Friday, May 23, 2014

I'm a feminist blogger... now what?

 By Anči

So... it's been an interesting month in feminism: what with Moroccan women marching for gender equality, Transgender women being unfairly targeted, and women's reproductive health remaining under constant fire. (Oh and that hilarious time bell hooks called Beyonce a terrorist)

All of this makes for great material when you have a feminist blog to update, but most of the times it just leaves this bitch feeling bloated.
 It's true, I'm "lucky" I never have to click too far for a juicy tidbit to exploit, and snark into oblivion...  But more often than not these days, I've been looking inwards for inspiration instead. Because well, to confront every instance of rape culture, transmisogyny, and injustice, would be to... undermine this light, fluffy tone I've stubbornly fought to preserve. (and to do that, would be to metaphorically massacre a litter of chinchilla-kitty hybrids.)

And fluff does make the bullshit a bit more digestable--as my entire third grade class learned, the day we watched Pocahontas Junior devour her entire litter of premature pups.
We never had a classroom pet after that. And as for me, well... I didn't get my period for another ten years...

 So. Anyway. When this blog was first conceived, (by a feminist free spirit named Leili,) the goal was to explore themes of women and worth-- specifically, what is it that makes women today feel so damn shitty about themselves? It's a pretty daunting question, when you consider all the factors involved-- like class, race, ability, sexuality, experience, etc...
 but that's what makes it such a rich subject matter to devote an entire blog to-- the fact that the answers are so complex, they're seemingly endless! I know this can make me feel like a wee kiddie, surveying the bountiful contents of a pastry case.. But that also comes with a certain set of responsibilities. (That is, if I want to be taken seriously, as a Professional Patriarchy-Pulverizer.) So yes, it means spending time writing about issues I don't necessarily feel like investing myself in. And frankly, that's not a tendency that comes naturally to a sensitive blogger like me. Because writing about rape makes me cringe, and talking about racism in grandiose academic tones, means falling asleep on my keyboard, I'd much rather expose injustices on a smaller, sassier scale. (with gifs!)

That can mean providing personal anecdotes, sharing observations, or making fun of pop culture... and guys? it doesn't make the effect any less hard hitting, because luckily, there's no wrong way to erode at  white supremacy and patriarchy. Even when that includes the occasional unsolicited reference to my lady parts..


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bosnia, my heart.

 By Anči

A lot of people don't know this (because they are neither my therapist or the unlucky few people I relentlessly badger with my dreamscape) but I dream about Bosnia all the time.

I fell in love with the country when I visited for the first time in 2008, and then a year later when I went back,  I fell in love with a boy-- and  then I ran away from the boy, because I was afraid he was too young for me. (he was about to turn 18... and since I was approaching 22,  I felt weirdly responsible and guilty for my all-encompassing emotions and um, lust. Plus, I wasn't sure if sleeping with him was strictly legal--and well, I wouldn't be a feminist if age of consent didn't heavily factor into all of my decisions. So long story short,  I cut and run before doing something that might get me arrested, or simply side-eyed from the town elders. Ever been side-eyed by a mole-ridden Balkan ancient? That shit is scary.)

Anyway it's in large part because of that boy, and what I left behind, that Bosnia for me  represents an epic chapter of loss in my life. I also suspect that much of this heartache is further bolstered by the legacy of tragedy and frankly, land mines which permeate the area. Which yes, makes me feel like a total fucking tourist whenever  I conflate this in any way with my own predictable heartbreak. But here I am.. owning that my story remains cheaply embedded in an unfounded marriage of unrelated afflictions...  and ask you to cut me some slack once you realize that its a weight I still carry around with me at night.

For me, Bosnia represents senseless loss-- (on a historical, and personal level.) And maybe if I write it down, this familiar, entitled, regret I've successfully banished into subconsciousness, will abate into something less problematic and more well, honest.

So since we're being honest, I suppose that referring to myself as a tourist, is not entirely accurate-- given that I am also Croatian, and that we're hardly regarded as out-of-towners. It's not just because we all used to be one nation, and that we speak the same language. (although my Dalmatian accent was definitely super hilarious to all my Bosnian buddies.) It's more to do with a common survivalist spirit.. which ultimately transcends whatever the politics of the whole thing are. And because Americans are prone to oversimplifying things, and (worst of all) ascribing inspirational sappy endings to these types of anecdotes, I won't dwell too much on that bit.  I mean, did I experience Croatophobic backlash over there? Only in the city ridiculously known as the "muti-ethnic" haven, Brcko. (you know there's some serious compensating going on, when a city spends all its resources pushing the multi-ethnic angle. Give it a rest, won't ya?)

