Imagine

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

 

Imagine a world where you are judged

Not by your skin color or what you’re wearing

But by your human strengths

For your wit, compassion, and caring

 

Imagine living on a street

Where your opinions can be bared

Without fear of being silenced

By casual denial or malicious stares

 

Imagine having friends

Who listen, validate, make you strong

With whom there are no feelings

That are shameful, taboo, or wrong

 

Imagine living in a community

Where other’s stories shed light

and learning happens unintentionally

Transforming you, in plain sight

 

Imagine a world where sharing

Is welcomed with knowing, accepting hearts

Where expression lends clarity

Piecing together your jagged, hurting parts

 

Does this sound too Utopian?

But such a world isn’t far away

It’s the world of blogging

Where you and I meet everyday

 

Let them not sideline or suppress

Your inner battles, your outer skirmishes

Speak, question, think, and express

Your unruly thoughts, your untamed wishes

 

Let not your voice and mine

Be drowned out in doubt and fear

And lay buried in an obscure shrine

Forgotten in a tomb of despair

 

Let them not lock your thoughts

Take the key and set yourself free

Keep reading, writing, thinking, speaking

For you are the queen of your destiny

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Changing Someone (or oneself)

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a kid, I remember watching movies where a woman changes her irresponsible or alcoholic husband to become her dream life partner. She accomplishes this through forbearance, persistence, and faith, qualities that tended to glorify her and epitomized womanhood. Movies are just a reflection of prevailing social attitudes. Since our culture expects women to adjust and make marriages work at any cost, it follows that a woman trying to mold her husband is/was seen as a positive and proactive way to finding happiness.

In real life, however, is it possible to change someone? Is it even fair to attempt to change someone? What are some situations where we might wish to change our loved ones?

  • We might want them to be fairer (sharing house work and parenting for instance), more responsible, or more committed to the relationship. These are reasonable expectations.  Let’s call this the reasonable zone.
  • We might want them to exercise, eat better, and relax more, out of concern for their health. Although this is reasonable, we are now entering the sensitive zone of personal choices.  What if someone’s personal choices impact our happiness?  What if your spouse is overworked and constantly irritable?  On the one hand, a healthier, happier spouse does have a positive impact on our own happiness and the health of our relationship.  Yet, where do you draw the line here?  What if someone is happy with their excess weight or their no-so-great eating habits?  Do we worry about the future impact of their habits on their health (and consequently our happiness)?  Or do we let them be because it’s their choice?
  • Some of us may even be occasionally tempted to change their tastes and preferences, and may go so far as to tell them to change their feelings about something.  This is a clear cut ‘wrong zone‘.

Expecting one’s partner to be more responsible, fair, and committed is completely reasonable. Wanting them to modify their lifestyle or character (become more disciplined, more relaxed, or more diligent) is going to be somewhat problematic, even if it is well intentioned.

However, asking them to change their tastes and preferences is completely unfair. Expecting them to change their feelings about something is not only unreasonable, it’s downright impossible. People have no control over their feelings; they only have control over their actions. They may despise someone. They can choose not to yell at this person and they can certainly choose to not hit the person. But they can’t change how they feel (intense dislike/hate).

When attempting to change someone close to you, ask yourself, ‘whose problem is it?’ If your husband likes to get up late on Sundays, take a late shower, go unshaven all day, dress sloppily, then that’s what he likes to do. It is not your problem to own. Let him be. If your wife likes to watch a certain show that drives you nuts, leave the room. Let her be. In both cases, don’t attempt to change the other’s tastes or preferences.

So, let’s assume that we remain in the reasonable zone or venture into the sensitive zone – we want someone to change because it makes them healthier, happier, less frustrated, it makes our life better, and it makes our relationship better. Even this is extremely difficult to do. Many people resist change for many different reasons. It is therefore crucial to understand the factors that constitute change, before we attempt to change someone or ourselves.

Factors that Influence Changing Oneself or the Other

1. Self awareness

Change begins with self-awareness. The first step is for the person himself to feel the need for change. When I feel tired because I’m overworked and realize it, I’m aware that I need to take breaks. When I feel emotionally distanced from my loved ones and realize it, I’m aware that I’ve been spending less time with them and paying the price for it. Awareness is therefore an important prerequisite for change. If you want your partner to change, help him/her become more and more aware of the problem. When discussing this very sensitive topic, try to be helpful rather than judgmental. Focus on how a certain behavior or habit is impacting him or those around him. Stay away from offering solutions, because interfering with the process of self awareness and self-motivation to change can be counter productive. You can’t really GET someone to change, but you can help them LET themselves change.

2. Desire and Commitment

Awareness leads to desire (to change) and desire leads to commitment. In the desire stage, we start thinking about what we want. If only I could find time to go for a walk. If only I could enroll in that programming class so I can feel more adept at my work. If only I could practice my violin. Visualizing what we would like to do can be extremely motivating. As a partner, help the other visualize what he/she would like to achieve. Of course, dreaming can only take us so far. A practical plan is necessary to execute. Strategize on what can be done to make the change happen – what are some obstacles, what are some possibilities, is there a Plan B when Plan A fails, would intermediate goals and rewards help. Review the plan daily, acknowledge successes and don’t let your partner be intimidated by setbacks along the way.

3. Be the person/change you want to see

Gandhi was right. Modeling change can be powerful. If you want your children to read more and watch less television, ask yourself how much you are reading. Children who see their parents reading a lot also tend to become avid readers. If you want your partner/spouse to exercise more, offer to go for a walk with him. If he prefers to go to the gym, offer to go to the gym with him (at least initially, to get him motivated).

4. Environmental modification ( for children)

Removing temptations from the environment works wonders, especially with children. In our kitchen, we don’t stock junk food because we want everyone to eat healthy. There are tons of fruit in the fridge if someone wants to grab a snack between meals. We made a conscious choice not to have cable. We do have our DVD player to watch movies because it is so much easier to control movie watching than cable television with its constant transmission. (We get the news on our car radios on our way to work.)

Just as negative elements and distractions can be removed from the environment, positive elements can be added to it. When my kids were very little, they had 2 choices for their free time – they could stay in and read or do art or they could go outside and play. Our home has always been stocked with lots of children’s books and there are plenty of art supplies and a whole play area where they can really get messy with finger paint and other art materials. I took them on lots of outings – walks, parks, museums, aquariums, and read lots of books to them. As they got older, they willingly enrolled in team sports like basketball, soccer and cross country, which keep them pretty occupied. They’re not addicted to screens because they got so used to healthier ways to entertain themselves.

Please note that environmental modification can be used as a positive parenting tool, not a controlling tool.  It is not just about ‘removing’ things from the environment but also about giving children lots and lots of choices (positive ones).

The above are some straightforward ways to bring about positive change. But what do we do when change is hard to actualize? What if the person is resistant to change?

Some factors that create resistance to change

1. The underlying self-image and correcting it

Sometimes people are a certain way because that’s how they see themselves. We all carry these self-images of ourselves at an unconscious level. Sheela may see herself as inept at her work and feel like she’s getting by without really being productive. If she is offered a promotion (because her boss genuinely appreciates her diligence), she may see this as further confirmation of her fakeness. Ravi may see himself as an uninteresting person. If his friends ask him to go on a trip with them, he may see this as their attempt to rescue him from his boring life, as an act of sympathy. Children who are controlled a lot and have to fight for every little thing may soon get labeled as obstinate, difficult, or rebellious. Soon, they come to believe these labels, and may continue to rebel throughout their adult lives, even when it’s unnecessary. We hold on to our self-images (even when they are negative) because they are familiar and grounding.

As adults, it is therefore important to change our self-image if we want to change ourselves. Or help the people we love or work with change their self-image. If you want your co-worker to be more precise with numbers, praise her in the instances when she does demonstrate precision. If you want your son to be more considerate, notice and comment when he helps you clean up after dinner. If you want your friend to be more committed to your friendship, draw attention to the wonderful time you had together when she did make it. Complaining about what’s not happening confirms people’s negative self-images. Offering genuine praise challenges people to question their negative self-images. When you start noticing and drawing attention to their good side, they will begin to accept the idea that developing their good side is actually possible and doable.

2. Difficulty with taking input and being a ‘doer’

Some people are somewhat resistant to taking input. They feel cornered when you just “tell” them that something makes sense. Even a gentle suggestion may seem very forceful to them. Such people tend to be ‘doers’, that is they like figuring out things for themselves. It is much better to ask such people what they would like to do. Chances are they will choose the sensible path, once they are free of having a “solution” thrust upon them.

