As I’m presently very removed from the feminist activist space, I failed to post something this week for International National Women’s Day. So here’s a Photo Friday, MENSTRUATION EDITION to make up for it. #MenstruatingandProud
Last December when my sister and I were in Japan, we ran out of tampons and pads. When we went to the store, we struggled to find the ‘feminine product section.’ Once we got to the checkout, the woman quickly stuffed our tampons in a special paper bag, and even sealed it. Was she afraid it would accidentally open, spill out and then someone might find out that we menstruate?!
Like the rest of the world, Japan still holds period taboos. Taboos that need to be WIPED OUT. Ever wonder why women aren’t sushi chefs?
So as my sister as my model (don’t kill me!) here’s a series of photos about buying tampons in Japan.
Some more for you for this glorious day:
Want to learn about what I did for International Women’s Day in past years? Last year I was in Melbourne and the year before I was running in Ibiza.
We sat at Platform 5, ready to take the train from Flinders to Sunshine. Sunshine is a notoriously rough area, but when we arrived, it seemed harmless.
Why were Alexe and I going to Sunshine? I wanted to attend a real, official International Women’s Day event. My last minute attempts to plan something for March 8 were failures. I was too late. Most of the events had already filled up. Music shows, breakfasts at the archival women’s center and poetry readings wouldn’t be on my agenda for the day.
Instead, I found an event on the International Women’s Day website for a community event at the Braybrook Library, a name that feels like a tongue twister to say. After going to St. Kilda beach, lunching at Jungle Juice Bar and feeling suffocated by the 38 degree heat in the city, we jumped on our train to Sunshine. From there, we took a 20 minute bus to the library, at first missing our stop.
I noticed we had been on the road for quite some time. Looking around, it felt like we were in a different country. The strip malls, sidewalks and 1970s looking housing felt years away from the European style CBD. I approached the driver, and in compliance with the sign – “don’t distract the driver while he’s driving”- I politely said “Eh, excuse me, could I ask you a questions?”
He took both hands off the wheel and lifted them up in unison and bulged his eyes, as if to express that I had just asked the dumbest question imaginable. “Where’s Braybrook shops? That’s the stop.” I asked. He shouted back, “You passed it a long time ago!”
After exiting the bus, walking around the corner, being tempted to hitchhike when I saw the air conditioning blowing from the cars of men in business suits, finding the stop, waiting for the bus…we got back on with the same driver. After even more confusion, some extremely kind Kiwis (playing loud music and laughing) disagreeing with driver and helping us find our way, we had made it.
And it was worth it. The library felt like a cooler in comparison to the heat outside. Inside, beyond the books, we made our way to the back end, where it took me a second to realize this was still Australia. It was almost identical to the library in my hometown. Looking out of the slightly tainted windows I looked at the dry grass and kids playing soccer. The sidewalk almost looks different in intense heat. It could have been summer in Midwestern USA.
The room was full of younger mothers with screaming (still adorable) children, middle aged women and teenagers. Some men were also in attendance. It stuck me that the crowd in attendance was remarkably diverse. I looked around the room to see Vietnamese, Somalis and Turkish. I even heard languages being spoken I couldn’t identify. There were multiple generations of women grouped together.
Despite the diversity of the people there, I couldn’t help but notice that the presence of an American and a French girl was somewhat of a confusion to everyone. Even so, we were treated in a warm and welcoming way. A university student of Somali descent had us try the tea she had made. It was placed among tea and beverage samplings from other parts of the world- Mexico, China, and Italy. The Somali tea was by far the most satisfying.
We grabbed our tea and listened to the variety of local talent. A young Arab boy performed spoken word poetry dedicated to his mother, where he recalled his childhood filled love and strength from his mother, despite the hunger and violence they suffered. A Turkish-Australian storyteller reflected on the definition of “girl” in the lives of the women in her family, a term that used to be filled with shame. She’s since reclaimed the word and finds it empowering: “Girl isn’t limited, its limitless,” she told the audience.
Melbourne-based singer songwriter Jess Locke got up to the microphone, joking that she didn’t envy the cricket players out back sweltering in the afternoon sun. She performed an impressive set, accompanied by some witty and inspiring remarks. 10 years ago, she overcame her fear of performing in front of an audience. It was a fear that had withheld her from fulfilling her desire to sing, even though she “desperately wanted to do so.” She encouraged all of the girls in the room to push through their insecurities and go after what they want the most.
If International Women’s Day wasn’t my favorite day of the year, I’m not sure I would have gone through so many hoops to travel to what felt like the outback, not to mention on a day when I’d rather be laying on the beach, languid and pathetic. Visiting a local IWD event was exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t have the passionate cry of protest, but it fulfilled all expectations of celebrations of our very existence, appreciating our strengths and talents. It was a wonderful example of how a small, diverse community puts a local spin on a global issue. Speaking to the diverse experiences of immigrants, the program was relatable to the lives of the women in the audience, more so than an all-white Australian panel of women at a talk at the Queen Victoria Women’s Center (although this was equally fantastic, it would have probably been far less sympathetic to their realities).
