Comment gold: on Russia, “lousy women” and Darwin

I see no point in responding to some comments in the actual comment box. Some comments are so wonderful, they deserve to shine all on their own. This was a comment to a post about honor killings in Jordan, and how “traditionalism” in traditional society is a one-way street – i.e., men get to do whatever the hell they want, while arbitrary moral judgments apply to women.

This fine, wholesome gentleman is operating under the false assumption that I still live in Jordan. Somehow, it doesn’t retract from his eloquence or his erudition:

If you don’t like jordan go back to russia ok.
I studied in petersburg, and I’m 100% honest, the situation in russia is so much worse for women, the typical day of the russian man is: sleep till 2PM, go out with the fiends, drink, sleep with some lousy russian girls, drink, go back home at 1AM, kick the hell out of your wife/GF.
What you are talking about is not a problem in jordan, it is not a even a problem. This how the man and women are and will be forever, men don’t like lousy women(sluts) because they fear cuckoldry, women don’t like poor/weak men because they want protection. Even my friends in the west don’t like feminists or very free girls, and actually many would love to marry a virgin. Men are women are not equal, but no one is better, men want pure women, women want strong men. We should not care to give the same freedoms for men and women because that is against nature, but we must set laws that prevent lousy women and worthless men.
The way you imply that sex is not a sensitive subject in the west is wrong too, sex IS sensitive subject in the west, east south and north, sex is the primary arena of conflict for sexual creatures, sex shapes our minds and even bodies (have you heard of sexual selection), sex is a sensitive and complex subject. If you don’t believe this take biology 101 or read some darwin.

This is so beautiful that I can only respond with an equally gorgeous gif:

Per the Wills and Kate debate: yes, losing your anonymity can, in fact, suck

via: katemiddletonforthewin.tumblr.com

I should be writing a new script. So that I don’t fall behind on my student loans (on can dream, anyway), and so the husband and I can stay fed this summer (the baby, presumably, will have the breast – just like in the “Lady Madonna” song). This naturally means that I am busy participating in useless online debates at Feministe. In the course of one such debate, I have discovered that – egad! – expressing pity for Kate Middleton’s utter loss of anonymity is problematic, ya’ll (I’m beginning to loathe the word “problematic,” btw: it’s right up there with “privilege” and “trigger”).

I don’t know what it’s like to be a diamond tiara-wearing international celebrity, but I do know what it’s like to experience a partial loss of anonymity. When I lived in Amman, Jordan, in the years 2008 – 2009, I couldn’t step outside and walk down the street without shit going down. At all. Seriously. I was a young foreign woman, and a conspicuously Slavic foreign woman on top of that, in a country where ladies like me are too often associated with being “easy”. Even some people who weren’t interested in getting a piece of me felt that they had every right to point, stare, make comments, and sometimes even follow me around as I tried to, say buy tampons or whatever. People took pictures of me with their mobile phones. Entire tables full of people would get curious, sometimes even viciously curious, if I wanted to have a drink at a restaurant at night. Girls made comments about me in club bathrooms, unaware of the fact that I could usually understand what it was they were saying about me in Arabic, so that I couldn’t even pee in peace.

We all lose our privacy when we go outside, but my loss of privacy on the streets of Amman was nearly total. I wasn’t a person – I was a curiosity at best. A lot of factors contributed to this – not just my gender, appearance, and age. I had a halo of vulnerability around me. I couldn’t get used to what was happening. Unlike some other people who find themselves in similar situations, I couldn’t cope with the situation, which only increased the attention.

