Categories
Society

Sex trafficking in France: how migrant women end up in modern slavery 

Credit : Ta-Tev

When I think about the freedom of women today, I think about it in the most literal way – as freedom of migrant women that I have worked with. They come to France in search of a better future for their families but instead find themselves involved in sexual exploitation.

Sex trafficking is a controversial topic, surrounded by stereotypes, myths, and tabus. It raises a serious problem of the exploitation of women’s bodies by men, challenges the patriarchal society that makes this exploitation possible, and in some countries even legal and regulated. Sexual exploitation brings into question female’s freedom of choice. Does it exist for women caught in the grip of modern slavery? 

In this article, I will mainly talk about women who have been victims of trafficking and prostitution. Men also fall into this system, but much less often. All the information is based on my experience of working with victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, professional courses I have attended, as well as the literature I have read. This topic is very extensive, so for this discussion, I will outline only the basic facts about how human trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims takes place in France.

Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the modern world is a developed and well-functioning system, supplying women to Europe, the US and Canada, and Russia. Women and girls are brought from poor countries with unstable political and economic situations. They come from Africa, where the main traffic of people comes from Nigeria; Eastern European countries including Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria; and more recently Latin American countries.

What happens to women brought to Europe? Do they manage to get out of this sexual slavery? Can they rebuild their lives in the new country? To answer these questions, consider the situation of victims of trafficking and forced prostitution in France. 

France is a part of Europe, but not all European Union countries have the same stance towards prostitution. France is a neighbor to Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Ireland, which all support the neo-abolitionism approach. This means clients are punished and fined, pimps can face a long prison sentence and a huge fine, but women who engage in sexual relations for money are considered victims of the system of prostitution.

Since 2011, prostitution has been perceived in France as violence against women and equated with crimes such as rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. Since 2016, buying sex in France is punishable by law. The client, creating a demand for the service, thereby participates in the human traffic for sexual exploitation and violence against women, which runs counter to the gender equality policy in the country. 

The women are brought in from different countries, depending on the expectations of the clients. Most are lured to France by fraudulent means. Girls are forced to engage in sexual relations with clients against their will, through blackmail, threats, and violence. Since it is illegal to buy sexual services, these women are victims and not subject to the punishment sex workers face in the countries where prostitution is prohibited and illegal (for example, in Russia and some countries of Eastern Europe).

How do women become victims of the prostitution system and what do they go through? 

The story of every trafficked woman is unique. However, certain situations can put women at increased risk of falling victims to sex slavery. It is important to understand that women who have been trapped in this system and found themselves in France are mostly migrants who decided to go to Europe to work, not knowing what kind of work awaits them. Forced to migrate to feed their families, many of them leave their children with relatives and hope for a better future abroad. 

Others are young girls who have experienced violence in their own country (molestation at a young age by family members or sexual assault by strangers); some are victims of forced marriage; others are forced into prostitution in their home countries. 

Depending on the country the women are trafficked from, the methods of attracting them are different. Often, women involved in prostitution against their will have an unstable income and a history of sexual abuse. They come from extreme poverty. Many did not have or do not have access to education and information. Most, deciding to leave their country to work, do not know what awaits them on that path.

For example, women from Nigeria mostly go through Libya, where they become victims of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. For several years now, journalists and international human rights organizations have raised the alarm, telling the world community that people in Libya are being sold and bought while trying to get to Europe. Migrants are regularly sold into slavery, tortured, and killed. Women who manage to get through this hell, end up on boats that transport them to Europe. Not everyone survives at sea. Once in Europe, women have to pay back the money they spent traveling there. However, instead of the expected job as a nanny, a worker in a nursing home, or a hairdresser, they are forced to “work” on the street and sell their bodies.

How do women leave prostitution?

There are several well-functioning systems for transporting, selling, and exploiting women in Europe. It is very difficult to get out of those systems, but it is possible. Every girl (the victims can be also minors) and woman involved is controlled by pimps and other participants of the process, who have a huge impact on victims of trafficking. Criminals use various methods to control and intimidate victims: psychological manipulation, blackmail, threats of violence against the women and their loved ones. For example, women from Nigeria are forced to take an oath of obedience before leaving. During this ritual, the hair is cut off from different parts of their bodies, mixed with nail clippings and parts of the skin, and made into a Voodoo doll. If women refuse to obey, they are reminded of the oath and the punishment that awaits them. 

At some point during sexual exploitation, a woman may be faced with a situation that will influence her decision to flee from a pimp, despite the threats and serious consequences of disobedience. Most often, she decides to take such a step when faced with serious health problems, after being brutally attacked by a hot-tempered client or after finding out that one of her family members was murdered by criminals. Sometimes women simply no longer have the physical or mental strength to continue such a life. It is at this point that they have the courage and strength to seek support from organizations that help victims of sex trafficking.