Can’t get enough offeminism and International Women’s Day? Me neither! Check out these articles:
This special “Character Tuesday” post is dedicated to all the women out there. For all that I may be impressed by you or irked by you, I am happy that you have a personality, that you exist, that you are alive! Happy International Women’s Day!
In 2013, I went to a lecture in Buenos Aires by Marcela Lagarde. By the time my friend and I reached the feminist cultural center Tierra Violeta, the venue was already packed by women with piercings, tattoos, wearing leggings under jean skirts and keffiyehs. Whenever I think of activism in Buenos Aires, I will always imagine women with these characteristics.
I don’t remember too much of lecture in itself. But what I will never forget is what Lagarde answered to a woman during the Q&A. A woman raised her hand and asked Lagarde what she thought was the most important thing for women to do. Her answer? She believes that what is lacking is sororidad, or solidarity among females. Female friendship. Female support.
And I will never forget how much hearing this impacted me. Her words ring in my ears when I find myself slowly judging what a girl is wearing. Or if I curse a girl for being more “successful” than me. Or if become jealous when a girl is getting male attention. I remember what Lagarde said and know that, there is no reason to put a barrier between myself and another woman. Simone de Beauvoir made a similar argument in 1947: “But the oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed themselves.”
I do not wish to be an accomplice of the oppressor.
International Women’s Day should highlight the plight women face around the world. It should first and foremost recognize the strength of women, but also make visible the forces working against us and inhibiting us from making advances in our public and personal lives. While I usually feel most passionate about violence prevention, menstruation, body image and female beauty standards, today I celebrate my female friendships. Which, as you’ll read, I am clearly passionate about as well.
I have two sisters, both of whom I consider, besides sisters, to be intimate friends that mean the world to me. Beyond my blood sisters, each one of my female friendships serves a purpose in my life. With each one of my closest female friends, the moment we met we had an instant connection. The giddy, excited feeling I had about being their friend is probably how most heterosexual girls feel when they meet a guy they’re interested in. (I’ve never really felt this, or at least about someone other than the check out guy or the guy whose house I had to go knocking on for charity. Those are isolated cases in which it’s very rare it would work out.) We met in unlikely situations, often rare that a deep friendship would ensue from a library run-in or group Facebook message.
I’ve never been the girl that says “I prefer to hang out with guys. They’re so much less drama” (I’m not shaming “that girl” in any way, by the way!). I of course had drama, as do we all. But I love being friends with girls. I love being constantly surrounded by girls, inspired by girls and laughing with girls. I find so much comfort in sharing my pain and vulnerabilities with other girls. I love girls so much that I often wonder how I can ever make a genuine connection with a heterosexual man (because all men are obviously the same, you know…).
This is my life. My best female friends are always a text, Whatsapp or Facebook message away from always being there for me. My virtual friendships sustain me through every emotion possible. Sometimes after having a good catch-up with them, I feel like I can conquer the world.
Then, there’s the reality of my experience traveling:
There is the issue of small quantity of girls, and the fact that I’ve not made many instant connections with girls I’ve met traveling. Even though it now feels like every girl you went to high school with just quit her job to travel the world, backpacking is still a very male-dominated phenomenon. Last Character Tuesday, I wrote about the hilarious personalities of Southeast Asia. There was only one female on the list. And she wasn’t a fellow traveler, she was a local. But still, this shows how little contact we have with both female travelers and female locals. Knowing this, perhaps that’s why my experience at a Moroccan hammam was one of the most powerful of my life. It was one of the only spaces I’ve ever felt so close to other women. Perhaps that’s why I feel so connected to Argentina; I spent much time surrounded by female activists, including one unforgettable 36 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Posadas. That’s a lot of girl time.
How is it that I can be so energized by other women and feel so complete from my female friendships, but miss out completely from forming female bonds while traveling? Is it a rare jealousy- as in “I’m the special girl?” Is it some subconscious comparisons we are making? Is it because they don’t give me the same attention as a male would? I aim to be more aware of this, and find out why. And, I might add, find out why without blaming the other (as in “she wasn’t very friendly,” or “she didn’t invite me somewhere”) International Women’s Day: Criticize the oppressors, celebrate the achievements.
We -all women, not just women travelers- have to stick together and support one another. Didn’t our obsession with Mean Girls teach us anything? It’s easy to step back and not stand up for someone when you have no connection to them.
Just like buying pink loofah for your mom on International Women’s Day seems trivial, it may seem ridiculous for a privileged traveler to discuss female solidarity when there are child marriages, femicides and forced sterilizations. There is constant violence and systematic injustices women face on a daily basis. But at a closer look, maybe we can be activists in our daily interactions without being overwhelmed by the macro issues (similar to the concept of “Redefining Helping Others“).
A UN recognized holiday, it began in the United States in 1909 and is celebrated in many countries throughout the world.
