Feminism

Feminism

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people , said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded defin...

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

violence

Break my bones.
Pick them off my body 
Like chicken wings. 
Till I stop breathing,
and cease to exist.

Till my lungs collapse 
and skin pulls away.
I turn into a heap 
Of skin n bones.
Immobile, 
affixed to the centre
of my universe-
You

Tide

Thoughts of you crowd my mind
like a bunch of ants crawling
under my skin.

Swat away one,
another crawls by;
a never ending stream
which I cannot stem
only may be hold at bay for a while
till I can, by myself,
walk into the arms of the tide.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Caregiving and Paid Work

How often have you heard the argument that women would be better off, and the cause of their empowerment greatly furthered, only if they worked? Even the most well meaning women and often men -read privileged, and blinded by it- will say it with all the emphasis at their disposal. Implicit in the statement, is the assumption that women normally don't "work"!

Going outside the home to work, and being compensated monetarily for that work, is quite a recent development in human history. The idea of work outside the home, monetised, is less then a hundred and fifty odd years old.  

So much of our lives are determined by money- the having of it, the ability to spend it and save it. - the consequence that if you don't have enough of it, or don't earn it at all, you are not worth much, is only to be expected.

 Since the work such as cooking, cleaning, washing, care giving, child rearing and care of the elderly and the infirm, generally considered women's work is not valued monetarily, it's fallout is the undervaluing of women's lives. Proof, if it were needed, is in this piece in Huffingtonpost India  saying that Indian women do ten times the unpaid work that men do.

One is likely to think, at this juncture, what's to stop a woman from going out to work? Many women are doing just that. But when it comes to women it all gets massively complicated. Because uterus, eggs, new humans. 

Having babies and furthering one's family- and the human race, by extension- would logically seem to be in the interests of men, too; a father is, after all, as much a parent as a mother. Yet the structures of patriarchy have been so constructed that over centuries, childcare and nurturing has been relegated to women and now they are deemed to be specialists at the job. A job that keeps them at home, unpaid and undervalued. 

If you read women's magazines you may be familiar with that rare beast, the "work-life balance". This struggle is restricted to a very small segment of the Indian population, women born into privilege, who were afforded an education and then could exercise the option to pursue a career. Yet many of these women had to opt out of flourishing and highly successful careers, specially when they had their children, as told in this recent story in Quartz. Like I said, uterus, eggs, new humans. 

Needless to say, men need make no such attempt at balance because the life part is well taken care of for them and they are free to look into their careers with single minded focus. If they do pitch in with care work, they earn extra brownie points for it. Women, on the other hand, even when earning an income outside the home, are saddled with child rearing and care giving. Men are encouraged and expected to seek partners with less earning capacity than themselves for this reason.

There's a website with pretences to feminism which goes by the tagline: "for women who do". Left unnamed, presumably, is the category of the millions of women who don't.  Of course, house work doesn't count as work. When the media does centre women, it talks to them condescendingly.

Not unsurprisingly,when the talk does veer to getting women into paying jobs the purpose is to boost the economy. Here's an example from CNBC.com that says why women should be allowed to do more paid work as it could be a huge boost to the economy. So even when there is an acknowledgement that a woman can't just up and walk out of her home into a job, no thought seems to be given to look into the hurdles in the way. The economy is centred, not the woman.

In summing up :
1. Large numbers of educated women stay home or give up jobs once they get married or especially once they have babies.
2. Women who were working outside the home, but cease to do so after marriage, do so either because their husbands or in-laws will not allow them as it's beneath their dignity or because the jobs available aren't well paying enough.
3. Women stop working outside the home after childbirth due to lack of proper child care facilities.

