SCUM is the Society for Cutting up Men.

Is it any surprise that of all the feminist thoughts and writings out there, SCUM is all that makes it into pop culture? This is once of the few topics I actually heard of while browsing TV channels, rather than in my Women’s Studies classes.

I had dismissed SCUM as some weird and obviously unsupported, obscure writing dreamt up by a crazy woman. But luckily, I got to have a new perspective as a fellow feminist on Feministing.com posted the link to the whole document. Now after actually reading it, I see it as a brilliant satire. It just reverses all the utter bullshit and hatred that patriarchy has spewed about women. If any readers find the claims made in the SCUM manifesto absurd, then consider how equally absurd the hateful claims about women are? Such claims are made by idiotic, sexist religious leaders, politicians, husbands, scientists, fathers, and any Joe Schmo alike (and even sexist women, I should add).

Recently I’d been thinking about the ridiculous makes-me-want-to-vomit kind of women-hating pseudo-spirituality that many ISKCON leaders spread. I was also think about stupid male chauvinistic scientists whose aim in life is to “prove” that women are less intelligent than men, because, you know, their interpretation of research data is “objective” while the rest of us get to “personal.” The SCUM Manifesto would be my response to all those douchebags.

I hope you like the satire as much as I did 🙂

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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!

 

all med students are renaissance persons before med school crushes their soul and causes irreversible mind damage. my hobby was painting, and this is one of my amateur works that i like a lot.

one of my paintings that i like most

one of my paintings that i like most

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 was originally a reply I wrote to a post on Feministing.com. It became so long and elaborate that I re-wrote it as a post.

I think feminism and veganism in America are so closely associated with each other because of the extreme cultural significance of meat here. As Carol Adams showed in The Pornography of Meat, advertizing of meat is so sexist and so vile, as are advertisements using women, that it’s impossible for feminists not to see the connection. I don’t think it’s the same in many other cultures, and certainly not this extreme.

Many Hindus are vegetarian (not my family) and traditional Hindus are strict about widows being vegetarian, since they’re supposed to give up all pleasures of life. Growing up in that culture, it was kinda feministic for me to rebel against vegetarianism. I’ve realized later that this is not the way to be radical, as I was basically following a patriarchal model of appearing dominant by oppressing another group of beings. Now I usually never eat meat, milk or fish, or eggs, though I still remember the taste and give in at rare times. I have a lot of respect for feminists who maintain their veganism strictly.

I don’t think it’s universally wrong to consume meat, because in many parts of the world, vegetation is scarce, so people have a meat based diet. Meat consumption also makes sense for some climates and some nutritional reasons, when vegetables aren’t adequate. I think humans have always been a part of the food chain so it’s not “unnatural” to eat meat either. Besides, just as animals have lives, plants have lives and creating a hierarchy between organisms with sensation and organisms without apparent sensation (plants) is just as arbitrary as the hierarchy between humans and animals.

However, what’s wrong is the amount of meat we consume, and many people’s attitudes about meat consumption. Western countries, and countries that are westernizing fast are consuming wayyy too much meat and it shows in our health. Meat is not easy to digest and any food that stresses our digestive system out raises the level of inflammation in our body. If we have meat once in a while, the damage can be repaired, but if we have it so often then the damage can lead to inflammatory diseases, which can predispose someone to everything from arthritis to heart disease to cancer. The concept of factory farming of animals is also wrong to me. Meat is not supposed to be cheap, because we aren’t supposed it eat it as often! Factories grow animals under filthy, high stress environments, then give them antibiotics to promote rapid growth. This not only damages the meat but increases the number of antibiotic resistant microbes in the environment. Then there’s the obvious torture of animals in factory farming (fois gras anyone?), and who knows how it harms the health and psyche of the low-wage factory workers. As for hunting for animals for food, it isn’t wrong to me, but for sports it is.

So I support and admire vegan feminists in this context. Giving up animal products is a strong and effective political statement. There’s no way to defend consumption of factory farmed animal products for feminists who are informed about the issue.

Animal research is another thing I’m conflicted about. For sure it’s unethical from an egalitarian view. We haven’t used results from Nazi experiments on Jews because they were unethical, so it is wrong to not apply the same standard to animals, who in my view are equal to humans. Any experiment that deliberately causes pain is absolutely wrong. However, being a medical student, I can see how much knowledge has been obtained from animal experiments that don’t cause “direct” pain. Ultimately though it doesn’t really matter whether the experiment causes pain or not, because the concept of using an animal for our benefit is unethical. Switching to strictly human based clinical trials or observational studies should provide different, but equally important knowledge. I basically think there are many things we already do know about human medicine, if only Westernized scientists would try to understand other medical systems. I don’t mean in a randomized clinical trial way, that proves whether something is a placebo effect or not; that is evaluating other systems only from a Western medical view. I mean traditional Western medicine has to see other systems completely, and understand that a lot more factors are required in those systems. Substitution of an herb in place of a synthetic drug without making dietary or lifestyle changes is not so-called “alternative” medicine.

