So Over It

The following post is by Numa and I as a response to Eve Ensler’s post Over It. There are some things you don’t get to be over, Eve Ensler. But if we’re going to play this game, here are some of ours.

—-

We are over cis white feminists claiming to speak for the rest of us and then shutting us up when we try to fit a word in edgewise. We are over being told that we are splintering a (separatist) movement whenever we bring up things that go just beyond their immediate focus.

We are over feeling left out whenever the talk goes to rape culture, because our rape culture is never addressed, maybe because it would hold you accountable too.

We are over rape being framed as an act done only by men on women, or that it requires a penis to forcibly penetrate a vagina or an anus and all other acts of coercion on other body parts by other bodies don’t matter as much.

We are over cis white feminists using experiences of POC to prove their own humanity. We are over experiences of scores of people in Congo, in Somalia, or any place with poverty tourism becoming a footnote to white feminists’ tales of enlightenment.

We are over cis white feminists using stories from “war torn” areas to woo audiences without addressing or holding their own Governments responsible for the said war.  We are over people making money by writing about the “horrifying” experiences they saw in the [third world nation], narrating stories that are not theirs to tell.

We are over countless (one-sided) dialogues with cis white feminists when they do want to talk about the difference in our rape cultures who simply retort to, “your men are irresponsible and patriarchal! We are just here to help! We can talk about murky consent issues between us some other time”.

We are over white cis women feminists essentialising the experiences of all women everywhere when it suits them but then having no trouble with using an “us” vs. “them” dichotomy against those who don’t agree with them.

We are over being told that we’re too angry and divisive when we direct criticism at the mainstream feminist movement but it’s okay for violent imagery and words to be used to threaten non-white cis women.

And what the fuck is “occupyrape” meant to mean anyway?! We are over people using the terminology of violence and colonisation to sound relevant and cool. How can you occupy an act of violence? How can you reclaim it? We don’t understand.

We are over the assumption that there is a “global paradigm of rape” but there is no recognition that this global paradigm, if there is something so all encompassing, is probably the result of political and socio-economic violation of the racial Other.

To be honest, we’re just over of this type of rallying cry for unity where it’s believed that self-reflexiveness will do harm more than it will do good. Apparently we can’t be critical of issues without also destroying our effectiveness.

We are over people simply drawing back saying “this is not my culture and therefore I will stay silent and complicit” without engaging with us at all.

We are over thousand Eve Enslers who spew shit like this over and over again and then a few others who’ll pretend this is the first time they’ve heard us speak up.

We are over seeing movements perpetuate the same acts of violence we’re meant to be addressing.

Making Our Bodies Matter

A friend and I started talking about communities, alliances and feminism(s) a few months ago — this conversation is a brief culmination of our identities and ideologies.

Me: Writing about bodies isn’t too difficult for me, that was until I realised “writing about bodies” meant writing of bodies other than mine, or even if I were to write about myself, the language automatically becomes clinical, my gaze objective and the talk goes to whatever is ailing me — it’s never about how I feel about my body, my relationship with my scars or what I see when I look in the mirror. As I am now living in a new city and adjusting to the weather patterns here, I have to take more care of my skin here than in I did in Mumbai, I have to leave myself notes to apply [x] cream before my heels crack and bleed — it’s such a jarring experience to see that my body has carried on without me (in a sense), has already started cracking, started healing in some parts while I have gone on and done something else. It all came to a head when I was thinking of Suheir Hammad‘s words — when she says “What am I saying when I say I sit in this body, dream in this body, expel in this body, inherit in this body” — where she posits the body as a start to all experiences, and here I was forgetting to take care of my body altogether, even in the most routine and seemingly trivial ways. I’ve often complained to friends that I feel ‘bound’ in this city — as public transport systems are irregular and auto rickshaws are a luxury I cannot always afford — so most of my ‘movement’ is between my apartment, the massive Uni campus and its libraries. Now that I re-think what I mean when I say ‘bound’, I mean more than just physical limits to where I can go or am kept from, I find limits in my syllables and expressions — precisely because my body feels those limits more intimately and primarily, as if my body translates these borders in the silences that creep up everywhere, from my thoughts to my academic writing. It’s only when I completely stopped producing words and syllables a week ago, went for a three-hour long walk, felt my words come back to me as I described to my guardian just why were my heels bleeding this time I realised how closely my body felt limited here*

*This isn’t to say there weren’t other barriers in Mumbai, just that navigating these particular changes is an entirely new experience for me.

Renee: It’s equally jarring to see your body stopped in time, unable to keep up with you, and trying to formulate contingencies for when it starts to slide backwards in time. This has been my experience since losing my job just more than a year ago.

