Desi


I got to the party fashionably late. Sita Sings the Blues is a retelling of the Ramayana through Nina Paley’s eyes. It’s recent, but been around for some time. Thanks to Paley and sponsors for making the animated film available to many. It is cute and witty, and the animation – beautiful. I caught some minor flaws, like ignoring the fact that Kaikeyi was a warrior queen who saved Dasaratha’s life, and missing certain details like Surpanakha enticing Laxmana or Ravana dressing up as a sage to fool Sita, but that’s cool. You can read some other discussions on it here and here.

As usual, conservative folks got their panties in a bunch over the supposed irreverence of the film. I take hurt sentiments seriously, and many feminists have protested misogynistic literature themselves, but I don’t agree with the premise of the conservatives when they criticize literary works. You can get a glimpse of their attitudes (read the comments) over another retelling of the Ramayana here.

Sita Sings the Blues is hardly irreverent, especially considering that the Ramayana is an epic with many versions. How absurd would it be if the Greeks got crazy over retellings of the Iliad and Odyssey. Conservative Hindus have this absurd attitude where they despise Muslims for their frenzy and fatwas against Salman Rushdie or Theo van Gogh, then they themselves set a similar example whenever an Indian epic is retold. And God forbid the retelling be from a feminist point of view, then suddenly it hurts the sentiments of the Hindus, never mind that the Indian epics are literature already retold thousands of times, and they aren’t even central tenets of Hindu spirituality!! Hindu epics and even stories of deities are acted out in Hindi drama serials all the time, yet they don’t cause a fiasco because they repeat the same patriarchal bullshit of mainstream versions of the stories.

One of the complaints against this animation is the clothing of Sita, although it’s not unusual for Hindu deities and epic characters to be scantily clad, since clothing of the ancient times were different. It’s only in modern conservative depictions that women wear long sleeve blouses and covering saris; there’s more evidence for a freer clothing style back in the day, rather than what we wear today. Anyone who gets offended by Nina Paley’s or any other feminist’s retelling of Ramayana needs to think whether the Ashvamedha Yagna that Dasaratha performs in Valmiki’s Ramayana is offensive or not. Surely, you don’t think that forcing Kausalya to have sex with a horse and Dasaratha offering his other wives to Brahmins for sex is less offensive than Sita showing some cleavage???

The whole fiasco over sentiments is based on the faulty premise of equating literature with “absolute truth.” We forget that these epics are filled with myths and imaginations that reflect the creativity, or perhaps ulterior motives, of its authors. The better approach is to acknowledge that these epics are after all just text, with readers creating the meaning behind them. To use a Hindu cliche, you have to recognize and extract the spirit of the text as a lotus is “pure” even among the murky water it grows in.

That being said, I now feel inspired to create my own meaning of the Ramayana, though I suspect many other women have found this meaning before me. Whenever I think of controversial literature, I think about my Feminist Theory class in college where we discussed Spike Lee’s Huckleberry Finn. Too bad the script has not become a movie yet, but the premise of the script is to use the original text by Mark Twain, only to give it a whole new meaning by telling it from Jim’s point of view. Here, Jim is not the helpless superstitious slave as Tom Swayer sees him, but he’s a very intelligent person who’s acting comical to survive amongst hostile white people. It also reminds me of Shehrazade of Arabian Nights, who tells stories to delay, and eventually prevent what would have been her inevitable death. These characters could have been quite strong only if you think of them that way.

