Saturday, March 31, 2007

cubicle conversations

friday afternoon entertainment:

we come to know that a couple at work is going to be married (to each other) shortly. it's common knowledge also, that they commute to and from work together. it's lunch break and people are eating in little huddles. a colleague (call him Z) stops by the cubicle where pair who are to be wed are lunching, and starts what he fondly imagines to be a polite conversation.

Z to woman : what is this! so selfish... you never cook for him. you bring lunch only for yourself.

woman (unflapped) : why Z, what is your problem? first do you know that we're only engaged and we're not married, we don't live together yet?

Z: so what! you come together to work no? or you can bring from home for him also no?

woman: he likes this food - and it upsets only my stomach. do you know he comes by my house in the morning and has breakfast at home?

man (startled and hopping mad by now) : and hang on, what makes you think she has to cook for me?

Z: very bad. this is not how a wife should be. you know, both my brothers-in-law can cook. they cook coffee, they cook lots of other things. but i cant. so my wife keeps comparing. whenever she says anything i just say "look at them. they are married to very bad wives, so they have to cook. you are a wonderful wife". and then she feels very happy, so i say "ah good, make something nice for me today".

(turns to man)

you know why they call her a "wife"? to rhyme with "knife". because they are like that.

man (thoroughly disgusted by now) : really? do you know there's something called "animal husbandry"?

Z crawled away, a silenced and thoroughly confused man. i mean, this wasn't how the male-bonding script went, right? alas for poor Z. running into a deconditioned man must've been such a rude shock! :))

we (minus Z, of course!) had a quick conversation after that, discussing the incident. i wouldn't attribute that degree of deliberate sexism to Z. even if he were that sexist, i think it was more about a couple of people interacting because they had to share a common public space. it was (meant to be) pc. he was, i think, just being another random member of society, socialising and bonding with another man in the way he knew how.

the dominant culture has made "oh man, you're dead now! you too got suckered, huh?" and "hah! you're in chains too now!" sort of remarks the "acceptable" way for men to socialise. it's pretty telling that it's not considered the appropriate thing to say to women. at least i have never heard a woman's announcement that she's getting married being greeted with a "welcome to the chains!". probably has too true a ring to it?! and of course, acquiring a man is always a good thing. he's premium in society after all.

it just so happens that that is what society has put in the public "neutral" space. i personally think it makes sense for women to crucify the social dictates and social authorities that make this appropriate, rather than random, unthinking idiots like Z. otherwise there are just too many battles to fight, and it may get impossible to do much.

i fully approve of the man's withering rejoinder though! - it's so nice to see a guy calling out sexism.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

hutch: a study in contemporary corporate-sponsored racism

a recent hutch advertisement caught my eye. it seems to me a brilliant study in how to perpetuate racist stereotypes, so i'd like to discuss it here.

you can almost imagine the ad agency's pitch to the company. "can't sell your product properly? damn natives can't understand english?" or "damn natives too stupid to understand your procedures? spell it out for those brown savvidges". voila. a charmingly animated ad campaign. it probably had to be animated so they could plead who them?, racist?, awww, come on, cantcha take a joke? we didn't mean no harm. how very subtle!

the storyboard: shot of customer - sorry! - brown savage, complete in stereotyped details like war paint on either cheek, and a loin cloth. (there's also a very interestingly conspicuous absence of brown savage woman!) brown savage evidently doesn't understand company's contorted payment procedure. enter two not-quite-white-but-getting-there smarties, who show the savage how to do things. exit brown savage happily yelling as he swings away on the trees.

dumb savage still can't figure how to talk english, benevolent company offers customer care in *savagespeak*. two n-q-w-b-g-t smarties to the rescue again. savage repeats the happy-tree-swinging routine.

the advertising company handling hutch's ad campaigns is ogilvy & mather (india). an agency which, presumably, has indians working for them. i'm quite sure that these very people look into mirrors every day and do not see a "savage". so it is truly appalling, that they think that a savage is a coloured man, clad in a loin cloth and swinging from trees. talk of total cognitive dissonance!

it speaks volumes for how effective colonial conditioning has been, and how it continues to dominate the way we think. any system of discrimination is most effective when the subject starts internalising the discriminatory notions. so while it's awful enough to have a seemingly liberal white man write racist literature and be praised for it, it's a different set of worries and fears to see people beholding themselves through a racist lens and hating themselves.

use your power as consumers, people (especially those of you with hutch connections) - call and tell 'em racist ads aren't cute.

(we can take them up on the shades of sexism-sizeism from the second phone call.)


Thursday, March 08, 2007

gawd in heaven

today we had a women's day celebration in my office (with the other company that shares our floor). predictably, it was organised by the women, the women dutched in for the lunch and the women alone sat together in the room. (i wonder if the men were murmuring "cheetangol" in another room meanwhile! :D)

anyhow. if you think im grumbling about all that, contrary to appearances, im not. i was steeling myself for the absolute inanities that i would inevitably hear about how women dont have those (insert every single very much still contemporary issue here) problems any more. and yaay, who just lost a bet with me? i sure did. starting from the morning, when the receptionist was poring over Economic Times to put up pro-women articles, and saw nothing wrong with the headline "Boardroom pin-up girls make waves".

then after that we had a lunch, where a senior management woman talked similar rot. i missed the first part, but such gems as i did hear, i wrote down faithfully. (well, i had to look down and do something because i could feel my facial muscles being awfully candid.)

1. see, in the lower classes, women aren't treated with respect.

2. in our country as such, women are treated with a lot of respect.

3. we can't confront without getting emotional, we're like that.

4. (discussion on how women in authority arent respected by male subordinates) but let us not think about it.

5. we cry. (said in shame, also implied that men never cry, that crying is a sign of weakness.)

6. we shouldn't cry because they (the men present) will feel awkward.

7. stand up only for yourself. it sends a very negative signal otherwise. even if someone is being treated unfairly, dont get involved.

8. see, whatever it is, at the end of the day it's all only power-play. men are going to do it.

9. we can't be (look of accute distaste and discomfort) feminist. we can't fight against nature. be smart and be good managers. (being smart means shutting up when you hear racism or sexism)

10. see, when you carry the responsibility of another life depending you, you need to be careful, there's no point fighting against it. men have nothing to do with it - we are the ones who are pregnant and carrying the baby.

i was asked to give a talk as part of today's program. my first thought was that all the things i would have liked to discuss, would lose this crowd. then i realised i was feeling cut off from other women, and that that would never do - heck, i should be able to speak to junta, right? i better be - i dont even have the requisite academic qualifications to stake a claim to that ivory tower! :D

sheesh. the next time i feel cynical, i'll listen to me - it was like hearing aliens talk today! felt a little unnerving to be lost and solitary in the middle of a crowd, particularly in a female crowd. one female bonding session that severely flopped.

this weary feminist has reached the end of her tether today!


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