La Güera Gets Drunk, Takes on the Patriarchy

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Weekends in Cuenca are not in general very exciting. We drink the same beers, go to the same bars, talk and flirt with the same people, reminisce (or remind) each other about what happened the night before, rinse and repeat. I am a woman who thrives on variety and thus have trouble with the sameness of it all. And perhaps, in my boredom, I made a mistake–I got really, really drunk. I mean the say-everything-in-my-mind, sloppy, falling down kind of drunk. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t aspire to it. And I’m not proud of it. But my personal sense of having overindulged and made a fool of myself is not what has me so angry.

As happens when one was drunk and doing annoying/entertaining/astonishing things, people have been coming up to me to tell me of my antics. I may have tried to crowdsurf, I may have told someone I just met that girls with purple hair do it better, and I may have been overagressive with some party foam, but what I was not doing was asking for it. So many people have asked me what would have happened if someone had taken advantage of me in my state, what if some man had managed to get me alone, what if I had been raped? They say, “You shouldn’t drink so much. You’re making yourself vulnerable to bad men who want to hurt you.” I’m lucky I have good friends that didn’t leave me alone, because I can’t even imagine what I would be feeling if I had been raped or otherwise assaulted, but you know what? Regardless of my state of inebrity, it wouldn’t have been my fault. 

I don’t care if I’m walking alone at night on a deserted street. If I’m wearing a short skirt or a low-cut dress. If I’m drunk and friendlier than usual. I refuse to conform to a set of standards designed to keep me from being raped, while men are not taught how to conform to standards that would keep them from raping. If I were a man, no one would tell me not to get so drunk because of the possibility of sexual assault. If I were a man, people would tell me not to get drunk because I was annoying or belligerent or just because it’s not good for my liver–not because someone might force themselves upon me and against my will defile the only thing I have any real claim to in life: my body.

In the absolutely devastating possibility that I had been raped, you know what people would have said to me? “How absolutely horrible. I’m so sorry. But you shouldn’t have been so drunk. You opened yourself up to the possibility.” In what kind of fucked-up world is that what you say to someone who has been raped? What kind of horrifically backwards world tells women they’re “lucky” when they don’t get sexually assaulted?

I go out for drinks fairly often. I like to go to clubs and dance. I like to wear clothes others consider revealing. I like to make out with cute boys in public places. Sometimes I go home with them. I say what I’m thinking and I am who I say I am. Very rarely, I drink more than I should. None of this qualifies anyone to make the decision that I would be “asking for it” or even more disgustingly “deserve it”. But you know what? I shouldn’t have to justify myself. Unless I am saying “yes” with all my mental faculties intact, don’t have sex with me. Don’t. Fucking. Rape. And for the rest of you, never tell a woman that she should behave herself in order to not get raped, because all you’re doing is making the woman feel ashamed of herself and thereby perpetuating the incredibly harmful belief that it is a woman’s job to not get raped rather than a man’s job to not rape

I drank too much this weekend. I won’t be doing it again anytime soon. But never in my life will I agree with a culture that tells me the reason I shouldn’t do so is for my own sexual protection.

The Candle that Burns at Both Ends

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It seems unbelievable, but another year has gone by. It’s 2016! And I think, after all I’ve experienced in the last two years, that I can safely say that I have no idea what this year will hold. In any case, it’s time for my yearly tradition of writing myself a letter about the past year and my hopes for the next. For the last two letters, click here and here.

You’re still here. No small feat, that. Another year gone and you continue to stretch the limits of who you think you are, to challenge your own beliefs, and take apart your own assumptions. You continue to fight tooth and nail for what you want and yet you’ve allowed yourself the flexibility to change the object of your desire as necessary. When the world treats you poorly or life doesn’t unfold as you’d planned, your first instinct isn’t to blame the world, but rather to dissect your perception of the world, although you’re not afraid to place blame where it belongs. This year has been difficult in many ways, ways you mostly didn’t foresee, but you have emerged on the other side stronger, better, and more aware.

