Thursday, 9 March 2017

The 'F' Word in Feminism: Some Thoughts on Women's Day

Yesterday, 8 March 2017, the whole world observed Women's Day celebrations. Among the recurring ideas and policies about women's empowerment, the social media is also flooded with posts and videos of women's day being a 'patriarchal ploy' of creating the facade of trying to talk about women only for a day while relegating them to the darkness for the rest 364 days of a year.

These sentiments however run much deeper. And it became clear to me while talking to someone. On my mentioning that we should hold a talk session with some feminists, that person replied, "You shouldn't use that 'F' word! It's so negative!" And that's when I realised that before making huge camps in favor of or against Women's Day celebration, we should begin with explaining what is feminism and why we need it so badly today.

Let me break it down for you.

1. Feminism (definition): Feminism is NOT man hate. It's about FREEDOM. For all those people who think that feminism is only about replacing patriarchy with matriarchy, it's a completely wrong idea. Feminism, the movement, began in the early twentieth century when women started demanding their right to vote. So the platform on which feminism grew was EQUALITY. This is a far cry from claiming superiority. Feminism's idea is NOT to replace one oppressive system (patriarchy) with another. It demands freedom for ALL.

2. Feminism (the name): At first glance, feminism may seem only 'woman-centric' because it incorporates the 'f' of 'female' and 'feminine' within its terminology. But why so? The answer is simple: hierarchy. In the gendered society 'men' reside higher than 'women' because  'masculinity' is   always considered superior to 'feminine'. Being 'manly' means being 'assertive', 'strong', and 'courageous'-- everything that stands in contrast to the 'meek', 'weak' and 'docile' womanly nature. Hence, 'like a girl' has become a world-wide derogatory phrase to be used against female as well as the one's who 'behave' so. We can see how this definition includes not just women who are born of female sex, but also men who are not 'manly', gays, transgenders, and the list goes on. Feminism, the term, therefore is about the quality 'female' rather than the figure 'female'.

Feminism, therefore, is not just about 'women'. It's not about 'erasing men'. It's about freedom. Freedom for all. The moment we understand that, perhaps we will move towards a better future. A future where we won't be scared to say out loud that "Yes. I am a Feminist."

Friday, 24 February 2017

Whose Language, What Language: Review of the film, Arrival

Film is a media where the visual and (sometimes) the speech merge together. The visual mode easily impacts our minds so much that, despite some famous lines from movies, what we remember most are snippets of moving or still images.

Arrival, a movie starring Amy Adams, highlights this very conflict between language and image. Soon after its release the film created enormous buzz by gathering critical appreciation from different source, and through the debate over ‘accidental’ nomination of Amy Adams for the Oscars.  While such nittigritties are perfect for the gossip page, let’s talk about the film for a moment.

To summarize very briefly, Arrival is about the arrival of alien spaceships in different cities on the earth and a linguist’s, played by Amy Adams, job to communicate with them.

At first we may wonder what is a linguist doing in an alien mission. Well, her task is to decipher their language and understand their purpose of being on earth. The root of the problem therefore lies in inability to communicate with this unknown species. In this way, the film highlights human beings’ extreme reliance on spoken language as the only mode of communication. When the other species fail to do so, it causes mistrust and fear among the humans on the earth about possible impending destruction. Hence, the ‘human’ army leaders’ decision to attack the alien spaceship arises out of the fear of unknown. The aliens, with their bodies hidden behind the smoke and shielded by glass, are a mystery to the humans. They do not resemble anything that humans have seen before. By showing how human written and spoken language is illegible to the aliens, the film breaks the superiority that language assumes. It also shows that, like their language, human beings are merely another species existing in this universe. The aliens not only have a ‘better’ method of communication (one that is not bound by written scripts and does not require any sound), they are also a better race than humans having the ability to see future.

