How some celebs’ feminist moves can be problematic

Little to our surprise, Beyoncé’s recent feminist move caused, once again, a great deal of polarization in women’s opinion. Like most of her feminist moves in the past, this one wasn’t free from dividing reactions either: on one side, people are glorifying her contribution to the promotion of the feminist cause and, on the other side, her behavior is being condemned as anti-feminist. Disagreeing responses come from women across diverse age groups and cultural and racial backgrounds. Stances go from she’s objectifying herself and being a bad role model, to at least she’s exposing the feminist cause to bigger audiences, and all the way to she’s a powerful free woman who’s making smart use of her voice for the benefit of us all. A similar division in opinion, although based on somewhat different stances, was caused by UFC fighter, Ronda Rousey, by saying that a woman who “tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else”, is a “do-nothing bitch”.

These women’s moves in the name of feminism, whether we find them right or wrong, are not necessarily problematic, the way we respond to them is.

I enjoy learning from the diversity of people’s perspectives on feminism, whether they call themselves feminists or not, but I find this particular conversation draining, mainly because it seems divisive between individuals. Many of the opinions are shaped by individual preferences, and they are explicitly targeted to Beyoncé, or Rousey –individuals themselves. The lack of a spirit of unified purpose is concerning.

Our cause has an individual and a collective aspect so, undeniably, its promotion should be done with wisdom, which means that we must strive to ensure that our individual actions are the cause of progress for all. This implies two areas of work: on one hand, feminism is an individual effort, a personal responsibility; on the other hand, we share our efforts with others and maintain a dialogue; this way we continue educating ourselves and our societies along the way. But it doesn’t mean, at any point, that we must be concerned with monitoring and criticizing other women’s efforts, or lack of efforts, and then undervalue them as less than intelligent humans, whether celebrities or not.

Perhaps most feminists would agree that the main purpose of today’s feminism could be simply defined as the pursuit for the establishment of equality of opportunity and treatment for all humans. An equality that is not just to be manifested in the systems and structures that run our societies, but an equality that would be engraved in all our minds and that will shape our attitudes towards all humans. However, the journey to that goal is different for different people. And that is ok.

Our different understandings of the practice of feminism come, in great part, from our education and from our different experiences with discrimination. For instance, some experiences with discrimination are more intense and more frequent, so they require more immediate attention, but, naturally, when society doesn’t give them enough attention it causes more anger and indignation, which is why some expressions of feminism would come off stronger. We must understand this because policing each other’s efforts based on a lack of understanding of each other’s struggles undermines the validity of those experiences and weakens our efforts to bring about universal equality.

It’s a known thing that, unfortunately, women can be very cruel when it comes to judging other women, from looks to life and career choices –or lack of –; but we need to realize that disunity amongst us will not add to our cause, it will destroy it. We’ve had enough centuries of teaching girls to compete against each other for the attention of boys; our future girls don’t need to transform that rivalry into who practices feminism right and who doesn’t.

Feminism is not about hating men, it’s not about being condescending to women who don’t call themselves feminists, and it’s definitely not about belittling women who make choices we don’t agree with (whether she is a self-objectified woman, or a stay home mom, or a single career woman). It’s about being free to choose who we want to be while expressing love to all. It’s about celebrating freedom of choice over imposed standards, including those choices we wouldn’t personally make. It’s about wanting freedom for all individuals to develop their potentialities in the path of their choice.

Feminism also suggests that all of us have complete freedom to express our perspectives and practice our own principles in life, as loudly and firmly as we like; but we have to be conscious that directly offending another woman’s expression of feminism will destabilize our cause. The goal of our cause is bigger than our personal preferences. We don’t have to agree on how we practice feminism, it’s ok to disagree and it’s ok to express our perspective as strongly as we want, but not by putting other women down, because it reinforces our differences instead of encouraging equality. Turning away the attention from the main goal (equality of opportunity and freedom of choice) to our personal values is counterproductive for feminism; it’s self-righteous. The most productive thing to do would be to use our voice and example to share what we believe without belittling other women’s actions; in this way, we would be having a fair conversation about feminism. We must remember that we are having a conversation.

Feeling passionate about a subject is beautiful, having the ability to converse about that subject is even more beautiful, but the most magnificent thing is to direct that ability to bring us closer. So what I suggest is that when we are about to share a passionate opinion, whether about a celebrity or the girl next door, we think about how our words are bringing us closer, as one humanity. The goal of our cause is more certain than its journey, which means that together we are learning what the best way to achieve our extraordinary goal is. No single attempt will be perfect, but they will all contribute to the conversation.

It won’t be too hard to maintain a fair conversation if our purpose is equality for all. Our experiences and our struggles may be different in form and intensity, but by having widespread and inclusive conversations and caring for all through empathy, is how all our perspectives will contribute to achieve that main goal many of us share: to live in harmony. Harmony will not be achieved by imposing personal principles, or by superficially listening to each other, it will come from our unity. Conversations that are nondiscriminatory and encourage universal participation will lead to unity. It is in this sense that I ask us to think what will be more beneficial for all, criticizing each other in the name of equality, or conversing about equality with a spirit of unity?

spongebob wears a dress

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Insta-happiness

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The filtered happiness that dies after 40 likes

Hot vacation spots, sculptural bodies, extravagant dinners, business cocktails, diplomas, promotions, weddings, babies, and the occasional quote about gratitude and the beauty of life. Everyone seems to have their life together and on a fast escalator –or at least everyone in the cybernetic world.