It’s hard to believe you’ve been in South America for fifteen months, not counting the three months you spent at home tying up loose ends. That time was spent in a kind of holding pattern. You couldn’t really get on with your life in California because all you could think about was picking up the strings of the life you left back in Ecuador. Eventually you made it back and spent the next couple of months wandering about, second-guessing your choice. So few things are ever easy. So few things are impermeable to doubt. But then you started the job you thought you always wanted, and soon after fell into the job you never considered you might be meant for. Connections came together as if they were meant to be (though you don’t believe that). You met people who irrevocably altered your time in Ecuador, and all for the absolute better. You laughed more this year than you maybe ever have. You loved harder and danced with less restraint than you had ever allowed yourself to do before. You nurtured the flame that burns so brightly within you. Continue to grow, to diffuse your limitations, to open up. Continue to follow–and emulate–the sun.

This year was quite literally a dream, yet it was also a challenge. You resent how the amount of harassment you experience on a daily basis fills you with a kind of oily, residual anger that makes you want to lash out at any strange man that says hello or tries to touch you. You daydream about screaming at them, about pushing or kicking the ones who touch you without invitation. Find a way to channel that anger in a meaningful way. Don’t let it make you bitter. Don’t let it make you blind to all the good men there are in the world. But also don’t let it make you smaller. Don’t change who you are in the hopes that they’ll notice you less. Be whoever the fuck you want to be. Show as much or as little of yourself as you want. Just make sure it’s on your own terms, and not subject to the whim or approval of some nameless other.

The state of the world has also made you angry and, at times, despondent. It seems the -isms are taking over. Don’t let yourself become numb. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can’t make some kind of difference, no matter how big or small. You can. You will. You just have to be brave enough to try.

Take what you’ve learned about yourself this year and hold it close. You’ve finally realized that what you crave above all else–in friendship, in romance, etc.–is intimacy. Don’t settle for less. The withdrawal, the sense of having cheated yourself out of something worthwhile, is too strong and too unpleasant. Work to forge the relationship you want and need from the building blocks of what you’re traditionally allowed. Burn down the cathedral if need be. No one knows what is best for you, what you are capable of, more than you yourself. You contain multitudes. Don’t let yourself be simplified.

In the coming year, you’ll once again be home, in a place that has become more and more worthy of that word. Don’t lose your sense of adventure. Pay off your debts. Cut off any ties that are not worthy of holding you in place, while simultaneously strengthening the bonds that are. Do everything you can to figure out what you want from the next few years of your life. After a year, will you stay or will you go? If you decide on the former, don’t be afraid to put down roots. You can always pull them up again if you have to. If it’s the latter, that’s OK too. Your instincts have led you well so far. Listen to them. Save money while you’re figuring it out, so that when the decision is made you will already have taken the first step.

Continue to work on being kinder. Allow for the weaknesses in others as they allow for yours. Be humble, yet willing to sing your own praises if no one else will. As C. S. Lewis said, “Being humble isn’t about thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less.” Remember that when someone doesn’t want you, it’s only because they can’t see that which is valuable in you. Don’t judge others. When you have a negative thought about someone you don’t even know, remember that your perception is colored by your experience, and you don’t have the right to thrust this perception on those around you. Be authentic with your words–there are enough empty ones in the world without your contribution. Possibly the greatest lesson you’ve learned in Ecuador is how to say “no.” Hold on to that. Use it as both shield and weapon. You’re allowed to use it as often as you please.

It seems as if you’ve finally started writing something. Keep going. Don’t fear failure. Don’t fear that it will be less than a masterpiece. It probably will be. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Pursue the things you love, the things that make you feel free. Take dance classes. Learn one of the many instruments you’re interested in. Take French lessons, or Arabic, or Portuguese. Never, ever stop trying to learn.

