Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Marriage Industry

Its a common joke in the west. Talking about old white men with young thai (or russian or …..) wives.  The women are frequently portrayed by the mainstream media as being heartles mercenary harpies, exploiting lonely old men who don’t know any better and just want some companionship in their sunset years.

If you look in any English language bookshop in Bangkok or Phuket you will find plenty of treatises on making ‘entrepreneurial’ marriages work.  The idea of marriages being made as a business transaction – creature comforts for companionship for example- is not in and of itself a bad thing.  What is deeply problematic are the wider social and institutional factors that result in these marriages.

Older white men come to Thailand seeking the idea of oriental womanhood,  quiet ladylike women who will attend to their every need and not argue with them or question them.  Thai women hook up with these men because usually they offer them the chance of a better life, not just for them but often for their whole families.  I find it incredibly distasteful that men who are or have faced the erosion of a very little bit of their privilege move somewhere where they can enjoy it in full. I find it sad that the neo-liberal capitalist system makes it necessary for these women to enter into these marriage transactions often against their preferences. I especially find it disturbing that it is these women who are negatively portrayed in the media and not the men.

Capitalist and neo-liberal ideology tells us that everyone involved is free to make their own choices. That markets are created to meet needs. Progressive liberals say that a choice brought about by circumstances is no choice at all.  A few years ago there was an outbreak of young thai wives cutting of their farang (thai for foreign (also guava but that’s irrelevant)) husbands penises. To me this is quite indicative of the lack of options these women felt they had. Often totally dependent on their husbands for their and their families livelihoods and well being that their only recourse when wronged by their husbands (and usually they have been wronged) is extreme violence.

 

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The story of how this body came to be

TW for descriptions of disordered eating.

I was born, apparently large and lazy – 10 days late and still not coming so I ended up a C-Section because of that and my very large head.  When I was born – the treasured first child smiling and fair – this body was loved. It stayed loved for a long time 12 or 13 years perhaps. It had been through puberty and was now navigating high school and this is when the fear began. The fear that this body might be found wanting, by family, by friends, by boys. The fear was fueled by casual comments, by the merciless  mocking of others as this body sat silent – terrified of becoming the next target, by the pictures in the magazines, by the  people on TV. The fear became an ever present companion. The body began to examine itself, critically, checking to make sure it was compliant. That there was not too much of it. Despite the fear the body was ok for another few years until it began to betray itself. There were many things going on at this time, the person inhabiting this body became an emotional wreck and blamed it on the body. If only this body could be smaller then everything would be ok. So the torture began.

It started off innocently enough. In the interests of health improvement pies and other foods considered damaging were  no longer allowed to be consumed by this body. Soon it was only allowed to consume fruit and water. Soon just water and tea except for weekends. As the body shrunk it got many compliments, but it was tired and it was stressed. It could not maintain this forever. So a cycle was struck. Binge starve binge starve. Whenever the body started to grow bigger people would make comments about it triggering the starve part of the cycle all over again.

Luckily, just by chance, the girl that lived in this body found Shapely Prose. It started a long and painful journey which included a few events that are just too painful to talk about.  The upshot was that this body grew.  Slowly and then more quickly – as habits and economic status changed. As it grew so did acceptance although it was shaky and difficult to come by at first.

So now this body is what it is. Bigger than it used to be. With more stretchmarks than it used to have. Stronger and more vibrant than ever before. Finally there is no division between this body and the woman who lives in it.

I am just me.

Sometimes I feel sadness for the divided girl that I was and wonder what I could have achieved, what I could have been, had I not been so.  Mostly I am just glad that I am not anymore.

Ethical Tourism in Northern Thailand

As some of you may or may not know I have recently relocated myself to the North of Thailand. It is an area very popular amongst tourists who want to experience a bit more of Thai culture than you can get from the party islands in the south or who want to distance themselves from the in your face sex tourism in Bangkok and Pattaya.

