exactly that

Posts tagged ‘classism’

“Just A Parent”

I had an interesting experience the other day at the 8-10 year old basketball game here on the USAG. We were watching the game of the son of a friend of our family at which The Kid was cheering with her cheer squad. It was the second game we had attended that day, as Kid cheers at any or all of the games that happen during game days.

During the halftime period of the games the squad does a dance routine that they have been working on to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, a favorite of mine, I don’t mind saying. It looks pretty sharp, and I am hoping to get a vid of it up soon(ish), and the Coach has really done a great job putting it together. Of the six and one half minutes of the halftime period they use about two or three. Most of the teams have been gracious to clear the court to allow them their two minutes to perform.

During the last game of the age group, however, one of the teams decided to run layup drills. During the cheerleaders performance the coaches of the basketball team were shouting to their kids, and the kids were running and yelling and dribbling and running back and forth from half court to the hoop. It was really distracting to the team, and in my opinion, it was incredibly disrespectful to the girls.

I took the opportunity to mention it to the director of the Child and Youth Sports Services, a man who is usually sitting in the corner of the gym. With my coffee in hand, I walked over to him at the end of the squad’s routine and leaned to him so as not to be heard by everyone, and mentioned that I just wanted to let him know that I though the team on the court had shown poor taste and disrespect to the cheerleaders.

The director kind of chuckled, and told me that he had no problem focusing on the girls, and that he didn’t think the team was disrespectful at all. I felt that this was beside my point, and a bit dismissive, but I restated my opinion, and told him that I just wanted to let him know what I thought.

He said to me, more sternly, that this was just my opinion, and that I needed to watch how I was talking to him, that it was inappropriate for me to talk to him the way that I was. I asked him what was wrong with voicing an opinion.

He stood up from his chair and leaned over me, being much taller than I am (and I am not a short woman at 67″ tall). He told me “I am the Director of this program, and you are just a parent. You will not speak to me this way, waving your hands about.”

For the record, I do gesticulate a bit when I speak, but I turn my hands in small circles, and for crying out loud, I had a hot coffee in one hand.

He proceeded to tell me just how disrespectful I was being to him, walking up to him and talking to him in front of everyone this way. No matter that he was now yelling at me in front of a gymnasium full of parents and children. He mentioned that we could continue this in his office, to which I agreed, but he never took me to his office. Instead, he moved towards where the cheerleaders and coaches stood, who were now staring at us as he yelled at me.

No matter what I said, he had a dismissive remark to silence me. If I said I had a right to voice a complaint, I was using a disrespectful tone. If I said that the cheerleaders were enrolled in an athletic program just like the basketball players that parents also came to see, he said he had waived the Winter fee (only true for some of them). When I tried to explain that I was merely advocating for them because cheerleading as a sport is disrespected from early on through professional level, he yelled that he has a 20 year-old daughter, that I don’t need to tell him about respect.

My partner came over and extracted me from the situation at this point, because we had to go relieve our friends’ babysitter soon, and my other friend had come over to make sure I was OK, but this man was already storming off, shouting about my attitude and that I could talk to his supervisor. (Believe me, I will) He left me there shaking, glad that I hadn’t agreed to go into an office alone with him.

More so than him yelling at me I was angry at the things that he had yelled at me. Dismissing my concerns outright was infuriating. He could have even simply placated me, a common military tactic (Yes ma’am, I’ll pass that along, or I’ll take that under advisement would do).

Firstly, this man’s job here at USAG would not exist if not for the parents that he seems to hold such contempt for. I got the feeling that what he meant was “mother” who dared to speak out of turn, as he had no problem chatting up the dads, either in uniform or who were volunteer coaches. Obviously I have no real worth after spitting my kid from my loin, but I really was gobsmacked by the way he spit “parent” from his mouth like it tasted bad.

Parenting is an important job. I am not going to go on about the holy sanctity of it being the most sacred of jobs, but it is not to be scoffed at. Daily, when I want to rip my hair out, or actually do, wondering if I am doing a good enough job, or am scrutinized for the job I am doing, or when I have some pre-pubescent behavior issue I am sidelined by, I know that my work is cut out for me.

