Tuesday, February 28, 2006

a reminder

i hate fights. im often reluctant to walk into one. for the zillionth time, i was churning things around in my head the last few days and wondering if i was getting too angry about too many things.

and then i read this.

of course its worth blazing with rage about. there are some things that should make us furious again and again and again. thanks for the kick in the pants annie.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Sunday, February 26, 2006

sex, violence and a cola?

( source: agencyfaqs.com)

thats from the new pepsi ad. its horrible. the opening shot is of two women singing about the soft and smooth, and the man steps into the scene starting them off on the rough with the smooth (yawn). the women stop fawning over the bottle and instead switch to draping themselves over the guy. closing shot: man appears with an artistic black eye (and otherwise unchanged appearance) and a lipstick smeared face.

scintillating. sex and violence, the two essential facets of male sexuality that go together? its this kind of absolutely thoughtless media message that has so many people thinking violence is a very "normal" part of sexual relationships. when this kind of baggage and destructive conditioning is attached, of all things, to something as unconnected as a fizzy drink, its time to get very worried.

our movies and their way of showing rapes is so irresponsible - i was horrified to learn in the school intervention programs i went for, that so many kids still believe that crap about the woman actually "secretly" enjoying a rape or being pushed into sexual activity. i suppose it was only to be expected, the way our media glamourise violence and sex. look at the current trend of bollywood movies: being a violent killer is a fashion statement now!

dons are hot. so is being an "Agent" - anything as long as its men with guns, anonymous menacing sun glasses, beautiful ultraskinny women hanging on their arms like accessories. what the heck are we trying to say? youre not "man enough" to attract women unless youre going around blowing people's heads off?

unadulterated garbage. not only does this kind of linking of violence with sex make mutually considerate sexual relationships difficult, but it also belittles the thousands of women who get battered, stalked, assaulted and harassed.

by treating violence so casually - making it seem like an almost desirable aspect of a sexual relationship were refusing to acknowledge how shattering and traumatising these women's experiences have been. of all those images of unreal women we keep seeing in ads and movies, does even one show a glimpse of real life? what the hell are we thinking of.

thank god for campaigns like that one by amnesty international.

a reply to saale -

if i understand you correctly, you wish to know why i think a relationship is being forged between sex and violence.

in my understanding, violence and sex are both employed as status symbols in patriarchy. both glorify the "do-er" because of the masculine aspect of projection. the recipient of the deed however, is objectified.

violence is obviously about domination and aggressively asserting superiority. sex has come to be regarded the same way. its no longer about being in a relationship as much as "whom are you fucking?". the recipient is important only as a testimony to the do-er's status.

patriarchy rejects the notion of another man taking the "weaker" or "passive" role and hence also opposes homosexuality strongly. the myth of male supremacy gets shattered in a homosexual relationship. this very aspect of sex being used to project superiority over the other person is probably also why so much of pornography (based on the objectification of women) features such violent, hardly consensual sex.

patriarchy also condones the use of violence as a legitimate means to gratify sexual desire. witness the growing incidences of violence against women and children, not to mention against perceived or actually gay men. theres a reason that armies - strongholds of patriarchal culture - use rape as a weapon of war.

the status game is used for both people: the victim "loses face" in admitting a rape, or being beaten by the partner. several women continue living with and finding excuses for abusive partners because in a typically patriarchal society, nobody gives a damn about the woman being abused, and the man is considered "macho" for beating her up. a complaint ironically only fetches the male attention and admiration. it doesnt get the woman support to leave her partner or aid to heal herself and start afresh.

if women find it difficult to speak about having been abused or raped, men have an even more difficult time when they are victims of these crimes, because in patriarchy the male archetype doesnt allow for any vulnerability or "softness" in a man. when a man therefore says that he has been raped, he is rejected for shattering the myth of male invulnerability and supremacy.

and for these reasons, i think its our business to question the linking of violence to sex, and keep opposing mass media's attempt to make us believe that such a relationship is normal, healthy, and (of all things) desirable.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

make some blank noise

i came across something interesting. the blank noise project. they deal with the harassment of women. as they point out, eve teasing is common, yes, but totally unacceptable. they are now organising a blog-athon to spread awareness about the issue. quoting a sentence i liked in their mail,
"hopefully it will be an archive that will help us understand and stay angry about harassment".
( more details...)

all bloggers are invited. if you dont have a blog but would like to chip in... ahem. you're gawping at a scribble pad right now - so scribble away me hearties! :) have your say, and have it collectively on march 7th. meanwhile, please spread the word.


