Musings From The Empire

It’s incredibly easy to lock myself high up in the ivory tower, to think I am the only one from India writing about the Olde Woman Problem, that I am that whinyarse proverbial ‘lone’ voice and ad nauseam in this vein of self-pity. Only when Arvan asked me if I was interested in doing a weekly round-up of Indian feminist blogs, did that tower come tumbling down. As I read these women’s words, I felt reflected, mirrored and most importantly, just belonged here. So here a few voices from the Empire, speaking out. Give them your love people of the Olde Interwebes!

1. Bhavia on ‘I hate being an Indian woman‘ where she discusses the claustrophobia and the ‘hysteria’ a few women she knows feel.

If we don’t do things that we wanted during our one life,then when will we ever do it?Looks like the purpose of educating us and teaching us to aim high was to get married off without allowing us to do what we wanted in life.Then what was the need for spending/investing/wasting money on us? The problem is when parents expect us to do everything in the traditional way.They are happy and proud when we top school and college.But they show frowney faces and wrinkled foreheads the moment we tell them that we would like to post-graduate or work abroad

2. Unmana in ‘And, in More Sexist News‘ discusses the overtly sexist IAF policy that restricts women from being put in combat positions.

I am not surprised at the IAF’s policy; I am not surprised at the obvious sexism in a government agency. I am appalled though, that the Vice Chief Air Marshall doesn’t seem in the least embarrassed about his own sexism – or about making such sexist statements as a defense of those sexist policies.

3. Indian Homemaker in ‘Of Housewives, Beggars and Prostitutes‘ on the lack of recognition women’s labour gets.

Housewives can’t be clubbed with beggars and prostitutes says Supreme Court. And why were they clubbed together? Because, according to Census, all these non workers are not engaged in economically productive work. No wonder so many women prefer ‘work’ to ‘non-work’.

4. Shail in ‘Some Thoughts On Domestic Violence‘ describing poignantly her memories as a firsthand witness of domestic violence.

Even as a child, my blood pressure shot up when I witnessed such scenes of violence. I longed to barge in and give a piece of MY mind to the bullies and their pliant victims. My blood boiled in anger and roared in my ears. I clenched my fists in anger as my heart raced. I so wanted the women to object to what was happening, hit him back and throw him out of the house. I wanted the women to stand up and look the perpetrator in the eye and say, “No, you will not!” None of them did of course. Some of them groveled trying to please their Lord, others stood dumb, some answered the questions he hurled but got hit anyway, others argued or even abused in return which then became a free for all. But none of them stood up straight looked the man in the eye and said, “No you will not!”

‘Wife’

I took my 8-year-old daughter recently to visit the grave of my grandmother and grandfather.  They’re buried in a little cemetery in Batavia, IL called Resurrection.  My daughter said it was too bad that we didn’t bring flowers and I agreed.  I’m not much of a cemetery visitor myself, but there is something about flowers.

We agreed to bring flowers next time.

It took us about 20 minutes to find the headstones, which was comedic in itself.  I was sort of embarrassed that I didn’t know where the markers were.  I mean, I really did spend a lot of time with “Gramma” when she was alive.  I haven’t visited her grave since the day she was buried, 9 years ago.

As I lined up an 8-year-old child with me into a search party for two rocks in the ground with names Donald and Jane, I thought that it’s probably a lucky break for me that I am an atheist.  I figured that if I believed that I’d be facing the spirits of the dead in an afterlife, they would chew my ass out for never visiting their tombs or at least bringing flowers when I did finally swing by.  Not to mention spending my remaining living years stewing over the guilt for my misdeeds.

As it was, I just passed the time watching my daughter pick up shiny things as an offering for the graves of her ancestors.  I wondered if I was a poor example of how to respect ones ancestors, but that was just my old Catholic guilt training flaring up like some scar from a childhood trauma.  In reality, the way to respect my ancestors is to live a life of dignity and honesty; to live a life worth living.  That’s what they did and that’s the only thing Gramma would want me to do, if she were here.  It’s all she ever wanted for me.

We found the markers.  My daughter found them, of course.  I walked over and we gazed up the remembrances of those gone before us, father and daughter.  In addition to his birth and death dates and name, Donald’s stone listed his accomplishments:

WWII, KOREA, 82ND AIRBORNE, SFC, PURPLE HEART, BRONZE STAR.

