The Conspiracy of Silence #MeToo

This whole Harvey Weinstein scandal makes me sick, just like the Bill Cosby one has made me sick and Donald Trump’s way with women makes me sick. Why do Cosby’s and Weinstein’s careers go down the drain over this but is Trump still president? Anyway, I don’t want to write about them specifically but I do want to do my part in addressing this so that it can be stopped.

I saw the interview Emma Thompson gave, addressing how normal sexual harassment really is for all women from a young age onwards (she mentions this at around 3:10 into the video) and she calls this Weinstein scandal a ‘conspiracy of silence’ for not being exposed sooner (around 5:20)…

I found that an interesting phrase, ‘the conspiracy of silence’, and find myself trying to come to terms with the fact why we don’t speak up about this more when we encounter it. I find it’s not a malicious conspiracy, it’s more a conspiracy of shame and fear, but the fact is that it’s not normal to speak up about this. I, too, am not one to call out others when for example a comment with sexual innuendo is made that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I will speak up against gross misconduct but there are so many comments that are just borderline where I wonder ‘should I say something or am I just being overly sensitive?’ and then I shut up. I was in such a borderline situation not too long ago when I thought ‘ah, but it’s just a joke, I’ll let it go and change the subject quickly.’ I struggle with that and it’s something that this scandal has brought more to the foreground for me.

Yesterday the hashtag #MeToo started trending and I added my name to that…

me too tweet

… and today, on my way to work, I read Guylty’s blog post about the issue and that really struck me too. I am not pretty or an actor either and yet I too have experienced instances of sexual harassment. What I have experienced is by far not as bad as many other women’s experiences but it’s symptomatic nonetheless! I wasn’t planning on going into detail about what has happened to me, but Guylty’s post and that “conspiracy of silence” phrase made me think that maybe I should just come out and speak of my experiences.

The funny thing is that when I thought about this, one incident that really shook me came to mind and I thought, ‘well, it’s not been bad for me, I only experienced that one thing’. But then, once that memory was unlocked, other memories started coming in and I realized that apparently I had pushed them away before. I also realized that, from an early age on, I had always been warned by my mother that most men basically only want one thing so that I always had to be careful with how I act and what I wear so as not to attract any unwanted attention. I hate that. I hate that women are told to be careful and that for men it’s a “ah, boys will be boys” attitude.

The incident that really shook me most of all  happened when I was 19. My dad was general secretary of an international organization and organized a big 4 day conference every summer, with people coming in from countries all over the world. To make a little money, we brothers and sisters often helped with organizing. That summer the conference was in Southampton and one evening I went out with a group of other conference participants to a local pub. Incidentally, it’s also the first time I ever tried Guinness beer (and hated it). Anyway, I was with a group of 9 or 10 people and at one point I said I’d pick up some drinks at the bar. There was a man sitting on a bar stool next to where I stood to order my drinks. While I was waiting for my turn to order he tried to chat me up. I was 19 and really not so used to flirting, so I tried to stay friendly and smile, but said no to whatever he suggested (he wanted me to come sit with him, he wanted to buy me a drink and he said some other things I can’t recall). Then, out of the blue, he grabbed me, pulled me towards him and what I remember most were his very wet lips, smelling of beer, planted on my lips, kissing me! I struggled to get away, luckily the bartender caught this happening as well. He cried out “oy!” and a hullabaloo started where others came to my rescue, literally prying the man off me because he really was holding on fast and didn’t want to let go!  People from my group came as well to help me. Local people from the pub grabbed the man, I think one guy punched him, and literally threw him out of the pub onto the street. I was very shaken up, everyone was very concerned for me, we were offered free drinks. The bartender said the man was a known drunk and wouldn’t be allowed in the pub anymore. I quickly went back to my accommodation after that, accompanied by my older brother who had been part of the group I had been with.

Remembering that, and my brother being there, reminded me of an incident a year later when my whole family and I were in Cairo, visiting the Pyramids. Esther 20We were allowed into one of the pyramids. There was a narrow hallway leading upwards with a rope you could use to hold on to. You couldn’t stand up straight in some sections and there were these guides along the way to help anyone with trouble getting on. One of these guides actually followed behind me for a while and literally felt me up, touching my hips and my bottom to ‘help me along’. I shrugged him off, said I didn’t need help. My brother saw and took the man’s place behind me so he would leave me alone. The rest of that holiday (we were there for 3 or 4 days), I felt unsafe and tended to keep close to one of my older brothers, just so I wouldn’t get into a situation like that again.

