Indian women have been granted an unprecedented break–8 women-only commuter trains. Was anyone else struck by this headline news, and by “struck” I mean,… did you pause?
On these trains known as Ladies Specials, a weight has been lifted. Men are not there to do what they reportedly do onboard every day–pinch, grope, molest, threaten and shout insults at the women. Apparently, this harassment is the norm. Apparently, it was bad enough to warrant the government stepping in.
Imagine a women-only train. It might be like a big slumber party. In my world, it would manifest as a man-free subway at 4am on a Saturday night. Oooooo. How fucking freeing! What about a man-free traveling experience? I would drive across America or any wild country and push deep into the night, until I collapsed alone and sleepy in my car, a tent, or a grassy ditch on the side of the road. I’d be relaxed, watching the stars sparkle without letting my imagination roar me into at least twenty minutes of heart palpitations: A man is going to find me here and hurt me. A man is going to find me here and hurt me. (An aside: I know plenty of women who are braver than me on that front.) Though I am deeply nourished by the different men in my life, I am also convinced, after 30 short years of living, that this fear of men is inherent in all women, even those who refuse to admit it.
Why? There are so many books that attempt to pin it down, so many poems. No need to descend into the messy discussion of biology (predators, the mechanics of body parts, sowing seeds, choosing carefully for your womb and all that fraught stuff). Instead, here’s some wisdom from a man on the topic… Continue reading
Three years ago, at dusk on September 10th, my boyfriend and I spun our bikes down the entire west flank of Manhattan, what feels, in effect (because of the scenery change) like distance. In reality, it is 13.4 short miles. Fresh to New York City, we vowed with the open-heart of newcomers to explore the cracks. This bike ride was the start. As spotted London Plane trees gave way to the behemoths of midtown and eventually to the hip of downtown, we pedalled by completely unaware of what everyone else on the island was aware of. Because though we are Americans, the physical history of two crumbling towers was not imbedded in us. We didn’t know this space when the World Trade Centers existed. We only knew the aftermath. New Yorkers felt the empty space. As interlopers, we were disconnected.
As we neared what we could not yet recognize as ground zero, we noticed droves of people moving inland, police officers cordoning off streets, a solemn collective buzz–the tell-tale signs of a gathering. We shrugged at each other and chalked it up to the wild ways of New York. “Must be some crazy event!” I laughed out loud, letting the wind whisk my voice out to the Hudson River.
It’s embarrassing now how oblivious we were to the date or the occasion. Later we learned that at the exact moment we coasted by on our bikes, on the eve of September 11th, President Bush stood at ground zero to address the world, the nation and New Yorkers. Hence, the crowds.
If I had paid detailed attention… Continue reading
High school economics was not my forté. Only one concept stuck: supply and demand. But recently, I’ve had market shifts on the brain. This September, the press has emblazoned talk of solar panels everywhere, from Nat Geo to the good old stand by NYTimes. Apparently China, noting a future demand, has jumped on it, creating more factories to produce the panels and polysilicion, the substance needed to make them. The US has done nothing of the sort. Prices have gone down, as happens with most things made in China. (that’s a whole other conversation)
Imagine the moment one human hands-on witnesses the amorphous market beast suddenly shift.
Has this happened to you? Here is my story:
Central Otago, New Zealand 2005
With the afternoon light softening, I place a clump of cherries into my 18th bucket of the day. I have been picking cherries on this orchard for two months now. My workmates are men from China, Malaysia, India and New Zealand–we’ve gotten mean at each other and all adoring. Like siblings. So it goes in the field. Most of these big juicy purple cherries, called Lapins, will be sold to Japan and some to North America, or at least that’s what our gang-boss Nigel says. As we sweat and move quickly (getting paid for how much pick), I keep wondering: How long does it take these cherries to get to the mouths of consumers? Who loads them on an airplane, a truck, the grocery store palette? What if those consumers knew that Bob, Remy, Hydah, Nigel, John and Molly had hand-picked these cherries in a small town on an island in the southern hemisphere? Do they think about it?
