Review: The True Cost

The True Cost: A Review.

Industrialized clothing production has always been problematic, but those problems have become intensified and have much more far-reaching consequences in recent decades. This is due in large part to a phenomenon known as “fast fashion.” In the not-so-distant past, the fashion world had two, at most three “seasons” of new clothing. However, global capitalist markets and industrialization have sped up production, shipping, and other processes that bring new styles to market, so much so that new fashions can hit shelves practically weekly. Hence, “fast fashion,” which encourages consumers to treat clothing as disposable.

The True Cost (2015) is an exploration of the causes and consequences of fast fashion in particular, and global capitalism in general. The film’s creators journeyed from Texas to the UK, from Bangladesh to Cambodia, from China to Haiti, and other places around the world. The film features interviews with experts from a multitude of fields, including ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, Free Market Institute director Benjamin Powell, physician Pritpal Singh, and animal rights activist and fashion designer Stella McCartney.

Perhaps most importantly, the film prominently features individuals struggling against the systemic problems associated with global capitalism in their own niches. Though they may be less famous in Western contexts, their stories are no less important. They help to shed light on the day-to-day consequences of the capitalist system, the ways in which seemingly disparate sectors are intrinsically connected within this system, and what individuals can do about it. Bangladeshi union leader Shima Akhter, American organic cotton farmer LaRhea Pepper, and Cambodian parliamentarian Mu Sochua are among these voices.

The True Cost takes a wide-lens view of the garment industry and the various economic pockets tied to it. I’ll discuss a few of the major themes that are the focus of this film here.

Agriculture

The huge growth seen in the fashion industry would not be possible without accompanying intensive industrialization of agriculture. As infrequently as we ponder the impact on garment workers as we shop for clothes, much less frequently do we think about farmers, who are one more step ‘removed’ from the final product. These industries appear disconnected to most of us, yet our constant consumption of “disposable clothing” would not be possible without industrialized agriculture. The industrialization of agriculture includes the mass use of herbicides, pesticides, and other agrochemicals that are not only dangerous for the natural world but also to human beings.

When her husband died of brain cancer, Texan LaRhea Pepper realized that organic farming isn’t just important, it is “imperative.” While she doesn’t have “a smoking gun” that directly connects the agrochemicals used on the farms surrounding her community to the many farmers she personally knows who have died from cancer, she has more than enough evidence to know that there is a dire need for organic farming techniques. She echoes ecofeminist Vandana Shiva’s sentiment that nature is the original economy, and when the land and waters suffers, humans suffer. Pepper says that we must “respect the life that’s in the land,” a lesson passed down to her in her farming family.

For farmers around the world, ‘modern’ agricultural products and techniques are tempting, despite the harm they can do to people and the environment. Yet it is a hard trap to escape from once signed onto, especially for farmers in “developing” countries, such as India. GMO cotton and other patented seeds have proven to be “ecological narcotics,” as Shiva calls them, because they require ever more chemicals (e.g. pesticides) to maintain their productivity. This in turn creates a dependency on GMO-patenting companies like Monsanto—which are the same companies producing agricultural chemicals. Even more disturbingly, Shiva asserts that the corporations selling carcinogenic farming chemicals are also investing in the development of cancer treatments and pharmaceuticals. In other words, these corporations benefit from causing, as well as treating, human ailments. It is easy to see that there is little incentive for this system to change itself, particularly when it prioritizes profit over human well-being.

Marketing

We think of propaganda “as a foreign thing,” says Mark Miller, professor of media studies at NYU, “but it’s actually as American as apple pie.” Advertising is essentially a form of propaganda that encourages us to buy stuff. Psychologist Tim Kasser has found that increases in materialistic values are associated with increases in anxiety and depression. After reviewing research on marketing, this is perhaps a predictable outcome of advertising that is designed to makes us feel insecure, incomplete, and incompetent—problems that can be ‘solved’ through the constant consumption of new products. Modern day marketing has become the art and science of what 19th century advertising copywriter Samuel Strausser called “consumptionism.” Miller explains that the logic of consumerism wants people “to treat the things we use as the things we use up.” This model is plainly unsustainable, but as economist Richard Wolff points out, American capitalism is treated as above criticism, regularly getting “a free pass” on its dysfunction.

