Thursday, 28 June 2012

Identity - It Doesn't Get Diminished By Disability

"Don't forget to put on some earrings, okay? What will people think otherwise", my mom reminded me as we were getting ready to go out.
"Who will think of what?" I asked her.
"Other people about us."
"But why? And why should they think about you when I'm the one not wearing earrings..?" It didn't make any sense.
"Because I'm going with you."
And still it didn't.

Make-up and heavy jewellery has never really been a part of my outfit, for reasons that kept changing with time. I used to have a whole make-up set during my school days but it was hardly ever used after trying out for the first time. Occasionally if I felt like, I would put some eyeliner or use a Labello but not more than that. Not because I hated it. In fact, thought not heavy painting, I did like to sometimes do my eyes more than the eyeliner. But never did. I didn't mind using a lipstick. Didn't do that either. My thoughts at that time were, 'Who cares about make-up when I have bigger things to worry about.' The 'bigger things’ here was my disability. How did my body look like? What should I do to make myself 'appear' more 'normal'? And so on. Yeah, that's how low my self-esteem was. It wasn't just down, it literally had to be dug out.. As time went on, the refusal took a different turn. Now, while I had started becoming more independent, accepting more of myself the way I am and learning to embrace my disability, I was still hesitant in putting make-up or wearing really good fancy jewellery more often. The feelings at this time changed to 'I shouldn't do it. I'm a disabled person and so I should appear/behave according to my limitations.' Social attitudes are a tougher hurdle to deal with and sometimes it can pull you down a hundred steps in an instant regardless of the fact that you’d taken years to reach up till there. Besides, I've always been lucky to have people who encouraged these thoughts, whether they did it on purpose or not.  
And since more recently, I'm ok with what I wear or not wear. I still use very little make-up (mostly none). But it's not the same like before, because now it's a choice made out of preference than pressure from insecurities. I try not to hide away under chemical masks. Of course I have no objection to those who use it, I respect individual choices and it’s not something I would be against to. For me though, it’s more about comfort, convenience and not conforming to imposed (and often oppressive) socially constructed standards of beauty and keeping my individuality in the presence of forces constantly trying to wipe it out. Plus it also helps to understand and beat away many hidden fears. But of course, at times when I really want to wear, I don’t stop myself either.
It wasn’t exactly the demand to look appealing part of the conversation that struck me as odd but the latter half of it. Maybe because by now I had gotten used to the realisation of how much women are expected to be visually pleasing and ‘good looking’ instead of just being themselves. What got me was how deeply instilled this perception is that it’s not just your own body you had to alter but even try to regulate other people’s looks if you wanted to be seen as associated with them. And how perfectly ‘fine’ it was to ask them to do that. Maybe you might think this was only a mother telling her own daughter, so not exactly an ‘other’ person, right? But no, when you’re 20, you are an ‘other’. There was a time when my identity was largely dependent on my parents and what I wore or did would reflect their dressing styles and outlooks. That time, I was 5. It’s not the same when you’re an adult. Now if someone were to look at me and make a judgement on my mother instead of me, surely something is wrong with how they view people, in which case I’m not the one having a problem.  
The thing that actually hurt me was - would she be this easily assertive had I been a person without disability? I don’t think so. How you get the confidence to make demands on other people’s personal matters is when you see them as lower than you and not worthy of respect in their own right. What makes disabled people as deserving of lesser personal choices and rights to make decisions on their appearances and physical expressions? If she was truly going out with her ‘daughter', she wouldn’t have cared what I looked like. The only other way is when you see the disabled person as an extension of someone else and who’s identity is inseparable from the person they may be in any way relying on.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Satyamev Jayate - Better Than Initial Impressions

It wasn't the media hype or the general excitement among people that made me decide to watch the show 'Satyamev Jayate'. Anything involving Bollywood or cricket celebrities are bound to be hightly hyped and trending in India because of the way these celebrities are literally 'worshipped' (Google on Rajnikanth if you don't get what I mean). It was the theme that I liked - social issues. Not often do you get to see these being discussed on Indian channels and most of the time when they do, it's almost always not satisfactory. They would have missed several vital points or not even touched on the main causes, which I think is basically useless, because if you don't go into root of the problem, you are not solving anything but only finding temporary solutions that won't change anything substantially. So occasionally when these kind of programs come up, although without much hope, I feel like watching them.

I couldn't see all the episodes that have been aired till now since I had exams in between, but the ones I saw didn't fully let me down. I'm not going to write about all of them, but there was this one on domestic violence that was exeptionally well done. I had actually missed it, luckily a friend at Nirmukta brought it to notice.

