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


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.

Jim Fitzpatrick, gender segregation and multiculturalism as two-way street

I follow Jonathan Fryer on Twitter, which is how I found out about MP Jim Fitzpatrick’s wedding debacle at the London Muslim Center. Basically, Fitzpatrick and his wife were invited to a Muslim wedding, walked out when they realized that it would be segregated by gender, and Fitzpatrick later followed up the incident by saying that gender segregation is not appropriate in this day and age and that it is damaging to community cohesion.

Now George Galloway, ever cognizant of a good scandal, is calling for Fitzpatrick’s head.

Fitzpatrick represents half a borough in which there are tens of thousands of Muslims. Alienating your constituents, people who are already pretty damn alienated to begin with, is never an awesome move.

However, I also believe that what’s mere gender segregation to some people is pure gender apartheid to others. What’s being buried in this story is that not all Muslim weddings are segregated by gender, and not all Muslims believe in gender segregation as a rule, and merely saying that Fitzpatrick unequivocally “harmed local and national community cohesion” is too simple and pat.

Fitzpatrick and his wife had every right to walk out of that wedding. There was no way they should have sucked it up and pretended they were loving it for the sake of “multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism is a two-way street. If we agree, for example, that Muslim women in non-Muslim majority countries need to be left in peace when it comes to veiling, then Fitzpatrick’s wife ought to be left in peace if she and her husband decide that gender segregation is not their cup of tea.

It is Fitzpatrick’s remarks after the wedding that have needlessly politicized this entire issue and consequently turned it ugly. If he had framed it as a personal opinion, and not made a sweeping statement that implied that gender segregation should simply not be tolerated in British society in general, I would have supported him all the way. I do, however, agree with the groom that a celebration was being turned into a political clobbering tool either way you look at it. This must be a very bitter lesson for this family, and I don’t envy their position.

However, Fitzpatrick was not being “ignorant” either. There is nothing at all ignorant about stating that “separate but equal” is not something that you personally approve of. Gender segregation at mosques, for example, is already a big issue in the West. You can’t and you won’t make everyone agree on it. Cohesion? Hah. You might as well try to get a bunch of Duke & UNC fans in one room together, and ask them to remain “cohesive.”

The one time I went to a gender segregated wedding, I had a blast. It had nothing to do with gender barriers, however, and everything to do with the company, which was warm, welcoming and relaxed. When you’re surrounded by good people, you have a good time. It’s as simple as that, and politics don’t really matter in that moment.

At the same time, you realize that many of the women who are in the room with you wouldn’t necessarily attend your own, mixed wedding, because they would be uncomfortable. Their discomfort is valid – as is the Fitzpatricks’ discomfort. I personally refuse to privilege one feeling over the other here. You may say that Fitzpatrick is already pretty privileged – being a white male politician and all – and I would agree. But how one feels about an issue as contentious as gender segregation is still very much a deeply personal decision, and you can’t place value on it as easily as you can place value on someone’s social position.

Everyone has their own principles, and sometimes, you can’t avoid stepping on another person’s toes, no matter how hard you may try. The great illusion of multiculturalism is that it promotes a “love thy neighbour” mentality. Well, it doesn’t, not really.

Britain and Ukraine, Miliband and Yuschenko, Politics and Posturing

I have to laugh when I see people like Victor Yuschenko stand self-righteously stand against tyranny with David Miliband (i.e. with a representative of the same country that helped illegally invade Iraq, whose politicians will never admit that their idiotic actions have inspired the general lawlessness of today) while the British press laps it all up. Honestly, what is it about the love affair between the BBC and Yuschenko? Like, you people aren’t at all aware how he sold us all out, both his supporters and the opposition, following the Orange Revolution? Oh, but of course, Ukraine is just that quaint little country your sex tourists go to, you’re not the ones who have to contend daily with a tuberculosis epidemic, jacked-up prices, neo-Nazis, and mob violence.

If Russia bombs us, it won’t be your problem. It won’t be your fathers and mothers in pieces. You’ll be having the time of your lives in your newsrooms as more and more of your citizens tune into the latest spectacle from our post-Soviet dystopia, slightly charming in that whole kitschy, floppy-eared hat kind of way. You’re not neighbours with Russia, you don’t have a sizeable chunk of the population speaking Russian, so what do you have to worry about? Chaos and turmoil? The possibility of a Crimean secession? You don’t give a crap about any of that, and neither does your government.

You don’t share a border with Russia, and therefore good ol’ Mr. Miliband can shake hands and talk tough and face no consequences. He’s got his own position and people to look after. Does Mr. Yuschenko, who was recently snapped talking on a trendy and illegal iPhone (gosh, what a step down from his son’s Vertu – why don’t you cowards write about that, huh? Where does the MONEY for these people’s toys come from, do you EVER stop to wonder?), look out for his people? Can you say “yes” to me and keep a straight face?

The BBC will always stress how Mr. Yuschenko is a pro-Western politician, completely ignoring the fact that Mr. Yuschenko is first and foremost a pro-Yuschenko politician. But as I already mentioned, they’re not the ones living in Russia’s shadow.

You will ask, “but what is the solution, Natalia? What do you do in this situation?” And I’ll tell you honestly that I don’t know. That the most I can hope for is the aversion of another war. But as long as it’s Ukrainian and Russian and Georgian and Ossetian lives that are on the line, I doubt anyone in Western seats of power will think the way I do. For all of their posturing, no one cares if more people die.

We are expendable. We’re good enough to be your “whores,” but not much else.

Love to Tim Brabants!

Tim Brabants was a 31-year-old British doctor with a dream, competing in a sport, kayaking, where the British have never won a gold medal. He put a helluva lot on the line, sidelining his career and making financial sacrifices, and today, he done made his country proud. He looked so badass in the kayak single 1000m race, with his huge arms and cool little sunglasses, and when he got up on that stand to accept his gold with such a mild, gentle smile, he was a doctor again. A doctor with a lion inside.

Tim Brabants, we salute you.