Jane’s stone said less:

WIFE

Wife? Wife? That’s it?  What an insult.  I was stunned.  As we looked on, my daughter captured the essence of this label perfectly:

That sucks.”

I looked around for comparison to see a demonstration of the travesty before me.  Unfortunately, this seemed to be the norm as the theme for choosing an epitaph for a woman seemed to be “What is the least we can possibly say?” The result looks like a low bidding war of using the least syllables.  Sort of like the last move in a Scrabble game, when you don’t even have a full tray of letters.  Or a funeral home game show called Name That Woman: “I can name that woman in one word.”

Wife. Mother. Sister.

I wondered what stopped the trend from going even lower on the value scale.  Maybe it has and there are women’s graves out there with declarations of even lower value:

Her. Cook. It.

Maybe it was nothing more than an indictment of my mother’s strained relationship with her own mother.  Whatever.  I was pissed.  My daughter and I stayed a while longer and then I took her for a drive around Batavia.  I showed her my grandmother’s old house, her church, her charities.  I told her of holidays and summer days that lasted forever.  I showed my daughter a house that Mary Todd Lincoln had lived in near my grandmother’s house.

Cool!  Did you meet her, daddy?”  My daughter asked me.

Which is the exact same question I asked my grandmother when she showed me that house!  Gramma didn’t think it was nearly as funny a question as my guffaws indicated to my daughter’s inquiry.

I told her my grandmother’s life story, as I know it.

Born, in 1916 in NYC as Rita Mae Krueger.  Her birth certificate was issued from an adoption hospital, where women would deliver a child that they would give up for adoption.  Rita was adopted by a family in Elgin, IL who already had a son of their own, Sylvester.  The changed Rita’s name to Jane.  They also adopted another little girl and named her, Helen.

Helen became very ill so she was returned to the orphanage and a new girl brought home.  She too was renamed Helen.  My grandmother confided to me that this event made her dreadfully afraid to become ill, for she was afraid that she would be returned to die alone. These three children remained close for the rest of their lives, with my grandmother and her brother living on for years after Helen.

Her teen years and young adult years are not known to me.  It has been suggested that my grandmother too had a child out-of-wedlock which she gave up for adoption.  My grandmother married before WWII to a man named Emanuel and she bore two girls with him.

He went to war and she stayed behind with the girls.  He came back from the war as an alcoholic and became the town drunk.  Grandmother divorced him, despite her strong Catholic faith.

Grandmother knew how to work the system.  She was vigorously active in the Democratic Party and civic organizations.  She had a strong sense of community contribution and the duties of citizenship.  In addition to earning the money to raise her daughters, named Jane and Rita (go figure), she contributed time and effort to her church; community organizations; Democratic Party operations, GOTV drives & registration.  She joined The Loyal Order Of Moose, whose signature charitable operation is fundingMooseheart – The Child City, a home for orphans. (go figure…again).

After her daughters were raised and gone, she remarried to Don.  She found in him true happiness.  Their wedding was in Hawaii and they bought a house in Batavia to live out their days and cash in on the good life promised to those that made so many sacrifices during WWII.  I remember every visit to their house as a time of laughter, smiles and joy.  Christmas eve seated around a shiny silver christmas tree made of wire and plastic with a lamp on the floor shining red, blue, green and yellow light on the tree.  Summer days in the backyard swimming pool.  Ice cream sundaes in little plastic cups in the freezer.  Friday night fish-fry at the VFW.

She was a busy-body.  She always had little lists of things to do and memo pads by the phone with a pencil.  Her refrigerator had little lists posted on there and she was always working off of some list.

When I was 8, Don went to the hospital for chest pains.  They gave him some medicine and released him.  He called his wife to come pick him up and while she was driving to him, a blood clot slipped into his heart and he died.  That’s when we put the first rock in the ground at Resurrection Cemetery.

Grandma lived another 30 years after that.  She was always busy.  She never married again.  She didn’t want to lose her military health benefits.  She did meet a man and they lived together for a few years.  But, she couldn’t bring herself to let go of the benefits she had.  She was the queen of working the system.  Not milking it – she contributed plenty.  More than many others.  But, if a promise was made to her, she was going to make sure that it is kept.  The greatest generation was promised much for their sacrifice during WWII and Jane O’Flaherty was going to make sure that the promise was delivered.