How can organizations help victims?

Several organizations in France support victims of sexual exploitation on their way to a normal life. They employ social workers and educators, psychologists, lawyers, and other professionals. Some women turning to these organizations just want to tell their stories and rehabilitate their bodies and souls. Many need help with legal issues, some simply have nothing to eat and need help to get food and housing. Whatever issue a victim of sex trafficking may bring to these associations, the central problem for them is the experience of prostitution in itself.

Many women don’t know how to cope with the past and deal with the psychological trauma caused by constant violence against their bodies and souls. They want to start a new life but are not sure how to live with the eternal fear that they will be found and forced to go out on the streets again. At the same time, they are facing the fear of not surviving this new “normal life” without traditional work, knowledge of the language, and support.

Organizations working with victims of sex trafficking help them find solutions for these issues. They support women and help them build a new life filled with positive emotions and experiences. 

The path to normal life for victims is long and difficult. Breaking free of sexual slavery, women find themselves face to face with psychological trauma and fears for themselves and their families. By contacting organizations that support victims of sex trafficking in time, they can receive psychological help and talk with social workers, which allows them to speak about their problems and process what happened to them, and gain access to information about their rights. In addition to psychological problems, victims of the sex trade can have serious, wide-ranging health problems that must also not be overlooked. 

At the same time, women are faced with the problem of survival. They must find ways to feed themselves and figure out where to live. There are a few organizations and associations in France that help them with basic needs. Women can get temporary housing by calling Emergency Number 115 for the homeless; various charities help the needy and the homeless with food. All this social support keeps women afloat for a while. However, for the most part, women find themselves without papers, money, and knowledge of the language, in the country the bureaucratic system and cultural codes of which seem to them (at least in the beginning) a complete gibberish. Many of them, after applying for asylum, are rejected by the authorities and risk being deported, which for many (especially the women from Nigeria), can mean a return to sex slavery and violence from pimps demanding backpay.

There are women who, at their peril and risk, go to the police and write a statement against their pimps. While their case is being investigated, women receive a temporary residence permit. If the investigation does not identify the perpetrators and reaches a dead-end (which happens very often), that residence permit is not renewed, so women, again, face deportation.

France has a state program for women affected by sexual exploitation, called “Exit Prostitution”. The program lasts two years, supports women financially, and gives them access to intensive courses in French and the labor market. However, the program is not perfect. Depending on the area, it is not always easy for women to access the program. Once the victims join the program, it can last longer than two years, which in itself becomes a difficult test for women. Many of them want to forget the past, start a new life and look with hope to the future, yet they are forced for years to speak about their trauma and remember it. 

Is it possible to leave prostitution for good? 

Many women escape and never go back. Those who return do it for various reasons, but this is a topic for another article.

In Russia and France, one can often hear that prostitution is the oldest profession, and if women are engaged in it, it must be their personal choice. No “job” in the world causes as much psychological and physical trauma as prostitution. That’s why for me, sexual exploitation cannot be considered a profession, it is constant violence against the body and soul of a woman. No women dream of becoming sex slaves to men that make money by selling their bodies. For the vast majority of women immigrants in France, prostitution is not a free choice. 

I believe our society needs to rethink its views on prostitution. As long as we consider such phrases as “prostitution is a profession”, “because of prostitutes we have fewer rapes”, “it is their choice, they like it” normal, there will be no real equality between men and women. Equality means the female body is respected and not sold for profit against a woman’s wishes. Equality means the women are protected from being beaten up, humiliated, and raped. 

Categories
Free form essays

Freedom of having children late

Credit: Adrian Hillman, iStock

When I was a little girl, I thought I would have two kids by the time I was 25. Granted, I grew up in Russia, where getting married young and having children young has been an accepted tradition for a very long time. Instead, I went to college, worked as a journalist for a while, and then moved to the US.

In my early twenties, the last thing on my mind was, “where do I find a fine man who can be the father to my future children?” Instead, I was thinking about how to get the tickets to the latest DJ set or use my journalist ID to get to the backstage of concerts (after using it first to get in for free). I traveled, I made friends, I fell in love. I made stupid decisions. Probably some good ones, too. But the twenties seem like the perfect time for screwing things up and learning from your mistakes.

I did get married for the first time when I was 27. He was much older than me, and having kids right away just wasn’t something we discussed. I felt I had a lot of time, and our financial situation was far from ideal. When I got divorced two years later, not having children (or any property together) was more of a blessing than a regret.

Only in my early thirties did I finally find myself, learned to listen to my desires, and treat my body and mind with the love they deserved all along. I moved across the country, traveled even more, got a new job. I started going to therapy (that divorce was a great thing for me but still left me in shambles).