The film also breaks the conception of linearity. By moving back and forth through present and future, we are hardly ever sure about what is happening and what is yet to happen. Especially intriguing is the scene where Ian (played by Jeremy Renner) confesses his love for Louise (played by Amy Adams), and Louise can already foresee their future—marriage, child birth, and divorce—in front of her eyes. This creates confusion as to whether she was simply narrating this incident or living in it – because the first scene shows her interaction with her daughter. If she is living in the present, she is yet to have a daughter. Thus, like the split created by alien spacecraft into the earth’s atmosphere, the film subverts norms and assumptions at multiple levels.

The film shows how there is a continuous tendency of humans to ‘translate’ the unknown into the known. This attempt is showcased by Ian who names the aliens after Abbott and Costello, two famous ‘human’ comedians, thereby trying to humanize the aliens. It also shows an effort to reduce the aliens into mere comedic creatures unworthy of human attention. In the end, however, the questions remain: is Amy’s interpretation of the symbols correct? Doesn’t she ultimately impose her language and meanings onto their signs?


  

Friday, 3 February 2017

Like, Unlilke, Dislike

I find the new Facebook buttons very useful. They come with innumerable possibilities of liking (which includes thumbs up, love and an over enthusiastic smiley) and disliking (which includes teary face and angry face emoticons) a post put up in social media and voice our opinions on it. I personally hoped that they had a thumbs down picture also to show ‘unlike’ (just to balance out the number of emoticons on both sides). The growing popularity of social media sites have made these terms—like, unlike—hugely popular.
My quandary with these terms however go much earlier, when I was around ten years old. At that time our school had this policy of starting second language learning—which is English—in class three. Since the usual age of getting admitted to class one (after the nursery classes) was age six, kids in class three were usually eight years old. We started typically with alphabets and words (mind you, half the kids in the class already knew these things because their parents taught them at home). So in the school we were basically refreshing our memory. Our first English teacher was one of the best teachers I have ever seen in my life. Patient as ever, she always used to answer our questions without the slightest hint of anger. Thanks to her, I genuinely grew a liking to the language.
Now fast forwarding to class five when I was ten years old. We’d already had several other teachers and they were fine too. But an incident that happened in one of the English language classes is still etched in my memory. It was a class test on sentence construction, writing meanings and the usual blah blah ‘fundamental English’ stuff. And one question among them wanted us to write the antonym for ‘like’. At that time the only knowledge of opposite or antonym I had was the prefix ‘un’. I used to think that by simple adding ‘un’ in front of any word, we will get its antonym. Going by this simple mathematical rule I wrote in the exam that opposite of ‘like’ is ‘unlike’. Here I should mention that ‘unlike’ is not a wrong word per se. But in its usage, ‘unlike’ is mentioned to refer to comparisons, or rather dissimilarities (e.g. ‘Unlike X, Y was good at sports’). So ‘unlike’ did not necessarily mean ‘not liking’ something/somebody.
As expected (not by me), the answer script came back with a cross mark on ‘unlike’. Like every other student craving for marks I asked my teacher to clarify. She said that the correct answer is ‘dislike’. At that time I did not have the nuance understanding of ‘unlike’ as now (please refer to the paragraph above), so I presented my previous argument that ‘anything with the prefix un is an opposite’. Sadly, both of us stuck to our positions. But I wasn’t giving up easily either! I went back home, checked the dictionary, found the word ‘unlike’, read that it may be used as opposite of ‘like’ too, photocopied the page as proof of my profound and correct knowledge of English language, and showed it to the teacher next day in class. And guess what? I got the mark for that answer!! No one was happier than me that day.
But as I grew older, I thought that maybe ‘dislike’ was a better answer.
However, now I am free of that worry because Facebook has come to my rescue. By popularizing the word ‘like’ and ‘unlike’ in their contrasting terms, it has given me the reason to claim that my answer in class five was indeed correct.

Now I hope future students won’t have to argue with their teachers in this matter.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Dungeons in Dangal



Dangal, the recent box office hit starring Aamir Khan, has already grossed over 700 million INR, becoming the highest grossing Indian film. Based on the life story of Geeta Kumari Phogat and Babita Kumari Phogat, winners of gold and silver medals in wrestling in the Commonwealth Games 2010, the movie claims to portray ‘female empowerment’ in a male dominated sport. 

