Friday, March 08, 2013

International women's day

If there is one topic on which I wholeheartedly take the same side as that of the MRAs (Men's Rights Activists), it is the question of an international's women's day. My reasons may differ from their, but I dislike it.

So there I was, sitting at my desk, happily solving a knotty problem and feeling very pleased with myself, something that I often do only on Fridays, when I was rudely interrupted by Outlook's reminder telling me that I was invited for a lunch with the big wigs on International women's day. What's more, all homo sapiens who, through no fault of their own, were cursed with an above average dose of the dreaded x chromosome were also invited to this lunch. As I saw my manager purposely walking to my desk, I pondered several options to avoid this much advertised event. I knew he would give me the "Oh this is a great opportunity to network" speech. The closer he came, the faster I scrambled for excuses. I could feign a project emergency involving angry customers, or maybe a personal disaster involving a locked door and a spouse without a key. I was desperate enough to consider reporting a "Health and Safety" concern about the malfunctioning tea dispenser in the pantry that sprayed scalding liquid on unsuspecting employees. I hesitated a moment too long and there he was at my desk smiling and wishing me a happy women's day. I resigned myself to my fate, there was no escaping this blasted lunch.

It was one those innumerable hotels in this part of town that features a standard buffet lunch, designed to cater to the amorphous group of professionals with low expectations. I have a strong suspicion that while the hotels may have different names, they source their food from the same kitchen. How else can one explain the near identical menus in all 15 hotels in a 5 km radius? By the time we reached the hotel, I was starving. So much so that, even the thought of the bland and painfully monotonous menu that I had eaten 117 times before, did not deter my eagerness to get to it. So, imagine my disappointment when I realized that we had to first sit down at round tables (don't get me started about round tables!) and listen to all the head honchos drone on about the "importance of diversity" and the "need for more women" in the organization. I was busy playing International Women's day leadership speech bingo. I had already ticked off the first two and was wondering if my luck had run out this time, when I got the third hit with "great women in my life who influenced me" bit. No one seemed to think that it was odd that all the people who spoke were men. Or that it sounded oddly patronizing to hear a bunch of men tell a room full of women that they contribute to the diversity of the organization just by being women. Anyway, the bingo ended. I mean the speeches ended and we were allowed to go eat.

Conversation at the round tables revolved around varied topics. Some women complained that none of their family members had remembered women's day. I winced because if it hadn't been for the outlook reminder, I wouldn't have remembered either. Some other women made the rather astute observation that a "father-daughter" relationship is very special. I winced again because until that moment I had considered all the relationships with my family members very special. Some men gave emotional accounts of how their daughters had changed their perspectives. I winced for the third time because I realized that perhaps the only way to get men to treat women as human beings was to force a daughter on them. By the time the conversation reached the hypothesis that women were not role models for daughters anymore because they don't stay at home and take care of their children like the women of yore, I had had enough and wandered off in search of dessert. My facial muscles were starting to twitch and ache with all the wincing I was doing. By the way, dessert wasn't anything to write home about either. So all in all, a disappointing end to a disappointing afternoon. To top it off, I had eaten too much, in keeping with what is expected of one in a buffet, and it made me sleepy and cranky.

On a serious note, I understand and agree with the spirit of the whole thing. It is an attempt by the international community to recognize women as a largely oppressed and marginalized group and to give legitimacy to the ongoing struggle to end discrimination and violence against women. Either that or just an attempt by the Hallmarks and Archies of the world to sell unwanted stuff to otherwise unwilling people. But for me, this day has come to resemble a constant reminder that even in my place of work, I am first a woman and then an employee. I strive very hard, day after day to make sure that my gender plays no role in my work and my interaction with colleagues. I persevere against gargantuan odds to be treated the same way as my male colleagues, no exceptions, no special considerations and no biases or prejudices. And this one day shatters all of my efforts. I come back from lunch only to be met with sniggers and snide comments about the unfairness of this day and the need for a "men's day" to even things out. My repartee of how everyday is in fact "men's day" felt inadequate somehow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Funny statements

Yesterday, on two separate occasions, I heard the same funny phrase, "I am not a sexist, I am just old fashioned!" One was from a close associate and the other from a character on TV. (Two identical nonsensical comments on the same day! What are the odds? Its almost as if the universe was telling me to get back to my much neglected blog!!) The associate was expressing his disapproval of women who visit bars and the character on TV was waxing eloquent about his sexist, I mean "old fashioned", ideas about all the tasks that women shouldn't be allowed to do like earning money, driving a car or even opening a door!

