Saturday, February 9, 2013

Idiocy and Misogyny are Infinite; Gender, Education no bar

Clearly education and awareness don't go hand in hand. Clearly, belonging to the higher echelons of academic circles doesn't mean one's thoughts and ideas are also more refined and one is more progressive and liberal. Otherwise shouldn't the president of Indian Psychiatric Society be a better judge of how to curb crimes against women than some hyper sensitive right winger having taken upon himself the thankless job of moral policing (which is always sexist)? I'm referring to this piece of news in which the president of Indian Psychiatric Society has prescribed early marriage as the solution to crimes against women!

I had believed that something to do with people per se like relationships, family etc. including public policy and law for the same would always be benefitted by taking into account the suggestions of the mental health community but now I'm disillusioned; physicians may need to treat themselves first when we are talking about women.
I'm aware of history and know how male centric psychology and psychiatry have been, what from Kohlberg and Freud pronouncing females as less moral, to male behavior being the 'norm' in research (just google 'androcentric bias in psychology' and you are set). But coming from a woman, it has shaken me up. I'm disgusted and deep in agony, not so much because there comes another statement that shows our deep rooted misogyny as a people, rather because it comes from a woman psychiatrist.

The gender essentialist approach in medical and allied sciences, coming from under the glasses of patriarchy, is no doubt a deathblow to the fight against violence on women and the efforts of activists to bring about a shift in the patriarchal mindset. What such an attitude parades as 'normal' is that men having 'needs' is to be recognized and given the license to be fulfilled. If a man doesn't have a woman waiting for him at home, it's nomal for him to go molest, even rape, any unfortunate woman he can lay his hands on without the fear of consequences. It's just women who are to be given lessons on self restraint, appropriate and inappropriate conduct, and be ashamed of their sexuality. A woman is of course born to be an object of pleasure. What right does she have to have pleasure herself? Isn't she supposed to be the paragon of virtue? And isn't a man supposed to be proud of his masculinity- an animal desire being one vital component?
At times I wonder what did we all born as women, do in our previous births, to deserve such step motherly treatment from the world....

Read what Dr. Indira Sharma has to say and what others in the field have to say on what she has said HERE and tell me if she herself is not in need of a psychiatrist.

At times it feels like I'm chasing an impossible dream- this female empowerment thing. Is gender equality really a myth? If it's not, and if what I am aiming at is achievable, is it possible for me to see the dream come true, even in a small section of society, before I die? Give me at least that hope to carry on. No matter how good life might be for me personally, it's news reports like this one that suck out all enthusiasm and desire to live.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What it means to be fearless

Fearless. It is a word one would naturally associate with every urban, independent woman who steps out to earn her rightful position in society, who demands to be treated with respect and who deserves every bit of independence she gets. But does the word even hold true of these women anymore? Are the urban, independent, educated women honestly fearless, or are they gripped with a constant sense of impending doom every time they step out of their houses?

The rapidly increasing rape cases, the growing boldness with which eve-teasers are approaching women, the incredibly hostile treatment which women are getting when they’re asking for help are all indicators of how much most of us have been pushed into a corner. We’re judged for our “open” viewpoints, we’re judged when we step out to go to work, we’re judged when we wear clothes which are flattering to our forms, we’re judged when we have male friends over, and we’re judged when we return home late from work, or from a social engagement. All of these factors are held against us when we stand up to complain about being mis-treated by men on the streets. We’re not just made the perpetrators of the crime by the police and other public bodies, but often, our friends and family tend to tell us that we got what we deserved, because we’re too “fast” in our norms, and that we must maintain a low profile so as to not provoke the male libido into action. 

If we were to honestly be fearless, we would wear whatever we wanted to, without giving a second thought to how our characters would be assessed, we would dress without worrying about the uncontrollable male desire which may spring up on us, much against our will. If we were to be fearless, we would not worry about how we talk, walk, and behave, we would not constantly feel the ire of society upon us, because we’re independent women, and we would not be scared to walk down the streets even during midnight. To be fearless is to be unapologetic about our clothes and about our growth. To be fearless is to not always curb everything we do so as to not attract attention to ourselves. To be fearless means to not be afraid to celebrate our sexuality. 

But most importantly, to be fearless is to speak out. If we know that we are being made to hide ourselves, quite literally, under layers of clothes and demure expressions, we should stand up and raise our voices against it. We should be able to stop and stare the moral police in the eye. We should be able to change the subtle reinforcements which exist in our very homes, the small things which condone and breed sexism and patriarchy. To be fearless means a lot of things, but most importantly, it means, to be able to change what we want changed. It defines the courage that is required of every woman with a voice. 