Those I know in the real world, on the other hand, often express frustration, fear, dissatisfaction and anxiety. I hear a lot of people complaining about their own lives compared with their friends on social media, to the point that they don’t want to look at their Instagram or Facebook news feed anymore. Ironically, if I didn’t know some of these people in real life –i.e. if I only got their life updates through social media- I would think they also have a cotton-candy-life and have it all figured out.

On one side, many people want to share their good moments with the rest of the world through social media; it may be attention seeking, or to show off – that is: after receiving enough likes it’s like the moment didn’t even happen – or it may be that they are genuinely happy and positive people who wish to share their blessings with the world. On the other side, not many people would dare make public their unhappy thoughts and feelings. Nobody wants to share I was fired today and I’m feeling insecure, I am sick and it really scares me, the person I love doesn’t love me back… I mean please, stop depressing everyone. We don’t like saying or reading those things because we don’t like feeling them. But these feelings are very real and manifest constantly around us, if not in our own lives. Honestly, sometimes my mind is blown by the happiness gap between the world I can touch and the virtual one.

However, I’m lucky to know some wonderful people in real life who are both accomplished and generally content. There’s one thing that stands out to me about these people: the fact that they don’t tend to overexpose their personal lives but are open to share their journey when the opportunity arises. They tend to be sympathetic, simple-hearted and creative people. They seem to have developed their personal interests and abilities in pursuit of the common good, and I see excellence in their endeavors. Not the kind of excellence that comes from comparison with others less achieved, but the kind of excellence that comes from failing and trying your very best every time; the real kind of excellence. This is a very valuable characteristic; it’s pure in essence. However, many people tend to twist excellence into rivalry, which instigates egotistic attitudes and often results in abuse of power on one hand, and in envy and resentment on the other; emotions and behaviors that originate when we assess our happiness and success in relation to others’. But this seems inevitable when all we see is everyone else being happy in different aspects, without any apparent struggle.

However, it is inevitable to compare ourselves with others once we realize that doing so brings nothing but confusion and egocentric feelings. It’s okay for people to share their happy moments with the world, and they shouldn’t stop sharing their happiness and achievements, but when we’re going through our social media parades we must remember that those displays don’t depict the entire reality. You shouldn’t want to stop looking at your friends’ photos and statuses, but you may want to start looking with a discerning eye; don’t be easily fooled. And if you feel jealous or envious, stop yourself; it’s not that their accomplishments come from taking away yours. Besides, what makes you think that if others have a fulfilling life you can’t have one, too? Who says there’s a limited amount of happiness in the world? And – this one is very important– who says that what makes them happy will make you happy, too?

This is, partly, where our feeling of inadequacy comes from: by comparing ourselves to others. It’s not social media’s fault, and it’s definitely not our friends’ fault: it’s our own fault. One side of this comparison may be based on material wealth, which we often relate with capacity and success; another aspect in which we may feel inadequate is when we’re not following society’s expectations in terms of looks and status –i.e. what we should be doing after a certain age. In later posts I might expand on the repercussions of comparing ourselves with others in each of these specific aspects, but for now I’m interested in talking about individual excellence vs. excellence based on comparisons, particularly via social media.

Besides our own friends’ posts we are also exposed to a vast amount of information from the pages and people we follow. The opportunity of sharing and learning from each other all around the world is a privilege of our time. However, it’s shocking how many sadly famous characters on Instagram promote distorted perspectives of happiness based on exaggerated worship to money and to the body – to material things in general. Characters like that one guy whose average photo is him surrounded by several half naked women, jewelry, cash and luxury cars, who has millions of followers who often express their admiration towards him and how much they wished they were like him; or fitness models (male and female) who are not there to share fitness tips, and even when they do, many of their millions of followers are from the opposite sex – I wonder how many fitness tips would apply to them. What is being promoted there but a fleeting sense of validation?

This adds to the false sense of happiness that our societies have already been promoting for decades through media in general. Easy global access to social media is just enhancing that. Our societies have been promoting a transitory happiness that depends on specific milestones throughout our adult lives: once you graduate high school you must get into the best university, graduate, live alone, become well connected, get yourself a prestigious job where you can climb up the ladder quickly; and meanwhile have a lot of fun, be free, sleep with whoever you fancy, forget what people think – but always look awesome –, travel and go crazy, then calm down, marry someone good enough – that looks like you – and settle somewhere where you can continue climbing that career ladder, try saving money – if you’re lucky enough not to possess any debt –, make a few children, keep on with the ladder –especially if you’re a man, if you are a woman you may wanna calm down from here on, just continue trying to look your best–, take care of that family until your children leave and you can retire, perhaps travel a little more, babysit the grandchildren and die.

