Masculinities Mondays: 24th March 2014

Okay, I do realise that it’s no longer Monday in any part of the world now – and, in some places, it’s already Wednesday – but it’s the thought that counts. So cast your mind back to Monday and enjoy this edition of Masculinities Mondays.

This week, Mariz Tadros, a former professor of mine, published a poignant piece in The Guardian about the need to bring gender activism into the mainstream and out of elitist workshops and meetings in five-star hotels. These current forums for discussions of gender and development, she argues, take the teeth out of gender activism and further ghettoise women’s rights. Certainly, both while studying Gender and Development and while working in this field in the UN, the consistent sidelining of gender work as a ‘fluffy’ and unacademic area or, simply, as just a ‘women’s issue’ has been painfully apparent. But, in addition to this externally-enforced sidelining, Tadros also discusses the self-imposed sidelining of gender and development practitioners in the elitist settings and inaccessible jargon of their meetings. She writes, “Without de-ghettoising women’s issues, we will remain in a closed space where we miss out on potentially innovative approaches and practices endorsing gender equality.”

Also in the news this week was an article on Aljazeera by Sarah Kendzior about the gender- (and money)-gap in US foreign policy. Kendzior speaks to the invisibility and devaluing of knowledge produced by women in this field. “People talk about the glass ceiling, but it is really a glass box. Everyone can see you struggling to move. There is an echo in the glass box as your voice fails to carry. You want to talk about it, but that runs the risk of making all people hear.” The article also discusses the elitist policies and practices that make this field largely inaccessible to people of lower socio-economic backgrounds.  Having been an unpaid UN intern in Geneva for six months, this point resonated with me. A few of my fellow interns and I made a petition for the UN to provide some kind of living subsidy for interns of low-income backgrounds (which was not us) to ensure that the internship program reflected the UN values of diversity, inclusion and empowerment. Although many staff supported our campaign, our petition was ultimately rejected by people who informed us there was no space in the budget and then got into their BMWs and drove to their homes on Lac Leman. 

And, finally, the 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) wrapped up last week and AWID hosted a CSW Special Focus to follow the event. 

Here’s to a gender-equitable week ahead!


Masculinities Mondays: 17th March 2014

In Bogotá, I hear the word maricón – a derogatory term for ‘gay’ – or its related term marica, on average, about 30 times a day. And, sadly, it’s not because people are voicing their support for equal human rights for homosexuals.

In most of Latin America, ‘maricón’ is widely used to refer to someone gay, effeminate, cowardly, bad, or deviant. The origin is apparently related to the name ‘Maria’ and was first used to criticise effeminate men so, in associating effeminacy with negative characteristics, it is, in one fell swoop, potentially derogatory of both effeminate men and of women in general. In Colombia, however, guys also use this as a term of endearment with their friends – similar to ‘dude’ in English.

When I tried, this weekend, to explain to some male Colombian friends (who were, as is common, generously peppering their conversation with the term) why I find it offensive, they replied with something along the lines of: “But it’s not offensive here. It’s fine in our culture.” Hmmmm…all that could come to my mind was this excellent talk by Ash Beckham about the similar normalisation of pejorative uses of the word ‘gay’ in English. I know that my friends are not homophobic and they were not even intentionally referring to homosexuality at all. As Ash Beckham explains in her talk, “What it often comes down to is not about hate or bigotry but about laziness. ‘Gay’ is a really easy word to throw in but it’s not what you’re trying to convey…Say what you mean and mean what you say because the words that you choose matter. When you use ‘gay’ in a pejorative way, the effect that it has on the gay kid in the room or the kid with gay relatives is that being gay is ‘less than’ or ‘inferior to.'”

My Spanish is not perfect yet so, Colombian friends – correct me if I’m wrong – but I think it’s a similar case with maricón and marica here. Even if it’s a cultural norm, it doesn’t mean that we can’t all make an effort to shift to language that isn’t derogatory of a specific group of people and to say something when our friends use these terms. And if you’re still not convinced that it makes a difference, check out this short film about an alternate reality where homosexuality is the ‘norm.’

Good luck, happy Monday and happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone.

Masculinities Mondays: 10th March 2014: Teaching ‘International Women’s Day’ in Colombia


Nothing quite challenges patriarchal gender norms like a teddy bear holding red roses.

On March 8th, as my male and female friends around the world participated in public dances to raise awareness about violence against women, attended or performed ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ or decorated their Facebook walls with articles about gender-equality, the women I know in Colombia were given roses and chocolates.  