Here are my suggestions.
1. Give monetary support to mothers or other care givers. A fixed amount, per child or elder who needs full time care. This will add value to the care giving work, while making the obtaining of the supplies needed for taking care of the child or elderly. 
2. Encourage employers to provide child care facilities to their employees. 
3. Paternity leave should be extended and made mandatory. Child rearing should be as much a man's job as a woman's if you really wanted to bring the child into the world.
4. We could tie this up with added incentives for parents having a girl child. This kind of a gesture could also be of great symbolic value. Let's not forget that we have an abysmal sex ratio at birth. 

Post script: Only 933 girls are born for every 1000 boys in India as per the Government of India 2011 Census. The causes of that and its repercussions are a matter for another discussion, another day. 


Saturday, 18 July 2015

When the joy is removed from Feasting

Thinking this Eid of all the women hunched over their kitchen stoves, toiling over copious amounts of festive food. Our festivals and celebrations are inextricably linked to food. Often such occasions have integral to them, recipes handed down over generations, cooked with love, care and devotion. Wait! Sounds corny to you too? 

Yes, the trope if the all-nurturing all-sacrificing mother is such a well worn cliche, specially in the Indian context. Why is it a cliche? A cliche is a "trite expression or phrase, a hackneyed theme, something that has become over familiar or commonplace" yet it never grows old, does it? We all happily buy into it. 

Mother became synonymous with woman. When did it happen? It's no accident; it didn't happen overnight. 
All misogynists for whom the ultimate put down of a woman is 'get back into the kitchen' or 'make me a sandwich' know very well they are hitting hard, where it hurts. 

Woman is reduced to motherhood, which in turn came to represent a cook, a care giver, a nurturer. The plan is to keep women house bound, so men can have a free run of the 'real world'. So while we are at it why not make it sound noble and fulfilling? Yet, paradoxically most major celebrity chefs are men, not women. 

The fact is that one is not born a woman, but becomes one. Similarly one becomes a mother, not a parent - men have wilfully built a system where they are left out of the caring and nurturing parts. 

Yes, yes, before you start shooting off on how it's the loss of men that they have to give up claims to their emotional sides in order to keep up their masculinity- or its facade- let me stop you in your tracks right there! That's a different discussion altogether and this ain't it, my friend.

Getting back to the talk of women. Yes, there are many women with love to cook and many who find it therapeutic even.  And that's fine too. As long as it is in small doses, for yourself. The problems begin when women, out of conditioning try to cook to please those around them, specially, loved ones. What's wrong with that, you may ask. Nothing, I agree. 

Yet, who doesn't have the one family member who  spends hours conjuring up the perfect meal, laying it out in the perfect manner. Of course once you pour so much of yourself into a meal you are raising your hopes for some appreciation at least. Alas, often it is hard to come by. Sometimes, even if it does it's not enough. 

Cut the women in your life some slack. Dissociate all celebrations from food, or at least home cooked extravagance. And  if you're a man, do get into the kitchen once in a while while you're at it!  

P.S: Writing about Eid as it happens to be Eid today. Of course this post applies equally to all festivals and feasting 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

To Pee or Not To Pee

So, during my morning run a few days ago, I got flashed by a man.

At first, I assumed he was peeing in public, in the park where I go for my morning run. Dawn was just breaking with the sun yet to come up and the light was pleasantly dim. I looked away. But as I approached him - he was right in my way- he slowly turned towards me and flashed his penis at me. I was outraged, and I felt violated.

I've ticked off men peeing in public before. I make a pointed comment, "is this a public toilet?" to men hunched against walls in all kinds of public spaces, along a road, in a park, what-have-you. Not sure how much it helps but my hope is maybe the person will not repeat the offence, at least for a while, though of course, I have no way of knowing.
I was still making up my mind whether to go ahead with it, when he precipitated the situation and I was too dumbfounded to do speak. I looked away and walked off.

My first instinct was to go up to the private security guard a little distance away and report it to him. However, anticipating a not very helpful reaction from the guy, and knowing it would only make me angrier at the situation, I walked home, upset.