I then for some reason also remembered an incident from when I was 15 or 16. I was already in love with old movies at that time and at some point I had gotten this hand-me-dpencil dressown 1960s turquoise pencil dress, which looked something like this picture on the right. It was a little looser than this dress but it really fit me very well. I was not one to wear dresses at all at that time but when I put that dress on, I thought I looked really good in it. I felt like Doris Day! I was wearing it one hot day and was asked to do a small errand in town for my mother, which I went to do on my bike. I figured it looked nice enough and for the first time I dared wear it out in public. And boy, did I regret that! I felt uncomfortable with the attention I got walking down the street and when at one point some workers started calling out to me, asking me to come over to them, laughing at me when I said no, and continuing their whistling after that, I felt so very unsafe! I went home and never wore that dress again.

In my early twenties I also once encountered a flasher in a trench coat while I was walking through a park close by our house. He walked by, called out to me and when I looked over at him, he opened his coat and was stark naked underneath. He didn’t linger, though, and walked on, I think he even ran away. For some reason, I never felt threatened by that, though.

So, that’s it, my #MeToo experiences. When I look back I feel that I have always been conscious of never wanting to be ‘too sexy’, due to warnings to be careful because I’m a girl and I think especially after that blue dress incident, which I had really buried away deep somewhere. It’s sad that just because ‘boys will be boys’ many women feel unsafe or feel like they have to suppress themselves. Women speaking up about how threatened they feel is just the beginning, we also need to look at this ‘boys will be boys’ culture and teach our sons to treat women with respect! I feel my brothers are respectful of women, just like my husband is and I hope my son is too (he does seem like it from what I can see). I have luckily never felt threatened by men I work with or by male aquaintances/friends I have. So, I do realize that many men are respectful! But there are also many who aren’t and it’s not only up to the women to raise boys who are respectful; men are important role models and need to take responsibility too, maybe even more so than women!

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Depressing & loveless film festival

Once every 6 months the Pathé cinema chain here in The Netherlands organizes a one-day film festival where 5 new movies are shown back to back, simultaneously in several cinemas throughout the country. It’s always on a Sunday, starting at 10.30 am and ending around 11 pm. I’ve written about previous PAC festivals here and here and have also been to one or two more before I started blogging. I can safely say that the one I went to yesterday was the most depressing of all! My friend and I had gotten tickets before we knew the complete line-up and yeah, we may not do that ever again. Next time, we wait for the line-up first. The line-up this time was this:

pacfest17

I ended up going to this thing alone without my friend as she called the night before to tell me she was really sick (a suspected kidney infection) and really couldn’t go. She urged me to go on my own, as the tickets were already paid for, and after a little hesitation I did.

The morning started at 10.30 am with a Russian movie called Loveless. In hindsight, I found this to be the best movie of the day. It’s about a married couple (actors Maryana Spivak and Alexei Rozin) who are about to divorce. They are so caught up in their own lives (with new lovers each) and hating each other, they ignore their 12-year-old son (Matvey Novikov). The effect that this planned divorce has on him is heartbreaking to see and is so well acted by the young boy! Then one day the boy is gone and the couple must team up to search for him…

This movie is bleak! And Loveless is a very fitting title. There is no love lost between the divorcing couple, no love for their son, a loveless relationship is hinted at between the mother and her mother and also briefly shown. Basically the main players are incapable of love and the little boy is the victim in all of this. The movie has a matter-of-fact calmness to it, with some very nice cinematography and very good acting by all, but so bleak and cold, it left me depressed at the end. Even so, it was a good movie! I read that it’s being submitted to the Oscars as a Best Foreign Language film, and rightly so, I believe.

If I had hoped for something a little lighter for the second movie, which was shown after lunch, then those hopes were quickly dashed by You Never Really Were Here with Joaquin Phoenix. It’s about a man named Joe who used to be in the army but is now a tormented and brutal enforcer and lives a lonely life. He goes on a mission to rescue a missing young teenage girl, leaving a lot of bodies in his wake. The rescue mission then takes an unexpected turn…

I read that in Cannes the movie got a 7 minute standing ovation, it’s also getting very good reviews. While I thought the movie was quite good, I wouldn’t go so far as giving it a standing ovation (not even for one minute). Maybe it was just too dark and violent for me, I don’t know. What I can say, however, is that Joaquin Phoenix really is very good as Joe. He won the Best Actor Award at Cannes for this and I can see why. He is a very good portrayer of a tormented soul. And I guess, you could see this movie as a continuation of the loveless theme of the first movie – Joe does live with his old mother and there is some love there, but his life is mostly loveless and lonely. I could sort of deal with the bleakness, the violence less so.

After these two movies I was more depressed than ever. Then came a 15 minute break after which the movie The Glass Castle was shown, with Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. The Glass Castle is based on a true story, to quote from IMDB: “A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.”

