Tag Archives: feminist

Yo-Yo Feminism and the Unsung Glories of a Die-Hard Housewife…

My mom had this plaque on the living room wall when I was a kid. It read…

I’m just a little housewife

With dishes three times a day

With laundry and cleaning and cooking

And toys to put away

Now it’s not that I mind the housework

Or the screaming kids at play 

It’s that husband that burns me

When he says with a smile

Did you do anything today??!!??       

I’d like to say that is the story of my life. But that wouldn’t be true. I go back and forth between being a domestic goddess and a die-hard feminist.  You just have to walk into the house to know which avatar has taken hold of me. The DG version will have the house vacuumed, dishes done and dinner prepared well ahead of time. She will also be humming a tune as she scrubs the tub and she might even bake a batch of cookies for the kids.

It’s a whole different story when the feminist takes over. You will have to hop over the shoes strewn in the foyer to get to the living room, from where you can see the mountain of dishes piled up in the sink. Yours truly will be on the couch wearing a grungy T-shirt and stained PJs. As the kids rummage the kitchen for something to eat, la femme reluctantly uproots herself from the couch and grudgingly makes dinner. Cupboards will be slammed, pots and pans banged around, while she mutters something about being a slave!

The unsuspecting husband walks in. “Hello”, he pipes. Only to be met with an icy stare. He knows better than to say something because that is all she needs. One word and she’ll start her tirade against all men and the thankless job of being a housewife.

Out here in the U.S., nobody uses the term housewife. It’s home maker or stay-at-home mom, which are equally unglamorous, unless you are in a reality show – The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills! These glam dolls just have to dress up, have lunch dates and dinner parties, launch perfumes, vodkas or clothing lines (another excuse for a party!). They also meet with their dermatologists and plastic surgeons regularly. They are a poor representation of the common housewife and a sorry lot.

While there is some part of me that envies them- the part that doesn’t like housework I’m guessing – I wouldn’t last a day in their silicone/botox world. Also being a person who hates the limelight I’d rather live a life of obscurity than have a camera crew taping my every move! So all I can do is pretend I’m a diva and expect the imaginary help to do the chores. When I’m done with being a diva or the house starts to stink, whichever come first, I suck it up and go back to being domestic goddess.

An unpaid job is a thankless job. There is no reward for cleaning up your house except that you have a clean house. There is no reward for cooking fresh meals for your family, except that you all enjoy vibrant health. There is no glory in showing up day after day at the bus stop to pick up your kids after school. No glory in sweating it out in a hot soccer field as your child plays. No bonuses to be had. No promotions to work for. Just the quiet satisfaction of watching your children grow up. Just having enough time to smell the flowers. Just the wisdom to know that life is magical and is unfolding right before your eyes.

Oh who am I kidding? I have often wished fairy god mother would show up, wave her wand and turn me into a princess and turn the mice and cockroaches in my house into maids, cooks and ladies-in-waiting! Until then I will never cease to sing my glories, be a domestic goddess and fight for my rights!

P.S. Domestic goddess just read this post and she insists there are NO mice or cockroaches in the house. Did I mention she was appalled?

Calling All Warriors…

I’m not done saying all that I wanted to say about the treatment of women in India. There’s more to the story. It pains me to write about this but someone has to do it. My sincere prayer is that you are moved by my words to take action. I hope and pray that I too can go beyond just these words of mine to do something to change the future of women in India and other parts of the world.

A woman’s struggle doesn’t start when she is a girl. It starts much earlier. In the womb. Ultrasound technology which should be used only to detect birth defects and possible difficulties in labor is now used to determine the sex of the baby. The obsession with having only boys has driven many men and their families to take possession of women’s bodies and their reproductive rights. Forced abortions without the consent of the mother done by demonic doctors is a commonplace occurrence.

Little did I know that before I was born, women in the U.S. struggled with similar issues. I’m not talking about female feticide but rape, domestic violence and inequality. There were no laws in place for crimes against women and men just got away with everything. Women were dependent on them and didn’t have the courage to speak out. They couldn’t get credit cards in their names. No contraception. No abortion. Imagine if these women never fought, never broke the mold, never rallied for equality. Then where would we be? We’d be at home, doing the dishes and in all probability we wouldn’t be able to vote or go to war!