I really love it here and as such I want to do right by this place. Being a tourist or a traveler is always a difficult balancing act for those of us who consider ourselves activists for social justice.  Here are a few simple thoughts that I have had regarding traveling in this particular area. I cannot claim to extrapolate them to anywhere else but perhaps the general principles are worthy of consideration when planning your next overseas adventure.

Hill tribe visits

These are common fare among the many tourists that traipse through this city. They are often part of a standard day trip that includes elephant riding and bamboo rafting. Don’t do it in this manner. Hill tribe people of all kinds are extremely marginalised within Thailand. They generally do not see any money out of these visits except for what they can sell to the tourists tramping through their villages. They are treated as curiosities and as such become something akin to a human zoo. If you really want to experience hill tribe culture do your research. There are a number of lodges that are run by the tribes themselves. These usually have an emphasis on sustainability and the empowerment of local communities. Plus you actually get to interact with people rather than just gawking at them.

Do not visit the so called long neck karen villages. These people are heavily exploited and are confined to their villages by local authorities as useful tourist attractions.

Elephant Riding

There is a long history to Elephant domestication in Thailand – much like buffaloes and horses they have been used as beasts of burden. They were extensively employed in the logging industry, however since the Thai government banned logging most families with elephants have turned them into tourist attractions. Again do your research and find something that gels with your particular beliefs.

That is all I have for now but perhaps I will make this a series 🙂

Blah

Today is just one of those days where I feel sucked dry and exhasted. A large part of my job right now involves reading about the many ways people choose to hurt each other.

Sometimes fighting the good fight is really shitty

 

Interlinked

This post was inspired by the  controversy that happened earlier this year when the Feminists With Disabilities Helen Keller blogswarm clashed with Juneteenth. One of the comments made was that Juneteenth is a North American/ US’ian holiday and as such only relevant to North Americans US’ian’s.

Slavery is and was not just a North American tragedy. It was a tragedy that is felt by all of  humanity. I say this not to diminish the other human tragedies that have occurred throughout history like colonialism, the holocaust, ethnic cleansing etc.. but rather to illustrate how these tragedies are tied together. They occurred for many reasons but they would not have been possible without the denial of the humanity of the groups that were targeted. Denying the humanity of those who are different from us is something human beings are very good at and in my opinion the catalyst for many of the great evil’s that happen in the world.

By claiming that slavery in the USA was only a North American or USian tragedy we deny the cultural factors, the political discourse and the simple othering that is common to the ways in which all marginalised people are marginalised. This is not to say that all opressions are experienced in the same way, only that the process by which white supremacy, or abelism or any other opression operates are built upon the same blocks. Denial of personhood and autonomy, othering, objectification.

I view all opressions as being the symptoms of the sickness of the kyriarchy and so being a good ally is as important as fighting my own battles. This to me means seeing the tragedies of all oppressed people as being my own tragedies because they are allowed to happen by the same system that allows my own. This means listening to people who are oppressed because of different factors to me and ensuring that I am subverting – not reinforcing those forces that make their oppression as well as my own possible.

The other reason that this is so important is because of intersectionality. Oppressions do not exist in discrete boxes and neither to people. We all have many facets to our idenities and can be both privileged and oppressed by many different factors at any one time. Intersectionality not only forces us to take heed of those whose voice have been most erased by mainstream social justice movements, often because they are invisible within them, but to also see the commonalities as well as the differences between our marginalisation.

Solidarity has often meant making some people wait for their rights and recognition so that some can progress now. It has often meant the silencing of critical voices in the name of the movement. What I want is a true solidarity that comes from collaboration, true listening to the concerns of all marginalised people, and a universal rejection of the kyriarchy – not just the bits that affect us as individuals.

Amma

Yesterday was the anniversary of my mothers death.

Dear Amma,

It has been nine years since you died. I cannot really believe that so much time has gone by. This one event shaped my life irrevocably in so many ways. It was the catalyst for my eating disorder. The catalyst for the eventual destruction of my relationship with my father.The origin of so many years of pain and grief and sorrow.

