Abuse without punches

A woman can be battered without punches. There are many ways to humiliate her, denigrate her, destroy her. With insults, silence, psychological abuse, pressure, oppression, there are numerous means to tell her she is not worth anything, without even touching her.

A bruise is a physical proof of the abuse and it makes it easier to expose, but when there is no evidence, the abuse can last a long time without being noticed, even by the victim.

Some men feel they have the right to tell “their” women how to look. One of their favorite weapons is to criticize our physical appearance. In their eyes, we are either too fat, or not “meaty” enough, we dress either too sexy or like a nun, too much make-up or not enough, the hair is too short or too long.

A guy I dated once got mad at me because he thought the skirt I was wearing was too short and I looked too sexy and was too flirtatious. I quickly sent him to hell. But I’ve seen, with horror, women change their clothes to please their guys. I heard a guy shame his wife in public because she was too fat.

They torture us by criticizing our bodies and making comparisons with other women. Someone I was with used to compare me with his ex-girlfriend and she was of course, way better than me, according to him. They use comparison to denigrate us and “put us in our place”. So we learn not to be “stuck up”.

I have an advice: if the guy you are dating doesn’t like your face, your body, or how you dress, LEAVE HIM! He will never stop criticizing you. It is a manipulating tool.

Career

In a lot of couples I know, the priority is the career of the husband and nobody questions that. The woman’s job is complimentary, something to keep us busy and contribute to the home’s economy. If it’s low profile and doesn’t get a lot of attention, even better.

A high percentage of highly qualified women with prominent jobs pay the high visibility in the office with an unfaithful husband at home.

The career of the man is worth all the family’s sacrifices. Men have careers, women have jobs. Even when the woman makes more money than the man, which is increasingly more frequent these days, the career of the husband takes priority.

Often, when this happens, the man adopts a very critical attitude, ready to find any possible “fault”. Women have to prove that they can do it all without making any mistakes, which is obviously impossible. Also because, the domestic work and childcare is still our responsibility. No matter how hard we work outside the house, we still carry the burden of domestic work for the most part.

Humor with darts

We are belittled with jokes that are supposed to be harmless and funny, but that in reality are darts meant to break us into pieces. “You run like a little girl” “You have no idea how to drive a car” “You will never learn to add 2+2”.

That’s another strategy, to make us believe that we are not good at anything, that we look ridiculous by trying. To make us feel we are incompetent at home and/or at work. Talking to us like little girls is another way of putting us down.

Ignoring what is important for us. If you are with someone who never asks how you are feeling, or what is important to you, or what your goals and priorities are in life, start running!

Often, conversations turn around what is important for him, not for her. We asume that for a “good” woman her priority is and should be the wellbeing of everyone around her but herself.

The problem is that a lot of these attitudes are the result of what is accepted and reinforced by religion, traditional family values, and the culture in which we grew up. We think it is normal for guys to talk to us like girls and to be made fun of. We are used to thinking that being docile and selfless is a feminine virtue.

Emotional abuse leaves invisible and profound marks. It takes away our self-esteem, the faith we have in ourselves, and the desire to live. We have to break the myth of the docile woman and leave relationships that hurt us.

Are you in a relationship that makes you feel insecure and worthless? Share your story.

Are we what we do?

It always seems strange to me when people say “I am a (lawyer, doctor, teacher, architect, etc.)” as if you are what you do for a living.

For years and years (it seemed like centuries) I went to work everyday just like my mom did. Having a job gave me a sense of who I was, an identity. Not only did it fill most hours of my day, but I could say I am a “somebody”. It feels safe to wake up in the morning and hurry up to get to the office on time, to then do a series of tasks (a lot of them meaningless) to be able to go home and have a quick answer when people ask you what you do, or better, what you are.

Having a profession, an office, business cards, going on business trips was a source of pride for me. But I also felt imprisoned. I didn’t own my time. I felt like a robot that received orders, executed, and went home to check on emails in case there was something else to be done. I had to get approval to go to the doctor, go on vacation, anything that required being absent from the office. So, basically the company where I worked, owed me and my time.

