Bangladeshi conviction

One of the most significant impressions I took away from the time I spent in Bangladesh is the giant divide between the silence of young girls and the brilliant, almost piercing voices of older women who have been empowered. For the first few days the contrast left me disoriented until over and over again I witnessed just how patriarchal their culture still is.

In 2000, about 50% of women in Bangladesh were married by the time they were 15 years old, and in 2003 the average age of marriage was 16. Many of them immediately become pregnant (adolescent girls are five times more likely to be injured in childbirth). Many of them don’t finish school. Many of them do not know that they can change their future.

Our days in Bangladesh were packed and frenzied. We usually climbed into our van by 7 AM and did not finish our day until 11 PM. We visited slums, villages, hospitals, clinics. It was really easy to get discouraged by what I saw, because the poverty stretches out and does not ever stop. And we met many teenage women living in villages who were pregnant with their second, maybe third child.

The highlight of the trip for me happened on our third day when two women who work for BRAC took us outside of the city to see a girls program called SoFEA (Social and Financial Empowerment of Adolescents). We met with a dozen or so girls in a village, all between the ages of 11 to 18, who have a building where they can gather every day for a couple of hours to work on projects, perfect skills that can land them jobs, and learn that they have options. That they can delay marriage. That they can finish school.

One girl spoke up and said she wanted to run a beauty shop. Another wanted to work with computers. And then another coyly mentioned that she’d love to be a model.

For the first time on our trip I saw hope in a young girl’s eyes.

It was also the first time I heard a young girl speak with what I will call Bangladeshi conviction. Just imagine 150 million people — that’s half of the population of America — all crammed into a space the size of Iowa. They have to stake their place, and the conditions in which they do have given them a strength I can only aspire to.

So when you’re having a conversation with someone, they will be heard. You will listen. Especially if that someone is an educated woman.

On our final day we got stuck in infamous Dhaka traffic for almost five hours and ended up being several hours late to an appointment we had to meet with The Family Planning Association of Bangladesh, a member of International Planned Parenthood Foundation. Once we arrived we toured the facilities and then were shown to a packed room where over two dozen women were waiting to speak with us. They had waited for us, and they were ready to talk.

All these women are volunteers who work tirelessly in their community to educate women about family planning, and all of them had that Bangladeshi conviction. Especially a few of the women in the front of the group who were so eager to share their message with us that they frequently yelled over each other. Why do they do this without compensation? Because the work is so important to them. Because they had been given the chance at a better life and wanted to pay that forward.

I don’t know how many of you saw the skirmish that played out this week between me and a journalist who implied that I was a “poverty tourist,” and that Christy had given me a free trip to an exotic country. Yes, we were popping back martinis and assuaging our white guilt by feeling really sorry for the poor people. That journalist quoted my website and twitter feed, so she could have contacted me and asked about my trip without publishing assumptions or implying that my trip was ultimately meaningless.

The truth is that I paid my own expenses. The truth is that this is just the beginning for me, and I plan to get more involved wherever I can, wherever it is the best place for me to get involved. If a reputable organization wants to use me, I am here for the using.

And then a certain blogger who has been antagonizing me and members of my online community for years jumped in and started mocking my intentions. She started publishing false assumptions. And when I saw the language she was using, the flippant way she wanted to wave this off and turn it into something ugly, I had an imaginary conversation with those women sitting at that family planning clinic in Dhaka.

You see, yes, a corporation wants to work with me to give a large sum of money to an organization like the one you volunteer for. Yes, someone is making fun of me over this, publicly, and inciting others to make fun of it. What? No, I can’t say anything. Because I have to take the high road. It’s an unwritten code of conduct that I and many of my colleagues cannot stand up for ourselves. We have to remain silent and take it because they have the “right” to publish lies and twisted assumptions about us because we are semi-public figures. If we do say anything, if we ask those people to stop lying, to stop spreading their parasitic negativity, then we are the ones who are wrong.

And I can guarantee that if I really did speak Bangla, those women would tell me that this is the most insane thing they have ever heard. How desperately the women in their community would like to have the luxury and privilege of standing up for themselves.

So I stood up for myself. I stood up for the other women in my community who have had to be silent when their name and causes were mocked mercilessly. I stood up because it’s not just a luxury and a privilege anymore. After meeting those brave women in Bangladesh, it’s now a duty.

So, no. In so many ways, this trip was not meaningless.

  • jon

    You are an inspiration to me, Heather.

  • krislee98

    Thank you for the reminder that standing up for myself does not mean being difficult. I’ve found this balance tough to manage and the perspectives you offer here are very helpful.