The first thing that came into my head when I heard the first comment was, "That's like saying, 'I think people of other races are inferior. Don't get me wrong! I am not a racist, I am just old fashioned!". You see, my first exposure to serious feminist writing happened when I was writing my masters thesis and of course was trying to do everything BUT write it! That was in the US. Most of the bloggers and columnists whose pieces I read were from places where racism is a recognized evil. Most of these countries experienced racism in some of its worst forms and then actively fought against it. Hence racists in general are looked down upon and racist beliefs are shunned by most educated people. Hence, western feminists very often tend to draw parallels between racism and sexism to sometimes show people how ridiculous their arguments are. Misogynists may be hard to convince, but for a lot of people on the fence, it gives them something to consider and contemplate.

But then, this argument doesn't really work in India, does it? There is no paucity of "isms" in India. Casteism, regionalism, ageism, religious fundamentalism and of course, the big monster, sexism; you name it, we have it. They don't just exist, but in a country of a billion people half of whom have no proper education to speak of, they thrive unhindered, feasting on our rich tradition of glorified ignorance. Interestingly enough, the moral zeitgeist, at least among the urban middle class has evolved towards liberalism when it comes to religion and caste, but regionalism is still considered not just acceptable, but encouraged! Regional cliques are rather common in one's social circle, but it came as an unpleasant surprise to me that this kind of behaviour is perfectly normal even in a professional environment. And apparently, it is also perfectly acceptable to talk in a regional language in a project meeting where half the participants are unfamiliar with that language!

I digress! All of this brings me back to the first thought that struck me when I heard the "old fashioned" statements. If I can't draw a parallel with racism, how do I point out the absolute inaneness of my associate's assertion? And since when did being "old fashioned" become a virtue?? While we are on it, since when did any kind of "fashioned" become a virtue?? Since when has borrowing someone else's opinion become praiseworthy? Because that's what one means when one claims to be old or new fashioned to justify a statement. What it means is that one merely happened to pick up an idea prevailing at some point of time, and without applying even an iota of reasoning, decided to adopt it. Don't we have the responsibility as rational human beings to ensure that we are constantly striving to remove irrationality and ignorance wherever we see it? Tall order you say? Too utopian you opine? Ok, let us then strive for something easier perhaps. Can we just stop being darned sexists and regionalists and casteists and try and behave like decent human beings? No? Sigh!

Monday, September 21, 2009


It isn't easy being a feminist. If I had to explain why it isn't easy it would have to be a post by itself and that's not what I want to write about today. To put it succinctly, there is this constant realization that this world is an unfair place and I cannot change this in my lifetime even with all the privileges I was born with and continue to enjoy. That is a rather huge burden to live with. But I hope to at least make small contributions, make a small difference somewhere, in someone's life before I die. That belief keeps me sane. But the hardest part of being a feminist is the almost constant string of disappointments. When people whom I respect (and sometimes people whom I love) let me down, when they exhibit abject ignorance and indifference and refuse to change their prejudices even though they know that they are being irrational and unfair, I feel almost ready to throw my hands in the air and give up. Today is one those days.

She used to be one of the few people I greatly admired. I was in awe of her, to say the least. She is a brilliant woman with an impressive career. She is one those strong silent type of people and although I often found myself painfully inadequate when it came to having conversations with her, she was sort of a role model. Rewards and recognition seem to come to her effortlessly. Well, until she decided to give up her job after having a baby and move half way across the world just because her husband decided to. I was extremely dismayed when I heard about this, but I decided that she must have had good reason to do what she did. Someone as fantastic at her job as she was wouldn't just give it up unless something compelled her against her will to do so. That was until today when her mother flippantly told me that she may not work again at all. Her mother reasoned that the baby is more important that anything else she would want to do.