I still think about you every single day. I cry every time I pass a significant milestone in my life that you are not here to see. I wonder if you would approve of the big decisions I have made. I wish futilely that you could be here for me to talk to when I am worried or sad.

My personal experience of grieving  for you been a slow road from gasp inducing cutting pain to a more distant emotional ache that I feel more or less strongly depending on the circumstances of the day.

I remember walking on your back when I was small because you said it was a good massage. I remember brushing your hair. I remember your warm smile and the way you were super competitive whenever we played pictionary. I remember the sound of your voice and how we used to talk about a lot – but not everything. I remember how you taught me how to cook fish and how you hated my messy room.I also remember how much you hated your fat body and used to try and tame it with girdles.

You like any parent gave me so much – both good and bad. I don’t think it would do either of us any good to remember just the good. The bad things have also enabled me to be who I am today and so I thank you for them to.

There is so much I remember but I worry there is so much I forget. I miss you so much.

For Philanthropists

It is both understandable and reasonable that philanthropists want bang for their buck when they are making grants. They need some kind of certainty that their money will be well spent that it is not going into the pockets of individuals , that it will not be misappropriated, that it will lead to positive results. There is however a key difficulty. In the name of efficiency most philanthropists will not allow more than 10% of a grant to go towards funding operational costs (as opposed to programme/project costs) if they fund operational costs at all.  Part of this is due to a public perception that a NGO or not-for-profit with high operational costs is misusing funds that could or should be going towards programme or service costs. However the magic number of 10% does not really tell us anything about the efficiency of an organisation. It is simply  a shortcut and it is a shortcut that hurts many NGO’s.

Spending only 10% of available funds on operational costs does not necessarily mean an organisation is an efficient. This target is perhaps achievable for an aid delivery organisation but for any type of service provider it is a serious handicap. Like any other organisation an NGO or not-for- profit is only as strong as the people  who make it up. There is a strong assumption that people who do this kind of work should do it out of the goodness of their hearts – and work tirelessly never asking for any kind of reward. However people with strong social consciences still need to put food on the table and survive just like anyone else.

Having a 10% operational cost cap means that organisations have to rely heavily on part- time and volunteer labour. This does not result in greater efficiency – it results in greater inefficiency. This is because tasks that could be done by one high quality full-time staff member have to be spread over part-time and/or volunteer staff –  who while they may have excellent intentions do not necessarily have the right areas of expertise.

Instead of using these arbitrary and false measures of efficiency Philanthropists should look at outcomes to see the effectiveness of an organisation. What have they achieved, how many people have they reached, what kind of impact have they had, of course keeping in mind that not all outcomes can be quantified. They should look at whether NGO’s actually truly serves the community is purports to aid.  Unlike say an organisation like Autism Speaks – which is heavily funded and yet does not actually have any Autistic people involved in the running of the organisation and is heavily critiqued by actual Autistic individuals, people who it claims to ‘speak’ on the behalf of.

These are much more robust ways of determining whether an organisation is using funds efficiently and effectively. Philanthropists if they want to be involved in making lasting change in the world have to listen to the organisations that try to make it happen. They need to start giving what these organisations actually need rather than what they believe they should have.  There is no point having programme money if there is no money to pay for the people and the venues and the water and the power and all the other mundane things that are required for the day to day operations of an organisation that allows programmes to happen. It may not be as sexy but it is very important.

I am radicalising

When you side with someone who says quite literally that I can never be a real ‘New Zealander’ you help to create this radical. When you dismiss the many small and large hurts I suffer as over-reactions or claim that someone didn’t mean it ‘that way’ you help to create this radical. When you act as though marginalisation and discrimination is my fault for not trying hard enough to ‘assimilate’ or ‘integrate’ you create this radical.