This is a guest article by To read articles on Health, Lifestyle, Relationships, Empowerment and Leisure, visit this woman-centric online magazine which has a fast growing community of over 75,000 members.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The modern 'empowered' woman's disenchantment with the F word

"Are you a feminist?"
"Well no. Of course not. What makes you think so?"
"Not much. Except that you sounded like you are not the kind of woman who would take shit lying down."
"Oh, you're correct in your observation I must say (with that all-knowing look). But I'm not a feminist."
"Would you be ok with being paid less than your male colleague for the same amount of work?"
"Why? Of course not!"
"Would you be ok with doing all the household chores yourself without any help from your husband even though your working hours are more or less the same?"
"No. Never."  (with an incredulous expression on her face)
"So you think you have equal rights as that of a man, even if you don't have that extra y chromosome?"
"I do. Who on earth in her right senses wouldn't?"
"One who is not a feminist. So, you see, this makes you a feminist. Out and out."

I have had umpteen such conversations. So many that now my retorts and questions don't need to be consciously thought of. I fire them the moment I come across "I'm not a feminist but...."

It's ridiculous how less feminism is understood in India and it pains me to know that many urban, educated women don't like to have anything to do with feminism.

Feminism basically is the advocacy for equal rights- political, economical and social. It is a school of thought that says a woman is a human being first, and has every right to lead a normal human life that is granted to a man including the freedom to make her own decisions.

All’s well then. Or am I missing out something? Am I deliberately not bringing up anything that gives feminism the negative tinge it carries? Girls, if this ‘F’ word brings to your mind images of unattractive spinsters clad in kurtas and carrying jholas, that's only the bathwater that needs to be thrown out. Don't throw feminism out of your window because of those outdated associations.

Half a century back, women needed to resort to gimmicks like burning their lingerie to be noticed and listened to. And if the activists that were the most visible were the kinds who didn't think a feminine body was very essential to who they were, it cannot in any way mean that every feminist thinks that way or that if you love to flaunt your body, you can't be a feminist. Nothing can be further from the truth. A woman is as much a feminist in a mini-skirt and lipstick as she is in shirt-and-denims.

Similarly, feminism isn’t incompatible with romance and marriage. In fact, a happy marriage can exist only between two perfectly independent individuals- a symbiosis; not one in which one is 'God' no matter how ungodly his behaviour and one is the eternal 'daasi' no matter what she could have done with her life. As Dr. M. Scott Peck says in "The Road Less Travelled"- a classic in psychiatric literature, "When someone says that he/she can’t live without his/her love, it is a description of parasitism, not love. There is no choice, no freedom involved in your relationship. Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other." Now you decide. Is feminism anti-romance or does it actually provide the best setting for a healthy romance?

Also, feminism is not female chauvinism. In fact, it is a mark of deep rooted sexism that a call for equality sounds like female chauvinism. Feminists are not anti-men. We are just anti-MCPs (Male Chauvinist Pigs, in case you are new to feminist writings).

Apart from pedaling a school of thought that says women are human beings first, feminism also disdains all attempts to tell women what they are supposed to do or be like, be it through coercion or reverence.

Most importantly, feminists are very particular about the right of a woman to decide for herself. Motherhood and marriage are not really the ultimate goals of womanhood (as every religious scripture or Guru would have you believe) and you are, we say, as much a perfect woman in a boardroom as in a maternity ward. Again, one can be a doting mother or a loving wife as well as a feminist. There's no either-or. The only bone of contention is the right to decide for oneself. Don't listen to the elders and the scriptures that ask you to be the epitome of virtue by being selfless so as to reach the ideal of 'perfect womanhood.' You will be perfect when you have made the best possible use of all your abilities, be it as a homemaker, or a mother or a businesswoman or a teacher. That you will be fit to be worshiped only if you forget about yourself and bear your husband's kids and devote yourself to the family is an age old trap. Do you really want to be worshiped? For what pray? For pedaling patriarchy for one more generation? Do what you are good at and never accept love that comes without respect.
Respect that comes attached with preconceived notions of how you 'should' be is as bad. If you have to bear being called a bad-mannered woman or even a slut, to get the rights that are yours, I don't think it would be wise to shy away and stay quiet instead of blowing up the shit. For we have had enough. And it is time we didn't let this just go on.

What can you do? Start from your home. Your family. Your younger brother. Your boyfriend. Your father. Your husband. And educate the women. It won't help if the revolutionaries are concerned with being called revolutionaries. Start with your mother and your maid and your younger sister. And if you have the means, teach the less privileged women that you can reach out to, what feminism actually is.

And yeah, for now, start with the easiest part of the job.  Let’s spread the word around. It's not uncool to be a Feminist you know.

Meanwhile, there's one serious issue to ponder about. And that would very well explain whether we actually need feminism or not. Here it goes:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yeah. When death tells a story, you have to listen.