Until retirement, she worked in state institutions for troubled children and teens.  She was there for those that no one was there for.

She kept her Catholic faith, but like many – she made the personal decisions regarding her own life by the terms of what is best for her and not what is best for the Pope.  She was an active member of her church,Holy Cross.  However, she was not secretive about her opinions – especially when they differed from the Vatican or the Pastor.  Her brother had joined the priesthood as an adult and for years, she assisted his parishes in addition to her own.  They shared a close bond of friendship, sibling kinship and shared values.  He was with her for all but the last 5 years of her life.

I told all of this to my daughter, remembering all the love I received from that woman.  My daughter said to me while I pointed out the Chevy dealer my grandmother kept afloat by purchasing a new dark blue Caprice every 3 years.  The little voice in the back seat said:

Daddy, great-grandma was really committed.  Wasn’t she?”

Those words were a greater respect for the dead than any floral arrangement or carved monument.  The knowledge this little girl has of the goodness from her ancestor and the ownership of that as a part of who she is – priceless.

In reality, the memories of the dead can never do justice to their lives.  No monument or story or reverence can replace or recreate the impact of anyone.  It is simply not possible.  What we can do, is to do what they did – live, and do so with every ounce of care and commitment that we can generate.  The greater the legacy we might wish to honor, the greater the commitment we share with those that live with us now.

Thinking about what words my grandmother’s stone would have, if she were to choose them, I suspect it might look like one of her little lists:

move on.

work the system.

stay healthy.

do your part.

say your prayers.

 

 

A Woman Like That

Last year, I met an extremely interesting woman; she was fierce, passionate and charming. She had one ‘problem’, she was a part of the bigger sect we post-caste Indians have conveniently labelled ‘Dalit’. And to advance her (un)popularity, she was a former sex-worker. She worked as a maid in one of my aunt’s houses and I spoke very briefly with her before my aunt reprimanded me for talking to a woman like that. As if, whatever ‘problem’ or ‘disease’ she had, it would somehow seep through my skin too, or worse I’d become a woman like that too! Or maybe she just really hates two utreuses talking — and you know utreuses,  they ruin everything! — and that’s why she made me go to another room. Or maybe having a woman like that under your roof makes the air contaminated and you need to make sure that her ‘stench’ leaves with her. I for one am confused as to why would you let her work in your house if you feel it’s necessary to douse the house with ‘holy’ water after she leaves (think of the water waste daily!), obviously considering you can’t stand to be in the same room as her. I’d rather not employ someone I have a problem with than to employ them and treat them as less than human. But, that may just be me. I’m just a sillyarse LadyBrain after all.

I’ve heard about women like that since I figured out ‘that’ was a part of the Secret Indian Code parents or grown-ups use when referring to sex-workers. Or a woman who commits adultery — are you shocked that some women out here have affairs? Perhaps you should really give up thinking that all we do is squat in the mud all day. It might make comprehension of humans as a species a tad easier — or perhaps she’s a woman who had pre-marital sex. A woman like that always had to correspond with any vulva going out of line. Somehow circumstance, context and coercion wouldn’t be a part of such a discussion, just emphasis on how wrong the sexual transgression was and it ends with the same bleat of These Modern Women Racing To Be The Next Best Prostitute. Imagine my shock when someone I know called Arundhati Roy a woman like that. It shook the ground beneath my feet — take that Rushdie! — when I realised I didn’t know the Secret Indian Code at all. Turns out, a woman like that doesn’t require special prowess or inclination to indulge in more than socially sanctioned amounts of coitus but rather any woman whom the DudeCouncil considers ‘going out of her place’.

For a while I thought perhaps Arundhati Roy made a statement about feminine sexuality, or even hinted that it exists and that had the DudeCouncil up in arms. Or maybe she called Dalit activists ‘people’ like the last time; then I could understand  the fury that comes up whenever anyone mentions her. This time all she had to do was write a couple of brilliant articles on Indian politics and she has entered the race to become the Next Best Prostitute too, and completely without her knowledge from what I understand. As of now there are four ways one looks at Roy depending on the direct relation of the size of one’s lobes and the person’s inclination to not use them :

  1. Either she’s a sillyarse LadyPerson blabbering about the Maoists and how their fight is justified and she suggests alternative ways to just killing them as one would fleas, so she’s a Leftist and people in the Left are silly.
  2. She is a completely unreliable person when it comes to politics because she started off with writing fiction. And sillyarse ladies cannot be trusted to talk about politics who like to ‘dream’ things up.
  3. She should stick to what she knows best, dreaming up things and winning Bookers.
  4. She’s a LadyVulva. Like anything they say can be important at all.