I don’t see what’s wrong with that picture, if that’s what one wants. But is that what we all want? What we all must want? If you don’t want it, is there something wrong with you? No. Simply conforming to society’s imposed ideals is a waste of our potential and leads to frustration, without us even understanding why. By following society’s expectations in these terms of success we’re ignoring our own capacities and potentials, and by doing that, not only are we missing out on developing skills and talents, but we’re also depriving the rest of the world from the benefits of a diverse set of experiences and perspectives that could contribute to the advancement of our civilization.

We all have a unique combination of capacities, interests and experiences; comparing ourselves with others is completely illogical by definition. We are all exceptional in this sense, however, by comparing ourselves with others we give up on our own excellence; we give up our individual potentialities, our principles and dreams, and along with them any possibility of lasting happiness.

We want our basic needs covered, we want to be safe, we want our loved ones close, we want to be happy in terms of these elements, but after fulfilling them, happiness looks different for different people. Happiness is a state of mind, of spirit; we can’t expect the same lifestyle to satisfy all minds and souls in humanity. We are creating a uniformity that is killing many dreams and capacities and what’s worse, this uniformity is based on a low facet of our world: materialism.

We will never be satisfied if we are constantly wishing we were doing what others are doing, whether it’s people we see on social media or in real life. This doesn’t mean that other people can’t inspire us; being inspired by the experiences and achievements of others is a very healthy thing to do, not by putting someone up on a pedestal but by allowing certain characteristics of that someone to motivate us to emulate. This implies certain level of maturity, of knowing yourself and what you want, what will cater to your capacities, interests, principles and dreams; knowing what could bring you happiness.

So, dear readers, don’t tell me you all want the same things. Get out of that mental numbness and think who you are and who you want to be, without fear and justifications, and then try comparing yourself with others –you can’t. See how many people you can compare yourself with –none. See how unique you are and how excellent you can be, and how much the world needs you to know that. Don’t deprive us from your exceptionality and don’t deprive yourself from experiencing the kind of happiness that does not require any filters and is beyond any amount of likes.

Yes, Trump, we don’t have time for total political correctness

But this doesn’t mean that we do have time to call Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig.

During the Republican primary debate last week, Megyn Kelly, moderator and regular Fox News host, called Donald Trump out on misogynistic comments he’s made in the past. His response was: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

To prove his remarks, a day later he said on CNN that Kelly is a “lightweight” for whom he has “no respect”, and that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

I’m not interested in giving my opinion on him as a presidential candidate or even as a human being. What I’m interested in is in taking a look at political correctness in our societies and, hopefully, contributing to a fair discussion that will allow people to deliberately choose what they want to believe.

After I heard his comments, my main worry was the overwhelming cheering from the audience and later the amount of support these comments received in different media sources. I’m not going to describe the main demographic that’s supporting these kinds of comments (I’m assuming any relatively smart person can figure it out), but I am going to say this: Political correctness wasn’t created for the sake of people who aren’t minorities. The fact that you’ve been delivering casual slurs about people who are different from you, in one way or another your whole life, and that now those people are calling you out on them, doesn’t deprive you from your right of freedom of expression, it deprives you from being a total jerk; so calm down, do yourself a favor and listen to those people, because they’re giving you an opportunity to improve yourself.

Taking into consideration the influence that our words have on our own thoughts and the thoughts of those who listen to us—a seemingly innocent term may perpetrate some stereotype or reinforce marginalization—political correctness is a key ingredient for harmony.

However, sometimes we pay more attention to what is said than to where it comes from, or what its intentions are; we’re more concerned about what should be said than what our words should represent. It’s not a mere matter of creating rules to regulate our language—and consequently our thoughts—, it’s about how we feel about each other. Whether something is PC or not is an important issue, but what defines the issue is what the slur represents.

Saying that political correctness is a problem isn’t completely off. Political correctness is only one of the first stages in regulating a society that is still taking baby steps in realizing that its members are actually equal, and what’s more, that its members are pieces of one great body. We do need political correctness, today and always, but those of us who like policing it must be careful that we don’t indulge in self-victimization or make others seem as helpless victims, while at the same time making the perpetrator feel and look like a hopeless monster. We want to be aware of not falling into an extreme apologetic behavior or encouraging phony respect. In these ways language policing can sometimes turn into a tool for manipulation.

What we must strive for, now that we’re learning the challenges and benefits of political correctness, is to instill a sincere attitude of unity; an attitude than comes from a better understanding of our human nature and our human civilization. In our human nature we have more similarities than differences. Our human civilization can benefit more from unity than animosity. Once we understand these truths we realize that political correctness is not the ultimate goal, it’s only one piece in the puzzle towards that social harmony many of us believe in and desire. It’s one way in which we manifest that sincere attitude of unity.

Thinking that mere political correctness is the ultimate goal is a problem, because this way we expose it to easy manipulation; we turn it into a toy ball jumping from the hands of one angry oppressed group to another. Simply policing each others’ words is a waste of time and energy. At this stage of our social evolution what we want is to actually educate, to promote the benefits of equality and unity, so that the future generations don’t have the same struggle of regulating who says what to whom.

