Writing From The Mud Edition Of Stereotyping

As a ‘natives’ of what is still considered today ‘The Third World’ sometimes we get asked the silliest questions, as my students and I were discussing today. It never fails to amaze me how deep and inanely hilarious — where hilarious is the new heartbreaking — stereotypes are. Especially when they are as sensitive as, “Have you ever seen an American toilet?” or “Eaten waffles?”. Another popular one is the assumption that Indians smell of dogs with rabies or something more pungent; we laughed when I brought this one up today but I remember it wasn’t nearly as funny when my friend called me in tears from the UK where some woman got up from her seat just so she could be ‘saved’ from the obviously Poisonous Emissions Of The BrownPeople. Another favourite anecdote is when a woman told me “I didn’t know people could be so educated in India” after I’d given her directions in fluent French. Or when in movie after movie, Indian culture is exoticised, appropriated and eventually reduced to the country that “makes that pepper thingy”, my skin just leaps up in joy. I am not talking about how my pride as an ‘Indian’ — whether I will ever be able to say ‘nationalism’ without sarcasm is an ongoing experiment people of the Olde Interwebes — is tarnished when I hear or am asked such questions but rather how tiny and contained my ‘box’ as this ‘Indian’ is.

Last year, I was sitting at a coffee-house, reading a book and a woman walks up to me and starts inquiring about the book in a rather loud tone. Then she asked me if I could understand the book considering it was in American. Surely, now I cannot think of this anecdote without openly laughing but then I felt as if she was talking to a different version of me, preferably one that was three centuries removed from the present time zone and I was expected to be that way. Frustratingly and sadly these aren’t the only instances of such blatant Othering I can remember. And I’m surely not the only one with such experiences, I’ve heard similar accounts from many people all highlighting that “we” as a culture are somewhere lost in the space-time continuum and can only squeak out a few words of English when addressed to in an ear-shattering decibel and/or accompanied by hand gestures. The point here isn’t how incriminating these remarks are — well not too much anyway — but how people are so ready to stereotype and box people, cultures and ethnicities. Readers of the Olde Interwebes, you will probably defend yourself by saying, “I don’t stereotype people!” or even better “I’m an extremely progressive person with Liberal leanings. Surely I don’t fit into these slots” to which I can only say, let the LadyBrain explains what she means.

When thinking of India, probably the first image that comes up is hordes of people gathered in a crowd, preferably looking uneasy. Or the global favourite — The Charmingly Poor Indian Who Squats In The Mud With The Flies Around Zie’s Face. One assumption is that somehow all Indians squat in the mud, for the longest amount of time; as if squatting in the mud is something that we do, regularly, professionally and perhaps even recreationally. I will not say that we never squat in the mud but just that it isn’t exactly a hobby, to put it delicately. There are hordes of Indians that set out of their homes with a small bucket of water each day, squat on railway tracks while pooping. Again, this isn’t a choice or even remotely entertaining. Instead of considering Indians to be ‘mud-squatters’ it’d do people good if you look at the conditions behind the said mud-squatting. Perhaps tiny annoying facts like neo-colonisation by capitalist markets, cultural imperialist reasons that allow some people to exploit other broken backs, acute and harsh desperation will make one see how mud-squatting isn’t as culturally neutral as it seems. That way, tourists won’t specifically ask to see ‘slum people’ and then proceed to take their photos as one would for a biology study. At least, I hope not.

Despite all your vehement denials, most liberal spaces — virtual or otherwise — even the ones specifically dedicated to ‘Radical Inclusion’ will reserve seats for the ‘limbless handmade paper maker’ (preferably with a few flies always abuzz his face) but will have no space for people that fit into my demographic. This barrier can be easily overcome if I can possibly procure old and historic looking documents that would affirm that I do descend from the MudSquatters as well, hereby reaffirming my comfortably exotic status, ripe for exoticising and appropriating as one wants. Attempts at pathetic humour aside, I get many comments and e-mails that praise my ‘good grasp of the Western world’ along with a remark or two about how UnIndian I ‘seem’ like because apparently I don’t talk like someone who spent their whole life huddled in the corner of a ditch. Or in some backwater place where all sorts of germs and diseases have infested my body. For what use is a healthy person of colour? But, I digress.