So, at 48 I quit my job and jumped into the unknown. Now when people ask me what I do I just say I’m “transitioning” not sure from where to what. It’s not a good status. And sometimes I feel like a weirdo. Who am I if I don’t have a job? Am I not important anymore? Are we defined by our jobs?

I used to think I would be like the polar bear in the Barcelona zoo walking from one end of the cage to the other, even if I was let out of the cage. I thought I would not know how to be free and decide what to do with my time. It made me very anxious at the beginning to manage my time by myself. No outlook calendar to dictate what I would do from one hour to the next.

Not having a job feels like being in a train with an unknown destination. Uncertainty makes you anxious and you start thinking about the most horrible things possible. Not that having a job gives you security because we all know we can be fired at any time in almost any job. But when you have a job title it gives you an identity. You know who you are.

Turns out I am still the same person, not pacing in my cage, but actually enjoying my time, my life. Writing this blog. Trying new things. Giving myself the chance to maybe be something other than a job title. Learning to be OK with not knowing where I will end up. Not caring if people look at me weird when I don’t have a straight answer “I am this and that and here is my card”. I still need to figure out how to make a living. I just don’t want to feel like I have to give my life away in exchange. I’d rather take the risk and be surprised.

Do you feel like your job defines who you are? Share your thoughts.

Wrinkles are sexy!

­­­­­­­­A good friend of mine thinks I don´t take good care of myself because I haven´t done any Botox, or facelifts, or used fillings to cover the wrinkles. I am not saying I will never do it. I may change my mind. But I haven´t done it yet and feel fine like this, with wrinkles and all.

I have wrinkles on my forehead and have frown lines. Also around the eyes and on the upper lip. Fortunately, I don´t see them. And when I see them in my face or in the face of another woman, I like them. What is the problem with getting old? It´s true that we live in a time that idealizes youth, but men don´t have the same pressure than we do to look young. Men with gray hair are considered sexy.

I think a woman who doesn´t hide her age is sexy. When you try to hide the signals of time they become even more noticeable. And it shouldn´t be as important anyway.

The obsession to look younger is oppressive and enslaving for women. And it´s a lost cause in any case. The years lived leave a mark and it´s good to have it and show it. Faces without marks loose expression.

The advertising industry, our own believes and everything around us conspire against us to look for the impossible: look like 15-year-olds. When the only thing we can do is change how we feel about getting old.

One of the advantages of getting old is that guys don´t whistle to us in the middle of the street. We are not as “appetizing” and they leave us alone. How liberating! Another advantage is that I don’t have a problem telling a guy that I´m not interested in his advances. I don´t give them a fake phone number. I can just look them in the eye and say I´m not interested, thank you.

There are many, many advantages of getting old. And one of them should be to finally understand that looks are not as important. It doesn´t matter if others like us, only that we like ourselves. We should learn to feel beautiful the way we are.

I would not want to go back to being 20, 30, or 40. With every year I learn to become more comfortable with who I am. To accept my body. To be happy and grateful for my life and the people around me. I know myself better and feel more self-assured. I know how to protect myself. I know what to do on a rainy Sunday. I can´t say I achieved enlightenment but I like turning a year older and saying how old I am. I have struggled to get where I am. For many years I felt uncomfortable telling my age. Now I say proudly I AM FIFTY and I feel sexy!

Feminist without a discourse

I was fortunate to be the daughter of a feminist. I think it´s probably one of the main influences I´ve had in my life. My mother was, what one of her good friends called a “feminist without a discourse”. She wasn´t a militant of any movement. She had a strong character, she knew what she wanted and she lived under her own terms. She didn´t give in to the conventions of the sexist and conservative culture where she grew up.

She didn´t need a husband to support her. She was the head of household and she raised my sister and me all by herself. She was a successful professional at a time when there weren´t a lot of women in high ranking jobs in Colombia. She didn´t know how to cook, she loved to dance and had a lot of friends, for whom she was the connector. Her best legacy was the endearing love of her million friends that my sister and I inherited. We all still feel the void she left and it still hurts.