I am trying to say that up until I was about 31-32, I wasn’t too concerned about having kids. I was hoping to meet someone soon, who would be a good husband and a father. I knew I was getting close to the moment when I would want to become a mom. But I also enjoyed being single, discovering the world, and learning how to be genuinely happy on my own. In other words, I was growing up and becoming the person I was meant to be.

Maybe it is the privilege of our comfortable times and both countries where I grew up and now live. We don’t have to do farm work from an early age; we can get good education, travel, build careers and write dissertations. We are not required to marry a wealthy neighbor to help our family out or birth half a dozen kids to help with the chores around the house. Times are changing, and in many countries, women have kids much later in life.

I am one of those women, and I think it’s ok. I also think people need to stop asking us when we will finally start pushing babies out, “like we are supposed to.”

One of the Russian politicians went viral last year when she said that women should ideally have kids before the age of 25, so maybe the schools need to do a better job at explaining to girls how important this is. Women who give birth later than that she called “the old birth givers.” The term is not new and was widely used in Soviet times. It refers to women who become mothers after they turn 27.

Russian society did not take her comments lightly and suggested she leaves it to women to decide what to do with their bodies and instead focuses on astonishing levels of poverty amongst single mothers in Russia. While the attitudes of younger generations are certainly changing, a doctor in a Russian infertility clinic still might suggest a husband (of any age) chooses a younger wife if the current “after 30” partner is not successful in conceiving a firstborn.

A couple of years ago I went for a walk with a friend. He lives in Madrid; we have known each other for many years but never had a chance to meet. I was in town for work, and we decided to go for a stroll and grab dinner together. It was a perfectly lovely evening, up until we started talking about our personal lives. I told him I was dating someone, and I believed we would get married at some point and start a family. To this, my perfectly kind and well-meaning friend said, “Oh yeah, it is time to start trying for kids, no? How old are you, 33? 34?”

Because I was going to therapy for years and was able to react to things better, I did not burst into tears or scream at him. I calmly explained how inappropriate this question was and suggested he should never say that to another woman. He apologized profusely and felt so bad he insisted on paying for dinner.

I don’t think my friend is a horrible person. I think it is just too normalized to ask such questions and make jokes about the subject. People rarely realize that they might be hurting others with their unwelcome inquiries.

Yes, we are having kids when we are much older. Our lives and attitudes towards motherhood are changing. Still, our bodies are largely the same as they always were, with the exception of the availability of much better nutrition and medicine. This means that having kids can be difficult at any age, but it sometimes becomes even more difficult later in life.

I have friends who have been trying to conceive for years. I know a few girls that are currently going through IVF treatments and a few others that just gave birth after it. I know women who suffered miscarriages. Fertility is a difficult subject, and problems with it can be devastating to the family. It is also not something couples might discuss with friends or acquaintances in a casual conversation.

When someone asks, “when the babies are coming,” or comments on a woman’s weight gain with suggestions of pregnancy (which can be completely random or a result of hormone therapy to battle infertility), they don’t know how much pain they are causing.

Not everyone is ready to have kids at the same time. Some people decide not to have them at all, and that is also ok. Some families wait years to have a kid and focus on other things in life. Others have six children and are universally hated by everyone who has the misfortune to dine at the same restaurant with their large brood.

Let’s agree not to ask stupid questions about fertility, lack of kids, not enough kids, kids of opposite gender “to finally have a boy/girl,” and all other things that are none of our damn business. Let’s learn as a society to be better and do better. We must remember that even the questions that come from the most loving heart of a good friend or an elderly relative can be hurtful and most definitely unnecessary.

Let’s learn different ways to ask married couples about how they are doing and to check in on single female friends approaching their mid-thirties. Talk to them about their favorite Netflix shows. Discuss plants and dogs – no one will get mad at you if you ask people when they are going to finally get a puppy. Devise the plan to take the patriarchy down and solve the climate change crisis. Just stop asking women about having kids.

Categories
Free form essays

Freedom of a mother

Credit: Linda

Our reader shares her view of what freedom means for her as a mother living between Turkey and Germany.

When asked about freedom, I wanted to write about freedom of choice as a mother. I am a mother of two, a 4-year-old girl and an 8-month-old boy, both amazing children. I am German, but we live in Turkey, in the city of Edirne, near the Greek and Bulgarian border. I gave birth to both of my children here.

I feel very privileged when I think about the freedom of choice that I have. I know about families that are staying apart because the mother has to live in another country for work; there is a lot of work migration from Eastern to Western Europe. Turkey is rather a destination for migrant workers from even further East nowadays, like our friends from Afghanistan, young fathers working in Edirne, leaving their wives and children behind, in order to support their families.

