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]

Discussing Dusty Skins And Privilege (Part One)

Generally on any given day, I don’t go by generalisations or assumptions, given that my LadyBrain is allergic to ‘boxing’. But after careful observations and using devices that sound so scientific that you’ll be left impressed, I can say that all of you readers are really smart, analytical and incisive; mainly because you read this blog. So it must have not escaped your attention that I am a woman of colour and I write about my country India, the things I see around me or my lived experiences. Call it narcissism or limited vision or selective focus, the truth remains that my nationality and position as a woman of colour in a (virtual) world dominated by the digital dollar is the space I have access to as well as choose to discuss. However, to be entirely truthful, I had never thought of using the phrase WOC till some troll pointed out just what he wanted to do with my ‘deliciously brown’ face a while back. Since then, the effect of hueism has somehow taken residence underneath my skin and refuses to go away.

Yesterday, my friend and I got to talking over coffee about how we perceive our skin colour as anything but ‘brown’. Strangely, she has always considered herself ‘fair’ and I’ve seen my skin tone as ‘wheatish’. Obviously, from skin tone, the conversation goes to fairness creams. For the uninitiated, ‘fairness creams’ somehow get under your skin — literally speaking — and use some fancyarse magic with the melanin content of your skin and voilà! you’re white fair. A good example of this magic would be the following ad. Warning: The ad causes you to hurl and/or fling your computer across the room. Or you may just want to bang your head on the nearest nailed wall.

And people insist colonisation left with the British and their absurd fondness for bulldogs. But I digress. My point is, today you will not find women looking at Queen Victoria’s painting and wishing their skin could be translucent as well. Today you will find women — and men too! It’s the decade of the meterosexual after all! — religiously applying fairness creams every morning, afternoon, evening and night. Fine, I embellished a little but that doesn’t change the popularity and demand of these creams. Here is a censored version of what my friend I discussed earlier yesterday.

Friend: Have you noticed how Indian girls go swoon-y over ‘fairness’ or ‘whiteness’ creams?
Me: Yes. It’s like an antidote to all evil, so I hear.
Friend: And the word used for our complexion is “dusky” with the slightest tinge of “dusTy”.
Me: Didn’t you hear, our skin colour causes kids to have rabies, breeds terrorists, makes babies cry as well as make all the dogs start chasing their tails while trying to lick their feet.
Friend: You forgot to mention how men are tempted to rape us because of our dusTy skin.
Me: That was implied. As it always is, between any two dusTy Indian girls.
Bystander: All of this is a joke right?
Me: No, we don’t joke.
Friend: We can’t. We are feminists.
Bystander: (Vanishes into thin air) …

On a more serious note, I know people who refuse to believe Indians themselves can be biased towards the ‘Whiter complexion’, refusing to believe that the DoucheColonialGaze is now internalised to such an extent that now it seems as a part of Indian culture. The trajectory according to their idiot logic is that since we were oppressed for about roughly two centuries by the Whites, we are not going to worship the coloniser, plus the history textbooks say we are independent now, hence colonisation must be over. By that logic, we can also say feminism, class oppression and caste politics are over because it says so somewhere in some book that each of this evils are a part of the past. Without pointing out the obvious flaw in that strain of thought — it’s just not worth it — it would be naïve to think that only a few people think this way. Never underestimate the reach of screwed up logic, I can remember my grandmother saying.

Indians love skin colour, even if this means labeling each person like a lab rat. And just like we were taught in sixth grade, under each petal of the flower, you will find multitudes of systems and meanings. So fair means ‘beautiful’, wheatish means’ she might find someone, perhaps if she gives up speaking ‘ and dark is seen as ‘GET HER AWAY FROM ME! YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT IS CONTAGIOUS THESE DAYS!”. Recently some sensitive smartarse came along and popularised the word ‘dusky’ so now people say ‘dark’ only if they have ingested copious amounts of alcohol or forgot to take their medication for being politically correct. Suddenly ‘dusky’ skin becomes desirable, only if the woman in question is notably pretty, adheres to all norms of ‘ideal feminine’ body shape that is; all of this is rather obvious and well known. What people don’t know is that ‘dusky’ people like actresses, entrepreneurs, teachers, [Insert your career option here ] are good at their jobs precisely because of their skin. Or something incredibly and similarly inane. I confess I don’t know the details of this argument because my LadyBrain slammed itself shut somewhere around ‘dusky’.