I have come to appreciate my mother in her real dimension only after her death. How sad! Her sudden and premature death left me in a state of shock from which I still am trying to recover. We had a close and turbulent relationship. We have very similar personalities and have the same character. We fought constantly, hurt each other, said mean things, stopped talking to each other. But we always remained close to each other, we were there and we felt proud for each other.

Her unexpected death robbed us the possibility of… I don´t know what. Something that I would have wanted and couldn´t be, something I cannot name. But that is gone and is not coming back.

Telling her story fills me with pride. She came from a middle class family in Cucuta, a small town in the border between Colombia and Venezuela. When she finished high school, she used her innate intelligence to negotiate with her father let her go to college. Women weren´t supposed to study past high school. They were destined to get married and have children. But not her. She knew she wanted more. She wanted to learn. She wanted to travel. She was curious and had a passion for life.

She went to school at the Universidad Nacional in Bogota, the best public university in Colombia. She was a student of Camilo Torres, the revolutionary priest, whom she adored. It was the 60´s the decade that transformed society. She met my father at the Universidad Nacional where he taught English. She got a scholarship to do postgraduate studies in sociology at the Sorbonne University in Paris and went to live there with my father. I was born in Paris without a warning. My parents got married when she was five months pregnant with me to facilitate the paperwork in the conservative France of the time. Not for any other reason. Not for religious reasons or because she cared what people thought.

My father was a writer and didn´t have a stable income, so she paid the bills from the beginning. They got divorced after seven years.

My mother didn´t come from an affluent family and didn´t have “godparents”. She had a special magnetism due to her wits, her sense of humor, and her beauty. She made friends everywhere and led a very active social life. She was the friend and confident of ministers, directors of newspapers, writers, artists, chefs, academics, etc. She loved to go out and party and she knew everything that happened in Colombia. She wrote for many years for Teléfono Rosa, one of the most read columns in El Tiempo, the leading newspaper in Colombia.

She was a natural connector. If she knew someone did something that could be of interest to someone else, she would put them in contact. She helped people without expecting anything in return and without bragging about it. She liked that: connecting people. When I talk to her friends they still say they feel disconnected and lost without her. I feel the same.

At her funeral there were intellectuals, politicians, artists, lawyers, hippies, people from all sorts of life. It was a big church and we couldn’t fit everyone. Those demonstrations of love kept me going at the time. In that shared love we kept her with us.

My mother lived her life intensely. She enjoyed every minute. She didn´t miss a good trip, a good meal, didn´t skip a Festival Vallenato. She fell in love many times. She was the life of the party. Maybe she intuitively knew she wouldn´t have a lot of time and she enjoyed everything she could. That is her biggest lesson. To always keep going, to enjoy every thing you can. To live life.

Machismo comes in many forms

A few years ago, a friend was able to convince me that is wasn´t really what I said, but the way I said it. “It´s the tone Mati, the way you say things”. And I believed it. Women are taught from an early age to be submissive and docile. We learn to speak with an acute tone of voice and to end sentences in crescendo as if we were asking a question. It doesn´t sound right for a woman to speak with conviction as if she knows what she´s talking about. The use of the affirmative and imperative tenses is forbidden to women! It´s not considered feminine.

We are called witches, bitches, tomboys, authoritarian, and the list goes on and on. We learn since early childhood and without even noticing to present our ideas and theories in a way that won´t offend anybody. We start sentences with words such as “Maybe…”, “What if we try…”, “I think that…”. That way the man feels like he is the one who approves.

After that conversation with my friend I kept rehearsing how to say things with a better “tone”. I have a deep voice and a strong character and I have felt guilty and have gotten in a lot of trouble for it. I have been called domineering and “rough”. Not good qualities for a woman. Domineering men on the other hand are respected and admired. The rough ones are sexy.

Another classic form of male chauvinism is the now famous “mansplaining”, made into a verb after the book Men Explain Things to Me by Rebeca Solnit. A must read. It made me understand why I felt so uncomfortable when I was talked to like I didn’t understand anything. I used to get mad, now I just take off when a guy starts explaining the world to me as if I were 5 years old. It doesn’t matter if we know more about the subject, men need to feel they explain things to us. They feel they are born with an inherent right to make sense of the world for us and explain it. A lot of the times, our point of view doesn’t even matter. There is no dialogue, it’s a long and boring monologue instead of a conversation.

