About Me

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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Feminism and Feminism-bashing : Random Thoughts

Even as I type this I realize it might not be the smartest thing to do – especially since, as a man, I open myself up to accusations of mansplaining, or, of being patronizing towards women.  But , as if to prove true the adage “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, I am going ahead and putting my thoughts out there on a topic that’s been bothering me for a while now.

The trigger for this post is a development that I’ve been observing of late –  of a number of women suddenly going out of their way to trash feminism. I’m not the least bit surprised that men do this – but it does come as a bit of a surprise to see so many women now get into the act. Not only do they seem to consider being called a feminist a grave insult, they do not miss any opportunity to mock feminists and the entire feminist movement.

In a sense, this post is addressed to them.

I see that there’s an entire movement out there called “Women Against Feminism” . On the site by this name one can see pictures of women holding placards explaining why they do not need feminism in their lives. 

Fair enough. Each one of them has a reason not to support the feminist movement.  Either they feel it doesn’t help women, or they think men are being unnecessarily targeted, or they feel they want to fight their battles on their own.

It is of course an individual choice but I think that somewhere they are missing something fundamental to not just feminism, but to any movement.

And that is, you don’t fight only for YOURSELF, the individual – you fight for the rights of a much broader section of society. You fight against injustice to this section of society. You fight against discrimination that this section of society faces.

In the case of feminism, it is about the female gender.  You don’t have to individually have faced injustice or discrimination to know that millions of women all around the world are subject to injustice and discrimination every single day of their lives, purely due to their gender.

This isn’t made-up, it’s a fact. And  if you’re a woman and haven’t faced this, good for you. I’m happy for you. But the world is a little larger than just you – and there are, sadly, many more women out there who aren’t quite as fortunate as you.

So the very least you can do is to acknowledge this fact and not make it all about yourself. If you don’t want to participate in any effort to improve the lot of all those women, fine. Nobody is forcing you to. But by mocking the efforts of those who ARE trying to make a positive change for these women, you are, even if unintentionally, harming the cause of these, less fortunate, women.

Let’s just take stock of the situation for a moment.  

For centuries, women have been suppressed and not treated as equals in society. They’ve been relegated to doing tasks than men did not want to do. Under the pretext of being the persons “bringing home the bacon” (often conveniently appropriating for themselves the sole right to do so), men have dominated family structures, and, by extension, society at large.

Of course, there have been exceptions. But this is exactly what they have been – exceptions. To the norm of male domination.  Anything women have achieved has almost always been INSPITE of the odds being severely stacked against them.  Which is why, when you look at history, you hear of a woman here, or a woman there – when half the world’s population is female.

When this has been happening for centuries, generation after generation, small wonder that in many societies, women have got conditioned to playing second fiddle to men.  Right from their birth, they are made to feel that men are the stronger sex. And not just physically so. They are made to feel that their raison d’etre is to serve men. That they are the “natural nurturers”. That their lives are incomplete without men. That they would be lost without men in their lives. A single woman is either frowned upon, or pitied. She needs to be married off as soon as possible.

Whether we choose to use the term “patriarchy” or not, the fact is that there has been, for centuries, a power imbalance between men and women.  One of the most striking examples of this is that in one of the supposedly most progressive societies of them all, the United States of America, on a national level, women did not have voting rights till 1920!

Today things are better, no doubt. Especially in western societies, the fight for gender equality has presumably made considerable progress, although even today gender-based discrimination is prevalent. It still manifests itself in multiple ways – whether in the form of less compensation for women compared to men, or women being overlooked when it comes to breaking that glass ceiling. And women continue to face harassment and abuse of all sorts – a result of men feeling a sense of entitlement to treat women this way.

In any case, whatever has been achieved, it has not come easy. Giving up power is never easy. And rarely voluntary.  So to make men share power with women has always been a challenge.  Women have had to fight for their rights. They have had to fight to force legislative change.  They have had to fight to get themselves better education, better jobs, more financial independence.

The picture is much bleaker in societies like India where patriarchy is far deeper ingrained. Social mores and conditioning have made life in India incredibly tough for most women. In fact, even before they are born, even as a foetus, many are discriminated against and unwanted.

And then,  right through their lives, it is a struggle for most women.

A struggle to live their life THEIR way instead of having to fit their life to suit other people. (In India, women seem to be perennially living for other people and never for themselves).

A struggle to ward off harassment by men, who seem to have an idea that the sole purpose of existence of a woman is for their (men's) enjoyment.

A struggle to be recognized as equal in society to men (although, as one wise woman said, this is too low a target to aim for).  

A struggle to even be treated as just a person with her own identity, instead of only having an identity as somebody’s mother or sister or wife or daughter.

There’s much more that women go through, all through their lives.  And I’m talking millions of women out there.

