Do you revere your shackles?

This article sums it up brilliantly!

“Women are the biggest enforcers of patriarchy” – I read this quote somewhere and this pops up in my head rather frequently when I read such articles. How true! This post has been in my mind for a long time and catalyzed by the article linked above, I finally decided to pen it down.

Marriage brought me into contact with a completely new set of people, people who were completely out of my world-view. I was brought up very liberally, encouraged to do, speak, dress and behave as I want. I was the lucky one in the sense that I never walked the tightrope between tradition and modernity – my mother and grandmother did that for me. The worldviews that women are equal to men intellectually, as-capable and in fact mentally stronger was not just an opinion but my reality. My idols reached the top of their games and my friends and close-colleagues seem very bright, smart and women of the 21st century. My mother excelled in her chosen profession and despite having different responsibilities at home, I never felt that she didn’t have an equal say or equal decision making powers. To me, power was balanced at home. So when I got married, what I observed outside this familiar progressive circle of extremely independent, smart women, came as a literal shock to me.

I saw women who worshipped patriarchy for no other reason than the comfort of familiarity. What the author observes in the column is the ground reality for many women who have been raised ( religious and traditionalist propaganda, in my opinion) to be subservient to men for their “benefit”. I saw women who were happy to act as mere helps and maids, while the man made all the critical decisions. This balance of power was for no other reason other than gender – she was female after all. It was astonishing to see how the women basked in this second-grade role and even justified their reasons to be delegated to the wifely duties alone. The so-called protection was seen as a mark of their pedigree – the inability to venture out as wished, wear clothes as desired, step out at odd hours was seen as being from a “good” household where women were to be protected, treated like breakable china until shipped off to a husband’s home where a new “protector” was established. I saw parents worry incessantly about a grown-up daughter who ventured out to buy some milk in a shop that was less than a minute away. You might argue that there are safety issues prevalent which justify many of these actions. There might be some element of truth to that, but stunting the ability of an individual to protect herself, make her own decisions in the name of “safety” or “culture” is mere a tool to weaken the female gender and render them shackled to the “safety” of patriarchy.

What astonished me even further was this –  women are so mired in the system, they don’t realize how rotten it has become. Small freedoms – the ability to maybe spend an afternoon shopping or make a decision to watch a movie with their girlfriends satisfies them. They argue back that they are in fact independent when to me it looks like they win these small battles, but lose the war big time. They compare themselves to their mothers or grandmothers who lacked that basic right, and feel blessed that their condition is better just because they could venture out or decide not to make dinner. (It is all with the husband’s blessings, mind you.) Women are very much the caretaker of the children – ensuring the household is running smoothly with a spotless house and a hot meal waiting for the husband returning from his job.

I saw women with jobs  – jobs, not careers feel the rush of freedom and turn a blind eye to the obvious walls around them. It is true that much of the female workforce was unemployed a generation ago, but mere jobs don’t qualify as true progress. The funniest part was how the husbands where the ones credited with “allowing” the wives to work and the women never flinched when such statements were made to their faces. They are indeed “allowed” to work, but pursuing careers, moving cities, chasing promotions that disrupt schedules are options for which sadly “permissions” are still required. Worse, if they dare try to break these glass cases, it is the other women (aunts, mothers, relatives, friends) who will shoot down the idea instantly. It is then natural to accept patriarchy, the mundane responsibilities as enough because fighting so many battles and breaking so many shackles is discouraged, portrayed as unwanted, scary and often character-slandering. These extremely capable women then satisfy themselves with a job that adds a significant amount to the family’s earnings, but still consider themselves second-grade.

The real scary part is that there is a part of society that is not recognizing that it is actually being segregated against – atleast earlier the women were marginalized and they knew it. It just seems like they have broken the prison walls only to find themselves in the yard of an even bigger prison – and they don’t know it yet! I have heard conversations where they find flaws or shortcomings in the lives of successful women who have climbed to the top of their fields and compare it to their own healthy home-lives. “Oh, her daughter stays with the maid all the time” or “Look at her, she never makes food for her family” are so commonly used to judge other women and paint their achievements in a negative light while turning  a blind-eye to their obvious positives. This kind of back-biting attitude is human, but also a reinforcer of the old-school patriarchy where women were judged on the quality of their cooking, the cleanliness of her home and the satisfaction of her husband.

I felt many times that I had indeed gone back in time. It was eye-opening for me to see the reality of  so many women and their blatant disregard for the bigger picture of their rights and life. With so many conversations happening now about women’s rights and empowerment, I hope these women don’t dismiss this as just news but use the moment to take a look at their own lives and their rights. An equal society would be a wonderful place and changes do happen slowly, but I hope the change is concrete and tangible and from within – not just a larger prison yard with glass ceilings.