What is interesting is, how a few people have managed to use this ‘duskiness’ attributed to their skin to their advantage, or that is what the media would have us believe. This is why we think Nandita Das is such a ‘good actor’ because a lot of producers and directors initially rejected her because of her skin colour so she could dedicate herself to ‘indie’ and ‘experimental films’, not because she initially might have had no say over what projects she took on. Because Bipasha Basu is ‘dusky’, she has become the new-age sex-bomb of Indian cinema. Not because she has spent years perfecting and crafting that persona or anything. Being ‘dusky’ is my only hope a few of my aunts and relatives have told me, considering how ‘dark’ I’ve become in the past 20 years. It’s funny, I would have ignored all of it — sort of a habit when it comes to taking my relative’s opinions of anything at all even remotely seriously — until that one day some one commented on my skin in this e-universe. I had always considered my body to be relatively invisible online considering one doesn’t use it, or in some simplistic essence is left behind. Obviously that was wrong as my skin does have some value attached to it, regardless of the gaze I’m subjected to.

Now that I think of it, my ‘dusky’ skin has boxed me in. I am that ‘brown’ girl who ‘writes about other mud squatters her country people’ online. Beyond that, it seems like I am nothing else. I am still wondering when did I get co-opted into a system of ‘tokenism’; when the ‘dusTy’ label was accorded onto me or when I let it define me (I decided to write this post after receiving record number of troll e-mails yesterday — 118  — that seemed to suggest/assess/define me nothing beyond my skin). And as of now, the box seems to get smaller by every passing second and I fear the day I am going to vanish and all there is left of me is my skin.


I Was A Teenage Sexist Chicken

Jaded16’s Note : Time for another fabulous guest post, the LadyClock says so! And this time around it’s a ManPerson doing all the talking! It’s so easy to forget they exist too. Well all the douches anyway. This dude is one hardcore blogger and founder of SexGenderBody and The National Gadfly and is as opposed to MRA’s as much Foucault hated punctuation. Sounds almost like a wet dream doesn’t it?

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This post is not about Sexism or Feminism, it is about my experience in talking about them.

As webmaster / publisher / admin / janitor at SexGenderBody.com, I often dialog on those issues and in the communities that they create.  This post is one effort to frame how I experience the terms of the conversations and the goals of the site – to articulate my view on the structure of dialog itself.

Simply put, I have been thinking about how we treat each other inside a conversation about SGB issues and identity. I noticed some patterns of how we seem to argue with each other inside these conversations.  This post is not about something specific to SGB issues, advocates themselves or the conversations.  This is about how we speak to each other about those issues.  SGB issue conversations are not somehow different from other conversations.  I simply care about them more.  This applies to Racism, Classism, TG discrimination or any other conversation regarding society and individuals.

I will mostly use 1st person in this post, not because I think I’m ‘right‘ or ‘better‘ or anything.  It is just that I think that by making statements using the 3rd person (we/they/you), it is not as honest or intimate and is often a distraction.  As a reader, you may be left wondering who the subject is, whether to defend your own views and how I can claim to know other people’s thoughts & motives.  My writing tends to be more effective when I am describing my personal experience.

Guys hang back (and it’s not just guys)

I was chatting with friend about how Feminism & Sexism are addressed on some blogs.  She noted her experience that “men hang back” to see how the women are going to respond and later come in on the ‘safe’ side with a hearty “yeah, what she said!” It’s not universal across blogs, but it brings up an interesting point: chickening out.

Why would men hide out?  Maybe they have been lambasted and they are ‘gun-shy’  Certainly, I have been told a) I am sexist b) go do homework c) come back with approved answers.  Sometimes in harsh terms, peppered with “@$$hole” or “troll”.  I may have fully deserved that response or not.  But, the idea that I would ‘hide out’ because some woman treated me harshly is in itself a responsibility dodge. 

Hiding is a choice – my choice. Period.  The only person that makes me hide or stop hiding, is me.

There is responsibility and there are consequences.  In blogs and live conversations.  I have a very clear example of this in my personal life.  I had a girlfriend and she became pregnant.  We sat on the bed and she asked me what I wanted to do.  I told her that I would do whatever she wanted to do.  Right there – I chickened out.