I do however want to make it absolutely clear that the Muslim city of Gracanica only ever regarded my Croatian self with the most absolute, loving warmth. (not that I ever expected any less.) It was in this city, that I fell head over-heels with an on-the-cusp of 18 waaay-ripped bro-- with like, the arms of a centaur wrestler. (I love me some strong arms..) and it was there, that through some previously-untapped reservoir of will-power, (which continues to elude me around lesser temptations like chocolate,)  I commanded myself to keep away from him. It was also in Gracanica that I met Zina, the strongest, bravest woman I have ever known. (I spent a month or so living with her, after a shit-storm in Brcko virtually forced me out. We won't go there though.)
What can I say about Zina that would do this badass mama of two justice? For starters, Zina survived the war by making and selling caramels to her sweet-starved neighbors, and by growing vegetables in her garden. She spent most of those days in hiding from the vicious shelling that besieged her neighborhood, while her husband fought in the army.  And when in the midst of the aggression,  a Serb mother and her two children appeared at her door begging for refuge, Zina gave it to them.  [though understandably she refused subsequent entry to their father-- who followed a day later,  dressed in the uniform of her oppressors. "Women and children only" she maintained unflinchingly to the armed man standing in her doorway. He didn't hurt her though-- as she was currently sheltering his wife and kids.]
As though that weren't enough, Zina works with mentally ill orphans, and homeless people, at an organization where I got to spend a month volunteering.. And as per usual this grueling adventure came on the heels of my paralyzing decision to keep away from the boy I wanted...making for the most viscerally shattering four weeks of my life...

See kids, the thing about working with orphans, is that it has very little of the Angelina Jolie glamor many people have come to expect of the "genre." It doesn't make you a "better" person.  Like, I didn't become better when a 13 year old parent-less child named Dzevad, broke down and called me "kurvo!" (whore!) because he was frustrated and embarrassed at not being able to read. "I know you know this letter," I remember insisting to the yellow hair boy who had now thrown himself into  my lap.
"It's a D!" he shrieked wildly.
"It's not a D!"
"It's a B then!"
"Dzevad, it's the first letter of your name!"
"I don't know!"
"I don't know that one!"
"You knew it yesterday?"
"Stop it! Or i'll stab myself with this pencil! I swear I will!"

The funny thing was, that a news crew came later that day to film our lessons for some European TV station--  (which was apparently important enough to compel one of the higher-ups from the center to come down and threaten all the children into behaving.) And by the time the cameras arrived, I was full-on irritated with the fakery.  I guess I just felt like the work we were doing was deserving of attention, without all the sanitizing fanfare.  I also felt a little bit like a Kardashian, practicing my teacher-voice in between takes-- which let me tell you, is a particularly unforgiveable brand of humiliation to visit on this self-respecting young woman. (not cool guys!)
I mean, all I know is I spent the entire segment alternating between demonstrations of overly-directed gesturing (aimed towards the cameras, and obediently received by my mercifully cooperative kids)  and offering up giddy praise at the squiggly lines the children had written down for me to "grade" in the full view of this news team... all for the benefit of some phantom European audience, who literally didn't give two shits about Dzevad or anyone else.

What the cameras didn't catch was Sladjan the 13 year old Serb boy jealously demanding attention from me every time I dealt with one of Dzevad's tantrums. (And vice versa) They never caught the few genuinely touching moments when our entire classroom (even restless Dzevad) listened in wide-eyed appreciation, as Sladjan performed Serbian folk songs for us-- in a cracked falsetto, which would eventually dissolve into hysterical sobbing.
"I miss my mother," he'd weep. The first time this happened the other teacher I worked with took me aside and said "He's lying. He's never met his mother."

I wanted to tell this woman that it didn't mean that he was lying. But I shrugged instead and mumbled "yes, kids exaggerate."
 From across the room I felt Sladjan shoot me a look, but when I guiltily rushed to return it, he had moved on to something else.
"I'll be more patient with them from now on," I decided.

