In October, I laughed

In the spirit of ending chapters in order to start new ones, here’s a post I never posted. It’s from October or Novermber last year, clearly before the election got me down (let’s be honest, that’s one of the reasons I couldn’t bring myself to write for so long), and before I started to have any sense of myself as someone who might actually be able to blend in in Scandinavia. I’m in Norway now, at an international summer school where people are from all over the world. It’s the most diverse group of people I’ve ever been with, which is saying something. And despite what the following post says, I actually feel a little bit scandinavian, at least some of the time. I can read all the signs, I can read the newspaper, I know more or less how much money I’m spending when I buy things in kroner, and I’m past the point where it feels weird that people in this part of the world seem so afraid of strangers when they’re in public places. I’ll leave the intro at that. Here’s Katherine in Denmark in October:


This week, I’ve laughed. Mostly at my own expense, because no matter how hard I try to convince myself and others that I know what I’m doing here, I have no idea what I’m doing.IMG_5288

I laughed on Monday because I didn’t go outside even once because the world is too scary.

I laughed on Tuesday morning because I thought for over an hour that there was a strong possibility I had written down the wrong country for class that day, not just the wrong classroom number.

I laughed on Tuesday night because I admitted out loud that Hvad er klokken? (What time is it) and Jeg kan ikke tale arabisk (I don’t speak arabic) really aren’t very useful phrases when you’re just trying to make friends.

I laughed on Wednesday because I biked around for an hour looking for one of the biggest train stations in the city before realizing I had passed by it three times. I should add now, months later, that I was looking for that station because I wanted to apply for a job, and when I couldn’t find it I ended up going to a movie by myself, because if you can’t earn money, why not spend some?

And it’s only Thursday morning, but I have this feeling I’ll be laughing tonight when I have a beer in my hand to watch the debate that everyone is already talking about on my social media.

I’m glad that I’m laughing, because a week ago I couldn’t. A week ago I was still hoping I could blend in. A week ago I hadn’t worn my new (to me, thanks Madita) bright orange jacket that screams I wear colors! I am not from here! yet in public.

I wish I could laugh more about things like this in the United States. It’s easier to make excuses for myself here because when you can ask people if they speak a certain language but not for the list of languages they speak, it’s hard to argue that it’s not funny.


I’m pretty sure that the reason I didn’t post this back when I wrote it is that I was a little bit afraid to admit all of these things, especially to the people in Denmark I was meeting and starting to be friends with. It’s pretty hard to admit failure, even if you’re trying to do it in a way that doesn’t sound like you think you’re failing. In retrospect, all of these things actually are pretty funny. In just a couple months, I’ll be moving to Seattle. I probably won’t have the same language issues, but I don’t think anyone should be surprised if I end up making a fool of myself some other way.

 

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Untitled, for now

I don’t think you can plan a break in blogging. So much has happened over the last few months, it’s hard to say exactly what the cause of the break was. A partial questioning of the point of blogging at all (Is it too self-congratulatory? How do I feel about random internet people who may have found me through friends of friends on Facebook reading this stuff? How strongly do I actually believe in what I’m writing? What if I change my mind? Doesn’t the internet make everything permanent?), and perhaps just an increase in general busy-ness. I have a few other ideas, but I’ll save those for a later time.

I’m going to keep my comments and thoughts and reflections on this post fairly brief. Almost two months ago, my grandfather passed away after a far too short battle with cancer. I was still in Denmark at that point, but was able to get home for the service. What is written below is what I said to the audience there. Now that he is in the ground at one of his favorite places in the world, I want to share this piece as a tribute to him.


On Bears, Mirrors, and Distance

I was once chased by a bear. I’m pretty sure it was a grizzle bear, although looking back on it, it may have been a hairy scary monster. In any case, I have a very distinct memory of this bear, chasing after me, me running as quickly as I possibly could, but somehow ending up in my parents bathroom, a dead end, where there was nowhere for me to turn to, no place for me to run to without being caught.

Screaming, laughing, I accepted my defeat. The grizzle bear swept me up into his arms, and put me on the sink. There was a mirror in front of me and a mirror behind, which meant that there were infinite grizzle bears and infinite little Katherines, getting smaller and smaller, further and further away through the tunnel of mirrors.