The point is, for a person like me i.e. educated, occasionally smart, comfortably affluent and searching ways to negotiate my colonised body and psyche to a space with as few ‘isms’ and ‘ists’ as possible, I (or my ilk) get either spaces dominated by the Canon, White discourse or a space culturally so removed — ironically all the ‘tokens’ of my culture are present there — that I end up feeling alienated. I’m not condoning the activity of encouraging less privileged people as the ever attractive MudSquatters a chance to voice themselves but rather displeased that this middle point of access that I currently embody means nothing to so many people. I used to teach at a school for children of low socio-economic background, donors would request me and other teachers to give whatever they wanted to offer only to the ‘truly needy’. As if the kid who is slightly better off economically speaking doesn’t deserve the perks the other ‘truly deserving’ — another phrase that has yet to be said without sarcasm — get. Even in popular media, either the plot revolves around a rural setting or the extreme élite. The middle-class representation is evidently missing, as if this stubble called the ‘middle ground’ never existed. Similarly, as a WOC, I’m expected to fulfill Cartesian roles : Either to be as far removed from my culture as possible that I’m ‘assimilated’ into the bigger White default discourse or be so ‘exotically’ and ‘consumable’ that my culture becomes a marker for all that I am. It all comes down to ‘To Squat In The Mud Or To Not To Squat In The Mud’. There are no easy answers, except for this one thing I firmly believe in — No matter how much I represent ideal Indianness or not, I’ll never ever be able to do anything just right to anyone’s specifications. So to end with the ever quotable Dorothy Parker, this is my message trying to fit anyone in a cultural box so tiny that even Matthew Arnold wouldn’t like —

” But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!”

Weekly Textual/Sexual Reader (Week 1)

Jaded16’s Note: So a few weeks ago I joined Tumblr on a whim. Alcohol may have been a part of the three second decision-making process. Or not. Anyway, on another equally fancyarse whim I promised myself I’d read one book a week. So readers of the Olde Interwebes I will torture you weekly with these inane book reviews. It comes with the territory of e-stalking someone. Heh.

—-

Dear Tumblr,

A year ago, in  one of the best classes I’ve ever taken (women’s studies) my professor introduced a book to us ‘The Inner Courtyard’, a collection of short stories by Indian women. She read out an excerpt wonderfully and I just knew that I had to read this book. Sort of like a strange need to again re-create the magic the excerpt had weaved around me. I remember finding this book and feeling so happy, looking and touching the cover; it seemed like an image I’d seen before somewhere but didn’t know just where. Now I remember my grandmother’s sari had a similar border, but there yet remains an ever illusive feeling, of possessing something and yet letting it slip out in wisps helplessly voluntarily compulsively, taking tiny slivers of myself with it.

With page one started my difficult — at best — relationship with the book. People are always surprised when they see me not completely swooning over the book, after all it’s written by Indian women right? So I should be able to automatically relate to it, as if some part of my cell formation as an IndianLady should tug me towards these stories. As if, these words should re-vertebrate within my soul (if I even have one that is) or perhaps within my being as a woman, I should see my past coming out alive from the flesh of the book. As if I were to react to the book like I was an ant, caught between the words and print, till I became so tiny, forgetting who I was and become a part of the grand narrative. As if this ‘Indianness’ that I supposedly am born with will help me understand this book as an extension of myself. I can’t simplistically say that none of these assumptions were true nor can I completely accept what I felt reading these voices.

