I have been in Moscow three times in total, since 2014 and each time, I have had a different experience. Moscow is surprising and unexpected. Sometimes scary, but amusing; interesting and mysterious. The fact that I have traveled to and lived in Russia for a couple of months has often provoked a lot of mixed reactions. Why Russia? Why Moscow? Russia has often a bad reputation abroad, Russians are seen as cold, distant, unfriendly people. And Moscow is not really a typical touristic getaway.
I actually did not go to Moscow for tourism. I first did a 2-week-long cultural exchange with a Muscovite family. Then in 2016 I went back for a couple of days after finishing my Erasmus program in the Caucasus and I have recently spent three months working there.
To be honest, my first impression of Moscow was not really that good. I felt like a tiny human lost in a flow of people I did not understand culturally or linguistically. Fifteen million people live in Moscow. That is more than the entire population of my country! And few of them speak good English of French, which means that it can be quite hard to be understood if you don’t try to speak Russian.
Moscow is such a big city, I felt overwhelmed by the hugeness of everything, from the 10-lane roads to the giant buildings, the monumental Orthodox churches to the numerous statues you find on every corner. Having lived there for three months, I still cannot say that I know Moscow very well. I can find my way in my own neighbourhood, but overall I have probably only been in five percent of the city. However, the more I discovered about it, the more I loved it.
Architecturally speaking, I find Moscow absolutely gorgeous. What I particularly like about the Red Square is that it is not only one cultural landmark in the middle of a random place or the only beautiful thing in the neighbourhood. The entire surrounding is astonishing. You will find the very luxurious commercial galleries on its left, and the historical Kremlin on its right. The National Museum of History is in front of it and the newly-opened Zaryadye Park behind it. The famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is only a ten-minutes walk away. Everything comprised in the first ring is worth seeing: the Bolshoi Theatre, the Arbat, the Gorky Park, the Lubyanka area, and the numerous pedestrian streets.
The heart of the city also has a vibrant and dynamic vibe. You will find countless restaurants, karaoke-bars, and cafés where people dance until dawn and enjoy life, even when it is -25 degrees outside! Even if real estate prices are unaffordable and probably as high as in London, for example, eating and drinking is still pretty cheap. You can easily have a good meal for less than 10 euros (12 dollars), drink included. Many restaurants often offer lunch deals for 5 or 6 euros.
One more thing you should definitely not miss in Moscow is its incredible subway. First, it’s stunning, and second, it is one of the deepest in the world. You will experience a long ride down to a complex underground network on such deep escalators you’ll think you’re about to fall from them.
Moscow is well-known for the Red Square and the Kremlin, but it also has some hidden gems that I find underrated. So remember to check out the Izmailovo Market, the Kolomenskoye Royal Estate, Tsaritsyno Palace and the Novodevichy Convent.
Moscow is also a capital of culture. Classical operas, ballets and countless museums that feature the finest of classical and contemporary artworks will exceed your expectations. Although Saint-Petersburg is a bigger cultural center and has more to offer culturally; Moscow is more an expression of the Soviet Union’s past.
Regarding the people with whom you will interact, keep in mind that Russians have a different culture, a different past and different habits. They might indeed seem cold, distant or rude, but try to put your cultural standards aside and try to immerse yourself in their world. Of course, you can always meet extremely nice people or jackasses everywhere, but generally speaking, Russians aren’t excessively nice, or “polite”. Overly-apologising is not part of their culture and neither is being ashamed or embarrassed. Don’t get offended too easily if they speak loudly to you or seem annoyed.
Wherever you go, I can only recommend to bear in mind that you are the stranger entering someone else’s world. Be patient and respectful towards any culture different than yours, and if you feel uncomfortable, take it with humour!
To sum up, I know some people who immediately fell in love with Moscow and with the Russian culture, and others who simply hated it. Personally, I needed some time to truly appreciate it. But Moscow was definitely a nice city to live in, to have fun, to learn and to confront yourself with a different world.
Take a moment out of your day to read about the devastating impact of climate change on the Lake Chad area.
2017 can be seen as a dark year in our contemporary history. It was a year filled with environmental catastrophes, political change and the growing problem of the Islamic State. But we’ve had enough of bad news. It’s time to spread light on the good things that shaped this year. These positive events are often less talked about or even completely ignored. In this article we will try to review some of this past year’s positive events and promising initiatives.
