Comfort Zone · Feminism

wings with a side of ‘feeling safe in your own skin’

“Do you want me to bring it back to you?” He asked as I handed him a travel mug of steaming coffee. My cupboard was full of travel mugs, and this one actually had a lid that fit properly, didn’t leak, and kept things hot.

“Nope, it’s yours” I said as I poured coffee into my own favourite travel mug and he pulled his shoes on, zipped up his coat, and pulled his hood up.

I said “Stay warm hey” as I looked at his shoes and wondered how those sneakers were going to hold up to the frigid temperatures outside. It was the middle of winter in Canada after all.

He said ‘Thanks” as he walked out the door, and I shut and locked it behind him, never to see him again.

This morning took place a few months ago. And despite how you may have read into it so far, it is not the morning after a one night stand, although some may consider it as cavalier as one.

It was a Thursday morning, and the previous night had entailed cheap wings at a pub just up the street from my house. As the night was wrapping up, the group of friends I was with gradually convened outside the pub doors, and in the time it took for everyone to be accounted for I had struck up a conversation with a guy outside the bar, who I assumed had also been enjoying wings there that night. In our short chat, it came up that he was from the city that I originally came from, one notorious for being “friendly” (it’s on our licence plates for goodness sake), and also for being well connected. I often say to people that I meet from my hometown – “Now how do we know each other?”

Within the few short moments that we were conversing, it came up that this young guy (I would guess early twenties) was actually making his way to the west coast, on his own, no real plans for accommodation, kind of a Lone Ranger type of guy.

So I offered him our spare room.

Now, the rest of the evening was incredibly uneventful. The couple of housemates I was out with, this new friend and I headed back to our house, hung out in the kitchen for a bit, then all went to bed. I had to get up early for school the next morning, so had to wake this guy up. I knocked softly on the door, he was quick to rise and collect his things and head for the door, but not without first being incredibly gracious of the warm place to sleep. He asked me if I could add him on Facebook so that we could stay in touch, but seeing as he had no phone, and we couldn’t find his profile on my phone, that was a lost cause.

Our short connection, was an incredibly powerful experience to me. Now, to reiterate my intentions from my first blog post, “Please, for the sake of my conscience, do not take this blog post as encouragement to put yourself knowingly in dangerous situations, for a chance to ‘connect’. But do challenge yourself to reflect on what your comfort zone is, why it is the way it is…”

There have been many times where I have interacted with people who are strangers to me, and it did not lead to anything more than a few second exchange of words. But the encounter I have just described, is one example of a time that I connected with someone and knew that there was something that I could offer that person to make their next step a little safer, and less difficult.

I never have to think about where I am going to sleep the next night. I never have to think about if my feet are going to be warm enough (unless I make a silly wardrobe choice on a cold day). And I very rarely have to worry about feeling safe in my own skin. Maybe it was because we connected over being from the same city, maybe it was because I could not imagine walking away from him on this freezing night, knowing he was just going to end up “wherever”, or maybe it was just one of those spur of the moment things that turns out well. I don’t think it really matters.

“The best gift you are ever going to give someone – the permission to feel safe in their own skin. To feel worthy. To feel like they are enough.” (Hannah Brencher) This quote is so applicable, in so many situations. I use it here to challenge that feeling safe should not require “permission” but rather, is a right. However, for some that right deteriorates due to gender, race, sexual orientation, SES, physical or mental health status, family structure, religion, faith, language, amongst many other factors.  I hope that I was able to make that guy from my hometown feel safe that night, despite whatever factors may have been at play in his life at that time. I also hope that the judgement I received from friends who heard about it after created an opportunity to reflect on why their judgement came so quickly, and harshly, ranging from simple “oh my god” to “I hope you disinfected the room after”. He is still a human being. Why is that so easily forgotten.

The choice to live life in a way that is considerate of the safety of others, is a choice that I try to make every day.  Everyone likes existing in a strong community – be a part of building yours.

Love always and all ways,

R

Comfort Zone · Feminism · Uncategorized

so rise.