The images from America’s past took me to present day India where girls 9,7 and 11 were raped and murdered. And the world goes on. People wake up, drink their coffee and go to work. Life goes on. Apathy so deep-rooted that it has made us sick. We need to revive the Women’s movement. Not just in India but all over the world. See what the Women’s movement in the U.S. has accomplished. And don’t you roll your eyes and say it’s not possible in India. Martin Luther King had no idea that when he fought for civil rights in the U.S. it would spill over to South Africa and end apartheid. If it worked for African-American rights it can work for Women’s rights. Why even look to other countries for inspiration? We as a nation stood up to the British super powers and sent them packing.

We did not fight to be a free nation only to succumb to demons from our past. The very demons that Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Subramanya Bharathi tried to rid our society of. We did not oust the British to be governed by a bunch of unscrupulous thugs. It won’t take a small group of protesters in a few cities to change things. It will take every woman in every corner of the world. You cannot look away, ignore and not care. Your sisters need you. Not tomorrow or in a few days when you think you have the time or when you think you are ready. But now. Right now.

When something happens to one of our sisters anywhere in the world I want to hear every woman protest loudly and openly. Demand justice. Do everything in your power to help. If you don’t you will be an abettor, a facilitator and you will have to one day stand in judgement for not speaking up for those without a voice, those that have been violated or forever silenced.

If the cops and the justice system will not help women who have been wronged, let’s open shelters for these women. Let this be the first place they got to. Where they are not shamed or judged. But listened to and comforted. Doctors, counsellors, cops and lawyers who want to serve these women can help out at these shelters.

As you read this, many women will endure another night of battering, girls will be preyed upon by sexually aggressive men. Some will live and some will die. Some of these men will be punished. Some will go scot-free and hurt many more. You can read this and go on about your life as usual or you can don the raiment of a warrior woman. Take every slight against every woman personally. Say enough is enough. And fight till your last breath. Till a new era dawns and India can hold its head high and every woman can be free of fear.

Children of a Lesser God?

My blood was boiling all of December. The newspapers were full of stories of rape and abuse of women all over India. It made me sick to the stomach. This was not the India I used to live in. How did we ever get here?

Attitude

Most mothers tell their daughters to ignore bad behavior or to put up with it. Not in my family. My mom never put up with men falling all over her on the bus or sticking to her like nettles. She nudged them, stepped on their toes, yelled at them royally and even prodded them with her umbrella! When I got pinched by an auto driver, my grandma went straight to the cops. Many were afraid that the auto driver would seek revenge and pose a threat to me. But I did not buy that story.

So don’t go telling your daughter, “Men are like that only! Get used to it.” HELL NO! That leaves our daughters powerless and at the mercy of lecherous men. My generation put up with eve teasing and groping and the present generation has to put up with rape? No can do!

Fight

Animals resort to two types of behavior when threatened. Fight or flee. I think as women we have done enough fleeing. The time has come to fight. We are not weak and powerless. What we lack in brute strength we make up for in our keen sense of intuition and our power in numbers. Every girl should learn self-defense. Carry mace or pepper spray. If you are a target don’t let the incident scare you out of seeking justice. Fight till your last breath and get all the support you need. This is where power in numbers shows up to your advantage.

Justice Delivered

I’m against the eye-for-an-eye-and-tooth-for-a-tooth policy. But the perpetrators of such heinous crimes can only be categorized as beasts. So if we can castrate pets who go berserk when in heat, why not castrate these insane men who think they can satisfy their urges by attacking the first female form they see. Makes sense to me and it seems to work in the Middle East countries. The crime rates are low because the punishments are severe!

Our defunct judicial system is badly in need of an overhaul. The victims shouldn’t be the ones that get humiliated and ostracized while the criminals waltz away. Don’t even get me started on the sorry lot that call themselves politicians or leaders!  About time that our democracy spells freedom and a right to a good life for all – women included!

Until then, sisters, mothers and wives, brothers, husbands and sons come together to create the India of your dreams. Don’t wait for someone else to make it a reality. You have the power. Go for it!

http://www.indusladies.com/forums/blogs/induslady/indusladies-4th-annual-international-women-8412/

Nurturing the Goddess in you…

All you men out there, this one is for you as well. You may have six-packs and rippling muscles and testosterone in your veins. But you still have a feminine side. You have a heart, don’t you? That thing that pumps blood and also has the ability to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Perhaps you haven’t been listening to it lately.  I’m sure you have faced the classic dilemma posed by your mind and heart. Your heart says go for it and your mind gives you a million reasons not to…You listen to your head and end up with heart ache later…

In a world built on logic and ruled by logic what place does the heart have? Well, the world built entirely on logic and largely by men in power is slowly crumbling down before our very eyes. It lacks sensitivity and creativity which are primarily feminine aspects. The mind thinks and the heart knows. We have forgotten how to trust our hearts to make decisions for us. We think through our decisions but forget to feel our way through them. We deny our feminine sides. Shun it, deplore it, mask it! And all you women out there are facilitators!