After a few minutes of convincing the bear that he was, in fact, my grandfather and not a bear, I asked him something I’d been wondering for what I’m pretty sure was the majority of my four years of life. “Granddaddy, are we really inside those mirrors? Can we actually go there? Why does it look like that if it’s not actually real?”

I’m not sure how he responded. I was four, and was likely more concerned with telling him my wonder than getting the kind of scientifically accurate and thorough response that this bear so commonly gave. But I’d like to spend the next couple of minutes to answer my own question, which so often occupied me nineteen years ago.

I want to fast forward a few years, to just two weeks ago. It had been a hard month. I had been, as I so often am, living out of the country since September. I was in the midst of final exams, deciding where to live next year, finding a job for next year, learning Danish, and maintaining somewhat regular contact with friends and family both at home and abroad. The first couple weeks of May, 2017 consisted of full day meetings followed by Danish class until 10 in the evening, and then a couple hours of phone calls with my family, talking about Granddaddy, thinking, processing, trying to be together despite the 8 hour time difference and 4,895 miles between us.

Just before we hung up the phone on the last of these phone calls, I asked my dad “Do you think he’ll still be there by the time I get home on Thursday?” I already knew the answer was probably no, but I thought I should ask. I went to sleep, and woke up around 6:30 the next morning, about an hour before my alarm. Five minutes later, the phone rang. “He’s gone”, they said. I didn’t have anything to say, because I already knew. Why else would I have woken up at exactly the same time that he died? I said “okay”. That was a short call.

But what does any of that have to do with grizzle bears and mirrors and a question that four-year-old Katherine asked nineteen years ago?

Maybe nothing, directly. Except that I woke up as he departed his body. As I hung up the phone, I thought of how my dad told me he was still in the hospital room. I thought about the limitations his body has been putting on him for the last five years, at least. I thought of how far away I was, and how far away I have been. I thought of how I felt angry that he had to go before I could come home, and how I felt comforted that he didn’t feel he needed to wait. I thought of how he has always wanted me to do what is best for me, and that he wouldn’t have wanted me to come home too early. And I realized that in leaving his body, he was able to be with me for my last days in Copenhagen.

Suddenly, those 4,895 miles that had felt so significant the night before shrunk down to nothing. Physically, of course, they were still there. But I don’t think it’s really right to say that he’s gone now. Because on that day, he was more with me than he had been since last July, when we said goodbye at the island. Rather than the space between us increasing, it decreased. The memories I have of him became my memories, shared perhaps with a friend, a member of my family, but definitively mine. I don’t even know how much of the Grizzle Bear story I opened with is true; I was four. The chance I added a detail or two is excellent. But I don’t think that matters. I think what matters is that the memory is there, and that that particular way of remembering it is the way that brings me closest to the Bear.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the answer to my mirror question is yes. We were inside those mirrors, we are inside those mirrors. We went there, we stayed there, we are still there. Maybe not physically, but maybe the physical isn’t what matters. Because in order to be in those mirrors, in order to be able to even be able to ask about the mirrors, we had to be there, together.

As Granddaddy wrote in one of his many many poems, this one as a tribute to the death of his sister:

I’m sure there are chemicals in the brain

That mix memories with emotions

And they will surely disappear with death,

As I guess they’d clutter the world.

Yet sometimes I think memories are stored somewhere else

Like my computer files somewhere in cyberspace.

I would like to think anyway that some day someone,

Dead or alive, will stumble on them and smile.

For me, those memories are not stored in the computer, not stored in cyberspace. They are stored somewhere between me and Granddaddy. Somewhere, maybe physically inaccessible, but somewhere that is always there, no matter how impossible it seems. As a four year old, I couldn’t understand that the images in the mirror were real; I couldn’t touch them. But now, I know that each and every reflection represents a part of our relationship, a certain kind of memory, shared just between me and Granddaddy. Some are far away, like the tiny Katherines off in the distance, and some of them are as huge and life-like as the Grizzle Bear chasing me seemed that day. But all of them are there, somewhere. The closer you look, the more there are, memories stored away in the mirror that four-year-old me and my Grizzle Granddaddy looked into nineteen years ago.

What I Learned from Mom

 

I’ve accidentally put myself into a box. I’ve outed myself as one of those liberal women influenced by ‘mainstream’ liberal media, with no real understanding of what labelled-by-the-liberals-as-privileged-people (and especially labelled-by-the-liberals-as-privileged-men) go through on a daily basis. Especially since the election, I’ve started feeling like I’m preaching to the choir on this blog. I’ve started to wonder what the point of writing it is. Anyone who doesn’t agree with me won’t last more than about two paragraphs before writing me off as just another crazy person who, to quote something I read on Facebook recently, “doesn’t think like the rest of the country”.