“Ahh the good ol feminist…Love to blast bitches like yourself. In the sack and in debates…More so in the sack though”

“Wow. Do you know how harmful you are? Did I bruise your quivering ego cause I didn’t respond? That you have to assert yourself? …Reported”

This conversation followed a two day lag in my response to “Hey :)”, during which time I also added to my dating app profile that I am a feminist, and I use reusable shopping bags…clearly things worthy of being blasted… in bed and in debates. *eyeroll* Moments after my response, he deleted me. I like to think he was banned from the site but chances are he wasn’t.

A few days later, I was hanging out with some friends, and this “joke” made it way into the conversation somehow…

“What do you tell a woman with two black eyes”

Uncomfortable silence ensued. Another friend said “I don’t think I want to hear the answer”

“Nothing, you’ve already told her twice”

Same friend said “Yup, didn’t want to hear that.”

I was appalled. My response was immediate, “That’s inappropriate”

The “jokesters” defence was that another friend (who was female) had been joking about men being castrated…a continuation of talking about her cat not having balls… He said “Well you were just talking about male castration”

My response.. “Male castration is not a social problem in our society…”

I left it there. I could have gone on to talk about the power differential between men and women and how despicable and harmful jokes around abusing women are.

READ THESE STATS and visit this site : http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence

  • Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.[2]
  • 67% of Canadians say they have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse.[3]
  • Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. Out of the 83 police-reported intimate partner homicides in 2014, 67 of the victims—over 80%—were women.[4]
  • On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home.[5]
  • On any given night, about 300 women and children are turned away because shelters are already full.[6]
  • There were 1,181 cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada between 1980 and 2012, according to the RCMP.[7] However, according to grassroots organizations and the Minister of the Status of Women the number is much higher, closer to 4,000.[8]
  • Aboriginal women are killed at six times the rate of non-aboriginal women.[9]

These are but two examples of sexism that have occurred within the past week of my life. Some weeks it happens more often, some weeks less. Some weeks I don’t even notice it because it is so normalized.

I have a problem with the normalization of harmful topics. I have a problem with the cop out “It’s just a joke”. And I have a problem when nobody holds people accountable for their harmful comments. If you are reading this and you find yourself thinking “she needs to chill out, it really isn’t a big deal” then I urge you SO strongly to reflect on where that feeling is coming from. Is it out of defence for jokes you have made in the past, jokes you laugh at now?

Regardless of your reaction to my above comments, I encourage you to click on this link, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/toula-foscolos/sexist-jokes-women_b_4815632.html which, among many other great points, brings to the readers attention “ A research project led by a Western Carolina University psychology professor indicates that exposure to sexist humour can lead to tolerance of hostile feelings and discrimination against women.”

I will take the label of “aggressive” any day, over letting harmful conversation exist in my presence. I will not sympathize with it, and I will hold the instigator accountable, whether it is a random creature off the internet, or a friend who I actually enjoy spending time with. Sometimes it is hard to hold people accountable, as it drives an automatic defensive response. Sometimes I fail. Rupi Kaur is a beautiful poet, she reminds her readers “If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise”.

So rise – I remind myself when I fall, when I fail to maintain integrity in my words and actions.

So rise – I remind myself when I witness harmful conversation.

So rise – I remind myself when I am informed of how my own behaviour may be harmful.

Self reflection is so important, and sometimes we need the encouragement of those around us to rise. Humility goes much farther than defence in such situations.

I will end with this well known saying…

Watch your thoughts, they become words,

Watch your words, they become actions,

Watch your actions, they become habit,

Watch your habits, they become character.

Until next time – love always and all ways,

R

Comfort Zone

breaking shells from the inside.

It’s 10:42 PM on a Tuesday evening in my city’s downtown. I’ve just packed up my laptop, notebooks and day timer, and wrapped my favourite green scarf around my neck. I can feel the cold air rush in every time a customer comes or goes from this coffee shop that I have made my office for the past four and a half hours.