My teeth hurt all the time now; one has eroded almost to the gum line, and I touch them constantly with my tongue and my fingers to make sure none are loose. I waited out a UTI two months ago, but an ear infection still lingers (and makes my teeth ache even more). There is no money for a doctor or dentist to attend to current ills, never mind the dreams I once had for my body. Most upsetting, when my current stash of hormone pills runs out, in perhaps a month or so, I may not be able to afford more, and at that point the person I know as me officially begins to disintegrate. I never really knew myself before starting hormones, and the threat of losing that is terrifying beyond what I can describe. Already I find myself glancing in the mirror more often, touching my face, to make sure I still exist.

But it’s not just the physical degradation I feel. For now, I’m staying in a friend’s spare room, sleeping upon a mattress on the floor, with all my worldly possessions piled in boxes around me. My days are lived largely in the space between my bed and the downstairs basement, where the household television is. I have few reasons to go anywhere else, and fewer resources to do so. I wear the same clothes most days, because to do anything else means doing more laundry, which inevitably costs someone money, even if that someone isn’t me. I don’t shower every day, or moisturize, or shave, or wear makeup, because all of those things are an expense too…and so again my body suffers.

It’s apropos that my body gets neglected first and most, as it’s the rejection of my body by others that led me here. Slowly it decays, out of sight and forgotten.

(more…)

Privilege, Power, Colonialism, and International Development – Part 2

This is a guest post by Numa. She identifies as Bangladeshi-Austrian for the sake of convenience, and works in the field of International Development for which she sometimes gets paid a living wage. She has the ambition of engaging and encouraging wider dialogue on development from a dusty perspective and hopes that she can contribute to making the world less fail in one way or another. She is trying to blog regularly on awkwardatbest.wordpress.com but mostly has a very short attention span.

—-

Initially the first post of this series was a standalone one that I had written to provide context for my thoughts on the field of international development and the theories underpinning it. It was only once I submitted the entry as a guest post for Jaded that I figured that there was more I wanted to say on the matters that I had touched on. Namely, I wanted to discuss how the example I gave of my classmates behaviour towards children in Uganda, was not isolated instance of ignorance, but was the result of wider cultural/societal attitudes that are reflected in both development theory and institutions.

To me, the way privilege and power relations manifest themselves within international development is rooted in the colonial past. Despite the trend of embracing a human rights approach, we still operate on colonial assumptions at the most basic level. The main thrust of development interventions is still to progress, to ‘move forward’, to essentially become more like the West.

“The West,” in this instance does not refer to any actual geographic location, but refers to an identity or a set of socio-economic/cultural values born out of centuries of European imaginings of themselves and the “Orient.”  In the 19th century this image of Self took a particular form based around colonialism that is still prevalent today. Whiteness, wealth, and wisdom, became key to the European identity and this identity transcended beyond Europe to the white colonies of North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Eurocentric ideas of economic and social development became regarded as objective ideals that were credited for the self-determined success of European advancement. A linear model of progress towards an ideal civilization based on these ideas was adopted, one that places the countries closest to Western ideals at the most “civilized” end of the scale.

Countries that haven’t reached this ideal state of civilization are considered to be “developing,” and their failure to reach this state is pathologized. While it is perhaps no longer as explicitly stated, “developing” countries are still read as helpless, lazy, or incompetent, and this imagery is repeatedly reinforced through media, literature, and art.

One way that ideas about the West and Third World are perpetuated is through development organisations themselves. At an individual level, the imagery of the Western self as helpful, industrious, and competent is constantly used to attract support and donations for development organisations/charities. Third World plight is commodified. Brown bodies are presented for consumption.

(more…)

Thinking In Tongues

Lately I’ve been very busy translating things — French things to English, diluting some literary Gujarati with the help of my grandma and strangely, also my thoughts from English to my native tongue(s) as this summer break she helps me read in a few tongues that have been rusting inside me since the past few years.  For a long time, English has been my go-to language and my native tongues occupy a secondary position, of horrid pidgins that mix many tongues and dialects — which are hilarious at best and painful at worst — and a language I must use with family, with people who aren’t fluent enough in English, a language that is substituted for English and even then I barrel this tongue with English words — I don’t see this as a necessarily bad thing, just illustrating how no matter how hard I try, my native tongues come to me as an after-thought. Sometimes, my grandma will ask me to read પાની and instead I read “water” in my head, and to save face say the Gujarati word out loud — but she knows anyway that it doesn’t come to me ‘naturally’. Generally we smile at each other when this happens, she asks me to try again and I instruct myself to think in my mother tongue, and it works for a while. Then in about two minutes, she asks me to read a whole sentence and I am again judging it by English syntax and grammar forms. I don’t need to learn to speak read write in these tongues, those I did as a child either in school — where the State you belonged to dictated the tongues you’d learn  — or at home where we speak our mother tongue. It’s thinking in different tongues that I am working on and so far, miserably failing.