JANUARY 01, 2017: Dutch electric trains to run exclusively on green energy.
In the beginning of January, a spokesman of the Dutch national railway company NS declared that 100% of their electric trains were powered by wind energy, coming from windmills. The goal of the company was to reach that percentage by January 2018, but they actually achieved it a year earlier! The ENECO and NS companies declared that their 600,000 daily passengers were the first in the world to travel thanks to wind energy. They also declared that one windmill working for one hour could provide a train with enough energy to run for 120 miles. They hope to even decrease that amount of necessary energy by 2020.
MARCH 08, 2017: Iceland becomes the first country to eradicate the gender pay gap.
Iceland has now made it mandatory for companies of more than 25 employees to prove they pay their staff the same amount, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or nationality. Women should then enjoy the same salary as men for a same job. However, this move is part of a larger movement to completely eradicate the gender pay gap in Iceland over five years (so, by 2022). Although women were still being paid 14 to 18% less than men before this year, Iceland has long been engaged in giving equal rights to both genders and to fight inequality towards women. It has been ranked first country of the world in terms of performance on closing their overall gender gap for the ninth year in a row, by the World Economic Forum.
MAY 07, 2017: Emmanuel Macron wins the French presidential election.
This one is, of course, all relative. Not everybody wanted Macron to win, and many people are unhappy about his current domestic policies. But, the only alternative in this election was Marine Le Pen, who truly represents the most far-rights movements of Europe right now. We are aware and respect that many people voted for her and wanted her to win, however, many more people also saw her as a very dangerous threat for their country, and for Europe. Emmanuel Macron, regardless of his flaws, is a strong European-believer and is firmly engaged in the fight against climate change; Two things that Le Pen clearly opposed.
JUNE 30, 2017: Simone Veil dies at age 89.
Alright, this one is not good news, but we will try to use this moment to remember the battles and to salute the courage of this incredible woman. Simone Veil was a Holocaust survivor and one of France’s most influential states women. She survived Auschwitz concentration camp, and in 1974 became health minister of France. She fought for the legalisation of contraception and abortion. Her precursor work on the rights of women has marked the French political scene. Overcoming political and personal obstacles, she managed to pass abortion rights under the “Veil Law” name. In 1973, she gave a resounding speech on the right to voluntarily interrupt pregnancy before the French National Assembly, at the time, mostly constituted of men. Her speech is still often referred to and became one of those legendary speeches that marked their time. Simone Veil was a strong pioneering feminist and a firm pro-european believer. She served as health minister from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1993 to 1995. In 1979 she became the first president of the European Parliament and held that position until 1982.
JUNE 30: Germany legalises gay marriage. Finland and Australia as well.
After Angela Merkel dropped her long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage, the German Parliament passed the law, allowing everybody to unite under the same rights and to adopt children. Civil partnership has been legal in Germany since 2001, but full rights to get married were voted only this year. As the leader of the CDU (Christian Democrat Party), Angela Merkel has long been opposing gay rights, but she recently changed her mind, and allowed a snap vote.
Actually Finland passed the gay marriage legislation before Germany. On March 1st, the government of Finland legalized same sex marriage and the right to adopt. It was the last of the Nordic countries to legalize gay marriage. However, for now only civil marriage is allowed for all, as the traditional church wedding is still restricted to heterosexual couples.
On December 07, Australia also passed a historic bill legalizing same-sex marriage, prompting immediate celebrations in the parliament and throughout the country. After his speech on gay marriage, one MP proposed to his partner in the parliament.
JULY 06, 2017: France and the UK plan to ban petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.
France’s new environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, declared that France would stop using vehicles that depended on petrol and diesel by 2040, as part of an environmental plan. This announcement is part of a five-year plan focused on clean energy, decided under the Paris Agreement. This also came after Volvo declared they would only produce electric cars from 2019 on. Poorer households should receive an allowance to exchange their polluting vehicle for a green alternative one. Moreover, the entire country also plans to stop using coal as a source of electricity by 2022. The British government also announced in July that it would ban all petrol and diesel-fuelled cars and vans by 2040, in order to tackle air pollution. Similarly, the Netherlands and Norway have also said that they wanted to ban all combustion-powered vehicles by 2025, and Germany and India aim to do it by 2030.