And then, a few days ago, I read an article (in German…sorry for those of you who can’t read it). It basically says that “heterosexual white men” (aka one group of people who may potentially be put-off by reading some of the things I write on this blog) don’t like the label “heterosexual white men” because it doesn’t encompass all of their complex characteristics. This is something that should be obvious. Obviously heterosexual white men also have personalities and opinions and I’m friends with some and not friends with others and some like dogs and some like cats and some are allergic to both. But the feeling of being put into a box like that is frustrating. It’s a feeling I know well as a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, and a feeling that many many people without the privileges I have know better than I do.

It’s a feeling that makes me feel like it would be better if I’d never come out publicly about all of the things I’ve been through, because then I could feign objectivity. It’s a feeling that makes me eager to justify my every word and action. A feeling that now makes me say out loud that I am a heterosexual white woman, just so people know where I am coming from. It’s like I want my own warning sign that says “any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental”. That reminds people that no matter what I say, it’s always just coming from my mouth, out of my experiences, and it’s probably not universal and maybe not even legitimate. To me, it’s pretty (pardon my language, but fucking) obvious that I am not objective. Everything I say (and also everything I write) is my opinion, my truth, my point of view. Obviously.

As a child, I thought my mom was objectively correct about most things. As a teenager, I thought she should think a little harder about how her ideas aren’t necessarily universal truths. Now I think she’s just be an opinionated woman who’s been trying her whole life to be heard. She has learned to state her opinions like they’re objective facts because if she doesn’t, people accuse her of thinking that way (i.e. having ideas) because she’s a girl, because she’s emotional, or because she just ‘doesn’t get it’. Whatever that means.

I think I’ve figured out what the it that my mom doesn’t get is. I think it refers to the truth of white heterosexual men that dominates everything. The truth that has always been labelled as ‘objective’. Not because it’s more correct (or more incorrect) than my truth or my mom’s truth or my sister’s truth, but because it’s the one that people who have historically been in positions of power have spoken. As a child, I thought my mom was objective because she spoke like she was. As a teenager, I thought her opinions were img_1294too strong because she’s articulate and has a tendency to use facts to back up her arguments (and that’s annoying when you’re fifteen and trying to argue). Now, I’ve started to notice how often and firmly I need to repeat my own opinions to be heard.

Neither my mom’s nor my opinions are objective, despite what seven-year-old me thought. But we live in a world where your ideas are subjective by default if you’re a woman and objective by default if you’re a man. So we’ve learned to speak loudly and clearly. Sometimes, we can trick seven-year-olds.

Just like my Facebook echo chamber told me prior to the election that there were probably only 4 people in the whole country voting for Trump, the echo chamber of the United States of America has historically told white heterosexual men that their truth is the only one out there. That’s a comfortable place to be, and an uncomfortable place to admit you are. In fact, as soon as you admit that you’re in it, you admit that other people’s truths matter, too. For me, that means trying to understand where Trump voters are coming from. For some heterosexual white men who hate being reduced to ‘just’ heterosexual white men, it means admitting everything they ever thought was True might actually just be an opinion.

As uncomfortable as it may be to embrace the heterosexual white male identity, it’s an identity that heterosexual white males need to embrace. You’re allowed to have other personality traits. Your white heterosexual male-ness doesn’t even need to be your main trait. But my patience is waning with those of you who continue to believe in objectivity just because the world is your echo chamber. If someone doesn’t get your “it”, you probably don’t get their’s, either. You’re allowed to disagree. You’re allowed to be angry. You’re allowed to feel confused. But you are not allowed to pretend your words represent Objective Truth. Because in the end, if I don’t get ‘it’, neither do you.

 

P.S. If you just read this and you’re a heterosexual white man (or other person) feeling offended, re-read it and notice that I’m just asking you to embrace and acknowledge your box, not accusing you (or your friends) of being an awful person.

What’s Your Armour?

img_3444I wear my grandma’s ring.

Every single day.