As a mother, I also had the freedom to choose where to give birth to my children. We moved to Turkey when I was 3 months pregnant. At the time, I was very unsure whether I could imagine giving birth here, in a foreign country with a foreign language, under the care of a health system I knew almost nothing about. In hindsight, I am more than content about our choice to stay here. The health system is very professionally managed, and I had the freedom to choose a natural birth (instead of the predominant birth style of planned cesarian in Turkey). 

My gynecologist was very much in favor of natural birth. In the Turkish medical system, the gynecologist who supports the woman during pregnancy is also with her during birth, together with several nurses and a midwife. I have heard stories from friends in Germany, that they were often left alone as a couple during labor for long periods, as clinics in big cities are too busy and understaffed. We ended up staying in a hospital after birth for another night because it was so comfortable and the staff was so supportive to us in this new situation.

Having a baby (especially your first) doesn’t leave a lot of freedom for the parents. It is not easy and has its ups and downs, but the most important thing about raising children is having support and people around you, in my opinion. 

With my parents-in-law living only 15 minutes away and my husband being self-employed and having flexible hours, we could always go see the pediatrician together. Again, I heard about the desperate hunts for an appointment for the third-day routine check-up in cities like Munich – all pediatricians would be full or not accept new patients. 

I always felt very supported as a mom and see it as a positive thing for my children to be able to stay and interact with other people, even if it is just for a few minutes when they are very small. They are learning from a variety of humans while knowing that the love and care of their mom are always there when needed.

I also had the freedom to choose to start working again very soon after birth, when my daughter was 4,5 months old, which is more than unusual in Germany. Due to the governmental regulations such as paid leave and job guarantees for parents, the vast majority of moms there stay home with the baby at least until it is one year old. Dads usually stay home for 2 months only, as governmental support in Germany provides 14 months of paid leave that can be shared among the parents, with one parent needing to take at least 2 months. Dads mostly do the minimum.

I had the freedom to work part-time, 16 hours a week on two days during the first year, then moving up to 25 hours a week. I was working from home on my computer for my company in Germany, while my daughter was with a nanny/house helper, a local woman a little older than me who had never worked before but was more than happy to earn money herself, a very positive, smiling, much-loving friend for both my children and me. 

When my daughter was 14 months old, she started going to kindergarten for several hours a week. She loved it and had a very good balance of only sleeping at home, getting enough rest, and enjoying the interactions with other children. 

We had the freedom to travel to Germany every two months with the baby. The trips helped us establish a good, trusting connection with my part of our family there as well. It also allowed my daughter to learn German as well as Turkish.

I had the freedom to choose not to buy all the luxury, woolen or wooden made, seemingly eco-friendly clothes and toys for my daughter that seem to be the necessary (but very expensive!) standard for the middle-class parents in Germany. I kind of pity the families living in Munich, for example. I see them as victims of the need to earn the money to make a living in this expensive city. Being forced to maintain a certain level of income gives them a lot less freedom of how to structure their family life and life in general.

I had the freedom of choice to do a couple of work trips to Germany and Western Europe when my daughter was around one year old. My husband would spend the day with her, going to the zoo, the aquarium, and making me a little jealous of their adventures.

During the pandemic, the newspaper columns on parentship in Germany were full of complaints about how difficult the situation is, how parents have to balance work and child care, how little politicians think about families and their needs. 

I was feeling for them and supported their desire to be heard. Nevertheless, I think that instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities and the freedoms we have. 

I can personally say that we did not suffer due to the pandemic. Of course, we were all scared at the beginning. I was mostly afraid of what would happen if someone in my family in Germany would get sick and I would not be able to go see them. But we adjusted quickly. 

I continued to work. The kindergarten closed for some time, because of safety concerns. Our nanny and then my husband were able to stay home with our daughter for a month each, then her Turkish grandma looked after her for two months, and after that the kindergarten re-opened and we chose to send her there again.

It was a free choice for us to have a second child, but it was not our first choice to become pregnant during the pandemic. Nevertheless, I have not regretted it at all. Doctor appointments were a bit more regulated, and during birth, the father couldn’t come to the labor room, but he could be at the hospital. It was the opposite of Germany, where the fathers were allowed in the labor rooms only, but not in the hospital in general. Pushing the second baby out only took me 15 minutes anyway, and then my husband, our new child, and I were reunited.

With my son, we could not travel to Germany as before due to the coronavirus, but we had the chance to move there temporarily for a few months when he was 3,5 months old. The car trip from Turkey to Germany usually is a 16 hours drive, plus one night spent in a hotel. It is not easy, but doable, and we have done it several times already. In fact, it seems to be the most common way of travel for Turkish families living in Western Europe.