This is a call every woman has to make at various points in time, almost on a daily basis, specially when negotiating public spaces. All kinds of creeps are out there harassing you. How you react to each incident affects how the rest of your day will go. It entails lost time and energy, if you choose to make a complaint. That's assuming there's someone in authority willing to even hear you out, let alone act upon it, and to to your benefit. It also involves allowing a stranger to determine your mood- you are bound to become angrier as you discuss this and have to explain exactly how the situation arose.

But I digress. My thoughts here are prompted by something more mundane : public toilets , or the lack of them. I go for my morning run, the Rabindra Sarobar in Kolkata which is open to the public. In a public space spread over an area of 73 acres (300,00 sq m) of you'd expect at least a few toilets. Guess how many are there? Not one. Wonder whether the Kolkata Improvement Trust is aware of this or has even given it a thought. It would seem like common sense to me.

Had there been easily available toilets in public spaces, hopefully men would not be let off so easily for relieving themselves in public, either to urinate or for urges best restricted to private spaces.

So although one may outrage at men peeing in public, the fact remains that without a valid option, what is a man to do? Till such time as the government provides more options for the public to relieve themselves, the recent drive to send people to jail for relieving themselves in public can only be seen as a piecemeal effort. Not much will be achieved from such drives.

There's a laudatory effort undertaken by a lone woman Mayuri Bhattacharjee who is going around our city checking out loos  for our benefit.
Of course, we don't regularly come across women peeing in the open, for some strange reason. Wonder why? 

Friday, 10 July 2015

Aurat

Koi saleeb, koi kafan bhi uske nam nahin, Koi humsafar bhi uske sath nahin.
Kyun humdardi ho us se bhala, 
jab maseeha bhi uske sath nahin 

Ab kaarvaan bhi talaash na kar, 
khud apne sar kafan bandh ke chal
maseehai tujhe na naseeb to kya, zanjeeren khol, saleeb utha. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Drunk

Of you, when I have drunk with my eyes,
See, how they brim over


Of you I have drunk with my eyes,
no, not my fill, 
just enough of you,
to hold me till 
next time.

A year
two months
three hours
gaps in my existence 
when you leak from my palms and 
my skin is leached of you
and the skin begins to peel 
and the brain cells go on strike,
days feel like holes drilled in my back
waiting for you still







Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Feminist Movies, Anyone?

I just happened to watch two awesome woman-centric movies on two consecutive days, in the midst of trying to figure out Hindi movies which pass the Bechdel Test- an enterprise probably doomed to failure from the start. Right? I will write about one here and maybe a second post on the other one, later.

 The first movie is A Thousand Times Good Night.  Starring  Juliette Binoche , it portrays a woman who works as a photojournalist in conflict regions of the world. She's "driven" and often risks her life - both "male" traits. Visiting these areas of strife and violence, she repeatedly puts her life in danger, in search of the perfect shot. As a friend chides her in a later scene, its the adrenaline rush which keeps her motivated to do the job she does.

As an Indian, I'm used to seeing women as the primary caregivers to their children even when they have full time jobs outside the home - whether paid or unpaid. What struck me most in this movie was the gender role reversal and the ease with which the movie handles it. It seems the most natural thing in the world that one parent  should take care of the kids when the other parent is away - as this movie depicts. It's simply a coincident that the primary care giver parent here happens to be the father.

And ooh, what  a hot dad ! The hunk who plays dad is Nikolaj Coster-Waldu  I haven't come across him earlier but I believe Game of Thrones fanatics will recognize him.

As the movie unfolds we are drawn to its central theme - how Gretta ( the character played by Juliette) going away repeatedly to these conflict zones and coming back wounded, having been in situations where she's come close to losing her life- is a huge drain on her family.

When she returns, there's an emotional distance,specially between Gretta and her husband and with her older daughter.They are wary of becoming close again,  because she will be gone once more. As her husband tells her "you smell of death". He tells her, each time she's gone, they prepare for the worst.

