Monday, April 24, 2017

You See How They Are? My Rant about FGM

Once again, the mutilation of little girl's vaginas is in the news. We're all a tither of course, because it's happening on (gasp!) American soil.

I've got news for you in case you're late to the party. Two hundred million women in about 30 different countries are circumcised. If it's the United States we're in a lather about, some estimate half a million women in the USA have had some or all of their lady parts sliced off.  As is typical of Americans though, we can't really be bothered with the plight of (black) Africans, or other barbaric (Muslim) cultures until the problem is on our doorstep. Well folks, the problem has been on our doorstep for a long time.

I'm from a small town in central Maine. Yes, I grew up in Hawaii in an academic milieu, among anthropologists, and that certainly informed my world view. At the end of the day though, I identify most with the place from which my extended family hails: A back woods town in the middle of Maine. So Muslims? I didn't really know any. Oh there were some kicking around the university in Honolulu, but if they were part of the crew of grad students drifting in and out of the house when I was a child, I have no memory of them. 

More years ago than I care to remember, another teacher in good ole Augusta, Maine came up to me with an open National Geographic and shoved it under my nose. "You see how they are? You see? This is what Muslims do to women." He stated this as a fact, simple confirmation of all his anti Islamic bias. I looked down. Felt sick. Looked away. I really had no idea this practice existed. I asked my father about it, and he said anthropologists were well aware, but that it wasn't something known outside the countries where it's practiced. It wasn't something anyone talked about then, but this picture helped create wide spread awareness of FGM in the Western Hemisphere. There was a freaking uproar. CNN and the BBC got on the documentary wagon. Alice Walker also published The Temple of My Familiar around this time, which depicts in novel form the effect of FGM on a marriage and a woman's sanity. Heck after the hoopla some countries were....embarrassed. Gestures were made, laws were passed, and the beat went on, one slice at a time. 

"The picture"
An Egyptian barber cutting off a girl's clitoris while whistling (apparently) a merry tune. 

I confess this one picture colored my view of Muslims and Islam in general for a long time. This is how I thought of Muslims for the next 20 years: Woman-hating barbarians. Apostate, irreligious misogynists outside the pale of anything civilized. They were just  Other. So, so |Other. Do I know differently now? Sure. I know this isn't part of Islamic teaching. However, now that the Dawoodi Bohra, an Indian Muslim sect, are in the news for female genital mutilation in the state of Michigan, the PR ain't great.  It isn't enough that Islam is seen as a religion of terror by many;  now Americans are in a (greater) state about the Muslim man's perceived hatred of a woman's sexuality. People are googling FGM and coming up with statements by Egyptian clerics saying moronic bullshit like women need their clitorises straight razored off (I paraphrase here OBVIOUSLY) because men won't be able to keep up with a woman's voracious sexual appetites otherwise. I couldn't make this shit up. 

I've listened to people make apologies for FGM in the Islamic community for years. Know what? I'm really tired of hearing it. Yes, I know this appalling act of misogynistic terror isn't "Islamic." I know it's "cultural." It is, though, a real problem in the world wide Muslim community. Sweeping this . under the carpet or excusing oneself from the discussion because it isn't YOUR Islam is unacceptable. This is an Islamic problem. It is an act of barbarity that affects 200 hundred fucking million women. Your sisters. Putting up your hands and making excuses isn't helping a damn thing. Bleating on about how the Quran advocates for a woman's sexual satisfaction doesn't mean crap when hordes of women undergo a horrifically painful act, done in order to...let's be real here folks...keep us in line. To keep us in line. To keep us from pleasure. To keep us from asking for something other than being a receptacle for a man (much like a toilet is used) or a receptacle for his children. It's because female mutilation isn't Islamic, indeed predates Islam, that we should defend little girls who can't defend themselves. 

What the hell are we going to do about this? For one, speak. If you are an American or live in a country where elected representatives have any power at all, write letters demanding that FGM is pursued as a crime. Arrest parents. Arrest that sweet old lady with the straight razor. Yes. Arrest their parents and put them in jail. There are many, MANY Somalian girls, for example, taken home for a "vacation" during the summer at about age 12. They're not on vacation. They're butchered and told to keep quiet once they return to say...Lewiston, Maine. Although countries like the UK (for example) require doctors to report instances seen of girls who have been mutilated, not one person connected to said mutilations has been arrested. France, in contrast, arrests the shit out of people. Yay France! 

Full disclosure: this is not a pic taken in the UK. It's in, I think, Kazakhstan. 

