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

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Women Whom Mainstream Feminism Forgot


Suddenly, the Indian media has discovered "working women".  There's a deluge of articles in the print media, TV shows,  and an explosion of social media handles and entities centering the "working woman". Most of this discourse is focused on the "empowerment" of working women. You'd be forgiven if you thought we'd been intentionally hiding all this time!

However, look a bit more closely, and you would discover that this definition of "working women" is largely confined to a certain category of : those working in offices or corporations, in well paying jobs. 

This should surprise nobody. Women with money of their own, and cash to spare, are now a big part of the consumer segment. It therefore makes sense for any business to focus on them - and the media is most certainly one! And middle and upper class feminists are lapping up this attention.

Don't get me wrong. Gender inequalities dog women every step of the way, and the higher up the ladder a woman travels, the tougher it gets for her. Sample these stats from a Catalyst report
1. Women earn 65% of what their male colleagues earn for the same work. 
2. The more educated a woman is, the wider the gender pay gap.
3. The gender pay gap increases as women advance in their careers.

Most businesses now employ a fair number of women. And the women who succeed in these fields, often work the buddy system system, just as men do. They come from families of privilege and they know how to leverage contacts.

But look closer. The victories that these women forge, are propped up on emotional and care work being performed on their behalf, by other, less paid women. 

Behind every successful man, so goes the adage, there's a woman,  usually his wife-cum-housekeeper-cum-baby-producer. Women continue to do more housework than men by overwhelming numbers. 

But with more women working outside the home in paid jobs, behind every successful woman there's a housekeeper, a maid, a cook. In all probability,  poorly paid and badly treated as Nivedita Menon writes. 

In the most important bastion of female subjugation, the home, the woman continues to slog away, marginalized. We've simply elevated one set of women and replaced it by another, less advantaged one. Yet, we lament endlessly about the lack of labour participation of women. This discourse cuts out working class women who don't belong to the upper or middle class. 

When the motivation is solely profit, humans are the first casualty.  Patriarchy has kept women tied to home and to caregiving work, yet this labour is not factored into wages. When called in to work, women are paid less, their work is deemed less valuable, then they are blamed for lowering wages. Capitalism and patriarchy work in tandem. 

All emotional work and a lot of care work is unpaid. Women continue to perform this labour unappreciated.
Close to two thirds of adult women  in India while away their most productive years engaged only in housework- uncounted, unpaid. 

Let's look at some other numbers. As more than 67% of all rural Indian households depend on firewood for cooking, every year Indian women spend 374 hours collecting firewood

Even as men flock to cities in search of better livelihoods, women left behind turn to the fields for sustenance. The number of women in agriculture has steadily increased, yet more of them are now labourers, tending to the lands of others with no land to their own names.

What is work? Economists say, only that which can contribute monetarily to the economy, can be counted in the GDP as work. When women stay home to raise babies it's decried as a loss to the GDP but nobody asks, without new members to add to the workforce, without children, where would your GDP be? Yet childcare continues to be devalued. 

The labour of women- productive and reproductive continues to run our families, our society and indeed our whole nation. Women keep the wheels of our national economy running. Feminism aims to improve the lot of all women, more so the marginalized, those away from the mainstream. We are nowhere near achieving that. 

And we are not even talking about these women in our public discourse. We mainstream feminists have left these working class women out in the cold. 
The light bouncing off the glass ceiling has left us so awestruck that it's been distracting us from looking at the women at the bottom of the pile, under the ladder. The real work of working towards a more humane and just society for all women hasn't even begun. 

Yo Indian Cricketers, What's In A Mother's Name?


Recently the Indian men's cricket team played an international match in which the players wore special jerseys with their mothers' names emblazoned on them. The gesture was variously described as "emotive" "never before" and "being used to power social change". For wearing their mothers' names THE ONE TIME. 

Well, well. Social change, if it could be brought about by a word printed on a jersey would be so cool, now! What with the various words they sport on their clothes, it sure must bring in a kind of change I'm sure our cricketers approve- the jingle of money flowing into their bank accounts.

See, I really have nothing against cricketers, yo. I'm sure their mothers must have been only too pleased to see their sons sport their names- I know I'd be. But the claim to powering social change? Let's cut the bullshit, shall we? 

The strange creature of women's empowerment is the latest buzzword and every media platform worth its bandwidth wants in on it. And if it were as simple as a printed word here or there, who wouldn't want to usher in a social revolution, pray tell. 

Just a word of caution, though.