My older son is one of these people. He would typically waste a lot of time after he came home from school, then had to stay up really late to finish all his work. High school syllabus along with extra curricular activities demanded much more speed and efficiency from him, which he did not possess. As a result, he was sleep deprived and tired all day. To me, the most obvious thing to do was to start work early so he could get a good night’s sleep. But can I suggest something simple like this? Not with him (I now know that from many years of experience with him:-). Instead, I tried to nudge him toward finding his own solution. Our conversation went like this –

When he complained about being tired at school, I said, “Yeah I can imagine. You were up so late last night.”

He said, “These stupid projects and assignments! What are these teachers thinking?? How the heck can I get so much done in one evening??”

Me: “It’s certainly a ton of work!”

Him: “Yeah. It does require a lot of time.”

Me: “Uhuh.”

Him: “Maybe if I could start in the afternoon ….”

Me: “Hmm…”

Him: “I could eat my lunch quickly, then get started. Let me try that today and see how it goes.”

And it did go very well. He went to bed at a decent time that day and felt better the next day at school. He started doing that everyday and began managing the work load better. There would be days here and there where he would slip into the old habit of wasting time. But, once again, I simply acted as his sounding board. He would then self-correct himself and get back to a more efficient routine. I needed to accept that it’s simply his nature to be independent in the extreme, try out everything, and decide for himself what works and what doesn’t.

3. Simple for one is hard for another – being aware of differences in learning/abilities

Remember that what is simple for us can be hard for another. And vice versa. Being organized is easy for me but incredibly hard for my son. Making small talk and pretending to be interested in and managing large social groups is easy for my sister, but hard for me. Show understanding when the other struggles with change. Work with them. Help them find ways to problem solve. Don’t let them get discouraged when they fail. Keep reminding them that change is a process.

When my younger son wanted to play on the soccer team, it was incredibly hard for him to focus on his teammates directions and the ball simultaneously. His autism made it hard to separate or tune out the other team’s instructions to each other. Since he has autism, everyone around him is understanding and supportive of this. We solved this problem by assigning him a ‘buddy’ on the team who gives him instructions. The buddy works (practices soccer) with my son one on one before the game. This makes my son more attuned to his friend’s voice. During the game, he is better able to attune his attention to this single source of auditory input.

But how understanding and supportive are we of each other’s struggles when we don’t carry labels? We may be neurologically typical and yet, most people tend to struggle with certain skills. Being aware of this simple fact helps us persist with our goals without giving up and finding the right supports to facilitate the process.

4. Model willingness to change

If you want your partner or friend to change in one area, pick another area that is difficult for you to change. I wanted my friend to read more fiction and poetry (because that’s what I love discussing) and not just non-fiction (which she tends to enjoy). So, I began signing up for hiking up the hills more (I tended to prefer flat trails) because she loves making it all the way to the peaks (of some smaller, local hills). Once she started seeing me do things that did not come easily and naturally, she became more willing to step out of her comfort zone as well. Willingness to change ourselves motivates those around us to change. It also builds empathy in us for other’s struggles.

5. Assign responsibilities according to strengths/talents/interests

In my MBA class, we were part of team of 4 that worked together for the entire 2 year period. In my team, we had the analyzer, the (detail oriented) fact checker, the (big picture) strategic planner, and the writer/presenter/charmer/people person. Each of us excelled at our roles and tried to learn from the strengths of the others. Work environments frequently categorize people in teams along similar lines/strengths. At home, I hate doing dishes but I’m the better cook. When we share household tasks, I do more of the cooking while my husband does more of the dishes and laundry.   Many parents also divide child rearing duties to match their strengths – one parent may be involved with studies while the other manages sports and other interests/classes. Here, there is no necessity to change one’s style, and different styles can be complementary.

6. Ignore weaknesses by remembering strengths

There are some things that are either impossible to change in ourselves or are so difficult to change that it’s not worth the effort. It’s best to ignore certain weaknesses if they do not interfere with our lives or our loved one’s lives in a major way. My co-worker’s husband tends to be very fact oriented in his conversations. She wished more than anything to be able to have more fulfilling conversations with him at a deeper level. For him, her getting promoted would be just that, a simple fact that deserved to be celebrated. For her, it would lead to a discussion of the effort that went into it, a proper evaluation of the outcome, the dynamics of a motivating work environment, future career options, and change management. After several failed attempts at trying to change this aspect of him, and a lot of frustration for both of them, she stopped trying to change how he converses. She is now content that they do have a very loving relationship. He is always there for her and supports her in every way, in her career, in her personal life, in her interests. She has joined a book club to get those deep conversations that she enjoys (and while she is busy with her deep discussions, he gets happily busy restoring his 1960s Thunderbird in the garageJ).

Non-negotiable Situations – when trying to change someone is futile (Black and white areas)

It is important to note situations where we cannot change the other and the healthy/sane option is to leave the relationship:

  • in all cases of abuse, emotional or physical, it is best to leave – counseling can help in a few cases, but as soon as one realizes that counseling is not helping, it is best to leave
  • when you find out your husband is gay and you happen to be straight (No, you cannot change someone’s orientation, it is like left or right handedness. Your husband may have gotten married out of parental pressure; he may be fearful or in denial or selfish or good hearted or all of the above – it does not matter, just leave)
  • when your spouse is alcoholic (he needs counseling/help, and again in some cases, this actually helps, and when it doesn’t, you need to leave)
  • when your spouse is selfish, mean, is aware of this and is unwilling to change because it suits him – patience, understanding, and supportiveness have no place here. He is the way he is because it’s convenient. By staying, you are rewarding him for his selfishness. Nothing you do is ever going to make a difference because there is no desire or commitment to change.
  • finally trying to change someone’s tastes, preferences, feelings, opinions, and personal choices that have no impact on others’ lives is wrong, unfair, and when done with persistence, can constitute as abuse.

Most relationships may not be those non-negotiable black and white situations. They may fall in the grey area – where your spouse, friends, parents, children, or co-workers are not really selfish and have good intentions but may be making choices that either impact them or both of you in a harmful/negative way. In these situations, understanding what factors constitute change, being empathetic to the challenges in engendering real change, and knowing what expectations of change are fair versus unfair can go a long way in shaping our relationships to fulfill our needs.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with trying to change some part of yourself or someone you love or care for.

Related Posts:

I hope the following links drive home the point that change cannot be used to gain approval/validation, to alter one’s personality/preferences nor can it be used to make a failed/abusive relationship work.  Change is pertinent in primarily 2 broad situations – (1) when we ourselves are unhappy with the existing state and wish to change – and (2) when our behavior directly impinges on another’s rights.

Can a woman marry and change an uninterested man into a loving and responsible husband?

Taking responsibility for improving (?) men’s sex lives empowers women?

Does loving someone mean we should improve them?

How do we go about accepting ourselves just the way we are?

“I think most problems in life are when we look for approval and validation outside of ourselves.”

“10 years ago, the girl would have been counselled on how to change her dress sense for the boy, how to do as he says.”

Who would you never ask for advice?

What are you criticised the most for?

Women and Friendship – Building a Support System

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post brings home a striking point. Lack of a support system allows abuse to thrive. And even in non-abusive situations, lack of supports direly impacts women’s happiness quotient.

Recently I was talking to my mother on the phone. She mentioned that Kalyani, her long time friend had visited after many years. I was excited and happy for my mother and asked her if they had a good time together. I was reminded of the times when my mother would visit her when we were very young.

When we were kids, a mother having a friend was a rarity. The fact that they were college buddies was even more amazing. Whenever my mother would visit her friend, we were so awed by this simple fact – that my mother is going out, and it is not to work and it is not to buy groceries, nor is it a visit to relatives’ houses for pujas and other obligations. She was going out to see her friend! How cool is that!

Even though she worked outside the home (which was rare for her generation), my mother’s role at home was pretty traditional. There were meals to be cooked, maids to be managed, unannounced guests, unreasonable in-laws and relatives to be attended to. There were many frustrating and stressful interactions with in-laws and the extended family. So, whom did she talk to, to find some relief? Who did she go to for support and answers?

Most of the time, support, once again, came in the form of relatives. HER side of the family – her sister, her cousins, her aunts provided some support. Because the visits to her only friend were a rare and special treat.

And when she did get together with her side of the family, I noticed a strange vibe. My grandmother, who had little patience for relatives, usually left the room. The women shared their problems and concerns. There were hugs and wiping of tears. But no solutions were ever offered. There was relief in knowing one was not alone. There was certainly a sense of belonging. But it came more from a sense of “we are all women, therefore we are meant to suffer”. My mother usually went home feeling as confused and hurt as she did before the visit.

