Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

When Looks Do Kill

Of late, I've discovered the joys of nudity. Don't get me wrong, I don't walk the streets in the buff or even roam around my home naked. Sorry to disappoint at least some of you, but it's only within the confines of my own bedroom.
After a long day at work, in this hot and humid climate, there's no greater pleasure than to kick off your shoes, undress and take a long, cold shower. Usually that's followed by getting dressed again, but, of late, I have begun to linger. I don't immediately put my clothes on.
not only enjoy feeling cool this way, but, in this fourth decade of my life, I also feel comfortable in my skin. I am finally accepting of my body and my appearance. And this post is testimony- and millions of women will vouch for it - that it's a long, uphill battle getting here, if one does get here at all.
Time to rewind. I must've been 8 yrs old when I was first made acutely aware of how I looked. Over an argument with mom, I must've tried to give her a dirty look. With a half-indulgent, half-mocking smile which only a parent can perfect, she said, "If only you had larger eyes, you'd have killed me with that look."
I had the wind taken out of my sails. And the seed of a deep-seated awareness of my looks - or lack of them - was irreversibly implanted.
This lack of good looks was a constant refrain in my growing-up years. As I stepped into my awkward teens with the usual acute hyper-awareness of my body, some measure of faith in my looks was restored by compliments which started coming my way. In the first flush of youth everyone looks pretty, I imagine - yet this was not enough to wash away the deep-seated self-doubt.
And so it has been for me, as it is, I suppose, for most women.  And it doesn't end with the natural- born physical features one is resigned to as one's fate. It extends to the overall appearance of a woman. For instance, picking what clothes to wear isn't always about being dressed appropriately for the occasion, or present a decent front, or even look well-groomed.
A woman must conform to the expectations of femininity from her. She must work it to advance in life. Even if she gets ahead by doing what men do, she's called a bitch. If she isn't pretty, it's assumed that she won't get too far in life. If she does, she's plain lucky.
Women are almost always performing femininity. Being feminine is a state that one is not born into, rather it is acquired over the years. And there is so much that goes into building that image. It doesn't end with the looks one is born with. It is in every gesture a girl makes growing up. And it is constantly reinforced by closely policing her posture as she sits, moves, walks, places her body not just in the public space but also in the private sphere.
Marriage, which is supposed to be the “ultimate goal” of a woman's life, is also highly dependent on looks. Not only will a better-looking girl fetch a better groom but the quality of her life post-marriage is also supposed to be better as a result.
A  woman of better appearance has a head start in life. Cue the multi billion dollar industry that works to make us more presentable in every possible way, from shaping our bodies, to grooming us. And of course there are the dozens of medical interventions which have now evolved for the purpose.
Then, as if the traditional views of society which uphold these ideals of femininity were not bad enough to make us feel miserable, there's  also the bane of modern advertising which perpetuates ideals of beauty impossible to attain.
The influence of advertising is pernicious, with its deep reach into our psyche. As if looking well turned out wasn't hard enough, we now have to contend with norms of the wafer-thin body type. As for the hyper-sexualised and the “come hither” images bombarding us every waking moment, it’s as if always being ready for sex is a natural state to be in. Not only are these images fixated in the minds of men, we women internalise them too.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which leads to, or is linked with, anorexia or bulimia and even cutting and other forms of self harm, is related to body image or how one perceives oneself, regardless of how one really looks, or appears to others. What many fail to grasp is that these disorders can be fatal. Of course men suffer from these disorders too, but the overwhelming majority are women.
Often men have told me : why bother about it, why care about what others think of you. Well, if it's the way you've been trained to think,internalizing it from the time you were a toddler,  it's what you do.
Over the years, there have been battles about this in my head. And I've lost most of them. Only of late, with detailed and in-depth discussions, and some internal growth, have I come to the conclusion that what I look like doesn't determine who I am, the person. And yes I'm unique, and attractive in my own way. My nose may not be perfect, or my forehead too broad, but it's what makes me. The person I am is identified by these and so am I.
I'm still not perfectly happy with the way I look but I've made my peace with it. We are getting along alright now, my body and I.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Swaccha Bharat for the Pure

The symbolism of the Prime Minister kicking off Swaccha Bharat cleaning drive at Valmiki Nagar, home to "safai karmacharis" or sanitation workers, most of whom belong to the lower castes is not lost on anyone. It only reinforces Hindu upper caste privilege, reminding the residents that they are fit for nothing but cleaning our filth.

Hindus, who compromise the majority of our country, are a weird people. 

One of the underlying tenets of Hinduism is the concept of purity. The caste system followed by Hindus is based on this concept. The people of higher castes are supposed to be "twice born" or have earned merit in previous births and so are deemed more pure than others. Following the same logic, the lowest castes are the most impure.

Savarnas, in effect, telling the Shudras and Dalits "You didn't do enough to earn merit points to climb the caste ladder, just too bad! Now go clean my shit (literally) or burn my dead!"

I have seen countless women suffer various forms of Obsesseive Compulsive Disorder which stems from this urge for ritual purity. (from my limited understanding. Disclosure: I'm not a trained professional in the line of psychology or psychiatry) However, it remains undiagnosed and untreated by a professional because who gets a diagnosis for just being very clean?

Also, all that touches the impure also becomes impure so it's easy to see where that leads.

The excreta of the body too is part of the impurity. So anything related to excretion is dirty, impure. It is the reason people go to the fields while constructed toilets in homes lie unused. Or that indescribable horror of humanity, the dry latrines located at the backs of homes, in which people defecate and leave their shit for others, "untouchable" people - mostly women- to carry and dispose of it. 

The dry latrines are located at the backs of homes so the women of the house don't need to venture out of the homes, keeping their "honour" intact. This false sense of honour is also why mostly  women are employed to access the dry latrines. 

These beliefs are the reason sanitation drives are failing, because If we don't try to work at the roots, of trying to change these mind sets, we will not go far.

 Any intentions of bringing about real change of a Swaccha Bharat must begin with a genuine attempt at changing the lives of Dalits who make up 95% of the sanitation workforce, in cities like Bombay, who are forced to live in filth themselves. 

At the least, basic safety practices should be undertaken while these men put their lives on the line for us. Medical cover while working, education for their children and habitable housing should be provided. Alternative sources of livelihood  should also be provided. 

Segregation of our bodies from our filth has worked to the advantage of us, the few, the privileged Savarnas. It's time to put an end to it. 

Swaccha Bharat will not be built by hashtags and photo ops alone, Mr. Prime Minister!