It’s a childhood spent running away from debts, living in utter poverty and squatting in homes. While there is a lot of love there, it also shows that only love really isn’t enough. Jeannette, the second daughter, after many disappointments, decides to get away and make a better life for herself. Again, I liked the movie alright but couldn’t love it. It was really mostly a portrait of a daughter and her father. I could relate to that and because of that, at the end I did wipe away a tear, but I was left with mixed feelings. In the end, it felt like that which wasn’t right was brushed under the carpet. We see the parents neglecting the kids, almost starving them at times, they gave them no ounce of security, they for a long time refused to send them to school ‘because real life is the real school’, they once left them with an abusive grandmother for a week and the kids literally had to escape to get away and make their own way in the world. But hey, the parents really loved them, so in the end it was no big deal and all OK, right? Nah, that really didn’t do it for me! It was a typical American feel-good ending and glossing over all that had gone before. Again, the acting was very good but the movie itself was not so great.

While I was a little less depressed after this movie, I was left with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. Luckily it was time for dinner. There was 90 minutes for that, so I took a walk to clear my head before I got myself a quick bite to eat. The cinema is right near a river and it felt good to be in the air and moving around a bit. The boat in the picture on the right is called ‘Grace Kelly’, by the way. Very fitting name to come across on a one-day film festival.

The first evening film was Stronger with Jake Gyllenhall about the aftermath of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. It’s a true story about Jeff Bauman who loses both his legs (below the knee) in the blast and has to deal with building a new life with his disability amidst all the media attention that comes with role of survivor and ‘hero’.

Again, great acting by Gyllenhall, Tatiana Maslany as his girlfriend Erin who forces him to grow up and Miranda Richardson as his mother. I liked the way it was filmed, it had a real look and feel and it was different from other ‘inspirational’ true stories. Jeff’s struggles looked real and especially the scene where his bandages come off really stuck with me in its no-fuss portrayal. The thing I didn’t that much like was the end when he basically succumbed to American heroism after finally finding peace in his situation. There is a bit of an American patriotic streak in all of this (as in very many movies coming from the US) and I have always had iffy feelings about that. Because of that, I think this movie may be more powerful for US audiences than it is for European ones.

After another 15 minute break, the final film was Good Time with Robert Pattinson. It’s a heist movie about two brothers. They rob a bank, which goes awry and the mentally challenged brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), gets arrested. Connie (Pattinson) in the night that follows tries everything he can to free his brother

While Pattinson really was excellent, this movie did absolutely nothing for me! The gritty feel was alright, what I really didn’t like was the close up, jerky filming style. It was so tiring to look at that I found myself closing my eyes occasionally. I didn’t quite nod off to sleep but I could have. While commendable that Connie tries everything for his brother, he just sinks deeper and deeper into shit. How these brothers came onto this track is never explained, why Connie thinks therapy is bad for Nick, I don’t know. I really did not like this movie and almost regretted having stayed for it. I had stayed for Pattinson, I generally find him to be quite a good actor and he really was good here, but he couldn’t save the movie for me. That whole world was just too gritty and ugly and, except for the brothers caring for each other, it felt very loveless and grim as well. Why it’s called Good Time is a little beyond me, Pointless might have been a better name. Maybe I would have liked it more if it hadn’t been the last in a line of loveless and depressing movies…

My ranking for the movies I saw at the 17th PAC Festival would be:

  1. Loveless
  2. Stronger
  3. You Never Really Were Here
  4. The Glass Castle
  5. Good Time

I had to take public transport (tram and train) followed by a 10 minute bike ride home and as it was night, there was less public transport available. What normally would have taken a maximum of an hour, took me an hour and a half. It meant I had time to catch up on news on my phone, with the whole #TakeTheKnee Trump versus NFL confrontation in the US (seriously, how can this man STILL be president??) and the devastating news that Nazis have made it into German parliament for the first time since WWII. I do realize 87% did not vote for them, but still they got enough votes to get into parliament! Seriously, after those 5 movies and the news, I felt like the world was coming to an end… When I finally fell into bed at 12.45 am my brain was so fried, I thankfully quickly fell into a deep sleep.

This sickly feeling, though a little lighter now than last night, has prevailed throughout the day today and I hope that writing all this up helps lighten the load. And a word of the wise: don’t ever watch all these films in one day!

America not so great…

It’s interesting that the “me first” and “Make America great again” rhetoric make America look less great than I have ever known America to look.

Me me trump cartoon

From @toonDonaldTrump on Twiter

Almost every day since the president’s inauguration I am shocked by anything that comes from his mouth, with the latest cruel act being his plan to stop the DACA programme. I don’t know much about DACA, and maybe it’s ridiculous that I should have an opinion on this as an outsider not living in the US, but I do not see how stopping this programme makes America great in any way. To me in Europe, it makes America look small and spiteful and closed-minded and bigoted. This programme is humane and to me, as a fervent supporter of human rights, stopping it is inhumane.