Because we chose to move for 4 months, my firstborn could experience kindergarten in Germany. I found it to be a very enriching experience for her and she enjoyed her time there a lot. I think German kindergartens emphasize much more that children play freely and with less organized activities than Turkish kindergartens. Teachers in Turkey establish a somewhat closer connection with the kids, interacting with them very lovingly and warmly. In our temporary kindergarten in the German village, everything was closer to nature, with a big garden and kids watching little frogs grow.

In Turkey, our kindergarten is all-inclusive and flexible regarding food and eating times. When we get there late, at 10:30 am, for example, the teacher would say: « Has my little sheep had breakfast yet? No? Then I will prepare something for her.»

I find these differences only enriching, and I am happy my child could experience kindergarten in both countries.

Here we are now, excited about what else we will see and live through as a family. I want to repeat my point: instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities we have and the freedom of choice. And that often, choices are not made easily and freely, as we have specific stereotypes about different countries in our minds. Such as that life in Turkey must be worse and more difficult than life in Germany.

I have learned to see the good and difficult parts of living in both countries. I do not really have a favorite place to live in, but I encourage everybody to explore and not trust the stereotypes and fears. Even if moving to a different place with two kids means packing a lot of stuff and traveling, while one of them needs to be breastfed every hour. Organizing this is exhausting and can make you cry in between doing what needs to be done. Hopefully, your family and friends will be there to help and support you. But either way, if you muster the courage, you will experience a lot of amazing things and enrich your life.

Categories
Photojournalism

Osy Milian

“The Grays”

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Lilith
Karma
Koniek
El Sofa (The Couch)
Comprometidos (The Compromised)
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Osy Milian is a contemporary Cuban artist from Havana with a strong presence in the international art world. Her works depict the complexities of both personal and cultural experiences of modern citizens of Cuba, expressed through a vibrant artistic reflection. In this exclusive material for Draftsy, Osy agreed to tell us about her latest project – “The Grays,” a series of paintings currently on exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida.

While Cuba is currently going through a period of upheaval and disquietude, and Osy’s works in many ways remain relevant and match the mood of the moment, “The Grays” were actually created prior to the recent protests, during the pandemic and are inspired by it. The paintings reflect the uncertainty and disorientation of young Cubans affected by the virus and the further havoc it wrecked on their country. 

Osy normally uses vibrant colors to create her paintings, and yet the series live up to their name and are mostly done in grays and pastels, with rare splashes of brighter hues. The works are meant to convey a gray moment in the Cuban panorama, full of uncertainty, fear, and change.

“The figures on the paintings are translucent, they look and feel like ghosts. They are anxious, waiting for a change, waiting for something to happen in the country, for the things to get better” – explains the artist. 

In one of the paintings (“Karma” – ed.) a woman is holding a horse head, an oversized knight chess piece in her lap. The authority and strength of this powerful animal create a metaphor for the woman having full control of decisions in her life. The red hue over her eyes represents her anger. (Osy uses red for this emotion throughout the series). Ms. Milian adds that we also need to control the animal within us, the instincts of it – hence the red rage encompassing the head of the woman in the painting. We must be in balance with it and with the world around us. 

The red color is visibly more prevalent in the paintings depicting young girls, demonstrating that the new generation is more aggressive than the old ones and is willing to fight for their rights. The repeating theme of the birds represents the concept of migration, the flight that most Cubans cannot make. The inability to get away. 


Some of Osy’s figures are meditative, looking calmly back at the viewer. According to her, this calmness is also about control. In this case, control of emotions as the pandemic was making people in Cuba (and all over the world) anxious and crazy. The artist offers to meditate on the passing of time and realize that one day this period in our lives will be just a stage in the history of the world. 

When asked about the subjects of her paintings (they are all women or young girls), Osy explained that she considers herself a feminist artist and wants to speak for all women in the world. 

“My subjects are beautiful and strong women; my art represents them and the struggles they go through. I am also including myself in my paintings. Female artists deal with sexualization and the male gaze, we carry the weight of experiences that male artists don’t have to ever encounter. Women don’t want to be perceived as sexual objects. That is another theme of the series – you can see it specifically in the “Lilith” painting”, – added the artist. 

Osy Milian’s “The Grays” exhibition is presented by NCO Creative. It is on view at The Gallery Lounge of Boca Raton, in the Town Center Mall, and will be featured until Friday, August 20th. For viewings by appointment, please contact Natalie O’Connor at Natalie@ncocreative.com.

Draftsy would like to thank Natalie O’Connor for her help with this article. Natalie is the founder of NCO Creative, a boutique art consulting company dedicated to procuring international works, with a special focus on Cuban art. NCO provides services, such as art acquisitions, select artist representation, exhibition coordination, and the curation of Cuban art tours.