Any critique of Roy, wise or otherwise, always narrows down to her gender and the profession she chose and then you go on to elaborate what she should do with the rest of her life, especially if it entails quitting to be one of the most outspoken voices of Indian politics. And perhaps you grudgingly acknowledge the fact that she won the Booker so she must have some slivers of talent after all considering she won an International Award Of The Important Variety. And then you add, “Maybe that Booker was a fluke. Explain why else has she not written another novel?” and even my Medusa face doesn’t stop you from detailing the flaws — where flaws become her inclusion of people from the lower castes — in God Of Small Things. And then while someone was ranting about Roy some more, I tuned out and started thinking about other women like that in Indian herstory. Starting from Mahashveta Devi who writes from the Subaltern, to Kamla Das who suffered vicious consequences for choosing Islam over Hinduism, to Ismat Chughtai who had to censor every word she wrote because of how she hinted at feminine sexuality under veiled and contained spaces to the recent writers of today like Namita Devi Dayal who shifted genres from non-fiction to fiction. The basic idea is to contain these writers into controllable spaces where the DudeCouncil can bask in the safety of never being accused. Between these admissions lies a truth I don’t want to acknowledge, that one not necessarily be feminist to be censored or policed, that being female is more than enough.

Women like that have a history of being ostracised, heavily critiqued and sometimes just negated to the point of being invisible. One professor I knew told me how publishing houses like Zubaan or Katha let women’s writing out because “no good publishing houses will publish such substandard writing. They get printed because they are women and not despite of it¹”. As if gender and sex are a blemish a woman can overcome if she tries really hard and adopts an ambiguous sounding name like A.S. Byatt then no one will regulate her into becoming a Silly Lady Novelist. Women like that need to taught their proper place in society, need to allow the DudeCouncil to ventriloquise them without mouthing any inconsequential muffles about ‘each voice for her own’ or other topics we pesky feminist like to take up ever so often, need to accept that no matter what they do, they will never be in a position to reach their MaleStreamed counterparts (who by the way are allowed to hop and skip between as many genres as they like! Ask the dude organising races for prostitutes. He’ll explain) and in a few words, Just Keep Quiet.

And when women fail to do that, they become Women Like That — diseased, contaminated, untouchable — and their tales become cautionary folklore. Every time I mention I hope to be a cultural theorist or a writer someday, all I hear is “I hope you don’t want to be one of those ‘women’s rights women’. They don’t do very well, you know. Some don’t even get married! Can you imagine?”, to which I am now going to reply, “Sorry, it’s too late. I am a woman like that“.

1. I still remember this statement even though I heard it more than two years ago.

—–

Sorry for the sporadic posting last week. As my evil exams are now a thing of the Olde Tymes, posting will be much more organised.

Confessions Of A Gender Traitor

I confess.

I am a gang member.

I have benefited from my membership in this gang, all my life.  Everything in my life has come to me easier than it has for most of the planet, because I belong to this gang.  My clothes, food, shelter, luxuries and freedom are the spoils of my membership.  We live a life of ease, gluttony, vanity and waste built on the backs of oppression, deceit and cruelty.

We are a gang that brutally oppresses half of the world’s population with rape, murder, starvation, torture, disease, forced and unpaid labor, humiliation, lack of education and food and shelter.  The mother of almost every child on the planet is the target of our oppression – controlled by words, weapons & fear and deprived of a voice or respect as human – as equal.

This gang also fights among its own ranks.  The gang at the top of this pyramid of brutality, ignorance and brutality is run by several thousand gang members who use raping, pillaging, murder and destroying the entire planet to luxuriate in and hoard the wealth of the planet.  For every bite of food we eat, thousands of people die of starvation.