In closing, you’re so near to being everything you ever hoped you would be. Go on. Keep moving forward. Your candle may burn at both ends, but it casts that much more light for doing so. You deserve everything you want, and more. I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things a Bookish, Modern Woman Should Never Travel Without

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I’ve been in South America for well over a year now and I continue to be amazed by the sheer variety of life and the experiences that come with it. It seems I fall in and out of love with people and places constantly and without warning. In some ways, I’m so ready to go home and yet I also strive to hold on to each day as tightly as possible, to remind myself that I am actually, truly living a dream. I’ve learned a lot, about myself most of all, but also about travel itself, and I’ve come up with a few things that I think should be on most women’s list of things to bring when traveling — things I haven’t seen on many other lists. So here you go! If you have comments or would add something, let me know!

 

1. An IUD (Intrauterine Device): Yeah, I said it. It’s no secret that a lot of shenanigans happen while traveling — in hostels, on exotic beaches, in showers — and guess what? It’s better to be prepared, and I think the IUD is about as prepared as you can get. There’s a lot of misplaced fear about this form of birth control because of some shoddy models in the 70s, but since then the IUD has come to be scientifically accepted as one of the safest and the most effective option. The Pill is great, but sometimes traveling is hectic, and it’s easy to forget to take one. Just consider this: if you were to accidentally get pregnant while in the middle of a months long trip through South America, Asia, or Africa especially, it may be nigh on impossible to get the kind of care you might need (the day-after pill, abortions, etc.). For more details, check out this world map of abortion laws.

Where you’re traveling can also determine whether condoms are affordable or even available, and that’s not a risk you need to be taking. Travel is all about calculated risk, not haphazard, drunken ones! That said, you should also bring as many condoms with you as you can, since IUDs only protect against pregnancy, not STIs or STDs. Another bonus of IUDs (specifically the Mirena) is that it makes your period lighter. In all the time I’ve been abroad, I’ve only gone through half a box of tampons!

Check with your health provider to see about your options. Many insurance plans provide IUDs for free and, depending which one you choose, they last from 5 to 10 years! That’s a decade of minimal unplanned pregnancy worries…

 

2. A Laptop: If you’re a working girl, laptops come in mighty handy. You can teach English classes online, write travel articles for various websites, or do a myriad of other small jobs which can help fund and thereby extend your travels. Also, Netflix sometimes provides a most-needed hiatus from travel frenzy.

 

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Me actually doing work poolside in Peru.

3. A Kindle or Similar Tablet: I have the Kindle Fire and let me tell ya, I don’t know what I would have done without it. Pre-travel I was one of those book nerds who ranted about how Kindles would never replace real books because, like, book smells! But while traveling, real books literally weigh you down. I generally have around 10 different books downloaded on my Kindle at any given time, which in real life would add a lot of extra weight to my backpack. No bueno. But besides reading, Kindles can do soooo much more. I’ve used mine to edit manuscripts, input grades for my ESL students, and write blog posts (PDF reader and a word processor, say what!), as a music player for long bus rides, and as an alarm clock, among other things. This is also a great option if you don’t want to bring your laptop, either because you don’t want the extra weight or in case it gets lost or stolen. Kindles are much cheaper to replace.

 

4. A Library Card: Huh? Yes. You heard me right. Here’s what you do: Download the Overdrive App and verify that your local library is a participant. Then, if you haven’t already, go open an account at your library. But wait… I’m going to be traveling. Why would I need a library account at home? Here’s why: Overdrive allows you to check digital copies of books out from your home library regardless of where in the world you are. Mic drop. Instead of spending valuable dollars on buying books from Amazon or at the rare English bookstore (although do go in these too while traveling — it’s fun), you can do this for absolutely nothing. Depending on the library, you can generally check up to 30 books out at a time, for up to 3 weeks, and then renew as often as necessary. This. Changed. My. Little. Bookish. Life.