What I did there was to lay it all on her.  When we broke up, she said to me that the relationship died on that day in that conversation.  She knew I was afraid and didn’t want a child.  She wanted my honesty and my intimacy.  I gave her neither.  It hurt our relationship.  I withheld my voice, my experience and how I felt.

It’s like that on blogs and in face-to-face conversations.   The problem with hanging back or hiding out, is that real communication struggles to exist without all parties involved in the conversation.  Everybody in the conversation loses out when someone hides out.

It’s not just men and it’s not just Sexism or Feminism.  How many people walk away from or hide out instead of speaking their mind and making a difference?  How many of us hold our voice still when we  are afraid?  How many women identify themselves as Feminists but do not find agreement from Feminist books, blogs or speakers?  I have met some.  Are they the only ones?  If there are more, where do they go and how do they contribute to the cause?  Where are their voices heard?  I don’t know.

Where else do people hide out?  Work?  Family?  We all probably do it in our lives to some degree.  Nobody alive today, invented it.  We can all quit at any time.  We can even relapse and quit again.  Speaking up is not without benefit.  In my life there is no greater feeling than feeling of being in a conversation with someone where both people feel heard by each other.

There are no correct answers

The academic hierarchy model of argument is wonderful in science – but psychology, sexism and discrimination are not hard science.  It is a limiting mistake to language them in such terms.  I mean that by treating subjective opinion as if it were objective fact is a disservice to the focal cause.  Not just in context but in results.  It sets up a false sense of truth and proof.

Also, an ‘academic’ or ‘scientific’ hierarchy looks to me like a lot of other paternalistic structures, perhaps even reinforcing some of the very assumptions, definitions, prejudices and messages that are being challenged in a conversation about SGB identity.

One example of my experience from Feminism conversations goes something like this:

A certain “1st Wave” theory was proven wrong in 1971 by so-and-so.  This “2nd Wave” theory was proven wrong in 1981 by so-and-so.  “3rd Wave” has theory become X, as anyone who has read so-and-so would know….and so forth.

I’ve done that in life.  Replaying someone else’s argument from the past is a shortcut.  I was trying to ‘win’ the argument.  I wanted to be right.  I was not looking into my life to see how this conversation really impacted me.  Who cares why?  I was not thinking for myself – but only of myself. That’s the critical factor.  By doing so, I deprived myself of the full knowledge of my impact on others and the chance to grow up.  I lost out.  The people I was talking to lost out.  The greater conversation around sexism lost out because I was both saying nothing new and denying my own personal contribution, both past and present.

It’s a classic case of ‘precedence’ – “if so-and-so said it, it must be true”.  History becomes canon which in turn becomes rote.  I don’t want to hear what a professor or author said sometime in the past.  I want to hear how this issue has impacted the person I’m talking to – in their own life.  Have they ever said or thought anything like that?  Was it done to them?  Have I done that to them?  How did they feel?  What does the person in front of me think about all of this?  What is this person’s gift of intellect, reason and vision have to offer our conversation?

So, now I have started asking people how this issue has impacted them in their life.  Have they ever thought or said anything like that?  Has it ever been said to them?  How did they feel?  Have I ever said something like that to them?

On the topic of academic debate:  I would like to see 1 million people stumbling through conversations together over the merits of Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, Simone de Beauvoir, Andrea Dworkin or anyone else for that matter.  I would much rather the multitude of amateurs than a much smaller number of people that have read all the right materials, learned all the correct thoughts and speak in the appropriate homages to the good topics.  I like academic and structured debates.  I simply think that they cannot contain the larger population’s experience or contribution to any subject.

If I had to choose between a flawless argument that is given by one really smart person or 10 million amateur, untrained opinions, I would take the latter for a greater impact on improving society’s performance on the issue.  The larger group represents more individual contribution to the discourse, which I think is the only valuable currency in these debates.  Dogma fails where cognition succeeds. If we recorded 15 million conversations about Betty Friedan and each person spoke on the subject matter in terms of their own experience, honestly; then every one of those conversations would be relevant and contain something new.

Don’t get me wrong, structured debate has a place and a real value.  I honestly love participating in them.  I like discussing the history of Feminist Theory.  It’s informative. I even like talking to people much smarter than myself.  However, the broad and sweeping change in society will occur in the bazaar and not in the cathedral.

