Forward March

Suddenly I’ve started feeling envious of all the 24 year-old youngsters. Not that I’m old compared to them, but I wish I WERE 24 today to possess the same energy, liveliness and excitement to do things. With these thoughts I was reeking in a wee bit misery last night, when I ended up reading late at night, a seminal text from 1911 written by Emma Goldman titled, Marriage and Love. It’s an unfortunate reality that society even today in the second decade of this 21st century pressures people and especially women into undergoing choices that are out of their will. Goldman writes succinctly about the institution of marriage and child rearing as these were considered the only circle in a woman’s life back then. The difference between texts and essays written by feminists from all the decades from the suffragette movement is that each one of them clearly expresses their anger and resolve to create a new inclusive world for women instead of disappointment and helplessness at the slow pace of the events that changed the course of politics around the world. Imagine this changed world with little improvements yet for women who still have to fight for legislation for Abortions, Planned Parenthood, Reproductive rights and ownership of their bodies. What would these feminists had they lived long enough think about the current state of women in the world today? Certainly, not a very encouraging scenario from how they started the movement. Isn’t it tragic in a way that we as society still link marriage and love together in a vain connection whose onus solely depends on a woman’s conduct, both inside and outside the home? What are men doing if not put us under a burden of their patriarchal diktats further pushing us away from liberation and freedom for our individual selves? Even today, as I write here, I see and hear talk of marriage as the sole highest point of achievement for women. Not even urban women are spared from the third party decisions took on their behalf for their well-being by people who perhaps don’t understand the pace of their lives any more. If only, as society we let individuals be themselves without any inter-dependence on these age-old institutions and perceived moral cages of social order, the planet would be a definite better place to live for men and women alike.

My thought trail kept on treading too many a different topics. I realised that at age 24, I did not have the luxury of dwelling on the many ideas and ventures I do now. Also, don’t we always pine for the past days and long for them in the belief that it was the best time of our lives regardless of whatever else is happening now in the present? With every bygone year, I keep an account of my foolish and wise ways, of the many good and not-so-good things that have happened in my life, my emotional strength and mental spirit that carries me through everything. In doing so, I believe that we grow in our capacities towards being better than we ever are and could be. Every change is after all an ever-evolving process towards progress. It’s a forward march always!

The Bell Jar and me

“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.” —Sylvia Plath

No amount of feminism is ever going to stop mothers from constantly worrying about the presence of grey hair on their daughters’ heads or their sense of clothing. My mother is also no exception. When I ask her an opinion about what kind of outfit to wear for a dear friend’s wedding, she gives me a list of the entire wardrobe. And when I reject outfit after outfit giving reasons like the colour’s too bright or too embellished or too fancy for a wedding, she shoots me her awful look and goes on a long tirade. Some of which includes how could I possibly not want to wear good clothes or if I buy them only to adorn the wardrobe or that I had no sense of clothing style and that people judge us by clothes and me looking like a hawk alienates people. There is more but I can’t even recollect it now. It is funny that my assertion of my body, my choice, my clothes has no desired effect on my mum.

I am constantly reminded of the grey hair by my next-door newly married neighbour, her mother-in-law, my grandmother, my male and female friends, family members of my friends when I visit them. Not that it matters to them, but people especially women folk still believe in making another woman’s life hell by giving her hell about her body, clothes, physical appearance and her thoughts too. And this continues as we go from generation to generation. I sometimes feel that feminism is also about imbibing the thought that a woman’s personal choices about her body concern no one but herself. To a larger extent, it is about having conversation between women of all ages to shun their outlook towards physical appearances. Sure it’s nice to look good and attractive but it should not become the norm for everyone to follow. How is my unkempt hair or unplucked eyebrows bothering you any more than the daily life crisis of so many individuals who struggle to survive? Yes, women do get judged by their clothes more than the men are, and that is something I wish would stop.

When I first read Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, I was 21 and about to graduate from Architecture school. She resonated with so many everyday issues a woman faced in her daily life. Esther Greenwood seemed like any one of us young women who were filled with the uncertainty of the working world outside the academic atmosphere we had been training ourselves for two decades. I distinctly remember wondering if Esther was me while progressing through the book. It was as if my own life was being replayed in front of my eyes even while I was reading something written in the 1960’s. By the end of the book, I was so sure I never wanted to be any close to Esther that I shut myself out of Sylvia Plath’s world. She perhaps seemed to mirror a life I saw for myself. Ain’t I glad though that despite my desperate attempts to withdraw from Plath’s suicidal novel, I read her once more when I was 25 and this time, I exactly knew what was happening to Esther. She was a victim of her own high-brow aspirations thrust upon herself by her mother and the other women in her world. I had become a little wiser too in not projecting everything I read into my own life. For that, I am eternally grateful to growing up and failures and other working world experiences.