AUGUST 29, 2017: Successful test for the Ocean Cleanup project.
Back in 2013, young Boyan Slat came up with the idea of creating a new technology to clean the oceans. At first, his idea seemed to be unrealistic, but he received funding and started his non-profit organization. After several successful tests in the North Sea, the Ocean Cleanup project should be fully implemented in May 2018 in the North Pacific gyre. The technology is based on a passive drifting system that absorbs all plastics contained in the ocean, thanks to the natural currents. The organization has the respectable ambition to clean up half of the Great Pacific plastic pollution in a 5-years time.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2017: Saudi Arabia announces the end of the ban on women driving.
It was the last country in the world to forbid women to drive, and on September 26, King Salman released a decree that will end the law. The order should be implemented on June 24, 2018. This event prompted great celebrations amid feminists and women who have been fighting for their right to drive for decades. The ambassador confirmed that women would now have the right to drive wherever they liked and that they would not need a man’s permission to take driving lessons. Moreover, on December 11, Saudi Arabia also lifted the ban on cinemas after 35 years in effect, causing immediate joy amongst film lovers, directors and movie industry workers. The theaters should start showing films in March 2018.
OCTOBER 06, 2017: ICAN is awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
The threat of a nuclear war weighs upon us all. Many countries are still in possession of nuclear weapons and, lately, North Korea and the United States have threatened to use their respective arsenals. Complete annihilation of nuclear weapons seems a long way away but organizations like ICAN still continue to fight for it. Last year, the Nobel Prize committee decided to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) organization for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons" ("The Nobel Peace Prize 2017". Nobelprize.org. 2 Jan 2018).
DECEMBER 09, 2017: Iraq declares victory over ISIS.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared in August that the armed forces have regained control over the ISIS occupied areas of Tal Afar and Nineveh. Although not the entire country has been liberated, most of it has been. This marks a real progress in the war against the Islamic States that has been ravaging Iraq for three years. This past year, the Iraqi military has reclaimed several cities and provinces from the terrorist group. On July 09, Mosul, the capital of the Nineveh province, was liberated. Following that, Raqqa was liberated on October 17, although completely destroyed.And, on December 09, the Prime Minister declared that the entire country had been liberated and that they had re-taken control of the Iraqi-Syrian border. Even though some terrorists are presumably still active in a small province of Iraq and that some others could still be hiding in the country, this declaration is a significant event.
DECEMBER 18, 2017: “The Silence Breakers” are TIME magazine’s person of the year.
The MeToo hashtag launched by Alyssa Milano on Twitter followed the Harvey Weinstein scandal. This year, more women than ever before started to speak out about sexual harassment. The American show business industry was the starting point of many accusations of sexual assaults. Then, millions of women shared their experiences on social media and reported their attacker. Sexual harassment is a deep problem rooted in our societies, and even if none of this is normal, it was often explained as “socially acceptable”. The MeToo campaign changed this perception. This year, the TIME magazine decided to honour all these courageous women who decided to follow the movement and to speak out.
DECEMBER 31, 2017: Ban on ivory trade in China enters into force.
China had declared earlier this year that it would progressively ban the ivory trade market throughout the country before the end of 2017. African ivory is widely pleaded in China, as it is seen as a status symbol. However, the illegal ivory trade has dramatic consequences in the African savanna. Thousands of wild elephants and rhinos are being poached each year causing severe issues in the local biodiversity. Activists see this move as a “gamechanger”, that could prevent the species from extinction. Nevertheless, now that the Chinese market is closed, Hong Kong could well become the traffickers’ new target to import illegal ivory on the legal ivory market.
SPECIAL MENTION to these people who restored our faith in humanity.
On April 11, Saffiyah Khan stepped in to defend a muslim woman who was being surrounded by EDL protesters (far-right movement) during a demonstration in Birmingham.
On November 10, Kate McClure created a GoFundMe account to help homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt, who selflessly gave her his last 20$ when she needed gas to go back home safely. She wanted to pay him back and created a funding campaign to help him get back on tracks. She has raised over 400,000$ so far!
In December 2017, a man saved a wild rabbit from the fire ravaging California.