Even kind attention, people calling me beautiful in an attempt to make me feel welcome (both men and women did this), devastated me. I moved about the city from safe space to safe space – house, gym, expensive hotel bar, friend’s house, etc. – tensing up every time I had to mix with “ordinary people.” The worst was being intruded upon in places I had initially decided were safe. I had felt comfortable going on shopping trips, and then the first time a group of grown men started making comments and pointing their fingers at City Mall, I went home and cried for hours. The same thing happened when I discovered that the guys who worked at the gym I attended had tried to get the women’s locker room attendant to covertly snap pictures of me with her mobile when I changed (when she had refused, they pestered her with questions about my body – what did it look like naked? When she told them they were being assholes, they were shocked, she said, because to them, what they were doing was completely innocent – they never even imagined that to someone like me, what they were doing amounted to a colossal, total betrayal).

Incidentally, I was pampered in Amman. I never had to hustle for money like I do in Moscow. I didn’t have to borrow at the end of the month, or delay medical procedures while I waited for a freelance fee to come through. I didn’t lie awake at night, wondering what on earth I would do when my savings ran out (as they’re about to, again!). I ate great food. I took mini-breaks at great hotels. Ladies were paid to put expensive pumpkin goo on my face and massage my back. I certainly never cleaned my own bathroom or cooked. I still have fabulous clothes and accessories from that period of my life, vestiges of past luxury: delicate cashmere scarves, sparkling Donna Karan dresses, pearls, giant sunglasses, golden keychains, designer tunics that now nicely contain my baby bump. I rocked that shit, yo. I was queen of it.

But the price was too steep. There were other factors that contributed to my ultimate decision to leave, many of them private, but the mere fact of my day-to-day existence in Amman had exhausted and worn me down to the point that I, little miss spoiled, went all the way to the crazy former USSR in order to get my shit together and heal. Seriously. I found healing in a place where the metro gets blown up, for God’s sake.

Incidentally, I had moved to Amman for love. That love was very much a real thing, which is why it chaps my hide to hear people make snide comments about the “real” reason why Kate Middleton married William (what do we officially refer to him as, now? Do I care?). Considering the Middletons are rich, I seriously doubt that money was at stake. Despite my own feelings about the British monarchy, which are conflicting, I think there’s actually a whole lot of sexism and snobbery involved in subtly making the claim that this girl is a damn gold-digger. Seriously, people, even royals, even rich folks, meet and fall in love – and then have to make sacrifices for that love. It happens, and I view Kate Middleton’s loss of privacy as a pretty giant freaking sacrifice.

I’ve got no doubt that Kate Middleton will be able to handle being a mega-celebrity. I’ve got good money on her! She rocks those tiaras! Still, unwanted attention can be a bitch for someone who still remembers what it’s like to walk down the street like a normal person. It can leave you feeling exhausted and bitter and hunted, and for anyone who thinks otherwise, I sincerely invite you to try it out for yourself.

Who are you? And the far reaches of globalization

I recently gave a talk at the Chekhov Cultural Center here in Moscow, as part of English Language Evenings (thanks so much to the organizer, Stephen Lapeyrose, and all of the wonderful people who attended), and before the talk, I had to clarify something on my resume. I had to explain that a certain job meant work experience in two cities simultaneously – “the magazine was produced in Amman,” I said, “but it was meant for the market in Dubai. I’d just moved from Dubai and was working on it in Amman.”

During the question-and-answer portion of my talk, someone asked me which language I speak better, English or Russian. I said that I speak English better – though I’ve been catching up on my Russian since moving to Moscow, and eventually hope for my knowledge in both languages to be pretty much even.

The dreaded “who are you?” question was, thankfully, not asked. I identify as lots of things, after all. Sometimes, it confuses people. It even irritates them. They think my Whitman-esque desire to “contain multitudes” is a sign of “disloyalty,” or, worse yet, some sort of indifference to my roots. But my roots, both genetic and cultural, spiritual and intellectual, grow from all sorts of places. This isn’t rare. This isn’t weird.

“How do you figure fromness?” Chally recently asked on Feministe. The important thing is not letting anyone else decide the answer for you. It’s the same as trying to determine your work experience in a globalized job market, really – just on a more personal scale.

Bag spam: what’s in my bag? And what’s in yours?

I’ve got friends who keep sending me little memes that I have no intention to spam other people in my Gmail address book with. I can, however, spam the readers of this blog!