 I'm convinced the number of men who hate women is legion. Before you get all stroppy and huff and puff about how the men you know don't hate women, or you're a man and you're swelling up resentfully right now, hold on. No shit Sherlock. Of course YOU don't hate women.Clearly all the men you know are oozing with warm, fuzzy vibes for all womankind. If you happen to live in a country that practices FGM (by the way...that covers most countries) start publicly expressing your revulsion. Start a rant about how the parents of people who do this should go to jail. Start some shit, man. You never know who will overhear you and think twice before sneaking his daughter into some back office for a date with Razor Man, like that fucker Fakhruddin Attar and his sweet hand holding wife Farida. I hope they burn in hell. I really do. 

In the end, that is my wish for any person committing atrocities against children. Eternal torture. Like Sisyphus, I hope they spend eternity suffering the same done to them, over and over and over again. 

Make no mistake.  This really isn't Islamic.  This isn't how the vast majority of Muslims "are." It is a problem though.  A big one. 

There's no cake today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today. I almost feel like we should all observe a moment of silence. Damn. 

*This is an addendum in response to "what can we do" concerns. Please write your legislative representative and request that reporting by schools and doctors is required. More importantly,  demand prosecution of all parties involved, including parents. Too harsh?  As one woman said in a documentary I can't place the name of right now,  "They ruined my life. Why shouldn't they pay?" 

Repost this please. It matters. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Bullies, Bikinis, and This Is Us's Kate

I started binge watching This is Us recently. My reaction? Visceral. Raw. Despairing. My husband came home and found me sobbing into a towel. Big, ugly crying..not a dainty teardrop or three like a normal person would do during a show that repeatedly tugs at the heart. Well wtf! He laughed a bit, saying "It's just a TV show Fely." I kept crying. Tried to tell him between gasps that I understood how Kate feels.

And what triggered this bullshit? The note little Kate received after proudly debuting her Care Bear bikini at the public pool. She got a note from the other girls that they didn't want to be seen with her anymore. Flashback to Honolulu, Hawaii, late 70s. Physical education required us to use the pool for a couple months and I didn't have a bathing suit I liked. My mother made me one...and oh how delicious it was. A bright blue bikini made with "aloha" print material, made to fit my considerable curves and embarrassing rack. I loved that bikini, but as I walked out with the other fat girl in the class, I was nervous. So nervous. Honolulu boys are especially brutal in their cruelty, as they expect girls to look willowy and tanned. Surf's up bitches! I knew my mate Lori would get the brunt of their brash criticism, as they sat in their swim trunks and watched the girls troop out to join the class. Lori was truly fat. Kate fat. She had freaking jowls at 14, and a giant gut. She was also a lovely human being. Lonely? Shit ya she was lonely. Nobody wanted to be seen with her at awesome Kalani High School (except, grudgingly, me). I was fat too though, and as much as I wanted inclusion in the normal bodied club, I couldn't get a membership.

Yes. I was heckled that day. Without mercy, without any recognition on the bullies part that a person was tucked into that blue bikini, shoulders hunched and dying with every step around the pool. What I secretly believed before that moment, as I checked myself out in front of a mirror, is that I looked rather smashing. Alas, I was in the wrong place to find appreciation for some curviness and milk white skin.

Back to This is Us. Kate's parents meant well, and so did mine. Neither Kate's fictional parents, nor my real ones, had a clue how to deal with a child with a "weight problem." Kate's father Jack told her a super hero story to convince her to wear a tee shirt. My father went into a rage the night of the bikini debacle, shouting at me as I wept that I shouldn't give a fuck what those assholes thought. My mother? Well she'd fled the boat a few years before, but she was (and is) fat as well, so I called her, hoping for some comfort. I knew my dad meant well, but how DOES a parent deal with the despair and weeping of a child bullied for being fat? She said I needed to prove them wrong and go on a diet and lose the weight.

Well wasn't that good advice?

I failed Phys Ed that year, along with a few other classes. I simply stopped going to PE on pool days, as the teacher couldn't bother to protect any child who wasn't in the mold. Eventually I stopped going to any classes. It was just too hard. Too damning a place to exist. Shame really. I was a brilliant girl, and I chose to throw schooling away and hang out with badasses (now THAT'S a tale!) rather than feel the shame of my lumps on a minute to minute basis.

So yeah...I cried during the show. My husband, who is a kind man, suggested a drive around town. I sniffled my way into the car, and he just drove. Just said, "I think this show is a little bit sensitive for you." I asked him if he'd ever made fun of anyone. If he'd ever laughed at a girl who wasn't pretty. The answer was important to me. He just frowned and said, "I don't know honey. I don't remember."

People who laugh at others when they are children don't remember do they? Those boys don't remember a single moment of that class. Not at all. It's time for me to stop carrying around the looks on their faces as well.

Feel like some cake now? Lord knows I do. I baked a coffee cake this morning and brought some of it to work. It's my thing.