 

5. A Filtering Water Bottle: Backpacking is all about saving money wherever possible in order to be able to do the epic treks or go scuba diving with hammerheads in the Galápagos. Even the small stuff, like buying water, adds up. Reusable water bottles that come with filters are a great way to avoid this. When hard-pressed, you can get water from virtually anywhere (though again, calculated risks are the name of the game) and the filter will make the water drinkable. They tend to run at around $50, but it’s a worthwhile investment. For a list of some of the most popular brands, click here.

 

6. Probiotic Pills and Emergency Diarrhea Medication: I have a stomach of steel, luckily, and so I’ve never gotten truly sick from anything I’ve eaten (and I eat everything), but just in case, I never travel anywhere without these two things. Probiotics are simple supplements that help your digestion and I take these for a few days whenever my stomach is unhappy. In cases where you’re having to run to the bathroom every few minutes though (as happened to a friend in Colombia once, unfortunately in a hostel where everyone could hear everything), it’s smart to have some more hard-core drugs on hand. If they don’t cure you, they’ll at least slow things down till you can get to a doctor.

 

7. An Expired Passport or ID Card: I’m going to pat myself on the back here, but this is seriously genius. A lot of people will bring copies of passports around with them when going out to a club, but I’ve also seen them get rejected. I have an expired Driver’s License that I take out with me and it’s worked every time. If you lose it, it’s not a big deal, but it’s official enough that it probably won’t ever get questioned. (Disclaimer: my experience is limited to South and Central America. Not sure how well this would work elsewhere. It would rarely work in the States for example.)

 

8. Double of Everything You Can’t Live Without (Within Reason): Bringing a nice camera with you on your travels? A laptop? A Kindle? It’s smart to double-up on things like batteries, chargers, etc. Why? Because there’s a good chance they’ll get lost, blown out by power surges, or stolen, and buying them in a foreign country is often a lot more expensive than buying them back home. Just make sure you keep them in separate places, in case of theft or loss. Otherwise you might find yourself carrying around a fancy gadget that doesn’t work. It sucks, let me just tell you.

 

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9. A Second Backpack: Sometimes you see people walking around with a huge backpack behind them and a smaller one on their chest like some kind of hunchbacked marsupial. They didn’t overpack; they’re just smart. I always bring a small, closeable bag with me whenever I travel and this is where I keep anything valuable (passport, money, gadgets, etc.). When you take long bus rides, your bags go under the bus and out of sight and sometimes things disappear mysteriously. It’s better to keep this small bag with you at all times. On your lap is the best place for it. I’ve seen many a bag stolen from overhead racks and even pilfered from between a person’s legs. It’s a great place to store valuables, but that also means they’re all in one place, so beware. It also serves the double-purpose of being a day bag when you don’t need to carry all your belongings with you.

 

10. A Piece of Jewelry, Article of Clothing, or Talisman that Makes You Feel Bad Ass: This, in my opinion, is a lot more important (and less silly) than it sounds. You’re going to find yourself in uncomfortable situations while traveling. Maybe you got on the wrong bus, or are in a place where men stare at you in a less than friendly way, or you’re nervous about flying. In any case, even a small boost of confidence helps, and I’ve found that wearing something, visible or not, that gives you that feeling is invaluable.

In my case, whenever I’m moving from one place to another I always wear a quartz stone necklace that my mom bought me in Salento, Colombia. I don’t strictly believe in this kind of stuff, but quartz is supposed to protect you. I always wear two bracelets: an engraved one from my best friend and one my dad gave me that says “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” These help remind me that there are people out there who love me at those moments when I feel particularly lonely or sad. And whenever I’m feeling especially pissed off about the seemingly omnipresent male gaze or just want to seem a little tougher than I actually am, I have a shirt that says “Fuck Your Macho Bullshit” and it makes me feel better. They’re small things, but believe me, they’re something. Even little comforts go a long way when you’re traveling by yourself.