Girl Talk: Sorrows and Joys

Sometimes, things just seem so perfect. Like when the only vegetable you have left is brussles sprouts and wonder what one can make of it and your favourite cookbook author posts a recipe using the very same vegetable. Aha, I like it. Anyway rantings apart, I recently read something about keeping your sorrows close and your joys closer and realized this was my biggest lesson of 2011(and of another blogger who I love). I feel this is a talisman that one needs to remember to survive. (This brief is for people who read just the first paragraph – so you can skip reading the rest 😀 )

The world is at its competitive best now. We are just fighting to gain that extra ounce of information or as Devdutta Pattanaik puts it – Sanatan. Because we didnt drink the elixir of contenment, we are always searching for something. Like that extra mile we want to go because someone has already been there, or that toy we want because our friend has it. Children provide the most blatant display of competitiveness and as adults we learn to mask it under the pretext of politeness, concern and nowadays just the word friendship. It is easier now than ever to look up a person and get all possible information without being in contact for 20 years or even being in contact now. It is easy to make friends, to upkeep friendships ( a hi on gtalk is so much easier compared to writing a letter, given the large-assed sloths we have been converted to).It is easier to access information about any and everything. All this media access has given us an all-encompassing ego where we pick our best photographs for the world to see, create online personalities, fake hobbies and do everything for an unknown reason. And most importantly has blurred the true meaning of friendship. We bare our hearts to these very people, since they are the support that we never get from a family but with statistics that show you are friends with the population of entire towns, you tend to wonder who is true and who isnt. Are people truly happy to hear you out? Are they smirking with inexplicable glee when you are feeling depressed. Do they secretly want you to fail so that they feel better themselves?

For women, talking is a cathartic process. I feel better when I’ve told someone what exactly is bothering me be it academically or personally. Its feels good to just share it with someone, giving it more reality and helps me cope with it when I acknowledge in e-ink or ink that the situation is real. But I wonder sometimes how much of it percolates as genuine concern and how much is just a part of everyone doing a silent jig at someone’s misfortune. I learnt multiple lessons all through, paid huge prices for my honesty but didnt seem to care because I always had a clear mind of having spoken the truth and being myself with everyone around. The same reason I kept close to a small set of people I was convinced are the true ones . But I realize time has come to change. This attitude is more harmful to me than anyone else and I’ve reformed now, to the ways of the world. I made a clear distinction of the ones who are rare and true and the countless others who are just names with a green bullet next to them.

Do not mistake me for being depressed or sad. I am infact the happiest I’ve been. (Ah, some happiness levels obviously sliding down). But this was an important lesson for me. In that sense, a very very important year as well.