Felicia's Badass Bikini Coffeecake

This batter nicely fills a 13x9 pan.

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C

Whisk together:

4 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 tsp. baking powder

Cut in 1 1/2 cups softened butter.

Add 1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir this until just blended. Coffee cake is a sturdy, toothy cake so no finessing with the batter is necessary.

Spoon into a greased 13x9 pan and smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix:

3/4 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts...pecans are damn expensive)

Using your hands, mix in 3/4 cup butter until it's all moistened. Sprinkle this over the batter. 

Bake for 30 minutes, or until "toothpick clean" That means you insert a toothpick and if there's no batter stuck tot he cake, it's done.

Yeah, I ate two pieces. Damn right. This weekend I'll put on my Salalah-friendly burkini (no wobbly bits showing) and go for a swim. Nuff said. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Gramma Dot's Giant Bum-Making Mayonnaise Cake

I've lived in Salalah for quite awhile now, and I see the last time I posted, it was nearly Ramadan, 2015. Now Ramadan 2017 will arrive on wings of a dove in about 6 weeks. Does time freaking fly or what?

If you followed my blog before, rest assured I still bake cakes. Making a cake a day didn't last long, nor did writing a blog post daily. What kind of nutter sticks with THAT? I no longer bake cakes to order either. Do you know how stressful it is to bake a rainbow cake (six f*****g layers, each a different color) only to have the customer in question (name withheld--you know who you are biatch) tell you it sucked because it wasn't perfectly smooth like a bakery cake? My response was NOT in the "customer is always right" vein, dear reader. I told her she couldn't have the cake. Not even after wails of protest. She moaned on about what she'd do for a cake  for her beloved Krishna's birthday (or some such name), and I suggested she go to a bakery. Especially as she likes their smooth glossy finishes so much. Spank that muntifunti! Thus endeth my career as a baker for hire.

I'm a little angrier than I was in 2015, when the dew was still on the rose, if you will. I'm often a  raging, festering pond of squishy green neurosis, mostly a result of dieting and the kind of constant self consciousness that goes with being fat and judged for having this particular meatsuit.  Only recently have I started really thinking about what effect that has on a person, on my essential self. I've been on so many diets I rarely had time to ponder how weird that obsession us. When you are terrorized by a teaspoon of sugar, some strange psychological shit is gonna happen. Hence, the inside of my head is a far scarier place than most people assume as they gaze upon my placid features.

All of this rambling is simply an inept way of explaining why I'm starting this blog again. I'm fascinated by something called the fatosphere, and the books written by body acceptance activists. They give a big middle finger to a world that's found us deficient in our excessive size. I want in. I want to talk about my life, diets, and yes, baking and eating some dang cake now and then. I think I have something to say. Fat is still a feminist issue, the personal is still political, and a hashtag ain't gonna change shit.

So yeah. By all means, come here for a good cake recipe. Also, come here to find permission to eat the damn thing. All of it, if you wanna.

The Cake:

My grandmother made something called a mayonnaise cake. I'm serious. This chocolate cake was in the pantry whenever the grands came to visit. Gramma Dot always had sweets kicking around the farmhouse. Now, you may find yourself thinking, "No frigging wonder her ass is the size of three axe handles...she had access to too much cake as a kid." Or some such. My sisters had access to the same damn cakes, and were skinny. I often felt I lost some kind of cosmic lottery, where my sisters got the slender bodies and I got the one trending to chunkamunka. When my sisters ate this cake, nobody said a word. Me? Furrowed brows and hushed discussions about lil Felicia getting a bit chubby took place on the porch or in the living room. Jaysus.

I recently made this cake for a food festival  where we cooked something "traditional" for our "culture." Since I partly define my cultural heritage as "cheap ass Mainer," I think this was a good contribution.

Mayonnaise cake made its debut during the depression, when people were trying not to use too many eggs or oil. I don't really get it, as mayo is MADE from oil and eggs, but whatever. Nobody was impressed, and though the Pettengill grandkids loved this cake when we were wee uns, it isn't top notch. Are my memories of Gramma's cake gilded with gold, or was she just a dab hand at mayonnaise cake and I can't be arsed to do better? Dunno. It's an easy cake to make, so give it a whirl.

Dear Mrs. clue who you were

This recipe is typical of the times, and found in just about every "churchy" cookbook sold as a fundraiser. 

The result, topped with a simple vanilla frosting. Wrong flag though. Meh. 

I hope you stick with me as I ramble on about trying to empower myself before it's too little, too late. Maybe you will find you can too, if you have gone through life being harassed for big-bum-itis. Maybe you just want to read about a lunatic baking a cake. Welcome.