That would be a refreshing way to view Sita, Rama or Ravana, without changing the story or the text of the Ramayana. Whereas conservative misogynists have used Sita’s character to teach women to be oppressed, feminists can easily point out that Sita gains nothing from her unconditional love, thus rejecting the need for it altogether. Rama gains nothing either. It’s fascinating to think about how a supposed villain like Ravana was actually honorable towards Sita while supposedly honorable Rama did not fulfill his duties as Sita’s husband. I think, ultimately the Ramayana teaches the fallacy of good vs. evil in the material world and questions what we think of as truth and reality. I think Sita provides the most compelling proof for Hindu women that marriage, husband, children, and unconditional love of the material world does not hold the key to happiness. You can remain as “pure” and virginal as you want to, it ain’t gonna satisfy your man if his priorities are elsewhere. The earlier you realize it, the less suffering you’ll go through. I think Jessica Valenti would find Ramayana to be a big Purity Myth! Above all, epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata are full of contradictions, because as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar points out, truth is contradictory. If Self-realization and God-realization were so easy, we would’ve all been happy.

Here’s a final bone for you to chew on: Ramayana is actually one of three encounters between Vishnu and his two guards in heaven, Jay and Vijay. Jay and Vijay had angered Vishnu so he gave them a choice of being born seven times as Vishnu’s friend, or being born three times, with short lives, as Vishnu’s enemies, as a lesson for their sins. In one of those three lives, Jay and Vijay were Ravana and Kumbhakarna. So there you go, all this hoop-la about a story that was a mere play between Vishnu and his guards. Indeed, the world is a theater!

 

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It’s that time of the year, the time when we gather to worship Goddess Durga and ask her to protect us from evil. I’ve always admired Hinduism for its inclusion of feminine images of God. I also like that in Hinduism, the one powerful God is formless energy, or Nirguna Brahmana – no gender, no ethnicity. Though we might be tempted to refer to God as “he” the Sanskrit pronoun for God is “Tat” or “that.” It allows us to imagine God in any form we like – male, female, mother, or father.

For Bengalis, the form of Durga is particularly important. It is one of our biggest festivals. Come to think of it, majority of our festivals worship a female image of God. Perhaps that’s why growing up, I noticed a big disparity between the way we revere our Goddesses and the way we treat women everyday. The disparity between the social status of men and women in our country is nothing new. We hear about incidences, we read about them in newspapers, and social research is always coming up with the importance of educating girls in the economic development of a country.

Now lest any reader feels defensive about my writing, let me assure you that I know not all of us treat women unequally, and I know that a lot of progress has been made for women’s rights and we are still progressing. In this article, I’m not talking about satidaha, or discrimination against widows, or wife beating. I’m talking about more subtle things like the language we use, or what we teach kids. Countless times I’ve heard such things like “boys need to be strong,” or “don’t cry like a girl.” Boys are not born tough, we just make them tough by repressing their feelings whenever they show emotion. Because emotion is somehow supposed to be feminine and the feminine is somehow supposed to be weak. One Bengali insult I’ve heard often is meyelokero adham. Excuse me, but why is being a female the lowest thing you could be? Conniving and gossiping are somehow feminine things to do even though we know that we all do it! Perhaps not all of us use such sexist language, though I have a hard time believing that. But even those of us who don’t use these comparisons don’t protest against them either. We either tacitly support it, or laugh it away.

However, is it not hypocritical to worship Devi Durga if we believe women are weaklings in real life? Is it not hypocritical to tell young boys not to be like girls all year and then in these one or two festivals have them bow down before the Goddess? How ironic, that we restrict the things girls can do in life in the name of “protection” when we gather in Durga Puja to ask a woman for protection! Some of us respect women only in the motherly form. But why should we restrict respect only for mothers? What about all the other roles a Goddess has in life? Saraswati is not just our mother, but also the daughter of Durga, sister of Ganesha, and consort of Brahma. Even when she’s in none of those roles, she’s the Goddess of Wisdom. Does Hinduism not teach us to respect the feminine and masculine energies equally, in any role?

I hope that in this Puja, all of us take a moment to contemplate on what implications Goddess worship has in our daily lives. Bengalis should be at the forefront of women’s rights, considering that we are such a Goddess worshipping community. I hope we’re at least conscious of the words we use against women everyday, or otherwise they might easily become our actions.

