Updated: Feb 19, 2021
The song made me think about the trade-offs, what we give up when we have these survival mechanisms and internal monologues, rather than being able to say out loud what we are feeling.
Warning: This post refers to sexual abuse and femicide.
OK, I admit it: romantic love can lead to some really awesome things, like Costa Rican/US fusion babies, like mine, whose imminent arrival we announced to the world on Valentine's day, 2016.
It was Valentine’s Day this past week, a day when romantic love is put on a pedestal that it probably doesn’t deserve. I happen to really like Valentine’s Day, maybe because it’s also my sister’s birthday, and also probably because I love candy, pink things, flowers, and exchanging cute little notes with people. It’s also always nice to have an excuse for some kind of special celebration.
But a celebration of romantic love shouldn’t obscure real love, difficult and messy and confusing, and it shouldn’t provide cover for violence or fear that so many people (disproportionately women) experience in their “romantic” relationships.
I’m thinking about this as I watch the video (embedded, below) that inspires this Part 3 of my Listening with Love this February series on the blog. My brother-in-law, Johann, is part of a musical group in the Fundación Armonía Colectiva and the Youth Hope Orchestra (Orquesta Juventud Esperanza, OJE), and they recently wrote and performed an original song about sexual abuse and femicide (which is what it sounds like: the murder of women simply because they are women [usually perpetrated by an intimate partner]).
Here is what they say about why they wrote this song:
“The song arises from the conversation about a case of sexual abuse that occurred in the Costa Rican music scene. This led the OJE students to speak and share their experiences related to the sexual harassment suffered by women on a daily basis, the many “survival methods” that they devise to feel safe and manage to get home alive and also share the indignation and powerlessness generated by the fact that most cases of violence, abuse and sexual harassment go unpunished.”
Esta Vez Me Tocó a Mí (This time it was my turn) by the Orquesta Juventud Esperanza of the Fundación Armonía Colectiva
[Lyrics: Our souls burn with pain and fury
Before a world immersed in indifference,
victims of abuse and femicides on the loose,
Latent minimization and deep fear.
From the ashes we emerged united in the fight,
for our sisters who today are not heard.
Creating alliances, crossing experiences,
Claiming empathy, fairness and conscience.]
In the interlude to the song, (which has English subtitles), we see the faces of real women (I know some of them!) as we listen to the internal thoughts that women have in so many situations. Many of those thoughts have to do with survival techniques, such as, “I can use my keys as a weapon,” or, “I’ll frown/put on an ugly face,” or reasons to not talk about fear or abuse: “no one will believe me.”
I was really struck by this idea of survival techniques. I have personally used these exact ones to get home safely, and I have been quiet about experiences I’ve had because I don’t want to be judged, or I think my perspective won’t be believed. Since the start of the pandemic, I haven’t had too many interactions with anyone outside of my own household, and I am fortunate to feel safe in my own home (a luxury many do not have).
… (There was that day on our trip to Costa Rica in December when the old memories of pre-pandemic life were roused by the catcall I received while walking down the street by myself, a rude reminder that I am not supposed to feel safe unless I am being accompanied by a man, that my body is meant for the pleasure of strangers unless it is seen as “owned” by a man that I’m walking with. And lest anyone think that this experience is unique to Costa Rica, I have also experienced this in the US, in large cities and small towns, from strangers and from workplace colleagues.)…
I wonder about the internal monologues/survival techniques of women from all walks of life.
But I’ve also used survival techniques in my own home, strategies for trying to explain away my frustrations, or justifications for putting up with suffering. I’ll make a plan to get through the day, like putting on an angry face to deter anyone from interacting with me and hurting me. I’ll carry my proverbial keys in my knuckles, ready to fight back if someone threatens my precarious relationship with my health. Or I’ll refrain from talking about how close to a breakdown I came today because I don’t think anyone will believe me, or care.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember yelling and blaming my husband for some of the frustrations I felt about household chores. This past summer, I remember having a phone call with some family members, and just really exploding at them about politics. When my kids are driving me crazy, it’s easier to want to harshly discipline them than to take some time to get what I need to be ok.
For me and for a lot of women (and men!), recognizing how we feel and then calm-assertively (thank you, Cesar Milan, for this term, which he uses to talk about being a “pack leader” with your dog) doing what it takes to value those feelings is for some reason very difficult.
Part of it is that many times the feelings of women are not believed. Remember the whole “hysteria” thing? I mean, women were taking care of every detail of a household, plus social pressures, plus sexual abuse, plus the health pressures that come from having to be thin or pregnant or nursing or in general giving one’s body for the comfort of others, and then they were called crazy for feeling overwhelmed or wanting to find some kind of meaning or control in their lives.