The annals of history are written by this gang, obliterating the thoughts, words and lives of all foes, vanquished or living.  For four thousand years we have forged the planet around us into instruments of war, torture, enslavement and despair.  We have roamed the surface of the planet in packs, armies and alone in dark alleys with an unquenchable thirst for the blood of our fellow humans.  Those whom we do not kill outright, we eliminate in history, we remove their names from their own stories and place the names we choose to honor in their places.

The framework of language, philosophy, religion, reason, science and commerce are formed by the desires and efforts of this gang to make the world in its own image.  We control the actions of the world because we own the words that people use to form the ideas of their lives.  The bedtime stories of childhood, the news of the day, the law of the land and the ramblings of the deranged are messages we give you to reinforce our place in your mind as they who you serve.

We are the gang of men.  The system we use to oppress is called many things: Patriarchy is one name, but I prefer Kyriarchy.

I am a white man, born into the clan who call themselves Christians.  We tell stories of our superiority over animals and people.  We have shaped the world into a bloodbath of bullets, disease, greed, corruption and deceit in the name of an invisible ‘god’.

I will not further this slaughter nor go one step further without naming it.  You could state that I am a traitor to my gender and to my race.

I look at the brutality executed onto women, children and men in service to the gang warfare that has run unchecked for four thousand years, and I see a species of creatures committing ritual suicide.

I cannot change who I am or who I was, but I can choose what I do.  I can choose my words.  This gang is costing my child safety.  It is costing us all a future.  I have silently opposed this gang for years.

I am silent no more.

There is no “us & them”.  There is only the life we share.  Our survival depends on all of us working together.  Abandon this gang warfare – and live.

-Arvan

Jaded16’s Note: Welcome our newest author people of the Olde Interwebes Arvan of SexGenderBody. This means you have one more person to add in your HateBook. Heh. Also, remember that pretty page for Open Guest Posting? It’s still there!

‘Skin Deep’ In Whose Skin?

As a budding wordling and receptor of English Literary Academia in India, it’s not difficult to notice our affinity to the terms ‘Postcolonialism’, the ‘subject position of the Oriental reader’, our tendency to use words such as ‘colonising space or time’, ‘deoccupying bodies’ and many other words in Literary mumbo-jumbo that somehow help us to disentangle the mess two hundred or so years of colonisation has left us with. At least for those privileged enough to understand said lingo. And for the ones who don’t, there is always assimilation into the larger ColonialMissionary looming over our heads, yielding keys to the fantastic universe of soap-operas, movies and music. And perhaps even kinky alternatives to intercourse of the coitus variety. But I digress. Either way, there are two options: 1. Fight the Imperialist Chromatic Hegemony  or 2. Be consumed by it (perhaps even like it!). I wish there weren’t such clear dichotomies — take that Descartes! — that there was some possibility of subverting or perverting the Neo-Colonial garbage thrown at us MudSquatters. But how can you topple an ideology or put it through the cycle of systematic and total bouleversement without exposing the underlying ulterior motive?

At least, this is the assumption many Postcolonial theorists make. Apparently it comes with the territory of considering oneself three steps above everyone else because you can theorise ‘them’ and ‘their mental condition’ as ‘they’ lie passively consuming all societal messages, like ‘they’ were brainless sheep in a culture factory. This is a sort of obsession, expecting the world to open ‘herself’ — another side-effect from nineteenth century academia — open to mapping, stealing narratives and even tongues. This way, each potential Postcolonial subject sits with their corner of land and language, positively asserting they can voice the people that come with the geography, denying that this re-possession of land isn’t another colonisation. After all, if you speak their language, you can represent them, right? I could continue ad nauseam in this vein but for the sake of my sanity and yours, let’s pretend I did and move on. This fetish with cartoligising, mapping, codifying history isn’t a new one. But the belief that the only way to de-colonise the self, dance the coloniser’s dance to unlearn old tricks is a recent one. Repeated and ritual use of terms such as Diaspora has trivialised the culture-specific experience of immigrant Jews and African communities; especially when writers such as Salman Rushdie and his band of dudely writers claim to be “children of Diaspora” while sitting in a comfortable mansion in the freaking Center of Western Imperialism. Or when many theorists compare racism with casteism, treating them as the same phenomenon and erasing each prejudice’s specific history, localising it to an understandable and reachable series of events. Not that different from the Victorians, isn’t it? These and countless others are the barriers that come up when a native sits back to theorise zie’s own culture and all its Colonial baggage. Imagine the plight of my lobes when I read some Western account on any Orientalist practice. Spoiler: It’s not a very pretty visual. Often it involves strange burning sensations of the nuclear kind in the vicinity of my LadyBrain.

