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Journal diving for memories, forgotten story of sexism

From The Onion - http://www.theonion.com/content/node/45599

I'm in the midst of re-writing my stories from Kosovo, trying to tell a seamless travel memoir mixed with the stories of the people I encountered there, blended with the recent and ancient history. Easy-peasey. I'm also deep cleaning my files, shredding old bills and discovering bits and pieces of memories I'd forgotten. Tucked into different journals or sometimes scribbled on an envelope, I'm trying to develop a filing system for these pieces, as well as let them do their trick of taking me back in time.

Reading an entry I began by simply stating "I miss Kosovo," I was reminded of an experience I'd completely forgotten, or blocked. Thank god for my slightly insane diary habit. "Before, I missed friends, but now I miss the place," I wrote. "The streets. Passing the internet cafe, the grocery store where few people speak English, and where I had my first experience being a woman in an Islamic country."

Kosovo is a nominally Muslim country. Though people practice their faith, for many it is simply the culture in which they were raised, much like America's celebration of Christmas. The call to prayer doesn't stop or interrupt most daily life, but adds a distinct soundtrack to the days. Few women cover their heads. Though there were definitive rules about the way I engaged with men and generally the role of women in domestic affairs, I didn't see too much of the sexist behavior the media often showcases in Islamic countries.

That is, until the day a woman clerk helped a man behind me in the market checkout line. Because I didn't understand the language, I assumed he must have explained his hurry, his desperate need to step in front of me without even a nod of acknowledgment, so that he might rush home to his deaf, dumb and blind child and/or dying mother with their — what was he buying? — pretzels. His life saving pretzels.

It wasn't until it happened a second time, standing in line with my Finnish friend who immediately growled about the frustration of it, that I recognized it was understood we should wait, because we were women.

It makes me growl remembering it, reliving it, writing about it here. I'm also reminded of the brilliant satire from The Onion in honor of the author of "The Feminine Mystique."

I know my experience and feelings of outrage were just small ripples where other women are knocked over by waves of sexist behavior, trying to make them second-class citizens. Have you had such an experience? How did you deal with it?

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jadefrank's picture

pretzels

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for sharing this small glimpse into your life and experience in a foreign land. I love your writing style and hope to read more journals from you. As for my experience, this reminds me of when I lived in China. People charged or pushed in front of me all the time, "stealing" my place in line. However, this was not because of my gender, it was simply because their culture doesn't do the whole standing in line thing, or at least don't abide to it as strictly as our culture does. However, making women stand and wait while men buy their pretzels... that just seems silly! As a visitor in that culture, there is not much you can do, but hopefully local women can begin to stand up against this type of sexist behavior, because no one should be treated like a second class citizen.

Jade

Mauri's picture

Queues

Rebecca, hi!

It's not only in queues!

In a company I worked in, all women around 33 years were wed out from management career.
Thanks a lot, it gave so many an opportunity to search something else. But, imagined was very personal (we were not in line with the very barking way they conceived salespeople - that was, for them, the "management career").

Later on, I found in the book "Why women mean business" (A. Wittenberg-Cox, A. Maitland) that's common practice in many European companies.

That way I was wed out, it was just because of the coincidence of some flag in my personal file in the company database and some number in a search criterion.

Unacceptable (and in the case of that company, also suicide - but that's another story, of ordinary stupidity).

In Italy, being passed over at a queue is not an issue. Just, queues do not exist, all trying to step over other foot to advance ;-)

(That's too is unacceptable, of course).

Cheers.

Mauri

Rebecca Snavely's picture

Thanks!

Thanks for the comments. I agree Jade, it's hard to know how to respond as a visitor. I was all the more shocked because I couldn't imagine my strong, independent women friends there putting up with that. I have to remember to send an email to ask about that experience for them.

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