It is my armour. It is my armour because she was gone too soon. Because I never got to know her. Because she was an educator. Because she raised three children in the 1960s and 1970s. Because I hear her laugh was great and her sense of humor was too. Because I want people to ask me about the ring, about her. Because maybe, through the twelve long years of alzheimer’s disease that preceded her death, just maybe I did learn what  she would want me to fight for.

I wear her ring because I want her to be proud.

The day she died, I tried to go to school and failed. The day she died, I did nothing but cry. The day she died, I tried to explain to my young cousins why I was so sad. The day she died, my uncle asked to be alone with his dead mother. The day she died, I learned how to mourn.

But, the day she died, I learned that death is not the end. The day she died, the way she died, I learned that death brings change. Death brings fear. I learned that death deserves mourning. I learned that while death may kill the person, it can never kill the soul. I learned that no matter what, you have to keep fighting.


Today, I find myself in mourning once again. In mourning for something I truly believed in. In tears for the feeling of loss. In fear of the unknown. In terror of what the future holds for me, for people of color, for the LGBTQI community, for the country, for immigrants, for the international community, for those with different abilities, for women, for those who do not understand who they just elected to be the president of what is arguably the most powerful country in the world.

And yet, while I have not yet left my apartment today, while I have spent much of the day in tears, while I have eaten only 7 pancakes all day, while I hardly slept last night, I have not given up. We have to keep fighting. We need to talk to the people who are different from us. We must leave our echo chamber. We can not run away. We can not move to Canada.

My grandmother’s death did not remove her from my history, and the death of this campaign (or, for some, the figurative death of our country) does not remove it from ours.

The activism that has become the soul of this campaign over the last weeks can and must live on. We can not forget what we are fighting for. We can not abandon our neighbors, we can not unfriend our Facebook friends. We need to pull together, we need to listen, we need to learn, and we need to heal.


Every night, I remove my grandmother’s ring from my finger and place it prominently on my dresser.

Every night, I think of her again, and hope I’ve made her proud.

Every night, I let myself rest. Because fighters must rest. We can fight, we can work, we can talk, we can scream. But we can not escape death. We can not escape the end. And we must not try to do so. We must allow ourselves to smile through the pain, we must appreciate the sun, the rain, and the people who love us. And, we must allow ourselves to sleep through the night.

Every morning, her ring is back on my finger. Today, I have her earrings too. Her death gave me my armour. I will not let her down.


Today, mourn as you must. If we were not in mourning, we would be giving in to defeat. Treat today like you would any other death. Be kind to yourself. Eat cake, drink wine, stay in bed. But please, do not run away. Do not lose faith. Try again tomorrow. Keep the soul alive. And find your armour. You’re going to need it.

 

On Sadness, from a (Sometimes) Angry Feminist

In case you haven’t been reading my blog the last couple months, I’m really sick of this election. I want it to be over, I want Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States, I want everyone to admit that Donald Trump is sexist, xenophobic, racist, etc etc etc, and I want the country to start to heal.

So, on Friday night, I wanted to get away from it all. I wanted to stop thinking about the election. I wanted, as I so often do, to stop thinking about gender.  I didn’t want to be ‘the American’. I wanted to be a person among people, to meet new people, and to just be. So I went to a party, open to all, but mostly for refugees and asylum seekers. I had a great time. I played foosball (and actually I’m not as bad as I thought I was and/or used to be, so remember that if you ever want to challenge me), I ate, I danced, I talked to new people. I even spoke some Danish and it occurred to me that talking with other non-Danes who don’t speak the language might be a pretty good way to practice. Danish with an Arabic accent, here I come.

And I was really trying hard not to be a girl, not to overanalyze the gender relations of absolutely everything. That’s an exhausting task and honestly I sometimes think I overdo it a little (Do I feel guilty about wanted to move to where my boyfriend is because I don’t want to be the tag-along girlfriend or is it more complicated than that? I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated…)

I was playing foosball with 3 dudes, so try as I might not to, I noticed that I was focusing a little harder because I didn’t want to be the girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing (I don’t know why I think foosball is a boy’s game…am I wrong about that?). I thought that by being good at foosball I could prove myself as one of the guys, and then proceed to be treated like one of the guys for the rest of the evening.

And since I was trying so hard to ignore all the gender stuff that was going on, I’m not totally sure where the tipping point was.


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But the night ended in a way that too many nights do. I’d had to tell two of my fellow foosballers about the existence of my boyfriend, just to make it clear where I stand. Both were “totally fine with it”, and told me that it was “no problem”.

