Saturday, January 1, 2011

Before the spoons and hearts...

Not too much has happened in the last week and a half. Mostly just going to the health center and studying kmai. I think by the end of last week I started getting really worried about not having enough people to talk to me regularly. The family I live with is awesome, but the girls are really shy around me and my host parents are not the most talkative. Talking to students and kids is good and fun, but eventually I really felt the need to seek out adults to speak to. Adults that won't giggle after every sentence, cover their mouths when they speak, spend 5 minutes debating about what to ask. So, I took a long bike ride to some villages and I stopped anytime anyone showed any interest in me. Anyone that was standing by the side of the road got to have a conversation with me too whether they wanted to or not. I felt desperate for someone to talk to. I think I met some good friends. I also had a horde of kids around me. Usually hordes of children are insane, but for some reason I have a calming effect on kids here. They don't run away and scream. They also don't run around me in circles yelling like kids tend to do. I pushed some kids on a pair of tire swings (awesome!) and then I sat on a bench. I even read a page in "Mountains Beyond Mountains" to them and they listened, quietly. They had no idea what I was saying but they listened. I asked questions and they answered. They asked and I answered. It was perfectly adult of them. Then we walked home together, or rather I walked them home. Two of the boys did stop to pee before we got to their houses though.

One of the boys had a bookbag on with Disney princesses on the back. Sometimes the rules are different and it's a good thing. I see commune chiefs, tough old grandpas, with notebooks and folders that have baby Winnie the Pooh on them. Men wear pink here all the time and they look good in it. But maybe this lack of commercial gender lines ends here. In most other aspects of society, gender roles in Cambodia are as strict as any other society if not stricter. Clothes for example, are fairly regulated. The school uniform for girls is a long traditional K'mai skirt. The skirt is fairly restricting, though girls still manage to play badminton in them, and extremely hot. Female teachers also have to wear these skirts. For formal occasions, like ceremonies or weddings, women also have to wear a long skirt. During the day to day, women typically can't wear anything that shows their shoulders and most shorts are past the knee. No one in my village, outside of my host family, has seen my shoulders. The casual wear for men can be pretty much anything, except maybe a traditional skirt. Men can walk around in their underwear or typically they tie a scarf, called a kroma, and essentially make a short skirt. Their formal wear is the same for any event or job, a collar shirt and long pants. It's not that wearing skirts is intrinsically bad or good. Pants can be sweaty and hot too. It's just the lack of choice in the matter. So now I'm going to go on a tangent about Feminism and you can skip it if that's a word that offends you for some reason, or if it offends you maybe you really should read this next part.

For me feminism was always about choice. It was about letting people have the ability to make decisions for themselves. It's not about having all women work in offices or having all women wear pants. Either of those ultimatums is decidely unfeminist according to my opinion. To me 'the fight' is to let women decide if they want to be stay at home moms or high powered CEOs or both if they can do it. It's also about giving that choice to men. That's really what equality is in my mind. It's that everyone gets the ability to make the same number of choices. I think Feminism, in this generation, is molded by the individual. You can make your own version of feminism. What does that word mean to you? I think a big reason for why so many people recoil from the term is because it was such a powerful movement in the past and it created a lot of change. As a consequence, it became defined by the changes that were made in Feminism's name. But really, the original intention was to give women the choice. Telling stay at home moms to become CEOs was a necessary part of that change, at the time, because all women were stay at home moms. I haven't studied the history of feminism in depth and I couldn't give you any references, but I do know women that are veritably scared of the word "Feminism" and I really wish that they weren't. I really wish that everyone that jumps at the word would just take a minute and ask themselves why. Why do they label certain people as Feminists and think it's a negative label? For me a Feminist is someone that believes in women.A Feminist doesn't have a mold they want to push women into. They trust women to make their own decisions. When I look at women in Cambodia I see strong women. Women who are the pillars of their families. All I want to let them know is that they have a choice in what they wear, what they do, what they hope and dream. I also see strong men, who are under a lot of other pressures that I won't go into. But I want them to know that they have those same choices too. It takes everyone to make these changes work. I know there's a lot left unsaid on this topic, you could write pages and pages arguing. I know that, in a way, this is an idealist's point of view, but I believe in it anyway.

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