Changing a diaper is not a heroic act

When my children were little, their father would be praised for changing a diaper by our relatives and friends, if they ever caught him doing it. “What a great father!” They would look at me in admiration for being so fortunate. A diaper changed by a guy was considered a heroic act. And that hasn´t changed.

It didn´t matter that I had bathed them, made food for them, done the laundry, played with them in the park. That´s the least a good mother would do.

It is not only expected that it is the mother´s job, but she is supposed to do it everyday without fault and no complains allowed. A woman is judged and punished if she misses to change a diaper, or the food is not ready on time, or the laundry doesn´t get done. Unfortunately, we are the toughest judges of our fellow homemakers.

The list of domestic “obligations” imposed exclusively to women since forever is endless. You need to be a woman and a mother to know it. There are not enough hours in the day to get them done and it never stops.

It is understood that child bearing duties and managing a home is the job of the woman. It does not matter if the woman works outside of the home or not. Domestic work is still considered to be our responsibility. It is not seen as work, it is not compensated, it is not appreciated, and for the most part, it is not shared with the man of the house.

How long are we going to continue to think like that? How long are we going to teach our daughters to learn how to cook and clean while their brothers don´t even pick up their plates from the table?

I know women who fall in their own trap and justify it by saying that they do it better than their husbands and carry all the weight of the housework because the men “don´t know how to do it”.

Other women just take all the burden because they don´t want to fight and they know that things won´t change anyway. So they keep doing it resigned to their fate.

You don´t need to be a NASA scientist to learn how to change a diaper or prepare a meal. You just need to appreciate the time and effort of a woman. You need to understand that we have the same right to relax and have time for ourselves as men do.

When are we going to stop seeing women as the battle horse of the house? The administrator/housekeeper/cook/cleaner/schedule coordinator/driver/tutor etc, etc, etc. I could go on and on with etc’s.

Every year more women join the labor force in high positions working long hours, but when they get home, they go back to the Stone Age. The woman puts on the apron and goes back to being the servant of the house, while the man relaxes and does as he pleases.

I know very few cases where the share of the load is split evenly. I admit there are some cases, but very few. And the way it is positioned is that the man is “helping” the woman. I remember making an effort to ask the father of my kids in the sweetest way possible (it wasn´t very sweet) to “help” me with the housework. As if it were my responsibility and he was just giving me a hand. Like a parachutist falling in “my” territory: the house and the children.

It is not like that! What I´m about to say is obvious, but apparently not for many: Taking care of the children and the housework is the responsibility of both men and women (when we are talking about a heterosexual couple). Cleaning, grocery shopping, keeping up the house, cooking, caring for the children, dress them, bathe them, feed them, helping with the homework, drive them, everything, absolutely EVERYTHING is the responsibility of both parties. I don´t understand why this is not the norm. We are living in the 21st century!!

There is no scientific evidence to proof that women are better equipped to do the job. It´s a tradition that we need to end if we want to build a fair and balanced society. And it is the only way to have couples that work and healthy families.

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.

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.

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.