Another thing I noticed is the one aunt who tended to be more assertive and less obedient was considered a “shrew” and “lucky to have a meek husband who would put up with her”. So much for support and inspiration. This is why relatives (in the Indian setting) cannot really be one’s support system. They are subject to the same conditioning that the rest of us are. They have nothing new to offer.

My grandmother, a free thinker, was the only one who gave my mother sensible advice, still, she was older, of another generation. My mother did not really have anyone her own age to see her point of view. An occasional visit to her only friend’s house doesn’t really count. In many ways, my mother was friendless.

This is probably the story of many women of that generation.

The Current Generation

So, what about us, those in our 30s, 40s, and 50s? I’ve noticed that in our generation, a lot of us tend to have had great friends and friendships in college. But once we got married or moved away, those friendships seldom lasted. Or even if they did, they did not offer daily and genuine support and involvement. To some extent, this is understandable. Many of us outgrow our college friends. We grow up, acquire different ideas, we change to some extent. We crave friends on the same intellectual level, rather than settling for people who happen to be in the same place at the same time.

But how many of us, after we got married, made a serious attempt to develop strong friendships? How many of us are truly committed to friendship – because friendship takes time and effort and interest. Here I’m not referring to “family friends”. Family friends are just that – they are usually friends because our kids are friends at school. Or because some of us work at the same company.   These are simply another version of our college friends – people in the same place at the same time. They are fine for sharing a meal or having tea together or discussing school/college options or the job/commute/elections situation.

But these are not the kind of friends I’m referring to, although they do have their place in our lives.

I’m talking about the kind of friends who share a passion with you. Who remind you of who you are as an individual. Who challenge you to explore your fears, open you to novel experiences, who help you grow. Friends who truly KNOW who you are. So they can remind you of what you are capable of, when you doubt yourself.

(I’m referring to married women here because that is the norm in India and they are the ones who tend to neglect their friendships. Single women are perhaps more likely to take their friendships seriously. They are better at building a support network of friends because the negative attitudes of their families and society have made such a system imperative, even urgent. Perhaps, they even feel frustrated with married women for not being committed to their friendship.)

Factors that Deter Support Systems for Women

So, why do several married Indian women go without real, strong, long lasting friendships? A few factors come to mind (there could be more) –

Parenting – in conservative cultures, friendships for young girls are limited in terms of where they go and how long they stay out and what activities they engage in. They may not be allowed to travel, hike, swim, partake in sports, go for a bike ride – simple things that friends do. These friendship-inducing activities are allowed for sons but not daughters. Early on, they are trained to put family first, and their own needs must be worked around the family’s rules, schedules, and convenience, if at all. Thus, daughters never learn the meaning of strong friendships. They never learn the methods. They haven’t experienced the highs of going camping with friends and gazing at the stars in the night sky. They haven’t experienced being lost in an unfamiliar town and helping each other navigate. They haven’t gone for a long drive with no destination in mind. They do not know what they’re missing, thus they do not seek it in later life either.

The unwritten rules of friendship after marriage – Friendships for married women are discouraged, seen as frivolous and selfish. Indian married men, on the other hand, continue to keep in touch with their buddies, even invite them over and have their wives cook for them. Many Indian women need permission to visit their friends, or need to ensure that they’ve cooked, cleaned, bathed their children, and anticipated every possible need in the next 48 hours before stepping out for an hour. Thus having a family strengthens men’s friendships while the very same weakens women’s friendships.

Complacence and the Illusion of Support – We are surrounded by family in India. We have our parents and extended family constantly in our faces. When we get married, we have even more relatives. Surrounded by all these people gives us the illusion that we are not alone. However, the truth is you can be lonely with a hundred people around you if none of them empathize with you, make you stronger, or help you find yourself.

Too late, we find out that when we really need help and support, we don’t have it. Women spend a good part of their lives helping strengthen their husband’s families. While their own supports are continually discouraged, ridiculed, and eroded.

Our Stories – Mythology, legends, and literature are replete with admirable friendships between men. While Lakshmana walked by Rama’s side until the very end, Sita stood alone. The Mahabharata brims with male bonding. There is the interesting friendship between Karna and Duryodhana. Even the friendship between Lord Krishna and Arjuna the warrior is telling. God bestows his friendship on certain worthy men, but not women.

In English literature, we are all familiar with Horatio and Hamlet, Tom and Huck, Frodo and Samwise, Gandalph and Bilbo. While we admire the friendships between these beloved characters, they do make us wish the world instead revolved around female bonding. This is why books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women are so precious.

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, says, “Princesses may confide in a sympathetic mouse or teacup, but they do not have girlfriends. God forbid Snow White should give Sleeping Beauty a little support. Princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married, and be taken care of the rest of their lives.”

Let’s not be that lonely princess. We can make each other strong. Let’s not give up on each other.

Finding Real Friendship

Friendship and bonding among women offers so many positives that no woman should have to go without it. A good friend –

  • respects you for your strengths and talents
  • supports you during challenges
  • doesn’t ennoble silent suffering and sacrifice
  • inspires you to be strong, to grow, to become who you want to be
  • listens to you when she can’t do anything other than offer her heart
  • gives you a hug
  • loves you for who you are
  • is happy to see you engage in other positive relationships
  • wants you to succeed
  • is proud of your accomplishments
  • reminds you of who you are, when you are in doubt
  • opens you up to new ideas and different perspectives
  • doesn’t judge you for your career and relationship choices
  • is overall happy for you because she is happy with who she is
  • is committed to you, spends time with you, and is there for you
  • doesn’t take your friendship for granted, understands that friendship is a like a plant, it needs watering, otherwise it can’t sustain itself
  • communicates through differences with honesty
  • recognizes her own need for friends and friendship time
  • keeps her interests and passions alive and doesn’t lose her identity after marriage
  • makes it clear to her family that she will need and engage in her friendships
  • can be a lifeline in cases of emotional or physical abuse

I did not realize this until a few years ago, when I hit my late 30s. My kids’ friends’ mothers were my friends. My husband’s co-workers’ families were my friends. I realized something was missing in these friendships. I forgot who I was. Conversations with our friends were always about our families, about our children’s or husbands’ needs, interests, and phases. And what did I do when I did meet interesting, intelligent, warm, humorous,  and independent women now and then? I did not treasure them.

I realized I had missed some valuable opportunities.  And if I wanted something, I needed to work toward it. I began to look for and find women who shared my passions – walking/hiking/running/nature, reading/writing. Women who took their hobbies seriously, who believed in preserving their identities and not be defined by their relationships alone. Although these common interests acted as a catalyst to start and sustain the friendship, we did not limit our friendships to these interests. One of my friends crafts jewelry and it’s fascinating to watch her work. Another friend, an engineer by training, loves to bake. After years of debating, she finally turned her passion into her living. I like spending time in her kitchen while she makes breads, pastries, and pies. I realized I needed to laugh like a girl, get silly, do different things, surprise myself.

I realized I needed friendship time without my husband and kids. I learnt to ask for it, advocate for it, and maintain it as an essential part of my life. I gave it a name – ‘health goals’ (as in emotional health) to make it tangible. I put my friend time on the calendar and committed to it rigorously. My family slowly, reluctantly, began to accept and work around it. If my older son needed help with a project or my younger one wanted to go to the park, it would need to be scheduled AFTER my Sunday morning walk with my friends. Same thing with my husband. In the past, I had worked around everyone’s schedules. Now, my activities were up there on the family calendar, for everyone to see, and my needs were prioritized, like everyone else’s.

I hope every one of us has or works on finding strong friendships and can make the effort to be a rock solid friend to other women. It is not as difficult as we think. It doesn’t require some esoteric skills. It is simply about knowing what real friendship looks like. It’s knowing what to look for. And understanding that friendship is a basic human need, necessary for us to thrive. This blog is a small example of the power of women supporting one another. Imagine what is possible with people we can meet and talk to and confide in and bond with in our daily lives.

And friendship with other women and having a good support system is the best defense against patriarchy. For feminism to thrive, friendships between women must thrive.

Please do share some of your great friendships. Or please share your challenges in finding and sustaining meaningful friendships.