It’s an uphill struggle – but thankfully there are people who care to bring about positive change.  They call out gender injustice and gender inequality at every opportunity, they work on improving awareness and reducing conditioning, they fight for legislative change. In general, they do whatever they can, with their limited means, to redress the power imbalance that is still very heavily stacked against women.

If they call themselves feminists it is because it has to do with women’s rights and gender equality. Nothing particularly complicated about the term.

Yes, some of them possibly do this term disservice by making this not about gender equality, but turning it into an anti-men tirade. They may have their motivations and frustrations to do so – I do not wish to speculate on these. 

I'm quite clear about one thing. Not being a woman, however much I might emphathise with women, I do NOT go through the experiences they go through in life. That is why, although I might disagree with the views of some "feminists", I do not let it cloud my view on feminism. I distinguish between feminism (the movement) and feminists (the practitioners). And just like with any movement, not all practitioners get everything right. To find fault with a movement based on the acts of a few, is unfair to the movement. If you fundamentally disagree with the movement because you believe it is completely unnecessary, that's a different thing.

Although feminism gets a lot of flak for coming across as being anti-men, I've never seen it so. To me, it's always been about gender equality. And that means women and men sharing space as equals.

Since historically the affected gender has been female, it is hardly surprising that an overwhelmingly large number of feminists are women. However, there are many men out there too who do understand the need for gender equality. And try to practise it in their own lives. These are just as qualified to be considered feminists and, in my opinion, should not be shut out purely because of their gender. Doing so would only play into the hands of those who claim that feminism is anti-men. After all, men are the cause of the problem and they need to be a big part of the solution. That is why I often wish these men would be more vocal about their views - whether they choose to call themselves feminist or not. 

Finally it doesn't really matter whether you call yourself a feminist or not. It's a tag (much like "capitalist", "socialist",  "communist", "right-wing", "left-wing"). If you don't want to be tagged, fine. What really matters is whether you agree that we need to work towards a more gender-equal society. And that we are still far from it at the moment. At least in some societies. 

If you agree, then doesn’t it make sense not to ridicule efforts of those who are working towards this end? And if you agree with the goal but not with the methods, there are constructive ways of getting that message across. Without just coming up with a blanket “I’m against feminism”  slogan.

For, when we do this, we just make the whole struggle that much harder. Already vested interests ensure that it’s  going to be an uphill struggle.  The last thing we want is for their hand to be strengthened.

I know there are those who feel that sometimes the pendulum might have swung too much to the other side. That there are also men who are disadvantaged by the women’s rights movement.

Let’s be clear about one thing. This is NOT a men vs women thingThis is about gender equality.  So if men are now having to concede ground to women, ground that gave them an unfair advantage until now, I am all for it. But if women are now having an advantage over men, while in the longer-term it might need redressal, in the shorter-term it might be the only way to ensure longer term equality. So I would be less keen to attempt a correction rightaway.

Let’s also remember that any movement has a life only as long as it has a cause. The fight for gender equality is only as long as there is gender inequality. Just as feminism came into existence because of inequality, it will cease to have a purpose to exist, once we have gender equality (although that might be still be a long way away for now, I’m afraid).

Lastly, while this entire piece has been about women, gender equality and feminism, at a higher level, this is about injustice and discrimination in society.

Discrimination can be for a whole host of reasons – religion, region, race, caste, class, sexual orientation, gender. So gender is just one basis for discrimination.

Much of what I’ve said here applies to other forms of discrimination too. One doesn’t have to be specifically discriminated against, whether as an individual or the target group, to know that discrimination exists.

So if you genuinely believe that we need to end such discrimination, even if you are not able to participate in the process, the least you can do is to not hinder the process.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

IPL : In a lighter vein

This post was written on 24th May 2011. The 2011 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament was on then.

For some reason, this post never got posted on my blog. Maybe it was just some lazy writing from me that was never meant for public consumption. I sometimes do that - just dump my thoughts into a Word document (or an e-mail to myself) to get them out of my system and on record somewhere.

Anyway, when I was sorting out old files on my computer, I came across this write-up which I had long since forgotten about.

It is naturally somewhat dated, seeing as it was written in 2011. But I still had a bit of a chuckle, reading it all over again. Am therefore sharing it here on the blog.


*DISCLAIMER: This is not a criticism of the IPL. There’s much more to the IPL than just a casual conversation between two persons, so I would request the reader not to read too much into this. *

One of the many things I enjoy, while in India, is watching TV with my mom.  It is not about what we watch, but just the fact that we’re watching TV together. My mom watches only a few TV programmes and, though they wouldn’t be my first-choice shows otherwise, I do like to watch them along with her.

So here we are, watching one of her programmes today and it is about 8.20 p.m. The IPL play-off game between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) is underway and is being telecast on SetMax. I want to check out the scores quickly and ideally watch the game, rather than the current programme. My mom, ever-obliging, has no problem with my changing the channel.