So for those of you who are, for some reason, dying to know what’s in my bag, here’s a rundown:

– Work pass & press card. V. important. We have a saying in Russian: “without paperwork, you’re a little bug. With paperwork, you’re a human being!”

– Wallet. This one was a present from my ex, from London. It’s huge, expensive and fabulously bourgeois – novacheck with a patent leather trim. I keep the usual wallet-y stuff in it, and I also keep more unusual stuff, such as two small, laminated icons of the Virgin & Jesus, a small cross threaded in gold on a tiny cloth pillow (of the sort one normally sews into one’s clothes, or a soldier’s uniform – a present from one of my aunts), and small amounts of currencies from all the countries I used to live in (Ukraine, U.S.A, United Arab Emirates & Jordan. Should probably stick a Soviet coin in there too.).

– Keys from two flats – one in Moscow, one in Kiev. A keychain of silver stars I bought in Alabama, and a keychain of a little red and gold bag that my ex brought me back from Dubai once. I feel a little wistful every time I see the little red and gold bag dangling. And so it goes.

– A bottle of mineral water facial spray. Because it’s Freaking. Hot. In Moscow. Sometimes, when I catch random people looking at me when I spray myself with it, I’ll offer to spray them too. They tend to say yes.

– My metro pass. Speaking of the metro, just look at what I had to put with this morning. Hades. This is Hades.

– Cosmetics, to keep myself pretty. There’s a mirror and eyeshadow compact in there, that my badass teenage BROTHER, of all people, bought for me. I told him I wanted eyeshadow for Christmas (as a way of getting him to not buy me anything – I didn’t want him to spend his money), he went into a make-up store with one of his equally badass friends, described my facial features and colouring to the saleslady, and picked out a compact. And it was perfect.

– Deodorant. Because it is Freaking. Hot. In Moscow. I really need to switch to some of that more natural crap, that won’t make my lymph nodes develop tumours. I really need to.

– My big fat Nokia phone. It belonged to my ex. I stole it in a fit of pique, after I discovered that it had a 5 megapixel camera. My ex had broken my camera a few months prior. I am still avoiding the iPhone. I think this is an issue of sentimentality.

– A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I avoided reading Byatt for years, on account of her dissing and dismissing J. R. Rowling in the NYT. No, really, I actually did this. Looking back on it, it might have been a tad silly. A tad.

– A pack of Parliaments and blue lighter to match. I don’t really smoke, of course.

– A long, silver scarf. When I lived in Jordan, I wore it as a hijab for a while. Nowadays, I take it with me when I plan to visit a church, like I did this morning. (There was absolutely no one there, it was just after a service but before they closed their doors. A few women were singing psalms in a corner by the iconostasis. One came out eventually and accepted the little paper on which I had written the names of people who needed prayers – prayers for health and wellbeing, prayers for souls who had passed on, and a special prayer to the Virgin, for two individuals who need extra help. One of those individuals being me.)

– Oversized purple  sunglasses. I bought them in London, after losing my other ones in a pub in Devon. As I recall, I got a huge lecture about switching from Vivienne Westwood to Ralph Lauren – from a person who is actually fashionable.

– A green little iPod Shuffle. My actual iPod recently fell in battle. The Shuffle was kindly donated by a famous philanthropist, i.e. my brother.

– A small bottle of perfume – the grassy, summery kind. “It reminds me of my youth,” someone told me recently. “But you are still young,” I said. “Not in that way,” he replied.

– The bag itself is a black patent leather tote, fabulously expensive, bought on fabulous sale as, to quote Disney’s Emperor Kuzco, “my birthday gift to me! I’m SO happy!” I’m not really happy, but stalking around Moscow with a great bag makes me feel imposing – which is good enough, I suppose. Our head news correspondent recently told me that one of these days, I’ll come back from the bathroom and both she and my bag will be halfway to the border with Belarus. I eagerly await further developments.