Waste

Most of the waste we produce is non-biodegradable. In recent decades, a growing proportion of that waste is clothing. Increasingly, people think of fashion “as a disposable product,” according to journalist and True Cost producer Lucy Siegle. Many of us try to be more conscious of this, and believe we are doing good when we donate clothing to charity. But the “journey of a t-shirt donated to charity is unpalatable in itself,” says fashion designer Orsola de Castro. For example, almost 90% of the clothing we donate to local charities actually gets shipped to “developing” countries, such as Haiti. The unintended consequence of this is that it puts Haitian clothing manufacturers out of business, so there is less home-grown business and less local capital.

Consumer Capitalism as a Worldview

The True Cost creators interviewed Kate Ball-Young, a former sourcing manager for retail chain Joe Fresh, and in many ways her worldview neatly encapsulates the abstracted beliefs about globalization and capitalism held by most Americans today. Of garment factory workers, Ball-Young asserts that “they could be doing something much worse,” like coal-mining or something. She clearly has no idea just how hazardous garment manufacturing in countries like Cambodia, China, and Bangladesh truly is, both in the short and long-term. “There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous with selling clothes,” she says with a laugh. Perhaps that is true, but she appears to be disconnecting her own work from the very industry that provides her with a source of income in the first place. Ball-Young is emblematic of a Western mindset that as long as we can’t see where a thing came from, then we don’t need to ask hard ethical questions of ourselves, even when we sell or consume that thing.

For me, one of the most serious problems with this mindset is that we are not just cultivating an ignorance of where things come from, but indulging in a fantasy that real people did not create those things. Whether it is clothing or cars or food, we would much rather purchase and enjoy the end product guilt-free than contemplate the journey from field or mine to factory to storefront that a product must take. In doing so, we can overlook the human element of global capitalism—especially human suffering. Maybe we take it a step further by patting ourselves on the back for ‘supporting livelihoods’ overseas. Accompanying this belief is the attitude of TINA: “There Is No Alternative.” When we as consumers choose to believe that “there is no alternative” for the people producing our goods, we can excuse human rights violations, environmental devastation, and other associated problems because—well duh, what other choice do those people have? But what happens when we confront someone who believes this with, Well, aren’t we complicit in a system that has eliminated alternatives? We can’t abstract ourselves as individuals from these complex and interconnected systems in which we participate—and, frequently, which we benefit from. We must acknowledge that our choices as consumers has the power to perpetuate or alter these systems.

Some Criticism

As can be seen from this brief overview of a few of these major themes, the scope of the film is daunting. In its attempt to be accessible by not getting too deep with any one topic, The True Cost touches upon a variety of interconnected issues only superficially. This ends up becoming a core critique from film reviewers, such as Vanessa Friedman. In her New York Times review, she wrote of The True Cost’s director Andrew Morgan, “it’s hard not to feel in the end that he was overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. In trying to do everything, he skirted a lot of things, including acknowledging the shades of gray in this subject.”

Another shortcoming of this film is that it is not explicit enough in stating the disproportionate effect of exploitative industries like fast fashion on people of colour, most of all people of colour in the ‘Global South.’ To put it into perspective, (particularly white) Western consumers are exempt of accountability for their part in exploiting the time, health, and labor of people of colour in ‘distant lands.’ So while I commend the film for putting women of colour’s voices and experiences front and center, it cheats its own argument by shying away from the ways in which gender, race, and nationality play into global capitalism’s systemic violence. The film also does not in any way note how global capitalism is in part an expression of Western colonialism and imperialism, and how people of colour (especially women) continue to suffer the greatest burden of this legacy.

Finally, although there is some discussion of disability and mental health throughout the documentary, this is done without exploration of the experiences of people who are multiply marginalized. That is, the film’s creators do not flesh out the ramifications of living and working within an oppressive system that contributes to mental and physical disabilities disproportionately in communities of colour and in the ‘Global South.’ And where women of colour are place front and center to tell their own stories in their own voices, disabled people are not afforded this treatment. Rather, they are featured more as props backgrounding the ‘horrible’ stories of environmental contamination explicated by the director/narrator.

The Bottom Line

Nevertheless, for people who have never met a garment factory worker (let alone are friends with any), The True Cost may bring the human element of exploitative industries, like fast fashion, to the fore of their consciousness. Maybe they will start to pay more attention to workers’ struggles around the globe, including in places like Cambodia and Bangladesh. Maybe it will start to sink in how these systems do much for the West at the expense of the Global South, especially women of colour. Maybe they will start to see how our decision-making processes impact the direction industries take, and thus how we need to take responsibility for those decisions and their effects on our fellow Earthlings.