These are hard stories about women I can see around me. Perhaps I’ve known a few of them, met one, been one, aspired to become another. Sometimes I saw glimpses of my grand mum, in some characters I found my sister. In many lines, breaks and pauses, I saw me. How do you deal with a book that mirrors your life, makes sure you are deeply affected and then shrouds itself under the convenient label of ‘fiction’? As if it is really that easy to disengage with history, with the past that stills runs fresh in my larger collective identity as a woman of a certain Hindu community, even as I try to deny its presence. There were too many instances in the book where I had to keep it down, when I’d read about another repressed character and see it wound a place directly near my uterus. I’d feel that low guttural punch no matter how many times, in how many tempos I’d read Ismat Chughtai’s Chauthi Ka Jaura wishing fruitlessly this time it would hurt less as the protagonist would lock herself in that tool shed while her mother soothed her bleeding fingers from the wedding dress she didn’t finish making.  Or  I’d try not to smile at Anjana Appachana’s Her Mother as she blends  stream-of-consciousness with the most abrupt pauses left mid-sentence. I wish I wasn’t moved as much by Vaidehi’s ‘madwoman’ Akku as she made up stories about her husband, dead child and dead self or I tried really hard to keep my distance from the fury unleashed my Mrinal Pande’s nameless protagonist as she raved against blatant sexism she witnessed as a child in Girls. The hardest moment was when I felt Vishwapriya L. Iyengar’s Library Girl slip under the veil. A claustrophobia so similar that it has become a part of my identity; precisely why I choked back tears when I read “Within the veil, a darkness seized Talat. It bandaged her mouth, her eyes and sealed her voice. She cried and screamed inside her black veil. But they did not hear and did not see“, shocked to see someone had peered somewhere inside and chiseled these words to perfection. I remember laughing out loud in the train reading Mahashveta Devi’s Draupadi as she subtly and beautifully recast history, this time giving her Draupadi a bare body albeit a proud one. It’s difficult to not fall in love with this book, exactly where the danger lies.

The moment you lose your cool, it slips under your skin leaving you with nothing but these voices right in your veins. As the title suggests, these voices are present in the Inner Courtyard of the house, inside that space that was made for women just so they could be contained within the confines of their home. The same happened to me; I was there in the courtyard, crying that my voice doesn’t leave the inner veranda of the house. At the same time, strangely relieved no one could see this bile pouring out. Just when I closed the book, that part of me in the courtyard sits there, waiting to unleash itself when I next open it. Ironically, the day after I finished reading the book I went to a wedding, pasting that fake smile, fitting into the heavy shoes of the ‘Indian’ woman who lost her voice a long time ago. And then I remembered the remaining five copies of the book on the shelf, fantastically wishing those five readers would join me in the inner courtyard later as we’d air our locked voices.

Love,

Jaded16

The Inner Courtyard is a collection of short stories written by Indian women, in English and in translation. There are more stories in the collection, though I talked about the few that I liked best. The anthology is edited by Lakshmi Holmstörm.


Discussing Dusty Skins And Previlige (Part Two)

A few days ago, I ran into an old friend. While I like running into people — for there are always entertaining possibilities — what I dislike with a Direct Vengeance Of The Force Of A Thousand Suns And Add All The Angry Stars Too™ is how quickly the conversation goes to bodies. Suddenly, you’re not the person meeting your friend, you morph invisibly into the BodyRemarkCouncil while you try to squeeze out just the right insult without seeming to undermine the person, smile tersely while silently fixing the exact difference you imagine in the person. Questions like, “Have you lost a little weight?”, “Your hair is as unruly as ever, isn’t it?” are quite common. This week as soon as I heard, “You look better than before. Your skin tone is glowing. How did you lighten it?”, my LadyBrain slammed itself shut as my acquaintance probed further to learn my ‘secret’. I may or may not have told her I peeled a layer of my skin off to achieve the effect. She may or may not have walked away from me mumbling safety chants to herself. It’s too soon in the post to digress anyway.