We have idolized mothers since forever and kept them enchained to the kitchen since forever. In fact, if you're so inclined you can check out any of a number of internet posts where the ultimate abuse hurled by a man at women is, "go make me a sandwich". As per the hordes of literate, educated men on the internet, women still belong in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids. For god's sake, you've watched enough Nirupa Roy movies, haven't you? 

If you want a real change, get mother's names be the only requirement for a child's identification. Or take your wife's last name on marriage. Or get women equal pay for equal work. Or get compulsory pay for care work at home. Or get housewives a stipend, a kind of basic salary, while you're at it. 
Now that would be a real social change. Are you up for it, dude?

A version of this article first appeared on the website of Feminism In India here.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Film Review : Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Sehna Ise


How many times have you watched a movie or read a novel, where a sexy woman is out to "trap" a rich guy? Yes, there exist women who seduce men for money. "Seduce" as in "to cause someone to do something that they would not usually consider doing by being very attractive and difficult to refuse" Let me remind you, confused or not, it's a choice they made!

In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil that choice is made by Ayan, Ranbir Kapoor's character. He finds Lisa played by Lisa Haydon incredibly sexy and is repeatedly shown unable to keep it in his pants. Men can't help indulging in sex at the first sight of a female body, you know! Yet, the fault lies squarely at the door of the woman! 

No, I refuse to use the misleading, sexist expression "femme fatale". It's been used too long to demonize women. It's time we discarded it.  Although the sex is consensual, Lisa is portrayed as vacuous and practically unable to speak. Yet there are allusions to how she's out to get Ayan's money. Now now, Karan Johar, you really need to make up your mind- is she stupid, or is she smart? 

Ayan has no compunctions in kissing and coming on to Alizeh, played by Anushka Sharma. This, the first time he meets her. Obviously, loyalty is not a value he sets great store by. Yet, one act of unfaithfulness by his girlfriend and he dumps her. What was that about sauce for the goose thingy? Forget it! 

Let's be clear, this is the umpteenth movie in which Ranbir Kapoor plays a guy coming of age, and the characters are so cliched you'll be deluged with repeated bouts of deja vu. To confound matters further, Karan Johar is yet to sort out his friendship-versus-love dynamics. Dude, it's 2016. For god's sake, you've done this for twenty-odd years now. Get over it!

Besides, a selfish man-child who refuses to grow up and throws tantrums at the drop of a hat, Ayan expects others to pick up after him. That's our hero, the man you're supposed to root for! Not only does he insist Alizeh fall in love with him, he chases her all around the globe in the effort. She invites him for her wedding and he manages to become the centre of attention there, too! He throws a hissy fit and walks out on the wedding day, making it a memorable day for the bride, indeed! This being Bollywood, however, all is forgiven. Conveniently for Ayan, yet again, Alizeh steps in to pick up after him.

The worst is yet to come, however. Ayan shows his most despicable side when he finds Alizeh struggling alone, dying, and comes on to her! Yes, dear readers, sexual harassment and stalking as love trope is alive and thriving in Bollywood.  

The very frame in which we are introduced to Saba, Aishwarya's character, would have set a million alarm bells ringing for any woman. She's sitting by herself reading a book. Our hero forces himself into her space because he can't sit alone! Where any woman would have called security, Saba smilingly indulges him. Men feel entitled to women's space, time and attention. Men often end violently and horrifically the denial of such attention. This is rape culture and the movie promotes it. 

To attempt to look for feminism in a Karan Johar film is futile, when it doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test. It is peopled with super rich people whose lives run without a hitch. They need not worry where the meals or housing or the education of the next few generations will come from.

You see, I left out Alizeh's character till the end. There really isn't one. We know nothing of who she is, what she does. We vaguely hear of parents, but don't meet hem either. She doesn't seem to have any friends either. Alizeh is another in a long line of women who seem to exist solely for the benefit of the men around her. She also shelves her life to trot all around the globe, wherever her husband's work takes him. Need we tell you, that relationship was doomed from the start? 

Anushka Sharma has put in her considerable acting skills on display, and she comes across as effortless. But I'll repeat my earlier advise to her- make your own goddam movies, Anushka! We want to see well-etched characters, not a sidekick for our hero to hang his emotional towel on, and maybe wipe with. 

Aishwarya looks still, unruffled, and bereft of emotion like a slab of marble just surfaced from under a glacier. She too seems to exist in a vacuum. Although she's portrayed as a no-nonsense person at first, yet she too ends up picking up after Ayan. Such a charmer our boy is. 

Women's work holds up men's world. It's time we gave it a rest.