For years, my English and the ‘talent’ to say things well have been indistinguishable from my identity as an upper-caste Hindu lady, “who will one day go to the U.S. also and write big-thick books for people to read” to borrow my cook’s words as she describes who I am and what I will do — according to her — to her neighbours. She says fondly, “Look at her English, I want my daughter also to speak like her! How fast-fast she goes, sometimes talking liddat on the phone and marking something in study books also” as her neighbours smile politely at us. I’ve gone to this neighbourhood since at least the past decade or so, I used to play with many children who now don’t speak with me at all, and if they do only in English — They say, “How you do” and I used to say, “ठीक हूँ” — and they’d get embarrassed and I’d get angry that no matter what I did ‘those people’ don’t want to speak in their native languages — it’s taken me a lot of time to see how them addressing me in English was their way of leveling ground between us and me stomping all over it and patronising them and replying in Hindi was nothing but my privilege raising its head. English still remains for us a class and a cultural marker, a certain kind of English that you speak marks you from which part of the city you come from — if you code-switch and say, “I don’t know, ask ajoba no” for instance, pegs you from North Mumbai — and the more ‘unadulterated’¹ your English is, the better education and class background you are assumed to have. It didn’t help that I am ‘convent educated’ — a phrase we treat as a synonym for ‘Good English And Decorum’ — and was taught by British and Indian nuns who’d both tell us that “Your native languages can stay at home. Here we speak English — like people“. So we’d speak at lunch in our native tongues, but even that stopped as we grew older and English was just more convenient; plus by then, speaking in English meant Serious Business².

Today, I can re-learn to think in my native tongues because I have the privilege to, because I’ve been code-switching for years at home, because I know English considerably well and can have the luxury of enjoying my native tongue. Language is where we locate our power dynamics in, from these lenses we view and read rest of the world — and me writing in મારી ભાષા will be viewed as ‘reactionary’ or me trying to ‘smash the Empire’ or maybe I have an ‘agenda’ instead of it seen as one of my tongues, my Englishes as I weave both tongues into one. Things only get more complicated when I am read out of contexts — ones I can control and especially ones I can’t — and we’re still talking and parsing each other in English. If I could, I wouldn’t still be able to write in my native tongues, because I wouldn’t be ‘understood’ — mainly because the internet may hypothetically be a ‘global platform’, in reality the digital dollar lays the rules down. To keep the ‘intersectionality’ badge shiny many western feminists love to theorise ‘race’ matters from the omnipresent douchecolonial gaze — where all the third world feminist issues are child marriage foot binding dowries FGM female feticide corrective rapes ‘sex-slave’ industry bounded labour and nothing else — where the western feminist can ‘interpret’ our cultures as ze sees fit — usually as metonymic for all our hybrid realities, to the extent that “Africa” becomes FGM, “India” becomes “child marriage and female feticide” and nothing else, all this is done in the culture of ‘solidarity’ and to extend sistersong.

It’s not that big a surprise that when regional and local feminism(s) are “translated”, almost always it’s an Orientalist view of the third world, where the western feminist can be a shocked and horrified of the lives we live daily in the third world — and the most common reason I’ve heard is, “Well we are all women, we can understand each other”³ — and for ‘understanding’ each other, my life has to be translated in English, in contexts and terms it doesn’t belong in. Two weeks ago at a transnational feminist conference, a western feminist asked me what is the ‘safe’ way to promote solidarity — and I’ll still stick by my answer: Learn my language, it’s only fair because I learnt yours.

Maybe then, in the gaps and silences a translation leaves western feminists will understand learning our tongues won’t do much — as learning a tongue and thinking in one are two entirely different things and that one is a skill and another a re-clamation of the marginalised; I hope I’ll reach there someday.

—–

1. Read ‘unadulterated’ as not ‘tainted’ by our devilish heathen native tongues, of course.

2. It is even More Serious Business when parents use English out in public to scold us. That’s when hell freezes over.

3. Direct quote.

Things People Need To Stop Believing

As a dusty third worldling, one of the things I learnt first was to see if there were other dusty people in the room whenever I go to any transnational feminist conferences. Something else I also learnt is to not expect ‘solidarity’ from anyone unless expressly proven otherwise — and these views are a result of the way people view me and my body in notIndia, what people assume of me in most internet spaces and fandoms. My friend and I compiled this list comprising of a few of the most repetitive and inane stereotypes that we’ve encountered of Third World Women. By no means is this list exhaustive, feel free to add your experiences in the comments — and tread carefully, the list is full of racial slurs and epithets.

