Takes Two To Tango.

Zika. Sounds more like a videogame character than a mosquito-borne (and maybe sexually transmissible…) disease that may be causing microcephaly in infants, leaving devastating downstream consequences. Amidst echoes of criticisms it faced not too long ago in its (admittedly not-so-speedy) response to Ebola, the WHO has declared Zika a public health emergency.

The virus is spreading across the Americas and governments are taking interesting measures to control its spread and its consequences. Here is an example of governmental responses as voiced by the Economist:

“It started after a handful of governments advised women to delay getting pregnant. Colombia, which has the second-highest number of infections after Brazil, advised women to wait six to eight months. Jamaica issued a similar recommendation, even though no cases of Zika have yet been reported there. El Salvador’s government suggested that women should delay pregnancy until 2018. Panama warned women from indigenous communities, in which infection rates are high, not to conceive.”

Ok so the bold formatting is mine, but I’m making a point here.

Reading that, you’d think that women are the sole pro-creators of the species. I mean really… count the number of times the word women is used vs. men, or public or other non-gender-specific terms. We may need a retelling of the birds-and-the-bees story so that officials are reminded of how reproduction works (nevermind that unwanted sex and sexual violence run rampant).

Accountability for the repercussions of lust and desire traditionally, and well… biologically (thanks mother nature), fall on women. It’s sexist, ineffective and limits our collective capacity to handle something like this outbreak. Gender-neutral public health messages are necessary to put the onus on more than just one half of the affected population to help mitigate the long-term consequences of this virus (of which there will be many given that we’re going to end up with pockets of rural areas with high levels of need for complex interventions that can support the surge in developmental disabilities).

Meanwhile, in a similar vein, the CDC’s messaging around alcohol consumption by women of reproductive age who are not on birth control has gotten a lot of flak for, as this article so poignantly puts it, “slut shaming boozy women.” Amused. Thanks internet. I’d almost argue that the female-directed messaging around Zika control is more inappropriate in terms of gender equity than the CDC’s poorly worded yet well meaning headlines. Mostly because while the CDC could’ve been more sensitive in putting out its message, as far as Zika and pregnancies go… seriously, it takes two to tango.
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Loud.

“Konichiwa.”

Setting the stage for what was to be a wildly uncomfortable 9 minutes of unwanted bar conversation, he inserted himself into our circle with a single sarcastic utterance of the word. It rolled off his tongue with the same casual ignorance of a Gwen Stefani song. There we were – four girls – three of which look vaguely “ethnic,” body language completely closed off to passer-bys, and yet here he was – entitled to have his say, to be heard, to be validated. “Made in Asia?” he states pointing to a couple of us. I’m immediately bored. I know this conversation by heart. And so does anyone who doesn’t look like they could’ve come to the Mayflower’s reunion. “Where are you from?” – Insert X predominantly-white-albeit- cultural-mosaic/ melting-pot-country – “No, but where are you from?” “Carbon, you asshole. I’m mostly Carbon.” But instead… “Oh well my parents are from Y-acceptably-non-white-country-that explains-my-complexion-my-dark- features–and-confirms-the asker’s need for a “different” tickbox.” Then the conversation goes down one of two paths. The asker either smiles knowingly, pleased with their keen eye, or he/she spews a series of invariably misguided facts/ question about country Y. There’s also a third path which is generally much more pleasant and leads to a real conversation about place and identity and culture and leaves both parties feeling enriched, but that conversation doesn’t often start with “but where are you from.” The uninvited guest last night didn’t stop there however. He went on to comment on the beauty of eyes that go like this, pulling at the side of his face, before carrying out a lengthy inquisition about our choice to live in a country that’s not our own.  

I’d been under the impression that passive aggressive, systemic, or otherwise discrete racism was the way to go in this day and age…

So why was this man so unbelievably inappropriate? And blatantly racist?

– Lack of exposure to multiculturalism? Maybe.

– One too many Vodka Cranberries? Possibly.

– A systemic, entrenched sense of entitlement to voice any and all opinions and to have them be deserving of acknowledgment? Definitely.

– The right to be loud and proud? Always.

At 7 years old, I learned that my ankles were too loud. I had been wearing white capris at the airport and my mother was chided by the security guard for raising a slut. I think he took the “never wear white after labour day” a little too heavily to heart. At 8, my hair became too loud and was tamed under a veil. At 9, we moved somewhere where my hair and ankles could sing, but my voice was only tolerated. I became quiet, polite, a model student. Eventually, because my parents are awesome, I found my voice again (albeit metaphorically given that I probably still need a microphone to be heard across the dinner table), but I’d been trained to use it carefully.

Nevermind the absurd racism, the “Konichiwa” greeter was imposing himself on us as a man and allowing himself to judge our looks, our lifestyles, our core. You would be hard-pressed to find a women who would make similar comments to a group of men regardless of lack of exposure to multiculturalism or too many vodka cranberries, whereas the reverse is so much more common. You could argue that it’s because men still feel they have to take on the role of pursuer, and that’s all he was doing. But no, it was so much more (read: less?) than that. It was aggressive, it was with a sense of ownership and entitlement, and it was entirely unresponsive to the reactions he was receiving.

We should all grow up believing that we are deserving of being loud and proud, but with a level of critical thought, kindness and reflection. Otherwise, the resulting cacophony from the chorus of imbeciles is enough to make the US congress sound like Chopin.