, roommate-like relationships. I didn’t, however, have much energy left over to think about what was wrong and how the situation could be improved.

The problem with entering into a very serious relationship at a very young age is that people might grow and change a lot with time. Or they might not. I changed profoundly (see my series titled “My Intellectual Journey”) and decided that this life of making money to buy things and making more money to buy more things was not for me. I wanted to find an environment where I could grow intellectually, experience new things, and simply reclaim my youth. At twenty, having nothing other in your life but working and paying bills is not very inspiring. I decided I wanted more.

B., however, didn’t. After a time of choosing to stay unemployed, he accepted a secretarial job at a place where his mother worked. He was (and I’m sure still is) a highly qualified professional capable of making a lot of money. However, he was content with making photocopies and snoozing in the corner for a small salary in a dead-end job. This wasn’t the main problem, of course. What I could not understand or even imagine was that he didn’t want anything new or different. Traveling, exploring new places, growing professionally, developing hobbies – none of these things seemed to interest him. He was happy with the way things were.

(To be continued. . .)

Towards a Feminist Manifesto

Sometimes, you start answering a comment and end up writing something that deserves to be put up as a separate post. This is what I have written recently in response to a comment I got from a reader called Adi:

The initial stages of feminism (until the right to vote for women was won, I would say), indeed, relied on enumerating female grievances against men. This was an important stage in the development of feminism.

I believe that this stage in the development of feminism as a political and intellectual movement has served its purpose. Now it needs to end. For feminists, it is not leading in any productive direction any more. In my opinion, the only future for feminism is to arrive at the stage where we recognize that equal rights lead to equal responsibilities. In my view, the reason why feminism has stalled in the last couple of decades is not that any bad, horrible, patriarchal men have shut us up. The reason for feminism’s loss of popularity and prestige is that we have arrived at the stage where women have to assume equal responsibilities: equal contribution to the financial success of the family, equality in terms of child-rearing, being in favor of shared custody of children in case of divorce, being equally prepared to lose custody, accepting equal punishment for the same crimes as men do, preparing to pay alimony and child support equally with men, etc.

But this is where feminism stops dead in its tracks because equal rights are super cool but equal responsibilities are not. Equality means freedom but it always means a harsher burden of responsibility, too.

This is what my feminism is about. And if anybody thinks it’s easy to voice these ideas in feminist circles, believe me, it’s not.

What I want to make very clear is that I don’t defend these ideas because I want to be “nice to men”, as some people have suggested. I only defend these ideas because I am a feminist. I want full equality in EVERYTHING. Not just the good things but everything. When I hear of these court cases where women get much lighter sentences than any man would in the same circumstances, it makes my blood boil. Because I see myself as a complete human being who should be given equal punishment for the same crime.

Women don’t need condescension or handouts. We need equality and justice. In everything, bad things and good things.

Violence Against Women in Former Soviet Countries

Reader el asked me on numerous occasions to write about domestic violence in FSU countries and the US. This is a painful topic for me to write about but I can’t refuse a request from such a dedicated reader. Besides, I think that it is important to educate people on what the situation in this area is in other countries.

Countries of the former Soviet Union have a tragic legacy of genocides, oppression, suffering, and fear. This daily terror people experienced for generations doesn’t simply evaporate. The impotence we all feel in the face of our repressive authorities makes us lash out with violence against each other.

I witnessed scenes back in Ukraine where somebody would accidentally push a person on a bus or bump into a pedestrian in the street and, instead of saying “Sorry” and moving on, people would jump at each other and start beating the offender.

Violence against women is really terrifying in our countries. At least every other woman has been a victim of rape. Every single woman (statistically) has been assaulted. When I was 15, I was walking home from school in broad daylight. A much older man asked me for my phone number, and I refused politely. He grabbed me by the hair, dragged me for several feet, pushed me into the mud, and started beating me with his feet.

A crowd of people, consisting mostly of older women, gathered. They did nothing to interfere and expressed their complete approval for the man who “gave the little bitch [namely, a child in a school uniform] what she deserved.”

When the attacker was done with me and left, nobody helped me to get up. The crowd of (predominantly female) observers stood there and giggled. I didn’t really even discuss this with anybody at that time because it was just something that happened to you, a normal daily reality.

I can’t tell you how many times I was groped, poked, grabbed, had people stick their hands between my legs, saw people expose themselves to me when I was a child, a teenager, a young woman in my country. This happened on the bus, in the subway, on the street, everywhere. This happened all the time. This is how every woman lived. And, in all probability, still does in our countries. I was very lucky in that I was never raped or harmed in any serious way, at least.

Of course, this kind of violence spills onto children. Little kids are beaten and abused by both men and women. Then, the kids grow up and become abusers in turn. I know both adult women and adult men who were victims of domestic violence for decades. And they all started out as children in abusive households.

Violence and abuse exist in North America, too. I’m sure that many of the people who are reading this post know this first-hand. Men, women, children, older people, disabled people – anybody can be a victim of abuse. However, this daily, daunting, wearing violence that you don’t even notice any more because it happens everywhere, all the time is not something that you encounter here the way you do in our countries.

Thinking About the Economy: Is Pessimism Preventing Economic Recovery?

This is an excerpt from a really interesting article on the economy I found in a very unlikely place. Namely, The Washington Post:

Americans see themselves as go-getters and risk-takers. Our optimism will ultimately rescue us. So it’s said. But the folklore increasingly collides with reality. The 2008-09 financial crisis traumatized millions. It swelled the ranks of risk-avoiders, worrywarts and victims. Of course, this was mainly a reaction to overborrowing, inflated home values and lost jobs. But now the fear factor is feeding on itself — and it’s smothering the recovery.

We are prisoners of our rotten mood. Everywhere, the bias is to spend less and wait to see how things turn out. Just as optimism sustained the boom, pessimism prolongs the bust. This is the reverse of “irrational exuberance,” because as long as most people feel this way, the psychology is self-fulfilling. Unfortunately, that’s how they feel.

Admittedly, I am still in the very early stages of figuring out how the economy works in this country. I find it very obvious, however, that the country is going through a doom-and-gloom period where predictions of imminent disasters are more welcome than good news. Grievances and meticulously inventoried while timid suggestions that things might not be all that horrible are greeted with derision.

“Why are you in such a good mood?” people ask incredulously when they meet a content and smiling person. As if happiness needed justification while misery were completely normal and required no analysis.

I’m not qualified to analyze whether there is a link between this culture of misery and doom-saying and the economy. I can say, however, that the fascination with unhappiness does exist and its influence is only growing.