All of which made me think of the awesome role reversal the movie offers. Almost all such movies where the person putting his life in danger is a man, and the person left holding the home front, is almost always a woman. I for one can't recall any other movie with such a role reversal. Can you?

Needless to say Julitte Binoche is ethereal and luminous as is the ocean, the most gorgeous backdrop of the movie where a lot of the movie is set.

There were parts of the movie which I found uncomfortable. Scenes such as Gretta shoving her camera into refugees' faces without their permission, because "the world needs to know" or the whole sequence ( suggestive of Afghanistan ) though it doesn't explicitly say so, of the woman suicide bomber. being a Muslim - tried and tested tropes all, very much part of the white saviour complex. Where would we be without the "civilizing" impact of white people? Sigh.

Yet, all this didn't dilute my thorough enjoyment of the movie. Go watch it if you can. If you already have, tell me about it.




Saturday, 14 February 2015

Postscript

Had I known better,
would I have  not held you closer -

let you breathe your own breaths 
not stolen with my tongue 
strips of yours, wet.

Had you not held me so close 
throbbing organs bursting forth, 
my rashes on your skin.

And before my day begins, 
I get to lie close to you-in my head
and bring you into my dreams

never having needed to flee, before,
from myself so secretively.

Would it have been easier, 
when I knew I had to, to let go ?


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Breakable

Fragile beings, we, each one.
In the constant struggle of everyday living,
we pack it away, this breakable self bubble wrapped,
safely - or so we think-
in the corner shelf,
behind the large jar of self esteem we've been hoarding in.

But it's glass after all.
A little crack,
and it all spills out,
in a gory mosaic.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Women only spaces aren't the answer

Yet again it's election time and once more women's safety is one of the issues being discussed, in the run up to the elections in Delhi. Happy as I am to see women being given some importance at last - if only in party manifestos, with promises of protection. Of course, no political party is prepared to concede half or even a third of it's seats to women candidates.

Once more the talk veers to " safety " the holy grail of a woman's existence. This talk conveniently ignores the fact that we live in a society underpinned by patriarchy, which celebrates and elevates machismo and toxic masculinity. This is the reason women are unsafe, not because they are born less strong.

The traditional wisdom of women's safety, usually centered around keeping women away from dangerous zones locked up at home has at least changed somewhat. ( Let's not even begin talking about what goes on inside the home, where the vast majority of indian women report facing the most abuse and violence. )

We have at least moved beyond that. However, "women only" spaces, whether public spaces or in public transport, are not the answer. By limiting women's access to public spaces we only pander to the fear psychosis. By limiting women's freedom we play right into the hands of patriarchy, supporting the idea of women as fragile creatures needing protection in order to be safe. 

Segregation based on gender only contributes to further the impression that women are different, less able, fragile even, almost a curiosity. A society where gender segregation is the norm and boys are encouraged to see girls as different, 'the other" gender roles become even more entrenched by encouraging separate spaces for women in public too. 

A profusion of cctvs as suggested by some, is not the answer either. Yes, the frequency of instances of assault that women face in public spaces is high. But the issue of privacy seems to have escaped most of those who advocate the use of cctvs to monitor attacks on women. What about the privacy of the victims? Do we trust such a large network of closely monitored surveillance in the hands of the government who would use it to what purposes, who knows? 
Would you feel safe knowing your every move was being tracked by a public eye ? Big brother is here; all hail Big Brother ! 


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Listen


It seems the most natural thing
like the wetness of water
and warmth of a baby's touch,
when I tell you how I've been.

Like a lifetime hadn't passed me by
since I last caught a glance
of you.
When words became garbled
nonsense
and the earth stopped breathing

When I have my chance
and you listen to me,
its like my heart had just learned to beat
and I'd become aware of me

Because your eyes had spoken
the tongue, now frozen
in the deepest depths
buried deep under the sea.

As the tides gather and beat their heads
pitiless, along the shore
and return like they have for aeons
empty, shrivelled to the core,

I try to speak
But you listen no more.