So, when my mother couldn’t stop complaining about my lack of prim and vanity, I only closed my eyes and remembered Plath. All of mum’s words fell on my deaf ears as I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

 

International Women’s Day 2016

“One of the things the women’s movement does is to make you feel pain. You have to have a lot of courage to accept that if you commit yourself, over the long term, not just for three months, not for a year, not for two years, but for a lifetime, to feminism, to the women’s movement, that you are going to live with a lot of pain. In this country that is not a fashionable thing to do. So be prepared for the therapists. And be prepared for the prescriptions. Be prepared for all the people who tell you that it’s your problem, it’s not a social problem, and why are you so bitter, and what’s wrong with you? And underneath that is always the presumption that the rape was delusional, that the battery did not happen, that the economic hardship is your own unfortunate personal failing. Hold onto the fact that that’s not true: it has never been true.”

— Andrea Dworkin, “Feminism: An Agenda,” from Letters from a War Zone, 1988

Red women's workshop
Courtesy: Red Women’s Workshop

We would have hoped that sixteen years into the 21st century would bring change into women’s movements but sadly the condition seems to have worsened. We as society, have been more hell bent on proving gender equations meaningless and useless since women ought to conform to Kinder, Kuche, Kirche. And it is our very own ambition to exist, just exist, that has led to a vehement attack on women all over the world. The religious and superstitious have found new meaning in blaming women’s adversaries on their usage of technology, clothes, food and other normal cultural habits. And this will go on as long as we don’t stand up in solidarity. All the 50% inhabitants of this planet, rise up. Otherwise, masculinity is all in arms against women and their aspirations. We yearn for political freedom and free thought, social, economic and cultural freedom.

As long as women are brutally killed by mobs on suspicion of adultery, blasphemy, witchcraft and little girls subjected to genital mutilation, we will have to keep the fight alive, strong and going. Much is written on our assertion for rights- to education, healthcare, political and social equality and freedom. March 8th marks a day when women are projected as the ultimate big bosses who have it all in them, they just need a bit more respect from men. Isn’t this very assumption harming and legitimately destroying the women’s movement and their work achievements so far? For all our collective thought into defending and protecting women’s rights as their natural rights suffer a blow when women like Farkhunda in Afghanistan get killed by a crazy mob on false accusations of burning a Koran copy. The police pave no road for safety or protection of women from such evil civil society forces. We have put a black eye patch and also cease to see clearly through the other eye. One of the very accepted norms is public judgement to women, whether they are guilty or not. People love to take the law in their hands especially now seen through documented cases of stoning women to death. Farkhunda in Afghanistan in 2015, a 13 year old girl Aisha in Somalia in 2013 because she tried to report the men who raped her, Arifa Bibi, a mother of two in Pakistan for possessing a cellphone. And countless many cases which don’t get publicised outside their villages and countries.

The aeons old gender distinction ought to be scrapped now. Women are part of combat forces, war journalism, hell even presidents of major nations and yet we find women denied basic human rights. The suffragettes did not die for a picture like this that still exists a century later. They ignited the fire for freedom for change. What harm will women wearing a pair of pants or make-up on their faces cause to the many protectors of religion who sit with pieces of straw in their beards? How is a woman asserting her right to say NO, responsible for causing earthquakes and other natural phenomena? Even if I wish to laugh my head over these silly anecdotes, the serious truth of women in danger everywhere is prominent and ought to be taken with as much responsibility by governments and the very machinery that promises to provide equal rights to all. Liberation cannot be won simply by the passing of laws and regulations, but an inherent mental makeover of the other half of population that still believes in women staying put in houses since it is their natural abode. Two world wars have taught the men that women not only could run their businesses and factories but flourish them. A better clarity on gender structure was never seen prior to this era. Even with the fast rise of religious doctrines and fatwas against women, atrocities by the Boko Haram or village courts, women have got to unite to fight for every woman, right from Malawi, Niger, Somalia, Sri Lanka to Albania, Syria, Lebanon and Latin America. We are all in together.

Fanatics can injure a Malala, murder Berta Caseres, dispirit Bhanwari Devi but they can NEVER, I assert, NEVER be able to crush the song of the freedom bird that resides in the hearts of all those who yearn towards a beautiful and safe future for their girls and themselves. Today is a reminder to keep walking past the shoulders of those who belittle us, standing tall and chin up for the women who will carry this revolution and song of freedom forward towards a just and rightfully, equal world.

Dark vs. Fair

So this comes from an article I read early in the morning today on Medium. It’s written on the likes of Dark complexion and girls like the author who herself has one, embracing the skin and experimenting with bright colours on her body. She writes of some incident where her bright yellow outfit and bobbed hair with bright pink lipstick got censored by some women at a body shop. As I kept reading the article and came to the end where the author posted her pictures in different bright coloured outfits she wore, I thought about the need felt by us women to still justify our choices whether they are regarding make-up or our hairstyle or the most important of them all, clothes.

