Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sexual Assault and International Work

I am pretty sure we've all heard of CBS correspondent Lara Logan's sexual assault in Egypt. If you have not, read here. In any case, she was beaten and sexually assaulted for a good half hour before she was saved. It raised anger in me, as a woman, and as someone who's had her own near misses, both in the U.S. and overseas. At the same time, it made me think about a few things, namely the ideas of women traveling and working overseas.

You see, if you're a woman who wants to travel, the first thing people worry about is your safety. Sadly, people will often discourage women from traveling, whether she's backpacking across Europe or working in a developing country. If you do travel and something happens to you, well, you accepted the risks of the job, didn't you? If you're Western, well, you have loose morals anyway, right? This is because, regardless of how "enlightened" our society is, traveling is still not seen as an acceptable "space" for women. The punishment for leaving said space? Well, you shouldn't be surprised if something happens to you!

The sad thing is, rape is a unique exception to risk situations. If a soldier is wounded or dies in battle, he or she is considered a hero. If someone is mugged (regardless of whether they're out or they carelessly left their wallet out in the open), we feel terrible for them and the thief, if caught, will surely be punished. If a woman is raped, we start asking questions. What was she wearing? What was she drinking? How much was she drinking? What time of night was she out? Who was she with? Where was she going? Was she a virgin? Was she married? Is there a war in her area ("Well, rape is a weapon of war anyway!")? Was she conservative/liberal? Was she ever a criminal? We ask questions that are completely irrelevant to the crime that was committed. It doesn't matter that someone dared to force themselves on a woman (which is violence in and of itself), it matters if she somehow did something to "deserve it."

It angers me for two reasons. One, I know a ton of amazing men, as friends, as brothers, as family, and it bothers me that we live in a paradigm that assumes they are no more than wild beasts. I think men are better than that and that truly decent men would stand up and defend everyone's right to feel safe in their bodies. I am blessed to know truly honorable guys who have taken initiative in leading events like "Take Back the Night", who call their buddies on inappropriate jokes and who show that they care for the women in their lives. When this violence is justified as someone else's culture, it also carries a racist element. Having known good Kenyan men in a country where I was often harassed and grabbed helped me to work through an element of prejudice and realize that it is even more crucial for men to step it up, regardless of cultural context.

The other is that, when it comes to work and travel, if it never becomes safe for women, it can impact much of the work we do overseas. For example, when it comes to sexual violence in other countries, women will be more open about their experiences with a female journalist rather than a male. Or, in cases of economic empowerment projects for women, it is much more culturally appropriate for a woman to lead these events. In many countries and cultures, people feel more comfortable if things such as women's education, economic empowerment and women's health were addressed by females. If we cannot do this work because it's considered "too dangerous", who will? Now, I'm not trying to squash local initiatives or say that we Western women are the ones who will save the world but I am trying to point out that, where our expertise and knowledge is requested, we need to be able to provide services in a culturally sensitive manner. For women's issues, they have to be handled by females.

There is no excuse for violence against women. We may face risks that men do not often face but these are risks we face, not only when embarking on great adventures but in our day to day lives. What a sad day it is that, when we do face these risks, we are often branded as the bad girl. In the end, we lose sight of the real heroes among us.

Dear Congress, Corporations and Political Groups

Leave my health care alone.

I mean it. Unless you are going to help me access good health care, allow my doctor and I to decide my treatment (rather than convenience or my pocket book) or eliminate restrictions that prevent me from making important medical decisions, I want you to butt out.

I should not have to explain an assault in graphic detail to see if it fits your definition of "forcible" rape (rape is always forced, you idiots). I should not have to give personal and private details about aspects of my life just because I want to pick up a prescription. I should not have to listen to lessons on morality from anyone but a clergy member and, even then, at my own discretion. I should not have to get a permission slip to access a safe medical procedure. I should not have to die in an emergency room simply because a hospital deems it "immoral" to treat me.

I am not a second class citizen and will refuse to be treated as such. I have a right to feel safe in my body, should someone threaten me. I have a right to medical treatment if something happens to me. I have a right to be treated like the legal adult I am and to make my own decisions, provided they do not violate the laws of this country.

So, please stay out of my doctor's/midwife's office (unless they're doing something dangerous). And, while you're at it, stay out of my (in my case, marital) bedroom.

Sincerely yours,

A fed up American woman

Friday, February 4, 2011

An A- is "Substandard" in my School.........

OK, I always knew SIS used grade inflation. How else can you explain the amount of students who graduate Summa cum laude or Magna cum laude? Granted, many students I know who enter SIS are usually overachievers anyway, but still. On top of that, I am almost always amazed by the complaints I hear about professors. "She gave me a 94 instead of a 95!" (overheard in Ward). "My GPA COULD be a 4.0 if only my professor was fair!" "My professor makes it IMPOSSIBLE to get an A!" It is easy to dismiss these as students with egos bigger than their work ethic and a severe misunderstanding of their problems as compared to their studies (usually involving poverty, war, environmental degradation and security threats). However, you know it's worse when you hear your professors say the following about a short assignment, "If I gave you an A-, it was because the work was substandard and, if you really didn't get it, I gave you a B."

I almost died.

I'll admit, I love getting A's and I will work for them. I want to graduate with a stellar GPA too (also to make up for my premed burnout three years ago). I want to get into those awesome grad programs as well. But I grew up with the understanding that A is for "awesome" and an A or A- was reserved for work that was truly excellent. You didn't get an A because you did what your teacher or professor told you to do. You got one because you went above and beyond what they asked you to do. One of my professors actually has a great quote about this, "If you do everything I ask you to do, you will receive a B, a perfectly fine grade for perfectly fine work," and goes on to say that A's are for those who take it further. That's what I always believed. A's are awesome, B's are good, C's are OK, D's are dangerous and F is failing. Apparently, A's are now good and everything else might as well be failing.

I can understand if my professors thought, "Oh, it was the first assignment and most of the work was actually good," but it still bothers me. Have we become a generation so entitled, so forceful, so convinced that we are deserving of all good things that now people are afraid to give us consequences? Have we become like the auto industry, that is, too big to fail? Have we lost our work ethic so much that we have to get the highest marks for merely doing what we're told? Have we lost a sense of responsibility for our actions or lack thereof?

Finally, if we're all graduating with degrees in IR and plans to go into politics, law, economics and other positions of relative power, what does this mean for the world we are serving? Are we going to shirk responsibilities and only do the bare minimum when it comes to the environment or reducing poverty? Will we still expect our gold stars then? If the answer to these is yes, I am truly frightened, not only for my school but for my generation.