I am angry. It is not a flash in the pan anger that burns itself out quickly. My anger is a slow burning molten rage that cannot be extinguished. It exists because of all the little things people do, even those closest to me – my friends my family, that re-create in microcosm the society and institutions that deem me unworthy, underserving and unattractive.  People who talk about ‘jungle fever’ when they find themselves attracted to a person of colour – as though it is a form of illness. Those who wonder how anyone could ever date a bisexual person because – they would never feel like they were enough for that person – as though bisexual people are greedy and disgusting. Those who make snide remarks about people not practicing monogamy or engage in kink to any degree – as though these people are deviant and disgusting – as though it is any of their business. The lack of thought that around accessibility and the claim that it is too much effort as though disabled people are undeserving of the basic accommodations that they require to engage with the world and live comfortable  Those who happily engage in fat phobia regarding their own bodies and other peoples never once thinking about how their comments affect those around them. These casual remarks, said with the assumption that what they say is appropriate and acceptable. Said without any clear evaluation of privilege.

These types of casual comments and many others are the kindling for my rage. This is all it takes to create a radical. One who is tired of trying to engage with the system which has no time for me, that doesn’t really give a shit about me or people like me. That uses us only as a way of scoring political points, or a way of seeming edgy and cool. So when you are tired of my anger, when you get annoyed with my tone, when you feel as though I ruin everything by turning it into a ‘big issue’. Remember that you created me. Remember this is how I feel every day, minute, second of my life as I am bombarded with all the shit that cuts me to the core that I am not meant to care about.

Maybe then you can shut the fuck up and listen.

NGO Suckitude – A small rant

Something I have noticed quite clearly in my admittedly short time working for NGO’s is how frequently they reinforce the very behaviours, attitudes and structures they aim to dismantle. In many feminist and/or women’s rights organisations it is fairly common in my experience to not make proper allowance for women who have children, to rely heavily on unpaid work, to operate from a heavily hierarchical structure where those who have not actually contributed to projects but are more senior in the organisation get to enjoy the ‘perks’ of those projects (such as attendance of conferences, book launches, activities etc…).

I personally find this deeply problematic. I understand that some of these practices are driven by pragmatic concerns – funding for not for profit organisations is never easy to secure and most philanthropic avenues do not seem to think that funding operational costs is a valuable use of their money (something I will comment on at a later point).  Thus there is a very real need to keep operational costs down – including  the cost of staff. Hence the heavy reliance on voluntary labour, howeber I do not think there is enough analysis of why such practices are deeply problematic despite their practical neccessity.

The devaluing of women’s work has been one of the cornerstones of patriarchal social structure. Care work has been particularly devalued but women’s contribution outside the home has also suffered. Women are paid far less than men for doing exactly the same work, Women’s achievements are often co-opted by their male superiors or co- workers, women are expected to do the crappy jobs no one else wants to do and not complain about it. A famous example of this dynamic is the historic discovery of the double helix shape of DNA – credited to James Watson and Francis Crick  but was actually initially made by Rosalind Franklin who found the shape via X-Ray crystallography. She shared her prints with Watson and Crick who published it.  History is littered with examples where a women’s professional contribution has been undervalued or credited to someone else.

Looking at this context it is deeply problematic to me that this history of undervaluing women and women’s work is continued in the very organisations that purport to work to benefit women. Furthermore women who speak out against this system of internalised exploitation are attacked and criticized for not being sufficiently committed to the cause, or for acting too entitled. This is a form of silencing that is very damaging.  I understand the practical limitations that constrain most women focused NGO’s however I believe that small changes to ensure organisations are critiquing this patriarchal dynamic rather than reinforcing it. Allowing volunteers or people lower down the food chain to enjoy the fruits of their labour by attending a conference perhaps. Simply acknowledging that the current situation is less than ideal but it is all we can manage right now and reinforcing that all contributions are valued can go a long way to subverting rather than reinforcing patriarchal attitudes towards women’s work.

 

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