Even talking with friends I feel they need to win every argument. At one point they adopt a condescending tone “You don’t understand what you are talking about, things are like that”. And that’s it, there’s no way to make our point. They know better.

In work meetings, men, who most of the times hold the highest ranks and manage the budgets, are the ones dominating the conversation. They let women talk a little but at the end, they make the final decisions.

Male chauvinism is everywhere and we experience it in many ways. Sometimes we are so used to it, that we don’t even notice it. What is your experience with male chauvinism? Share it here.

The era of the little gods

When I grew up my parents had a life and I was part of it, not necessarily the most important part, just one of the components. They each had a career, struggled to get a job to pay the rent, they had boyfriends and girlfriends (after they separated or maybe before). Anyway, they were two adults trying to survive in a world full of uncertainties.

Nowadays, the world of adults revolves around their children. People plan their lives according to the children. We are part of a society that idealizes children and has turned them into the center of their world.

Our entire lives are planned to be aligned with their schedule. Mothers go out of their way to drive them to all the activities after school. Weekends have become a succession of sports events, birthday parties, and an array of plans so children can enjoy their lives to the fullest while parents look and praise them at every gesture. Every minute counts when it comes to developing the potential of the small geniuses.

Nothing is left undone to please them. Birthday parties have become super productions with an infinity of surprises and activities. It doesn´t matter if we need to burrow money to have them. When is not a trip to Disney, because there is no childhood without Disney.

Women leave successful careers without a second thought to devote their entire time to their children. They go to PTA meetings, volunteer at the schools while society applauds.

For every sport they practice, every child receives a trophy bigger than them. Every drawing is a work of art that parents praise “It´s sooo beautiful! You´re an artist”.

We live in the era of the little gods. Children don´t know limits. All they´ve heard is how wonderful, unique, exceptional they are. They feel they have the right to judge their parents, make demands, throw tantrums.

We are raising children who feel entitled to everything. The world owes them. They just need to exist and breath to receive praise. What are we doing? If the kid has no talent at drawing, why lie and tell him he’s an artist? If he’s not good at sports, why give him a trophy? How are they going to learn if we turn the world upside down so they feel ok, and don’t get bored, don’t get mad, don’t lack anything?

I think that if they learn at an early age that there are very few geniuses, and that to be a champion you need to train really hard, they will be happier in the long run.

What do you think about the way we are raising our kids? Share your thoughts here.

Why I don´t want a ring

My daughter makes fun of me because I´ve been married twice and don´t have a ring and nobody has kneeled to propose. Hell, no! I don´t understand the ritual, nor do I understand how it became so popular everywhere.

Having a “rock” on the ring finger of the left hand is the dream and the goal of a lot of women. The bigger the diamond, the better. It shows how much a woman is worth. The ring is a sort of seal, a property title over the woman. This woman is taken and the owner is powerful. If the ring is big then the guy must be rich, or he’s so in love, he burrowed money to buy it. The ring is like a weight, a burden, a padlock over a woman. Women carry it with pride, they show it on Facebook, they tell their girlfriends how much it cost. If it’s very expensive, it must mean that they’re worth it.

Even worse is the proposal. The man decides when and where to propose. The bigger the surprise, the better. The woman waits passively for the man to surprise her and ask her to become “his woman”. She doesn’t have the right to decide or propose. How could that be possible? A woman taking the initiative? And we are talking about one of the most important decisions in a person’s life. But tradition forces upon us to wait passively until the man decides for us. Until he kneels and takes out the ring. That is considered romantic.

From then on things start on the wrong foot. Wouldn’t it make more sense if we talked about it? A couple of people that love each other, and that for whatever reason decides, by mutual agreement, to get married. Two adults that communicate with one another and make a decision, together, to make a commitment to share their lives, to make it official. Wouldn’t that make more sense?