There were so many aspects of this particular episode that impressed me. Going along the lines of his review:

- A discussion about the social SYSTEM called patriarchy

- In light of the above, the STRUCTURAL oppression of women was glaringly evident in the horrible stories that the guests on the show shared. This is not just individual-on-individual violence, a fact "men's rights" activists overlook.

- A male cop acknowledging how hard it is for women to go to the police - the police itself being a male-dominated, male-identified institution (again - social SYSTEMS!) that "drinks from the same well" - and steps like sensitisation training that can be taken.
- The man at the end who did a brilliant job of explaining the harm that normative masculinity - a.k.a. "the man box" - does.
- Many sombre, perhaps enlightened faces in the all-male audience.

These were highy important strides made in the show. The topic of patriarchy is the least likely to be discussed usually, but here it did. And it was so Awesome to see that! I was nearly teary-eyed. That is what you need to talk about and tackle if you want to really create a change.

This post would be unjustly incomplete if I didn't mention about an amazing personality that I came to know through this episode - Kamla Bhasin. Bhasin is a renowned feminist activist and gender trainer in South Asia. She has written extensively on gender issues. Most notable among her publications are: Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, co-authored by Ritu Menon, Rutgers University Press, 1998, and What is Patriarchy? Kali for Women, 1993. I hope you don't miss out her interview during the show, you'll be missing something truly wonderful if you did..

Of course, I don't believe a single show is going to make long-lasting impacts on the mindsets of people who have been conditioned to these oppressive standards and ways of thinking for such a long time. If other channels too bring out more similar programs and keep the awareness-spreading aflame, then we can hope for some good things. Because in India, where people are unwilling to listen to activists and social workers who have been fighting for the very same causes since decades but can be all-attentive when movie stars occasionally come along and say something (no offense meant to Aamir Khan, I'm only stating how things are), maybe television can do some help if used well. Until then it's only going to be like the morning alarm - when it rings you wake up, come into your senses for a brief moment and look at the time, then put the alarm on snooze and go back to sleep till it rings again.

SkepFem Quickpicks 6.0

I follow quite a few blogs and websites, each of them unique in their content and presentation. It was actually reading all these blogs that got me the inspiration to start one of my own, even if it had no particular focus and was for just writing down anything I wanted. :P
These are a couple of links I found interesting in the past week. Hope you enjoy.

[Content Note: rape culture; sexual violence]

Fashion advive for non-normative bodies almost always comes with the same mandate : hide what you have. Fat folks and the disabled are usual targets for this. - S. E. Smith writes  

I try my best to feel proud of my country even though I happen to be born here by nothing but chance. But then I hear this: India ranked worst G20 country for women - FeministsIndia

Skepchick gives an excellent response to the European Commission on Research and Innovation's highly disappointing teaser for the campaign to promote science among girls. The intention might be well meaning but ''pinkifying'' science does more harm than good.

Lara Croft's origin story in the new Tomb Raider game and the ''Rape Turns Ladies Into Superheroes'' trope - Shakesville

Accessibility is Not an individual problem, neither is it a favour the non-disabled do.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Misogynist Minds

Misogyny is an unreasonable fear or hatred of women. It is an emotional prejudice based on phobia or dislike. It has no formal ideological position other than to denigrate females.

Misogynists have amazing minds. There's a lot we can learn from them. Especially for women, if they want to discover their true selves and get more inner understanding. Here are a few thoughts based on observation, reading and some unavoidable experiences of living in a patriarchal society:

- Misogynists don't like to come out in the open with their hatred. They take refuge behind religion, gender stereotypes, patriarchy, custom, tradition, family values, honor etc.

- Misogynists think they know more about women's bodies, their choices and emotions than women themselves. They are 100% sure that when we talk about one woman, it means ALL women.

- Misogynists like to carry their sexism around. According to them 'women-folk' are a different 'species' whose main purpose is to care and provide sex.

-  Misogynists believe women love to spend their whole day in front of the mirror. They think this is what causes sexual crimes against them, but women who don't do it are surely lacking something.

- Misogynist can be found in male or female gender. They grow up in rigid patriarchal environments. Surprisingly, misogynsts come from seemingly liberal environments too.

- Misogynists think it's ok to rape women during a war because war is all about destroying your enemies life and property. And we know all women belong to some or the other men, right?

- Misgynists with religious beliefs don't like atheist women. They don't like women who don't subscribe to religions that 'teach them their place'. They like religion because it gives them sanctions and rules on how to oppress women so it makes the job easier. The women who see through this are clearly stubborn and arrogant.

- Misogynists without religious beliefs think sexism is something only religous people do. They blame religion for treating women badly and remain ignorant of the misogyny within atheist circles.

- Misogynists think only men can rape. And only women can prevent it.

- Mysogynists don't like lesbian women. Because it's the main duty of a woman to sexually satisfy men and lesbians don't do that. They instead 'choose' to go with other women and not be 'real' women.