Just the other day I heard  a single mom say about her son – I don’t want him to be too girly. I’ve also heard soccer moms go on about how their daughters are not aggressive enough and push them into competitive sports. When boys cry we say to them – strong boys don’t cry and lead them to believe that crying is a sign of weakness. Or even worse – don’t cry like a girl – creating the notion that crying and being like a girl are both highly undesirable qualities.

In my house most of the crying is done by my boy. He is what they call a Highly Sensitive Male (HSM). He feels everything deeply and hollers his tiny heart out every once in a while! I wish he would relax a little while still holding on to his sensitivity. It makes him a remarkable little person. He senses my angst at the end of a long day and will come and ask me – Ma do you want me to help you. It just makes me want to cry!

Just hope the world that thinks sensitivity is a weakness and power comes from supressing others doesn’t take it away from him. I’ve heard so many opinions about raising boys that I’m sick of it. Don’t hug, kiss and coddle your boys too much. You don’t want them to be sissies! Go help your Dad (like helping your Mom out with chores makes you less macho!!) And then these very same boys that you raise rough & tough, grow up and shy away from changing diapers or feeding babies. Their women will lament about their lack of sensitivity. And then these very same women will go on to raise identical replicas of their husbands! Do you see the vicious cycle we have created?

Women too seem to suffer from the mind-rules-and-hearts-can’t-be-trusted psychosis. After years of supression, women came out of the home, out of their nurturing roles as moms and wives. And into a harsh corporate world where the rules are different. The rules were made by men – men who had suppressed their feminine side. Men who only thought of numbers, figures and bottom line margins. Women had to be tough, put family last, work long hours and put their heart-centred nurturing on the back burner. But we have seen how this fractured way of thinking without a balance of mind and heart has failed time and again because it forgets that people are the life of an organization and not figures.

Nature however loves balance and the time has come to balance the mind and the heart. The male and the female. The yin and the yang. It is no surprise that this year there were women Olympians from every participating country. Today several top companies like Yahoo and Pepsico are headed by women. My only prayer is that these women share their wisdom and chart their own path to success instead of following the foot steps of  those before them.

It’s heartening to see stay-at-home dads who love and care for their babies. I remember a time when dads never did any parenting. They brought home the bacon, drank beer and watched TV. They never read to their kids or even hugged them. Those days are long gone but some men still hang on to remnants of those days and think parenting is mostly the mom’s job. No wonder many single women think they don’t need a man to procreate anymore! But there is a reason why children need both a mom and a dad. So they grow up balanced. So their minds and hearts are equally developed. So they can think and trust. Judge and love. But in order to raise balanced kids we need to be balanced ourselves.

So how do you get in touch with your feminine side? It’s the playful, creative, loving side of you, that is connected to nature and all beings. When you hold your baby and your heart fills with so much love that it might burst – you are connecting to your feminine side. When your dog showers you with unconditional love and you mirror it back you are connecting to the feminine. When you reach out with compassion you are connected to that force. When you dance, sing, write, play, have fun you connect to your inner goddess. When you pay attention to your feelings instead of that little voice in your head you are connecting to your heart.

I love the picture in which Shiva has the right half of the body and Parvathi has the left half. Male and female totally balanced. Where the heart listens to the mind and the mind bows down to the heart which always comes from a place of compassion and unconditional love.

 

Daring and Different…My Dadima

This post is long overdue. I meant to write this is 2009 and get it published in a newspaper or magazine in Chennai, India. Since that didn’t happen I guess I’ll have to be happy with this. M asked me the other day – who is your idol? I mentioned the name of my deceased guru. But as I thought about it I realized I have several people on that list. And my grandmother is somewhere on the top of that list.

I called her Dadima even though we don’t speak Hindi at home. She was not your usual run-of-the-mill granny who told you stories, cooked for you and tucked you in bed. In fact, she has never cooked a single meal for me. Nor did she read the Ramayana or wear tulsi beads. You see Dadima had a career. And she worked right up until her dying day. She lost the love of her life, my grandfather at the age of 35 ( I shudder to think that I’m almost 35!) All the odds were against her. She had only passed 10th grade, had no college education, no work experience, no trust fund, no nest eggs…nothing! My grandma had to fend for herself and support my Dad, who was in college. She could have slumped down in a corner and cried for the rest of her life. Or lived off her relatives. No. Not my Dadima.