Whatever happened to the meaning of these words?:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

From the bottom of my heart, I can not understand how anyone with a brain and even one empathetic hair on their head can think that anything Trump has done since January is good! All I see coming from the White House is doom and destruction. It still shocks me every day that America has elected such a man as their president. It heartens me to see that his policies are met with wide-spread protest and I hope it helps to overturn these decisions!

From my point of view, the only way to make America great is this…

Cartoon Trump

I’m still hoping for something better for America and the world that is also affected by the man’s destructive rhetoric and policies.

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”

Relief… and sadness.

One piece of unrest has been taken away after my post yesterday. After a few more calls and an e-mail we have confirmation from the director himself: our daughter can indeed attend the new school! Got the relieving phone call at 4 pm at work this afternoon and this is how I felt…

Things still need to be formalized and we still need to figure out schoolbooks and such but on Monday morning at 10 am my daughter can report to the new school for her first day there.  The relief is great! Whew!

Now, if only I could start feeling this happy about the news, but alas, there has been more tragedy today… Today there was another terrorist attack, this time in Barcelona. My heart goes out to all the victims…

candles

Unrest

Ah yes, real life has begun again! I still have lovely memories of my recent holiday in England as I sip tea from my cat-cup that I bought in this wonderful cat-themed shop in York…

… but the real world has crudely descended upon me again.

My aunt’s closest friend, who has also become a friend to the family and who I have known pretty much my whole life, has suffered a brain hemorrhage and is now half paralyzed and barely conscious. She is 92 and it looks like she won’t recover from this. I’ve already seen her twice since I came back home last week Friday evening; this morning she was even conscious for a bit, recognized us visitors and was even able to communicate some things. How long she will last, we don’t know, but it could be a few months yet and it’s already heartbreaking to see her slowly waning like that…

Another worry has been my daughter. She has had to deal with some issues this past year which resulted in us all wanting to enrol her at a different school. This past July, at the end of the school year, we were interviewed by the director of a new school, he wanted to check some things with my daughter’s old school and would then let us know whether she can indeed come to this new school. We all don’t forsee too much trouble but it is a formality that apparently needs to be handled before she can change schools.

As the summer vacation was upon us, the director hadn’t been able to reach my daughter’s old school. He told us then that he couldn’t do anything until the 3rd week of August, the week before school is due to start, which is this week. He would try to get it all in order then (which is now) and hopefully have her enrolled.  But: we haven’t heard from him yet! We’ve been trying to call him since this past Monday afternoon but we can’t reach him. We couldn’t reach the school administration either. Until today… I finally got someone on the line! I asked whether my daughter is actually enrolled or not, but the admin lady didn’t know. All she could tell me was that she couldn’t find my daughter’s name on any class list yet. The school had asked for my daughter’s info before the vacation and we had e-mailed it all in July before we left, but apparently nothing has been processed yet. The admin lady needed to ask the director but she couldn’t reach him either (and hadn’t seen him around school yet)! So, here we are in limbo land… we told my daughter’s old school last July that she will be going elsewhere (and she really doesn’t want to go back there!) but she isn’t enrolled in the new school yet either… So now, we don’t know which school she can go to this coming Monday. This insecurity is stressing me out!

And then, in addition, the US political situation is freaking me out; it has a grip on my heart like an iron fist! First, last week, it felt like the orange president was about to start World War III, if not with North Korea then with Venezuela. That seems to have been smoothed over a bit for now but then this week it feels like he is unleashing a second US civil war instead! Ever since all the unrest and the terrorist attack in Charlottesville this past weekend this Muse song has been drifting through my head (“I am hungry for some unrest…”):

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hungry for unrest (the opposite, in fact!) but the phrase just keeps on popping up in my mind. To be clear, I hate violence, whether perpetrated by the right or by the left! But there is only one side that has initiated this by their blind hatred: white supremacists and nazis. “All men are created equal“, right? Not to these white supremacists who organized this hate demonstration! And here we have a world leader condoning them (despite him saying he doesn’t), enabling a society in which nazis can flourish. Where will this end? I know it’s all happening geographically far away from me, but it feels close and it scares the shit out of me.

This is a week of such great unrest for me, I find it a little difficult to cope. Work has started again and has taken my mind away from these troubles occasionally, but there is this sinking feeling, always there in the background, that I can’t quite shake. Here, some gifs that illustrate how this week has been for me…

It’ll help a little when at the very least this situation with my daughter gets resolved. Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

I was recently reminded of a picture taken a few years ago;  a picture of Esther’s treasures which really made me smile:

Esther's treasures

I’ll just hold on to that for positivity, shall I?