Thursday, August 31, 2006
Picasso's Weeping Woman - stare, or walk on by?
Picasso's Weeping Woman and other stories
Would you stare at a woman in the street who looked like Picasso's 'Weeping Woman'?
This week I read a blog from a young American woman married to a boy from Bahrain. They live in his country. I presume she is young, attractive, dresses in a western fashion but modestly. in her blog Hypnotic Verses, she wrote a rant about people staring at her, people jumping the queue, and when in a conversation people moved away and ignored her.
Moody Minstrel, who lives in Japan responded in his blog with his story of being stared at because he is a foreigner, and at one time he was speaking in Japanese to a woman, and she answered 'Me no speak English' and she moved away.
This made me think about people who look different, and how they are treated. It reminds me that in Fiji we stereotype people a lot and certainly categorise people by ethnicity far too much. I guess people sometimes stare when they see Peceli and me, a Fijian with a vavalagi wife.
Here are some other examples.
Walking down the street, suddenly I notice a very short person, what in Fiji is called 'lekapai' - a dwarf. Do we look away, ignore the person, or stare. Out of curiousity we tend to look again.
Like when I met a woman who reminded me of the guy in the movie 'Roxanne', I could not help but keep looking back at her face. Are we rude, or just curious?
This week I was with a group of women and one lady in the group gave a talk on her disability, a woman who happened to be of Sri Lankan descent. She requires a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking, yet I could understand her by listening intently. She joked a lot, but underneath I could see that she really wanted to convey to us a message about how we could better relate to people with disabilities. 'Don't lean on my chair, don't pat me on the head or shoulder. Maybe say, May I help you?' but don't assume you have to. Don't say, You are brave dear. Don’t stand above me so that I have to look up all the time. Try and find my level.’
On the other hand, it is easy to not even talk with a person with speech difficulties, easier to move away. Let others do it.
I was sitting near a shy man and a talkative man it the Mood Support Group yesterday when I was helping them with their creative writing. We were talking about what happened in the TV show, 'Australian Idol' when a judge told a girl who had not sung well 'You're a joke! You know it! Everyone knows it!' This was on live TV to millions of people. She had dressed as a rocker but didn't deliver, had trouble keeping up with the band. But….The men in the writing group were angry and adamant that this was a terrible thing to say to a young girl. It's possible to give positive feedback without nastiness we decided.
A few weeks ago I met young young Muslim woman with long blond hair, who dressed in jeans and a shirt. She told us that she used to wear the headscarf but one day a drunk holding a beer bottle alarmed her and her daughter with his threats. She decided then to try to look just like everyone else in the community. Unfortunately in Australia at present, even our PM is adding fuel to the prejudices as he talks about 'our way of life' - whatever that may mean!
We can't undo what we say to people. Perhaps that's why sometimes we just keep quiet or turn away from people who look different. But we have to take a stand with people who look different, be sensitive and friendly without being patronising. It's not easy. Stare... or walk on by?