Sexualization of the female

I am aware of being one of the umpteen people who are blogging over the controversial images of a 10 year old vogue model!This whole incident has redefined monstrosity!. But my perspective has a good mix of coming from a society that is slowly morphing into this, to living in a place where freshmen girls flaunt the bodies previously possessed by lingerie models. But getting a 10 year old to act like a 20 something is not just outrageous, it is something our generation should slow down and feel ashamed about. Why are girls being looked as sexual objects right from when they are kids? What plans does a society have today for the little girls?
In India, being born in the pre-Miss World/Miss Universe era, I remember being part of a society totally ignorant to this version of beauty and glamour. Our heroines sported extremely wearable trends and bodies and some beautifully draped sarees. Women were sexy in their own right, downtrodden but had an air of old-fashioned beauty powered by natural recipes. It was okay to have wrinkles at 40. It was perfectly fine not to have a bikini body at 50 and it was okay to have breasts that looked normal. The big cosmetic brands noticed the huge potential market that India was with half a billion women and instantly crowned two girls Miss Universe and Miss World in 1994. The era of looking good had begun. While I do appreciate the glamour quotient’s contribution to independence and confidence in the modern woman, I am appalled that today’s 8th graders are well versed in Dukan diets and pilates.
Thanks to the new-found access to the western world, this pressure has just increased. Today’s bollywood (from where our style quotients are usually based) is no different from hollywood in terms of beauty and dressing. Big brands and labels, gowns on the red-carpet (something that was so rare before now is normal, infact people are surprised if someone wears sarees these days!), botox (Pooja Bedi the perpetual ambassador who wants to look 20 at 40), revealing clothes, brazen scenes are all just so hollywoodish. It is okay for a society to mature and come to terms with the openly sexual and foul-mouthed youth, but is it okay to keep increasing pressure on the girls to look good at all times?
The girls are under pressure to look more mature than they really are; wax their arms and legs at an age when you would be afraid that their skin is still supple from all that baby fat. The girls need to be slim and trim, perfectly figured, well turned out at every occasion and should be worth hitting on in a bar or restaurant. Its not the boys alone but the girls themselves feel so inadequate and continue hating their bodies for want of being perfect and call the result “confidence”. I know people who openly “hate” girls who carry a few extra kilos on their bodies. Honestly, I havent been to any restaurant with a bunch of girls who haven’t starved themselves and sworn themselves off sweets, cakes or anything fatty. Infact they jeer anyone who even wants to eat one. Birthday cakes became only for smearing on each other’s faces and dinners were just meant to meet people up with a “my stomach isnt too well” excuse. When they sell bras named “barely there” for 13-14 year olds, you know we have gone too far!
Now, its another thing to be perfectly healthy. Health consciousness is the upshot of this trend. It is important to eat right, work out and lead a healthier lifestyle. This information is needed for the late teenagers who are set to live a life on their own. You cannot expect a 12 year old to want to diet! Their body hasn’t even developed fully yet. I know 12 year olds who started dieting to maintain their 24 inch waist. Now that, is what I call crazy. Being aware of the need to eat right is another thing but crash dieting is another. Also, I dont understand when these celebrities boast about their “healthy” living to flaunt those bodies. Shilpa Shetty has bulimia and sells yoga DVD’s. People buy them in hordes imagining her body at the end of it. While yoga is healthy, people get jilted when they dont end up looking like her at the end of it! Most of the “hot” girls live on a diet of black coffee and cigarettes. But since men drool after them, the girl next door wants to ape them. Little do they realize that the men worth changing yourself for dont really want you to change. Peer pressure kills, more than even alcoholism.
Its wrong to sexualize girls from a tender age. As glamour enters the family living rooms with the news these days, it is important to save the girls and instill healthy facts into them before they aspire to resemble one of the Pussycat dolls. When Playmates, Pussycat dolls, Beyonce, Demi Moore or the Victoria Secret Models become the wallpaper of society, you know we have gone wrong somewhere.

Girl Talk: A Princess’s Tale

Girl Talk post (after a long time) comes with the usual warning: Incomprehensible girl blabber ahead. Skip if you want. Don’t complain that I didnt warn you !

It is being termed as the wedding of the year already! The Royal wedding of Prince William and rich commoner Kate Middleton is being touted as the biggest page 3 event of the west. I specifically said west because I bet, it’ll wane in comparison to the multi-million dollar wedding that concluded recently and was masked in obscurity – Some MLA’s son married another apparently famous guy’s daughter outside Delhi and the wedding bill was no less than 250 crores with a helicopter as wedding gift! WHOA! Forget the grandeur, naach-gaana, elaborate celebrations spanning weeks with gyrating Bollywood stars, this royal wedding has captured the imagination of hundreds of women (teenage girls in particular) since the stakes are higher than normal! A brand new Princess! The last time I was so excited was when I read Cinderella’s story out of a Disney book. Prince and Princesses are a part of every girl’s imagination. Young, youthful and extremely pretty, its hard not to notice “Princess” anywhere it is written. And princesses in long,beautiful gowns with the glass shoes…hmm its tough to resist!

Maybe I should feel sheepish for harboring the same feelings as that of a 13-14 year old girl, but I cannot help but be excited. This is the stuff of fairy-tales-turning-real. Kate Middleton was no poor maid harassed by her step-mom or sisters, she was no Aurora who was cursed by the evil witch,but on the contrary, was as normal as you and me. Rich and well-to-do no doubt, but she gets to become Princess. She charmed her way through Prince William’s heart and how! Starting out as flat-mates in a university, they became friends and eventually fell in love. Did Kate ensnare William with an eye on the crown? Did she never think of what she can become if they were to marry? I often think about this since I know so many girls who manipulate themselves and tailor their behaviour, attitude, dress sense etc to attract someone in particular. Don’t shake your heads in disagreement. How many girls take a complete U-turn to get that rich,smart guy in college? How many people lost weight, dressed provocatively, went from bad to good and vice-versa, knowing that the boy they want to attract has potential to get rich and famous? I wonder if Kate Middleton wore this just to get William to look at her? It is such a normal thing to do- yet so unfair?!