I usually try to be politically correct and try to be understanding of women who willingly choose to be stay at home mothers. But today, I am going to give my honest opinion about it. I do not think that bringing up children is as big an achievement as it is made out to be. I only respect people(men and women) who have contributed to the human race in some way other than just adding a number to its population. Let me be clear that I am not undermining the work done by women(and some men) in raising children. I am just saying that according to me, it is NOT an achievement. I find it hard to understand how one can choose to define oneself solely in terms of the offsprings one has produced. Even animals do it for crying out loud! All mammals give birth to young ones and raise them to survive in the world. So if thats all you have done in your life, what differentiates you from them?? I understand women who make peace with their fates and find excuses to justify the life they are forced into. I will not even attempt to judge them. But I find it unforgiveable when I see privileged women settle for something that is less than what they deserve.

In my opinion, motherhood is specifically touted as some sort of life changing experience because our patriarchal society which forces women to stay at home and stay invisible, wants to throw them a lifeline. We want women to stay content doing unpaid labour that mostly goes unrecognized and often without reciprocation, so we tell them that what they are doing is a reward in itself! Nice trick isn't it?

Women have it hard in this world, and to quote from a movie, nature makes it harder by dealing us some tricky cards. I usually judge men more harshly than women, for that very reason. I tend to give women the benefit of the doubt, but this time I made an exception. Privilege is a hard thing to come by. Very few women get to have as many choices as my ex-role model did. To throw them away is callous and unforgivable and rather disappointing. To choose to be dependent on a man is an easy way out and just serves to reinforce the stereotypes that feminists fight against almost everyday.

I know that many people would probably call me selfish or cold hearted for saying what I do. I have often asked myself the same question. But the whole thing really boils down to how I want to define my existence. I would be very disappointed if by the end of my life, all I had done was to live in the shadow of my family passively, letting their lives define mine and letting their existence define mine. If that was a deliberate choice that was made, then that in my opinion is a life wasted.

(I still hope she will go back to work soon and I hope she will get all the recognition and accolades that she deserves. I am keeping my fingers crossed!)

Monday, March 09, 2009

The centre of the world

Today after pondering over a deeply serious matter for about 2 minutes, I came to the startling realization that almost all men seem to think that they are the centre of the world! By that I mean that each man thinks that he is the centre of the world, nay, the universe! And how did I reach this extraordinary conclusion, you ask me? Well, I'll tell ya.

In Bangalore, in protest of the recent attacks on women, a campaign took place this weekend to increase awareness and to engage people in a dialogue. See, now thats exactly the kind of thing that brings the misogynists out of the woodwork. Among all the patriarchy affirming, disgustingly sexist remarks that were made, one BMTC bus driver had this gem to offer, "Women who wear provocative clothes ought to be assaulted. If I saw a woman like that, I'd assault her". I flung the paper after I read this sentence and fumed for the next half an hour. My ire, not surprisingly, was at this pig's nauseating male entitlement which he believes gives him the right to assault any woman he judges as having dressed "provocatively".

But as I calmed down, I thought about the use of the word provocative(assuming it was translated from Kannada correctly) in this context. I've heard a lot of things of things described as provocative and quite often used to justify violence against women. It isn't just used with our clothes, but to judge everything we do. The use of the word is quite interesting. Lets break it down shall we? First of all, it is being implied that the woman in question is provoking someone, in this case, by wearing certain clothes. Secondly, and most importantly, she is provoking all men in her near vicinity (or even morons who sit in judgment of her later) by wearing certain clothes. So what is actually being said is that the woman in choosing to wear what she is wearing is actually deliberately choosing to provoke strange men whom she has never met and is hardly interested in! This reasoning neatly transfers the responsibility of controlling the reactions of all men a woman comes in contact with on to the woman herself! This is the exact same logic used to make women wear veils in certain Muslim countries. Here in Karnataka (as of now!) only western clothes are provocative. In certain countries, unless a woman is completely covered, she is deemed to be provocative! It is not a difference in kind, but a difference in merely the degree. And all of this is neatly wrapped up in what is termed "culture" which is supposed to trump all logic and reason!

Now, I think I can speak for most womenfolk when I say that when I wear jeans or skirts, the first and foremost thing on my mind is comfort. If its cold, I like to wear jeans. If its hot, I like to wear loose flowing clothes like skirts. Salwars probably fall somewhere in between. And of course, the all important, frequency of washing clothes. If everything is in the wash basket, jeans come in very handy! If some guy I'd never met came and told me that I was wearing a skirt to provoke him, I'd laugh in his face! In fact the concept is so ludicrous, I am surprised that it has become so mainstream and universally accepted!