The fact that in so many countries International Women’s Day is celebrated, but to my knowledge not widely in the U.S.(at least not for my generation), where it began, is curious to me . While living in Argentina and now in Spain, I realized it is a widely recognized and known holiday. The only reason I knew about March 8th before moving out of the U.S. for the first time was via feminist organizations I followed.
Celebrating can take many forms; for example, some countries choose to commercialize the holiday and it takes the form of that of Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day in the United States.
Two years ago on that day, I was living in Argentina. My family happened to be visiting, and instead of going to protests I was on a plane to Mendoza, where the flight attendants passed around “FELIZ DIA INTERNACIONAL DE LA MUJER” bookmarks. They were pink with lots of smiley women cartoon characters on it. Everyone looked happy.
Last year, I organized a discussion table on my college campus, where we prompted students to reflect upon the situation of women in the world. We received thoughtful and provocative responses from students. This meant a lot to me, as after returning to the U.S. from Buenos Aires I felt a complete sense of apathy among my peers. It reminded me that, yes, my generation does care!
Not only as a response to the commercialization and trivialization of the day, but also as an opportunity demand equality, many activist groups take to the streets to protest the inequality that women face in the world. Typically, many different topics are made visible, such as health, education and security, with the goal of bringing to light women’s inferior position that still permeates in all societies. For example, there were massive mobilizations in Madrid this 8 de marzo with chants, posters and shirts that included Por la igualdad y contra la violencia hacia las mujeres (For equality and against violence against women) Salarios machistas, no (No Chauvinist Salaries), and Anticonceptivos también para los jóvenes para no abortar (Contraception also for young people in order to not abort).
I love this day. I love protests, I love mobilizations, I love slogans. I love the way people come together in support of a common goal. I love that people, many of whom are silenced, have the chance to express themselves and do their part to hacer politica in their way. I love them so much, that I wrote my undergraduate thesis about feminist movements in Argentina.
So, as you might imagine, I was disappointed when I couldn’t find a group to protest with in Ibiza for this day. I toyed with the idea of starting my own, but later was overwhelmed with the ethical problems of starting a political protest as an outsider.
The day after March 8th, I read in the newspaper that the group Dones Progressistes held a protest in Vara de Rey for International Women’s Day. Beatriz Torreblanca, the president of the group, said during the protest that
en un intento de frivolizar y trivializar este día, algunas personas consideran esta fecha como una especie de San Valentín o un Día de la Madre (in an attempt to frivolize and trivialize this day, some people consider this day as a sort of Valentine’s Day o Mother’s Day)
Following Torreblanca’s criticisms, I did just that. I sold out.
…But nothing political. No mention of women’s inferior status. No mention of political parties, no mention of public policies, no mention of protection of women. It is important to celebrate the positive but considering the need for change in the world, it felt wrong. Trivial, just as Torresblanca said.
Regardless, in my ‘ignorance is bliss state,’ I enjoyed the activities. At least in Ibiza they have activities. Try that in my hometown?
On Saturday, I went to the event “Nit d’humor: Dones Monologuistes amb Sandra Marchena I Belén Rubio.” The two female actresses gave spectacular performances relating to the day. While they weren’t political in nature, the two women craftily exposed the absurdness of being a woman in our society. In different ways, they both talked about expectations, the pressure to be perfect, and the emphasis on romantic love.
I got a big kick out of Rubio’s explicit sexual content, as it breaks stereotypes that women don’t have sexual desire and must be delicate and polite. She even had a ten minute go about a time she tried numerous reduction creams, exercise regimens, and spandex pants to get rid of her cellulite.
However, I was most impressed by Marchena’s stand-up, as her humor and way of storytelling is what makes me laugh the most. I burst out in cackles several times with her creative way of describing being a single woman in a world that puts importance on being in a couple.
For example, she said that in attempt to love herself more, she’s starting calling herself and sending herself love messages. Sometimes, she doesn’t even pick up the phone when she calls herself.
Marchena also recalled a wedding she went to last year where, not knowing where she would fit without a boyfriend, the bride and groom placed her at a table at a completely different wedding.
The next day, I was one of 245 runners to participate in the “III Curasa per la Dona,” a three kilometer race around the port in Ibiza.
For three euros, I got to join the mass of pink shirts that raised funds for the Association of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue in Ibiza and Formentera. It’s not that I don’t think that AFFAC is worthy of the money; but it irks me that the money raised on International Women’s Day didn’t go to any organization that supports women specifically. Seems like an apolitical move. But is it an apolitical day? Should it be? Why is the local government afraid to politicize it?
After the short race, I went with friends to Cala Conta and enjoyed a picnic on the beach. Winter in Ibiza is terrible, isn’t it?
The good news is, I got to be featured in the Diario de Ibiza, I was happy to participate in a community event, and I got to experience International Women’s Day in a new country.
What has your 8 de marzo experience been like? Where have you celebrated it? Tweet at me at @yasminesoyyo!