But how long do we have to see women grow and succeed under the protection of men?

The film sparks such questions of patriarchal control at multiple instances. The first and foremost is the way the father, Mahavir Singh Phogat played by Aamir Khan, imposes his dreams on the reluctant daughters. This imposition—which includes restricting their favourite foods to cutting their hair—is made after the girls, Geeta and Babita, beat up two boys. Physical supremacy of the girls is determined through the emasculation of the two boys who cannot even compete with ‘girls’. Thus, their identity as girls does nothing to their father’s decision of training them as wrestlers.  

Their continuous protest against the rigorous training given by their father goes in vain as they are made to believe by their friend who is a victim of child marriage that at least their father thinks of their futures. This scene validates the task given to the two sisters. The father is accepted as the obvious benefactor who withstands protests and taunts of the society and makes his daughters wrestlers. In the entire movie no one asks the girls what they want to become.

Man is considered the touchstone of power. Hence, to prove their prowess, Geeta and Babita subsequently fight against their cousin brother and the strongest of the male wrestlers rather than any girl.  The hypermasculine location of the wrestling ground is controlled by Mahavir Singh Phogat, the ultimate patriarch. In order to belong to this place, it is not only the sisters who have to struggle, their lanky tall and weak cousin brother also becomes a victim. From a punching bag to a cook, this brother undergoes the eventual emasculation in the hands of Mahavir Phogat. It shows how both men and women are subject to patriarchal control.

Critique of femininity is evident in the film in the portrayal of Geeta’s life in the hostel. At the training centre she goes out with her friends who tell her that it is OK to keep long hair, eat what she wants, and watch late night romantic comedies. But these ‘funs’ are nipped at the bud as they are seen responsible for her successive failures at international matches. It is only when she cuts her hair and goes back to her usual routine that she succeeds.  

Apart from the physical conflicts on the wrestling mat, the biggest emotional tussle of the movie is shown through disputes regarding Geeta’s life choices, as well as her choice of technique-oriented wrestling as taught be her coach. Interestingly, this is perhaps the only instance in the entire film where Geeta exercises her choice and speaks out. But she is quickly shunned for hurting her father and her repeated failures prove that her ‘choices’ were indeed wrong.  Geeta’s failure is almost necessary to retain the balance of control of a single man. The gendered aspect of this evident is striking. In Indian society women are supposed to perform three roles in their lifetime—as a daughter, a wife, and a mother. And in all three stages she is controlled by the father, husband and son respectively. By making Geeta, the daughter, submit to her father’s wish and proving that her own good lies in this submission, the male control is reestablished. Geeta in the end is shown as a good daughter who obeys her father in every way possible.


The film thus appears with more dungeons than dangals. During the final match at the Commonwealth games, Geeta feels confused and disconcerted without her father who used to shout instructions from the audience seat. Although she wins gold with her father absent during that game, there is subconscious presence of the father in Geeta as she hears his advices in her mind. Ultimately then, it is the victory of the father who surpassed the criticisms of the villagers to make his daughters wrestlers. In such scenario one wonders what would have happened if their mother wanted them to be wrestlers. How would the society treat her then? What would have happened if the girls wanted to be wrestlers? Would they succeed to defy gender norms and norms of masculinity and femininity without the help of any man? Would Mahavir Singh Phogat have supported their ‘choice’? The film only forces us to raise these questions, and as of now they remain unanswered.

Friday, 13 January 2017

What’s Wrong with Plus Size?