    I’m thrilled you had such a wonderful trip. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • suebob

    Rock on with your bad self. I’m glad you stood up for yourself. And I’m eager to see what new things develop as you undertake your journey.

  • Emmy

    When I read about vast poverty and multitudes of people, my first thought is why aren’t we helping with making birth control available? Helping women and children survive birth is nobel, but it doesn’t address the problem that only grows exponentially.

  • Becky Cochrane

    I’m eager to keep hearing about Bangladesh and where you go from here. And your photos so far are beautiful.

  • DeeDubs

    I wasn’t aware of it, but parasitic is very fitting word. Glad you are standing up for yourself.

  • fudgeit

    Proud of you Heather, you’ve come a long way.

  • RuthWells

    Absolutely goddamned right.

  • cameron_barrett

    Dear Heather,

    Thank you for speaking up and out. Thank you for going to Bangladesh and making the stories of these brave women more known to me.

    Now, to the true issue at hand – helping these women and finding a place for the corporate donation to go. I think there are few organizations that are more in need right now, and few that can deliver the help these women need better, than Planned Parenthood International. These women don’t only need to delay marriage and motherhood, they need to know that they have the right to NOT choose marriage and motherhood at all, if they wish. They need to know that they are valuable beyond their fertility.

    –Cameron

  • dooce

    @Emmy, most organizations working in Bangladesh have a birth control component to their strategy.

  • steffinga

    You simply rock! Thank you for being such an inspiration.

  • angelbee

    I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning of time and honestly, I like how you’re evolving and growing. I think it’s very admirable that you’re picking a project and focusing your attention on it and bringing awareness to the people that read your site.

    What is terrible is that there are people who mock and people who would tear you down for things that you do because as you state, you’re now semi famous. That’s ridiculous. I wish people like that would get their own life and go focus all that energy on something positive. Imagine the difference we as human beings can make in our community if everyone pulled together.

    So, in a nutshell, fuck them.

  • Truthful Mommy

    YOu are amazing. SHaring your journey and experience is amazing and you are being the change you want in the world. You are not just talking about it, you are being it. KNow that. All that follow you know that. What the hell went down with Ms. Viele and her flippant behavior, I don’t know. I only saw part of the Twitter stream. I am very proud of you for sticking up for yourself and for Jon sticking up for you.

    I am disgusted by the condescending tone in which the Guardian wrote its piece. Goes to show that people can be critical assholes in even the most giving situations. You have given the women of Bangladesh a voice in the Western world and I ,personally, would love to thank you!

    Carry on, my friend, you can do amazing things with your voice and your reach don’t be distracted by the ignorance and pettiness of others!

    P.S. I couldn’t resist I had to give the Guardian my Throat Punch on Thursday for their shit behavior towards you:) http://www.motherhoodthetruth.com/2011/06/throat-punch-thursday-when-bloggers-attack-edition/

  • beth ellen

    We women can be our own worst enemies.
    Jon said it all.

  • mamawiseman

    Thanks Heather! I can’t wait to read more about your travels and am excited to see where you take us next!

  • Lauramanora

    The addiction to drama and conflict and attention is just as pervasive and, I think, just as much a mental illness as addiction to drugs or alcohol. Thank you for keeping the focus on the women who need true help and a positive voice.

  • MollyCT

    You’ve got to stand up for your convictions. You believe that your readers need to know about the women you met in Bangladesh, and you believe that the organizations making these women’s lives better deserve the willingly-donated corporate money you have access to. We live in a patriarchal culture too, where it’s more ladylike to bite your tongue than to say what you believe. Where women are taught to fight amongst each other rather than to rally behind the common cause of our mutual empowerment. Way to be a leader!

  • Santiago

    Yes! More of this please. It’s informative and eye-opening.

    PS – You’re clearly doing the right thing. And Jon’s post about trolls was spot on.

  • Heather O

    What Jon said.

  • katiemcdowell

    thank you for bringing awareness and standing up for your beliefs and experiences…you’re inspiring. i’m excited to hear more!

  • Ms. Pants

    I caught some of the twitter thing and I was glad to see you finally stand up for yourself. I understand the reasoning behind keeping silent; it often seems that you’re damned either way. However, it was nice to see you hold on to your rage and use it effectively, eloquently, and in a powerful way.

    Being a public figure (semi or not) does not negate your humanity. You are allowed to feel your emotions and express them.

    In short, fuck ‘em.

  • MollyCT

    P.S. Now THAT’S the behavior I’d expect from NUMBER 26.