This documentary is best for people with limited knowledge of the themes it discusses, as it provides some solid, entry-level information. It’s a great starting point for getting a big-picture grasp of the abusive nature of global capitalism. From there, hopefully viewers will continue to more deeply educate themselves on these issues.

Here is some literature that might prove helpful for such continuing education on global capitalism, the interconnectedness of its systems, and how this impacts all of us:

And for those specifically interested in “buying better,” check out this page on the film’s site.

 

 

Reblog: Dangerously Provocative

Feminist Philosophers

Jessica Wolfendale (co-editor of Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone)  is currently completing an article on sexual modesty. Her most recent article, “Provocative Dress and Sexual Responsibility,” is forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law. and now she’s just published a piece on being “dangerously provocative” here.

The provocatively dressed woman is dangerous. She is disruptive; a distraction and a temptation. She can lead good men to thoughts of infidelity; she can distract men and boys from the important tasks of work and education. The dangers posed by the provocatively dressed woman mean that she must be monitored and controlled. Girls must be forbidden from wearing provocative clothing to school, so that they don’t distract boys.[2] As a principal of a Canadian High School wrote in a letter to parents: “Girls wearing short skirts should think about how they sit and what is revealed when…

View original post 165 more words

Guest Blog: The Manifestation of the New Age Hippy

Guest blog by Ellen Ripley.

The Manifestation of the New Age Hippy

I thought that the perfect decade to live in would be the 60’s, so that I could have lived in San Fran, experienced the summer of love, etc. I had always admired the counterculture of the hippies, black panthers, feminists, punks, and others, and how, for the first time in history, minorities were able to impact the world around them. However, let’s fast forward to 2013– what the f happened to these social movements why was peace and love not enough to change the world more concretely? Well, after I had the opportunity to actively do some unintentional field work in Northern Cali (fyi I am not a trained anthropologist but I’m sure you can get over that, haha), I have come to some realizations. Feel free to disagree or downright scream at me for my view points, but it’s just how I saw things go down. Where to start… Well, first off, the hippy movement is still alive and kicking in Northern Cali but the culture or core ideologies have shifted as even they realize that smoking and listening to music, however good, was not going to impact the world in the way they once hoped. In 2013, the street hippies have their own code of ethics, which in many ways is contradictory to what the movement was supposed to be all about.

For one, let’s talk about the legalization of marijuana, which you would think would be supported in full since most of the people I talked to on the streets and at the music festivals believe this drug will save the world, has healing power and so forth and so on. With this concept in mind you would think they’d say, yeah, legalize it. Not so, however, because most of the people growing make a shit-ton of money and are small farmers. If it just got legalized, they would lose profits– yes, that’s right, this drug that they seemingly full-heartedly believe will heal many diseases is better kept restricted so they can keep their capitalist scheme going. Speaking of capitalism, I have never met a group of people more prone to capitalist ideology– and I grew up in the Big Apple, so that’s saying something. Anyways, I’ll stick with their profits from growing medical marijuana as an example. They could easily figure out their costs and what a reasonable profit would be for the risk, etc., keeping in mind the Feds still can come in and chop down the crops even though Cali has legalized it (America has not). Instead of doing this, they apparently see no incentive to make sure that it’s affordable to the masses. Rather, they make somewhere in the range of about 500 percent profit– yeah, really that high. Once again I must question their claim that this is a drug that can really heal; I can tell you, if I had a drug that I thought could really heal in Cambodia, I would be trying to find a way to make it affordable for the masses while being able to sustain my livelihood, but 500 percent profit is not what I had in mind.

This is just it though, it does not stop at farm products. Much of their livelihood comes from going to festivals around the country, selling things like shirts, crystals, herbal remedies, jewelry, art, beer and food, etc. Why I bring this up is that while spending a weekend at one of these festivals I realized how quickly they price gouge each other and I am not sure why that is, as they will talk about corporate greed and supporting local people. For example, I was with a group of people who bought beer from a big liquor distributer thus making the beer cheaper than if you buy it at a convenient store somewhere. Never did they sit down and talk about what a fair profit for the work would be. Instead they wanted to get the most they could for said beer, once again at a range of 500 percent profit (cha-ching– capitalism!) at one point someone in the group was thinking 5 dollars for a beer which only cost them about 70 cents. That was one of the few times I could not control myself and had to say, well, you could, but should you? I get it: maybe it’s human nature that we want to get the most resources we can for our own survival, but according to the hippies’ code of ethics, this goes against half the shit they are always talking about.