Plus size has become a huge trend in fashion and lifestyle promoting body positive image. In our societies where slim figure is known as mark of beauty, bodies that are considered ‘fat’, ‘chubby’, ‘large’, are often criticized. Starting with TV commercials, fashion magazines, to beauty products, fitness programs, everywhere ‘slimness’ is shown as the only path to success. Such images create social pressure on men and women to look a certain way, feel a certain way, and be happy with it. As a result, extreme dieting ends up in causing anorexia, depression, and other lasting problems.
Plus size challenges these dominant images and makes non-slim bodies more inclusive. It celebrates natural figures and encourages people to be more confident about their body sizes and shapes. Several designer brands have started producing plus size clothing. As a result, many plus size men and women have gotten job as models. In the modeling world where thinness rules the call of the day, plus size concept has definitely brought a welcome change. These models are called ‘curvy’ rather than ‘fat’ because it is more consumer friendly. One of the major benefits of plus size clothing is that it promotes a healthier lifestyle where people do not have to worry about eating less to conform to a particular size.

At first glance, this sounds like a wonderful solution! What could possibly go wrong with plus size, right? Unfortunately, plus size comes with its own downfalls.
1.       Nomenclature: The name ‘plus size’ is a very conflicting term. The term ‘plus’ means addition to something where this ‘something’ signifies zero. So, plus size means addition to sizes that are zero or ‘slim’. By calling a clothing or body type as ‘plus size’, we are paradoxically promoting slimness! Displayed in the shops is a separate side, plus size would automatically bring a sense of insecurity among the buyers. This faux inclusiveness brings nothing but lack of confidence among people of ‘plus size’. Although it is truly commendable that clothing of all sizes are made available, creating a separate terminology for people who cannot wear ‘normal’ sized clothing, further creates the discrimination.
2.       Gender bias: It is perhaps a common knowledge by now that women are the most prominent victims when it comes to body image. Starting with materials used in clothing to makeup techniques like contouring or highlighting, all are intended to make women appear slimmer than they are. The magazine covers flaunting sexy models endorse impossible-to-get figures and encourage women to become like them. The photo editing techniques are contributing in this image making even more. In this scenario, when ‘plus size’ is introduced, naturally the assumption is that women are liberated from fixation to particular body types. But is it really so? Plus size, as mention earlier, creates a separate category for ‘fat’ people. So, women, who reach out for plus size clothing is automatically considered ‘fat’. Although the companies try to create a lucrative market by terming these women ‘curvy’ rather than ‘fat’, the insecurity persists. A term like ‘curvy’ objectifies and sexualizes the female body. Moreover, ‘curvy’ comes with a lot of implications where the body needs to look like a wave with round bust and buttocks but a slimmer waistline. The inclusivity of plus size and its description as ‘curvy’ seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, plus size is for women who are ‘fat’, but on the other hand, the assumption is that they should look ‘curvy’ rather than ‘fat’. Thus the slimming aspect of clothing remains unchanged.

How to solve this problem? Considering the issues with nomenclature and gender discrimination, a possible solution could be erasing the ‘plus’ from ‘plus size’ altogether. They should be considered normal clothing as everything else. They should be displayed in the racks with clothing of other sizes and not in a separate corner.


The rise of ‘plus size’ shows how fashion forwardness is still dictated by dominant gender biased images. True, we have come a long way where we can now see non-slim models posing for popular magazines and brands. But have we truly progressed? Have we truly learned to accept diversity? By pointing out difference as ‘different’, are we not following the path of discrimination? At one glance ‘plus size’ may seem a relatively harmless clothing size. But when put against these questions, ‘plus size’ appears to be a dangerous weapon that enhances discrimination. Therefore, the time has come to truly give these labels and be inclusive!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Tips if you are stuck in the lift

Today I got stuck in the lift. AGAIN!! Betcha you don't believe me. But it's true! And it's twice at that. How fantastic (READ 'nightmarish') can it get? But before I tell you the details, let me begin from the beginning.

It begins with a sadhu who came in my dreams. He said, "Dear kid. Beware! Soon you'll be facing trouble. Several times. Beware! Beware! Hahaha!"
Though I still haven't figured out the meaning of his laughter at my upcoming misfortune, and even more so I couldn't figure out (at that time) what could be more disastrous than the surmounting pressure called 'thesis' I have been facing, I truly realised his meaning on that fateful day when I got stuck inside the life. Sounds funny, right? Trust me, it ain't.

