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Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Since moving from a study abroad participant to a leader of trips abroad, I have had some recalibrating to do.  There is a difference between the risks I’m willing to take myself and those I’m willing to allow my students to take. This came rushing to the fore last summer when I was walking at night in Havana with the majority of our students, and at least one of the Cubans with us was stopped by the police for walking with white women while black.  It is important to note that this is a significantly worse offense than walking while black, although that’s an issue in Cuba as well.  The reason is not only due to racism and history, but also tourism, industry, and hegemony.  While I find the term “tourism apartheid” a bit strident, there is more than a nugget of truth to it, and the way it plays out in Cuba is that it’s somewhat acceptable if the white woman is visibly into it, but otherwise all young black men are assumed to be harassing your tourist dollars away.  Of course, not once has the policia ever showed up to stop genuine harassment (to my knowledge).  And the component of hegemony: when it comes down to it, some lives are deemed more worthy than others, and white skin and our little blue books protect us.  Somewhere in the 20th century, it became unacceptable for an American to lose their life abroad.  It’s cool at home, especially if they lost their life to a legally purchased gun, or if they are not white and middle class.  But that’s...

Cover Up

Say it’s for respect, say it’s because of religion, say it’s just a rule and don’t ask questions, say it’s arbitrary and sexist.  Just don’t say we need to wear high necklines and low hems so that we are not sexually harassed.  Don’t do it.  Don’t victim blame, don’t lie.  In harassment-heavy countries like Cuba and Egypt, I have seen anecdotally that the amount of clothing is irrelevant.  Cuban guys say piropos to all women, regardless of clothing and almost regardless of age.  White women get slightly more commentary, but no amount of clothing will make me less of a gringa. In Egypt, it has been found that women believe they get harassed less when they cover up more (more being even more than we do in the West, since it includes the abaya, the hijab and the niqab.)  However, these same women actually self-report higher levels of harassment when they are more covered.  It’s just an instance of intense cognitive dissonance, egged on by years of messaging from men, women, harassers and victims alike claiming, as if in some desperate plea for relief, that if only we could wear the right amount and combination of clothing, they would just leave us the hell alone.  But they don’t.  Women in full abaya and hijab get raped in public.  Women in jeans and modest shirts are assaulted all the time. To say that I can stop (or even stem) harassment by changing my clothes is an indictment of women and men alike.  It says men cannot control themselves and thus need to be prevented from seeing that which entices them...

You Are Not Smart Enough to Look Like Hell

I know it’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but come conference I’m always reminded of the importance of appearances.  How is it that we can spend months on research, carefully choosing every point, motion and agenda item, focusing on even the strategic implications of introductions, and yet still find so many in our number who look like slobs? I go to a co-op school.  We work in real, professional environments, and even have a class where they have us come in with sample outfits.  How are we not better than this?  Even basic stuff, like running a brush through the hair and slapping on a smile can make a huge difference.  Everyone, whether  they’re chairing or a delegate, is being watched constantly.  Perhaps we should occasionally look like it. I get that being smart is what matters.  But if you’re a good enough delegate to be around the table at Nationals, you know that how you couch somehting, the window dressing, the rhetoric, matters.  And in the Arab League, it matters in a very big way.  So why doesn’t the same principal apply to our bodies as to our national policies? It just reflects poorly on you.  It distracts from your message; it detracts from your credibility.  You wouldn’t swear in committee, so why are you so disheveled that it’s vulgar?  Bust out the good vocabulary as well as an iron, and you’ll make a better impression.  Wear comfortable shoes on the long days and more fanciful things on the shorter ones.  Cover all the bits your grandmother or boss should never see, and treat your...

My Perfect Souvenir

I try to make the most of what I buy.  I’m generally pretty frugal, with occasional bouts of Target, Old Navy and H&M madness.  I’m also secretly a hoarder.  As in, at almost 22 years of age I still own clothing from middle school.  Now that I finally can’t fit into it all anymore, I’m actually starting to get rid of it. So how does an aspiring minimalist (I can hear the eye rolling from here!) buy good tokens from abroad, especially if she makes it a habit to travel?  Well, here are my guidelines for giving travel gifts to yourself. Give yourself an experience and a memory, instead of a thing. Riding on horseback through the Sahara, Hidalgo-style, at an ungodly hour of the night was one of the bets things ever.  We sang, we laughed, we fought, and we huddled around a great bonfire in galabiyas.  Some scoffed at how much we were spending (I don’t remember how much–apparently it wasn’t too tragic) but it definitely cost me less than all those extravagant dinners some of the scoffers were eating every other night.  I wouldn’t trade that night for the world. Stay away from tchotchkes. They are cheap, expensive and prone to break.  They also mean basically nothing, other than being proof that you went there.  Or to China, where they were made. Buy decorations. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool adults who have a house full of foreign awesome, like Dan Hanson’s house.  His parents have all this great artwork and sculptures from far away lands, filled with stories and mystery.  How much...

WebLove Wednesday

Here’s a great list of 100 awesome signs from the Sanity/Fear rally.  I particularly love the Dr. Horrible, the moderate muslims arrow sign, and all the people repping bears.  Via WorldHum. TSA, always terrible and rarely useful (by its own admission!) is now going to grope you, or threaten to, to make you get in the big, naked body scanner.  Well, you don’t go in naked.  But there’s suspicion that they may as well know you in the biblical sense by the time they get through with you.  Fun times.  Funnier story.  This lion is awesome.  And I want one. I wish I were good enough at packing to bring only check-in luggage on a long trip, or even better, to do the No-Baggage Challenge! And my perennial favorite: women’s clothing.  This time, from the perspective of a reporter covering the Middle East extensively and spending a lot of time in Saudi Arabia.  Well worth the read, and such a great perspective. Finally, in light of the litteral bell-ringing last night at Model NATO, a typographic animation of a poem that champions speaking with conviction.  I will say, we are more aggresively inarticulate than he knows: at conference as in real life, people become uncomfortable with a certain level of certainty.  I find it is best and easiest to gain their trust and seem “normal” or “likabley unapprised of anything in particular” by adding likes, ums, uhs, justs, and ya knows.  This window dressing is even more important in instant messenging and emails.  The same people who tell me I sound smarter without “like” in my speech also feel...

Veil Vocabulary

I know it can be overwhelming as an outsider to understand all that is going on with Muslim women’s clothing, so here’s a little glossary to get you started.  If anybody has additional terms or corrections, let me know! Hijab: (1)this is the most basic piece, and is a scarf worn around the head.  Accompanying this can be skull caps, pre-style pieces etc., sometimes in ornate styles or coordinatng colors.  The face is fully visible, but the hair and neck are not (if it’s styled correctly). (2) Hijab is also the concept of overall modesty.  Often you will heasr women refer to their overall modest mode of vestments as “my hijab.”  For men, hijab is the belly button to the knee.  For women, it’s open for debate but is generally considered to the ankles and wrists, with covered hair. Niqab: This is the “hood” that covers the whole face and leaves eye-slits.  It often comes down to the middle of the upper arm, and is worn with an abaya.  Another version just covers the front of the face, and can be tied on before a hijab Chador (sometimes called chador namaz): This is a one-piece that covers the hair down to the ankles, but leaves the face exposed. Mantau chalvar: With mantau coming from the French manteau, this is basically a knee-length coat worn over loose pants and accompanied by a hijab Abaya: This is the basic dress-like garment that is warn over clothing.  Depending on the crowd you’re with, many women will take off their various outer garments when alone with each other. Burqa: The oft-discussed garment is...

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