This is only my first article on the issue of marriage. As I started putting my thoughts together I realized I have so many that I ‘d have to do a series of articles rather than one. I don’t know when I’ll do the next ones, but at least this is a start. Before I go on, I’d like to post some other articles that have made me think:

1) AnjuGandhi, 2) Chrysalis, and 3) The Marriage-Go-Round

I don’t really care about a marriage legally or spiritually. I mean, I wish to find a partner in life, but there’s nothing specifically about the wedding/social declaration that entices me. Furthermore, I realize I’m basking in the glory of heterosexist privilege, while many people don’t have the right yet to the economic and communal benefits of marriage that straight people take for granted. I hope to mitigate that by supporting gay marriage, or really any kind of marriage.

Going back to why I bother with marriage when I don’t care for it individually – I have a big fat South Asian family that is my social support. It’s not worth it to alienate them with a radical move they won’t even care for. Perhaps it’s more “radical” to create a different kind of marriage for myself, one that challenges harmful traditions and presents a happy alternative.

One day while lamenting about the patriarchy-drenched Bengali Hindu weddings and whether I’d be a hypocrite for taking part in it, my good friend told me the solution was Arya Samaj wedding. Apparently these weddings are spiritual, egalitarian and simple. When I googled Arya Samaj weddings though, I read otherwise. The Kanyadaan ritual, the one I most object to, is an important part of not only Arya Samaj weddings, but Vedic weddings in general. Was Hinduism at its very core is so sexist??? So much for all those times that Hinduism defenders told me sexism was in the “culture” not the “religion.” I used to think naively that the Vedas were above the nasty patriarchy of its times.

Next, I googled whether Hindu weddings could take place without Kanyadaan. Only one relevant post came up, and it was Anju’s. She, like me, exclaimed how unjust it was to donate your daughters as if they’re property. One blogger, Chrysalis, disagreed, and you can read her post on the link above. Basically, Chrysalis believes that “donation” is the wrong word for Kanyadaan, though she doesn’t provide an alternative. To her, Kanyadaan is not about inequality but valuing the woman even more than a man. Such a “gift” to a family is therefore spiritually magnanimous, not sexist. She seems to say women have an intrinsic ability to form communities, and she herself “took pity” upon her husband who wasn’t good with PR, and decided to move to his family to help him out. When someone pointed out that it’s different for women who are worse at PR than their husband, Chrysalis suggested reversing the roles to ghar jamai. Well, that sounds reasonable enough to me. In extended families, one spouse has to move in with another and if both have the equal opportunity to choose, that’s great! I disagree though that women are better equipped to do it than men. That’s simply a cultural construction, and we need to make both men and women good at community building rather than shoving the responsibility down women’s throats.

What I don’t get then, is why isn’t Putradaan a part of Vedic weddings? It seems like even when taking a ghar jamai the bride is still donated to the groom first. It’s this ritual that I have a big problem with. Whether Hindu weddings are equal or not is irrelevant for now; I’m annoyed at the pervasiveness of daughter donation, especially as women are becoming more and more independent. I don’t agree with Chrysalis that “donation” is the wrong word for Kanyadaan. Daan is donation, or giving.  You could give money, land, food, animals, services, and women. When women are put in the same category as the others, but men aren’t, what else does it imply but that women are property, not human beings? Valuable property, perhaps, since women bear children and raise them, but property nonetheless. And if indeed Kanyadaan is about joining of families, rather than property donation, why does the woman have to take her husband’s family titles? Shouldn’t there be creation of a new joint family title?Donating daughters is supposed to be good karma for her parents. Why do the groom’s parents not get the same opportunity? And if as Chrysalis implies, women are inherently valuable, are we saying that men are not valuable???? Boy, some men are going to be offended!