This book is unlike any other I have read. I had been recommended this one first almost an year back, then many a times by many people, or actually by everybody who cares to discuss books with me. But somehow my rendezvous with Markus Zusak and his narrator, 'death', had not happened. I happened to chance over it in a mall in Bangalore this December, when I was least looking for it, and I was like "God! This is the book I have been dying to read." I bought it and started with with it right away and for the next 6 days, tasted heaven. In mouthfuls. Again and again and again.

A short synopsis before I move on to what makes this book unforgettable for me.

A loveable young German girl who comes of age during WWII is the protagonist of the story and it is Death that narrates her story, taking help from the book she wrote as a journal. She loses everyone she knows, one by one, and you get to know that it was not the Jews alone whose lives were at risk during the war. It presents that side of the story which has gone unheard so far, in such a balanced way that you can't hate a blue eyed German anymore, just because he is a German and just because you had a chance to leaf through Mein Kemph sometime back. The Jew in the story, his relationship with the little Liesel, in fact the relationships of Liesel with the different characters in the story, including what Death has to say about each of the characters, is haunting. The story is haunting and so are the words. But let's reserve what I have to say about the words till later.
Liesel's innocent love with Rudy blowed my mind and what happens to Rudy just before the end shattered my soul. I had come to love that stupidly gallant young boy of 13 the most of all characters and it killed me to know how Zusak ended his role in the story. There were however so many such moments, so many such characters that I knew I still had to go on with the story, though I must tell you that this is no page turner. The pace is very slow and is not meant for those who like to run through their books. This story is supposed to be savored, slowly, and re-read again and again. Every character is well researched, as in the wealth of details and a story for each of them. No character is there just as a backdrop for the story of another. Each has a life of its own and you are taken on a journey with each and every on eof them, falling in love with each and every one of them, even those you thought impossible to love initially.

There are many things that make this a masterpiece, apart from the choice of Death as the narrator, and imbuing Him with a 'colourful' personality and the way Zusak romances with words of course. The kind of metaphors that are used, the way in which words are combined, is breathtaking. There are no difficult words used, nor is the language difficult due to syntactic complexities but simplicity has been adorned with beauty in such a manner that language is what's going to stay with you longer than the story. The beauty of the  language used is so surreal, so magical, without any embellishment that you fall head over heels in love with the writer, again and again. You fall in love with the beauty of words. You fall in love with life, that made it possible to partake in the bliss of having this book caress your soul.

There were many times when I loved some particular sentence so much that I read it again and again till I could recite it with closed eyes. And cry you will, I bet, not just because of the haunting story but also because of the blissful intoxication of the words that does something to your heart. Another thing that is strange is that suspense is totally absent as our narrator finds it boring! Yet your heart is broken so many times and mended so many times that you no longer care about what might happen next and just let the tears flow.

Yeah, this book does that to you. It did that to me.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Love hurts, Love heals

Guy meets girl. Arranged marriage. Not love at first sight. Heartwarming courtship. Love happening by and by. Big fat Indian wedding. Dream honeymoon. Big fat Indian family. Vacations and Parties. Friends, felicity and finally a daughter- Jiya. Love Hurts, Love Heals walks through Sundeep's and Neha's moments together, tracing the milestones as well as covering little little memorable incidents of their perfect life (perfect till one incident changes it all). It takes you through the healing process of the author after a life shattering event and thereby places itself in the larger context of the mysteries of life and love.

It's a memoir and a quick read of less than 130 pages. There's nothing extraordinary in terms of language but then that's not supposed to be the USP of this book any which way. This book makes your eyes well up as you wonder along with the author "why life is not fair to good hearted people". And this book takes you on a journey of finding answers tosuch questions. Just when you are tired of the umpteen names of the extended family and friends and the myriad parties and vacations, comes the event that changes the author's life forever and then comes the most beautiful part of the book. I would recommend this book only for those few pages in which the author delves into scriptures, finds his way through spirituality and rediscovers the meaning of life. Love is the key word of course, but the journey through doubts and trials of faith and then finally discovering his inner self and being able to be at peace with the state of affairs is heartwarming. The letter that Sundeep writes to his daughter Jiya, hoping she would read it someday, was the perfect ending Sundeep Tibrewal could have given to his debut venture.

The only thing that tired me was the humongous details covered. I skimmed through many pages when I felt like I had had enough of cousins and their spouses and the vacations and who said what in the hospital. But then this is the first memoir that I read so maybe it has something to do with me instead of the book as such.

One set of lines that's going to stay with me for a long time is this-  The "Love hurts" portion of the title is actually a misnomer. In fact, love never hurts. It is the absence of love which hurts- love only heals!

Good for reading while travelling, short and crisp that it is. If you prefer light reading and are not prejudiced against Indian authors (*wink*) this should be a good read. 

P.S. The book was sent to me personally by the author. He was also gracious enough to sign this kid an autograph on the first page :)