Recognizing Emotional Abuse

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post and some recent emails brought up the subject of abuse within families.  I’m glad that the email writer moved out.  She is able to analyze her situation quite rationally, which indicates that she got out in time.  Although the majority of these emails tend to come from women, men can also be victims of abuse.  One recent email from an American woman detailed how her Indian boyfriend was being emotionally blackmailed by his parents.  Many commenters advised her to stop dating him because he needed to gain control of his own life before entering into a relationship.  In my own extended family, my cousin, who I grew up with chose to not get married.  After delaying his parents’ attempts to get him married for a few years, he finally came out in the open and declared he doesn’t ever want to get married.  He is an only child and  has been subjected to emotional blackmail (such as daily threats of illness and suicide, hysteria, self-starvation) from his parents.  Five years since he announced his decision, they are still around, but I do see that he is worn down, tired, and stressed most of the time.  He was a happy, fun loving child, always following me around (I’m eight years older to him) asking me to play hide and seek with him.  It bothers me when I see him become a hollow version of himself.

Emotional abuse is a potent method of damaging someone’s psyche, especially a person’s sense of self worth and dignity.  It is potent because it often goes unrecognized.  Its incognito status allows people to inflict substantial damage on victims – as much as that through visible forms of abuse such as aggression and violence.

Socially sanctioned forms of abuse are the hardest to recognize.  In many cultures, parents have unlimited authority over their children.  Any situation where authority goes unchecked is a fertile environment for abuse.  Another culturally sanctioned form of abuse occurs with other authority figures such as teachers, boarding school staff, clerics and law enforcement officers.  This is not to say that all parents, teachers, clerics and police are abusive; but if their authority is not subject to checks and balances, there is potential for abuse, and support when it does occur.

It is important to note that in the case of parents, spouses, and intimate partners, they may not always be aware that they are turning abusive.  Although it is difficult to empathize with the abuser, he/she could also be caught up in a destructive cycle that cannot be voluntarily broken, without professional help, and distancing from the victim.

In the Indian context, parental abuse often goes unrecognized because there is an entire network of constructs, rules and operations that have been built around it.  Recognizing parental abuse threatens so many existing power structures that cultural walls have been built around it to safeguard the unquestioned authority of parents.  Accusing one’s parents of the smallest wrongs is tantamount to treason.  There is so much fear and guilt surrounding this discussion that many sons and daughters don’t dare to broach their parent’s fallibility.  Any attempt at doing so is often accompanied with tremendous guilt and self-reproach on the victim’s part.

However, problems, especially when they are deep-rooted, cannot be pretended away.  It is important for us to recognize abuse.  People are often shocked at the word ‘abuse’ when it is used in the context of their loved ones.  Ironically, it is loved ones who are the most likely to inflict abuse – their increased proximity to the victim and their sense of entitlement, and in some cases, co-dependence make intimate relationships more prone to abuse than relationships that are one step removed.

Who can inflict emotional abuse?

– Spouses/partners

– Parents on their minor children

– Parents on their adult children

– Adult children on their aging parents

– Relatives on children in the family

– Siblings

– Bullies at schools, colleges, and in cyber space

– Police on people in their custody

– Teachers and school authorities on children

– Managers on their reports

What forms does emotional abuse take?

– humiliating, excessive judging/criticizing, shaming, slandering, ridiculing, being dismissive, labeling, condescending

– controlling, taking away choices (requiring permission for going out, controlling spending, controlling routine choices like dressing, showering, eating), infantalization

– accusing (being overly suspicious, reading into every move), blaming (holding victim responsible for abuser’s problems and happiness)

– unreasonable or impossible demands

– emotional distancing, silent treatment, alienating, emotional abandonment or neglect (withholding affection, love, support, withholding communication and expecting mind reading)

– excessive codependence (treating the other person as an extension of themselves, not respecting boundaries, knowing what is best for you, being constantly needy)

– threats and intimidation (loud voice and aggressive body language meant to induce fear, direct or indirect threats to the other person, her reputation, her children, her parents, her safety)

– emotional blackmail (threats of suicide, ill-health or becoming an alcoholic), hysteria (disproportionately intense reaction to mistakes), and self-injurious behavior or threats on self-harm (cutting oneself, burning oneself)

– baiting (deliberately provoking anger through false accusations, preying upon weaknesses)

– creating no-win scenarios (asking someone to choose between two bad options – “you either starve or you apologize for something you didn’t do”, “you either cut off with your brother or cut off with me”)

Some less common forms of expression

– Symbolic suffering (setting fire to a toy or favorite object) – inflicting suffering on an inanimate object or a small animal meant as a threat or intimidation

– Engulfment – showering excessive and suffocating amounts of attention, constantly checking whereabouts, inducing guilt (when victim enjoys something) and fear, exhibiting pathological jealousy

– Stalking – either physical or via phone/email

– Gas lighting/brainwashing – omitting or twisting information to favor the abuser and make the victim doubt their own memory or understanding of events

– Recruiting – making the other person an accomplice in questionable activities

What It Feels Like

The victim often feels confused, hurt, and frightened.  (I will begin to use the female pronoun but this applies to both men and women.)  She loses confidence and begins to doubt herself.  She may doubt her own opinions and beliefs.  She may even begin to doubt facts and her own memories.  There is a sense of one’s reality slipping away.  This makes the victim feel powerless.  Most of the victim’s energy is focused on “being careful” around the abuser’s moods, trying to “read” his signals, and working hard to earn his approval.  The victim is filled with a feeling of dread; there is always the feeling that something may explode (even when things are going well).  The victim begins to blame herself when things get ugly (“if only I had been more careful, if only I got home earlier, if only I cooked his favorite meal”).  The abuser and victim go through cycles of “good” and bad phases.  During the “good” phase, the abuser regrets his actions, tries to flatter or please the victim, and makes peace.  The peace is invariably temporary and is shattered for the smallest and most unpredictable “reasons”.   Initially, the “good” phases serve the purpose of locking the victim in the destructive relationship; however in later stages, the victim begins to understand the hollowness in the kind gestures, begins to recognize the pattern to the point of being able to predict what is coming next, but is unable to break out of it.

How To Cope

There is only one way to cope with abuse.  And that is by putting physical distance between oneself (victim) and the abuser.  At first, this might mean leaving the room and refusing to engage in abusive interactions.  Eventually, moving out of the abuser’s life is necessary for survival.  Leaving requires 2 things – planning and support.  A practical plan is necessary – where will I live temporarily, how will I earn my living, etc.  The victim also needs the support of another human being – a close friend or relative who will help the victim not give in to her fears and go back to the abuser.

Even after getting away from the abuser, many victims continue to suffer the effects of abuse – they will continue to suffer from a lack of self worth, make harmful or self-destructive choices, become close to people who are another version of their previous abuser, and continue to be unhappy.  Victims need to work with a counselor and take the support of strong, reliable friends/family and work on the process of self-healing.

The abuser can recover only through psychological counseling and doing the hard work of recognizing, understanding, and modifying his own destructive behavior patterns.

Victims of abuse cannot be told or expected to “snap out of it”.  Recognizing and dealing with abuse, and supporting the victim practically and emotionally are the only ways to authentic healing.

Is Goodness Perceived as Weakness?

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

Is goodness seen as weakness in our culture?

What are some ways in which ‘goodness’ is displayed in our culture?

A woman is ‘good’ when she

  • seldom disagrees
  • fits in with society’s norms
  • respects the wishes of those who feel they know better than her, what is good for her (parents, in-laws, husband)
  • keeps the peace, maintains the status quo rather than tell others they are wrong

In all of the above, ‘goodness’ is seen as meekness and compliance. There is nothing surprising about this interpretation of goodness in women, as our culture (like many other cultures around the world) tends to be sexist.

But, when we look at goodness in men (since they are more free of sexist expectations), it becomes more interesting.

How is goodness perceived in men? Who qualifies as a “good man” and is goodness a quality that is admired in men?

Indian men who are considered good tend to

  • be honest in their dealings, especially at work/business
  • not bribe people, lie or cheat
  • remain unassertive in their personal lives and cannot say ‘no’ to domineering parents
  • feel genuinely pained by their wives’ suffering in joint families but are helpless and cannot stand up for them
  • behave with kindness and understanding toward their children
  • in some cases, allow their grown children to take advantage of their meekness
  • be passed over for promotions, in favor of other ‘aggressive’ men who are willing to lie, cheat, or at least fudge the numbers
  • may passively watch wrong and unfair behavior among their families and in public spaces without objecting

In other words, our culture seems to define goodness as meekness, regardless of gender. There are very few examples of strong and good people that we see or hear about, be it politics, business, or popular media.

