One of the things I love about living in The Hague is its cinemas. There are three I can bike to in under 10 minutes. One even shows independent and foreign films and we get lots of festivals too. I love foreign films and every Wednesday they show subtitles in English. How cool is that? I guess this is what you get when you live in a city. I go to the cinema almost every week if I can and this last week was no exception. On Thursday I went to see On the Basis of Sex, the story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, which tells of the American lawyer responsible for the repeal of most of the country’s most sexist laws. Yet this stellar lawyer, one of the first women to be accepted to Harvard and graduated at the top of her class, failed to find a job as a lawyer. She failed because she was a woman (who might have a baby), a wife (who would have to fit her domestic chores round a busy schedule) and a Jew (who might observe Shabbat). Collectively, these three reasons saw her move into a teaching career instead. This was the early 1960s. In 1994, however, she was elected to the Supreme Court as a Judge where she works to this day.
The second film was Green Book, and here, again, discrimination was the insidious focus. It took place in the same time country and the same time period. This time the incredibly talented pianist and composer Dr Don Shirley was told he could not become the classically trained concert pianist he was born to be because he was black.
These two films affected me deeply being born as I was in the 60s to a white middle class family. I have never ever been at the receiving end of discrimination. Not once, not ever. Not for anything.
I’ve lived in countries where I do not share their religion yet the only way this ever affected me was when I was reprimanded in Satwa High Street, Dubai, by an Emirati wearing his pristine white dishdash.
“This is a Muslim country. This is not good.” With a flick of his hand, he indicated the shorts and tee-shirt ensemble I was wearing and blew hot air out of his nostrils with gentle derision. “To my people you are naked.”
I was mortified and bubbled with apology, vowed never to dress like that in public again in the Middle East and never experienced such an issue again.
In Norway, I could not speak the language but no one ever made me feel stupid because of it. I felt stupid and disrespectful enough on my own. I could not find a job as a writer because of my lack of Norwegian, but that was fixable.
In the Netherlands the only thing that has made me feel less accepted and less able to do as the Dutch do is my inability to cycle hands-free or give someone a ‘backie’ but that is hardly life-affecting.
In Malaysia, I was stunned to see how a street could easily be home to a catholic church, a mosque, Hindu and Buddhist temples and the girls walking the steamy streets could as easily be wearing a tee-shirt with spaghetti straps and a mini skirt as a draping headscarf tied tight beneath her chin and an ankle and wrist skimming figure-hiding dress.
Sure, discrimination exists everywhere to a certain degree and unconscious bias makes the Dutch tend to hire tall people and drag queens look for roommates from the LGBT community. But nothing has affected me and prevented me from going for my dreams.
These two films have made me realise, as International Women’s Day passed by last Friday, that I have had three decades living in freedom as an International Woman. I’m lucky. So lucky. I’m just saying. Just musing.