Friday, February 24, 2006

the common thread

india's female population is greater than the total of the combined female populations of usa, canada and the russian federation. women are biologically the stronger sex - when living conditions are equal, women outlive men. according to the un figures, the men-women sex ratio is in favour of women in most countries – notably excluding ours. while that’s not surprising, what may be so is that is has grown steadily worse over the last 70 years.

when trying to understand social issues , many times we end up coming back to education, how the lack of it is such a problem, and how only education can emanicipate the minority segments of the population. women, especially in college years, hear so much about how they are privileged to have an education, and virtually nothing on how it may not be sufficient for the problems that they will face in real life. problems of violence and hostility, directed at them because they are female. we are also repeatedly bombarded with the differences in the lives of the educated and uneducated, and several of us start believing we really do have nothing in common, that our problems are distinct, and that ones struggles are disconnected and irrelevant to the other.

there is much in common between the educated and uneducated woman in india. it is another form of social control to fragment a group with the same interests by brainwashing the members to believe they have nothing in common, and thereby stifling communication between them.

while ive a deep respect for knowledge, and therefore the process of education, i do think that its overrated. when the educational institutions are merely pawns of patriarchal culture, the pseudo education that is churned out can be positively damaging. as a result, "educated" women today are so conditioned by institutions that they are less able to stand up for themselves or their children. we are prime examples of learned helplessness. of course, if we show signs of having deconditioned ourselves and really using our education, its unacceptable and we are attacked all the more viciously. (prime example: kerala. with the highest literacy rates in the country, its treatment of women is miserable.)

so what binds womenkind in india?

the female foetus is an unwanted thing, a liability to be gotten rid of if possible. in the last 20 years, at least 10 million female foetuses have been killed in India. and no, that isn’t a predominantly rural phenomenon: illegal screening for sex determination is much more common in urban areas, where educated people are also more in number. so a woman may own a diploma certificate - but she still doesnt own her womb or what grows in it.

if the girl child is allowed to be born, she may well go “missing” – around 500,000 girls “vanish” (a euphemism for “are murdered”) every year. if she does manage to stick around, there’s malnutrition to face. the boy child is given higher priority over the girl, so especially when resources are meagre, the girl ends up starving. thousands of children also die of starvation and malnutrition every year. even in perfectly well-to-do highly educated families we see the women being the last to eat – literally the lowest in the pecking order. its not surprising then that every 2 of 3 indian women are anaemic.

there is a constant threat of sexual violence. our culture not only condones all these, but also treats them as normal. domestic violence is a serious problem, the extent of which is very difficult to gauge because of the social baggage attached to it. according to the UN
  • every 26 minutes a woman in India is molested,
  • raped every 34 minutes,
  • harassed every 42 minutes,
  • kidnapped every 43 minutes,
  • killed every 93.
(of course, in nearly every report you read you will see the fine print bewailing the fact that most crimes against women are under-reported, and what is shown is a conservative estimate.)

increasingly, caste panchayats, or caste-based village councils, extrajudicially punish inter-caste marriages with public lynching of couples or their relatives, murder of the bride or the groom, rape, public beatings, and other sanctions. This is particularly common if either bride or bridegroom is a Dalit.

what sexual or reproductive rights? an educated woman may be able to discuss simone de beauvoir’s ideas, may be able to write poetry and prose about her sexuality, but it isnt going to ensure that she is treated with respect by society. the maid servant and college girl alike get felt up on busses, and have men leering at them. they may both also die in some of these street encounters.

in fact, the educated woman's environment includes more unacknowledged violence, greater fear and consequences of stigma (especially where diseases like hiv infection are concerned), a weaker social support network, and increased conditioning by the additional media sources we are able to access. but yes, we have the dubious distinction of at least being recognised by mass media. its an eloquent commentary that even in tv soaps, men struggle with professional setbacks to their careers and relationships gone awry, while women deal with more complicated issues like personal relationships, estrangement from their children, coping with blackmail and personal assault etc. (UN report, 2001), problems that are not any less difficult to deal with or eliminated by schooling.