I came back to town that day, and started thinking about my crush-- who i'd temporarily forgotten in the midst of all the volunteering drama. And as I made my way through the town center, I became increasingly aware of how much I wanted to call him, and say "fuck it," lets spend the rest of the month together...I mean shit, why not?
What if we got like, a room or something? What if I apologized to him, and explained i'd been keeping my distance out of confusion and fear... and what if we spent my last four weeks here wrapped up in each other? I mean, people have flings rooted in a hell of a lot less chemistry right?
By the time I decided to call him, I had made it back to Zina's home and I suddenly felt ashamed of myself, as I caught her friendly silhouette in the doorway.
"How was your day?" she asked, as I barged into the hallway.
"Well, nobody peed themselves this time," I muttered in response. She laughed and said "You need to eat something."
"Later," I promised.

I went upstairs, and opened the window in my room-- the beginnings of September had gently begun to envelop the view before me. I inhaled the evening air, resenting the light fog which had settled into the surrounding greenery.  Where did the summer go?  Instinctively I reached for my journal, opening it up to June 18th--  "I saw him for the first time today!"
I skipped ahead a couple pages, landing in early July, where i'd eagerly scribbled "He kissed me." Then I flipped through several months worth of musings "what does it mean if you haven't had any sex, but you haven't gotten your period in two months? ASK DOCTOR." (spoiler alert: I never asked a doctor)  past all the blank pages where I had childishly written his name down, past my illegible recounts of police intimidation (oh yes, I spent plenty of time shuttled in between police stations-- did I mention my reasons for leaving Brcko included a metaphoric shit storm?) and past the corner where i'd weakly penned "Food poisoning in Tuzla. Threw up five times. I want mama."

Years later I am suddenly aware of a number of things: First of all, that I was fucking brave. I traveled across this unknown country all by myself-- on rickety-ass buses (which occasionally got pulled over during routine inspections for  land mines,) I was harassed by police-- all of whom I calmly confronted in fluent Bosnian-- and I worked with special needs orphans in the shoddiest of conditions with very little training and preparation. Frankly, this makes me kinda badass..ya know, barring the pathetic nature of my infatuation with a teenager. (which, did I mention was thoroughly mutual?)  but I'm even starting to re-evaluate that embarrassment thanks to some previously-unknown generosity.. towards myself.
Because here was the kicker-- it wasn't only this boy's age that stood in my way. (although it made for a damn self-righteous excuse, at the time) It was that for the first time, somebody I was head over heels for, was also head over heels for me. See in the past all of my intense crushes had been strictly one-sided, and while I had always hoped this dynamic would shift, I freaked out when it finally did for me. Because based on my experiences-- as the weird foreign girl with a stutter, growing up in suburban Ohio-- life wasn't supposed to play out like this! I NEVER got the golden guy, the popular guy-- and suddenly (whether because of my newcomer status, or the four years I had on him) I was wanted-- badly. And I didn't know how to reconcile that with two decades worth of unchallenged notions about my romantic value. (which for most of life had remained at a cruel, but comfortable ZERO.)

So maybe if I write it down I will forgive myself for coldly ditching someone I not only felt incredible warmth and love toward, but who was a good, solid, guy, with yummy shoulder muscles.)
It's been haunting me for years, and now I'm ready to look back at myself... and say "Shit girl, you fell for someone, and couldn't handle it. It happens!"

Yeah but I wish I would have happened with somebody else-- I wish I had let myself enjoy what could have been a beautiful few months... (in between barfing on buses, and stubbornly defending my heritage to semi-sadistic police officers named Semir.)
Instead I boarded a bus to Sarajevo, and left without saying goodbye.. even after waiting an entire year between visits to see this guy, and even after the many tender moments we'd shared together in the park... which I think i'll keep locked in my journal.
I just couldn't bring myself to address any of it-- how could I? How could I tell him "I am super super into you, but I am also super hung up with insecurities... but like can we talk about that after we make out? Cause your arms are doing it for me." (the funny thing is, that if that sexy mess had happened right now--like, starring me, at this age? That would totally have been what I would have said to him. If only I had discovered the  disarming effect that my awkward admissions have on (some) people..  I would have had a much easier time relating, ya know?
(moral of the story kids: stop pretending to be what you aren't, and freaking embrace who you are-- cause that shit is hot on its own!)
 Now several months shy of 27, floods have swallowed the entire region-- in an near cinematic call back to the devastation of the 90s. And right now most of Bosnia is underwater, (including Brcko the "multi-ethnic haven" which currently remains submerged  in the failings of its own shoddy infrastructure.. oh and water. Lots of water. ) Mercifully, my Gracanica has avoided such a dramatic fate... with the water levels finally receding to a semi-manageable level. And with the electricity flickering back, it seems like life there is ready to go on.
But for me, Gracanica remains a kind of purgatory-- that I'm cursed to wander in the night time in search of my lost friend.. In search of a moment in time, when I was both exceptionally brave, and exceptionally lacking in courage.