The First 'Trouble': It happened on a bright sunny day when I was happily chatting with a fellow hostel-mate and got in the lift. As it came to the designated floor the doors started opening and BAM!! the lights were gone! Now usually we don't face power shutdown at all and even if we do, we are informed beforehand. So naturally it came as a huge shock. And imaging the intensity of it if you are stuck in a 4x4feet steel room which looks exactly like the secret claustrophobic interrogation rooms owned by the fbi they show in the hollywood films. It was shocking! But somehow our brain/ motor-skills (I don't exactly which one. Please pardon my lack of knowledge in medical science) superseded our beating hearts (thank God for that). As the doors were closing back (due to power shutdown), it clicked me that if we could pull the doors back long enough, maybe we could just jump out and save ourselves from the 'trouble'. And Voila! I was right! We pulled the doors back. We jumped out. We ran away. We didn't look back. Hundred percent true story.

'Trouble' number two: When it came to the second trouble, same thing happened and same trick helped me. Only this time the doors of the lift were completely closed before I pulled them open. The girls who were there on the lift, thought I was some kind of Hercules or something who had saved their lives.

Now for the tips.
Tips:
1. This technique was a sheer luck (that's what I believe). It helped me because both times the lift had reached a floor so I could get out. In other situations, my advice is, DON'T TRY IT.
2. This is a more scientific and useful tip. If you are stuck inside a lift, sit down or lie down on the floor. This helps to prevent the hypertension you may be causing by standing up. And ring the alarm as fast and as loud as you can.
3. And finally. Dreams (AND nightmares) do come true. 

Tips if you are stuck in the lift

Today I got stuck in the lift. AGAIN!! Betcha you don't believe me. But it's true! And it's twice at that. How fantastic (READ 'nightmarish') can it get? But before I tell you the details, let me begin from the beginning.

It begins with a sadhu who came in my dreams. He said, "Dear kid. Beware! Soon you'll be facing trouble. Several times. Beware! Beware! Hahaha!"
Though I still haven't figured out the meaning of his laughter at my upcoming misfortune, and even more so I couldn't figure out (at that time) what could be more disastrous than the surmounting pressure called 'thesis' I have been facing, I truly realised his meaning on that fateful day when I got stuck inside the life. Sounds funny, right? Trust me, it ain't.

The First 'Trouble': It happened on a bright sunny day when I was happily chatting with a fellow hostel-mate and got in the lift. As it came to the designated floor the doors started opening and BAM!! the lights were gone! Now usually we don't face power shutdown at all and even if we do, we are informed beforehand. So naturally it came as a huge shock. And imaging the intensity of it if you are stuck in a 4x4feet steel room which looks exactly like the secret claustrophobic interrogation rooms owned by the fbi they show in the hollywood films. It was shocking! But somehow our brain/ motor-skills (I don't exactly which one. Please pardon my lack of knowledge in medical science) superseded our beating hearts (thank God for that). As the doors were closing back (due to power shutdown), it clicked me that if we could pull the doors back long enough, maybe we could just jump out and save ourselves from the 'trouble'. And Voila! I was right! We pulled the doors back. We jumped out. We ran away. We didn't look back. Hundred percent true story.

'Trouble' number two: When it came to the second trouble, same thing happened and same trick helped me. Only this time the doors of the lift were completely closed before I pulled them open. The girls who were there on the lift, thought I was some kind of Hercules or something who had saved their lives.

Now for the tips.
Tips:
1. This technique was a sheer luck (that's what I believe). It helped me because both times the lift had reached a floor so I could get out. In other situations, my advice is, DON'T TRY IT.
2. This is a more scientific and useful tip. If you are stuck inside a lift, sit down or lie down on the floor. This helps to prevent the hypertension you may be causing by standing up. And ring the alarm as fast and as loud as you can.
3. And finally. Dreams (AND nightmares) do come true.