education hasnt made our lives safer or happier - it may at best have helped us be more aware of our rights and of their constant violation, giving our anger a clearer direction. but for the most part, we lead surprisingly similar lives. plus theres a more valuable and genuine education to be had than primary schooling when women put their heads together and share ideas to come up with solutions to help themselves. in this process, when we are able to speak to each other so freely, we will also be able to pick out the best benefits of our education and filter those to place at the use of the community of women. so its important that we keep reaching out to each other and not let society drive a wedge between us and other women, telling us how little we have in common because one is "Educated" and the other isnt.

patriarchy doesnt make the distinction of education - it merely hates all things female.

also posted on sthreeling.

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Monday, February 20, 2006


barbie is one of a kind - there will probably never be another doll quite like it. thank god.

in 1957 Mattel mildly remodified a german pornographic toy called lilli, to market it as barbie. lilli was popular for her tight sweater and removable miniskirt. it took until 1971 for barbie to lose lilli's sly down and sideways glance and be able to at least look straight. she has still not lost the anti-gravitational breasts.

the messages tumbled out faster and more blatantly. in 1984, there was a barbie doll sold with the slogan "the fate of the world is in the hands of one beautiful girl" (the emphasis is mine). as a tribute to the women who had won their right to employment after so many struggles, the first career barbie was a teenage fashion model. *carefully refraining from comment*

while barbie spans some 40 plus nationalities in an attempt to be more "realistic", there has never been a barbie in a wheelchair, or with a disability. so mattel introduced her friend becky in a hot pink wheelchair. that was about all the concession to reality - becky's body isnt noticably different from barbies, though you'd think being confined to a wheelchair would have some effect.

just to help blur the lines between reality and male fantasy further, and thoroughly confuse children, there are versions of barbie as cher, as britney spears , marilyn monroe and other real people as well.

(oh, by the way, marilyn monroe was a size 14/16 - women have been made to look thinner and thinner in media portrayals over the years.)

according to mattel, little girls in the states have about 10 barbies each when growing up. there's also a depressingly high rate of eating disorders in the states. and yep, we're catching up. the doll probably has an even more negative effect on body image in countries like ours, because barbie is aryan, and we will never have such a build naturally. ( not that any real woman would - i just meant the overall body structure barbie is based on)

but those are just the kids - we'll know better we grow up. as adult women, we'll be bombarded with media messages to prance around singing

" I'm a blonde single girl, in a fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly
Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky"
- Barbie girl, Aqua.


us and them

i very often find, when discussing something like patriarchy, that people who believe it’s a non-issue come up with a line like “why don’t you do something for homeless children or dalit women instead of spending so much time on feminism and antipatriarchy?”. other than the fact that feminist concerns include the very same homeless children and dalit women – its not an either-or – that’s just a rotten way of trying to fragment the community of women again.

Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defence of women-hating. – Andrea Dworkin

buddy-bonding amongst men is so strongly built-in in a patriarchal society, that typically, when a woman is in trouble and turns to the man she knows personally, he often ends up trying to find every conceivable excuse he can to absolve the perpetrator of whatever crime – anything rather than acknowledge that yes, the woman has been hurt, and her rights violated.

a decent guy would feel upset and bothered that he's being forced to take such a call - he shouldn’t, it isn’t fair on him - but it’s a minority who feel secure enough about their masculinity to respect the person before the system and say to hell with the pseudo-macho stereotypes thrust on men.

so at the end of the day we have decent men feeling miserable because theyre coerced into non-choices like that, and women feeling traumatised because they don’t get support or respect from even the men they know.

patriarchal conditioning runs so deep, that sometimes, even women turn against each other and ask the same stupid questions like “what were you wearing that he was tempted to rape you?”. when women put womenkind first – before a race, economic class, country, caste or religion, we move much closer to helping each other and getting somewhere.