And yet, as I was just about to make my way home, one  kissed me on one cheek, and then on the other. “Okay”, I thought. “This is maybe not exactly what I’d planned for, but the cheek kissy thing happens in a lot of places, whatever, not a big deal.” Then he wanted to kiss my forehead. “This is weird, I don’t feel comfortable with this, since I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll say no.” “But why not?? It’s like I’m your brother, I’m not kissing your mouth, just your forehead, it’s really okay!!!”

I have no idea. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. I can’t remember if I ended up letting him kiss my forehead to avoid further discussion. But what I do know is that the last thing that happened before I got on my bike was another kiss on the cheek followed by a bite subtle enough that I knew better than to say anything about it, but hard enough that I could still feel it by the time I got home.


I was confused about how to feel. I wasn’t afraid, because this sort of thing has happened so many times before. I wasn’t surprised, because this sort of thing has happened so many times before. And while part of me was angry (because this sort of thing has happened so many times before), it wasn’t true anger. I was actually sort of angry at myself for letting it happen (more on that in a minute). But more than anything, I came to realize that I was sad it had happened.

I was (and am) sad because for me, that night had been about trying to forget about gender. That night was about trying to learn about people who have come from the unimaginable to live in Denmark, about trying to socialize with people who, like me, are trying to build a life for themselves in a new country, with a new language, with new people. About building bridges and finding common ground rather than about noticing the problems and divisions we still face and acknowledging how far we still have to go.

And while I did have a good time, I also learned that it is not possible for me to “forget about my gender for a night”, especially if it is a night with alcohol and with people I’ve never met. And that makes me sad because sometimes I think we’re making progress. Sometimes I think that all the conversations I have with people are working, and that the conversations people have been having since Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments are making people think.

But as the woman, it remains my job to manage my behavior so that men a) don’t think it’s a good idea to bite my cheek and b) believe me when I tell them that it’s not a good idea. As the woman, I do not have the luxury of spending an evening simply talking to and learning from anyone who comes my way; it is always safer and easier to have a female friend nearby. As the woman, I can not allow myself to forget, even for a few hours, that being nice is often misread as being interested.

And while it makes me angry on a large scale, like I should do something or, to quote the dictionary, “be unpleasant”,  on a small scale, I just feel sad, “affected with grief”. The distinction is small, but important. My anger is at the system, which forces me to maneuver these situations. It’s at the men who insist that I am not doing any maneuvering. It is at the people who have the opportunity to learn about these things and refuse to do so.

But my sadness, my grief is different.What is sadder than really truly trying to leave your differences at the door only to be reminded that that is not an option? I am sad that I am not repeating myself. I am sad that I feel I could have prevented this encounter. I am sad that I tried so hard to make connections and that it may have led to nothing but another awkward encounter with a man who had one beer too many. I am sad because for just one night, I really wanted to believe that I could forget.

Stop Calling Trump a Liar

This election season has been worse than usual. Everyone (in the United States and in Denmark) is ready for it to be over. People hate Hillary Clinton. People hate Donald Trump. There have been accusations on both sides. Donald Trump thinks Clinton should go to jail. Clinton thinks Trump supporters are “deplorables”. People are literally talking about the threat of violence on election day

All of this is bad. And anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I am voting for Hillary Clinton. But I want to clarify something. I’m not voting her because Donald Trump is a liar. I’m voting for her because Donald Trump is telling the truth (and because I actually like her, but that’s not the point of this post).

I know, it seems like the internet is filled with lists of all the awful things he’s done. The times he’s changed his mind. The people he’s insulted. It’s filled with business ventures gone wrong, sexual assault allegations, and lies he’s told. But I’ve been watching Mr. Trump. I watched the debates. I’ve seen videos of his rallies. And when he says “I have more respect for women than anyone”, when he says “The blacks love me!”, when he says “Mexico will build a wall”, he is not lying. 

How do I know? 

I know because the rich television producer who pulled me towards him to kiss me while his girlfriend was out of the room was very sincere and confused when he asked “why not?”. 

I know because the man who walked me to the taxi stand at 3am because I didn’t feel like telling him to stop touching me anymore asked very sincerely what the problem was, and if maybe his offering me his jacket would help.

I know because the man at the rowing club a month ago really thought that we had had a good conversation.

I know because the response I got when saying I didn’t want to be called slut during sex was whore.

