Feministing is my new favorite pastime. This means that catcalls bug me more than a lot of people, but on the upside, it’s opened my mind to the ways that women can be empowered. You know, I kind of judged Beyoncé for a while because I felt like she was just another one to oversexualize the female form, letting herself be demeaned by letting herself be such a sexual object. But then she became all vocally feministy, and I made a bunch of friends at Wellesley who ADORE her, and realized that by taking control over how she was portrayed, often sexually, by doing what she wanted because it felt right to her, by showing that she was a subject, not an object, she was (IS) a powerful feminist icon, a powerful woman. Feminists have sort of a rap for being those pushy non-shaving types from the ‘60s or something, and Beyoncé is a great example of ways to be a feminist and also get waxed and dance incredibly.
This is my girl power playlist, pirated from lots of other compilations. Enjoy! (it’s got plenty of Beyoncé… at least in the form of Spice Girls)
In Latin America so far, I’ve met few people who were vocally feminist, women or men. I can think of like 1. What I have met, though, are lots of women who are strong. And in their strength, they defy the patriarchy. Just by living. And what’s even more amazing are the incredibly diverse ways they go about being strong women. I’d like you all to meet some of them.
You know how my friends at Wellesley adore Bey, well, I adore Vo Zelita (that’s grandmother Zelita for the non portuguese speakers). She’s the grandmother of the friend I stayed with in Brazil. She does a lot of things strongly. She cooks lunches with 5 dishes plus a salad, hearty meats, beans and rice, often with a side of some sort of fried starch. There is no apology in her love of good food. I wish I had been able to record the way that she says “mmmmm” that just makes your very bones tickle in appreciation of wonders that can come out of a well-cooked meal after a long, hot morning. She is strong in her loving, too. I got a sweaty hug and a kiss when I got to the house every day for lunch, and when we parted after my month there, she held my hands for a long time, blessed me, and gave me a towel as a gift. It was instantly my favorite towel (and not just because she kept me in line with The Hitchhikker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s recommendations). She is also strong in her pride, and rightly so. She has pride in her cooking (delicious). In her homemade soap production (stupendous in quantity, high in quality). In all of the exercises and stretches she does at her water aerobics classes (very numerous). In her garden (full of herbal medicine and future deliciousness). Her beauty is strong, too, undampered by house clothes meant only for the close family to see. She is, by any count, a beautiful woman, but I don’t think that’s it. It’s something ineffable, an effect brought about by a person who is so very comfortable with who they are, without being ever-conscious of the fact that they are not self-conscious. So refreshing. And in trying to get myself closer to her and that feeling, I’m planning on making myself some of her food (or at least trying to approximate). Look out, Chile! Black beans and fried manioc incoming!
You know who else is strong? My host mom, Maria Alicia. Not anyone can lose a 30-year-old son, after always knowing he’d die before her, and get through. Her strength is more in persevering in the present while staying close to the memory of her boy. I can feel, when she talks about him, how much she loved… loves still… her Juano. How much she loves the ways that he made the world, including her, better. The people he touched. The kindness he inspired. She earns most of the income in the family, too, and takes care of a lot of the administrative stuff. While it’s hard at times, she still hasn’t lost her sense of humor, nor her ability to keep on loving. I get a hug, or a pat on the belly, when I’m feeling blue like I was today. She’ll try and cheer me up. Or she’ll serve me ice cream without me having to ask. When I get back from an adventure, she’s sure to sit me down and get me to talk about what happened. The woman probably knows more about my love life than most of my friends, at this point! There’s this little old lady she takes care of once a week, too, cleaning her house and making a bunch of food for her. They’ve become friends, through time, and María Alicia went to visit her in the hospital when she was sick. Oh, and you should see the absolute BUCKETS of adorable little sweaters that she knits for her two grandkids. Everyone except me kind of makes fun of her for it, especially when she’s knitting during the summer, but I think it’s sweet. She’s just got too much love to channel solely into adoring Skype sessions and at least twice-daily chats. She’s strong in keeping on loving, seemingly without being able to resist. And here I am, who cuts myself off from those who can help me when I get stressed out and depressed. *sigh* There’s always something to work on!
Coming here, I kind of got the impression that Chilean women were all about looking hot, wearing makeup, skinny jeans. There’s plenty of girls like that here, as there are anywhere, but there are also a super large number of girls in the circus scene. They have babies and continue to trapeze and tumble. They’re way buffer than 99% of the guys you’ll find in a philosophy class. They aren’t afraid of physical pain, whether because they trained themselves out of it or just never bothered about it in the first place. I remember watching this girl at the circus convention learn how to unicycle on one of those extra tall ones with a chain, probably taller than she was. Through raw time on the thing, by the end of the weekend she could pretty much keep herself upright, but that was after hours and hours of either falling or almost falling, sticking to railings or wobbling along with a friend’s shoulder near. There didn’t seem to be a concept of failure for her. If you’re not succeeding, it’s just because you haven’t spent enough time practicing yet. A fall was just a reason to get back up and try again.
I guess my takeaway from these three examples of Strong Women is that I wish I felt naturally strong. These women aren’t steeped in feminist theory. They’re just going about their lives in their own way, a way that never even considered giving in, shutting down, giving up. I feel like every time I wiggle my toe I have to self-reflect about it (before and after). About what that says about me, about how it might affect other people, about whether that toe wiggle really is true to myself. I sure don’t feel strong, although I have at times felt brave and I’m developing biceps. Maybe that’s the key, though. Maybe those women don’t feel particularly strong, either. Maybe it’s all about the doing and not about the feeling. After all, the only times I’ve felt brave was when there was something that made me really scared but I did it anyways. Perhaps if, in my moments of especially weakness, I take the path that stays true to myself, I’ll get close enough.