She went on to become the first lady distributor for LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). The kind that comes in ‘cylinders’ and is used for cooking in India. As a business woman she was tough and put everyone in their place. Everyone who thought she was an old widow and can be pushed around learnt their lesson quickly. She was feisty and fearless. She did what she wanted and offered no explanations or justifications. People thought twice before messing with her. She could be an angel or she could be your worst nightmare.

To me she was an angel, dressed in white and always hovering around me and whispering words of endearment to me. She called me her ‘gem’. She was one person who really truly believed that I was precious. I practically grew up in Dadima’s house. My parents feared for my brother’s life. They were quite certain that I would get into a jealous rage and attack him with sharpened pencils! So I was packed off to Dadima’s house.

I used to sleep next to Dadima every night, sharing the bed with two overfed dogs, Diana and Priya. Dadima loved them as much as she loved me. They ate off her plate, drank from her glasses, dirtied her pristine white sheets and she would look the other way. I’ve heard people say, “Oh how I wish I could be Mrs. Damodaran’s dog!” Spoilt rotten they were. Used to ride the car to school everyday with me, with their tongues lolling out of the window.

All the dogs she had were female by the way. Did I mention Dadima had the words ‘GIRL POWER” etched in hot pink invisible ink all over her house? Oh yeah! There were pictures of goddesses wielding fierce weapons and trampling weak male villians. I remember playing dress up with her numerous white handbags and high heeled shoes and sandals, draping her sheer duppatas around my head, the way she used to when she was in the sun with matching white sunglasses. She was always well dressed. Hated the heat and used to complain about it and how she loved the cold when she was in Great Britian. She had so many funny anecdotes she used to share with me. Stories that gave me a glimpse of the carefree life she lived in the past when my granddad was around. All she used to do was dress up for parties and manage the scores of servants they had.

One of the reasons my grandad treated Dadima like the Queen of England was her poor health. She had several close calls. She almost died of a brain tumor and was so ill on a ship headed to India from England, that the captain of the ship said she’d have to be buried at sea if she didn’t make it. She made it and went on to have a granddaughter – me. But as far back as I can remember, she had been in and out of hospitals most of her life. Some visits were short and routine. Others were long and scary and I’ve been called many a time to her bedside where she lay with one foot in the grave. She had appendicitis, blood pressure, an enlarged heart, a hysterectomy and then diabetes in the latter years of her life. But everytime she’d make it out of the hospital stronger and more full of life. Never would she take a day off work or lie in bed all day complaining about her health.

She was very proud of her brain. She always said my heart gives me a lot of trouble but my brain was overhauled in England (during the brain tumor years I think). It was true. She never forgot a single birthday or anniversary. She personally selected and wrote birthday cards for everyone. She made sure we all got a card and a birthday cake every birthday. New clothes for New Year and Diwali. Black Forest Cake and Fruit Cake over the holidays with puffs. She loved entertaining and loved having people over for dinner. Even if someone turned up uninvited and it was lunch or dinner time she would ask them to stay and eat with her. She never wrote lists for groceries or anything. I’ve seen the servants tell her before she went to work that they needed soap or shampoo or rice and she would somehow remember everything and bring it home in the evening.

She had an opinion about everything. Her political and religious views were radical. Around the house she had pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus. Statues of Buddha. She had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. She loved the villian Ravana for being fearless even when fighting a God and hated Rama (who was the hero of Ramayana) for doubting Sita’s chastity and subjecting her to the test of fire (Agni Pariksha). Tinge of feminism there. She loved Saddam Hussain for having the ‘guts’ to stand up to a super power like the United States.

At her funeral several people read verses from the Bible while her family chanted Hare Rama and her Muslim neighbors of 40 years looked on. She truly embraced one and all. Put aside her troubles to help others. I was foolish to think she had touched but one life – mine. When people came to me with stories of her kindness and love, I cried copious tears. It felt like their pain was my pain. We had all lost someone special. Someone who thought we were special and treated us like royalty.

She was everything every woman would want to be. And in these years that I have had to live without her, this is my constant prayer – if ever I have to live on this earth again please let her be my grandmother for many lifetimes to come.