So you might say differently abled, under-resourced, first nation, person of color, undocumented immigrant, same-sex marriage and so on, but what will determine whether you’re a good person or not is how you actually feel about the people you’re referring to.

What we say must actually represent how we feel, and how we feel must manifest our best selves, and that means understanding and applying the principle of oneness in all of our interactions. It’s not enough to force ourselves to be respectful to one another; we want to actually transform discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping into sentiments that would manifest the principle of oneness. Sentiments such as respect, patience, solidarity, justice, compassion, love.

So, yes, being politically correct can be a problem. We don’t have time for political correctness [only]. Just regulating our words, without changing the attitudes behind them, is a waste of time. But it doesn’t mean that we do have time to disrespect people; it means that it’s time to move on to the next level: unity in action.

“Whoever gives reverence receives reverence.” Rumi

The cultural intelligence of a “gringo”

confused-tourist

I have met plenty of gringos in my life, all from different countries. Gringos who know nothing about other cultures and are not interested in learning, gringos who think their ways are the only acceptable ways, gringos who feel superior to the rest of the world but are terrified to have new cultural experiences, gringos who are easy to fool, gringos who would take toilet paper to Bolivia because they thought they wouldn’t find any there.

For those who don’t know yet, “gringo” is how people in Latin America and Spain generally refer to Caucasian or English speaking foreigners. Its origin is widely debated; one of the theories is that it derives from the word “Greek”, referring to an unintelligible language, so it refers to anyone whose original language is not Spanish, and who has trouble learning Spanish. Another theory is that Mexicans used to scream “green-go!” to US soldiers, whose uniforms were green, during the American Civil War.

Over time and across different Spanish speaking countries this term acquired different meanings and connotations. It can refer to anyone from a non-Spanish-speaking western country, to European immigrants in Latin America, to people from the US, or to any foreigner who’s not of a clearly distinct race. Sometimes it’s used in a derogatory way, as it implies certain undesirable attitudes and behaviors that I will explain later, or it can be simply used to indicate the person’s race or nationality—sometimes it can even be used as a cute nickname. As the slang that it is, the meaning varies a lot and can be determined based on the tone of voice and context.

Its derogatory use, in terms of attitude and behavior, can refer to someone who, when travelling to another country without knowing much about local culture, will act with an air of superiority, but at the same time will be afraid of pretty much everything, from the people to the food. Sometimes the good kind of gringos will feel pity for the apparent poor reality that some locals live in so, at best, they try to help in some very paternalistic ways—perhaps because they feel guilty to be born in such advantaged societies. And some other times, gringos are overexcited about everything but, actually, can’t really handle the local customs. For this reason, gringos become an easy target for all sorts of exploitations, as they can be considered weak both physically and emotionally by locals; they are also often ridiculed. Consequently, it turns into a vicious circle as their fears materialize.

It takes no genius to see the lack of cultural intelligence in someone who acts like that. Cultural intelligence is, as Professor David Livermore explains, the capability to interact effectively with different cultures, and to be able to apply wisdom to those interactions. I recommend taking a look at some of his books: http://www.culturalq.com/tmpl/resources/books.php

Personally, I don’t like making general distinctions based on race or nationality. The reason I’m describing the term gringo here is because I want to expand on the attitudes that it sometimes implies. The way I see it, gringo behavior is not something characteristic of any country or race in particular. We can all act gringo wherever we’re from and wherever we go. It’s mostly a matter of how we view ourselves and the new culture we are being exposed to. All over the world there are people who are blinded by their paradigms and their own understanding of reality, so much that they may find others’ behaviors threatening; sometimes something as simple as what people of other cultures eat or wear may be a trigger for judgment and belittlement.

For instance, many expect immigrants to mold into their culture so that they don’t disturb their reality; they want them to dress, eat, speak and think like they do. Or they expect tourists to behave in a way that wouldn’t attract too much attention (because the fact that they look different is outrageous enough). This view of the foreigner will shape our attitude when it’s our turn to travel (if we do at all), whether for tourism or to stay. Many people see foreigners as no more than strangers, disassociating themselves from the others; in fact, they even treat some of their own co-nationals as outsiders when they don’t look the same. This is because our understanding of world civilization is greatly categorized by races and social class (very co-related in many instances), or by religions and ideologies.

Another way in which we can all be gringos sometimes is by feeling pity for someone else in some other part of the world: pity for those who live in poverty, for those who live in conflict, for those who don’t have opportunities, for those who are ignorant about the world, for those who are ignorant about their own countries, for those who are brain-washed by their governments, for those who are immersed in consumerism, for those who live stressful lives without motivation, for those who live in individualistic societies and feel lonely, etc. I say: stop! Nobody needs your pity anymore. The world doesn’t need more pity (it’s a condescending, belittling and egocentric emotion; and often leads to patronizing and limited aid); what we need is sympathy (feeling compassion for someone who you consider equal to you, which may drive you to listen to their perspectives and help them create opportunities for their own wellbeing) and, more so, we need to be conscious of the oneness of humankind so that we can view our differences as opportunities to become more well-rounded individuals and, as a result, a richer world civilization.