Where I disagree with most traditional vegans is the way they defend the ethics of not eating meat. Many vegans tend to think that meat eating is inherently wrong because we are hurting a being, and that is the end of that. I heard from one person that this was an “Utilitarian” argument, which I can understand. But being utilitarian is not being absolutely ethical. We judge the morality of an action by the amount of suffering we PERCEIVE. So let’s say we don’t understand how much suffering a group of people – poor/minority/women – go through, then we won’t see anything wrong with oppressing them. Or let’s say that a person isn’t outwardly expressing suffering, would we be able to judge their action properly and react appropriately?

What I’m saying is that the difference between the suffering of plants and animals is a matter of our perception. Of course there seems to be multiple differences, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t discover later that plants have other ways of showing “suffering.” Besides, if suffering is the main issue, is it okay to anesthetize an animal and then kill and eat it? There are a small number of people who are FRUITARIANS – they eat only fruits that don’t kill the plant while extracting, so no potatoes, cabbage, greens, wheat, etc. Are they at a moral higher ground than vegans? They might even be damaging their own health for the cause of not killing life.

I think this difference between sentient/non-sentient life forms is a weak theory to defend vegetarianism/veganism. For me a much stronger argument is environmental preservation, and health reasons. Environmental preservation includes includes eating very little meat and fish, and not growing mono-crops to make processed food that deplete the soil of nutrients. It also supports local foods, as growing genetecially engineered foods in unnatural habitats, or transporting vegetables from far away is very environmentally degrading. One person commented on this that should we stop sending food to poor countries because it’s environmentally harmful? Well, first of all, many of those countries are now in need of food because of our very agricultural practices. And many of those countries are suffering because of the pollution from industrialized countries causing global warming. The purpose of supporting local foods, vegetables and meat, is to reduce this pollution and make communities self-sustainable, so they’ll need less food aid. Heck, if Americans just ate healthy portions then we wouldn’t spend so much energy making huge amounts of low-grade food that we waste. It’s all about reducing our carbon foot print.

This brings me to another comment someone brought up – if people have all the necessary vegetarian foods, then is it wrong for them to consume meat? Not if those vegetables aren’t locally grown, so it harms the environment in transportation, but the meat is local. If the deer population in your area is high, and you can hunt a deer to feed your family for days, why would you buy more non-local fruits and veggies instead? You may be supporting evil Monsanto by doing that. Now of course in reality many of us don’t plan our diets so ethically and then we are in the wrong. I’m guilty of that too.

So again, I believe eating meat is not inherently wrong. Herbivores eat plats, carnivores eat meat, and omnivores have evolved to eat both. In some cases it may even be more wrong to eat highly processed vegetarian foods that damage the environment. eating meat is only wrong in certain contexts, like the current industrialization of meat. I admire people who’ve made the conscious decision to harm the environment less, and not take part in animal torture, but I see no basis for saying all meat eating is wrong.

This is not an argument against vegetarianism/veganism though. Along the same lines of evolution, humans have evolved to have a conscience, so we can make decisions that are above and beyond our survival. Hence, it’s wrong to eat animals in certain contexts, especially if we have other food options for adequate survival.

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!

This post is about a very powerful documentary called The Price of Pleasure, of which you can see a full length preview here. I advise caution before watching this documentary as it contains sexually explicit material as well as very degrading examples of porn. At the same time, it makes you aware of the intense exploitation of the sex workers in porn and the effect it has on viewers and society.

A lot of the debates about porn center around its potential effects on viewers. While that’s certainly an important issue, I first want to discuss the effects on the sex workers themselves. I’ve heard ignorant comments like “they’re getting paid to do it” used to justify degrading acts of porn. But getting paid to do something degrading does not justify it. It’s called EXPLOITATION. How many dollars would you want to be paid for each of these acts: 1) being waterboarded, 2) having your face forced down a toilet and flushed on, 3) being penetrated by a car gearshift, 4) having sex with an animal, or perhaps 4) having 10 guys cumming on your face/in your mouth? These are all acts in certain porns, and not totally uncommon. Even if you can put a price on these acts, do you think a porn actress is getting paid that much? I don’t think so. Assuming that the actresses are getting paid for their work and forgetting the pain they may be going through for the viewer’s pleasure is ignorant.

As for the effects porn has on viewers, I for one don’t believe it causes all viewers to perform degrading acts, but it certainly normalizes it. A lot of violence against women happens in countries where porn is not widely available – South Asia being just one example. The porn makers aren’t the only ones thinking of ideas to degrade other humans (mostly women). However, porn brings certain degrading or unhealthy acts towards women into the mainstream. It even makes degradation seem desirable, as in the Girls Gone Wild videos. Whatever we might consider disgusting suddenly becomes acceptable if being done for profit.

Not all porn aims to degrade women. There are feminist porn films too, which some people prefer to call erotica. Banning any form of sexual images is certainly not the solution. But like any other industry, porn needs to be regulated. It needs to be regulated on the basis of human rights and public health. I’m not hopeful that it’ll happen anytime soon, as Americans don’t even seem to be interested in regulating a corrupt, failed financial system, or a corrupt healthcare system that let’s people die. But that’s the direction we should go for.

I wanted to write some kind of post on this issue after hearing a friend talk about how her boyfriend watched porn with friends. She didn’t seem to have a problem with it since her boyfriend only watched it to laugh at the absurdity. But any kind of pleasure from porn, sexual or entertainment, comes with a price. It comes at the expense of porn actresses, and at the expense of women in general.