NCO Creative

239-465-3989

Info@ncocreative.com

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Categories
Book Reviews

Bad feminism and Ngozi manifesto : review

Credit: Ta-Tev

The subject of freedom of choice for women is immense and always relevant. In my opinion, it is especially important nowadays. To explore the topic of freedom this month, I turned to books written by two female writers who were born on different continents but were connected by a desire to be free and happy. These books invariably provide important ideas for reflection and open the dialogue about the place of women in the modern world and feminism in general. In these works, one can find the explanation for the fight for women’s independence and learn how to raise our daughters happy and free to choose the future they want and deserve.

Roxane Gay “Bad Feminist”, 2014

Roxanne Gay is an American of Haitian descent. Through her own experience as a woman, writer, and professor, she discusses serious topics that are relevant for any country and any society. The book was published in the United States of America in 2014 and consists of several essays. It begins with a short introduction, in which the writer discusses feminism and its many faces, as well as why she perceives herself to be a bad feminist. 

Roxane Gay’s work consists of a series of articles in which she analyzes books, TV shows, movies, magazine and newspaper articles, social media posts, and contemporary events taking place in the United States. All her essays are united by the question of whether a modern woman has the freedom of choice: what to do with her body, be thin or fat, decide if she wants to become a mother, or not have children at all.

Roxane Gay talks about what it means to be black in the US and how African Americans have been criminalized in the country over the years. The writer discusses slavery and its portrayal in Hollywood films. 

Roxane Gay’s book is a treasure trove for those who want to understand the contemporary culture of the US and learn about the problems of American society and heated political debates often centered on women’s rights. The writer skillfully analyzes films and books, draws parallels between different works of art, which allows the reader to look at them from a new point of view.

Roxane Gay expresses an important idea about overweight people, saying that there is always a reason for their condition. Weight gain is often preceded by serious or tragic events that cause the person shock and pain. This can be the death of a husband or the loss of a child, divorce of parents, the absence of a father in childhood, or sexual abuse. In such situations, often only food can give a person some comfort and create the illusion of control.

“Bad feminist” also discusses sexual violence and how trivial it had become in American society. Roxane Gay gives an example of the reaction of the American media to a gang rape in Cleveland, TX, to show how backward society looks at sexual violence. While discussing this tragedy, the media did not care about the fate of the victim, an eleven-year-old girl who was repeatedly gang-raped but focused instead on the fate of 19 young men and teenagers who, due to the publicity of their crime, would not be able to graduate from school or university. 

Speaking about how early sexual abuse can affect the body and psyche of a child, Roxane Gay opens up to the reader and talks about the gang rape she was a victim of at the age of 12. This event changed her life and influenced the way she saw herself. Roxane gained weight over the years because she thought that if she is “big and strong,” it would protect her from the new assault.

At the end of her book, Roxane Gay calls herself a bad feminist because she as a woman is made of contradictions. The most important thing for her is to be herself. She says it’s better to be a bad feminist than not to be a feminist at all. I am sure that you will get real intellectual pleasure from reading the “Bad Feminist” essays.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”, 2016

In response to her friend Ijeawele’s question about raising her baby-daughter to be a feminist, Nigerian writer and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a Feminist Manifesto. It consists of fifteen suggestions. Each of them is dedicated to a specific topic related to women and their place in modern society. In her manifesto, Ngozi talks about the importance of teaching children about gender equality from an early age. She believes we should not impose blue color on boys and pink color on girls, and offer girls the same toys as boys, and not just dolls and vice versa.

The writer pays a lot of attention to how to prepare girls for the future and give them more professional opportunities. Ngozi discusses the important issue of raising girls only for marriage, as is customary in Nigeria. In Nigerian society (and many others), girls are expected to know how to cook and clean the house, be polite, obedient, and gentle. They are expected to sacrifice themselves for the sake of marriage. The fate of the girls comes down to “waiting for the prince” who will ask for their hand. This is considered the height of success for a woman. At the same time, boys are brought up in a completely different way. Professional ambition is rewarded, young men are expected to strive to prove themselves and build a career. For young men, marriage is not the main achievement in life. The result is an imbalance in marriage and society as a whole. Men have a consumerist attitude towards relationships and women in general, while women sacrifice everything to be with a spouse.

Ngozi talks about the importance of words and gestures. When a man cooks, cleans the house, or looks after the children, society says that he helps his wife. It creates a belief that everything related to housework and childcare is assigned to the woman and not the man. The writer insists that women and men should share household work and care for children because they are both parents.

Ngozi invites her friend Ijeawele to encourage her daughter’s love of reading and support her interest in sports. She suggests it is important to teach the girl to ask questions and have her own opinion and show her that the world is diverse and wonderful and that diversity and inclusion are what makes it rich. 