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Bonus Tip: An Understanding that You Are Fierce, Powerful, and Moreover Extremely Privileged to Be Doing What You’re Doing: It’s easy to fall into a pattern of complaining. Yeah, the WiFi sucks sometimes, there are really big bugs in the jungle, and the bus drivers don’t always let you use the toilet, but you are part of the 1% of the entire global population that gets to travel for fun. The people you meet in those small South American towns? They wish they could be you, traveling without a care in the world. Be aware of that. Be grateful. And always, always remember that just the fact that you’re leaving comfort and security behind to venture into the unknown makes you one bad ass lady.

A Mexicana Goes South of the Border, Cuckolds Mexico for Chile

Quihubo, amigos!? Despite living in Ecuador, I’ve been working so much that La Güera hasn’t gotten many chances to stretch her legs, but good things are brewing so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a guest post from a very close friend, Michelle Plascencia. She and I met while working together at a hostel in San Francisco, and since then have gotten ourselves into many an adventure, from terrorizing the quiet redwoods of Big Sur to bar-hopping in San Francisco’s Mission District and everything in between. I even followed her through South America (or at least as far as Peru) without ever actually catching up to her. She’s a wanderlust soul sister to the fullest extent. 


On February 6th, 2014, I boarded a one-way flight for Bogotá, Colombia, with an open mind and heart, ready to let the spirit of travel guide me. I was an anxious twenty-something filled with wanderlust, but I was in many ways ready for this aimless journey.

Little did I know that I would have a love affair like none I had ever known — with Chile: its culture, its people, the landscapes, the lovers, friends, and connections that were so indescribable. You know that feeling when your stomach is filled with butterflies? Chile filled me with this unexpected fluttering for four months.

Cuenca, Ecuador

South America is filled with culture and beauty. Each country has its own spice and flavor. As I made my way south through Colombia,  I was fortunate enough to meet Elliott, in Popayán. I instantly felt a bond with Elliot, a connection that was refreshing to a solo female traveler. I was nervous about crossing the border alone into Ecuador, but Elliot — a male, Chilean, travel guru — held my hand as we stepped from one country into another.  He understood why I was traveling alone, but was also compassionate about my fear. We parted ways again in Quito, from which I continued on to Baños in the south. I was thankful for Elliott’s guidance and had faith that I would be blessed with more characters like him on my trip.

I made it to Baños, the moment I like to refer to as the pinnacle of my trip. This is when I first felt it — the loneliness of traveling, the excitement and hesitation, the frustrations felt at times when I didn’t know what to eat or where I would feel safe. Transylvania Hostel became my home for seven days. This is where I met my great friend Camila, my roommate in the dorm, and another solo twenty-something female. Camila, born and raised in Santiago, Chile, understood my love for travel. She also understood why I was doing so alone, why I wanted to be alone. The hostel was filled with solo travelers, groups of Chileans, dudes from Argentina, France, and the U.S., including sweet Alex from Indiana. We were a mixture of everywhere. We shared many moments together, surrounded by the mountains in Baños, but we all knew what every traveler knows: that the journey continues. Camila and I parted ways and exchanged information so we could keep in touch, but what does keeping in touch really mean?

I made my way down to Máncora, a beautiful coastal town in northern Peru, accompanied by Alex. After a few days of partying and lounging oceanside, it was time yet again to say goodbye. I parted ways with Alex and boarded my 17-hour bus ride from Máncora to Lima, Peru’s capital. The bus ride was filled with emotion, excitement, and loneliness, the latter of which overcame me when I realized I was saying goodbye to a lover that I would probably never see again. Sure, we can keep in touch, but will that spark, that bond that we once shared, be the same?

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I stepped off the bus in Lima and was immediately bombarded by taxi drivers clamoring to take me here or there. I didn’t even have my backpack yet, but I already had 15 offers for cab rides. This is when I met Indira and Sebastián. When they noticed my overwhelmed facial expression, they immediately asked where I was going. It turned out we were going to the same hostel, so we walked away from the terminal and the gaggle of taxi drivers together. They were a vibrant, friendly Chilean couple. Indira was a calm spirit, while Sebastián was a louder, macho kind of guy.