It’s OK to fall down

My life got better in these conversations when I realized that I was going to make mistakes.  Lots of them.  (Actually, I made all the mistakes then figured out what had happened.) Once I accepted that, it all got better.  I don’t want to make mistakes, but I do make them.  We all do.  There is a difference between knowing that I may offend someone and striving to do so.  I am going to get flamed or yelled at or disagreed with.  I used to believe that I had to defend my position in arguments, to save face, etc.  That’s not how it turned out to be.  These conversations are a dance in some ways.  I know that the desired result is equality and respect for all.  That serves as the tempo to the dance.  The words and opinions of those I speak with and myself – are the notes and the melody.

I just remind myself that there is a difference between myself and Rush Limbaugh but that does not excuse me from responsibility. I am admitting my fallibility – not giving myself license to offend.

So, what is my point?  Why say all this?  Because I wanted to encourage others to step forward into the mistakes and successes of these conversations.  I used my own mistakes as references and examples for someone else to look at their own experience and bring it to the conversation on SGB issues, or race, or class.  The water is choppy sometimes and you will spill.  So long as you care and respect, you will be fine.  People will insult you and me and each other.  It goes with the territory and I can’t begin to judge their motives.  If I’m lucky, if you’re lucky maybe those people will contribute to our lives in some meaningful way.

So, come in from the shadows.  If you have gone away, please come back.  It’s OK.  We need you.  I need you.

P.S. Thank you VaginaDrum, Clarisse and Michelle for allowing me to crystallize my thoughts lately on this issue and the upcoming site.

P.P.S. Remember that awesome Open Guest Posting Policy I keep on talking about? It’s a magical page, with a contact form! Use it and see!



A LadyBlogger’s Thoughts On Living Life On The Threshold

Every once in a while I have to endure full-blown family gathering that my parents are so fond of. If I were to say this is one migraine that lasts a lifetime, I won’t be doing it justice — and I haven’t even begun using the hyperbole people of the Olde Interwebes! — for there are just so many times a Lady gets to hear, “Oh dear! You’re studying Literature. You were so intelligent as a kid” or “So you want to read story books for a living is it?” before she loses it in a room full of people gathered to decide Who-Can-Be-Louder-Than-Who contest. I don’t mind my relatives, some are even downright passable. It’s only when they decide to give in to the judgmental conga line in their heads when my pickle with them turns sour. Or ripens (My LadyBrain forgets which one smells worse). It’s at a time like this when the difference in my virtual and real life come out and mock me as I try to look interested in the discussion on which spices to add to which dish.

I spend hours mentally wishing I were discussing The Olde Woman Problème every time the conversation around me goes to cooking, parenting and family values. Especially when the topic at hand goes dangerously close to what I should be doing with my life. If I am to believe all the discussions and scientifically tabulate using a lot of mathematical-sounding devices, it would seem talking about me is my family’s favourite hobby. More specifically, what I am doing wrong, what I should be doing and more importantly I shouldn’t be doing. And you thought I was just displaying my daily quota of narcissism! But I digress.

In my ‘real’ life — for what is real, really? — whenever any family gathering exceeds just my immediate family, donning the ‘good Indian girl’ costume is easier than showing how rankled my LadyBrain got by the misogynist statement of the last two minutes. It’s much safer for everyone around me to not hear me explode as I try to tell my uncle that insinuating his sister should go back to her abusive husband isn’t the solution he should be pointing towards without popping a BloodVessel. And after careful calculations by the trial and error method, there are fewer arguments heated discussions if I’ve not mouthed off yet another relative after zie says anything along the lines of ‘a woman who speaks out is a dangerous thing’. For if somehow my LadySecret will be spilled that I (gasp!) am feminist! AND opposed to almost every view they’ve tried to instill in me, you’ll hear Collective Gasps Of The UberShocked Variety. For, how exactly will they ever find me a husband if I’m as obstinate as this? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WANT TO MARRY? WHO WILL GIVE US PUDGY GRAND-CHILDREN THEN? and many rants in this entertainingly UnSubtle vein.