More ironically is that they do this to each other but then they talk about a Utopian world of peace and love to me, and how human nature is inherently good, and if the world was to end and restart with them things would be different despite history proving otherwise. But that’s pointless to bring up to a majority of people who are already abusing their own system for greed and profit. The system is another hot topic I heard brought up a lot but they are so out of touch with how much they depend on the system that they are no better than the people who started the exploitation of people in the first place.

I should mention what form of currency they use, which will explain a lot about their persona and overall appearance to the rest of society. Instead of hard cash or dollars, experience is their currency. For instance, that whole look of “dirty hippy” is actually a form of power dynamics that creates yet another hierarchy in society. How does this yield them power? The dirty look means they are coming off the streets or out of the forest and this makes them more real, and it’s assumed that they also have more experiences and stories to tell other people. Thus the thrift store look, which they say is a statement and doesn’t make them materialistic, is actually the same as some soccer mom buying her Chanel bag: it gives them power over other people in their social circle. Another staple of being a “true hippy” is having a dog at their side, but it can’t be just any dog, no, it has to be a wolf-looking dog which some of them have specially bred. Yeah, no lie, they let dogs at the pound die so they can wield power in the subculture if hippyism. A wolf-dog, which they will often try to pass off as having been found in the woods or in the street somewhere out of sheer luck, is another sign of their “amazing” life experience, but once you get them talking about said dog, more often than not it was no lost dog on the street or the forest, but came from a dog breeder and cost lots of money.

My main point being is that every system has a currency and the commodification of experience is used as a form of security to gain and wield power in this subculture. This had me wondering: why are most of them still in America, why not move to another country that is extremely impoverished? For one, they don’t want to acknowledge their own privilege or have to deal with anything negative at all. They justify said behavior by reverting to very neoliberal perspectives, eg tend to your own garden and I’ll tend to mine, that we ought to all have the same level of responsibility for ourselves, thus the the world will be a better place. This ideology is often extremely Amero-centric and when someone such as myself comes along asking them to defend this ideology outside the American context, they often could not and would seem pretty annoyed at me. This reminds me, though: when they do leave the great US of A, they often head down South of the border to South America. They seem to place a lot of value on those cultures, specifically Peruvian culture. I am not quite sure why this is, but this is my best guess: it’s a safe place to go and “rough it” enough to come back with stories, but not enough to shatter their views. Plus, often times they already know someone who has gone there so there is less to figure out for one’s self. It also seems that if said hippy has made it to South America, the power they gain from this will often allow them to have some sort of superiority complex. It was from this that I first realized that experience is currency.

For whatever reason, I came off as threating to certain people in the hippy community I was around and I could not figure out why, as I mostly stayed quiet, followed them around, and just sort of went with whatever. It was not until I realized all of the above that I understood that it was not what I was saying, but the very fact of my presence and that I had exceeded their limited time in South American culture by living in Cambodia. The ironic part about this is that, once I realized that experience was currency, I did not really feel they were “worthy” of my currency, so to speak. I did not feel the need to use power over them, so I decided early on to keep my day to day life quiet, as I did not want to feed into their system.

One would expect the idea of gender roles in hippy culture to be questioned and long gone, but in fact this is pretty far from the truth. The days of free love and sex seemed to be long gone, maybe it was the HIV or STI rates, but nevertheless it seemed monogamy has taken its place. Most of the people I met who were, let’s say, over the age of 23 where all in a serious relationship but the dynamics of them were not of a romantic type but more of some sort of partnership in a business-sense, as most of these relationships support a livelihood of selling that require two people to support it. Moreover, the males seem to believe they need to play a protector role. I brought up gender roles with them, and it did not seem to register, as this once again would make them question things and they don’t like to be critically aware of their habits and behaviors.

I’m Not Commodity

For some unexplainable reason, I woke up at 5 this morning with R.E.M.’s “King of Comedy” (from the Monster album) stuck in my head. Obviously that means I need to write about the commodification and objectification of women.