As I discussed earlier, I never really saw myself as ‘brown’ till the default human being — White, heterosexual, male — decided to spell it out for me. Sort of like that in that grotesque way you label a ‘thing’ in order to castigate and possess it; my ‘brown’ skin has become one of the most important signifier of my being. This is an especially ironic relationship as somehow online bodies aren’t their physical manifestations — even if your static status picture suddenly starts singing — or in the most simple manner of speaking, they are ‘left behind’ on another plane. One where the virtual and the ‘real’ don’t really meet. Isn’t that the main argument anyone who is quick to dance to the “Look how far we’ve come” or “DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN JUST DROP YOUR IDENTITY AND MAKE A NEW ONE ONLINE and THIS TIME YOU CAN WEAR A SHINY DRESS IF YOU WANT” tunes of supposed progress? Of course, that is a possibility, that new identities are made online. There is no point on denying a certain freedom in making and re-imagining bodies. You can be White, Yellow, Brown, Chocolate or as many hues as you want. Understandably, many people prefer being White because that way, you don’t get trolled as much. For instance, I can pretend to take on a ‘Western’ name, even model myself to be a member of the privileged class, that works out without a glitch. But unlike  in a Danielle Steel book, things cannot be compartmentalised that easily. Extremely safe and tested methods of the scientific variety of observation — otherwise known as legally e-stalking people — it is clear that your ‘old’ body inscribes itself on your new one. Whether you acknowledge it or not, shedding bodies isn’t nearly as simple as it is made out to be. So how does one go about discussing privileges about bodies that are essentially invisible or at least are virtual?

To borrow and modify from Spivak, it is only when we look at margins and cracks, will we possibly find traces of earlier bodies (in this case). A good example to is to look at the absences that are present in most lingerie ads that come on TV out here. Here is one revolting one :

At this point you’re probably wondering if my pain meds have taken over my LadyBrain again, for you see nothing offensive in the ad. On close attention, you’ll see the women are speaking in what is stereotyped as the ‘Indian accent’. This ad is specifically made for viewers in the subcontinent, by a team that is Indian too. So why are most models White? Especially when the product is for Indian women, who do not resemble the protagonist in skin tone. Turns out, after all these years, we associate that White women are all ‘sluts’ so then they can display their skin without ‘shame’ that is embroiled within every Indian uterus from birth. Here the absence of an identifiable Indian body stands for marks it bears of guilt and shame. This isn’t to say Indian actors have never gone nude or showed skin on film, or worn ‘revealing’ outfits; but rather given a choice we’d rather put a White body in a position of autonomy and agency than a hued body.

In virtual spaces too, the same kind of regulation takes place where people are more comfortable with reading and even accepting White bodies transgress socially, sexually etc than they are with dusty skins. The website ‘Gaysi’ which is a space for Indian (read dusty) LGTQI people to voice themselves and which has its headquarters in Mumbai, most of the DudeCouncil have problems with it (patriarchy is so predictable!) because apparently being Queer — or whatever label you apply — is like a Western myth. “Like jeans or Coca Cola, ‘queer’ people only exist over there. Out here, we men marry women” and so many hilarious explanations were lashed out. Again, we’d rather believe that only Western populations can be homosexual, transgendered etc. This is our way of ‘Othering’ the West as well as keeping our own people from (supposedly) transgressing.

On the other hand, dusty bodies are used specifically in Western spaces, where they are exotic and infinitely penetrable, possessable, too much like The Darjeeling Express isn’t it? Though many people will happily point out Anouska Shankar and her ‘acceptance’ in the International sphere; more often than not people will talk about her ‘beautiful’ eyes, deep brown skin and so on instead of talking about her musical talents. Her presence marks the absence of the autonomy her body is allotted, however unwillingly. You will not see the same partial possession and obsession of skin when discussing Norah Jones (Shankar), perhaps because she passes off as White and by extension a body of her own right.

It’s in these absences, ripples and tiny cracks do we see really how ‘invisible’ bodies relate to each other. Light skin or white skin is seen as a disseminator of progress and movement, where as dusty skins are territorial and therefore bound. The same pulse is channeled by so many ‘Fairness cream’ commercials, Bollywood movies that choose ‘fair’ actors over dark ones, families who seek daughter-in-laws that put out ads that demand a specific complexion from their bride-to-be. Much like my friend, they see light tones as the only desirable tone. And then you wonder why I can’t take any more trolls discussing, fetishising and claiming my ‘brown’ body. Next time you hear someone screaming at the word Brown, you know where that came from.