But, I also know that this man looked at me and decided that I was worthless and that he was automatically nothing. He knows nothing about me, or the other hats I wear despite my womanhood holding me down. How on Earth could I be a Sailor while having ladybits? Veterans don’t have anything but good and sturdy penises, surely. I couldn’t be active in the DAV, or on the PTO (Oops, is that too close to parenting, and therefore not a real thing?) I am a writer, a blogger (but depending on who you ask that doesn’t count either), and a political/social justice activist. I am a disability rights advocate both online and off. All of these things and more, and he waved it away with the narrowing of his eyes at me, and looking down his nose at me as if my State College sweatshirt somehow put me beneath his shoes.

We are not the sum of our titles. We are people, who beings comprised of many things, and we wear titles. It is what we do that matters, how we treat the people around us, ultimately, that matters. Being a director of a program over people you hate somehow doesn’t de facto make you better.

I think I am most angry because for a few fleeting moments I let this man convince me that he was right, that I didn’t matter and that I had done something wrong. But luckily there are good people surrounding me who reminded me that standing my ground the way I did for the right reasons was in no way wrong. That is a relatively new experience for me, and at its most basic, the crux of what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted those girls to know that they have a right to be respected.




The 60th Anniversary of The Korean War, Hillary Clinton Visits the Korean War Museum, and Some Musings on Classism and Disabilty…

A statue of South Korean soldiers poised as if fighting curved in the frame from front left back to right, ending in a line of what looks to be Korean civilins suffering from the strife of war.It’s the 60th Anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. The Forgotten War, as some will call it, but if you ask my Papa, and many of the other veterans, and many of the people living here in Korea today who are over 60, the will tell you that this war is not forgotten. It is a war that still simmers at the DMZ, where soldiers from both sides stand at the ready to fire upon anyone and anything they see moving, no matter what pretty message you may hear. For the younger generation of Koreans who live here, they seem to believe that there is a hope that there will be reunification with their fellow Koreans above the demilitarized zone. They believe the 38th Parallel to be a political boundary, and not a national one (true story, The Guy actually got into quite a heated discussion with one of his teachers over this, and eventually let the subject drop).

Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Bob Gates hopped over here for official talks with the South Korean Defense Minister, Kim Tae-Young, who used to be my neighbor, as a weird little “my world is so small” factoid. As a matter of honor, they did a ceremony at the National Korean War Museum here in Seoul. In a gesture I was delighted to read, the USAG Yongsan put up on its Facebook page that all family members were “cordially invited” to attend the ceremony.

Exterior of the Korean War Museum, showing a pond with small fountains, a manicured lawn, and many flags of the various nations that came to the aid of South Korea during the Korean war next to the flag of South Korea in a wide semi-circle starting from the front left and arching around to the back right.What a wonderful experience, thought I. The commemoration of joint forces by a laying of a wreath and a thoughtful gesture by these world leaders would be a beautiful thing to see. Kid and I decided to join a friend (who had called to let us know to check the aforementioned Facebook page for that information) and check out the whole thing. I thought it would be a wonderful gift for my Korean Veteran Grandfather, to send him some photos of this ceremony, of these people remembering his service and the service of countless others from so many nations, and from right here on this very soil who protected this country from being shoved off of the Peninsula.

But the information we were given was not very complete. People were turned away for improper attire. Sundresses and open-toed shoes, as it turns out, were not appropriate for attending this ceremony. Our bare shoulders were not appropriate and not to be in direct line-of-sight of Clinton and Gates and Kim as it turns out (even that was not uniformly enforced, as I saw a woman in a sleeveless t-shirt and flip-flops with three kids and a stroller leaving the ceremony later — a regular t-shirt, not a sleeveless shell). It seems that we just addressed the bare-arms issue when people asked if it was appropriate for Michelle Obama to attend official functions in sleeveless attire. (The answer? She said she would wear whatever she damn-well pleased to see her husband speak, and I agree!) As my mom reminded me today in a phone call, Jacqueline Kennedy wore a sleeveless dress to her husband’s inaugural address (bottom right of linked photo, Jackie is in a black sleeveless dress, and none of the other women are dressed so)… so it isn’t without precedent, which is what I wanted to tell the dude who told me that it is “common sense” to wear certain kinds of clothes to these kinds of things.