Perched on my ladder, I look over the leafy canopy towards… Continue reading
This week, I’m sharing my own work, because I’m so dang proud of it. Chris & I, along with our incredibly talented Austin-area friends, created this 2 minute water conservation PSA in response to RainBird’s “Intelligent Use of Water” film contest. Austin is in the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, and last week, officials announced even tighter water restrictions, so this awareness-raising contest comes at a crucial time.
We had a great time making this film, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. Enjoy!
Small Changes from Jennifer Gandin Le on Vimeo.
Written by Jennifer & Christopher Gandin Le
Edited by Matt Donaldson
Music by Liz Clark
Starring our brilliant friends and cohorts!
Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.
In exactly three hours, President Obama will be hosting a town hall meeting on healthcare reform. The town is the small Montana town I now live in. He’s here; he’s here; he’s here seems to be the refrain echoing in this valley. Last night at a dinner party, a friend told about how the preparation for the event had touched him. Working on a job up at the ski mountain, he heard a deep rumbling in the sky and waited for it to approach. He looked up as dark green helicopters skimmed towards him along the tops of lodge pole pine trees. Both helicopters were emblazoned with “United States of America” in blue. This man, a gentle horse-loving man, waved. One of the uniformed men in the helicopter waved back. “They were checking it out,” he explained, making sure no ill-doers were hanging in the woods nearby the mysterious lodge slated for the President and his family. I smiled at the visual. I also sighed with the relief of a common person. I am not the President or a famous person who, by sheer role, needs hundreds of people (and thousands of dollars) to scour a place before I go ahead and land.
But it did remind me of the time I met President Bush in my brother’s hospital room. No one patted me down. No one looked inside my purse. Perhaps, without my knowing, they did a background check on my name. The only physical check was a haunting one. A secret service man shook my hand and said, “You are about to meet the President. You will address him as Mr. President.” As the standard words slipped from his mouth, he burrowed his eyes into mine. It was a mental strip down. Any lie I’ve ever told rose to the surface. He knew everything. Did he catch my profound irritation and near hate for the important man I was about to meet? Uh oh. He could see, though, that this young woman had no desire to tackle Mr. President. Secret service people are trained to read the intricate movements of eyes, to look for something suspicious. Imagine if we all knew how to read the landscape and intention of each other’s eyes. Is it an animal instinct we once had? What a powerful and terrifying tool.
Remember studying The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in Civics class? We read excerpts and made gagging noises when we got to the parts about rat pieces and feces found in American food. Maybe we didn’t quite understand the other call for social reform in the book: to end the profound mistreatment of immigrant workers at the turn of the century. 1906 seemed like another world. We had no idea how close this book hit to home, to now.
Everyone who eats should watch Food, Inc. Or at least the trailer.
Should you buy popcorn and M&Ms? Probably not– unless you can down them during the previews. This documentary isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s tasteful and informative. Most importantly, it argues for our right to knowledge, to be able to find out “what’s in the kitchen.”
Has this hard economic time tempted you to hightail it to the ashram?
The New York Times says that people are going in droves.
After a “hard time” living in a provocative desert that threw my body off-kilter, I thought sitting still would do me good. I didn’t want to (nor could I afford) “going to the ashram,” which I’d read about somewhere. At the ashram, Hollywood-esque folks paid an exorbitant price to be forced to eat only kale, hike and sweat it out, and lose 20 pounds to fit into a dress for next month’s party. I wanted something authentic, which to 23-year-old me meant Hindu monks in saffron robes teaching us the intricacies of the Bhagavad Gita.
I found the exact place in the Catskill Mountains and laid down a precious, hard-earned $2,000, the most monumental straight-cash purchase of my young life. We sat crossed-legged for hours–chanting, meditating and doing yoga asanas for 30 days in a row. My inflexible hips opened too quickly, a mistake I am reminded of every time they crack and click. We read ancient texts. We even wore white uniforms. I was one of the four people who camped on the soggy lawn. It was a wet September. Everyone else slept in the housing barn. We ate brown rice and vegetables; our one taste of sweet manifested as shriveled dates. I eyed these delicacies and when the communal breakfast platter made its way across the room to me, I had to steady myself from snatching my one date, from snarfing it up like a pig. On the last day my new friend, an Irish woman recovering from cocaine addiction, admitted that every night Continue reading