When I realized after the birth of my second baby that I was dealing with pretty extreme anxiety (probably exacerbated by lack of sleep), when I would mention my anxiety to people close to me, I often got the response, “yeah, well everyone worries.” Or, “it’s just something you’ll have to get through.”
When I mentioned it to my doctor, I was very fortunate to receive this response: “Oh, it seems that your anxiety and insomnia are really a vicious cycle. I want you to be able to enjoy those babies. Start with a little melatonin to help you sleep and then we’ll see how you are.” Guess what?! It worked!
It only took me 2.5 years after having my first baby (!) to figure out that I was having bad anxiety (and that I had had medium anxiety for a long time prior to that), and since then I’ve been able to keep myself on a more even keel, through regular water intake, healthy food, enough sleep, and some melatonin from time to time. And exercise and creative projects (thanks, reader, for supporting my anxiety-healing creative project right now!).
And then the pandemic started, and the anxiety ratcheted up again. But at least now I had a few more tools at my disposal because I could name my feeling.
Another reason that naming and then sharing our feelings can be difficult for women is because so many of us are afraid of what another person might do to us if we do or say the wrong thing (or for no reason at all).
While the country celebrated the Costa Rica national team's exciting victories in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (like on this day when we celebrated the Round of 16 win against Greece), domestic violence increased as drunk men battered the women in their homes. In fact, this very night I received a random and chilling phone call from one drunk reveler that makes me shiver to this day. So while this photo is of a good memory, it also conjures some dark realities.
I’m not going to go over all of the statistics in this post, but according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (US), 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner violence, and every day over 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nation-wide. Costa Rica has been experiencing a spike in violence against women, with gruesome murders shocking the country. Costa Rica tracks femicides, something that the US does not, a shocking fact in and of itself (in fact, my spell check doesn't even recognize the word femicide in English).
There are many resources in both countries for seeking help, and for reporting domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence. In the US, there is a National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org), and of course anyone can call 9-1-1. In Costa Rica, there are emergency services available through calling 9-1-1, and through child protective services (PANI) and the Instituto WËM for reporting domestic violence against men. All of these resources are linked on the Fundación Armonía Colectiva website.
This month of love, I’ve been reflecting on listening with love: about the impacts of Covid-19 on the poor, about the impact of racism on our children, and now, about the fears and abuses experienced by women. Each of the posts features young people who are working on these issues, and using their energy and creative talents for addressing such big and difficult problems. This is energizing to me, as I hope it can be for you.
But this week’s song also really challenges me about listening to myself, too. I mean, the title of the song, “This time it was my turn,” points out that the challenges of the world “out there,” don’t stay “out there” – they affect me and my life. This is another lesson of the pandemic, isn’t it? None of us, not even the privileged ones of us that are used to getting off easy for our bad behavior, can finally escape the implications of an unhealthy system, or an unhealthy self. It’s kind of like the old feminist insight: the personal is political.
Costa Rica has some really great art (both formal and informal) about the "personal is political" thing: there are so many sculptures about how the family is better off when people have work and social security and labor laws. And there is some perceptive graffiti about how chauvinism is the same whether you are on the political left or the right.
The song these Costa Rican youth wrote made me think about the trade-offs, what we give up when we have these survival mechanisms and internal monologues, rather than being able to say out loud what we are feeling. The video that the OJE made (which I am sharing here) does a really good job at conveying the discomfort of this trade-off; it’s SSOOOOO dissonant, and not a “nice” sounding song. But this is totally on purpose, and it really resonates with my experience of trying to sort through the feelings and just figure out what they are, and then begin to express them.
So I’ve been trying to look inward as much as outward this February, to listen to myself with love as much as I listen to others, and to see my own life as a part of a larger social context. At the end of the day this listening to myself is what allows me to name my feelings and deal with them, which will ultimately be good for everyone around me, too.
I’m not just talking about becoming a nicer person, however. Our context doesn’t really allow for that being the only result of getting in touch with reality and our feelings.
One of the feelings I can name, particularly when confronted with the facts of the issues I’ve been working with this month on the blog, is anger. Anger at the fact that the poor, people of color, and women are disproportionately affected by, well, everything, when compared with their share of the population. Anger that my own consumerism hurts other people and the planet, and that I don’t get to just remain blissfully ignorant about it. Or that our political system not only doesn’t seem up to the challenge of fixing these problems, but actually is the problem a lot of the time. But like these young people I’ve been listening to, I am trying to channel that anger into something productive, each day a little more concrete, a little more informed, a little less partisan, and a little less despairing. I’m really grateful for your company on that journey.
Have you been able to identify or name a feeling you’ve been having?
What happened once you did that?