This raising of women on a pedestal is just as sexist as treating women like sub-humans. Both of these ideas don’t recognize women as being HUMAN. I think this dichotomy is the basis of many mistreatment of women. We are told that we are Goddesses, intrinsically valuable or something, and therefore expected to live as Goddesses. When we inevitably fail to live as Goddesses, because we’re fully human, not less, not more, we’re treated as disposable property. If any woman feels empowered by having these beliefs, and uses such re-interpretations of Kanyadaan to promote women’s rights, more power to her. But for me, this ritual signifies something totally different, on top of the fact that I don’t see a spiritual necessity for it. I don’t think this was a ritual God created. I think this was a ritual men made, based on their views of women’s worth, not women’s own views. They were kind enough to emphasize equality and understanding between families, but it’s a man-made, patriarchal tradition nonetheless.

Kanyadaan as it is traditionally practiced, is a part of the Hindu patriarchal culture that denies women the right to inherit property. It entrusts a woman’s care on her husband, rather than herself. Maybe this system was still egalitarian in Satya Yuga, but that day is long gone, and it was a mythical utopia to begin with. We aren’t perfect. As many women know very well, no matter how noble and beautiful Kanyadaan seems, we simply can’t blindly trust a man to make us his equal partner in Dharma, Karma, Artha, and we simply can’t live up to this compassionate Godliness ourselves. Both men and women need practical recourse in marriage. In Hindu societies, Kanyadaan has led people to think that it’s not worth investing in daughters, as they’ll leave the family anyways. And who can blame them? As long as we don’t change this system of giving away daughters to a man’s family, parents won’t invest in their daughters. Some people may say that things equal out when parents give away their daughter and bring home a bride for their son. But what about parents without sons? They have no choice but to live alone? Most importantly, why can’t we think of a system beyond gender roles? Gender roles will inevitably lead to one gender’s inequality, and we have to think of a freer system that accepts each person’s uniqueness.

So what have I decided about my wedding rituals? Weddings are nothing more than a social affair, and if my family wants to fulfill their elaborate social roles in a Bengali wedding, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with most of the rituals, though I’m sure more would come up when I learn the significance of each. But, NO KANYADAAN. I’m a fully capable woman who takes care of herself. My parents don’t need to entrust me to another man, and frankly, no parent owns their kids. No person owns another. I just don’t believe in Kanyadaan, sindoor wearing, or shakha pala wearing all the time. I might wear it on a day when I feel like it, but other than that these things have no spiritual significance for me, so I shouldn’t be required to do them. I think it’s completely possible and realistic to have a spiritual wedding where the bride and groom give themselves to each other and their families, if spirituality is important to them, that is.

Coming up soon, a rant about sexist Hindu men!

One the things feminists have to deal with a lot is the issue of “choice.” We are told all the time, everywhere, that somehow we restrict women who “choose” to be housewives, sex workers, or women who “choose” plastic surgery to enhance their looks or women who “choose” not to breastfeed their infants. Many times we know when someone is making a “choice” that is not really a “choice,” but we don’t have the words to explain logically why we’re right.

While working on my senior thesis on American women’s choices about childbirth, I came accross this little gem by Barbara Katz Rothman that put into words what I had known all along:  “There will never be ‘free’ choice, unstructured reproductive choice. But the structure in which choices are made should, and I believe ultimately can, be made fair, ethical and moral.” It’s so true! Every choice that we make in life is constructed, whether it’s constructed by our skills and interests, resources, social expectations, or a desire to defy social expectations, or usually a combination of all these factors. And all these factors provide the structure in which our choices are made. Hence, it’s really important to examine these structures in which the choices are made to decide whether it is a “free” choice or not. “Free” is a misnomer because really what we’re implying is “happy” or “satisfactory.” But anyways, if a structure is oppressive, then a happy choice really can’t be made in it. That’s why some privileged women might experiment with sex work and find it empowering, but it’s not really empowering for poor, abused women who were unaware of other options in life, or never had any. That’s not to say that all these women need rescuing or can’t be empowered by the money they make from sex work, and it’s also not to say that the misogyny in the sex industry doesn’t exist in others, but what I’m saying is choice is really context dependent.