I quickly became the third wheel while traveling with this kooky couple, but I felt more like a friend to these new companions who were on the same travel high as me. They would smooch on each other here and there but then they would get into screaming battles while I simply observed, simultaneously taking it in and losing myself in my own thoughts. Their relationship was close to home, as my parents are professionals at yelling battles and making up. Being around them was comforting. We traveled together to Arica, Chile, where they were taking a flight back to Santiago — the same place I was going, only on a thirty-hour bus ride. I was supposed to meet a dear friend of mine there. Indira and Seba walked me through everything: where to find reasonable bus tickets, what to do when I got there, etc. They gave me their addresses and phone numbers for when I arrived, before making sure that I got on the bus and waving goodbye from a distance. Indira and Sebastián… what a whirlwind of love they were.

I finally arrived in Santiago and felt like I was home. I stayed with Camila (my roomie from Baños) and was as welcome as if we had been friends for years!

I later met up with Indira and Seba, and it was as if we were on foreign lands together again. They welcomed me into their homes where  we ate almuerzos, laughed, and later smoked a porro (joint) in Barrio Brasil.

Keeping in touch had a new meaning to me now. It was a real thing. We actually did and still do keep in touch.

As always, the journey continued, and I soon found myself in Punta Arenas, Chile, very unprepared to trek Torres del Paine. Full of ambition, I went to the well-known Erratic Rock to get some pointers for the hike. I was fortunate to cross paths with Osvaldo and Keko, two Chileans who were also prepping for the big hike.

“¿Vas sola?” they asked.

“Yes,” I responded hesitantly, “I am going to rent some gear.”

“Ven con nosotros, po!”

“¿En serio?”

“¡Claro! Nomás vamos nosotros dos y tenemos todo. Nomás traete tu comida. Aquí nos vemos a las 6 a.m. mañana.”

Torres del Paine

Five days later, we returned with endless stories, laughs, memories, and experiences that the three of us would always share: the moments we trekked in the rain, wind, snow, and sunshine and even rotated who would sleep in the middle to keep warm. The memories that created the kinship I instantly felt with them. The hike wouldn’t have been the same alone. As I hiked eight hours a day with Osvaldo and Keko, I imagined doing it alone. The magical moments of the breathtaking landscape would have been the same, but the happiness I felt as we approached Glacier Grey wouldn’t have been as magical if I had been alone. Sharing these moments with strangers felt wholesome. Once we got back, I headed back up north while they continued south into Argentina. As always we urged each other, “Keep in touch!” We embraced and parted ways.

I was finally heading out of Chile and into Bolivia. I stopped in Pisco Elqui, Valle de Elqui, Chile, a small town tucked away in the Andes. I attended a yoga class at Centro Tierra Pura, a holistic healing center, and was mesmerized by the energy there. I felt as though every moment prior to my arrival had been aligned to guide me to Pisco Elqui. After gushing about my instant love of Pisco to Loto, the owner, she immediately offered me a room to stay in in exchange for helping her while she traveled for work. I was a solo female wanderer, no plan or itinerary, and everything that I had experienced in Chile had brought me here, so I said yes. I was able to participate in meditation ceremonies, yoga, and other holistic healing practices.

The times spent in Pisco Elqui enriched my relationship with myself and opened my mind to the encounters that life has to offer if you’re paying attention. I learned to embrace the present moment and understand that every moment, happy or sorrowful, is a gift. Sulking in what ifs, would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves tend to bring regret and cause us to forget to live in the present, creating a domino effect that takes away from the enjoyment of the now.

valle de elqui

These few encounters that I’ve mentioned here are only a handful of the Chilean people that made me feel at home, made me feel like I could always go back to Chile and be welcome. All these encounters led me to my home in Pisco Elqui at a time and place that I cherish deep within my heart, remembering the moments as if they were dreams.