[cross-posted]

Advocating Choice in Sex, Gender & Body Identity

Jaded16’s Note: A strange trend has developed these days. MenPeople are making sense! On a number of issues! Rather regularly. Here is Arvan of SexGenderBody with another post! That makes sense!

—–

I like choice.  I believe in choice.  I think about choice as the exercise of one’s own mind and as fulfillment of any rights granted by a society.

My personal experience of rights is that they do not exist outside of the agreements that combine to create and define a society.  I won’t venture into the unprovable belief that rights are given by god.  For this conversation, I am talking about the rights granted by the social contract(s) we agree to follow as a group for the benefit if the group and by extension – ourselves.  In that context, rights are an agreement to what we can and cannot do, as individuals or groups within the society at-large.

As individuals, we demonstrate the reasons for our rights.  In fact, so many conversations demand that we prove why we have rights.  The rights of the privileged exist and everyone else is seemingly forced to fight for theirs – one painful step at a time.

When it comes to choice, our human cultures and societies seem to be giving a lot of preference to reasons over choice.  Take for example, identifying ones self as gay or trans.  There are plenty of conversations about how we don’t have a choice in being gay or trans.  Many good minds have found physical evidence that we were born that way.  Some people know at an early age that their gender, sex or body identity does not align with the hetero gender binary definition.  They are born thinking and feeling that way.  I absolutely believe that.  (I don’t know the science in detail, but it seems pretty sound to me.  However, I am in NO WAY even beginning to question this information, which I happen to believe is true.)

So many anti-gay arguments claim that the “gay lifestyle” corrupts “normal” people.  The inference is that gay is a choice and a danger all together.   It’s not just about being gay, either.  Trans folk, persons of color, persons living with different bodies and abilities, different gender definitions, different sexual expressions and identities all face demands for justification and acceptance.  A common statement is that people are born this way and that there is a) no choice and b) nothing wrong with it.  For some people, I am 100% positive that we are born with our sexual preference, gender identity and body definitions.  Absolutely positive.  But, what about someone that decides to make a choice without any of that going on?

I am asking why I have to prove that I was born this way, for people to accept me as I identify myself?  For the right to choose the terms of my own identity?

I have heard many derisive comments leveled at “pretend lesbians” or “fashionably gay” people as well as declarations of why someone is not really bisexual because…?

It seems to me that the idea of choosing for personal reasons that have meaning only to the individual – are challenged, ignored or devalued by well…just about every element of society.  The status quo, the smaller groups fighting for their group identity and a whole lot of the rest of us.

I don’t need a reason to be gay or straight or bi or trans or abled or equal.  If I choose to identify as gay or bi or trans, do I need to prove that I was born this way for me to have society’s permission to be identified as I say I am?

So fucking what if I do decide on whim to suck cock or wear a dress?  What if I suspend from hooks in my skin?  What if I cover my body in tattoos?  What if I decide to be referred to as hir for no other reason than it suits me today?  When technology allows in the future, we may be able to change our gender back and forth as we see fit.  (We already do so in virtual spaces like Internet chat rooms and Second Life, etc.) Will we need a reason to do so?  Why?

You can probably tell by now that I don’t think we need a reason for our choice of identity.  Not one bit.

I’ll tell you what I do wonder.  Is this just a product of bully culture, gang fighting and a widespread belief that if we stand up and declare ourselves as individuals on our own terms and with no one else’s permission – then we won’t have a fucking chance of surviving?  How much of our daily language and concepts are built on the idea of group identity?  Do we, as human beings constantly, invisibly and unquestioningly assume that we can only survive under the protection of some group’s agreement?  Is it the only way?

Let’s look at it another way.  Let’s suppose that there exists this strong current of belief inside the social contract of our societies that we have to belong to a group identity and that we all need to have the agreement of others for the group to survive.  Some individual comes up with its own identity definition.  Why worry?  If the group is looking out for itself, that individual will not be able to survive the elements of nature that are external to society.  If this group identity aspect is a means for survival of the group, then the individuals that move out of the group agreement are on their own.  Good luck to ya, etc.