  • bookshopbecky

    Kudos to you for retaining the higher ground in the face of such pettiness, and it’s great to hear about the different projects you visited whilst in Bangladesh. I will always remember learning about the country in school: it’s terrifying that about 70% of is less than 1m above sea level. Re the birth control thing-we also learned about a brilliant programme that did a travelling birth control play about Super Condom. Amazing.

  • doobrah

    Your true fans and friends understand your intentions. You are the megaphone that will amplify the Bangladeshi women’s voices. No one can take that from you. We CAN give women OPTIONS in otherwise oppressive lands. And a reputable journalist will contact you for the story, not piecemeal it from a few tweets. Don’t be deterred: the world is listening!

  • Irina

    You’re an inspiring woman on a regular basis, but since your return from Bangladesh you’ve become such an incredible force and I’m consistently left stunned by the content of your posts.

    The worst part about the people criticizing you is that they’re making it all about you, while you’re making it about other women and lending your voice to their cause. I’m glad you stand up for yourself and for others.

  • ljnelson

    This is a fantastic way to simultaneously take the high road, call out shallow people, stick to your guns and simply own the rhetorical space around the issue. Valedictorian of Twitter wars!

  • HGBsteeltrap

    Thank you for being you… and I just love your expression, “parasitic negativity.” It’s all over the internet (damn trolls); and your keen self-awareness is what’s going to make this story so relevant and meaningful to your readers.

  • KateH

    Thank you for telling their stories, and your own.

    I once heard someone say “don’t say fuck you to anyone, because you’re wishing a pleasurable experience on them.”

    So I won’t say “fuck the haters.” But I want to.

  • carinlilly

    Having lived in third world countries and traveled extensively… I know how you feel to feel so blessed and honored to live in a country where people can be so privileged that they can be blissfully oblivious to how most of the world lives…that the conversation can be so skewed… you are amazing and I have read you for years daily (thanks)… I watched the movie “the business of being born” and look forward to seeing this one of Christy’s. And this one seems way more impt. than the other…

    And, I had a friend in high school who lived in Bangladesh, and she always corrected us not to say “Bangladeshi,” but instead, “Bangali.” Could’ve changed since, though. What do I know? What do any of us know compared to those young women?

  • Cassy

    Heather,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! I have been a long time reader, but never commented before or joined the community, but after hearing all the flack you have received I just wanted to thank you – so sincerely – for sharing. Not just your everyday life for those of us needing a laugh while we’re stuck in our stifling offices, but especially for the more important issues like the ones you are addressing in these posts about your Bangladesh trip. I was so excited to hear you were going on this trip (as a child who used to spend nights crying myself to sleep because of “the poor children in Africa who didn’t have warm beds to sleep in or food to eat”) and have been checking the site more often than usual hoping for more pictures and updates. Because you care – and so do we. I’m not sure what form that care will assume in the long run – hopefully many different, wonderful forms – but all of the haters out there need to know that your experience means so much to the women you met and those of us here who want to help and aren’t always sure how. Education is power – despite intellectually knowing that there are hundreds of millions of people throughout the world living in similar conditions – it never truly hits home until I read stories like these. And then I become even more determined to keep working so that I too can make a different in their lives just as they have changed mine through your story.

    Thank you for caring. Thank you for making a difference. Thank you for standing up for yourself and for those women who cannot defend themselves.

  • Daisee

    I was wondering what was happening; I dont have twitter or really visit a whole lot of other sites, but read some things in the community. This is really sad but you handled it wonderfully and professionally.

    I too really am loving your photos, and stories thus far, really looking forward to hearing so much more about your journey.

    Thanks for sharing this & have a wonderful 4th of July!

  • juliejackson

    Wow, can’t wait to find out what you did. Good job!

    The women’s groups you talked about in this post really remind me of what Women For Women does as well. Very cool.

  • Issa

    I said this to Jon on Twitter, but I think I’ll say it again. Ignoring the trolls has been the thing to do for a long time. Yet, it doesn’t seem to work. Maybe it’s time to stand up to them.

    I was glad to see you stand up to her. I’ve watched her for years on the internet pull crap like this. Standing up won’t stop her…but I still think it’s the right thing to do.

    I could care less if you or anyone gets their expenses paid for a trip like this. What’s important? Is what you do with it. I’m sorry your trip to Bangladesh gotten so much grief this week. However, I’ve loved hearing about it. I’m not in a position to help at all right now, but I will when I can.

    I’m glad Yahoo wants to give money to help. I think you can do a lot of good with and without their help.

  • Tobie

    I agree that no matter what you do, people are going to criticize it, so you might as well do what you think is RIGHT. I don’t think you have to feel bad about sticking up for yourself at all.

