Simultaneously loving and exposing Amsterdam

Emily Radford
February 13, 2018

Before I left for Amsterdam, I idealistically (and ignorantly) thought of it as a liberal, equality based and essentially perfect city. From stroopwafels, to a city I can easily navigate on bike, to progressive legislation and breathtaking canals, it was love at first sight. Now don’t get me wrong, I am still intensely in love with Amsterdam. So much so, that I’ve already begun exploring my options for attending graduate school here. Yet now that I’ve been through my first weeks of classes, I’ve found a variety of inequalities and miscalculations within the utopia I've previously assumed.

From my personal experiences as a queer woman, I’ve discovered that differing sexualities and genders are relatively accepted here, but the community for LGBTQ+ individuals in Amsterdam is more hidden. Since LGBTQ+ rights have been established since the early 2000s, many who identify as LGBTQ+ are integrated into the community, and don’t feel the need to publicly protest for their rights or for visibility. I’ve met many people from the LGBTQ+ community that embrace this sense of normalcy. But after delving into readings and lectures from my favorite class (Intersectionality and the Politics of Difference) I’ve realized that this concept of "normal" is based off the heteronormative, white, cisgender, and privileged, sense of the word. It’s interesting that progress for the LGTBQ+ community seems to be halted by being satisfied in conforming to the current social norms of society, instead of breaking free from the institutions that create inequality. All this being said, if you search diligently for an LGBTQ+ community, you are welcomed with open arms and can find a sense of solidarity in spaces where you are free to express yourself by whatever form of gender or sexuality you identify as. I've personally found this community via ASV Gay, the LGBTQ+ student association of Amsterdam.

Another interesting expression of sexuality resides in the red light district, where prostitution is legal and regulated. At any time of the day, one can walk by and see women standing in windows, a red light softly illuminating their scarcely clothed bodies. I’m aware most people view the concept of prostitution on opposite scales, as either oppressive or liberating. Yet I think these contrasting perceptions are based off illegal prostitution, which is unregulated and oftentimes dangerous. I’ve explored articles that explain how most legal sex workers choose their line of work freely, and the stigma that they are forced or persuaded into it is destructive and untruthful.When I walk by these women, I'm always struck with a slight suprise, as the concept of prostution has so often been drilled into our heads as "wrong" and "dirty". During my time in Amsterdam, I'm approaching this topic with an open mind, and I challege you to do the same. I'm also thrilled at the chance to speak with past sex workers from the red light district via one of my classes, as literature is informative, but speaking to people and exposing ourselves to the experinces of others is where true knowledge stems from.

While living in Amsterdam, I have also been enveloped in an overarching ambiance of safety. Feeling safe in a city has been a breath of fresh air, as I tended to feel unsafe in Quito because my white skin and blonde hair marked me as evidently foreign, with a presumption that I am a tourist and would be an easy target for petty crime. But upon examining this safety I feel in Amsterdam, I realize that there is inequality that lies within it. I feel safe here because I am white, female, and queer, and those are accepted forms of identity. The most important factor in this equation is my whiteness—as the stereotypical European citizen is white and I do not stick out as someone who is “different”.

On the other hand, I imagine Turkish and Moroccan immigrants here experience discrimination and a sense of othering, as there is a strong anti-immigration mindset in the Netherlands especially with the abovementioned groups, correlated with the fear that other non-white cultures will behave and believe in ways that contradict the “liberal” culture of the Netherlands, especially in the terms of LGBTQ+ rights. It’s racism, fueled from a history in which racism and discrimination was hidden from view. The Netherlands was an active player in the slave trade, yet slaves were not present in the Netherlands itself, thus making it relatively easy to be ignorant to the horrid injustices the country was committing and to not self-analyze racist tendencies.

I have also perceived a sense of overall wealth from this city, as there are far and few homeless people and beggars on the streets, which contrasts drastically with other cities I’ve experienced, such as Boston and Quito. I’ve assumed this correlates with the strong presence of white, middle class citizens, and inflates a sense of anti-immigration and racism because of the fear that those from differing cultures will change the overall wealth and safety of the city. It saddens and suprises me that the Netherlands has these viewpoints. I understand the many complications in allowing immigrants into a country, from over population to security. But I'm distraught over the ways in which mainly western civilizations use immigration policies to fuel racist agendas. I can't help but see a parallel between the Netherlands anti-immigration policies and the United States current battle to increase immigration restrictions and build walls to further separate the inequalities of wealth and power existent between countries.

Although it’s quite disheartening and depressing to examine inequalities and to break Amsterdam from the pedestal of perfection that I once held it to, it’s an important factor in uncovering truth and moving towards equality by exposing the lack of it. It’s also important when analyzing different cultures to know that how you interact with your environment, can be drastically different than the perspective of other people with varying ethnicities, genders, sexualities, social classes, religions, etc. Through this process of exposing inequalities, I hope we’re one step closer to enacting change towards a more equal world. My exploration into feminism was what started to peel away my mask of ignorance, and I find that the more cultures I immerse myself in, the more preconceptions I destroy. I hope that with whatever newfound adventure you embark on, you do the same.

Emily Radford

<p>I’m studying psychology and gender studies at the University of Rochester. I just came back from studying in Quito, Ecuador for a semester and this spring semester I will be studying in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I feel most at home when I’m backpacking and climbing mountains, I’m a lover of pancakes and language, and I’m skilled at sleeping on all forms of public transport.</p>

Home University:
University of Rochester
Londonderry, NH
Gender Studies
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