It’s not really a threat.  No real reason to be upset.  But, people to get upset and they are threatened.

What is so threatening about an identity chosen independent of the group and for reasons that have nothing to do with the group?

What is so threatening about choice?

Why are people so quick to argue that we were “born this way”?  Why are groups so quick to accuse others of “lifestyle choice” and to declare it a threat  or ill?

I have my suspicions of course.  I suspect that we don’t examine our language and take these concepts of group identity for granted.  I suspect that people who profit from the patriarchal, militaristic and religious intolerance don’t want to lose their gravy train (and by profit, I mean the hoarding of wealth combined with the harvest of human misery).

So, what do we do about it?  Why am I even bringing this up?  If any of this has merit at all, how can a change be instituted?  It seems that if I start a call to action, I’m still engaging in group identity, group action and group thinking.  So, here’s my plan:

I personally; me; no on else; just me…I want every one of you to know that however you identify yourself, for whatever reason, for no reason…whatever – I accept you on your own terms, in your own words, as you see fit.  You don’t owe me an explanation for anything.  You can come and go as you please, dressed as you like and addressed in whatever pronoun, adverb, punctuation or linguistic construct you choose.  Call yourself whatever you will and that is who you are to me.

Please regard me in the same manner.

P.S. Remember that guest posting policy? Use the link! To make more sense! More than me saying this anyway.


Is The Great Detachment The New Saviour?

As a Lady who is more often than not publicly and loudly UnSubtle (why yes she speaks!) (when she is allowed to that is),  I get my fair share of thoroughly silly people who will sprout the most ridiculous reasons for the most inane things. Last week I had to convince someone that I didn’t kill people who disagreed with me, that I can talk about things beyond feminism without being entirely sarcastic and the fact that I am still capable of (perhaps?) making jokes despite ‘cutting off my fallopian tubes in exchange to be let into the uber cool club of the world’s humourless feminists’. Sometimes I just have to say, “I like puppies” and I’ll still get some nincompoop call me a ‘man-hater’ as a sort of reflex to using as little common sense as possible. I am sure you know the type, the one who will cower the moment you give them your MedusaGlare for insinuating you can’t be a feminist, simply because you are not lesbian or aren’t as hairy as the yeti or have an inordinate liking for bras or so many inconsequential reasons. What actually struck me today when someone accused me of not being feminist or feminist enough because I’m not particularly fond of body hair — call it the parting gift of colonisation if you will — is how deeply Western this slur was.

Feminism as a concept isn’t one that is inherently Western. Of course, the feminist cannon, where you can see Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, J. S. Mill and perhaps even Elizabeth Cady Stanton (conveniently excluding Sojourner Truth) dancing around or playing cards while (existentially!) pondering over The Woman Problem In Their Respective Time Zones is as Western as the concept of SystematicCulturalDomination LiberalHumanism itself and just as problematic. Contrary to popular myths, feminism did exist in other ‘culture-less’ places, even in the very heart of supposed darkness, even in places as far off as India. I remember hearing about Meera Bai as a part of cultural folktales  growing up, who rejected her husband and worshiped the idol of Lord Krishna. Today, beneath the QueerLens, we can assert judging from her poetry that this was a conscious decision, involved full agency and choice. She addresses her husband’s impotency in a ‘religious’ couplet to Krishna — always under the larger umbrella of religious movements such as the Bhakti movement so as to escape harsher punishment — even talks about his (small) penis and articulates the exact way she’d like to be loved. All of this addressed to a piece of stone — her Krishna idol — or to the ideal man of her dreams enters the realm of a Queer framework. Doesn’t she fit, rather squarely the definition of a ‘feminist’ as we have today? Where she identifies the dominant ideology, subverts and perverts it by mixing erotica with religion. And she is a cannonised voice of sorts herself as she is seen as one of Krishna’s most devout followers (no one mentions her sexual transgression though). What about those countless Meera Bai’s who never recorded their thoughts, who never wrote or sang out loud? So because of lack of documentable proof, do we exclude those mutated muffles?