This is also apparent in the area of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Are women really “choosing” a C-section because it’s healthy and cool? Or are they choosing it because they’re not fully informed about the risks to both themselves and their babies from a C-section, and that labor pains need not be excruciating, and vaginal tears are unlikely if their births are attended by a good midwife and supportive system? Are they aware of the better systems other countries use? With the issue of breastfeeding, did the women just wake up one day and decide they didn’t want to breastfeed? Or did they find it annoying because our employment structure doesn’t allow enough flexibility, and our doctors aren’t encouraging enough of an option that is clearly superior to the best formula out there? Worse yet, are the women “choosing” not to breastfeed because they hold on to the notion that it’s poor and uncultured to breastfeed, or that breastfeeding will make their breasts sag which will make their “boys will be boys” husbands unattracted to them?

The “choice” to be a housewife is only a “free choice” for those women who are privileged enough to not worry about earning money or housework (done by a maid). Even then, I guess their choices are constructed by the misfortune of not having and interest or skill they could explore rather than just spend money. Being a housewife is not a “free choice” for a woman who decides that childcare is actually more expensive than what her job can afford. Getting plastic surgery is not a “free choice” when a woman is getting it to conform to society’s standard of beauty. How many white women in America choose to be paler? How many choose to be a size 10 if they can be a size 6? I’m fine with women conforming to certain expectations of society, because I do to, but don’t tell me you’ve made a “free choice” to get Botox in a culture that doesn’t like wrinkles!! Recently I heard friends discussing about how a certain woman’s choice to get breast implants was “awesome” because “she did it for herself.” Some people think that a woman is doing something for herself as long as a man is not directly involved, but I don’t think that’s correct. Where did that woman get the idea that getting breast implants was cool? Where did she get the desire to get the implants in the first place? And why didn’t she have the desire to get flat breasts, or artificial wrinkles, or extra fat injected in her tummy? It’s because the society she lives in considers fake breasts to be beautiful, and even though she didn’t get implants to please any particular man, she got implants because she felt better about herself as she fit society’s beauty standards.

In Bangladesh, many women don’t shave their legs because most women don’t show them. In America, many women shave their legs because they have to appear smooth when appearing in public. That choice is cultural. Most women may not mind it, but it is still not a “free” choice. I myself shave my legs and tweeze my eyebrows, but I wouldn’t have done it id hairy legs and bushy eyebrows were in vogue. Would women have gotten breast implants if the beauty standard was to have flat breasts? I don’t think so. The only kinds of choice that might be considered “free” are the ones a person makes for themselves despite unpopularity and resistance from society.

And finally, this concept of choice is important to be a global feminist. Some ignorant Americans tend to question whether third world women have “choice.” The implication is that third world societies are less equal than Western societies. While that might be true, it’s true because third world countries have been exploited and depleted by the West so now we have to deal with another set of problems. Both men and women have fewer choices in the third world, it’s not just that third world men are more sexist. It annoys me to no end when some American women think their choices to put of make up everyday, wear uncomfortable shoes, or get plastic surgery somehow make them “freer” than third world women. Yeah right, they’re freer now to put more toxins in their body like Botox and now Latisse (for “inadequate” eyelashes). Some ignorant women take it a step further and assume that because America is a land of opportunity, it’s a woman’s choice to do porn. Somehow getting a few bucks for having your head forced down a toilet is a “free” choice.

Hardly any choices we make in our lives is a “free” choice by itself. But it can be a happy choice when made in a free structure that doesn’t have preset standards for what is beautiful or what is acceptable. I realize that is utopia, but until we get such flexible standards, please don’t tell me that you made a “free” choice to use Latisse.

I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for quite a while, and giving President Obama the benefit of my doubts. But comments from a prominent intellectual made me think I’m not the only Obama supporter doubtful and disappointed by some of his actions or lack thereof. Dr. Dyson articulated it best when he said “We don’t expect any more of Obama than [previous white male presidents], but we don’t expect any less either.”