A surfer in Pichilemu, Chile, told me that there is no such thing as one soulmate. As humans, we are fascinated by the connection we share with an individual. Whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a month, sometimes you feel a connection and sharing those moments together are far more meaningful than waiting and longing for ONE soulmate.

Throughout my trip I came across many soulmates, individuals that enlightened me with their spirit and who allowed my presence to enlighten theirs. We shared special moments and conversations, stared at the breathtaking landscapes of Chile, ate together, drank, hugged, laughed, or simply sat in pleasant silence. Although I don’t keep in touch with all of them, they are all part of the person I have become. They are part of the love affair I had, and will forever have, with Chile.


Michelle is a full-time wanderer and film enthusiast who’s almost always simultaneously training for a long-distance run. After working various film festivals and supporting arts education in San Francisco, California, for five years, she decided to take a leave of absence from her routine lifestyle in the States. Her recent trip to South America sparked a new and unexpected interest — to teach English abroad. Low and behold you can now find her in Incheon, South Korea, teaching energetic preschoolers. It has been a whirlwind of cultural differences and adjustments, but that’s part of the thrill of living abroad, especially in a country that rarely sees a brown-skinned woman. The students, of course, never hesitate to ask why her skin is darker than theirs.

The Sexuality of the Damsel Errant

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The “liberated woman,” like the “free world,” is a fiction that obscures real power relations and defuses revolution. How can women, subordinate in every other sphere, be free and equal in bed? Men want us to be a little free — it’s more exciting that way. But women who really take them at their word make them up-tight and they show it — by their jokes, their gossip, their obvious or subtle put-downs of women who seem too aggressive or too “easy.”
–Ellen Willis, from The Essential Ellen Willis

I have been wanting to write something about this for a while, but I’ve been waiting for the right words. Then last night I was going through my Instagram feed and Miley Cyrus had posted a photo of herself spread-legged in a leotard. No different than anything you might see on the cover of a magazine geared towards men. But instead of being lauded as a sex symbol, masturfodder if you will, like the women in those magazines, her comment feed was full of vitriolic words like “whore” and “slut” and “disgusting”. I thought about the way Miley is denigrated because she dresses sexually all on her own, not just in order to please the male eye. About how women in general who wrest their sexuality from the humbug hands of the patriarchy are laughed at, held under humiliating scrutiny, while their male counterparts are free to bed, wed, or impregnate as many women as they like, the only consequence being that they become a paragon of masculinity. How is it that women in the 21st century still allow such a blatant double standard to hold sway over us?

Sex is something that is demonstrative of who we are as people, not in any absolute way, but our attitude towards it is definitely a window into how we view ourselves and the people around us. On both a global and national scale, female sexuality remains a subject that is generally suppressed, left out of the conversation, discouraged, while male sexuality is celebrated. A large part of the (eurocentric) literary canon I grew up with and studied in my adulthood involved the archetype of a man wandering the world in search of adventure and intrigue. This journey almost always included the conquest of women, often lots of women, which bolstered his masculinity, desirability, and value, while diminishing that of the women. Often he leaves “ruined” women and children scattered behind him, something that was often a source of pride although the children were rarely treated as legitimate. We have the exciting stories of Lancelot, Henry VIII, even Dracula.  But where were the stories about women doing the same? Growing up, what female character was I supposed to look up to and model my own ideas of sexuality after? Let’s look at the characters offered up in school during my especially formative years: Hester Prynne from A Scarlet Letter (can I just “ugh” right now and get it over with?), Rose of Sharon from Grapes of Wrath, Daisy from The Great Gatsby, the famous Juliet? None of those are exactly success stories of female sexual independence. The closest thing I got in school, admittedly one of my favorite female protagonists of all literature, was Edna Pontellier from The Awakeningbut she, well, kills herself because society can’t accept her sexual autonomy. So, case in point.