Our understanding of our world can be so segregationist that we create distance from each other. Our eyes are so misguided by superficial differences that we attribute those differences to our human essence. Our minds are so numbed by the stereotypes we have learned that we miss out on learning new perspectives. We end up missing out on so much that it’s actually sad; it’s especially sad coming from people who brag about how many places they’ve visited but consider foreigners as just exotic or unfortunate people in need, at best; those people may have traveled wide, but not deep.

The more consciously we engage with local cultures, the more we will be able to defy ethnocentrism, to be less gringos, because even if you are a good person and you aren’t racist, when you’re faced with new cultures you will realize how much of your sympathy is bound only to your own environment.

Sometimes we forget that the diversity of cultures in our world is one of the major facts that makes our world rich and worth saving. Different cultures represent different views of reality, our cultures shape our behaviors and principles, so the more we familiarize ourselves with different cultures the richer our minds will be, the greater our knowledge and therefore the greater our opportunities; and also, it will make it easier for us to navigate our diverse and increasingly globalized world. On the other hand, by learning about other cultures and other perspectives, we are able to understand what forces mold our own cultures and values, which will allow us to free ourselves from imposed roles and reassess how we feel about certain things. Finally, when we open our minds we see that all humans have more in common than we have differences. Humans everywhere are concerned with covering basic needs, with caring for those who we consider family, with being happy. So let’s not confuse personal attitudes with culture, let’s not assume that one person’s behavior defines a whole culture or nation -like thinking that a whole population is violent based on the behavior of a few, or thinking that a whole nation is arrogant, or ignorant, based on the behavior of a few gringos. This is being culturally dumb.

Of course we don’t need to know everything about all cultures to be culturally intelligent, but we could try learning about what happens in other cultures in the subjects we are personally interested in –art, food, fashion, politics, economy, etc. Besides, cultural intelligence is deeper than just knowing facts about other cultures: it means that we try exposing ourselves to different ways of being (other cultures, other religions, other political views, etc.), that we try to be open-minded in our interactions and that we are wisely respectful in them, with a genuine interest in learning something new. It also suggests that in our interactions with someone different we don’t assume things; we try thinking about the reasons behind their perspectives in life. So my suggestion is that we all make some effort in developing our cultural intelligence, even if we don’t travel, just for the sake of becoming more interesting and improved people, so we can deal better with our diverse societies and promote harmony.

“The difference in adornment of color and capacity of reflection among the flowers gives the garden its beauty and charm… Even though each soul has its own individual perfume and color, all are reflecting the same light, all contributing fragrance to the same breeze which blows through the garden, all continuing to grow in complete harmony and accord.” – Bahá’í teachings

qino y emma

For a short and humorous explanation of cultural intelligence, click here

Women are not complicated. Men are basic

“Who can understand women?” – With a defeated tone of voice and sometimes with disdain, says almost every guy I know. I hear it in daily conversations, in television and it’s all over the internet; sometimes said directly, but many times alluded to in subtle ways. Well, the answer to that question is simple: women.

Women are seen as complicated because most people (including them sometimes) don’t understand the complexity of their psyche. Our poor understanding of the female psyche, in my opinion, lies on two main aspects. One has to do with the complexity of her body, and the other has to do with the imposed gender roles. Due to these two aspects, women are seen as complicated, hysterical, emotional; to the point that many women have become convinced of this too.

Taking into consideration that our general knowledge of psychology, anthropology and sociology are male-centered: that is, examined from a male point of view of a male subject of study; and that there aren’t as many female specialized researches, we naturally don’t have much choice but to believe that women are no less than complicated. I say if the world was female-centered, it would be more common to hear that men are just basic.

Thankfully now, compared to just half a century ago, there is a lot more interest and many more studies about the female body and psyche from the perspective of females. One book I really enjoyed is Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés; I strongly recommend this book to women but also to those men who think women are ungraspable beings.  In her book, she intertwines the female spirit, energy, and psyche, as the Wild Woman, that true female nature we have beneath our masks (gender roles) assigned by society throughout the years. This Wild Woman archetype is strongly characterized by originality, freedom as well as instinct, and this instinct is intensely protective, creative, ingenious, loyal and constantly moving. Her psyche is, without any doubt, complex. It responds organically to the complexity of her body and of her surroundings.

As we all know, the female body is very complex; we cannot expect a body capable of carrying human life within itself to be simple. However, many of us females underestimate the complexity of our bodies, which is one of the reasons why we sometimes get frustrated for not understanding exactly why we feel the way you we do; that’s when we blame our “hormones” (without necessarily understanding what that means), the moon, the waves, or whatever our culture tells us that has an effect on our bodies and minds. Sometimes we feel crazy for no reason so we try to suppress it.