The Manifesto touches upon important issues of raising children free from prejudices and pressure from society. Upon reading it, it becomes clear that all the suggestions are suitable for raising both girls and boys because the author brings up important issues of gender equality and offers solutions to pressing problems of society. Ngozi’s work helps teach kids how to use critical thinking, be able to reflect and be empathic towards others and enter life courageously. With the support of the manifesto, parents can raise their kids as feminists, no matter the gender of the child. 

Categories
Book Reviews

Three books about magical doors

If you have grown up reading Narnia books and dreaming of the secret gardens, as I did, you know you will always love a good book about a magic door (or a closet) that leads into another world. The writers (and publishers) know this fact well, and so they keep supplying us with lovely stories of what can be found behind those mysterious doors. I am certainly not complaining.

So here are three somewhat recent books about magical doors that lead… elsewhere.

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Ten thousand doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

January Scaller finds a lonely blue door in the middle of the hayfield when she is a child. She steals a glimpse through it and sees a city on the edge of the ocean. Even when she steps back into her own reality, she can still smell the salty air of that other world. Unfortunately, her wealthy guardian Mr. Locke shows up just then, and she makes the mistake of telling him the truth about the door. Hours later, it is burnt to the ground.

January’s father is always away, employed by Mr.Locke and traveling the world in search of peculiar items and antique treasures for the rich man’s collection. His little girl grows up in the Locke House, surrounded by all the luxury the money can buy in the early 1900s. But she is not very happy and is constantly told to “be a good girl” and to “know her place”. Cue to me continuing to read the book at least to see her rebel.

Why read it

It is a beautiful coming-of-age book and a great specimen of YA literature. The story is well thought through and has a few surprising twists. Harrow writes about the racism of early 20th century America and how January, who is mixed raced, is treated differently when she is alone and not next to her wealthy white guardian.

It was hard at times to read long inner monologues of January, trying to follow what was supposed to be the teenage angst and failed logic without cringing: “I am not his good girl anymore!” But that, I suppose, is an inevitable part of the genre. You can’t bite into a cherry cake and complain about the cherries in it, can you?

The world that Harrow built is gorgeous and full of wonders – there are birds with feathers that grant invisibility and a whole different reality with matriarchy led by leopard women. Even though Ten thousand doors is not presented as series, I hope Alix Harrow writes another book that follows January on her journey.

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Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron

Brody Fair is a Scottish teenager that lives in Edinburgh. He is not yet out of the closet, unsure of himself and where he belongs. Life at home is not great. His brother seems to be better at everything and thus is a favorite child (at least that is how Brody feels). His Dad has a severe case of agoraphobia and hasn’t left the house in years. His Mom is the only breadwinner and is struggling to make ends meet. Two of Brody’s neighbors, older girls, bully him at school and when they see him outside of the apartment building.

So, it is no wonder that when he finds out there is a magic door that opens inside National Monument on Calton Hill every Thursday night at precisely 11.21 pm, Brody is eager to escape through it.

Why read it (Spoilers alert!)

Last Bus to Everland is very good at describing self-search and uncertainty that teenagers deal with, especially LGBTQ kids. It is a well-written story where no characters are ultimately good or ultimately bad. Everyone has a past and issues they deal with, so many things are not what they appear to be.

Everland exists in this story as an escape latch that gives characters a place and a time to hang out, explore their passions, forget about the problems at home and meet new friends. Some people choose to stay there forever, but I did get the feeling that Cameron wanted to clearly send the message that while this fairytale “knock-off Narnia” is a nice place to be, serious young people need to choose reality over it and get their shit together.

Cameron’s characters deal with poverty, immigration issues, mental health, meeting society’s and parents’ expectations, eating disorders, growing up gay, and coming out, so there are a lot of themes that readers of all ages can relate to.

I am a little upset that Everland seems more of a clutch for the story and Cameron does not fully explore the magic of it. Spoiler alert – at some point doors to Everland start to close all over the world. There isn’t really an explanation for it but it is a serious matter. People can only exit through the same door they used to enter, so many realize that they might get stuck in Everland forever, should the door close while they are inside. Others decide to never come back home on their own.

This starts to happen right after Brody finds a first edition “Peter Pan” book in Everland’s library and takes it home. Peter Pan? The boy who never wanted to grow up? The old book that symbolizes the whole idea of Everland, taken away from it, like a beating heart ripped out of a still-breathing body?

Until the very last pages, I thought Brody would figure it out, bring the book back behind the magic door, and save Everland. Instead, the door closed, separating the main character from his love interest. Forced to deal with real life, Brody realizes that his brother is not the worst and that his family loves him.