Let’s start with objectification. Objectification is simply the process of recreating or using a person as a thing. We do this all the time. Some time ago, a friend told me that I was objectifying them by resting my head on them; I had turned them into a pillow. It is objectification to lean on someone when exhausted, as if they are a crutch. It quickly becomes apparent that some objectification is fairly mundane or benign, and other kinds of objectification are harmful. Sexual objectification is an obvious example of this.

Sexual objectification means turning a person into an object, accessory, or tool for sex. If you like sex in which either you or your partner is not an active participant, not giving and receiving pleasure mutually, then sexual objectification is probably gratifying to you. If sex is more than you using another person as a means to an end (your own sexual satisfaction), or being used to this end, then this kind of objectification is problematic.

The traditional view of heterosexual sex is deeply entrenched in objectification. The man is the pursuer, the initiator; he is necessarily aggressive, maybe even forceful. The woman is the pursued, the “end goal”, the object; she is passive, submissive, although in many ideal fantasies she also secretly wants to be pursued and caught. This view is reinforced in mass media the world over, in magazines, TV shows, movies, music videos, books, advertisements, video games. It is no wonder that lots of boys and young men are both confused and resolute about their understanding of a girl or woman who says no as just playing a role, and of girls and women who say yes as breaking that role (that is, as being sluttish).

Sexual objectification unavoidably sets the stage for the commodification of sex. Commodification is the process of recreating or portraying someone or something as a commodity– a good, an object for consumption. The ways in which sex is commodified still conform neatly to traditional views of heterosexual sex, which are also patriarchal. In this situation, men are the subjects and women are the objects. Patriarchy holds that sexual pleasure is naturally (or should be) centered around men; there is an emphasis on the uncontrollable nature of male sexual desire, whereas women are either passive recipients of this desire, or objects used to cater to it.

Women, specifically, have long been commodified as sexual objects (and men have, too, in a different fashion and to different ends). We aren’t just used to sell things, but we are things; we are figuratively “on sale” for consumption all the time. Although women are hypersexualized in this process of commodification, as individuals they are stripped of their own sexuality. If an object has a perspective on its own sexuality, its sexual identity or desires, it is in danger of becoming real, a subject. Commodification thus also means the smothering or eradication of female subjectivity.

I think a lot of men find all of this difficult to swallow. On the one hand, I guess I can see why it would be challenging to view things from such a different perspective– if you have always been the buyer, the consumer, there has probably never been much reason or incentive to view things from the perspective of the good/commodity. On the other hand, I think men can understand this perfectly; a large number of them are sexually objectifying and commodifying females all the time. I have a large number of very close guy friends who would adamantly deny this, but even if they truly see all human beings as, well, human beings, they surely experience their peers doing this much of the time.

What surprises me is when men have absolutely no qualms about doing this blatantly and shamelessly in front of women. I think this is because they feel either there is nothing wrong with it, or that there will be no consequences for doing it. For example, I was fundraising outside of a supermarket (for a project to end gender-based violence, no less) not too long ago, and I was observing a security guard as he was…observing a young woman coming out of the store. She was loading her groceries into a tuk tuk. She was wearing a dress, though by American standards I can’t say it was “too short” or what have you. The security guard was standing not far from her, staring at her– no, not staring at her, but staring at her behind. His stare was long and open, and at one point he even licked his lips. I had been talking to him earlier about the project I was helping fundraise for, so I felt it was not too out of place for me to ask, “What are you doing?” His answer was phrased completely innocently: “She’s a beautiful girl, why shouldn’t I look? Why is she wearing that dress if she doesn’t want me to look?”

This is an argument that I’ve heard time and again. Women secretly desire the male pornographic gaze on them. It’s what compels women and girls to wear make-up, to dress like the models on magazine covers, ultimately to sexualize themselves. Under the surface, all women really want to appeal to male sexual desire.

If that woman wanted that security guard to stare at her while licking his lips, I’ll eat my hat.

But that’s besides the point. This idea of women’s secret desire for men to visually consume them is based on a much more sinister myth: the idea that women secretly want men to fuck them. This sounds so absurdly egotistic and narcissistic as to be unbelievable, but when I look around myself I can see how it sort of…makes sense, in a sort of droll, male-centered way.