I’d modify that by saying I don’t expect any more of Obama than other intelligent, thoughtful,and humane American presidents, (which excludes G W Bush because I didn’t expect anything of him but the worst), but I don’t expect any less either. So while I understand and appreciate his vision of unity and collaboration, there are some issues where I don’t think centrism would be compromised if he did the right thing.

I don’t think I see politics through rose colored glasses. As great as Obama is, he’s had to get to the top somewhat like all other politicians, through powerful allies to whom he’s obligated, even though they’re not his ideals. His election was partly revolutionary but equally just regular politics. So I don’t expect him to be like Gandhi or Dr. King, revolutionary leaders who I don’t think would’ve been presidents. I have realistic expectations of President Obama. I also admire his continual efforts to unite people of different ideals and opinions, even though I think, and he probably knows, that those efforts won’t actually be successful. I disagree when some liberals say that Obama should just govern without regard for what Republicans/conservatives say, now that liberals are in power, just like what conservatives did when they were in power. I think it’s a great political move by Obama to continually reach out to people of the “other” opinion because it places the ball in their court. And as we’ve seen so far, Republicans haven’t been playing too well because now instead of just criticizing Obama, they have to come up with the alternatives. This reaching out also sets Obama apart from previous tyrannical presidents.

I also appreciate Obama for the things he did do right already: reverse the Global Gag rule, sign the Lilly Ledbetter Act, stop federal funding to the harmful abstinence-only “no safe sex allowed but spreading diseases and unintended pregnancy are A-okay” programs, propose the closure of Gitmo (though thwarted by idiotic, inhumane congresspeople – do they get off on watching the torture of unethically imprisoned “exotic” men?), as well as his nominations to the HHS, Dept. of Labor, and recently the Supreme Court.

If you’ve had the patience to read till here, you’re probably wondering what the hell disappoints me about Obama. Here goes, in no particular order of priority:

1) His comments on race and ethnicity in America, articulated well by Dr. Dyson in the video above, so I won’t repeat.

2) His pick of economic advisors and “czars.” Really, Obama, I mean REALLY?? Lawrence Summers??? Really? Thanks for saying a big Fuck You to all the human rights people who voted for you. Thanks. If you won’t appoint intelligent and humane people to direct American and world economy then we can’t expect any other president to do so. Exactly why do you have to appoint the wrong Clintonite people over many other great alternatives? Exactly why do you have to pamper selfish, evil executives of insurance companies and then crack down on the companies of blue-collar workers? Being Republican much? Why do you perpetuate this idea that somehow capitalism and the whole realm of economics are only understood and should only be directed by ignorant, inhumane oppressors like Summers and Greenspan when it’s understood just as well, and directed better by economists who don’t disregard human rights?

3) His direction so far of healthcare reform: American healthcare reform could’ve been started while the wave of change around Obama’s election lasted. But alas, that wave has almost ended and the chance for true reform is distant again. No matter how difficult the logistics of universal healthcare in America maybe, why is Obama so weak in articulating the ideals of basic human rights? Only some ignorant Americans think good healthcare for American citizens is somehow a liberal or conservative issue, that it’s somehow contrary to capitalism. Conservatives and capitalists of other industrialized countries don’t make healthcare a political issue. That’s because just like public education, public housing, public transportation (roads and highways), and public communication (mail), healthcare is a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT, and not a product or a service of corporations. Good health of workers increases productivity, which serves both capitalist and human rights interests. Ignorant conservatives have a patriarchal, corrupt and oppressive idea of capitalism, which is not the kind of capitalism necessarily theorized by Smith, Keynes of Pigou. The American conservative’s idea of capitalism is just an oppressive application of neutral ideals, much like their application of neutral religious and spiritual morals to oppress poor people and women. As mentioned before, the logistics of universal healthcare is something to be worked out and there too, I don’t expect utopia. But that’s no reason to not be clear about what is ideal and what Americans should achieve. I can collaborate with people of different views who recognize the utterly disgusting human rights violations in American healthcare and the need for a good basic health coverage. But there’s nothing to debate with people who are so blinded by their privilege that they don’t see the suffering, or worse, those who see the suffering caused by oppression and don’t prioritize change.