The sight of women talking together has always made men uneasy; nowadays it means rank subversion. - Germaine Greer

...... which is naturally why we women keep being taught to be hostile to each other. from the institutionalised mother-in-law daughter-in-law fights, to the stories of female bosses being bitches, we are regularly bombarded with messages about how two women who are talented and intelligent cannot get along well and how they will inevitably fight, gossip viciously and slander each other - and such a total lack of sense and maturity is “normal” and commonly accepted.

also posted on sthreeling.


Monday, February 06, 2006

my charming old friends

when my grandfather wants to say hullo and find out how a cousin or friend from the old days is doing, I write to them for him.

i enjoy writing letters, especially to old people. I love their stories from the past, the sepia remembrances and nostalgia... that gentle pace of life, the formal yet warm style of writing. its fun working out the explanations that will help the person step gently through time to connect my grandfather to me, or even to help them recall their old friend - striving for that delicate balance between chattiness and brevity!

I look forward to their replies, their letters so characterestic of their times . i had written to mr k when i was in school, and he was such a wonderful man, we soon became friends and would swap chatty emails. he would eagerly ask for news of my mother, of us, and when my grandfather shifted from such-and-such area, if he was still in touch with mutual friends…

in january i wrote to another friend of my grandfather's. thatha hadnt been in touch with this japanese gentleman for more than 10 years, and when he finally discovered an email address i was deputed to write to mr.t and wish him for the new year.

he replied with such a nice mail! after that as usual we wrote to each other some more, helping him and my grandfather bridge the gap of events that had flown past... and today it made my day to read his reply, which he ended with typical old-world courtesy and charm - "hoping for health and peaceful days for you all, I remain - Sincerely yours, T________".

".....Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?...."

- Old friends, Simon and Garfunkel


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

fairy tales and stereotypes

(ok. i had posted this on sthreeling, but in case you've not been checking that one (boohoo!) i'd still like to know what you think. and hence post in duplicate, signed by notary public blah blah :D)

when i was a kid, i had a pretty nifty collection of story books. i loved reading, and on each of my birthdays, at least one of my numerous relatives used to give me a story book. whether it was a book with those colour illustrations on one side with the story printed in huge thick black letters on the other side, or those small satisfyingly thick books with fine print, books were an obsession with me. and so I got to thinking about the stereotypes we feed our children.

the heroines are almost always pale, slender and wilting uselessly from atop a tower, waiting for a hero to come and transfer them from the captivity of a witch’s tower to the captivity of a castle. it seemed all they were capable of doing, was languishing. if i remember right, one of ‘em even opted to wait a hundred years than lift a finger and help herself!

the tales gently and inexorably instilled those stereotypes in our heads: be figure-conscious, fairer is more beautiful. also, if youre a woman, be helpless. be inert. show no initiative – above all, never try to change or help your circumstances.

i think the most damaging tale for a kid to read, is probably cinderella. cinderella didn’t want to tell the prince she was poor, because a prince couldn’t marry anyone other than a (beautiful) princess. read into another caste. read into even a different socio-economic strata. same principle. but that’s not all - the prince who loved cinderella enough to rummage through his entire kingdom for her couldn’t even recognise the love of his life until she was dolled up again to match the glam image in his head. only when she was in her evening finery did he propose to her. moral of the story: if you want to find your prince and live happily ever after, appearances are everything.

those were the english stories – of our native folk tales, sita was depicted as the picture of paralysing virtue, solidly bolstering the stereotypes of Virtuous Wife, Obedient and Helpless Woman and - this gets me the most - the Husband’s Property, to be exchanged, stolen and shifted around like loose change. (the Ramayana is separate-post-worthy so im skimming over it for now!)

so there we have it. all the young women were this insipid, uninspiring kind. the ones that actually did something, were the evil old hags. the witches, the shrews, the mantharas – if a woman had a spark of intelligence she would promptly cause untold trouble and strife in the kingdom!

one gasps and turns to “alibaba and the 40 thieves” for support. (there’s patriarchy for you by the way – margiana saves the day, and what do they do? they name the story after the man!) but alas, a clever woman just isn’t as acceptable as a pretty dimwit. so while margiana fades into obscurity to the extent of her name changing from version to version, jasmine (Aladdin) lives on....

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