Hence, I've concluded that most men live in their own sad, pathetic little worlds. A world where women exist because they do. A world where the sole purpose of a woman's action is to elicit a response from them. You know, it's very unpleasant trying to be in a man's head and doing this analysis. So, I am going to get out.

I just find it very unfortunate that we as a society seem to be encouraging men to be such pathetic losers by reaffirming their twisted world views and making life a lot more difficult for women. Well, thats why its called a patriarchy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The right to exist in public spaces

I have been following the recent events in Karnataka (the attacks on women in Mangalore and the resultant discussions) with alarm and dismay. Perhaps because it hits closer to home and the realization that I may have easily been one of the women who were attacked is not a pleasant one. Although, I must admit that seeing the number of protests and campaigns against these self appointed "moral police" i.e whackjobs has been immensely satisfying. But the news today about 3 women being harassed and attacked for the ridiculous reason of wearing "western" clothes really pushed my buttons.

I've observed that discussions about this issue usually gets derailed with statements about what women should and shouldn't wear, whether western culture is a good thing or not, whether "pub culture" is good or not, whether women should drink or not and so forth. When the crux of the matter is really about women's right to exist in public spaces without the fear of violence. What is really at stake is not my right to wear jeans or to consume alcohol, but my right to be out on the street and in public without looking over my shoulder or clutching a can of pepper spray.

Let me explain that a little further. Let us for a moment assume that wearing "western" clothes is a bad thing. Let us next assume that punishing people committing this grave crime is justified. Why then should not we not assault men wearing shirt and pants? Is that not "western" attire? Should we not force all men to wear dhoti which is the traditional Indian attire? While we are at it, men who bathe in public should be harassed and beaten up because they are exposing too much skin. Also, men going to pubs should be called names, slapped and dragged by their hair, and if thats not possible, then at least by their shirts.

My point is that none of these reasons are logical. Any human being with even half a brain would see that. What these numbskulls are really saying is that any woman in a public space is fair game for violence and assault and the reason is really just an excuse.

I had a wacky thought. Instead of all these crappy "father's day" and "mother's day", which are just gimmicks for stores like Archies to make sales, lets celebrate something meaningful. Lets celebrate "women's right to be in public" day. For 24 hours, every year, only women would be allowed to be out in public and not men. Any man who is seen outside will be harassed, assaulted, beaten or murdered and it would be perfectly legal. That would be like a breath of fresh air! We'll see how that goes and maybe extend it for more days every year! What say?

Thursday, December 18, 2008


A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend that turned into a rather fierce argument which never reached a conclusion. I was telling him that there is something wrong about entertainment being mostly gender stereotypical and heteronormative.

Let me explain that a bit. By "gender stereotype", I mean a depiction of men and women the way they are socially expected to be. And by "gender", I don't mean "sex". Sex is biological, determined by birth. Gender is behavioural, taught to us by society. For example, my sex is female and hence I have two X chromosomes and that is a fact. My gender is woman and hence I am expected to wear certain kinds of clothes and not certain others. The latter is an expectation that has very little to do with my sex.(If you have any doubts, I'd suggest reading about our rich human history where there are plenty of examples of societies that preferred unisex clothes). There are plenty of theories about why gender exists. Among feminists, it is widely believed that gender stereotyping is a powerful tool of the patriarchy constructed and wielded to ensure the subjugation of women. I definitely agree that at the present time, gender stereotyping is one of the biggest means of ensuring that a dichotomy exists. That way, the minute women talk about achieving equality, a counter argument is given, "But women can't be equal to men! You see, they are innately different.(They are innately more drawn towards taking care of the family and less towards a career!)" I also believe that the moment the dichotomy vanishes and we aren't men and women, but just people at different points on a wide spectrum, the gender hierarchy will collapse. There will exist no one gender that can be identified as the oppressors or the oppressed.Though there may still be other types of oppression, at least the oldest living one will vanish! But I am not sure that the reason for the origin of gender was to subjugate women. It may have stemmed from the kind of work specialization that existed among our ancestors to ensure their survival, something I don't think we need to worry about right now!!