As all of you Americans (U.S.A. Americans, specifically) should know, women’s sexuality is under siege in our country. Hard-won rights like access to birth control, safe abortion, and even something as simple as sex education are being stripped away from us. In Colorado*, a bill is on the table that claims to “protect” pregnant women but would really criminalize abortion (actually anything but a live birth), including in the case of rape, and make birth control like the pill and the IUD illegal. In California, bills were just passed to legally make “yes mean yes“* meaning consent is no longer the absence of no and also to stop the forced sterilization* of women in prison. The fact that these bills were passed is good, the fact that they are necessary is proof of a far more deep-rooted sickness. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the fact that a recent bill has shut down 80% of abortion clinics in his state is but a “minor inconvenience“* for women. Anyone seeing a problematic pattern forming here? But before I go off on a serious feminist jeremiad against my country, let me get to the point of this entry: I am a single woman. I have sex. I enjoy it. I deserve and demand the right to decide what is good for my own body and the life I lead, regardless of where I choose to lead it.

As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I’m currently about 80% of the way through a 5-month trip through Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. And although my country is imploding with abuses against the rights of half of its population, at least there’s some kind of conversation going on. For the most part, South America has not joined in that conversation. The only countries on this continent in which abortion is legal, for example, are Guyana, French Guiana, and Uruguay (go Uruguay!) while Chile, Brazil, and Venezuela have made it illegal in all cases, including rape. The rest have made it available only in case of the vague purpose of “preserving a woman’s health”, a restriction which unfortunately has little to do with what the woman considers her “health”. For more info (and a reality check), this world map of abortion laws is pretty terrifying.

In a more micro sense, I can tell that my views of sexuality, my sexuality to be exact, do not quite mesh with the sexuality projected onto me by the cultural norms here (or in my own country, to be fair). My view on sex is this: It is acceptable whenever there is consent between two adults, not to be restricted to society’s expectations of having to be in some kind of relationship. I’m pro-monogamy, -polygamy, -heterosexual, -pansexual heteroromantic, -bisexuality, -homosexuality, -asexuality, -transsexuality, -friends with benefits, -one night stands, -just met five minutes ago and have to fulfill some crazy urge that is mutual and never see each other again (see zipless fuck)… and much more, but I think you get the picture. If there’s consent between adults, I support it. Whether or not I engage in any of these things is beside the point and none of your business.

I am a woman traveling alone. The sexuality that society has condoned for me is that of being a sexual object, one to which it is ok for men to jeer and catcall on the street; one in which while dancing, a man thinks it is ok to reach up and grab both my breasts (I’m assuming he thought my allowing him to bump himself against me meant I was one big “YES”); one in which a man with whom I spent very little time thinks it’s ok to ask me if I’ve “cheated” on him; one in which the most common question I receive is “are you married?” or “do you have a boyfriend” or most importantly “why not?” because that is what is expected of me. The fact that I might be my own sexual actor, in which I make my own decisions about when and with whom I sleep, is not to be considered. The archetype of the Latino male is one I and everyone I know is familiar with: macho, virile, romantic, fertile as fuck. The archetype available to me from the current material is not quite so… debonair.

That’s why I’m writing this. We need to move forward, not backward (I’m talking to you, especially, you American politicians who claim to represent me). It’s so far past time for women to be afforded the equal rights to everything, including sexual independence, as men that it’s not even laughable, it’s downright pathetic. I’m tired of keeping quiet about who I am and what I believe when it comes to sex because instinctually I know that I will be judged for it according to other people’s prejudices. There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to accept that people will judge you no matter what you do or what face you try to put on to fit in. You will be judged. It isn’t fair, but that’s the way it is. So there’s a choice you have to make: are you going to let other people tell you how, where, when, and to what degree you can be sexual?

I think it’s time we start a new canon of female archetypes, although, granted, it’s not so easy for a woman to leave children like breadcrumbs stretching away behind her. Regardless, we as women need to remember that we are the hero of our own story, we aren’t some damsel in distress, and we do not need to be rescued from our own sexuality.

*click through to go to article.