2017 recently came to an end and we thought it was time to remember what happened in the past 12 months. It is hard to tell if 2017 was really worse than any other year, but it does seem like a lot of unfortunate events took place and that dark times repeated themselves. Marked by environmental crisis, political turmoil and terrorist attacks, this year was full of upheavals, so here is a summary of some of the most significant events of 2017.
January 01: A terrorist attack in a nightclub in Istanbul kills 39 people and wounds 70 others.
January 02: Three terrorist attacks kill 70 people in Baghdad, Iraq.
January 07: A car bombing in Azaz, Syria kills at least 48 people.
January 10: Three terrorist attacks in Afghanistan kill at least 57 people.
January 18: A terrorist attack in Gao, Mali, leaves 77 dead.
January 20: Inauguration of Donald Trump, as the 45th President of the United States.
January 21: Millions of people worldwide walked the streets and joined the Women’s March.
January 22: Chile is devastated by fires and declares a state of emergency.
January 27: Donald Trump bans travel to the US for seven mostly Muslim countries and suspends admission of refugees.
February 11: North Korea starts its ballistic missile testings and is internationally condemned.
February 26: The movie Moonlight receives the Best Picture Award at the 2017 Oscar Ceremony.
March 08: A terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 49 people.
March 10: The UN warns that the world is facing one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in history with risks of large-scale starvation in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan.
March 11: A double terrorist attack in Damas, Syria kills at least 74 people.
March 22: A car drove into the crowd on a bridge in Westminster, London, killing 5 people.
March 29: The United Kingdom calls on the article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the leaving process from the European Union.
April 03: A suicide bomber activated his device in a subway station in Saint-Petersbourg, killing 14 people and injuring dozens.
April 04: Two terrorist attacks in Egypt kill at least 44 people.
April 13: The United States drops the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) on an ISIL base in Afghanistan. The MOAB is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the entire American arsenal.
April 20: Two people die in terrorist attack in Paris, two days before first turn of presidential election.
May 07: Emmanuel Macron wins the French presidential election against Marine Le Pen and becomes youngest president of France.
May 12: Computers in more than 150 countries are hit by a large-scale ransomware cyberattack.
May 22: Terrorist bombing attack kills 22 people and injures 500 at a concert in Manchester.
May 28: Floods and landslides kill at least 151 people in Sri Lanka.
May 31: A bombing truck kills 350 people and wounds 460 more in Kabul, Afghanistan.
June 01: The United States withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement.
June 03: A terrorist attack in London’s Borough Market, kills at least 7 and wounds 48.
June 07: Two terrorist attacks are carried simultaneously in Tehran, Iran, killing 17 civilians and wounding 43.
June 10: The 2017 World Expo is opened in Astana, Kazakhstan. Its theme is “Future Energy”.
June 12: American student Otto Warmbier returns from North Korea in coma and dies a couple of days later, after spending 17 months in jail.
June 14: A large fire burns down the Grenfell tower in London, killing at least 30 people.
June 17: Large fires ravage Portugal, killing at least 64 people. More fires started again in October killing about forty people.
July 07: The G20 starts in Hamburg, and is followed by wide street demonstrations.
July 10: Mosul is officially liberated from ISIL.
July 24: Two terrorist attacks in Afghanistan kill at least 59 people.
August 05: The UN Security Council votes in favor of new sanctions against North Korean trade.
August 12: White supremacists march in the streets and are met with counter protesters in Charlottesville, amid rare violence that caused international outrage.
August 14: A terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, kills 18 people.
August 14: 320 people die under a mudflow in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
August 17: Two terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain, kill 16 people and leave 100 wounded.
August 25: Beginning of systematic massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, qualified as “ethnic cleansing” by the UNHCHR.
August 25-30: Hurricane Harvey strikes the United States and causes record-breaking floods, killing at least 90 people.
September 03: North Korea carries its sixth and most powerful nuclear test
September 06-10: Hurricane Irma strikes the Caribbean and the United States causing the death of 134 people. Saint Martin island is almost completely destroyed.
September 07: Mexico is hit by strongest earthquake in a century (8.2 magnitude) in Chiapas.
September 15: London is again targeted by terrorists. A terrorist attack happens in the underground station Parsons Green. The device partially exploded and wounded around 30 people.