When I was 16 and about to take my driving test, my uncle suggested to my father that he could get me a driver’s license without going to the test. All my father had to do was pay a certain amount of money to someone my uncle knew.

My father got upset with him and said, “Aren’t you ashamed of flaunting your dishonesty in front of a child?”

To which, my uncle responded, “We can’t all be Gandhi – or we’ll starve like him.”

Lying, cheating, bribing, cutting in line, indiscriminate rule breaking, and cutting corners are seen as strengths and the qualities of the capable male. And the alternative is presented as meekness and the willingness to be a doormat.

Goodness, kindness, honesty, and compassion seem to be associated with unassertiveness, personal unhappiness, and professional failure.

Taking a step back, let’s look at the misconceptions embedded in my uncle’s Gandhi reference. We may not agree with everything Gandhi did. Some of his decisions can be called into question. He was not without flaws. But here was a man who was anything BUT meek.

Gandhi’s strength came from his conviction. He had an unwavering set of values that served as his internal compass. He stubbornly persisted with his goals. For a physically diminutive man, he demonstrated immense mental courage and grit in the face of the mighty British Empire. He presented supreme confidence in the face of their condescension. Here was a display of a strong kind of goodness.

People who’ve made me understand this

Some good and strong people I’ve known in my own life –

  • My father who fought against my entire extended family for my aunt’s right to wear all colors (after she lost her husband), to get back to school, get an education, a job, and the right to get remarried. Which pretty much brought an end to the tradition of “widows in white” who remained marginalized all their lives, within my extended family.
  • My son’s kindergarten teacher, a small, kind woman who fought with the school authorities to keep ADHD and ASD children in her classroom. She fought for their right to be educated in a regular classroom with supports and not be isolated and “written off” as failures.
  • My grandmother, married at 12, sent to her in-laws at 15, fought for her daughters’ right to be educated. In a generation when most daughters were barely allowed to graduate from high school, she fought with her entire joint family to make sure her daughters (my mother and aunt) graduated from college, went to work, and married the men of their choice.

Some public figures whom I admire for this combination of goodness and strength –

  • Aung San Suu Kyi who continues to fight for the slim chance of a democracy in Burma.
  • Carl Sagan who forewent a lot of research funding when he took a stand against Reagan’s Space Defense Initiative, and shoved the “climate issue” into policy makers’ faces.
  • Bill and Melissa Gates who could remain content leading a privileged life, but choose instead to be involved with solving global challenges that affect us all.

I especially admire privileged people who could easily spend all their lives unaffected by unfairness, poverty, and illness, but CHOOSE not to. They choose goodness. It is an active, conscious choice.

This is why I like re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird because Atticus Finch chose not to sit back and enjoy his white male privilege. This is why I keep going back to A Separate Peace. Because Finny gets it and Gene doesn’t, not until the very end. Not until it’s too late. Both Finch and Finny chose goodness and fairness. It takes discipline and strength to hold on to a value system that demands nothing less than generosity, compassion, and fairness.

The Connection

The connection between goodness and strength is really quite simple. Goodness requires you to abide by a value system. Adhering to a value system requires self-discipline and active vocalization of our beliefs. Self-discipline imbues us with quiet inner strength. Vocalization of our beliefs in the face of opposition, disapproval, and possibly even hate builds an extra layer of strength, a protective armor, if you will.

The other way to look at it – Strong people take control of their lives. Control over one’s own life gives one the luxury of being in a position to help others. Strong people are secure enough to acknowledge their own weaknesses. This allows them to be empathetic to other’s flaws. Strong people persist in overcoming their challenges. This gives them the know-how to mentor others. Thus strength also leads to goodness.

Strength and goodness can thus feed off of each other and become inseparable.

Misconceptions

Goodness is not meekness. Strength is not meanness. It is much harder to remain honest and true to oneself than it is to “go with the flow” and lose our identities. It is much harder to remain fair even to our enemies than it is to paint them in an unflattering light. It is much harder to fight for the underprivileged than to ignore or pretend away their plight with cynicism. It is much harder to forgive those who act in ignorance than to take revenge on them. It is much harder to give a voice to those who lack one than to remain silently sympathetic.

Sometimes, I feel meek people inflict a lot more damage than mean people – such as  people who stare at a woman on a bus and allow her to be harassed. People who passively stand in line and allow certain people to cut in. People who don’t take bribes but watch others do. We are inflicting harm when we do not take a stand, when we don’t use our privilege to help others, when we allow crimes to happen, when we don’t fight for anything worth fighting for. There is a terrible relationship between the mean and the meek. Meek people become the enablers of those who are mean.

Goodness, in the true sense of the word, is therefore a difficult, risky, conscious, active, courageous, and powerful choice on our part, and not a meek, passive reaction to the domineering forces in our lives.

Workplace Equality requires Equality at Home

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

If you are a mother who works in a conventional office setting, the scenario in the following article by Katharine Zaleski may sound familiar to you:

http://fortune.com/2015/03/03/female-company-president-im-sorry-to-all-the-mothers-i-used-to-work-with/

Two telling excerpts from the article:

“I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her “commitment” even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hung over colleagues the next day.”

And

“I sat in a job interview where a male boss grilled a mother of three and asked her, “How in the world are you going to be able to commit to this job and all your kids at the same time?” I didn’t give her any visual encouragement when the mother – who was a top cable news producer at the time – looked at him and said, “Believe it or not, I like being away from my kids during the workday… just like you.””

Zaleski’s article makes some great points on

  • the attitude of younger women/male and female non-parents/male employees with kids(fathers) toward employees who are mothers
  • the very little empathy and support that mothers receive at the workplace
  • the condescension with which they are viewed when they have to cancel a meeting or need to take an unexpected day off

However, this successful, professional woman ignores the role of fathers in parenting: What I find disappointing about this article is

  • The author reserved her condescension (in the past) only for mothers, and did not extend it to fathers as well. Many men in senior management tend to be married with kids. Yet no one questions them if they have to cancel a meeting because it is assumed that the cancellation has nothing to do with parenting responsibilities or family time. This is representative of many people I’ve known here, both men and women.
  • Why is the role of fathers never discussed when we talk about over-burdened mothers?
  • When we say workplaces are “male-oriented”, what do we mean? Do we mean that they revolve around the needs of men, with little understanding of the needs of women?
  • Does this imply that taking care of kids should not be a male concern and only women workers must worry about childcare and parenting?
  • Why can’t we start using the term “parent-friendly” instead of “mother-friendly” to refer to workplaces that provide flexible schedules, work-from-home options, and more autonomy to their employees?

The change in perspective that Katharine Zaleski experienced is commendable. She started a company, PowerToFly that matches women with technical skills to remote jobs that they can perform from home. I’m glad she is doing something to make it possible to tap into the talents of countless women who lack sufficient supports at home.

However, we need to start having discussions on the role of fathers in parenting. Even in the US, men and women still play very traditional roles when it comes to parenting.

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In is in the same vein – it talks about how women need to be more assertive in the workplace but doesn’t discuss how fathers need to do their fair share at home.

We seem to be fighting for equality in the workplace but remain content with inequality at home by turning mothers into supermoms.

How can we expect people at work to treat women (and mothers) as equals if we don’t change our gender based attitudes toward housework and parenting?

———————————————————————————————————–

Some experiences I’ve had in this regard:

Everywhere I go, I’m seen as being solely responsible for all tasks related to children and home.

My children’s pediatrician, a woman, always concludes the visit with a list of instructions meant for me alone, even if my husband is present.

“Make sure he takes this 3 times a day with meals, “ she says, looking at me, then turns to my son and says, “Mommy’s gonna get you all better buddy!”

I encounter this at my kids’ school on the days I volunteer in the classroom.

The teacher says to some kids, “Oh look what mommy packed you for lunch today! You are one lucky kid!”

All emails from the teacher to the volunteering parents are addressed, “Dear Ladies”, and unfortunately, most of them ARE ladies.

I encounter this at my workplace too. Even the compliments are suffocating.

“I don’t know how you do it all!” (I DON’T do it all. I do my fair share of the work, my husband does his fair share and we let go the things we can’t do.)

A recent conversation with my friend, a full time working mom:

She works full time at a very aggressive company with an extremely stressful work environment. The other day, she was complaining about taking home work again over the weekend.

She said, “My boss is such a slave driver. Lucky for him, he has a stay at home wife to take care of his kids.”

So, she puts another woman down for her legitimate choice but doesn’t hold her own husband accountable.