On top of that, we must comply with all the expectations of our societies, expectations associated to gender roles that are sometimes unrealistic and many times unfair, such as: maintaining a certain type of body, staying forever young (I really don’t get this one, why is it frowned upon that I, a living being, age?), focusing from a young age primarily on the poetic and romantic aspects of life despite our natural interest for the exact sciences, not expressing too much of our minds and bodies yet always smiling (when women are told “put a smile on your face”, “why so serious?” by a stranger in the street when just walking and minding her own business).

A woman that doesn’t understand her true nature, complexity, and is forced to comply with unnatural requirements, will certainly not be able to express her true self, especially not in a way that would be graspable for men. As a result, some women prefer to hide their feelings, thoughts and desires because they don’t want to be seen as too weak or emotional, which is looked down upon, and sometimes choose to adopt manly attitudes, at the risk of being called names such as b*tch or sl*t, due to society’s double standards. To explain this differently, think of the gender stereotypes we are often exposed to. When you imagine a girly girl what adjectives come to mind?

I have always considered myself a girls’ girl, as female as it gets, I can understand women well. However, I never enjoyed shopping, I never asked my girls to accompany me to the public bathrooms, I do not cry during romantic movies, I didn’t dream about my wedding day as a little girl, as a child I liked sports and outdoor activities, as a teenager my favorite movies where action movies, I do not expect a guy to pay for my things, I do not like heart-shaped chocolates, I do not believe in Valentine’s Day, and I do not believe in flowers as gifts (they should stay in the ground where they belong; give me a potted plant instead). These preferences don’t make you more or less of a female/male; whether you enjoy these things or not is a matter of personal preference. Humans should be able to have these preferences without being subjected to labels (girls being called tomboys and boys being called sissies). The female psyche is a lot deeper than superficial preferences.

So please, let’s not attempt to describe womanhood on the base of women who have been molded and adapted to gender roles. We must define womanhood on the base of a woman liberated from those gender roles, a woman true to her authentic nature. When we remove gender roles we find a woman who responds to the complexity of her body, to her cognition and to her transcendental self (spirituality). What mainly defines the female psyche is that these three aspects often overlap and are expressed simultaneously (integrated consciousness) which gives rise to intuition; for this reason, female views of reality can often be less compartmentalized, more holistic.

I believe males are definitely equally integrated beings, but throughout history, they have convinced themselves that their physical capacities and their evolving survival capabilities (which in modern times translate into dollar earnings) are the only things that define their worth; they conformed to a less evolved version of who they actually are. Many of them are expressing only one aspect of their psyche rather than all three and only awareness of all three will allow them to live more holistically. So when I say that some men are too basic I mean they choose to think, feel and act too basic. The word is basic, not simple, because the way I see it “simple” implies humbleness, detachment from egotistic desires, whereas “basic” implies a strong attachment to our most primitive selves (bodily desires). Basic men act as if they had little more than just an animal body. I think male humans, in their essence, are as capable of self-control as female humans, their minds and souls are also connected to their bodies and therefore they are equally complicated. However, many times they choose to ignore this and go with their basic instincts. And this choice has become so engraved in their behavior that it is misinterpreted as the main manifestation of their nature, to the point that it’s common to believe that there is nothing they can do about it.

You see, I am very much attracted to the male body, but my integrated consciousness (the one described above) allows me to focus on other things besides tall-muscular-dark-hairy men (my favorite kind). Thanks to my capacity of seeing further than my animal instinct, I don’t need to think about them 24/7. As integrated humans, we don’t need to act on our impulses all the time not because we’re afraid to get hurt, or because it’s “immoral” in the traditional sense, or because it’s frowned upon or illegal in some forms, but because our rational minds and souls can understand that that is not what we really want at a certain moment. If you think this makes me complicated then consider yourself basic to me.

The misunderstanding that human nature, as studied by men, is primarily controlled by basic instincts has been the cause of many unfortunate behaviors, such as oppression of one group over another, unhealthy competition, abuse of natural resources, harmful expressions of sexuality, violence, uncontrollable materialism, repression of inner feelings, dichotomizing between mind and heart, dismissing transcendental reality, and a large number of more misconceptions of humanity that resulted in millions of frustrated men (and women) today.

So my suggestion is that in the face of complicated feelings, or people, first of all, be grateful that your consciousness is not basic, and then trust that there is a real reason for that complication; it is primarily because one is not being true to what the integrated consciousness really wants, one is not honoring our inherent complexity. Once we realize what our holistic self wants, we become simpler. In other words, I think all humans are complex, and how integrated each individual chooses to think and act is what will make them less basic, and moreover become simple which paradoxically requires complexity and integrated consciousness.

‘The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without’ – Ernest Hemingway.

basic vs integrated

Responsible freedom of expression

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Many societies have established this right as a law, and in general, they recognize freedom of expression as a human right that needs to be guaranteed in order to call a society free and democratic.

Some of us are lucky to be born in one of those societies, where this human right is guaranteed, to a certain extent at least; and, despite the inherent ethical limitations this law has, such as hate speech or children’s pornography, it has become acceptable to express almost whatever is in our minds and hearts, under the claim that it is our born right to express what we want.