September 19: Mexico is struck by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, killing at least 350 people and leaving 6,000 injured (and many more homeless).
September 19-20: Hurricane Maria strikes same areas as Irma, and causes at least 94 deaths.
September 25: Kurdistan votes in referendum in favor of independence from Iraq.
October 01: Crowd in Las Vegas is victim of the deadliest shooting in US history (perpetrated by a single gunman). Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd, killing 58 people and injuring 546.
October 08: Following several accusations of sexual harassment, Harvey Weinstein is sacked by his company. After this event, thousands of women started to speak against sexual harassment and to report their attackers. On October 15, Alyssa Milano launched the #MeToo movement by posting it on Twitter.
October 12: The United States decides to withdraw from UNESCO, Israel as well.
October 14: A truck bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, kills at least 512 people, and injures 316.
October 17: Raqqa is declared liberated from ISIL.
October 27: Catalonia declares its independence from Spain, but is not recognized.
October 31: A truck drives into the crowd in Manhattan, New York, causing the death of 8 people.
November 03: Deir ez-Zor in Syria and Al-Qa’im in Iraq are both declared liberated from ISIL.
November 06: The COP23 is organized in Bonn, Germany.
November 12: Iraq is struck by a 7.3 earthquake, leaving more than 400 dead and 7,000 injured. This quake was the deadliest this year.
November 15: Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is arrested and resigns after 37 years in power.
November 22: The International Court of Justice condemns Ratko Mladić to life imprisonment for committing the Srebrenica genocide during the Bosnian War.
November 24: A mosque is attacked in Sinai, Egypt, killing 305 people.
December 06: Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
December 06: California is struggling to contain the Thomas fire.
December 09: Iraq is declared fully liberated from ISIL.
December 12: The organization ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) receives the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
December 14: The Walt Disney Company declares it will acquire 20th Century Fox film studios.
December 14: The US Federal Communications Commission votes to end net neutrality.
December 22: The UN Security Council votes in favor of additional sanctions on North Korea.
December 24: Guatemala, Honduras and Panama declare they will also move their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem.
December 27: A bomb explodes in a mall in Saint-Petersburg and injures several people.
This list is obviously a non-exhaustive one. Only a few of all terrorist attacks are mentioned here, as 2017 counts hundreds of them. More earthquakes and storms have happened around the globe and even more political issues rattled the international scene. 2017 made us the helpless witnesses of an ongoing nuclear cold war between the United States and North Korea. Environmental catastrophes kept flowing and the reign of terror kept striking everywhere. But fortunately, 2017 was not only about tragic stories. Even though negative events are often the only aspect of our life that is featured in media, some courageous souls are working towards making the world a better place. We’ll be posting an article in the next days, about all good things that happened this past year, watch out for it!
And you? What 2017 event marked you the most? Have you experienced one of them? Leave your comments and impressions and don’t hesitate to share.
Throughout the fall of 2017 the hashtag #metoo exploded on social media. It started as small scale hashtag where women noted how they too had been affected by sexual harassment— unnecessary comment and unwarranted attention based off of objectifying women and classifying them as merely sexual beings, rather than considering their intellectual capacity, and their innate abilities, whether it be athletic or artistic. Throughout history women consistently have been disregarded when it comes to their worth as individuals and instead singled out based solely on their sexual attributes. This has most commonly come in the form of unwanted comments, mansplaining, women not being respected and listened to, but the problems correlated with sexist commentary and actions go much deeper than this. Sexual harassment is the basis to all sexual assault as it is the normalizing factor to deeper societal concerns.
The #MeToo hashtag started with actress Alyssa Milano who tweeted:
According to the Atlantic, within 24 hours, it already had been retweeted a half-million times. Women were coming out with their stories of sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, these comments and acts of sexual harassment, along with the sexual assault, have become so normalized that they are often overlooked and disregarded. Women learn to blow comments off, to walk by with their head down when a group of men are gathered on the streets, and sadly, often learn that their sexuality is the manner in which to get ahead
Background of Sexual Harassment
The way in which our culture defines sexual harassment has changed fundamentally over the past decade. The situation often comes down to what has been allowed or tolerated societally at a given time .Just look at the situation involving Harvey Weinstein or any of the other named predators in the United States Congress. Many have simply stated that they had acted in ways that were socially acceptable at the time. Although the idea of harassing a woman will always be “wrong,” there was a pervasive culture of it throughout much of the past. Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was no legal standing for a woman to make a claim against their employer for discrimination based on sex. And if you consider that to be “coming late to the party,” it should be noted that India didn’t establish sexual harassment as being illegal until 1997, in the case of Vishakha v State of Rajasthan. Even worse? Kuwait and Djibouti still do not have laws prohibiting sexual harassment.