As for "heteronormative", I think its self explanatory. It is the assumption that all men are attracted to only women and all women are attracted to only men. Even if there are references to homosexuality in the mainstream media, it either involves stereotypes about homosexuals(all gay men are "feminine" or all gay women are "manly") or is merely used for comic effect. Either way, it does a grave injustice to homosexuality.

Well, my friend argued that the mainstream media only depicts what the majority of people can relate to. He believes that both non-gender stereotypical people and homosexuals are minorities at best and aberrations at worst. He makes two assumptions here that are highly questionable. Firstly, he assumes that people who are gender stereotypical and heteronormative are the majority. Homosexuality may not be as common as heterosexuality, but it is definitely not an insignificant number. As for gender stereotypes, they get a lot more emphasis than they deserve. For most people, it is a matter of what is most convenient. Falling into a stereotype is easy, being an "aberration" is far more difficult, especially if one is labeled that way! There are several bloggers who have written more eloquently on this subject, so I shall refrain from doing this topic an injustice by trying to explain further! Secondly, he assumes that the interaction between people and media is merely one way, that the mainstream media merely depicts what the majority of people want. He blithely assumes that the depictions in no way reinforce these stereotypes. In fact, his first assumption stems from the second. Without any numbers of facts, people like him look at what's shown to them and believe that that must be the majority behaviour, no questions asked!

Lets say for a minute that both his assumptions are correct. Lets assume that the two groups he mentions are indeed very small in number. So what? Shouldn't all of us have the right to live our life the way we want and make the choices that we want without some arrogant idiot coming along and telling us we are "aberrations"? Stereotypes don't exist in vacuum. The minute you say that the majority's choice is the only choice that matters, you kill everything that is making this world progress. What makes us progress and do things never thought possible is our diversity. That is in fact the basis for evolution itself! The only difference is that with human beings, diversity is not determined by our genes alone, it is determined by the choices we make. By saying that anything mainstream has to cater to only the majority, you do two things. One, you make sure that the majority remains intolerant of other lifestyles and choices. Two, you make life far more difficult for someone who wants to be different. The former contributing significantly to the latter!

Half the world's problems stem from the fact that we can't tolerate differences. The best that people achieve is resigned co-existence like what we have in India! Yes, we will be friendly with people from different backgrounds, but there will be absolutely no intermingling(and by that I mean marriage)! Well, as I always say, I have hope for the future. Perhaps not everyone is as close minded and ignorant as my friend!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of victims and victimization -2

(To continue with my random rambling and incoherent thoughts....)

Another thought that struck me that if we remove all the layers of discrimination and bigotry, at the very bottom you would still find sexism. In the US, African American women are the most marginalized. In India, lower class women are the poorest. Women are killed more often than men in the name of "family honour" when they marry outside their caste or religion. Its insidious, its all pervasive and worst of all, its overlooked, neglected and brushed aside. America may have proven that it can elect an African American president, but it still couldn't elect a woman president. They have merely proved that they are less racist than sexist. The sexism in fact went mostly unacknowledged.

There a lot of theories to explain why misogyny has lasted so long and why we are still struggling to even recognize it, leave alone eliminate it. The one that made the most sense to me was something another blogger wrote. To borrow from her, only in the case of sexism, as opposed to say racism, is there an inevitable relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppression is so intertwined with the natural relationship that its difficult for most people to untangle the web of prejudices. Even I struggle with it everyday. To be in a state of constant awareness and to question everything that happens to figure out what is sexist and what is not, is not an easy thing to do!

The other reason that this blogger writes about is also an interesting observation. Women are present all over the world. They have different experiences, are a part of different cultures, experience so many other kinds of discrimination apart from sexism, that to unite together to fight misogyny is complicated and difficult. Even the kind of misogyny faced by each woman is so different in different cultures. For example, in India, the question of banning abortion never arose since discrimination against women starts from the womb with sex selection. In the US, the discussion around abortion has become a fight to guard the bodily integrity of women. The continuum of sexism ranges from rape, denial of basic human rights and honor killings to objectification, street harassment and unrealistic standards of beauty. All women fall somewhere on this continuum and all of us don't experience it all. I have a seen a lot of dialogues between feminists from different backgrounds break down for this very reason.

But I still hope. With the kind of technology we have at our disposal right now, connecting with people has become as easy the click of a button. Perhaps, we have a better chance of overcoming these hurdles now more than ever!