So here we are, watching the game. I am feeling somewhat guilty for hijacking my mom’s programme. My mom is not at all into cricket - though she surprised me a few days ago with an absolute googly.

It was Shane Warne’s last IPL game and, just for conversation, I asked her whether she’d heard of Warne. 

“Oh yes, he’s a famous Australian cricketer, isn’t he?” 

I was stunned. 

“Wow, I never expected you to know.”

"Oh, he’s been playing for a long time.  His brother also was very good, wasn’t he?” 

After a moment of surprise, I realized she’d got confused. I corrected her.

“That was Steve Waugh. And his brother Mark Waugh.”

“Maybe. But I’ve also heard the name Warne”. 

I was very impressed. 

"Well, this is Warne’s last game today. In the IPL”.

My mom knows the IPL. I mean, she’s heard of it. It's difficult  for anybody who watches TV in India NOT to be have heard of the IPL. A few days ago, she stunned me, when, after dinner, she asked me 
“So is there another IPL game today? It is 20 overs per team, isn’t it?”

I was  taken aback. I knew that she wasn’t interested in the cricket as such. Clearly her interest was more because IPL was clashing with her TV programmes.

Anyway, so here we are today,  watching the IPL game instead of my mom’s preferred TV programme.

In the hope of getting my mom slightly interested in the game (the guilt was beginning to get to me!), I embarked on a rather feeble line of channel-change justification . Here is how our conversation went.

Me:  It’s Bangalore vs Chennai. (Hmm..maybe my mom gets interested. After all, she has a stake in both cities).

Mom: (just as the camera zooms in on Doug Bollinger bowling): He does not look like he's from Chennai. Or from Bangalore. In fact, he does not even look Indian.

Me: He’s not. He’s an Australian. In the IPL, each team is allowed to have four foreign players.

Mom: (looking puzzled) Oh, ok. So you mean the rest are from Chennai and Bangalore?

Me: (after a pause): Hmm..not really.

Mom's looking even more puzzled now, so I decide to explain.

Me: Though the teams are called Bangalore and Chennai, they’re allowed to have any players from all over the world. They can have four foreigners in the team, the remaining players have to be Indians. But they don’t have to belong to Chennai or Bangalore as such.

Mom: (now at a new level of being confused) : But you said it is Bangalore vs Chennai. Based on what are you saying this?

Me: (having to think now): The thing is, Mom, it has to do with franchise and ownership.

Mom: (amazingly still hanging in there): I don’t get it.

Me: (thinking hard, how to explain this in lay terms): You know India Cements in Chennai, right?

Mom: Yes.

Me: And you know Mallya here in Bangalore, right?

Mom: Yes.

Me: Well, the owner of India Cements has bought a cricket team in the name of Chennai.  And Mallya has bought a cricket team in the name of Bangalore. Their teams are playing against each other today. 

Mom:  Oh, it is not really Bangaloreans and Chennai-ites? Anybody can play?

Me: There are a few from Bangalore and Chennai but that’s not the main point here.

Mom: How can you call it Bangalore vs Chennai if you don’t have Bangaloreans playing against Chennai-ites?

Me: This is not like playing for your country, Mom. You cannot play for India if you are not an Indian. This is not like that. In fact, you have the same type of thing in football also.

Mom: And this is what is called the IPL, is it?

Me: Yes.

Mom: (getting up and leaving the room) Yeddo. Panum pannartakku yeddaane paninDe irukkunum, illiya? (Whatever! They need to do something to keep on making money, right?) (Excuse my Tamil, it's terrible).

I am left wondering. And watching Bollinger and Albie Morkel bowling to Virat Kohli and Luke Pommersbach. 

Chennai vs Bangalore indeed. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Namma Bengaluru (Our Bangalore)

The purpose of this poem is not to criticize, but to reflect.
Not just on WHAT we are doing, but HOW we're doing it.
Ask ourselves: Even if what we're doing makes sense, is this the best way?


I remember a Bangalore green
Its roads lined with trees
Its weather, everyone’s envy
All day, a cool breeze

‘Twas the pride of India
Its Garden City, no less
Who could’ve thought this city of charm
Would end up in such a mess

But the state and people alike
Gave in to their innate greed
The once “pensioners’ paradise”
Was left to go to seed

Aye, a city must grow
To modern times, adapt
If only this were done with care
The changes would’ve been apt

But now just bricks and mortar
Stack up each corner and nook
Broken pavements, traffic and crowds
Anywhere you look

The summer sun now burns
As it does the city taunt
No escape from me, it says
Try as hard as you want

Oh, how the heart now yearns
For that cool breeze of yore
But the sad truth for one and all
Is, it’ll return no more