Especially when talking about Feminist theory (practical or otherwise), more often than not its focus tends to center on the Extremely Obvious Universal Experience Of Every LadyPerson On The Planet: The Middle-Class, Suburban White Vulva Woman! And when pesky LadyPeople who may or not be of different colours, hues and ethnicities complain that it is too narrow a view, that it erases our experiences as LadyPeople who have faced oppression, silencing, misogyny and various other weapons in patriarchy’s arsenal more intensely than the Universal White Vulva Woman, rhymes, chimes and bytes of the GlobalSisterhood start blaring, once again pushing people of colour in the corner. Like Jane Eyre, the Colonial narrative of mainstream feminism too critiques its anti-woman elements within their own borders, but when it comes to seeing Bertha trapped in the attic emphatically, silences roar uniformly; she is castigated as a ‘beast’ without understanding the reasons behind her supposed bestiality. And then you wonder why words of WOC snarl, bite and corrode the psyche every time the pen hits the paper. But I digress.

While there are quite a few theorists, bloggers, activists and people (who may or may not be acquainted with technical jargon of écriture féminin) who understand the problems with privilege and consciously work at divorcing it from their lives, there is an acute lack of Colonial critique or even acknowledgment that actions of mainstream feminism are, in fact, Colonial in more instances than countable. To borrow and modify from Shulamith Firestone, “Colonialism (in feminism) is so deep, it is invisible”. You are probably wondering if I have enough caffeine in my veins as I write this, considering this accusation sounds entirely baseless. First off, the caffeine situation is taken care of, thank you for asking. Secondly, it’s not enough to say, “One must be aware of privilege and try to be aware of its super secret ways of manifestation” when speaking of WOC, especially from colonised lands. Just like the way it isn’t enough to say “All men are equal” and somehow hope this ever eliding equality will reach LadyPeople through the delightful trickle-down method, WOC need to be accorded with the respect and understood when we speak of ColonialForces at play, even in a movement as awesome as feminism. The very idea that feminism is meant to “enlighten” the masses, or the notion that European-American feminist ideals, theory and goals will somehow help LadyPeople all across the world isn’t the brightest belief. Replace feminism with “culture” and you’ll see how closely it smacks of ‘cultivising’ and ‘culturing’ a certain predetermined X sect of people it seems. And then try to explain how it isn’t Colonial to always seek examples of the most exotic and extreme practices of the Third World to justify why feminism isn’t “for them”. I’d like to see you backpedal your way out of rationalising how come women who don’t necessarily huddle in the corner of ditches, swat flies with their hands as their intestines lie bleeding, somehow don’t fit into the descriptions of the “backward” cultures. As the entire belt of women who are educated, aware and ready to fight patriarchy are coloured invisible by repeated excluding them out of discourse, explain to me once again why it isn’t Colonial, once again.

Take the sex-positivity movement for instance. Not only does it exist in privileged White circles of people, it is again Colonial in its root as it doesn’t place responsibility on the Coloniser for maintaining, perpetuating and forming specific cultural practices that brought sex-negativity into the forefront. Today, Indian culture is critiqued for being rigid when it comes to sexual norms, but understanding how the Colonial Gaze is still out loose in Indian society is missing. This way, it becomes equally difficult for an Outsider to see how the way we define ourselves, see ourselves and form our identities still reflects Colonial principles and by extension our sense of “normal” and “deviant” in sexual practices is still a parting gift from the (un)lovely Mr. Hastings. So don’t blame me if I don’t want to destigmatise BDSM or other kinky alternatives with you. I’d rather have women’s desires and voices heard now, instead of globalising experiences.

Feminism is supposed to be that one space which permeates our lives, eyes and sensibilities and make us better equipped to fight oppression. It promises to go ‘skin deep’ and become a part of our insides, to give us this special brand of armour that will make smashing patriarchy easier. Turns out, there are only a few skins who get this choice. The rest of us wander aimlessly, skinless.

 

 

 

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

    Join 76 other followers