In high school I had a friend whose room was covered with large, glossy posters of Playboy Bunnies. There was one at the head of his bed that I can’t seem to forget; whenever I think about this person, I inevitably think of this poster. In it, a typical white, blonde “Bunny” is positioned on the floor with her butt high in the air, her knees bent, and she is propped up on her elbows. She is looking at the camera with an ecstatic, childish expression, and she is wearing nothing but bubbles. Yes, only soap bubbles, on her breasts and her crotch. I remember feeling horribly uncomfortable when I would go to this friend’s house to play video games with him and our other friends– all of whom were Good Christian Boys who regularly attended church and youth group. And stuff. Only one of my guy friends had the nerve to ask him if it wasn’t such a great idea to put up posters of mostly naked women on your walls– wouldn’t God be offended? (God definitely would be offended, since the Christian God hates women, after all. Ho ho ho, surely I’m just kidding…)

When I look around myself right at this moment, I am in an internet cafe in which every computer besides this one is occupied by a young man or boy. I am tempted to check each screen to see how many of them are watching porn, but I don’t want to get kicked out. Don’t worry, most of the younger guys are just playing WoW… Well, I guess that’s sort of the same as watching porn, isn’t it? Anyway, on the walls are posters advertising various Khmer and other Asian websites, mostly for games. Almost all of them feature partially-naked women, even the cartoon ones. The one behind me features two realistic-looking cartoon women with guns posed between two bulky men in armor; both women have huge breasts and long, skinny bodies. One is wearing a low-cut top with her midriff showing, and the other is wearing shiny black leather (she sorta looks like a dominatrix with that nazi hat on).

I could describe the other posters in here, but I won’t bother. You get the idea. Anyway, from your own experience, you already have an idea, I’m sure. Just looking around us at other people, at billboards and posters, at book covers and album covers, at music videos… We are constantly being inundated by this shit, all the time. Taking all this in, it isn’t hard to see why girls and women are so easily recreated as personality-less, consumable objects devoid of agency.

Perhaps the absolute worst part is that it is not only men who recreate and consume women as sex objects, but women recreate and consume women as sex objects, as well. Actually I think that’s why it is such an immense challenge to confront and negate these processes of commodification and objectification. Women and girls commodify themselves, early on and often for their entire lives. We hypersexualize and objectify our bodies, our sexual identities, but to what end? Ultimately it seems entirely dissatisfying, time-consuming, and hurtful. The results are a preoccupation with unattainable “beauty” standards, self-loathing of our own persons, and jealousy and contempt for other women whom we perceive as surpassing our own efforts. If you fail, all you get is some really low self-esteem; if you succeed, you get to be a sexually-consumable object for male-centered pleasure, which really only holds if you are available for consumption 24/7. Congratulations.

What I would like for us to do, then, is to reject our own commodification. Question yourself, question others, question culture, when you feel compelled to do something, go somewhere, dress some way, say something. I don’t believe this is easy, but I have learned multitudes about myself through such self-reflection and critical thinking of my surroundings. But it is as they say: once you’ve seen, you can’t un-see. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but transcendence is better.

I’m not king of comedy,
I’m not your magazine,
I’m not your television,
I’m not your movie screen
I’m not commodity
I’m not commodity

[R.E.M., “King of Comedy]

p.s. This is a really aesthetically-shit but highly informative website on some particulars of how women are portrayed as sex objects in certain media.

p.s.s Post on the sexual commodification of men forthcoming.

DEATH TO BRAS

In the States, I don’t wear bras. I stopped wearing them just after graduating college. Sometimes I can’t believe I wore them for 21 years without question. Maybe I’d have continued wearing them for the rest of my life if I hadn’t started spending more time with a “different” crowd of folks, not to mention reading bell hooks. (Okay, not really, bell hooks to my knowledge has never advocated against the wearing of bras– she probably wears them, herself.) I’m referring to feminist-forward thinking, anyhow.

In Cambodia, however, I “have to” wear them. There’s a lot of things I “have to” do here that I stopped doing back home. I guess I still feel obligated to “respect” or at least adhere to certain cultural standards, since I am a “guest” of this culture.