I have been consuming articles, books, video clips, and blogs with an incessant hunger to be better, to know more, to understand deeper the concepts  that will lay the background of my masters thesis. Broadly, these include topics of systemic violence, racism and discrimination within our healthcare and medical education systems.  But now it is 10:42 PM and my brain is full and tired and I want to get home with enough time to review my notes in bed, before I get to sleep.

I hoist my backpack over my shoulder, take my mug, with tea dregs to the counter, and say “Thank you!” as I head for the door, ready to face the chilly April night, on the block and a half walk to my car. I get up to the first intersection, and can see my car half a block to the left. At the intersection is a young man. Tall, do-rag, face tattoos, sweater tied casually around his waist, arms crossed loosely across his broad chest. He looks up at me, and as I’ve made it habit to make eye contact with people in situations where we share space (walking down the sidewalk, waiting for the bus, riding in an elevator etc), we engage in those first few seconds of locked eyes, assessing each other, both anticipating our next moves. He, claiming the street corner as his space, hand tattoos peek out from his long sleeves, ripped jeans , I can’t tell if they are a fashion statement or a product of life as a street kid. Me, a blond, white, backpacked up student, heading to my car, to drive home to a house where I rent a room, and get up the next morning to make breakfast in my kitchen before I go to university. I describe myself like this for a specific reason, to recognize the privilege that I walked out of that coffee shop, and onto “his” street corner with, that same privilege that follows me, and prepares the way for me, through every step of my life. The colour of my skin, my language, my education, the way I fit into our Western society with so much ease, so little resistance.

He speaks first, “Can you spare any change”, he doesn’t ask it, he says it, almost giving me permission to write it off, not requiring any response. I reply with a half smile, “Not tonight, sorry” breaking our eye contact, I continue to my car.

I immediately start justifying my reaction inside my head. “I only carry credit, I don’t have cash,” “Why did you say sorry?” “It’s ok, you’re allowed to just want to go home.” I can feel him behind me still, walking with me, a few steps behind. I could feel his presence but was not upset by it, I didn’t get that “creepy feeling” that many women know all too well, when someone strange to them is in their space. I step out onto the road to get to the driver side of my car, and he speaks up again, “how about now?” jesting, a lightness in his voice. I have never been more aware of my position of privilege. The fact is I do have very minimal disposable income, life as a student isn’t cheap, especially living in a city away from family supports, but I recognize that despite that, my backpack full of pricey gadgets and my car, set me apart from this young man with his borderline intrusive sense of humour. I smile, make eye contact, and say “still no…” as I try to push the button to unlock my car. (Side note if you can identify with my “backpack full of pricey gadgets” PLEASE read Peggy Macintosh’s – “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” find it here  http://code.ucsd.edu/pcosman/Backpack.pdf)

My car is old. It has it’s own personality, and tonight, for the first time in over a year, the unlock button didn’t work. I pressed it a few times, jiggled it, pressed it a few more. Things were getting awkward between me and my new acquaintance as he watched me struggle to get into my car. I knew I would have to use the actual key to open the door, which usually one would think is no issue. However, I know, because of previous faulty unlock button experience, that as soon as I opened the door manually with the key my car alarm would go off.  I’ve perfected the art of jumping in and shoving the key in the ignition after one long draw out horn blast, so as to be as minimally intrusive into the semi-silence that usually surrounds parked cars. Tonight, my previous “fling the door open, hop in, shove key in” routine was thwarted by the huge backpack on my back, which nearly knocked me to the ground as I bounced off the doorframe. My car was on its fourth or fifth horn blast before I got it shut off. I glance over to the sidewalk where the guy was and I see him throw up a peace sign and just walk away, as if I had done it on purpose, as if I was trying to draw attention to him or myself, or us.