 But now, the waters have both drowned out and revealed the fragmented fragility of  history-- along with the many houses and villages, and lifetimes it perilously sustained. And with the ensuing upheaval, the floods have perhaps endowed a collective humanity, and forgiveness to the struggling region. And yeah, it makes me want to say something super American and lame like,  "In the tragedy, and in the devastation, perhaps there is a renewal to be found--  a renewal to engulf the pettiness, and the bitterness, and the poverty." But maybe that's not the case. Maybe it's pure shit all around, with nary an upside to parse out. Maybe what Bosnia represents for me is really fucking inconsequential in the light of this emergency, even as it continues to weigh heavily on me-- as a big fucking deal, and maybe I need to simply acknowledge it, before letting it go. (Also fuck Frozen for ruining that phrase!)

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

For My Mother

 By Anči

As a baby whenever I would start crying because my mama had to leave, her response would always be to gently sit me down and ask: "sta treba imati u zivotu?"  what does one need to posses in life?) I wouldn't always reply immediately-- in fact, i'd often take my sweet time getting my shit together, before conceding with a murmur: "Muda." (balls.) That's right, from the age of infancy, mama taught me that I needed to harness my (metaphoric) balls, and persevere-- because sometimes life was hard-- even for a baby.

Anyway without fail, the moment I'd say "muda" (however reluctantly) something would shift inside me, and I'd feel brave enough to let my mother go. (it was something of a verbal security blanket, but it always had the same effect affect on me, according to my parents...)

To this day, my mom is still a big source of my strength. Which sounds totally cheesy, except that as I type the words, I really mean them. She's the one person in the world who's able to call me out on my bullshit, while simultaneously serving up some seriously life-altering wisdom in the process. (it's a distinctly dissonant experience-- further complicated by the ensuing rush of... awed annoyance. Have any of you ever experienced awed annoyance? No? Imagine the person you've projected all your adolescent angst on, steadily commanding your admiration and respect. (through a ridiculously unparalleled intellect.--Like, she's scary smart--, passionate curiosity, and strength of character.) Then imagine, momentarily seeking refuge in your highschool-honed cynicism in order to deflect from that, (because a part of you is always going to be a little defiant around your parents.) Then throw in some gratitude, and factor in 26 years of solid guidance, and love-- always delivered in the form of WITTY zingers. (Because my mama is freaking FUNNY.) That's what awed annoyance feels like, and that's what my mama makes me feel every day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Once Upon A Gay-- in which I eviscerate the SwanQueen Naysers, and celebrate lady love!

By Anči

For those of you not invested in LGBT representation in TV and pop culture (which, if you're not, you should be!) the concept of Queer Baiting might be foreign to you. But for the rest of us, who love television, pop culture, and gays, this phenomenon represents a tired game of bait-and-switch we've been forced to relive week after week, one disappointing episode of will-they-won't-they, at a time.
"You smell like Head and Shoulders shampoo"
So yeah,  queer baiting is a tactic used by fan-favorite TV shows, wherein a homosexual relationship between two characters is strongly implied, but never acknowledged or played out. (Like straight love affairs always are.)  That way show-runners keep their gay viewers on their toes-- by offering up homoerotic crumbs for them to eagerly lap up, without ever committing to that particular line of storytelling. Its a cowardly way of taking LGBT viewers for granted, and a risky one at that-- especially for a campy costume drama, that relies on its LGBT audience for survival.

One such (infuriating) example, is the Fairy Tale drama "Once Upon a Time," which despite its many shortcomings, continues to make up one of my favorite hours of television every week. In this particular series, the two would-be-gay characters are Emma Swan, and The Evil Queen Regina-- who are so flaming hot together,  their touch LITERALLY creates sparks.

And without giving too much boring detail, (most of which functions as a convenient stand-in for "technical" reasons NOT to make our two leading ladies a lesbian couple,") the two characters  Emma, and the Evil Queen Regina, share passionate glances, as well as a son named Henry.
Emma is Henry's birth mom, and Regina is his adoptive mom. All caught up now?
That's right, their kid has two mommies, whose magic powers are inexplicably intertwined, in a totally friendly way...