1. We’re not disposable objects or your fetish or ‘flavour’ of the month. Not all Third World Women are ‘women’, but we don’t have the choice to identify the way we want, because exotification gets in the way of our special plans.

2. Not all Third World Women live in lands that are in a state of constant war. We exist in cities, between towns and villages — many in the West. There is no fixity of geo-political location, we don’t need to be in the Third World to be marginalised.

3. Not all of us live in tin shacks or mud houses, like every other group we too are scattered across classes and communities across the planet.

4. In popular culture and media, if Third World Women characters don’t wear shiny and bright colours, reality will not crack I assure you.

5. Hospitals exist in the third world too. So not all Third World Women need to squat in bushes to give birth.

6. Third World Women aren’t all ‘irresponsible mothers’ or ‘birthing cows’ because they have children at [x] age instead of the more socially ‘forward’ and ‘acceptable’ [y] age. I can vouch that the world will not come to an end if you don’t see Third World Women as ‘bad people’ for ‘not knowing better’ and ‘not having careers’.

7. We’re not your ‘Eternal She’, Earth Mother, Infinite Vessel, [Insert Inappropriate Phrase That focuses And Equates Sex Organ With Gender Here].

8. We are capable of doing more than care-taking children, cleaning houses and sewing immaculate quilts. We exist in all fields of work, equating every Third World Woman as a sweatshop worker is not necessary.

9. There is no situation where phrases like ‘exotic princess’ can be considered a compliment, even more so if this ‘compliment’ is based solely on skin hue.

10. We’re not always natural cooks or nurturing ‘goddesses’. We can do said jobs if need be, doesn’t mean we’re ‘more’ adept at menial jobs than anyone else.

11. We’re not ‘eager’ to dispense dusty wisdom and folktales on demand — especially about breastfeeding or childbirth. Take a close look at the Not All Third World Women Are ‘Women’ bit here.

12. No, we cannot be ‘purchased’ outright — definitely not if the sole ‘value’ that decides the ‘purchase’ are our hues.

13. When we say ‘no’ we mean ‘NO’ too. So saying ‘we can’t decipher your tongues’ is not an excuse.

14. Third World Women aren’t always looking to ‘entice’ White Men. Shocking, I know!

15. We’re more than just ‘enticing eyes’, or ‘gorgeous hair’ — we’re people and not body parts.

16. Most of us don’t have names like ‘Kali’, ‘Sarasvati’, [Insert Name Of Exotic Goddess], generally because we know the magnitude behind adopting such names and the cultural significance they carry.

17. If Third World Women have voice parts in popular media, the world will not turn upside down. Especially not if the said voice parts don’t involve being in the hotel industry.

18. Representation of Third World Women that doesn’t posit the hijab synonymous to oppression will not mess with Global Time.

19. We don’t like to be compared to food — ‘exotic’ or not.

20. When we’re involved with White people — sexually and otherwise — saying, “You’re a beautiful hue of Brown” isn’t helping anyone get laid.

21. Not all Third World Women roam shoe-less. (Sidenote: how come we can be shoe-less, but can afford to buy dresses? Curious minds want to know).

22. We’re not ‘sexually unrestrained’ — our cultures do not ‘encourage’ “godless unions and perpetual orgies”.

23. Not all of us have British accents, we don’t speak in archaic prose when addressed. And we do speak even when no one addresses us — apparently this is very shocking for people.

24. In the rare instance we do have voice-parts in popular media, and we’re speaking out against the dominant culture, our hair is ‘natural’ and ‘loose’ and ‘wild’.

25. In other rare instances where we do get screen time and space in popular media, we’re freedom fighters, UN refugees, sometimes nurses to Big Important White doctors, almost never as fully developed characters.

26. We’re not ‘natural hard-workers’. Back-breaking straining physical labour isn’t ‘easy’ for us either.

27. As Third World Women, we’re not ‘in tune’ with our ‘natural femininity’. Subservience isn’t coded into our genes.

28. Third World Women are queer too! And still people! Who knew?

29. Contrary to popular opinion, I have on good authority that not all Third World Women despise sex. And we need consensual sex as much as everyone else — even the supposed ‘desperate hookers’ from Pan Asia — and yes, they’re all in one monolithic identity like the rest of us.

30. Some of us speak multiple languages, some don’t. Some have the privilege of speaking in our native tongues and not get shamed for it, some don’t. Don’t expect ALL Third World Women to start ‘shrieking hysterically’ in ‘devilish tongues’ over canned soup.

—-

P.S. Thank you Roshan for your help and company while writing this.

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 79 other followers