I said to her, “They must’ve made a joint decision on that. When one parent chooses to stay home, the family takes a huge cut in income. The advantage is more work life balance, with one parent taking care of earning, while the other takes care of home duties. When both parents work, they must share cooking, cleaning, and parenting duties.   Either way, people should do whatever works for them. In both cases, both parents should share the overall work fairly. “

To this, she said, “The problem is, my husband can come home and relax, but I can’t. He doesn’t feel guilty about not spending time with my daughter or if there’s no food at home. I do.”

This then is the crux of the problem. Women are finally getting more choices and opportunities work wise. But we come home and nothing much has changed. Women still need to make those meals and care for their children. And if the working mother fails at achieving this impossible state, then she punishes herself with guilt. It’s still her job and her job alone to cook, clean, do dishes, laundry, and parent the kids.

Another seemingly small incident that brings to light the casual guilt inducing culture mothers are surrounded by:

I was in line at the grocery store. A woman in front of me with a child in tow placed 3 frozen food type of lunches, 2 cans of soup, and a carton of milk on the counter.

The cashier, who was probably just making small talk with her, said breezily, “I guess you’re not cooking today!!:)))”

The woman looked slightly stricken, and then went on to painfully explain why she was picking up those frozen food lunches and soup cans. “Well tomorrow, I’m expecting guests so I have to clean my entire house and prep for the elaborate meal I’m going to make. So, you know …. (smiles apologetically) …. I’m trying to simplify at least today’s meals.”

The cashier and the customer are probably unaware of this exchange as being guilt inducing. But it’s all around us. I’m sure he wouldn’t have made that comment to a man buying those frozen items.

Or worse, he might’ve said, “Guess, your wife’s out of town!!:))”

———————————————————————————————————–

For this mindset to change, we should start changing workplaces not only to support mothers but to also change our expectations for fathers. We need to start building a workplace culture that encourages work life balance – a place where a father can proudly say he needs to leave early to attend his daughter’s soccer game.

To a smaller extent, I do see this happening. One of my colleagues, a marketing manager goes for a run with his daughter on Wednesday afternoons (which is a short school day) to help her train for marathons. Another colleague, a graphic designer, alternates short and long working days with her husband, so they take turns picking up the kids and cooking. My husband and I do the same thing. I know one dad in the autism support group that I run who does business consulting work (for startups) from home and takes care of the home and kids, while his wife has a full time in-office type of job.

Sheryl Sandberg’s next book, “Lean In Together” talks about how men need to do their fair share at home.

“About time we discussed that!” was my first thought, when I heard about the book’s release – although a little voice in my head said, with the kind of money Sandberg and her husband make, did they ever have to worry about household chores when they can hire fantastic help?:-)  What do they even know about the struggles of everyday kind of families?  But let’s ignore that for a moment and look at the advice.

Although she gives suggestions that make sense (share the house work 50/50, be equally involved with your kids, etc.), the overall pitch of the book seems a bit salesy. The “perks” of gender equality at home include “better sex for spouses and better profits for companies (due to more satisfied, productive employees), more promotions to go around and 5% growth in our GDP”. This to me seems like a desperate sell to get men to do their fair share of work. Or a bid to get privileged, white boys club type managers to look down kindly on their male subordinates going home earlier to do “a bit more” at home.

Gender equality at home may not bring higher profits and higher profits and productivity and benefits to men should not be the driving force behind gender equality.

The REAL positive outcome for men from gender equality at home? Dads get to give their children hugs and wipe their tears. Dads get to cheer their kids at sports. Dads get to really know their kids and earn their trust and respect and love. Moms get to be human because the work is shared fairly. When moms feel good, they can bond better with their husbands. Husbands “benefit” too from this emotional bonding and warmth. This is not exactly in the category of “profitable” but it’s an awesome feeling and you can’t put a price on it.

But all of the above benefits to men – better bonding with their spouses and children – are things that flow from doing the right thing. We must do the right thing simply because it’s right, not for a benefit.  And I think it’s not just important to bring about change, but to do so for the right reasons, so that the change is genuine and long lasting.

Gender equality begins at home. And it matters because it’s fair. Because women deserve equality. Like everyone else. It’s that simple.

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the sharing of housework, parenting, and workplace attitudes.

I talked about my experiences in the US. If you live elsewhere, in what respects are your experiences different/same in Europe and other countries in Asia (Singapore, China, Japan, India, etc.)?

Does vengeance equal feminism?

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Warning – spoilers on ‘Gone Girl’ – book/movie review

Has anyone read the book, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn?  A NY Times bestseller that was made into a movie starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, the book/movie is disturbing on many fronts.

It is meant to be dark humor when intelligent, manipulative, psychopathic Amy gets revenge on her mediocre, selfish, entitled husband Nick, through an intricately planned out and meticulously executed series of chilling crimes.

On the surface, it seems like we’re finally seeing a complex woman character, a rarity in bestsellers and Hollywood.  Amy isn’t sweet, warm and compassionate.  She IS the bad guy.  And there are reasons given for the warping of her mind as well – the emotional manipulation of her parents.

However, as you progress through the novel, Amy goes on to concoct a false murder charge against her husband (using compellingly manufactured evidence), and when that begins to fail, uses her innocent ex boyfriend in her schemes, then murders him, then accuses him of rape and abuse, returns to her husband but continues to manipulate him with threats of turning the media and law enforcement against him.

I found the plot severely undermining the very real abuse that countless women face and it almost seems to match the thinking of men’s rights activists who constantly talk about “false rape charges” and “false abuse charges” as their reason for opposition to rape and abuse laws. In reality, the law enforcement in many countries shames and silences rape victims rather than taking their reports seriously; yet, what we have here is a twilight zone of a woman victimizing several men who slighted her as well as ensnaring the entire media and law enforcement.

Gillian Flynn considers herself a feminist and claims that her book is also feminist because of its “non-conformity to the traditional perception of women as innately good characters“. Somehow, her argument doesn’t quite fly.  So, Amy is not good and sweet and boring.  However, Amy’s character feels like a comic book evil temptress, complete with the perfect sexy body and dark, destructive mind.  She’s completely stereotypical in that she brings to life the worst nightmares of misogynists.

The book is bursting at the seams with other male/female stereotypes.  Nick is clumsy, reticent, somewhat clueless, a little selfish, a “little” unfaithful, but essentially good-hearted.  Amy is classy, privileged, articulate, intelligent, and if a woman is privileged/intelligent, then of course it follows that she must also be manipulative and evil.  Nick’s mediocrity makes him “innocent” and his selfishness is “mostly unconscious” and his unfaithfulness is overshadowed (and forgiven?) by Amy’s incredible capacity for vengeance.  The “evil media” takes advantage of his male inability to pretend grief, when what he’s actually feeling is relief. (makes you want to give him a hug, doesn’t it?) Amy’s intelligence however is used for a destructive purpose. Maybe another argument for men’s preference for “simple women”?   When asked to describe his wife, Nick actually says in frustration, “She’s complicated!”  (Sorry, Nick, a woman is a human and humans are complicated, what you should’ve got yourself is a toy if you wanted something simpler.)

Other charming women characters in the book include Amy’s emotionally manipulative mother who has used her daughter for her personal fame and riches, a media siren who is bent upon making Nick’s life hell, a 20 something voluptuous student who throws herself at Nick (home wrecker?) and crime groupies who want to use Nick and take selfies of themselves with him. The only real woman in the book is Nick’s rough-around-the-edges twin sister, Margo, who also co-owns the bar with her brother. She tries to help her immature brother despite her frustration with his mistakes. She tries to remain fair to Amy even though she dislikes her. But even Margo lets us down when she says “complicated (woman) means b***h”.

Here’s a quote from the book, which has been used to illustrate the underlying feminist tone of the book –

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and jams hot dogs into her mouth …. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined manner and let their men do whatever they want. …. Men actually think this girl exists. ….. And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. …… Maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics.”

In the above sense, the book does hint at the irony of it all – the real progress that women have made in the social and emotional realm of relationships is still minuscule.  We are leading nations, heading successful companies, but who are we at home, really?  A Nooyi who is ordered to go pick up the milk?  A Sandberg who suffers mommy guilt?

Here, I began to have hope.  I thought the author was portraying how women are forced into certain roles by society and in the process, let their whole lives revolve around selfish, uncaring men who want to see a sugar coated, simplified, corseted version of them.  And I hoped that Amy would eventually refuse to be straight jacketed, that she would emerge free from the selfish expectations of society.