Each country and correspondingly, each culture handles sexual harassment differently. Currently, there is an enormous American revolution involving men from every end of the spectrum - from Roy Moore to Senator Al Franken - being outed for sexually harassing women. However, there is still a pervasive culture of the concept of women “asking for it” in India. The 2015 documentary “India’s Daughter” showed some of the underlying attitudes towards rape and sexual harassment in India that go on even today. Jyoti Singh was a 23-year-old medical student who was killed following a gang rape on a bus, and the documentary follows the trial of the men who are alleged to have committed the crime. In one scene, one of these men nonchalantly says that if the woman had just gone along with the men, she wouldn’t have died. Shocking in its content, it isn’t surprising that the documentary was banned in India after the Foreign Minister claimed that it “disrespected women.”
The harassment of women is a global pandemic. Within the current context of the United States,, women need to continue to speak out, to confidently pursue their dreams and advocate for themselves. Ultimately then, a large part of the change will be rooted in men beginning to make changes. According to Mashable, five ways men can help be a part of the end of sexual harassment will be: listening to women, men speaking to other men, for men to practice consent-every step of the way, and advocate for better education and prevention. In a world where women have long been sexualized products within a society, it comes down to all members of society to make the change— it is a change for respect, a change for status.
What follows is a selection of personal scenarios that each member of the Sub Stances team has faced in their daily lives
It is a testament to the fact that sexual harassment is so common in our society that at least for me, personally, I often have to consider whether or not I’m normalizing situations where men sexually harass me. The insidious part about sexual harassment is that it happens all the time, and that one particular moment does not, in fact, stick out to me.
Being objectified has come in ways that work their way into everyday habit. In the workplace, a man can treat a female coworker differently than a man, act invasively to impede her own advancement with snide remarks or full-out assault. In daily life, there’s catcalling, inappropriate touching in clubs and unasked for lecherous words thrown at you on the street. For each of us, it happens differently and has its own pitfalls and insecurities that follow.
The first step of initiating change is acknowledging that these situations and scenarios happen to each of us, whether or not we have simply shunted it into the category of ‘these things happen.’ For me, that’s where I am. There are so many things in my past that I can think of as men causing me to feel uncomfortable because of how I was dressed or how I look, but I have difficulty qualifying those as “harassment,” sexual or otherwise. But naming something gives you power over it - and saying that you have been sexually assaulted is not confirming you are a victim, rather it is saying “me too” to the millions of other women so that none of us feel as alone, ever again.
Even now, as a 24 year old, I still hesitate to disclose my experience with sexual harassment. But then I think, what about those young girls who are becoming in the process of becoming a woman? What is supposed to be a time to be celebrated in a woman’s life is likely to be marred with negative commentary, unwanted advances, gross gestures and so forth.
As a daughter raised by a fiercely protective mother and a proudly feminist father, I do believe I grew up in the best environment a girl could. They supported all my endeavors and my education - no matter the societal barriers. If girls weren’t allowed to play a sport, I became the first and my dad stepped up as my coach. I was the only girl on my block growing up, and I was always welcome to participate not because of my sexuality - but because of my skill. I grew up knowing I was valued as a human being.
And as I slowly transformed into a woman, so did my interactions with the outside world. I started becoming valued for what I looked like as opposed to how I could perform. This was further perpetuated by society’s image of what a preteen/teen/young woman should look and act like. And after time, I hate to admit it, I allowed it to become normal. I grew to expect the unwanted looks, the comments, the gestures, etc. I learned how to be both proactive and reactive to these words and actions in order to protect myself. I had to change, not them. This was the reality.
But now, this Me Too movement and The Silence Breakers as Time’s Person of the Year, has the potential to change that. And to be completely honest, I find this movement to be both debilitating, but also empowering. When I realized just how far-reaching sexual harassment extended, it was a crushing blow. It did not matter whether a person was famous or not or even male or female - sexual harassment was an pandemic. That being said, now people are listening and perhaps more importantly, taking action against the accused and not the accuser.