It’s only in this virtual world can I speak up and out, on various issues without the pressure of about 500 years of societal pressure expecting complacency from me. Counting out the delightful trolls who want to do various inappropriate things to my ‘deliciously brown’ face, there is nothing but support to express my mind (for which I am ever grateful). Here, I can fish incidents out of my life and connect them with any  larger event at hand before you can even begin to say ‘Personal Is Political’ — only on good days — or just find a way to inflict pure torture on you gentle readers! Either way, all that isn’t articulated, the GooglePervie comes to feast on here. However, these days, there is a strange twitch. The more I write, the more I want to let people know just what I think of their misogyny and casteist remarks.

This weekend, sitting with my family pretending everything is okay as they talked about a cousin’s failed marriage because of her ‘independence’ I felt the words at my tongue, festering on my skin. Then I remembered where I was and kept mum. The other day while reading  Gauri Despande’s poem  ‘Female Of The Species‘  the stark difference in the public and private lives of women just leapt from the page. We talk of sex, love, marriage, children in the privacy of our LadyFriends, at cafes and in our living rooms. But when placed in the public setting, where our in-laws (and their neighbours too!) will hear just what we think about our country, economy or husband’s girth, the silences roar. There are many women I know who would surprise you with their views on motherhood, family life and so many ‘delicate’ subjects had they had a platform to speak. Reduced to just mumbling here and there, women have mastered the art of saying so much in a few words when men go on prattling about. I remember watching Amitabh Bachan in an old interview with his wife Jaya Bachan spoke 13 words in the hour-long interview. And this is perhaps the most-loved on-screen and off-screen couple India saw in the 80’s.

The woman still speaks from the inner courtyard, that’s an old statement. What concerns this LadyBrain today is what happens after this constant  — forced — splitting of the soul we collectively self-inflict on ourselves, to an extent. Especially to those who have no medium of letting that other half escape in some way? Like the women who can’t afford a computer to blog, don’t have hours to mull over — existentially or otherwise, don’t have a support system of an echo-chamber of Loyal LadyFriends who understand their views, let alone support them? In such cases, our silence turns inward and bites us. Two minutes of hearing my cook rant and you know just what is on her mind since 1987 or exchange one friendly smile with a fellow strap-hanger on the train and she’s telling you about her sister-in-law’s conniving tactics. But given an audience, she’ll rather remain in the shadows. This ghost of the “Indian Woman” is always leering over our shoulders, whether we acknowledge her or not, sitting on her throne of tradition, religion and twisted internalised misogyny.

Living life on the threshold, being on the outside while dubbing the inside story is a trait you’ll see in all our lives. I’m close to being 20 years old and I still haven’t figured out which one begins and ends in which part of me. While there is ritual silencing, there is also keeping the tongue heavy and glued to the roof of the mouth, which we inflict on ourselves at times. Who knows when I’ll be whole and *me* again — if ever. Meanwhile, my other self sits there quietly. She moves her lips but has forgotten to speak these days.

[Cross-posted]

The Housewife Disease: The Oh NOES Is It Contagious Edition Of CabbageBraining

Some of my best childhood memories include me swimming under water in my uncle’s pool, have the water squish all semblance of coherent thought out of my ears, feel the water everywhere and see my breath come out in bubbles. I would pretend that those bubbles were the language I invented, each articulating one particular thought. I’d get comfortable and then, predictably come up gasping for air, feeling bad that there were no bubbles to escape into above the water. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of those bubbles again; only these GrownUp bubbles of mine can whisk me away anywhere (Don’t judge. I can’t control what I dream. Ask Freud, he’d agree too). But it was only last week, I actually felt the need for such bubbles, out of pure “flight” response.

Last week, I went to another seminar — I should just stop attending seminars. The biggest pile of gunk seems to be churned out of them — this time it was the professors who made me want to hammer my ears shut. Generally, after seminars or any other event that asks post-event mingling, I switch my LadyBrain to autopilot, paste the obligatory subtle smile on and leave as soon as the hand hits ‘polite-mingling-over’ on the watch of ForcedEtiquette. Only this time, I wanted to speak to this one professor I liked, so I loitered around. While waiting for my turn to speak to him, I didn’t tune out of the conversation, but was actually listening. In retrospect, that was my first mistake. Someone he knew was asking about his wife and kids, when he said, “Oh, Sheila is still just a housewife” followed by a round of laughter. One one level, I felt horrified that I’d thought of him as somewhat sane, but mostly, all I could do was not burst a BloodVessel as I seethed. And to think he was a self-proclaimed FeministMan. Oh the jokes keep on coming!