However what does Amy DO ABOUT THIS?  What does she do to fight this cool girl burden and set herself free?  She becomes one!!!  How un-empowering is that!  She becomes this cool girl that Nick wants her to be. And Nick predictably falls head over heels for her.  But she’s mad at him for making her do this, so she takes revenge.  There is absolutely NOTHING feminist about this.

Another argument that Flynn put forth for feminism is that women are sick of being used and brushed aside, and when Amy finally begins to take back control in the relationship, when she starts calling the shots, it’s a win for the women’s cause. On some level, is Amy’s viciousness deeply satisfying to all of us women, who are familiar with some form of oppression or the other?  I thought about this but could not find a shred of fulfillment in the self-destructive nature of vengeance.  The argument that getting even feels good is faced with one problem – relationships are not held together with a gun to someone’s head. Freeing oneself from abuse doesn’t mean abusing the abuser.  You are no longer free when you inflict pain on someone, because you are taking on a burden. Taking back control of her own life is what Amy should’ve done, not taking control of Nick’s life. Ever heard of a thing called divorce, Amy? So, much more simpler that revenge.

Feminism is not about being a martyr, nor is it about taking revenge on men for the lost opportunities, but to demand equality in all spheres of life.  And this is what makes the book extremely disturbing – because it taps into the age-old fears of men – that women are irrational, nasty, manipulative creatures, sexually controlling and bordering on insanity, who if given the power (equality misconstrued as power), can easily destroy men to bits.  This mindset of fear is at the root of misogyny and the book does a great job of amplifying it.

Gone Girl is oddly reminiscent of the film noir movies of the 1940s, which possibly reflected men’s fears about women’s newly emerging post-war independence.  A series of films had at the center of the plot, a troubled, brooding male (Robert Mitchum, Fred MacMurray, or Humphrey Bogart) who succumbed to the evil charms of an intelligent, seductive woman.  The outcome of this interaction would be destructive for both of them. The men invariably were lead astray on to a twisted path of deception, murder, and mayhem under the influence of these femme fatales.

With this book/movie (Gone Girl), the virgin-whore dichotomy is still firmly in place.  Men continue to feel torn about choosing between the “simple, good, non-threatening, but boring woman” and the “interesting, sexy, intelligent but ultimately destructive woman”.  Neither kind of woman exists in reality.  The only place they exist is in the fear-ridden minds of misogynists, and the books and movies that flow from them.

If you read the book or watched the movie, please share your thoughts on it. If you didn’t, please share your thoughts on the concept of vengeance, getting even, and feminism, or on the distorted/appropriate portrayal of strong women characters in books and movies.

Ragging Culture

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

In the following case, do the people who ragged the student understand that what they did is inherently wrong (let alone understanding that it’s a crime)?

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/Student-Attempts-Suicide-Family-Cries-Ragging/2015/02/04/article2651563.ece

And yet another case where the parents think their son was ragged and tormented and consider his death suspicious (not an accident):

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/nujs-student-falls-to-death-parents-allege-foul-play/

In the above case, I wonder if the student shared with his parents that he was being tormented? If so, did they listen? Did they take it seriously? What specific actions were taken to curb the ragging/bullying?

Bullying is a universal problem. In the US, we deal with it in high school and the earlier part of undergraduate college. In India, we have the added problems of lack of recognition of bullying as a crime (both in homes and colleges) and improper (or lack of) law enforcement.

There is a third very important factor specific to our society – the hierarchical/power culture that pervades through many other abusive relationships (rich versus poor, elder vs younger members of family, groom’s parents vs bride’s parents in weddings and post-wedding life, upper caste vs lower caste, land owners vs farmers, upper class vs laborers, well connected vs man-on-the-street, politicians versus common man), and we can almost see this naturally extending to the campus arena – seniors versus juniors. Once again, respect is demanded for no logical reason. Respect is taken, not earned. Appeasement is seen as the only way to peace and being left alone. Fear is mistaken for respect and power drives the relationship.

I’ve known people who consider ragging as “part of life” or a “milestone in the journey to adulthood”. Some have referred to it as “character building” and a “rite of passage”; others consider it “harmless” and “fun” and for these, ragging seems to bring back nostalgic memories of their student years.

My cousin graduated from the Naval Engineering College at Lonavala about 15 years ago. The first summer he came home, he was unrecognizable. He was gaunt, bone thin, and developed a skin rash that could only be attributed to stress. During ragging he (along with others) was put through unbearable levels of physical pain and mental humiliation. He came close to quitting a few times but somehow pulled through.

But after he got married ( a few years later), when his wife asked him if the ragging at NEC was as bad as she had heard, he shrugged and replied, “It made a man out of me.”

Ragging, on the other hand, portrayed as amusing or hilarious in popular movies like 3 Idiots and Munna Bhai hasn’t helped either.

Ragging is a form of abuse, period. It can be emotional, verbal or physical. It involves repeated, possibly aggressive, humiliating, or manipulative behavior that is deliberately aimed at asserting power over another individual or group. It is harmful to the physical and emotional well being of students, something that any educational institution by its very definition, should be concerned about. In some cases, it can be violent and result in injury or death. Regardless of whether it is mild or severe, it should be treated as unacceptable.

Ragging, bullying, hazing – this destructive behavior goes by different names and takes on various forms around the world.

But it makes one wonder what goes on in these people’s minds? What are they thinking when they insult, humiliate, or harass someone? I’m on the PTA for my son’s high school and bullying is an ever-present concern at the meetings. We’ve had 2 incidents this year, one of them was milder (inappropriate language toward a gay student), but the other involved consistent, deliberate, and elaborately planned out harassment by a group of people toward one student (consistent because the victim remained silent for a longer period before complaining).

In general, education, awareness, strict law enforcement, and counseling definitely minimize/reduce the problem to some extent. There is no doubt in any student’s mind (at my son’s school) that bullying is wrong/unacceptable/illegal.

However there is another side to bullying, one that educational institutions have little control over – the student’s home environment. Despite the education and awareness that is routinely dispensed at the school in the form of talks, fliers, help lines, seminars, text alert systems, counseling, and assertiveness training, bullying still happens. Why? That’s because we don’t have complete control over the environment that creates bullies. How much of bullying happens because some children/youth grow up never learning that it is a serious crime? How many of them have heard it being referred to as something that is “part of life” or a “rite of passage”? Or things like “boys are by nature aggressive” or “boys don’t cry” or “conquer or be conquered”? How many of these children grow up being bullied by the adults who raise them?

We can only look at the behaviors of bullies and find some common underlying issues. Numerous studies indicate that most bullies tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • lacking a sense of control over their own lives
  • anger that is not dealt with constructively and often misdirected
  • low self-esteem
  • may have witnessed violence or aggression at home
  • may have seen power being used unfairly at home
  • may have been bullied by others
  • lacking in empathy
  • lacking in remorse
  • may have experienced harsh, physical punishments at home
  • possibly exposed to only win-lose situations and have seldom seen win-win relationships
  • insufficient or inappropriate socialization during childhood

And then, there are the passive bullies, the ones who don’t initiate the bullying but quickly join in when someone else gets it going. They seem to exhibit the following traits:

  • herd mentality and lack of strong opinions
  • hungry/deprived for attention
  • low self esteem
  • looking for someone ‘superior’ to latch on to
  • tendency to exhibit hero worship and unquestioning loyalty
  • lack of identity and the need to belong

There is a third group that is worth looking at – people who witness bullying. By silently watching a crime, they are knowingly or unknowingly encouraging it. A study titled “Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders” published on athealth.com concludes that “bystanders create the illusion that the bully has the support of the majority and this perception perpetuates a culture of bullying”. These people tend to –

  • not want to get involved and generally don’t take a stand on anything
  • may not connect the dots (if it’s him today, it could be me tomorrow)
  • may not see bullying as a crime and believe it is amusing
  • may be less empathetic
  • may not have been taught self-respect and individual rights in their home environment

What can colleges do to deal with ragging/bullying besides developing a strict code of law and enforcing it?

  • The first thing that comes to mind in terms of solutions is to have a zero tolerance policy or ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ against bullying behavior. But this does not necessarily solve the problem entirely. Bullies have a way of seeking out victims off campus or on social media, via smart phones or in cyber space.
  • It is therefore important for an educational institution to work on the bullying person (or persons) as an individual. Counseling may be needed for the person engaging in this behavior to see his actions as not only criminal but as genuinely wrong and hurtful to others. Counseling may also explore the underlying issues of the individual and find positive ways for him to relate to others and develop acceptable coping mechanisms for issues that cannot be easily resolved.
  • I don’t know if we have counselors at colleges and universities, or if they are trained to guide and support students in addressing their emotional health and development, but if we don’t, we should definitely work toward that goal.