Originally, the star-crossed characters were positioned to be mortal enemies-  As the evil Queen was responsible for a curse that stole all the fairytale character's happy endings, while Emma, was the savior that (sort of) brought their happy endings back. But as the series went on, this femme-tastic duo learned to work together, and take down far more nefarious forces threatening their little family--often relying on their magical connection, in the process. (Incidentally, the two of them are at their best, when fighting for their son..)

should we... give it a shot? For the sake of uh, the boy?
Bitch, the show runners clearly want us to be straight!
God, you're beautiful

I'm not the first one to say this-- in fact, there's a HUUUGE community of SwanQueen shippers (that is, fans of the show who "ship" [short for relationship] Emma Swan and Queen Regina, for the exact reasons I listed.) And while the show keeps offering us sexy screenshots like the ones above, it never dares to acknowledge the obvious sexual, and romantic tension between the two young mothers who clearly love each other, and their son as much as any opposite-sex parents would.

It makes for pretty frustrating viewing, when you're invested in the happy endings of two very flawed, very broken characters, who have true love and happiness at their finger tips, but who continue getting paired with growly-voiced dudes (neither of whom do either woman justice... I mean are there any fans of the show who REALLY think Robin Hood is any match for the Evil Queen? Please. Like that wandering muggle could handle all this Latina sexiness!)
I'm too much mujer for a Waspy golden boy like Robin Hood

Aaand that just made me realize something-- Emma is officially being paired with Captain Hook, and Regina with Robin Hood.. Hook, Hood-- its like they've even coordinated their respective beards!!

Understandably there's been so much backlash from the Swan Queen Shipping community, after years of being let down and overlooked, that show runners, and actors have been finally forced to address this particular pink elephant in the room. And predictably, their responses have all amounted to some form of "deny gay deny gay deny gay!"
 But most unsettling of all, was the the icy beat down from Imp-faced actress Ginnifer Goodwin (who someone clearly very drunk decided to cast as Snow White.)
Princess Fiona from Shrek is that you?

Yes, the decidedly unfairest of the cast, recently tweeted then deleted that Emma would never be paired up with Regina, because Once Upon a Time is a "Family show" (funny, a family show has no problems pairing a straight man with... whatever species of elfbaby Ginnifer is.) Sure, she later recanted, adding that  she "fully supports homosexuality." Which is like, the laziest, most-removed phrasing of "support," ever.  Nice try, princess.


Then shortly after that, the actor that portrays Happy the Dwarf, publicly turned on the SwanQueen shippers in a series of aggressive tweets; which basically called us all awful.  Can you imagine any actor on gigantic show like Once scolding proponents of a straight romance for being ridiculous, awful, and not family friendly? No you can't, because that has never happened.
And it's funny no one mocks or questions the infinitely creepier (straight) relationship between Belle and Rumplestilskin, despite the fact, that their love story is an obvious extension of Stockholm syndrome. (as Rumplestilskin AKA The Beast kept Belle a prisoner,  before they finally fell in love... sorta.)  So yes, abusive relationships are all fine and dandy for a family TV show, but shipping two women who share a son, and who have undergone the greatest character-transformation of the entire series, as dedicated co-parents, is somehow... wrong, and mock worthy?

 And do not get me started on all the fans of Emma and Neal (the biological father of Henry), who were heartbroken after (spoilers) a recent episode effectively squashed that potential pairing entirely. (spoiler over)

Yes, Neal is Henry's biological dad, but he's also known his son for two seconds, and don't forget that he left Emma to rot in jail years before, while she was pregnant with his kid. That's the making of an epic love, but Emma and Regina aren't? Seriously Once Fandom?
The point is, you can't be outraged at an Emma/Regina pairing, without harboring some manner of homophobia. It's just not possible. An Emma/Regina love story simply makes the most emotional sense, and is built on a deeper foundation than any other fairy tale duo on the show. Just compare their relationship to the one between Ariel and Eric, in the show's sappy retelling of The Little Mermaid:  wherein Ariel and Eric talked for three minutes, and BAM, became eachother's "the one's." If boring-ass Ariel and Eric, are worth rooting for after such a unimpressive "courtship"  then a similar nod to Emma and Regina is waaaay overdue.