This all has been a whirlwind and I hope it does not enervate nor lose its value as more and more people begin to speak up, and more people step down from their (usually powerful) positions. MeToo has highlighted the inequality that still exists and the very large need for societal improvement.
After Harvey Weinstein was accused of a series of sexual assaults by many actresses, the hashtag MeToo started to spread over social media. The magical world of Hollywood suddenly shook. And more and more allegations of sexual violence followed. Voices have started to be heard on the web, with every day, more women sharing their stories or simply tweeting #MeToo.
I find this MeToo thing to be very positive, but none of this is new, so why now? Why now, and not earlier? I was not surprised at all by the flood of messages I read on Facebook. Of course, women are victims of sexual assaults on an everyday basis. I am, my friends are. And many courageous women have been talking about it for ages. So, was it because of the Hollywood scandals, this girl taking selfies with her catcallers, the launch of the Me Too hashtag, or the election of Donald Trump? I don’t know, but all of this encouraged women to talk and they started to verbalize everything. Finally, voices were being heard. And “now” is better than “later”.
I thought it was just common knowledge but it obviously was not. And it is good that people started to realize how the reality is. I have never been sexually assaulted strictly speaking, but I am objectified far too often. And the saddest part is that I got used to it.
As a woman, you start to be objectified at an early age. Maybe 12. Then it never really stops. You get catcalled in the streets, looked at in really nasty ways, touched inappropriately in clubs, talked to badly if you’re not nice enough, and more. And it is something you learn to live with.
I find it unbelievable that I got “used to it”. I wish I could just not care about it. But I have to admit, I adapt my behaviour in certain situations because I feel uncomfortable, or because I know there is a risk. I consider myself free, free to dress as I wish, free to say what I want, and it is what I often do, but not always. I have developed reactional behaviours to certain situations. I don’t wear short clothes in some neighbourhoods, I try to never walk home alone after a night out, I am extra careful when I travel, I avoid eye contact when being catcalled and I don’t trust strangers too quickly.
What really frustrates me is that there is no instant solution. I am so glad that this Me Too hashtag got so popular, and that no one can ‘ignore’ the reality anymore, but I don’t think things will change that fast. This is all rooted in our societies, and it will take a long time to really, actually change. I see a long-term solution in education, in a change of mindset and attitude; and for women, to stop ‘normalizing’ it, to keep talking and saying things out loud. Sexual harassment is not normal.
The natural state of my body has always drawn attention—being that it falls into the box of sexual aesthetics society pushes into our everyday lives through the media, marketing, and in recent years, social media. During my years of early womanhood there was a part of me that found it complimentary— comments and sexuality validated my own self-confidence and sense of womanhood. Unnecessary comments walking down the street, flirtatious texts from boys I would never pursue were band-aids to my own insecurities. My identity throughout my teenage years became largely tied to how those around me thought of my body, and while it was athletics that largely kept me looking a certain way, I was also fond of attention that the world around me gave me. Undoubtedly, it was not rooted in authenticity but rather my own self confidence being based on externalities, outside thoughts, and was certainly not built internally. My world, like many young people, was largely shaped by what outsiders thought of me, how attractive people thought I was, and what status I held in their eyes. Ultimately, a part too large, of my own identity became tied to my ability to sexually appeal, my athletic performances, and external achievements. Sadly, a large quantity of these achievements were marked when I felt validated by sexual comments, inappropriate glances, and being objectified.
As I entered my first year of undergraduate schooling, my father sat me down and praised me for my academic successes, my work ethic, but then commented on my choice of attire. It is a conversation I will never forget. I remember feeling livid. How could I be victimized, yet also be at fault for the times when a man commented on the shape of my body or the attire I wore? I was aggravated at my father for calling it a lack of respect, when I indeed had thought I did respect my body (far more than people shoving McDonald’s down their throats), and I certainly did respect myself when it came to how I confidently carried myself in school and in my sports. However, along with this agitated feeling of guilt, even though I was not at fault for being a women, I had also realized that too much of my self “confidence” was vested in what other people thought about me. At 18, I was a product of the media, a product built from the world around me, and so much that I believed it too.