In this regard, I somewhat agreed with Peace Corps’ approach to “cultural integration”. Wait, let me back up: Peace Corps’ conception of culture is basically absurd, in my view. That’s the nice way to put it. There’s too much to go into in this post about that particular subject, so I’ll save it for later. What I did agree with, however, was Peace Corps’ idea about “difference”; one of their reasons for “cultural integration” (ah, I cringe to think of it) was that if we are not “alike” enough, then how we are different in a “positive” ways (the relativists are freaking out right now) will be dismissed, overlooked, or possibly idolized but still viewed as unattainable. PC told us that we need to be “like” them enough so that they could see a possibility for change; otherwise our differences would be passed off as unreachable by Cambodians. To some degree, I feel this is true because of my experience with people (especially women) saying, “Yes, that is true/possible for you, because you are American.” In other words, I am fundamentally other— freedom to pursue my own interests as a woman is possible for me because I am American; ability to go to college is possible because I am American; choosing for myself instead of allowing my parents to choose for me is possible because I am American. This is the “I so regret” side of the difference-distance argument.

The other is the optimist, or “It is my culture” side of the argument– also known as “TIC” (This Is Cambodia), which I’m fairly certain was coined by my boyfriend: every time I raise a point, suggestion, idea, theory, example, conception, whatever, that doesn’t particularly match his worldview, he states, “This Is Cambodia.” (Well, I just imagine that all the words are capitalized when he says that.) And this is sufficient to show me why I don’t understand, am misguided, or just wrong. Most of the times I have heard people say “It is my culture” has been in situations where they are apologizing, but do not regret, some aspect of their worldview or behavior, or where they are explaining for the silly barangs who don’t understand “Khmer culture”, or where they are justifying their behavior. This latter reason is one that most concerns me, because it is often used to justify the subjugation of women. Although, for instance, my boyfriend can acknowledge that it is not fair his younger sister’s life is choiceless and predetermined, he justifies the situation by saying “TIC” or “it is their habit for a long time already”. He really believes it’s too late for the situation to change. If that were me, it would effectively mean my life is over: I have two children and my husband does not allow me to leave the house; I have to ask permission before making decisions for myself; even though I am very intelligent and possibly the most creative thinker and diligent worker of all my siblings, I wasn’t allowed to finish high school ’cause I had to get married, and though I still want to study, I am not allowed to. Yes, if that were me… Well, it isn’t me. And his younger sister sighs and groans and looks sad and occasionally confides her anxieties to me, but ultimately she puts her head down. And she never EVER complains to her husband or her family. She appears downright stoic about it.

The other concern I have about the TIC perspective is that I have read quotes in the papers from rapists literally saying, “It is my culture”. I saved one particularly unbelievable article quoting a child rapist excusing himself because of his “culture”, which I’ll post at a later date.

So I give some credit to PC for recognizing that extreme “difference” encourages Cambodians to see their volunteers as Other– in this case, it is an unattainable Otherness, either expressed as regret or reality.

This is why I wear bras here.

And let me just say… I HATE IT.

I hate bras. What a useless, uncomfortable, ridiculous accessory. I have never heard one good reason for using a bra. I will make one exception for sports bras, which some particularly large-breasted women have told me helps them enjoy sports more and eases strain on their backs. But for someone like me, there is absolutely not one sound reason why I would ever need a bra.

If you think this is an overreaction, you are probably not sitting in 95 degree heat with a constantly feeling of itchiness. Even sports bras are uncomfortable in this weather. But the real kicker is that there is just no good reason why culture should require me to wear one.

I have heard lots of reasons which explain the necessity of bras. They make your breasts look bigger. I’ll let you guess what I think of that reason. They provide “support” for older, sagging breasts. Then why are old women so less likely to wear bras than their younger counterparts? They are sexy, as are other kinds of lingerie, and enhance your “appeal”. I suppose, if that’s what you’re into. They disguise a woman’s nipples. Well, we can scratch that off as a disgustingly sexist hypersexualization and fetishization of the female body. I’m sure I’m missing some, but those are ones I most often hear.

Any reason that has to do with fetishizing the female body is completely invalid in my view, but these are reasons oft-cited. The normalcy of viewing and treating females like dress-up dolls, inanimate works of art, and fuck objects is still pervasive the world over. For this reason alone I advocate the end to bra-wearing. No, you don’t have to burn them, but have you ever burned something you despise? It’s pretty satisfying.

I feel better having ranted about bras, but…I’m still wearing one. Should I just apologize to Cambodia and take it off? Should I wait ’til I get home? Who I am really respecting by wearing this damnable invention, anyway?