I don’t want anyone to kneel or kneel before anyone. I don’t want to be called a princess because I don’t live in a castle and am not waiting for prince charming on a horse. I want a real man, an adult that loves me and respects me. I want to decide with that person when and how to get married for reasons we both understand. I don’t want surprises, I like to know where I’m going. The ring doesn’t represent how much I’m worth. The value of a woman cannot be measured by carats.

Do you want an engagement ring? Share your thoughts.

Nobody is racist, but don´t touch my daughter!

None of my friends are racist. They all have an African-American friend, or like jazz, or voted for Obama, or are crazy about Beyonce. But when I told them that my then 16-year-old daughter´s boyfriend was black, they almost jumped out of their seat, they couldn´t help it. “Ufff, you need to take good care of her”, they said. Take care of what? I wondered. Make sure he doesn´t touch her, he doesn´t look at her, he doesn´t take her to his house. Make sure he doesn´t sleep with her. If the guy wasn´t black, I wouldn´t have to worry about it? Or maybe worry less?

My daughter´s boyfriend didn´t want to come to the house. In part because he was afraid I didn´t approve of it and would be rude to him. In part because we lived in a neighborhood where there were no African-Americans. In part because his family had instructed him never to ride his bike after six in the afternoon in a neighborhood other than his because he could get shot.

That is the reality we live in today in the United States. People feel they have the right to shoot at someone they suspect is dangerous, which in reality means, black or dark-skinned. And people who are black need to live in fear of being attacked, chased, insulted, even killed for no reason. And we think this is civilization, we live in the best country in the world.

My kids went to the public school in our neighborhood in Miami, where white, Latino and black kids got together. But beyond the school, there are invisible walls that almost nobody crosses. There are no laws today in the United States forbidding interracial marriage or prohibiting intimate relationships between people of different color, but there are huge prejudices that divide us. I don´t think any of my friends would have allowed their daughter to date a black kid. No way! But nobody is racist.

We deny our own prejudices, at least in public. As Latinos, we think we are not racist because in Latin America we are all the product of a mix of indigenous people, black and white. But of course, the whiter the skin tone, the higher the socioeconomic level. And in our countries, we don´t mix between people of different social background. The boundaries are well defined, rich with rich, poor with poor, and it´s for life. No social mobility either.

If we started by admitting our own prejudices, because we all have them, that could be the beginning of changing the way we relate to one another.

Would you be OK if your daughter/son dated a person of color? Share your thoughts here.

Why I am a feminist and am not embarrassed to say it

For a long time I didn´t dare call myself a feminist because I thought feminists were tomboys with mustache and anger issues. I used to think that if I said I was a feminist, people would think I had problems and that I was ugly, on top of it.

Luckily, things have changed and now being a feminist can be even cool. Emma Watson has done a lot to put the topic on the table and explain what it means to be a feminist. Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, my hero, explains it well in her book We Should All Be Feminists. I gave that book to my daughter and my niece and would like to keep giving it.

This is the first blog I write and is no coincidence that is about feminism. I would like to reach women, especially Latinas and get them to open their eyes. Being a feminist is the first step.

Why? First because we have to realize that we as women have the same rights than men. The right to be happy, to study, to work, to decide what to do with our time, to choose what to do with our body, to enjoy our sexuality. The right to express what we feel, our desires, fears, and aspirations without fear of being judged. The right over our body, to enjoy it with who we choose, how to dress it, how to show it, or not. It is our decision. Not the decision of the man we love, or the man we married, or the man we are in a relationship with, or the father, or the brother.

We own our lives and we have the sole authority over any decision about our lives and our bodies. How is this hard to understand? It seems so obvious to me. We need to take the reins of our lives.

The goal of a woman is NOT to get married, or be sexy, or seduce guys, or remain a virgin until she walks to the altar, or be the best mother in the world, or the best daughter, or the best anything. The goal is to get to wherever we decide we want to get to. Not follow what is imposed to us by society, religion, or institutions that were invented and are ruled by men.

So, with a mustache like Frida Kahlo, or with no hair in the tongue (sorry, literal translation of a Colombian expression that means “talk without mincing your words”) I invite you to become feminists, to feel entitled to live your lives fully and with your eyes open.

Share your thoughts here.