- Misogynists may or may not support rape but they have the ability to empathise with rapists. They think it's the woman's responsibility to avoid it because hey, when a guy is busy doing the raping how can you give him the additional burden of stopping it. Wearing short skirts, walking in dark corners, going out late at night, not learning defense methods etc are all the causes for rapes to happen.

- Misogynists don't like women who disgree with them, speak sense or have strong opinions of their own. They believe women should learn in silence and be only good listeners.

- Misogynists think they have a great sense of humor. And they love to display their great sense of humor through rape jokes, pejorative mother-in-law and bad-wife jokes etc. But negative humor about fathers-in-law and husbands are offensive.

- Misogynists give high value to respect - when it comes to receiving it. The don't understand it's a mutual thing.

- Misogynists think sports is a 'guy-thing'. They watch only men's matches and games. Women ought to be preparing sandwiches while they're doing so.

- Misogynists appear to be obsessed with female sexual anatomy, their fears centering on the vagina. They find feminists annoying because feminists make women sound like more human than mere breathing sexual objects.

- Misogynists rely on stereotypes, myths and misrepresentations to propagate their misogyny. Ancient people's understanding of human bodies and oppressive tradional practices/beliefs are more intellectually satisfying for them than the knowledge provided by modern science and medicine.

- Misogynists often support crimes against women and also commit crimes against women. In the end, they explain how women were responsible for it and women could have prevented the harassment if they tried. Those who didn't try, deserved it.

- Misogynists hate women/men pointing out their misogyny or even generally talking about it. They instantly resort to saying 'feminism is one-sided', 'men face oppression too' or report cases where 'other women face more worse situations hence the current incident is invalid'.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Same Thing Differently.

I Am Alive. But They Are Living.

I am alive...
Breathing, seeing, hearing, feeling
Emotions numb, tears drained
Unsincere smile having no meaning.
Small dreams I built, kept hopes in vain
All unallowed, shattered into pain.
Restrictions and limitations paint my four walls
Closing in day-by-day, supressing my calls.
Disease and dirt element my life and land
Thousand eyes of pity, yet none with a helping hand.
Labelled as a waste, looked upon with hate
No consolation, no luck, I'm just a victim of fate. 
God so merciless for providing me air
Even taking away my sanity would be just fair.
Emptiness, sorrow, uncertinity join my coming days
Here I am alive........but living in no ways.

They are living...
Laughing, learning, going, knowing
Emotions active and feelings shared
Dreams built strong and passions cared.
Choices and options raining their lives
Motivation and support strenghtening their drives.
They carry the smile gifted by assurance
Walk around with eyes in the sky
Aiming for the stars, awaiting a bright future
So many hands to console them when they cry.
Olds turned new, less made more
Life a colourful book, no page a bore.
God so merciful, kind and giving
They too are alive.......but very much living.

I had written this poem a few years back, the time when I used to be a Christian. It's was one of my very few writings that I wouldn't have minded showing to someone other than close friends and something that I personally liked. Looking at it now with the eyes of a skeptic, I'm shocked how I'd ended up depicting god as both caring and cruel at the same time but not for once giving a thought of which of these he actually might be. Or comparing his nature from what theists claim to be with what we see happening in a world he supposedly has the power to control. So much of love and yet so much misery..?

It's not all that surprising either when you think about how your mind works under religious beliefs. Here in this case, I empathised with the maltreatment that sections of the society living in poverty had to face as well as presented the picture of a 'favouring god'. But there was no connection made, either in support or against such a deity. Much of this went unacknowledged because of a third overarching belief that helped to cover up these conflictions - 'god works in mysterious ways'. Senseless again, because if you cannot understand god's ways how can you possibly say he is 'good'? But obviously, when your mind is desperately trying to protect long-held ideas and ward off contradicting views, where will it have the time to think both ways.

This is what happens when Cognitive Dissonance occurs. It is the discomfort that arises by holding two contradictory beliefs. We all experience them in many areas of our lives. People deal with it in different ways; some may try to abandon one of the beliefs, some rationalise and some create a third belief that incorporates the other two. Cognitive dissonance comes into play in many value judgments, decisions and evaluations. A great way to improve one's ability to make faster and more accurate choices is by becoming aware of how conflicting beliefs impact the decision-making process. Reducing cognitive dissonance is important as it helps to approach the matter with a clearer mind and reduces bias. Rationalising is a logical and preferred machanism.

The poem now has an additional meaning for me. So if I see believers reading it, my thought would go something like, 'by how narrowly did they miss the god point?' Of course it's only an add-on, the underlying theme and emotion doesn't change at all.. Just that it would be dishonest of me if someone (most likely non-believers) saw the religious parts and considered the contradiction as originally intended.