One recent personal experience of mine that I think is quite harmless to write about here is when during a friend’s wedding, this common girl friend of ours gave me some jewellery to wear because it went with my outfit, applied a dash of lipstick and blusher on my face while telling me it looks great on me because I am fair and also kept referring to my curls while in conversation with other friends. It’s rather nauseating to keep hearing about beautiful faces and smooth complexions at such close range. When I caught up with her in the rest room, she said with a sigh that we must make some efforts to look nice! And now that she’s been doing it for over a year, she feels great about herself. I am sure some people feel comfortable and greatly confident after doing things that boost their physical appearance and I am of the thought that everyone should feel comfortable about their bodies. This incident however, left me thinking about the way we are perceived by other people. Usually first impressions are always about our appearance right?

Street Art in Finland

We have set for ourselves parameters to look like in public and in private. I say this, because this very friend has very orthodox views on social issues that concern Femininity, Gender Roles in society or Patriarchy for example, and often speaks with her religious intone very clearly on these topics. Now I know that I am drifting apart from what I started to write about- fascination and fixation with our bodies. SKIN is the most prejudiced about body organ. Women most specifically indulge in nurturing this fixation and beautifying their skin their entire lives since when they first become conscious about it, usually made by their mothers, female relatives and other women. Men have started focussing on their skin colour too especially what with some International brand coming up with a fairness cream meant for men’s skin! When news came earlier this week about Laxmi- the Delhi Acid Attack Survivor who gave birth to a healthy baby girl and wrote about feeling conscious of her appearance to her young child, her partner assured her that the child will see her love and not her grafted skin. I felt incredible love for all three of them. They will prove to be perhaps the first family who will engage in no stereotyping of beauty for their girl child. They will set up no standards of defining beauty or labels that only point to our outer physical appearance without caring so much so for our inner goodness. Another example that I can think of is how Nandita Das gets labelled as the champion and speaker for women with dark skin. Surely she has dark skin and has been able to carve a career in a beauty focussed movie industry in India but the choice of words usually haunts me.

How many Indian women are exactly fair-skinned, barring the North and North East? Hardly a proportion compared to the other 20 states in our Nation. Yet when we talk of physical beauty we ignore the women who tie their babies on their backs and work in paddy fields or women who pick tea leaves on tea estates or the many who live in squatter settlements and sell their wares in trains. We focus on the handful as always has been. How does being dark or fair matter when it’s nothing but just a layer covering our body?! I bet if we keep hammering this thought then will we get over with this obsession about the skin tone. If all the women in the world suddenly decide themselves to chuck ideals of beauty, I believe certain economies and giant corporations will collapse and go bankrupt. We won’t feel then the need to judge other women by their skin colour or the wrinkles on their faces or the many scars we all feel ashamed of and consistently try to cover them up using make up! THAT would be the day of liberty and freedom for women in the truest sense.

Where are the women?

Today after reading this article by Nisha Susan, I am also reading about the murder of Allison Baden-Clay, 43, a Brisbane resident who was killed by her husband in April 2012 and now the court verdict is out wherein he won the appeal against his murder conviction instead being accused of manslaughter. So yes, such judgements get passed not only in India but everywhere in the world. A woman is murdered and all the court does is convicts her husband of manslaughter, not murder. How convenient for the judiciary! The Reeva Steenkamp murder verdict proved how blinded the legal system is! Her cold blooded murderer got away with an ‘accidental self-defence’ argument. He’ll live the rest of his life, alive and doing things while that young woman will lay forgotten. That is what is happening with women! We don’t exist- we don’t matter, unless we speak up. At least a voice is a reminder to the other gender to look around and see that there is another equal gender sharing the world with them.

Sexism is inherent everywhere! We just can’t challenge it because then us women will be labelled as bad feminists. Oh yes, that’s what we live for! Labels, given by the society. It’s a pity we trash Nicki Minaj for speaking up against her detractors or for her to justify her videos while lauding Beyonce. The problem is that we know how to pit two people voicing themselves for the same cause, against each other. More so, when they happen to belong to the same community.

It always amuses me that men’s notion of feminism is so wrong. They think women asserting their rights even when it’s not necessary is feminism. Some of my male friends go ahead and say, India doesn’t need feminism because women have equal opportunities as far as they know. That’s it- AS FAR AS THEY KNOW- and how much is that- the range of a teaspoon! I wish I could pity them, but that won’t serve any cause. The biggest joke is that India is considered to be a land of equal opportunities for women. If we could try to understand what feminism is, we really must start within our homes. Stop being dependent on your mothers, sisters, wives for things like home-cooked food on the dinner table always or finding your misplaced things during early morning office rush because, they are not your chaperones. Drill it guys, in your head! Also get away with the traditional argument of women were made to cater to the family or Kinder, Kuche, Kirche- don’t be a fool and believe your ancestors so much that you can’t place your own judgements in good light.

It’s 2015 and ending in a few weeks time. Where we have Canada’s new PM Justin Trudeau, we also have traditional leaders who scoff at the thought of Hilary Clinton for President and instead putting up with garbage like Trump. We have Boko Haram, or the Khap Panchayat super active in North India, we haven’t been able to give justice to the Badaun girls hung up the tree, or the Khairlanji rape and murder. And before we say one word about these crimes in rural areas and that women in urban are safe, think of Nirbhaya.