Instead of walking away, I talked to him; pointing out (in my usual UnSubtle manner) that what he said was condescending, especially when it was implied that ‘Sheila’ was a housewife by choice. And then he managed to actually flaunt some more privilege by saying something along the lines of, “We’re both educated. People like us don’t waste our degrees. It’s silly to waste all that knowledge away. Can you believe she is a feminist?”. Cue my Medusa face here. I opened my mouth to ask him since when did feminism and motherhood or feminism and being a housewife become mutually exclusive. If so, my LadyBrain completely hazed over that period. I wanted to say so many things, but then, he just didn’t care. Clearly, valuing women’s choices isn’t something that occurs to this ‘FeministDude’ (where his version of feminism can be loosely defined as “On your knees, NOW). Sadly, other professors — most of them women — found that funny too.

It’s sickening that there are indeed many people in academia that think a housewife is devoid of all radicalism, is apolitical and a thoroughly static figure, crafted to eternally please. In fact, there is a long running slur joke against housewives in our culture. These housewives — who apparently choose to be ‘ignorant’ and ‘housewife-y’ are called as ‘Maniben’ (s). Politely translated, it stands for a bumbling, simple idiot who is more dedicated to material things in life (women need to SHOP more than they need to breathe!) rather than engaging in any form of activity that will require them to think of anything beyond what to cook for dinner. This ‘maniben’ is typically boxed as a “proud, privileged woman who wants nothing more than to just show off her money and ignorance”. There are many jokes about her putting on an ‘English’ accent while speaking incorrectly or perhaps she crumbles into pieces if she misses her daily soaps. Speaking of which, many Indian soaps use this ‘maniben’ as a character who provides comic relief. Of course watching a silly, ignorant woman fumble is funny. But I digress.

What really rankles this LadyBrain is how this ‘ignoramus housewife’ is a societal construct more than it is ‘natural’ as it is assumed to be. Let’s say if I wasn’t allowed to study, was told from the moment I could understand things that whatever I would do, I wouldn’t match up to a Dude, that my education was unnecessary, that I would find inherent joy in being a wife and a mother; I’d be one of those housewives too. In fact, what is wrong with that? Who can dictate that housewives are devoid of independent thought, of liberal thinking, of lacking any sort of intelligence, JUST BECAUSE YOU NEVER LET THEM BE ANYTHING ELSE! I’m not implying that being a housewife is a choice in India. It surely isn’t in more than 60% of the houses I know of. The point is, if a man stayed home, raised his children and perhaps accomplished the UnThinkable (gasp!) even cooked food, no one calls him effeminate. Instead every one will coo “Awww” and secretly hope that one day, even their husbands will fetch their own cups of tea. On one hand, the DudeCouncil raises an army of SubservientLadies every year — so that all the DudelyDudes get their quota of supposedly spineless servants wives — and on the other hand they berate “housewives” for being just that. Talk about re-channeling Marie Antoinette!

And when a ‘LiberatedWoman’ (Indian code for educated) chooses to remain home, the ‘EnlightenedOnes’ frown at her for not using her intelligence. Suddenly, all that she is and represents is the degrees hanging on the proverbial wall, devoid of the independent choice to do whatever she wants to do with her life. She is to be pitied, to be concerned for. “Poor thing, wasting her life away at home” or “Sometimes even education cannot break the mind’s iron walls of stupidity“, such words one hears before someone swiftly changes the conversation. A feminist — the freaking god to zie’s mind — can’t possibly waste zie’s time speaking about such a deplorable object, someone who will never see the light. Also, when the serious task of ‘spreading the seed of knowledge’ rests on us Radical beings, We the Great Freaking Feminists, we won’t stop to ponder that just maybe, her staying at home is a CHOICE, that she decided for herself and she is quite happy. Or the fact that she is sending out sensitive, smart, ‘liberated’ children out in the world completely passes us by. Just like Ayn Rand and common sense.

Can you blame me for wanting to escape into a bubble when I hear this? If anyone asks for me, I’ll be at the deep end of the pool, comfortable in a language where these slurs don’t exist.

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