Off To Madrid

Having lived with gloomy and rainy skies for months, I decided to head to sunnier places–namely Spain. Lucky for me, I happen to know three Spanish ETAs (all of Spain’s ETAs are based in Madrid), and they agreed to let me stay with them and show me around the city when they weren’t teaching.

Having studied Spanish in high school, I was excited to see how well I would manage in Madrid. I rapidly realized that my comprehension and reading is still pretty good (especially considering that I haven’t used Spanish for about five years), but that my speaking ability has deteriorated considerably. Thankfully this wasn’t too much of a problem since I spent about half of my time with my near fluent ETA friends.

Once I arrived, I met my friend Sara and we were off. Our first stop was Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s most bustling plazas. Although it’s certainly a pretty plaza, there isn’t too much of note here. The big landmarks are a statue of King Carlos III, the zero kilometer marker, and El Oso y El Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree–the symbol of Madrid).

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From there it was just a short walk to another plaza, Plaza Mayor. Personally I preferred Plaza Mayor to Puerta del Sol. It’s a bit more closed off than Puerta del Sol and also tends to have fewer people wandering around. It also has a fairly colorful history that includes things like bullfights and executions. I would argue that the most notable thing in the square is not the statue of King Felipe III, but the frescos on the 17th-century Real Casa de la Panadería (Royal Bakery). While the building is quite old, the frescoes themselves are relatively young. They were painted in 1992 by Carlos Franco and helped boost Madrid’s 1992 title as the European Capital of Culture.

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After that we stopped by the popular Mercado de San Miguel and grabbed some frozen yogurt before continuing down Calle de Toledo to the Rio Manzanares, the river that runs through Madrid. The area by the river has been made into a beautiful park, and there were plenty of people there walking, exercising, playing, and picnicking. Something that surprised me were the number of couples canoodling around the grounds–I suppose in Norway it’s generally too cold for people to really want to show signs of affection outdoors.

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We continued walking until we hit Matadero, a slaughterhouse that has been converted into a contemporary arts center. There were two big art exhibitions that we managed to see there. The first was one by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist art collective started in the 1980’s that is well known for wearing gorilla masks and for using statistics to push back against women’s position in the art world. I was actually pretty shocked to read some of the statistics and to realize how few female artists are shown in the world’s major museums.

The second display was by Eugenio Ampudia. He had a great display where a shallow pool of water was built beneath a burned out construction, giving you the illusion of vast depth. When I first saw it I was convinced that there was a gaping hole in the floor. Unfortunately my picture doesn’t quite do the art justice, but it was pretty incredible to see at first glance. Another interesting thing about the piece was that you were able to call a telephone number that would trigger one of several small fountains, causing the reflection to ripple and destroy the illusion.

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After that we went for some lovely tapas near Sara’s place and called it a night.

#HeForShe

I love the above video for a number of reasons, but right now it’s because I think it highlights something that I didn’t talk about in my last post. What is the role of men when it comes to gender equality? You may not have noticed this, but I only mentioned one man in Britain’s feminist movement, John Stuart Mill. One. That is not to say that there weren’t other men who promoted women’s rights, but it is important to note that there was only one man who prominently featured in it. I think it’s time that that changed, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign.

I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to news that Emma Watson had launched a campaign at the UN called #HeForShe. Now I admit, I wasn’t crazy about the hashtag grammar, but I decided that it was probably something worth looking into. I’m so glad I did. If you haven’t seen the speech, I’ve included it below and you can find the full transcript at the end of this article.

Watson’s speech resonated with me in a lot of ways. Similar to Watson, I have always identified as a feminist, and this has never seemed like a complicated decision for me. Why shouldn’t I want to be treated as an equal to my male friends and counterparts? And while a desire for equal rights has always seemed like a no-brainer to me, I can’t emphasize enough how isolating both the idea of equal rights and the term feminist can be. Watson is absolutely right, many of the men I have met consider gender equality as “synonymous with man-hating.” I don’t think that feminism, or a push for equal rights, has to be viewed in that light. For me, asking for equal rights does not mean that I hate men. It means that I support women. It means that I want to level the playing field. It means that I think that women should be paid the same as men. It means that not only do I want a seat at the table, but I also want my voice to be encouraged and heard with the same weight as any man’s voice. In short, when Judi Dench ends the above video, I want a world in which those statistics are a thing of the past and Daniel Craig can honestly answer “Yes, we are equal.”

I think Emma Watson has started a great campaign. I also think that the most important thing she has done is aim the messaging at men. I hope that it encourages men to speak up for their female friends, mothers, sisters, and wives. I hope that when people make sexist comments that it encourages them to take a stand. That it encourages them to support the women in their lives. To be active and to refuse to silently let things continue the way they are.

Although Watson does focus the campaign on women’s rights, I also think it’s significant that she looks at male inequality. To quote Watson directly:

Men, I would like to give this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and heart disease. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.

Watson is right. Gender inequality works both ways.

I know that having conversations on gender equality is often a hard thing to do. The conversations can be awkward, difficult, and complex. More often than not, it’s easier to let a comment slide than it is to pause and having a meaningful discussion on equality. But I think it’s more important that we take the time to struggle through these hard conversations. That we take the time to acknowledge that gender inequality is a global and a pervasive problem, rather than pretending that gender inequality does not exist. Ultimately I hope that #HeForShe helps promote a stronger dialogue on this issue, and that it helps both men and women stand up and support each other.