The night before International Women’s Day, I searched the internet for information about events on in Bogotá marking the occasion but nothing even remotely political was on the agenda (if there was, and I missed it, please let me know!) – only some classical music and suggestions of where to buy flowers for the women in your life. I know so many strong, independent and inspirational Latin American women so where the political teeth of International Women’s Day have gone to in this Latin American country is a complete mystery to me. 

My worries had only just begun, however. As a teacher, I have decided to cover the topic of International Women’s Day in my classes this coming week – as best I can to 6-8 year-olds who barely speak English.  My three hour-long search for activities for early primary school kids on International Women’s Day, gender equality, or any remotely related topics came up with almost absolutely nothing. Sure, there are plenty of great resources for older kids or kids with higher levels of English, but try to find anything suitable for very young kids and you’ll be disappointed. The best resource I could find so far is a short video created by the European Commission on equally valuing men and women’s work. Children’s fundamental ideas about categorising the world form fairly early so, if we don’t have the resources to teach them about equal rights for boys and girls when they are in first grade or younger, how can we have any hope of changing the strict gender norms that oppress us all?Image

Dejected, I eventually decided to make my own game for the kids, breaking down stereotypes of traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ jobs. But as I searched for “builder clipart,” “mechanic clipart,” and “police clipart” for the game, I became more and more disheartened as 99% of the images each time were of men only. To find images of women performing these roles I had to specifically request “female builder clipart,” etc. and then – surprise, surprise – a hearty chunk of those images fell into the category of sexually exploitative (to see what I mean, search Google images for “female mechanic clipart”). And the situation was just as dire when I looked for images of men in traditionally ‘female’ roles. “Ballet dancer clipart” yields a field of powder pink images of dancing girls and women, while a search for “male ballet dancer clipart” results in mostly humorous illustrations of overweight, hairy men in pink tu-tu’s. Image


So, as much as I began the weekend lamenting the state of International Women’s Day in Colombia, I ended it even more distressed about how the next generation of kids around the world will understand that an equal world is, at least in part, one where boys and girls have an equal opportunity to choose what profession they want, without judgement or ostracism. 

If you know of any gender equality educational resources appropriate for early primary school-aged ESL students, I’d desperately love to hear about them. 

Until then, happy Monday.

Masculinities Mondays: 3rd March 2014


‘New pants to use during peak hour’

On the way to work, squished and surrounded by the elbows and bags of 100 other people trying to get to work on the Transmilenio (Bogota’s main public transportation system), I try to practice my Spanish by reading the free daily commuter newspaper. This week, I came across a short column by Jaime Barrientos about the current proposal to have female-only ‘pink’ (I’m not even going to get into the gendered colour issue) carriages on the Transmilenio. 

Like most public transportation systems in large cities around the world, the Transmilenio becomes impossibly crammed during peak hour and it’s not uncommon for some male passengers to take advantage of the crowded environs and ‘accidentally’ grab a buttock, a breast or – as hit the Bogota headlines last month – masturbate in front of female passengers. The primary solution that is being offered to address this issue is not, however, educating men to respect women and keep their hands to themselves; it’s female-only carriages. 

The concept of female-only carriages has been implemented in plenty of other cities in the world – from Rio to New Delhi to Cairo – and has been around in Japan since 1912. And it appears that many women do, indeed, feel safer in these carriages. But, as Barrientos, argues, segregation is not the answer. “If we continue like this,” he argues, “we’ll have to build a wall like Berlin and the women will have to pass on the other side of the city.” As another commentator notes on the issue, “If this were the rule, we should have bars and clubs for women only…ponds and rivers just for girls, roads and bike paths only for females; we’d have to invent a ‘pink world.'” We came from an era of gender segregation in the past and women and men have fought hard over the past century to break down these divisions – I don’t see how rebuilding them will really help. I recall feeling the same way when I stepped into the ‘Womyn’s Room’ in my first year of university – this female-only space was meant to be a safe, creative and supportive environment for women to interact but I found it hostile, exclusionist and out of touch with reality, not to mention leaving no space in the world for transgender or intersex people. 

Instead of segregation, I think parents, schools, communities, and governments have a responsibility teach men that harassment is not okay. Laura Bates has written a poignant blog on how harassment is never ‘just a compliment’ but is, instead, implicitly linked to violence. Sadly, Bate’s article is segregated in The Guardian’s ‘Women’s Blog’ so the chances of any men ever reading it are quite slim. Campaigns such as ‘What to Say‘ – which I posted about last week – help give people the tools to speak out against harassment. I don’t know if there’s a Spanish-language equivalent but there must some comparable tools available here.

As fellow commuters, all squashed together in the slinky red bus that they call the Transmilenio, it is all of our responsibility to speak out against harassment (no matter how small, harmless, or complimentary it may seem) to our friends, family, and even to that stranger whose hand just lingered on your butt.