And I know because the facial expressions, the body language, the sincerity in these men’s voices as they speak with me is the same as what I see when Donald Trump speaks. It’s a real desire to know, to understand, for me to explain exactly what it is about them, their looks, their ideas, or their power that I don’t find attractive. 

We can call it sexism, we can call it mansplaining, we can call it assault. That’s what it is. But we should not forget the sincere look, the true misunderstanding, the true honesty that is behind it all. It rarely comes from people with bad intentions. It almost always comes from people who have fallen “victim” (as Trump would put it) to a culture which has told them over and over and over that women like powerful men who are TV producers, who offer them their jackets when it’s cold outside no matter the circumstances, who can at least pretend to know something about things they don’t, and who are able to keep in control no matter what.

When Donald Trump says he respects women, he isn’t lying. For him, “grabbing women by the pussy” is just locker room talk. For him, it’s a compliment to say he might date his daughter. For him, it’s only logical that beauty queens should be careful about what they eat.

It’s only logical that the Mexicans will want to build a wall. Only logical that Muslims are dangerous. Only logical that he might not accept the election results.

 

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Make America Great Again

I truly believe that Donald Trump is not lying when he says that “the blacks”, “the gays”, “the women”, “everyone” loves him. Because honestly, how could you not love someone as rich, powerful, loud, and confident as him?

And that is exactly why I am terrified to think of him as the next president of the United States. His confidence, his loudness, his money, even his “saying what’s on his mind” make him seem really powerful, like no one can defeat him. His campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” implies that he can do something for the people who have lost their jobs and who are afraid of the United States becoming a place with a white minority. And  I understand that there are people who want a strong man in their lives. I understand that there are people (many of them white men) who feel forgotten and angry that their jobs are gone and worry that “the blacks” and “the Mexicans” are the reason for it. Those are very real, very personal issues that need to be addressed.

But it does no good for those who have lost their jobs, who have no college education and who feel forgotten to sit in a room together and complain. The people who need to hear those complaints are the ones who haven’t lost their jobs. The ones who are doing fine after the recession. Even the ones who have immigrated to the United States and haven’t done their homework on American history and traditions. The ones who are so educated they don’t know how to hold down a job in anything but academia. The ones who don’t know how to listen and take people without a college degree seriously. If I’ve learned anything about Donald Trump, it’s that he is very good at talking, and not so good at listening.

I know that when that television producer with the fancy car pulled my body against him to kiss me when I was doing fieldwork in Turkey, I was afraid. I was afraid for my safety. I was afraid for my reputation. I was afraid of what his girlfriend might think if she found out. I was afraid because he was stronger than me. I was afraid because I didn’t have a way to get home that night. And that fear was also very real, very personal, and needs to be addressed.

But just as it does the jobless and forgotten no good to complain to each other, it does no good for me to sit in a room of feminists (especially other white female feminists) and talk about these issues. The people who need to talk about this are the people who call us their “wives, sisters, and daughters”. The ones who, like Donald Trump, are not lying when they say they respect women. The ones who want to be allies but don’t know how. The ones who are horrified to find out that women they know have faced sexual violence on one level or another. The ones who didn’t know what sexual violence was until they found themselves accused of committing it.

I know it’s not only the president’s job to fix these problems. But I also know we need to elect someone who can listen.

I understand that everyone is afraid of what is going to happen next Tuesday. But no matter who you are, no matter how hurt you feel, no matter how scared you are, no matter if you’re afraid of immigrants or of men or of the government, I can not stress enough that we are, in two words, Stronger Together.

You should go to the movies this election season

“Where do I go?”, I asked the man I had just paid 75 kroner for a movie I’d never heard of in a cinema I’d never heard of on a day that I hadn’t planned on watching a movie.

He laughed. I’d given up trying to act like a Dane for the day and he could tell. “It’s just around the corner, it looks like this door here, but on the other side. You won’t miss it.”

I laughed. I thought about telling him that I usually don’t need this much help, that today is different from other days, that I might be back in a second if I couldn’t find it. But I think he knew already, so I didn’t.

I walked around the corner, determined that the door in front of me did indeed look like the door the nice man had pointed at, and that I should mill about until someone came to open it. I looked at the posters on the wall. Something about a Turkish Film Festival. “I lived in Turkey!”, I thought, “I should try to go to that!”