And this isn’t to prove one country’s feminist history over another, just an example that feminism isn’t necessarily a Western fruit, or nearly as Western it projects itself to be. Many people often question me why do I choose to align myself to an ideology that has excluded so many voices of colour over the years, and is often privileged, dominated by White women and so on. People often forget, I learnt of the Indian feminists before I learnt of Western voices, that I read Kamla Das and Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain before I ever cracked open ‘The Feminine Mystique’, that I learnt firsthand, at my Grandmum’s feet about Radha (another lover of Krishna) who was older and more sexually experienced than him, who chose to remain celibate for the rest of her life — something we still can’t exactly choose today. My association of the term allows for inclusion instead of alienation and Othering. This isn’t to say ‘feminism’ has to go uncritiqued, but just acknowledge how that term isn’t all-pervasive.

What is infinitely interesting is that anyone who is feminist automatically becomes synonymous to ‘Those Western Girls’ and sometimes even entertainingly, ‘Those Western Sluts Who Kiss Boys Full On The Lips And Did You Know They Hold Hand In Public Too?’; as if this country has never seen smart, independent people who don’t buy into the gender construct. Agreeably, they are few and far between, often under the framework of a bigger movement — the Freedom struggle, the Reform movement and so on — but between these cracks and springs one can see rebellion and resistance. Almost as if by discarding any Indian association with EvilFeminism, people want to deny women any agency over their bodies and minds. By constantly Americanising ‘feminism’ as we do everything else; from Coke to jeans, we form specific (homo-sapien-y) dichotomies that would have Descartes whooping with joy as we yet again settle into, “American = feminist = Evil + Hairy” and “Indian = NOT feminist + preferably waxed and glazed as a shiny floor”. This nationalistic (sic) boxing helps keep us in control as like any GoodOrientalLady, I too know being Western is worse than being half a person. Ironic considering almost every other Indian will be ready to chop off and sell their internal organs just so their children can be a GoodIndianCitizen and get a graduate degree from a reputed American university. But I digress.

In the light of such blatant ‘Othering’ even committing BrainCellMurder watching 90210 becomes an act of rebellion (who knew this day would come?) where the viewer gets a sense of empowerment from seeing semi-anorexic waifs straddled in loincloths, walking hand in hand and doing countless things that are restricted here or sometimes just the sheer joy of pissing one’s parents off — which all of us know is such an entertaining sport at any given time — by engaging routinely in watching such a predominantly White and by extension anti-Indian (supposedly) TV soap. You can see how many cultural codes and contexts are exchanged in the show’s journey from the US to India in the span of one episode, where it mirrors one culture and provides fanciful recreation in another. Just like that, this term ‘feminist’ doesn’t hold the same connotations of exclusion.

However, the general view is that feminism is a Western ideal (code for Indian women don’t need it) therefore the slurs it embodies must be Western itself. For practically speaking, we never had a phase where women burnt bras, in fact they don’t even star in lingerie commercials so the term ‘bra-burning freak’ doesn’t apply to us right? But like most DoucheColonial tendencies India has espoused over the years, this one serves to just dismiss off ‘those noisy pesky’ women who ask for their rights in a convenient slot of American or Western (because both are totally the same thing!) optimisation of the EvilPlan of world domination. Never mind that we’d make the same choices in their position or the fact that these countries are far from being feminist utopias themselves, using constant Western associations strips us of any cultural subjectivity we may have managed to bring to the concept at all.

There is no solution or magic antidote that will make such negative associations go away, neither will willing ourselves to systematically disentangle our collective colonised persona can help; for there is no such thing really. Today, this WesternSelf collides, co-exists, co-opts, concerns, covers, covets, converts our ‘Indianself’ (whatever that means). Is simply shedding labels enough, especially when they can create such great safe-spaces? At this point, is it even possible?

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