I believe it is without a doubt a right that everyone in the world should be able to enjoy from the moment they are born; but unfortunately, we still live in a time where this is not the norm in many places, be it because of political views, religious beliefs, gender, social class, race, or another classification established by man in regards to freedom privileges.  It is a shame that our so called world ‘civilization’ is still struggling with this principle even in its very basic form.  It may not be the case of our countries but the presence of this issue elsewhere does affect our world civilization and so it makes all of us accountable for this problem.

However, in those places where this right is already an established norm, where many platforms are offered to us to publicly express what we please, and we are free to say what we want to whoever we want, I feel that it’s being used irresponsibly.  Indeed this norm contains some limitations, but in general practice, this right seems to have many blurry lines. It seems like this freedom has become a free pass to mock and offend each other while priding ourselves for exercising this ability. We gave this freedom an individualistic twist, responding to our egocentric desires. We turned it into a tool for oppression defeating its original purpose.  And the result: it’s adding more disunity amongst people.  In other words, now that enjoying freedom of expression is not an issue for some of us, the issue is what we express. So my main suggestion in the following paragraphs is that we consider that the practice of our personal freedoms must go in harmony with the wellbeing of the whole, and for that, each of us must attempt to express our best selves.

I one aspect, being really free to express who we truly are implies trying to be free from judgment, as judgment is a reflection of our insecurities, our ego, and is not of our conscious selves.  When we see or hear something we don’t agree with from someone else, we should view this as an opportunity to teach and learn, not self-righteously, but understanding that each of our views is a result of what we have been exposed to through family, culture, friends, experiences, through inner search and awakening, something we once heard, etc.; and that maybe there’s a greater understanding that we can reach together. I once heard “freedom of expression implies tolerating bigotry”, I think that doesn’t express the whole purpose of this freedom, I think that even though everyone should have the right to express their thoughts, this freedom also implies that it is our right to express our disagreement with them, but our attitude and purpose of expressing our disagreement is what will matter. We can’t go around life just complaining and pointing out at what we don’t agree from each other, that’s not doing anyone any good. And sometimes, if others don’t agree with us, the healthy thing is to let go; it doesn’t qualify as universal freedom anymore if we’re trying to impose our views.

One of the implications of freedom of expression is to tolerate ideas that are different from ours; however, in my opinion, there should be more than to just tolerate one another, the purpose should be to connect and learn from one another, to share knowledge so that we can create more knowledge.  Being only tolerant sometimes suggests a conceited attitude and a self-righteous approach; meaning, we are so conformed with our ways that we feel we are being open minded enough by putting up with people who are different from us, whether we interact with them or not.  We get so comfortable in that thinking that we don’t allow ourselves to explore and see what positive things we could gain from our differences.  So I believe tolerance needs to go by the hand of genuine respect and, even better, by respectful curiosity and openness of mind and heart. And this is where freedom of expression plays an important role, as it is the tool we use to approach others and share thoughts.

This also applies to our freedom to express our perceptions about the traditions of other cultures. I believe in comedy and good sense of humor, using our differences for laughter is fine, but I think it’s irresponsible to use comedy as a way of demeaning others and inciting others to do so as well, like we are world bullies. Our expressions should show that we enjoy our differences and in general they should bring out positive qualities, rather than judging people, stigmatizing them, stereotyping them, ridiculing them and ending up perpetrating more prejudice and hate. We end up adding to society’s categorization tendency, a tendency that is divisive in nature, instead of contributing to unity.

On the other hand, if we say something we should expect people to criticize it, and at the same time we shouldn’t take offense so easily by what others express. Also, I don’t think we should expect to find some spokesperson of our opinion (confirmation from others), nor should we fear that some self-appointed expert will correct us.  However, even though in many places we have the legal right to hate and to voice it -which is fine, I believe no one should regulate our thoughts- we should regulate our own thoughts and expressions; there must be a certain level of self-imposed censorship, censorship of what is unfair judging or prejudice, because if freedom of expression is really a freedom, we need to make sure it’s safe.

On some deeper level, I believe that our attitude towards ourselves and our own society has a lot to do with what we express, if we are humble to recognize our strengths and our weaknesses, and those of our society, we will be humble in assisting others to improve too, we will be educating with our expressions like we were educated; if we don’t see our own flaws or are too indulgent with ourselves, we might act self-righteous or hypocritical.  Hypocrisy is a very easy flaw to overlook in ourselves.

Regardless of different societies’ interpretation of the limitations of this freedom, which is too complex to get into in this post, my main point here is that we are entitled to our thoughts and feelings, but what makes us civilized responsible humans beings is that we try to orient those thoughts and feelings towards love and unity, those that will shed more light and awareness on our physical, intellectual or spiritual reality; this is the main standard we need.  Now that we have achieved this right in the free world, we need to honor it. How else can we call ourselves civilized, if we can’t even exercise such basic principle with respect and consideration of our fellow humans?

So what I suggest is this: that we remember that as much as it is our right to express, it is also our duty to be responsible with this right, meaning to be conscious of not causing harm with it. More so, we should make it our responsibility to ensure that our expressions contribute to the betterment of our society and even of our world civilization.