Anyway, pushing out those bitchy-girly thoughts from my head, I am genuinely happy for her. It takes more than just a svelte body to keep a handsome Prince for 8 years and even more, get back after a breakup! And its not easy being her. I doubt if I’d enjoy my every move suddenly photographed or every piece of clothing I own, ripped apart by world-famous designers. Its tough being in the spotlight too. Imagine her walking down that aisle on April 29th in her wedding dress (which is already the topic of debates) with the world’s eyes on her! From it being a private ceremony, where she gets legally married to the man she has been living with for the last 4 years to a worldwide celebration, a national holiday and a party of 1900 world-famous people, its a sea-change. And for all this tension, she has been doing remarkably well.

And of course it can be that she is enjoying it all. Loving the sudden attention, being on the best-dressed lists and suddenly elevating to a social status which few in the world enjoy. Maybe she is , maybe she isn’t. I would love her to be a people’s princess, someone who has her feet firmly planted on the ground, looking for real humanitarian causes, connecting with the modern generation of women she comes from, maybe even following her passions, continuing with her career and not succumbing to the Royal housewife tag; setting a prime example for women to look beyond marriage and riches and focus on themselves instead.

I believe she has no competition from Princess Diana. I have the highest regard for Princess Di, but she was a prime example of a woman forced into a relationship she perhaps was too young to grasp. It draws huge parallels from what typically happens in traditional India. Denied education, forced into a wealthy marriage at the age of twenty (Di was noble blood herself,Daughter of an Earl) , to a man much older (he was 35?) and who was in a relationship with another woman (Camilla Parker). She bore the heirs of the English Monarchy but found herself suffocated. The only difference being, an Indian woman in the same plight would have silently withstood all the trauma, with no recognition of her personal troubles but she being the bold and brave, decided to move out and be a single-mom. Though her heart was in the right places and she actively worked for humanitarian causes, her personal life reflected the pains of any other woman. I salute Diana for her bravery to break-free from her shackles, her undying love for the people and of course her haircut. Kate Middleton however starts off on a totally different pedestal. She should reflect how the world has changed from 1981. I really hope she does. That is the real pressure she has. Not about her coats being perfectly tailored or sporting a unique,fashion-critics-approved,event-appropriate beret every time she steps out.

But for now, I’m setting my alarm at 6 am on April 29th to watch it all live.

PS: Happy Women’s Day to everyone. Its nice to have a girl-talk post to match. 🙂

Girl Talk: A girl’s computer and a boy’s computer

Faced with the dilemma of buying a new computer (its a tough decision for me given that 1. My old comp is working fine, though battery-less and wifi-less, its perennially on life support and keeps having these multiple organ failures everynow and then which it recovers from after giving some shocks and defragmenting. 2. Mac is actually within reach now.)
So I asked my friends for some help. Invariably I realized some startling cases of gender discrimination crept up even while buying a computer! So here goes:

Person 1: You are a girl, a pink Vaio should be your choice.
Me: Duh! ( I do love the colour :P). I am not impressed by the Vaio hardware. It has always conked off for all the people I know.
Person 1: You are a girl, basically any computer should do. Why are you worried about the hardware?
Me: What does that mean? I am a girl so any computer…
Person 1: I dont think girls need computers for anything other than checking mail and playing songs or updating facebook statuses. Anything else you’d invest is plain waste of money.
Me: Blah!

Person 2: Buy a Mac, buy a mac.
Me: The config of the 1000$ one isnt that fab, its just 2GB ram with a 160 GB harddrive and virtually no upgrades.Is it worth it?
Person 2: Oooh, so you know technical stuff eh? But for a girl, 2 GB ram is good enough for the solitaire games and the songs.
Also, I know my friend who is a girl and she is very happy with her 2 GB mac. Though my other guy-friends have a problem.
Me: **Very Sour Expression.**

I wondered what has gender got to do with a computer’s configuration. In many cases, it is true I think. The sexes use their respective computers for totally different things. It surprises me a great deal when I discover how technologically incompetent so many girls around me are, who are more than happy to give their “screwed” up computers to the guys who after a night-out of driver downloads, forum searches and formatting, fix the bugs. Why don’t they do it themselves? It is sad to think that in this era, girls are still not at ease with computers. When I complain of a low RAM or processor speed or how maybe Linux will help me solve issues, people go like “ you actually use the computer for all this coding work.” My computer (being a girl’s) is expected to be all clean and devoid of anything except music, photographs and Microsoft Office. But not all girls have pink computers with frilly covers and desktop wallpapers of some bollywood hero.

I dont blame the perception entirely because I know at some level it is true. But hey there are girls who do live stream games on ESPN, watch football matches and tennis matches, use their comps for simulations and photoshop work and even play heavy duty games (apart from attaching external woofers and jamming loud metal music), who can maintain their computers and who can handle computers without “external” support.

