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Feb 272013
 
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Gender, Marriage and Sarai Sierra’ death

 

What conversations are you listening around the tragedy suffered by Sarai Sierra? Are the responses from women and men widely opposite or at odds? Are others condemning or blaming her before all the evidence is out? Do women feel scared? Are men angry? Here’s a story that shares how Sarai’s death tapped into painful issues of gender and human rights within marriage.

This is a long post, so I’ve divided it into three posts. Please read the entire story and then you are welcome to respond.

When Joy gets poisoned

Several days ago I was at a social celebration. Several women friends had been published and were doing a public reading. After the reading we went to a restaurant to celebrate.

Half through the dinner I had the misfortune to mention Sarai Sierra’s tragic death in Turkey. I was sad, scared and upset that this woman had been so brutally murdered in a country that I had dimmed safe to visit.

A good friend, a woman, had just been working in Turkey for a year, doing a beautiful art project with the people there. Another friend, a man, had spent a wonderful holiday there and I had seen fabulous photos of their cultural treasures. I was thinking that Turkey is a place I’d like to visit. It has magic.

Until now, I had thought that it was relatively safe for a woman to visit Turkey. Perhaps because it’s halfway between Europe and Asia and possesses a multi-cultural character, I had seen it as more liberal than many middle-eastern countries were women cannot walk alone.

But Sarai’s death was telling a different story. I felt sympathy for her and anger at a world in which women cannot walk alone. So did the other two women in our restaurant table.

I will advance that twenty minutes into the topic, I had regretted I had ever brought it up. Our friend’s publishing celebration became tainted with anger and the table became the altar of a Women’s Inquisition in which the men in the table judged Sarai and found her guilty, took over the conversation and proceeded to “fight” and “proof” their point for the next hour. The women became more silent and somber. The joy got poisoned. And I got up and left.

As I share what happened, I will make certain detours. I want to go deeper here than I could go while the situation took place. I want to do this in part, because the situation took place in a noisy restaurant that did not lend itself to deep reflection. Alternatively, the argument was not in the love zone and I want to bring it to that zone for my own healing. Additionally, I’ve taken the time to enrich my understanding of the event, so that you can benefit from my experience.

I encourage to read the entire blog series because as it progresses I want to go beyond the apparent “gender war” into reflections that may illuminate the so called “men are from Mars and women from Venus” phenomena, helping us to understand each other more.

At the end, I give some tips to both women and men. Enjoy!

The Women’s Inquisition

For the woman in the table, in lieu of other evidence, Sarai’s death was a case of violence against women.

“I’m angry that women cannot walk the world freely,” one of my writer friends said. “Women get attacked every day. Even in their homes. Even in groups. For me this is about violence against women.”

“I was in Egypt with my mother and we were in a group,” said the other woman writer. “Suddenly she had disappeared and we were looking for her anxiously. We finally found her in a bazaar, being accosted by some men. They had sequestered her from the group and taken her there. So it’s not about going alone or in a group. It is about a culture in which men are free to attack women at any time with impunity.”

The two men in the group, the partners of these women, did not respond to these words at all. Instead, they began to speculate about what sordid crime (hers, of course) could be “behind” her death.

One of the writer friends and I had investigated the news and were as well informed as possible. We explained that Sarai, who was Latina like everyone in the table, had walked in tourists areas, had been in touch with her family and had in every way acted as normally as any of us in a trip.

The men dismissed these facts. Without having any evidence, they were suspecting her of being a “mule.” How else would you explain that someone who only works part-time is taking a $10,000 journey? Why did she go to Germany and Holland? That could be a way of carrying something illegal.

While the women in the table saw that this was a possibility, we were not disposed to judge Sarai without evidence.

Our response was empathy, compassion and concern. Having suffered sexual harassment, violence, cat calling and danger for being women, we saw this tragedy as the result of global violence against women.

Not so for the men. After pre-judging her for criminal acts, they proceeded to judge her for being a bad mother.

She was a “bad” woman because she was a mother who “abandoned” her children to go in a trip alone.

I informed them that she had been in contact with her husband and children through Skype every day. She had not abandoned her children. She had dreamt of taking photos of Europe for a long time and had given herself this gift.

This did not seem to change their opinions, either.

“Didn’t she have a love affair with someone there? Didn’t they find emails?” one of the men said.

I informed him that no such evidence had been found. She was active in social media, especially in Instagram, and as many people do, she called on her social media friends to meet personally when visiting their country. This is how we’ve also traveled, and if you are careful there is little risk involved.

But they dismissed this, though the three women in the group vouched that this type of experience did not have to be risky.

I began to realize that they gave little credence to anything women said about safety. As if protecting “their” women was their mission alone, and therefore their unique capacity, even in spite or against the woman’s choice.

Women’s Allowance

The husband of one of the women said that he would never “allow” her to travel alone.

I was shocked that a mature, yet still young man in our century could use such condescending language. I don’t know why I am always surprised, no matter how often it happens.

“It’s not up to you to ‘allow’ your wife anything,” I candidly said. “She is a grown-up woman, an adult, not your child. She has an independent, free choice to do what she deems right.”

“If a woman needs to take a break, as we often need to do, to be alone, or if she has a long-standing or important dream, then she has a right to do what she needs, and as adult, she has the authority over her life.”

Oh boy! I opened a can of worms.

The partner of the other woman at the table, usually unengaged and silent, exploded in loud barks of accusations.

In a very aggressive tone, he interrogated me.

“Do you expect the same of men? Or do you think only women have this right? Is this a one-sided thing or do you believe that both parties have the same right?”

It seemed obvious to me that if I believe something fair for one party in a relationship, it applies to both parties. But I do not respond well to inquisitor demands. Perhaps it’s the centuries-old “burn, witch, burn” memories.

But something else prompted me not to answer to the angry demands of this young man.

Why is it that so often when women talk about their needs and their freedom, our men get threatened and start attacking the women as a way of defending themselves? Why would a man feel that he is being attacked when a woman asserts her freedom, rights or independence?

The word “allow” opened its possibilities here. Not only are women not “allowed” to do as they see fit. They are allowed little time, space and attention. We had used our “allowance” already because the cultural event we had attended was about women writers, and all the presenters and readers were women.

The fact that men have usually been the ones at the table for centuries does not weigh in their consciousness when “too many” women take up “too much time” in one same time and space. So as the conversation got more hostile, I considered that women’s tiny “allowance” may have added to men’s feeling of being attacked.

In this context, I chose to bring the conversation back to what a woman feels, to keep my attention in woman. I also do not speak for men, as I do not wish them to speak for me. So I said:

“I am not a man. I don’t know what men feel or want. I am speaking of women. I am speaking of what a woman needs.”

“So you are saying that we just got to let our wife, the mother of our children to go to a country that’s dangerous and disappear, just because she wants to, and we just ‘let’ her?”

“I am saying that a woman is an independent adult and no one ‘lets’ her or ‘allows’ her. I am not saying that as a couple you cannot talk it over. To say that you “don’t allow” her is to transgress her rights. However, if you talk it over and tell her that you don’t feel it’s safe and you both…”

“So it’s a matter of semantics!” the young man snapped.

 

Continue reading here.

 

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About Maria Mar

Maria Mar is a Sacred Storyteller and shaman who champions you to change your old limiting story to create the new story of your brilliance illuminating the world. She helps you awaken your magic, express your creative genius, embody your purpose and live your potential now.

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