Change of last name after marriage

When it comes to equality, particularly within the family, my parents are very progressive. My mom is a very strong, independent, determined and self-motivated woman. My dad is a devoted husband and a patient, hardworking father. They are the loving parents of four girls. We were all raised with a deep understanding of the equality of genders and a strong sense of self-worth and independence as young girls. So ever since I became consciously aware that my mom took my dad’s last name (I was probably around 10 years old), I naturally felt that something wasn’t right. Why my mom? I wondered. And since then, I haven’t stopped asking myself and everyone I can: why is it that it’s mostly women who take the husband’s last name after marriage?

There are still many places where the father’s last name must be the family’s name, or where, as in Latin America, children take both parents’ last names but the father’s comes first; and even though in many places it’s now a matter of choice, it’s still common practice for the wife and children to take the father’s last name. Even in rare cases when the wife keeps her own name, her children will still carry the father’s.

I’ve heard many justifications over the years, mostly around the following statements: “to maintain family unity”, “to begin a life together with a fresh start”, “to disassociate from her single years”, “it’s just a name, it doesn’t mean anything”, and a large number of more groundless excuses, in my opinion. I’m not saying there’s necessarily something wrong with a wife taking her husband’s last name, but I am asking why. Sure, it’s just a name and our true identity lies within our minds and souls, and sure, we want to identify as one family, and sure, I don’t want to hold on to my single years; but why isn’t this change made by the husband? Is it for the sake of tradition? That’s not a good enough reason.

In modern day society, where there are many single or divorced mothers who take custody of the children, and all sorts of new types of families, traditions like this become absurd. I’ve seen single mothers struggling to force the father to recognize their child and give his last name just because it’s the country’s law, or because they’re afraid of public shame. But really, why? What for? What good will come out of it? Is his last name going to bring more bread to the table? I guess in some cases it will since some selfish men probably won’t provide for the child if it hasn’t been legally registered under his name. But it would be so much easier to just pass on the mother’s last name in these cases; it seems more practical and fair.

I’ve also read about women who, after divorce, wish their children had their last name, and about some who even go through the lengthy and tedious process of court in order to change their children’s name into their mother’s. So for married parents, why not take her last name as a family name? If, unfortunately, the parents end up splitting up (which is, according to statistics, a 50% chance) it’s the mother who will, most likely, keep the children. I’m not saying this should necessarily be the rule, but if you live somewhere where you can choose, why not even consider that option instead of taking the father’s last name by default?

I once heard a woman say that she would take her future husband’s last name because she knows that as a mother she will already be more connected to the family than the father, so giving the family the father’s last name will make him feel the same connection and will compensate for the fact that he didn’t carry their children for nine months. I love my dad. I think he’s the kindest man on Earth, and I don’t think that if I had my mom’s last name I would feel any less love for my dad. I don’t feel that I would think of him as any less of a man. And I’m definitely certain that he wouldn’t feel that his daughters were any less of his children.

I think a man is as capable of feeling unconditional love for his family as a woman is, and I don’t see why “just a name” would have to affect his connection to his family. Besides, it’s because of the fact that she carried them inside for nine months that she deserves to have her name considered as an option to pass on to her new born.

Zoe Saldana’s husband took her name and this was “news”. I praise him for his humbleness and courage, but this shouldn’t even be a big deal, not in the 21st century. Although I understand society is still too conservative to see a man who takes his wife’s last name as ordinary, it’s time to revise some of those traditions that perpetrate a primitive culture of superiority of one gender over another. The principle behind this tradition is the only thing I’m against. Let’s think about what’s behind this tradition of men keeping their identities and women losing them. Women’s last names end up vanishing completely in their families, and consequently the children end up disassociating themselves with their mother’s maiden name as if it was never important, when it actually represents her side of the family (but only her father’s side, because her mother’s last name already vanished when she got married). It’s like she doesn’t have her own identity; she goes from being someone’s daughter to someone’s husband to someone’s mother, with her identity always in relation to someone else, always belonging to someone else. Yes, men are also sons, husbands are fathers, but through their names they get to pass on their identity to a whole new family as if the family was only of their creation. This reinforces their original identity. Keeping their names, regardless of what they choose to do in their lives, is a self-confirmation of power and superiority, as if they are unshakable and the rest will mold into their frame. This same idea repeats in the fact that women are given different titles throughout their lives that emphasize their marital status: Miss, Ms. or Mrs., but boys get to be misters all the way to their gravestones. So what importance does the woman’s identity have? Why is it so easy to get rid of it? This represents where we, as society, put women. And it’s sad. Our understanding as a world society of each of these two genders is sad.

Having said all this, if I get married, of course I would appreciate it if my husband wants to take my last name -I mean, nothing more attractive than that level of progressiveness and confidence in a man- but, considering that I would want to start a marriage thinking only about unity, I would be happy to create a new last name for our family, either a mix of both or a whole new one. I think that would really contribute to family unity in this mundane aspect.