The doors opened, and the fifteen or so people who had tickets to the movie walked in. I was supposed to sit in row 6, seat 2. There are four reasons I didn’t:

  1. I would have had to climb over [danish] people.
  2. Climbing over Danish people requires talking to them, which requires them knowing I’m not Danish, and I really didn’t think that was relevant information in a dark room where no one is talking to anyone. Note on my Danish: I can say advanced sentences like Jeg hedder Katherine and Hvad er klokken?, but neither of those are Sorry, I’m supposed to sit in seat 2, and it’s pretty important to follow the rules, so I’d like to climb over you please.
  3. There were fifteen people in the theater, so like why do we need assigned seats anyway?
  4. American movie theaters never have assigned seats, and I had already given up on being Danish for the day, so there wasn’t really much of a point to following Danish rules.

I sat in row 6, seat 7.

And then the movie started. And it turned out that I’d accidentally bought a ticket to that Turkish Film Festival that I thought I’d try to go to and that the subtitles were in English and not Danish and that I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t speak Turkish even though I did live there and I did take Turkish classes and that it was okay to eat the salt licorice in the theater even though I wasn’t sure that it was okay because I think it’s like a fancy theater or something but then again I’m not really sure because I wasn’t even planning on going to the movies today, and I just moved to Denmark recently so I don’t really know which cinema is which but I do know that this cinema also was playing Ninja Turtles at 7, so it probably was a good bet.

I don’t think I’d ever been to a movie alone before last night. Somehow, in the dark theater where everyone is focusing on the screen, the normal rules of life seem to fade away. Except for the 30 seconds when someone was kicking the back of my chair, the other people in the room faded away into non-existence, all of us focusing instead on the issues presented on the screen in front of us.

I forgot for a while that I had ended up in the theater only because I’d gotten lost on my bike looking for a place I should definitely know how to get to by now. I forgot that I was probably the only one in the room that cared the subtitles were in English instead of Danish. I forgot that I’d just paid 75 kroner for a movie ticket when the goal of my outing had originally been to apply for a job.

In the dark room, I allowed myself to just enjoy the story.

Or to interpret it from a cultural and societal and gendered perspective, which is basically synonymous with enjoy.

The film is called Nobody’s Home. The adult male (father) in the family is absent, and has left his family to fend for themselves. The mother falls into a depression, unable to leave the house on her own. The thirty-two year old daughter decides to marry a man she doesn’t love because he knows some plumbing and she wants to move out of her mother’s house. The seventeen year old son takes to smoking weed and sleeping with his best friend’s mother (the first time it’s rape, the following times it’s just uncomfortable). The twelve year-old daughter is just trying to keep it together while her family falls apart around her.

It was hard for me not to ask some questions. Are they really that lost without a man in the house? Is this film a critique on Turkish society not teach women to fend for themselves? Is it even questioning whether Turkish women should be able to fend for themselves? Is he raping her because he knows he’ll get away with it and he feels powerless? Did she decide she wants to sleep with him because it’s easier or because she actually wants him there? What is the point of this film?

As an American, it’s hard for me to know what the Turkish director’s intent was with the implicit gender roles and gender relations. But I came away feeling grateful that even though I often feel like I have no clue what I’m doing in this country, I never feel like Nobody’s Home. Even though I sometimes worry (implicitly more than explicitly) that my opinion doesn’t matter because of my gender, I have people around me who remind me that it does. Even though I’ve become legitimately upset that I failed at plunging the toilet, I never worry that I can’t plunge it because I’m a woman. Even though I would rather be living in the same place as my boyfriend, I don’t feel abandoned. Even though I sometimes get lost, I always blame it on my commitment to keeping up my appearance as a local rather than on my being lost without a man.

Even though I see my whole life through gender and I have experienced just how imperfect the system is, it’s also important to remember how much worse it could be. It’s just as important to encourage the good as it is to discourage the bad. Especially over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling pessimistic about the election, about how many women have come forward as survivors of assault, and about how many men are surprised to hear their stories.

But I went to the movies yesterday because I had failed at almost all my goals for the day. I went to the movies because I’d given up on the day. That’s why I was laughing with the ticket seller. That’s why I bought the salt licorice in the first place. And while we shouldn’t laugh about the last few weeks to the point of staying home on election day, it might not be such a bad idea to admit that this whole thing is a shitshow and to take ourselves (figuratively as well as literally) to the movies a little more often.