Which I thought was kind of an odd thing to say to someone … because I have a bit of trouble with my body self-regulating temperature at times. It was 95 degrees and ridiculously humid out Wednesday, and in Seoul, it is a good chance that I am going to be walking a good distance when going somewhere. We had on nice sundresses what covered our bodies in the socially acceptable way, but allowed us to sweat and breathe. In fact, I have worn the particular dress that I had on with black tights and dress shoes in the Winter with a sweater. It is a really versatile dress. I also wore the only shoes that I can walk in that don’t leave cuts and blisters on my feet right now when I have to walk long distances in this heat, which causes them to swell considerably for reasons I don’t wish to go into right here right now. I am really apologetic that they are Rainbow flip-flops, but they are well-made, leather, and fit and support my feet like I was born in them. The dress also has pockets, allowing me to carry a small wallet and my cell phone, and to hook my cane onto, freeing my hands for using my camera. It seems that I dressed according to my good sense for where I was going and what we were doing.

But people don’t really consider disabilities when they say flip things like that, and they almost always consider things like “common sense” in the scope of their own experiences.

An extremely cropped photograph of the National War Museum of Korea's front steps and main doors, with various Republic of Korea military standing at attention, and in the center, the very tiny figures of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, and Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young are walking down the stairs.So, as it stands, for the third time since I have lived in Seoul, Hillary Clinton has evaded me, and similar to my President Obama sighting, I managed to get a laughable picture to prove I was there.

Apart from everything else, I find dress codes for occasions like this quite classist.

Common people should not be denied the opportunity to partake in the events that their world leaders open up to the public simply because they don’t own proper shoes or more than one pair of pants. If someone shows up in blue jeans they should not be turned away. I doubt very much that Hillary Clinton agrees that proper clothes should separate her from people, and I have been advised by many people since Wednesday that writing to her would be a positive suggestion.

I live in a place where people wear blue jeans to work on a military base, and “peeky toed” high-heeled shoes are considered appropriate shoes, because they are the trend (and I noticed that they were allowable footwear, while flat-heeled sandals were not). It seems that the line is blurred, and left completely up to the discretion of whomever is standing at the door to decide who can and can not enter. Many people, especially people with children, or lower enlisted couples trying to balance budgets, don’t have the money to keep many sets of clothes just in case someone important visits. I keep my clothing utilitarian. I like it to be versatile and able to be worn through many seasons adding or taking away layers accordingly. I also like them machine washable and dryable. I just bought my first ball gown this year, which we saved up for with my writing stipend, and will attend my first Navy Ball this year (I was never able to attend them in years past because child care was so inadequate, so I missed the chance to be a sailor at a Navy Ball — something I will never get back /digressing). This was only available because we found a wonderful Korean tailor in Osan who made if for me and offered us a good price for paying in Won, being polite, and because my partner spoke Korean to her. Dress codes for civilian attire ridiculous.

This isn’t even to say anything about the fact that the Army did a poor job of disseminating information. If they knew ahead of time that people needed to be dressed a certain way then they should have put more than “families are welcome” or whatever in their Facebook blurb. And don’t even get me started on how awful it is to depend on Facebook to disseminate information. ACCESSIBILITY FAIL!

The important thing, however, is that we did visit and enjoy the museum, as did Secretaries Clinton and Gates, which I think are important and touching gestures. To acknowledge all that was lost in order to gain what was held on to. Later, when we stood in the halls with all of the names engraved of the people who gave their lives to hold onto the bottom of the Peninsula, I held my breath for a moment, and I wondered in my mind if my Grandfather’s feet may have passed under mine or my daughter’s. I paused, and thought of the troops we have elsewhere, and thought of them, and of the ones who will be names on walls. I thought of the Korean War Veterans of all the nations who fought here, who know that their legacy is to be of The Forgotten War. At least for a few minutes I became overwhelmed with it all.

Part of coming to Korea, while separating us from our family, has put a connection between me and some of my family; this ghost of a war still smoldering on the edge of two nations pulls me into a place where I feel this ache of loss for them. This connection. And yet, I know I can never really know.A pale Native American girl with short-cropped hair in a long purple and black maxi-style dress with a messenger bag slung over her shoulder and an umbrella in her hand pauses to look at the wall of names carved with names of those who gave their lives during the Korean war in a long hall of columns.

© All material Copyright Brandann R. Hill-Mann/Ouyang Dan 2010

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