4) His indifference to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:” This is just one more of of the things Obama should’ve taken care of in the first 100 days. It’s so simple I can’t believe he hasn’t done something about it. Although enacted during the Clinton years, this policy is not the intention of Clinton but the kind of harmful, idiotic policy you get when some stupid Democrats, after being the majority in Congress, think it’s alright to compromise on human rights. Now I understand that many people don’t care about the rights of non-heterosexual people, but at least they can care about their MONEY!! This policy has done nothing but wasted money after thousands of qualified gay servicepeople have been fired after money was spent on their training. So the American military is willing to let convicted criminals serve in the military, but not qualified gays? They’re willing to waste money on Blackwater Security, an unnecessary and criminal Republican business that is supposed to “protect American armed forces,” by employing violent criminals who have documented cases of rape and murders of Iraqis against them, but they’re unwilling to invest in enforcing safety and solidarity for female soldiers? BTW, Obama has renewed the contract with Blackwater too. Go figure.

5) His stance on the Israel’s occupation of Palestine: Now it’s refreshing to hear an American president say clearly that Palestine has a right to exist, and for the first time tell Israel to stop further “settlements.” And yes, Obama’s speech in Cairo was more nuanced than anyone of the previous administration could’ve dreamt of speaking. But it’s just not enough to say Palestine has a right to exist, because Israel doesn’t disagree there. It’s merely lip service and infuriating empty rhetoric. NO DUH, Palestine has a right to exist, and now let’s make it possible. Obama told Palestinians that they should not use violence to justify their cause. Great. Why did he miss telling Israel that the violence they use to justify their cause, so many magnitudes greater than that of Palestinians, is wrong as well? As ignorant as Americans already are about the Israel-Palestine colonization, why do you perpetuate the biased and completely wrong view of the situation, President Obama? You lead those ignorant people to continue to believe that Palestinians are the only ones using violence, that Hamas is the culprit, and if they only started being peaceful then the problem would be solved. No the problem would not be solved until Israelis stop violently destroying humble Palestinian homes to build their pristine mansions. It would not be solved until Israel stops destroying Palestinian roads with their tanks,until they stop cutting off electricity and water supplies to homes, schools and hospitals, until they stop bombing homes and hospitals of Palestinian civilians – they fucking bombed Palestinian hospitals in January 2009, though not reported by Rupert Murdoch’s media. Palestine can’t exist unless Israel stops making giant concrete walls cutting off civilians from their schools and work, setting up checkpoints just to harass Palestinians and non-Israelis. And Palestine sure as hell can’t exist if America continues to fund Israel’s terrorism, which it is doing even under Obama. Some people will equate my stance with anti-Semitism but those people can keep their heads buried in the sand. It wasn’t Muslims, Hindus, or any one else but a group of Europeans who slaughtered Jews during the Holocaust. Most people’s opposition to Israel today is against their occupation and colonization of Palestine, having nothing to do with a dislike for Judaism or Jews. Yet ignorant people continue to point to Ahmedinajad as somehow being related to supporters of Palestine, though he has much more in common with G W Bush. They continue to disregard the disproportionate amount of Palestinians murdered while focusing only on murdered Israelis. Isn’t one of the lessons of the Holocaust not to let another one happen? Do we have to wait for six million Palestinians to be killed before we change something?

Well, that’s enough for one post. I’ll give the black man in office more time to clean up the rest of the mess a bunch of stupid rich white frat-boys on “legacy scholarships” left behind.