A University of Albany study that examined the relationship between parental aggression toward children and the children’s behavior states that “Parents who may displace their anger, insecurity, or a persistent need to dominate and control upon their children in excessive ways have been proven to increase the likelihood that their own children will in turn become overly aggressive or controlling towards their peers.”

While we need laws against ragging/bullying and we need proper ways to enforce them, preventing bullying behavior primarily begins at home. We need to ask ourselves what we are teaching youngsters in our own homes.

On the communication front –

  • Are we using positive communication to resolve differences with our children and with each other (spouses)?
  • Is the communication style used by parents straightforward and assertive or is it manipulative/sarcastic? Words can often be used in punitive, damaging ways in the form of labeling, veiled threats, and ‘ harmless jokes’ that perpetuate stereotypes.
  • Are we listening to our children when they are angry with someone? Are we showing them ways to resolve their conflicts in acceptable, legal ways?
  • Are we able to handle our own anger at our own problems in a mature and responsible manner?
  • In conflict situations, are we addressing the problem or resorting to personal attacks?

On developing trust and self esteem –

  • Do we trust our children when they complain about abuse? Have we taught them how to stand up to any form of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual? Do we take their reports of ragging seriously?
  • Are we helping build their self-esteem by recognizing their strengths and supporting them with their challenges?
  • Are we instilling confidence in them so that they don’t feel the need for approval and/or belonging from the wrong sources?
  • Are we allowing them to develop their own identity so that they don’t feel the need to put someone down to feel superior?

On power play –

  • Are our children engaging in arguments with the sole purpose of ‘winning’ or are they engaging in discussions with the intent of learning?
  • Are we creating a democratic environment at home, with room for different ideas and viewpoints? Are children able to express disagreement without fear? Are they able to express disagreement without shouting or getting abusive with parents?
  • Are we refraining from using intimidation and aggression in the form of a loud voice, physical punishments, and threats?
  • Are we using our power as adults and parents wisely and fairly?
  • Are we showing respect to our children and earning their respect rather than expecting unquestioning obedience?

On values –

  • Are we respecting people of all cultures, communities, and backgrounds both in our words and actions? Or do we make casual racist remarks or put down people based on their caste, color, gender, orientation, or economic status? Do we subtly convey our hatred or mistrust for the ‘other’? (Children pick up on their parents’ prejudices even when they’re not overtly stated.)
  • Are we teaching them what constitutes a crime? Do our children understand that taking away someone else’s right to be educated in a safe, non-threatening environment is a crime?

The above strategies are helpful not only in preventing children from growing up to become bullies, but also in preventing them from becoming victims of bullies.

Again, it would not be entirely wrong to claim that the emotional well being of children is a low priority in traditional hierarchical families and expecting our existing parenting philosophy to change drastically is wishful thinking. However, cynicism is not the answer. I think identifying and defining the problem is the first step and a prerequisite to awareness building and finding solutions.

Bullying gives people a sense of power. It’s up to us to create and promote democratic environments (both at home and educational institutions) that don’t function on the power principle, and instead operate on awareness of individual rights, mutual respect and boundaries.

Please share your experiences with ragging and ideas on how we can change the culture of ragging.

Edited to add: A Boy’s Courage in the Face of Cowardly Bullying:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/autistic-teenager-beaten-up-by-bullies-makes-them-watch-20minute-video-about-autism-10368201.html

 

‘Maayka Chavi Ka’… sequel to ‘Sasural Simar Ka’ ;)

In the last post we saw Simar’s future will be decided by her parents and extended family, and to some extent by her neighbours’ gossip opinions. Her happiness will also depend on her pati parmeshwar and her saasu ma – if she is fortunate they will treat her well. That’s her life. Get Married. Stay Married.

And then there is Chhavi.

Chhavi Rajawat, an MBA and the Sarpanch of  the village that is her ‘maayka‘ 


Indian girls do have choices, if the society and the parents open their eyes and notice them. Chhavi, 30 chose to make a difference.

I loved the first few words in this video below 🙂

🙂

This village Sarpanch knows no stereotypes. 

She does not become like the villagers to help them, they want to be like her.

Her responsibilities include making clean drinking water available to the villagers, water conservation, water harvesting, tree planting, road works and bringing electricity to rural households. A project that’s close to her heart is the revamp of the local schools.

That’s her team of eleven, four men and seven women 🙂

“I hope my small contribution to society will encourage more girls to work towards rural development. Take the plunge and you will realise that it is worth it,” she says.‘  [Click to read more]

.

Read Sandhya’s post for more on Chhavi Rajawat.

Related posts:

Sarpanch Ashuba Khan and her all women Panchayat, Neemkheda village, Haryana.
I do not like Reservation.
Biology versus Culture DEATHMATCH Part I (Nandini’s Niche)

“So why do we wear clothes again??”

‘I wish one had the liberty to slap these kids to senses and send them back to kindergarten to be taught…”Why do we wear clothes again??”’ (From J’s comment here)

So why do we wear clothes?

1. For protection from heat and cold? Most civilisations that did not need protection from cold did not have rigid rules for body being covered up.

Did traditional Indian clothing have blouses or shirts? Men and women wrapped a dhoti or sari, children generally wore nothing. Body was decorated with flowers, ‘alta’, turmeric, sandal wood paste, kohl and jewelry, wanting to look good was not considered inappropriate.

When invaders arrived from locations where clothing was necessary for protection from extreme heat or cold, they also brought along the concept of ‘shame’ and modesty. In ‘Chokher Bali‘ the newly wed refuses to wear a blouse with sari, because it was too British (modern).

Once the society starts covering women up, Margaret Atwood describes how the threshold for what is found sexually attractive changes, soon even a glimpse of an ankle becomes sexually provocative.

One example: Pakizah has the hero falling in love with Meena Kumari – after he sees her beautiful feet. Was that love?

2. Do we wear clothes to look better – to look sexually attractive?

Was there this fear that if women did not cover up, men might stop finding a mere glimpse of a part of a woman’s body attractive? (Margaret Atwood, Handmaiden’s Tale)

Mr Balvinder Singh’s experience in Nagaland shows making rules about covering up a woman’s body, is the beginning of objectification of women, to ensure ‘excitement’ does not ‘turn into monotony’.

“The men wore only a loincloth and the females wrapped just a shawl below their waists. The women folk of all ages were seen working in the fields, carrying fire wood or hay for the animals, pounding barley, washing clothes at village water points, knitting on hand looms (almost every house had a hand loom where the women would knit shawls etc) or attending to other such daily chores of life, wearing nothing on top.

While a small cleavage visible under the thin dupatta or through the pallu of a woman’s saree is certainly a pleasant sight for any man worth his salt, without harbouring any malafide thoughts in the mind, but there in the villages of Nagaland it was an anti climax to see the dangling pairs of bare boobs, available to look at in abundance in all shapes and sizes. Initially they were a cause of some excitement, which was natural , but gradually the excitement turned into monotony. I was reminded of the words of a famous poet that the ‘beauty that is veiled looks more beautiful’.” [Click here to read the entire article]

3. To prevent offending the sensibilities of those who think covering up is a religious/social/cultural/safety requirement?

This is extremely subjective.

Some people find even the glimpse of a woman’s eyes offends their religious sentiments, some find sleeveless blouses offensive, for many only traditional clothing no matter how much it convers or reveals is acceptable.

Some think it’s okay to wear anything so long as one can ‘carry  it off’.

Most people simply resist any change. So in most places,  there are rules regarding not just skin, but also how much of which clothing should not show.

So the sight of boxers and bra straps offends some people.

For many other people’s legs (shorts, bermudas), calves, arms (sleeveless) and knees (skirts), midriffs (saris, lehengas), shape, curves (fitted clothing) are offensive.

In  India showing one’s back and midriff is acceptable when one is wearing a sari, but not if the outfit is Western. Nigeria disagrees! Read Nita’s post – ‘Sari an immodest garment?’

So it seems what’s okay in some societies is not acceptable in some other societies and the rules change with times, all the time. Most societies seem to accept and rigidly follow their current – generally unwritten norms.

How do these norms get created? And how do they change?

How is it that more of these rules apply to women?

Could these rules be a means to control women’s sexuality?

Why do you think do humans wear clothes?

Related Posts: 

The way a woman dresses.

No Jeans for an Indian daughter in law.

Not just a pair of jeans.

All teachers except Indian women can do their job well enough in Western clothes?