And next time one such girl asks/tells you about some computer’s configuration or the lack of it, all you guys, dont let your eyebrows disappear into your hair.

Girl Talk: Packing and moving

This one actually doesn’t have a disclaimer. 😀

Okay, so the big day looms large. Gosh! I’m almost saying it as though I’m getting married or something. Well if life’s biggest change is associated with marriage, then this doesnt fall too short. I’m leaving the country to pursue my American dream. The dream that has had me in its grasp for the last decade or so and continued to enthrall me during my trips there. I have dreamt about this day and age for years now and now that its really here, its a heady concoction of confusion, nervousness, a lot of running around and multiple injections as well (the health forms).

Packing is the biggest task set out in front of me. I’m no newcomer to it at all. But the single thing that amazes me is how I never learn from my mistakes. Mistake being- shopping. I enjoy shopping. Yes, now the girl-part kicks in. I love exploring shops, the road-side stalls, checking out latest trends in mags or screening the reel-stuff which can be implemented into real life. I end up having loads of clothes and accessories and shoes and bags (not to mention books) and I just cant stop myself when I am on one of my shopping sprees. Maybe there should be a mechanism to remind me about my heavy baggage and all the trouble I have with it when I’m out there in the trial rooms deciding to buy something. I wish.

This time packing has to be elaborate at the same time not too heavy since the baggage rules are very strict.My family has given up on packing or helping me with my enormous and confusing stuff long ago. They give me the boxes, the space and the time-frame.So ruefully, I sat one morning trying to sort out the clothes I should be taking and the ones I should leave behind only to dismally find that my leave-behind pile did not cross 4 or 5 outfits after all the sorting. I have major issues deciding what to take and what not to especially when some hardly used clothes come out of the cupboard and I’m like “Oh yeah! That top is soo cute,why didnt I wear it before?”, only to get added to my heap of to-take clothes which unquestionably becomes too huge for comfort. The same goes with shoes and accessories. Its tough to segregate!

People might say packing is an easy job. Its definitely not for me. Not for all those girls with a lot of stuff and total confusion as to what to wear and take. Surprisingly, these decisions are tougher to make for me than the big ones in life. I have been out of my house since 11th standard. Six long years of all this and I haven’t mastered this art. Now that is what you call being pathetic!

Girl Talk: : Locus of my Identity

“Your locus of identity lies exterior to yourself”, said a character on the popular TV series, The Big Bang Theory. This particular line stuck on and I wondered if that was actually true for most people including me.

Does our whole being exist for ourselves or for the justification by others? Do we define ourselves as what others think we are or do we believe in what we are irrespective of the world’s opinions? The former struck me as particularly true in many people I have met so far. They vanquish their opinions only to replace them with the more-socially accepted ones. They like something or choose a particular path just because the world approves of it. More often than asking themselves” Do I like it ?”, They often think of “ What will the world think of me if I do it?”. Do we mould our behavior because we are perceived to be of a certain type? Do we hide our anger, fake compliments or even do things because the society usually demands this of us ? In some cases it may be required, but till what extent?

I do agree that we are social beings and have to be accepted by society in order to survive. But in many cases, this question of being accepted by society gets to such levels that a person loses his/her identity. As far as I go, I have always been very independent in my thoughts. Worn and spoken whatever I have liked to, told the people I admire that I do and even openly confessed to liking people and telling them bluntly despite the societal norms being otherwise. This has led to many sticky situations, finger-pointing and embarrassing moments between me and the people concerned but I do not regret any of them. I do listen to people, take people’s advice and take a calculated decision when it comes to the greater things in life, but I seldom seek the approval of the masses for trivial things.

The reason I have tagged this post as a girl talk, is because more often than not, I find women succumb more easily to this habit. They are more influenced by peers and often take approval of their friends in matters where it really depends on the person concerned only making it very difficult for the person at the other end. From simple things to choosing what clothes to wear to whether they should go out on a date or talk to a so-n-so, they take the approval of their pals. I wonder in such times, is societal recognition the sole purpose of our existence? I want to ask them that is it not them who the person is interested in? Does the person at the other end really want your friends’ opinions or your choices?

‘The mark of an educated mind is to entertain a thought without accepting it”, says a popular quote. This is one thing I want to implement within myself.
I think we all should try and keep this locus of identity within ourselves. It is only then everyone will know the real you and not a mish-mashed,garbled version of the opinions of a hundred others around you.

This xkcd strip sums it up brilliantly!

PS: I just remembered, I think I have read a similar post on Pankaj’s blog a while back. No wonder the words in Big Bang sounded so familiar!