-vidyarthi

Sobia on Muslimah Media Watch has a very detailed analysis of the article in question as well as the research article which was cited. I’m continuing the critique in my own words. Basically an author recently wrote an article about how the hijab protects women, using Dr. Susan Fiske’s study as support. Dr. Fiske’s study found that sexist men were more likely to dehumanize bikini clad (i.e. scantily clad, sexualized) women. This study has important implications for American society where women’s bodies and women’s sexuality are used to market EVERYTHING. In a culture where many men and women have sexist ideas, even if not always overt, such constant objectification perpetuates the dehumanization of women even more. On one hand women are taught to aspire to such appearances, on the other hand, men are taught to disrespect women who appear as such. The study finds though that men who are not sexists for the most part are less likely to dehumanize the bikini clad women in the pictures.

That’s exactly why using this research in defense of the hijab is not appropriate. Women who dress conservatively are objectified less by sexist men. True. But why should any woman be objectified? Why should women have change their clothing to avoid sexism when the problem lies with the men’s sexism in the first place? Telling women to cover up more is not the solution to this problem. It’ll only create a new equilibrium of modesty where women wearing jeans and shirts or fitting clothing will be considered immodest and less human – which is the situation in socially conservative societies. This is exactly what has been happening recently in Bangalore. So we can encourage women to cover all their skin and hair, and then make-up will be considered immodest. This just perpetuates the “men will be men” attitude and blaming women. But “men will be men” is not true. Egalitarian men don’t dehumanize any woman, bikini clad or burqa clad.

The solution lies in not in covering up women, but in making sexism unacceptable. Oppressing certain groups of people harms all people. Objectifying women perpetuates such sexism. They set the standards for attractiveness that women have to aspire to, while making attractive women commodities.

Disclaimer: It should be apparent from my writing but I’ll make it clear anyways – this isn’t a judgement of women who dress modestly or wear hijab. Such choices are complex, and are no more constructed than choices to dress provocatively. – vidyarthi

a post in another feminist blog on women and engineering prompted me to write this reply, and i wanted to add it to my blog as well. i’ve written about sexism in math and science before, but i want to write again, articulating some points differently. this is a passionate issue to me because i know what a difference cultural factors like positive reinforcement, and available opportunities make for women’s careers. some people, including women, have told me there’s nothing wrong with saying perhaps there’s something “innate” about women’s brains that makes them less apt for science. i don’t see scientific basis for that at all.

1) women are underrepresented in almost all good jobs in the public sphere because of historical oppression. women weren’t considered good writers or painters and they’re even underrepresented in professional cooking! i remember someone posted a letter from Disney to his grandmother on Feministing that told her that Disney doesn’t accept female cartoonists – they’re only for secretarial jobs. the lack of women in science has to do with women being confined to the private sphere in all areas of life (except for sex work and cleaning). interestingly, sexists who think women being underrepresented in the sciences is/could be a result of innate differences don’t think that women are over-represented in prostitution because women are innately sex-crazy. they think men are sex-crazy. there was a time when women were considered deficient in typing – oh wait, why then are women secretaries?

2) some studies argue that women are less “spatially” oriented and therefore deficient in math. firstly, even studies done on children have to take into account how culture shapes the brain, let alone studies on adults, whose mental abilities are shaped by they way they have used their brains throughout life. secondly, so what it women are less “spatial?” only some areas of science require spatial understanding and it’s something you can learn. i’ve always gotten A’s in geometry and physics and i can’t play spatial sports to save my life!

3) standards for achievement have been set by men. the scientific process has been defined by men. have you ever heard people complaining about doing poorly in standardized tests even though they do well in class? have you heard of people complaining that they get confused by the way standardized tests frames questions? i have. and it’s because such tests follow a certain system, and to do well you have to understand and work the system, regardless of your level of intelligence/knowledge. similarly,  even if women’s brains were innately different from men’s, women are only challenged in a scientific culture defined by men. which means there’s an even bigger need for women to change the systems for themselves. the fault is not in women’s brains, the fault is in the system.

with all these cultural factors at every step of the analysis, is it anything but sexist to keep on saying perhaps there’s something innately deficient about women’s brains? – vidyarthi

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