Dehumanization means to deprive someone of human qualities or attributes. Multiple populations during the scope of their lives are faced with dehumanization interactions to a certain extent, some demographics however are more susceptible to receive dehumanizing treatments according with their age, gender, nationality, social and economic placement.
This dehumanization process leads to personal and social violence: the painted nonexistence of human's qualities would supposedly validate inhumane treatment. While many individuals can encounter transitional dehumanization (and here the mass media plays also a big role), women are within the group of individuals that encounter systemic dehumanization since an early age and this occurs in many ways, some more vicious than others.
The dehumanization of women's bodies can happen in subtle ways that became naturalized by the pattern of it's repetition. It is not uncommon to people that to perpetrate those patterns is not socially acceptable within many groups and that girls get to know what happens to their bodies other than why do they get their period and how to avoid pregnancy. Girls are encouraged to speak about their body parts with "nicknames", as if body intimacy and knowledge was something promiscuous or obscene. The nicknames or the parent's choice itself is not a problem, but the fact that there is a social sense of shame in talking about it.
At puberty they face an industry that despises their body as it is: period blood can not never leak (not for the girl's well being but because of the social embarrassment) that is supposed to represent. There are many soaps, cleaning tissues, and perfumes for the vagina that with few exceptions are not medically indicated as if we were naturally dirtier than men; not to mention the imposition of shaving (not option) by social shame.
Facing so many taboos to learn and take care about their own anatomy, when older, female teenagers often are misguided when seeking information about sexual health, pleasure and relationships. They are slut-shamed by a society that is the same that judges them if they are too prude as well: until few years ago - and I am writing this in 2018 - there was an almost insignificant number of information about female sex that was not for men's consumption.
During all life, women are faced with massive media propaganda that stigmatizes their bodies and pressures them to fit in a shape that it is inhumane and with the exception of few important organizations, eating disorders for example are not treated as a public health issue, but as individual isolated cases (yet I unfortunately believe that the majority of women that are reading this today know/heard of someone close that had an eating disorder at some point if not themselves) .
At mature life, we keep denying women the right to be old: they need to look, dress, talk and act young. The right to effort in keeping one's youthful appearance in our society is not the possible alternative to a personal choice, but an imposition. Mature women that do not follow facial procedures are often targeted as depressed, tired, lazy and this is madness.
Paraphrasing Brecht, when the madness is multiplied it takes the risk of becoming invisible and if there is no space for reflection we are likely to keep repeating the cycles of using women's bodies as guns pointed to themselves. Note that in this whole description the feelings of embarrassment are socially created; I did not start yet (as I intend) to describe the way women's emotions are dehumanized and the types of violence that women are susceptible as a consequence of this process. Adding that pregnancy, infertility, bisexuality, trans-sexuality, homoaffectivity, ethnicity, disability, economic and social marginalization, transitional or chronic poverty, mental disorders are also part of what women's lives and bodies are made, to not advocate for them is what I would rather call inhumane.
I always enjoyed talking with people. There was something about getting to know what others think and experienced that fascinated me since a very young age. Being a child, not often I could be involved in conversations that I would like to, so as soon as I learned how to read I became annoyingly opinionated. I would read everything, from instructions in a medicine bottle to prohibited war books from my grandpa's library.
Growing up I was always involved with speaking and listening to people, I would be the mediator in school discussion groups, the speaker in the homework presentations, class representative and - why not - the narrator and performer on theater pieces inside and outside school. By my teenage years, I realized that by balancing the spaces between listening and talking I could be a good friend. I loved - and love - to hear stories and many times I spoke in someone's behalf. Today, however, I am speaking on my own.
Make no mistake, despite being an immigrant woman, I am speaking from a place of privilege: being white and English speaker I am aware that what happens to me does not scratch the surface of what happens to other people in less privileged positions. However, because I can not lead people to a place I have never been, I am sharing here a very vulnerable part of my professional journey in a new country and what I believe to be a fundamental barrier to the integration of many immigrant women: we are not heard.
I am grateful that in my Canadian journey I encountered amazing people that support me, teach me and encourage me and I would like to let it clear that this is not about them, but about professional places that allow participation but not belonging, that push women like me through the cracks of a system that is already designed without equity.
As you already know by now, I am speaker and a listener and I enjoy both equally. I taught adults way older than me and children way younger, I have taught children whose parents owned helicopters and adults who struggled with hunger during class. In both situations I questioned my position as a agent of change and I did my best to challenge the status quo opening spaces to conversations, inclusion and, of course, food. I did not do it by myself and I had extraordinary people that challenged me and for whom I owe this accomplishment.
In Canada, with deeply important exceptions, I faced many times condescension and silence in many professional settings. I realized that I can speak three, four languages to perfection: if the structure does not want you to speak, you will not be listened. Note that I am not talking here about agreeing, but about having your voice heard and treated with respect.
This is a very vulnerable part of my journey and I am happy to say that is not the only one. That I do have a great group of friends, family and mentor who encourage me and make me feel home. I do know however, that if for a relatively privileged immigrant women the barriers to belong are big, I can only imagine what happens to others that do not have the same chances that I do.
I would like to encourage immigrant women to put themselves in spaces that others may say that they do not fit and to not give up. If you are not heard, write, if you are not read, draw. But do not give up. If we do not occupy our intellectual spaces of choice, does not matter how much uncomfortable and unwelcome people can may make us feel, these spaces would never be ours. It is time for people in power to understand that equity is not a pie, there is space for everyone and I hope you fight with me for ours.
Como diria Alice Ruiz: Sou uma moça polida levando uma vida lascada. Brasileira, vinte sete anos e alguns grilos na sacada.