To this day this is a struggle I have both with myself, but also with society—because I should be able to acquire respect as a woman regardless of how I dress, but then again, where did this societal pressure for women to adhere to a set of norms even appear? Why did I feel obligated as a 14 year old to wear pencil skirts that accentuated by waist and buttocks? Why did I feel obligated to wear heels and a shirt that exposed part of my chest? Throughout my years of developing who I am as a woman I have come to deeply respect, and cherish myself for everything I am, from my thoughts and opinions as well as my love for health and exercise.
Six years later, my dad visited me, this fall while working in the Southern Bronx. He came to see where I work as a teacher, and because I run to and from work, as we left, I was clad in my running shorts. As we were walking my dad had noticed people looking at me, occasionally people saying things about my legs, and similar to years former, my dad said I should watch what I wear, especially in the area I am working in. This time, my response was different. I said “no.” I am a woman. I am dressed in running shorts because I usually run home, but regardless of what I am wearing, that is for me. This time it was not a me problem, it is a them problem. I am not asking for this attention. It is not validating, but rather unwanted, and destructive. I told my dad no because I will run in what I want to run in, because it is not a clothing problem, it is a lens problem. The problem lies in the lens of how men see women and women see other women.
It dawned on me that my 18 year old self, like many teenagers are fueled by what the world around us thinks, how men, and other women fuel the notion that women must be sexual looking beings and that is our objective. Women buy into this. Men buy into it. And sadly, young women, teenagers constructing their identity, buy into this. Women, are beautiful by nature— but we are also smart, artistic, loving, and gifted beyond measure. The problem has never been the clothing, rather the problem has always been what other people think they can say to women, and that first and foremost women are looked at as sexual beings, rather than ones of depth. The problem, more than anything, is that women come to believe it. We come without real conscience believing that we are first figures that must portray ourselves sexually before we are anything else. Womanhood itself is defined in our society by two parallels, yet distinct narratives—sexuality and motherhood, both of which should never be sole definers of what is means to be a woman.
My 18 year old self was part of this spinning wheel that silently fueled the problem by application and letting men say unwarranted comments. It was not my attire that changed, but the respect I had for myself. My 24 year old self respects me, and all woman too much to not say anything. The only way this changes is by women lifting women, and men valuing women for more than what is on the surface. When society is constructed not by a man, or not by a woman, but rather by those looking to delve deeper, by those looking for a world built on a foundation of respect, that is when this world will be a better place.
Being a 24 year old who has put in the time to build my intrinsic values and esteem, my worry again is casted out into society. I live in New York City. There is not a day I do not experience catcalls. But contrary, and parallel to this notion, I am surrounded by women who are thinkers, who are doers, and who are not here on behalf of men, but on behalf of themselves and making this place a better one for each generation (regardless of their sex) to come. The problem will never be how a woman carries herself, but the answer will always be in how we as individuals—men, women, and citizens lift one another, how we stop people from catcalling, how we listen fully, and how we choose consent. After all, this world cannot be its best world, unless all citizens are empowered and respected as their full entities —mind and body.
We hope that this MeToo movement does not lose momentum. As women hailing from all over the world, we demand better. We are entitled to the same rights as our male counterparts. We deserve to be treated equally as human beings and to be able to live and to work without fear of being harassed. Our voices matter - they are not to be silenced. Let us make this, the new normal.
Bastille Day is the common English name given to the National French Day, or “Fête nationale”. Celebrated every 14th of July and also regularly called “le 14 juillet” in French, Bastille Day is a national holiday in France. It refers to the storming of the Bastille prison during the French revolution on July 14, 1789 - the event that marked the transition from the traditional monarchy to the French republic. La Fête nationale is celebrated all across France with local parties, dances and midnight fireworks. In Paris, an important military parade takes place in the morning on the Champs-Elysées. The ceremony is always attended by the French president, diplomatic delegations and sometimes foreign heads of state. The event is extremely popular and is broadcasted on national television.
Sadly, the 14th of July might now remind people of the 2016 terrorist attack in Nice when a truck intentionally drove into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais. However, Bastille Day will continue to truly represent the core values of the republic, the ideas of Western democracies and France’s motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
To learn more about France, take this interesting True or False Quiz about France or click on this link to discover cool contemporary music artists from France.
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