I pulled away from the curb and up to the lights, where he was back at the same corner he had been when we first connected. I shuffled through some of the crap in my car, found a few silver coins, pulled over, rolled my window down and he came over. “Look, I don’t have much but you can have this if you want it.” I held out the 80 cents as he pulled a little ziploc bag out of a pocket and gingerly put it in. He said “hey I’m freezing mind if I warm up, we can just chill here.” I had a visible, audible dilemma. I looked at him, I ran both my hand through my hair, I held the longest “ummmmmmm….errrrrr….ahhhhhh” he was just staring at me. The best I could come up with was “well what’s your name?” He told me his name, and the community he was from, and I said “ok get in”.

The next hour and a half consisted of us cruising around downtown streets. I told him a bit about myself, my name, where I was from, what I was studying at school. He told me that he grew up in foster care and has been on the street since 16. He was now 28. He said he loved hiphop and rap, and that he picked up a bit of Arabic (in prison I think). He told me he doesn’t really know people from his home, and doesn’t know “his language” . He said “everyone’s a neighbour here”. He pointed out parkades where he liked to freestyle, and wanted to stop in one to show me some moves. He twisted my scarf into a ring design and tried to trade me mine for his, he told me he liked wine and asked if I would buy him a bottle – using that same jest he used earlier, probably knowing the answer was no before he asked. He told me that he had broken ribs, seemingly on purpose and when I asked “why?” his answer was “sometimes you just push your body so hard to see how far it can go”. He told me how he sometimes doesn’t eat for two days, and when he does he just drops in at a shelter. He said he sleeps sitting up, not really sleeping, more meditating. He told me about his vision for himself and the world – a vision of everyone following their passions and doing good in the world. He really wanted to be the best at hip hop. We ended up back at the same spot where we first locked eyes, and he wanted to show me some youtube videos, one of himself rapping, another of one of his favourite hip hop artists. We chilled. We laughed. We used each others names when we spoke. Somewhere in that hour and a half he said to me “I haven’t had a conversation in so long” and at another point he said “I feel a sense of … I don’t know… comfort.” I eventually had to cut this night off, I had to tell him I had to go, and ask him to get out of my car. I watched him wrap his black scarf around his face and neck, while saying to me, “It’s black like a crow, women are supposed to be scared of crows”. I just listened, and let him finish wrapping his scarf, take the sweater from around his waist and put it on, throw his hood up, we locked eyes once more and then he hopped out and was gone.

There’s something to be said for stepping outside of your comfort. There is something to be said for making connections with people who you would typically never have a chance to. I lost an hour of sleep, but gained a connection that was impactful enough to inspire a blog post. I know that if I told this story to certain people in my life I would get a range of reactions, mostly questioning how I could be so reckless, so inconsiderate of “what could have happened”. I respect that. There are social norms for a reason. “Don’t let strangers into you car on deserted downtown streets late at night” seems to be a pretty sensible social rule. But I broke it. In the time it took me to say “ummmmmmm….errrrrr….ahhhhhh” I had decided that I was going to let this guy into my life for a bit, just as he was letting me into his.

There’s this quote I scrolled past on Instagram a few days ago, and it stuck with me… “If an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.” (I can’t remember who said it but I’m sure a quick google search will do it justice if you need to know.) Our comfort zones are like that egg. If outside forces intrude on what we have defined as our safe place, our egg, it can often be detrimental to us, we miss opportunities to grow and are hindered from living our lives fully. If we make those choices to break out of our safe, egg-like, comfort, our lives can change, and in some senses begin.

Please, for the sake of my conscience, do not take this blog post as encouragement to put yourself knowingly in dangerous situations, for a chance to “connect”. But do challenge yourself to reflect on what your comfort zone is, why it is the way it is, and if you can do anything to push on that egg from the inside. Read Peggy McIntosh’s article (link above), and if you find that you wear that invisible backpack, have the humility to reflect on it, and be gracious for the leg up that you have because of it. This is not a challenge to your hard work, your sacrifices, your struggles, it is not my purpose to diminish any experiences you have had to get to where you are, or are going. I ask that you use this as an opportunity to reflect on where you stand, how you got there, and how you might use where you are to make life less difficult for someone else.

Love always, and all ways.

R