    And that is an excellent point about not everyone having that privilege :-( . I’m going to remember that the next time I’m deciding to stick up for myself or not…

    I wish The Guardian had written an article about ACTUAL “poverty tourism” rather than using your trip as an ‘example.’ That is a lost opportunity to write about, you know, an actual issue with actual examples. As opposed to your trip. Funny, I don’t see her accusing the others in that organization?

    In the comments of that article, people recount actual experiences they have seen or heard about. So I’m still confused why she chose your trip as an “example??” Was she really so clueless as to not fact-check, or, was she trying to get more website ‘hits’ by using your name?
    Not all publicity is good publicity, ‘The Guardian’…

  • jenmata

    Good for you, for standing up not only for yourself, but also on behalf of all those women oppressed by poverty and patriarchy. Good for you Heather!

  • emsxiety

    I think what you’re doing is amazing. I look forward to more pictures and more stories from your trip.

    I think silence just gives them more power. It never worked for bullies at school and it certainly doesn’t work with trolls online. Seems it is time to take a stand! Go get em Dooce!

  • sayra72

    This isn’t the first time-nor will it be the last, i’m sure-that you have brought me to tears (more often than not, it’s from laughter). thank you, Heather.

  • Tara from Feels Like Home

    It’s easy to mock others, I think. Do you know what I mean? It’s easy to find fault and criticize and harass. It’s a lot harder to put yourself out there and stand up for something good and meaningful.

    Thank you.

    I’m a blogger who’s felt it necessary to stay quiet in the face of ridiculous harassment. I’ve blocked and blacklisted and marked as spam, but it continues. There’s no stopping the obsessed. But that’s just my story

    I applaud you. Thank you for standing up and setting the record straight. Even if it doesn’t change anything, it was still important for all of us that you did it.

  • sighants

    You’re awesome. Thank you.

  • Oakgirl

    Thank you Heather for sharing this and for your own courage and strength. And if I can be superficial for a moment, good lord, those people are gorgeous!

  • Soyberg

    @Lauramanora, WELL SAID: “The addiction to drama and conflict and attention is just as pervasive and, I think, just as much a mental illness as addiction to drugs or alcohol. Thank you for keeping the focus on the women who need true help and a positive voice.”

    I don’t comment often and am not very active in the DoCo, but I LOVE YOUR WRITING, Heather. I have no doubt, given your astounding talent coupled with your ability to both maintain a huge and loyal audience AND build and rally an amazing community, that you are at the beginning of something powerful. Go get ‘em. We’ve got your back.

  • Jess F

    Thank you for your conviction and actions. You are showing how women can band together to help each other, even while other women seek to tear you down.

  • ADDGirl

    Thank you for going and helping open the eyes of those of us who are here. I think what you are doing is amazing.
    Kudos.

  • davetuffs

    Very well put.

  • LittleMonkey

    I admit that I haven’t always been Dooce’s biggest fan. Back in the day when you openly spoke about your depression & your family, I felt very much at home. But then Dooce began to feel too much like a corporation (Damn the Man!) for my own personal blog tastes, and I lost interest.

    However, anyone mocking you for trying to make people give a shit about the problems women face in other parts of the world, like, oh, I don’t know . . . STAYING ALIVE THROUGH CHILDBIRTH, is just so fucking wrong.

    If even one person is affected by your journey to Bangladesh, you’ve made a difference in the world and done something good.

  • Mania

    Thank you. For standing up. For being who you are. For caring so much about the health and welfare of these women. You rock.

  • LittleWeeOne

    I can tell by your writing that you have come out of your trip a changed woman.

    The first time I saw poverty I was truly humbled to know how lucky I am.

    Screw idiots who are glomming your readership.

  • lucidlotus

    Anyone who reads your words on the regular has a glimpse into the kind of person that you are and that is a person who cares about the world around her.
    You’ve helped countless people by bringing them togther in a community and by speaking your truth so that others might not be afraid to do the same.
    I’m glad you’re giving those women an amplifier for their voices and I’m glad you stood up for yourself. I’m not on the Twitter, but I’ll stand up next to you here and tell the haters and the mean girls to suck it and to expend some of that energy doing some good in the world instead of shitting on other trying to do so.

  • mybottlesup

    heather, you have only just begun. i am convinced that the world is a better place when women share their stories of strength and survival. everyone gains insight, perspective, hope.

    you have only just begun. your world has been rocked for the better. and so many of us are listening.

  • nantz

    I am so proud of you for standing up. Still miss “MTH” but this is so much more empowering. Frankly, “troll” is too good of word for most of these folks… and I am glad that you are calling them out.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your visit to Bangladesh and the insights and ideas you’ve come home with. So far, your reporting has been inspiring and humbling.

    Well done. N