It is a good book and I enjoyed it. But the magic-loving part of me is still salty that this sub-plot with Peter Pan book did not come to be. It was so fitting.

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The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Let’s start by saying that if you have read and liked The Night Circus, you would love this Morgenstern book as well. In Starless Sea she brings the same mix of adventure and devastating love stories peppered with magic.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins, just like January, also found a magic door when he was a boy. But unlike her, he decided not to open the door (lest he would learn that the magic is not real). The door, however, or rather, the universe behind the door, does not let him off the hook so easily. Years later, Zachary is a student at a New England University. He finds a strange book in the library and in it a very specific story about him finding that door and missing his chance to see the Starless Sea. Zachary is not willing to let the magic slip away again and finally decides to follow it.

Why read it (some spoilers for Starless Sea and Ten Thousand Doors)

The Starless Sea might not be an easy read for some. It is built like a kaleidoscope of beautiful little shards of glass that give the reader a glimpse into different stories and dimensions. For me, finding the connections between the narratives was half the fun. (Even if I had to repeatedly go back and forth between the chapters and pages, looking for clues). Morgenstern does not tie up all the loose ends, but the story, in general, is cohesive and captivating.

There is a beautiful gay love story at the forefront, but also some heterosexual sub-plots. The book is full of longing – for the loved ones and the magic of the hidden library.

Just like in Ten Thousand Doors, there is an evil organization that believes itself the protector of order and peace. The Guardians here, like the Mr. Locke’s archeological society, want to close the doors from our world to the Starless Sea – to protect the library from changing. (Mr. Locke wanted to ensure that our reality stays protected from other worlds that through the open doors bring change and unrest – like the fight for equality, for example).
In both books, the characters realize that chaos and change are inevitable and good for the world as a whole.

Enchanted doors, closets that lead to snowed-in forests, or fountains that bring you to other worlds, – we all like a bit of magical escapism. The closest thing to it are the books themselves (sometimes quite literally, like in Matt Haig’s Midnight Library). I hope you enjoyed this selection. I am off to find more doors… I mean books!

Categories
Topic of the month

Volume II – Freedom

Once we know where our home is, we are often tempted to wander. For the second volume of Draftsy creative efforts we have chosen the topic of Freedom.

There are many reasons why we wanted to talk about it – in most basic meaning of it, as freedom of choice and freedom from being enslaved, to freedom of expression and opinion.

This month we will write about the victims of sex trafficking in France and the long difficult road they have to walk to live as free citizens of the country. July 30th is also World Day against human trafficking. The fact that it is still happening quite often right beside us – no matter what country we live in – might be outside of our everyday worries. We would like to talk about the reality of human trafficking happening in the world.

We will also return to our Kazan story about Yulia Hakimova who helps homeless and needy and write about beggars on the Russian streets that found themselves enslaved by the local mafia.

We hope to have a guest writer and artist present a photo project about the crisis in Cuba and Cubans’ most recent fight for freedom.

We invite our readers to reach out to us via contact@draftsy.net with more stories and visual projects.

Agrippina&Tatevik

Categories
Photojournalism

Doors of Lisbon

Every house starts with a door, a threshold. What lays behind it, what secrets it keeps, what stories it remembers? All we can do is wonder and imagine.

I am fascinated with the old doors of ancient cities. To me, it is a big part of their charm.

I spent two weeks in Lisbon in January of last year, just before the world had shut down. The capital of Portugal is one of the oldest cities in continental Europe, older than even Rome by 400 years.

I walked around the city the way I always do when I come somewhere new. I usually have a few places in mind that I want to see, but otherwise, let the streets lead me away. I take the wrong turns and follow the crooked alleys until the outline of the old town imprints on my mind.

I like to take walking tours with locals, see the city through their eyes, hear their stories. The tour I took in Lisbon lead me and a dozen other tourists up and down the narrow streets that often become literal staircases. The tour guide, a local historian, knew all the shortcuts around the hills and little nooks in the alleys by the sea where grandmas sell their homemade cherry ginjinha in chocolate cups, euro a shot.

On that tour, on my second day in the city, I started noticing all the beautiful doors. Adorned by traditional tiles, with heavy brass knockers, beautiful arches, and stone steps that have been worn out by thousands of feet coming in and going out.

I saw simple, well-made doors of the old Alfama district with historical signs above them often covered by laundry drying on the clotheslines. I admired the gorgeous doors of shops on Rua do Carmo, some of which still sell the same fare as they did a hundred years ago. I saw so many, I started looking for them and collecting them on my camera roll.

I hope you like the doors of Lisbon with their colorful tiles and rusted hinges. I hope they make you think of foreign streets you have wandered about in the past, and inspire you to take new trips once the world is open again.

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