Saturday, June 28, 2008

Feminist Reading

I recently finished reading a book that I was extremely impressed by - I even underlined certain lines to revisit later. Let me put some of those down here:

On marriage:
"The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger". (second emphasis mine)
"(Women) must marry advantageously, and to this object their time is sacrificed, and their persons often legally prostituted."
"The affection of husbands and wives cannot be pure when they have so few sentiments in common, and when so little confidence is established at home, as must be the case when their pursuits are so different. That intimacy from which tenderness should flow, will not, cannot subsist between the vicious."

On what are perceived as feminine qualities:
"Let (women) beware of the fallacious light of sentiment; too often used as a softer phrase for sensuality".
"It will also require some time to convince women that they act contrary to their real interest on an enlarged scale, when they cherish or affect weakness under the name of delicacy."
"To become respectable, the exercise of their understanding is necessary, there is no other foundation for independence of character; I mean explicitly to say, that they must only bow to the authority of reason, instead of being the modest slaves of opinion."
"Exalted by their inferiority (this sounds like a contradiction) they constantly demand homage as women, though experience should teach them that the men who pride themselves upon paying this arbitrary insolent respect to the sex, with the most scrupulous exactness, are most inclined to tyrannize over, and despise the very weakness they cherish."
"I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where love animates the behaviour. For this distinction is, I am firmly persuaded, the foundation of the weakness of character ascribed to woman; is the cause why the understanding is neglected, whilst accomplishments are acquired with sedulous care: and the same cause accounts for their preferring the graceful before the heroic virtues."[1]
"Women, commonly called ladies, are not to be contradicted in company, are not allowed to exert any manual strength; and from them the negative virtues only are expected, when any virtues are expected, patience, docility, good-humour, and flexibility; virtues incompatible with any vigorous exertion of intellect."[2]
"What were we created for? To remain, it may be said, innocent; they mean in a state of childhood."
"Writers have too often considered virtue in a very limited sense, and made the foundation of it solely worldly utility; nay, a still more fragile base has been given to this stupendous fabric, and the wayward fluctuating feelings of men have been made the standard of virtue."
"The pernicious tendency of those books, in which the writers insidiously degrade the sex, whilst they are prostrate before their personal charms, cannot be too often or too severely exposed."
"Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels; but to sink them below women? Or, that a gentle, innocent female is an object that comes nearer to the idea which we have formed of angels than any other. Yet they are told, at the same time, that they are only like angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently, it is their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this homage."
"Allowing women to be rational creatures they should be incited to acquire virtues which they may call their own, for how can a rational being beennobled by any thing that is not obtained by its own exertions?"

On the endurance of women:
"The being who patiently endures injustice, and silently bears insults, will soon become unjust, or unable to discern right from wrong...
"Of what materials can that heart be composed, which can melt when insulted, and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod? Is it unfair to infer, that her virtue is built on narrow views and selfishness, who can caress a man, with true feminine softness, the very moment when he treats her tyrannically? Nature never dictated such insincerity; and though prudence of this sort be termed a virtue, morality becomes vague when any part is supposed to rest on falsehood... Let the husband beware of trusting too implicitly to this servile obedience; for if his wife can with winning sweetness caress him when angry, and when she ought to be angry, unless contempt had stifled a natural effervescence, she may do the same after parting with a lover. These are all preparations for adultery; or, should the fear of the world, or of hell, restrain her desire of pleasing other men, when she can no longer please her husband, what substitute can be found by a being who was only formed by nature and art to please man? what can make her amends for this privation, or where is she to seek for a fresh employment? where find sufficient strength of mind to determine to begin the search, when her habits are fixed, and vanity has long ruled her chaotic mind?"

On "fondness for dress":
"A strong inclination for external ornaments ever appears in barbarous states, only the men not the women adorn themselves; for where women are allowed to be so far on a level with men, society has advanced at least one step in civilization."
"An immoderate fondness for dress, for pleasure and for sway, are the passions of savages; the passions that occupy those uncivilized beings who have not yet extended the dominion of the mind, or even learned to think with the energy necessary to concatenate that abstract train of thought which produces principles."

On equal and co-curricular education:
"Why, for instance, should the following caution be given... 'Be even cautious in displaying your good sense.* It will be thought you a ssume asuperiority over the rest of the company-- But if you happen to have any learning keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts, and a cultivated understanding'...(*Footnote. Let women once acquire good sense--and if it deserve the name, it will teach them; or, of what use will it be? how to employ it.)" [4]
"Marriage will never be held sacred till women by being brought up with men, are prepared to be their companions, rather than their mistresses."
"Let an enlightened nation then try what effect reason would have to bring them back to nature, and their duty; and allowing them to share the advantages of education and government with man, see whether they will become better, as they grow wiser and become free. They cannot be injured by the experiment; for it is not in the power of man to render them more insignificant than they are at present."[3]

On women working:
"How many women thus waste life away, the prey of discontent, who might have practised as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre; nay, I doubt whether pity and love are so near a-kin as poets feign, for I have seldom seen much compassion excited by the helplessness of females, unless they were fair; then, perhaps, pity was the soft handmaid of love, or the harbinger of lust.
"How much more respectable is the woman who earns her own bread by fulfilling any duty, than the most accomplished beauty!...
"Proud of their weakness, however, they must always be protected, guarded from care, and all the rough toils that dignify the mind."

On parental duties:
"There seems to be an indolent propensity in man to make prescription always take place of reason, and to place every duty on an arbitrary foundation."
"A slavish bondage to parents cramps every faculty of the mind."
"To be a good mother -- a woman must have sense, and that independence of mind which few women possess who are taught to depend entirely on their husbands."

On equal rights for women:
"I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves."
"It is plain from the history of all nations, that women cannot be confined to merely domestic pursuits, for they will not fulfil family duties, unless their minds take a wider range, and whilst they are kept in ignorance, they become in the same proportion, the slaves of pleasure as they are the slaves of man. Nor can they be shut out of great enterprises, though the narrowness of their minds often make them mar what they are unable to comprehend."
"Confined, then, in cages, like the feathered race, they have nothing to do but to plume themselves, and stalk with mock-majesty from perch to perch. It is true, they are provided with food and raiment, for which they neither toil nor spin; but health, liberty, and virtue are given in exchange."
"Let men take their choice, man and woman were made for each other, though not to become one being; and if they will not improve women, they will deprave them!"
"Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship, instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers--in a word, better citizens. We should then love them with true affection, because we should learn to respect ourselves."
"But, till more equality be established in society, till ranks are confounded and women freed, we shall not see that dignified domestic happiness, the simple grandeur of which cannot be relished by ignorant or vitiated minds; nor will the important task of education ever be properly begun till the person of a woman is no longer preferred to her mind. For it would be as wise to expect corn from tares, or figs from thistles, as that a foolish ignorant woman should be a good mother."
"Asserting the rights which women in common with men ought to contend for, I have not attempted to extenuate their faults; but to prove them to be the natural consequence of their education andstation in society. If so, it is reasonable to suppose, that they will change their character, and correct their vices and follies, when they are allowed to be free in a physical, moral, and civil sense."

This book is "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" by Mary Wollstonecraft, first published in 1792. I am torn between admiration for her courage and clear-sightedness, and disappointment that change has been so slow.

[1] If I were to speak for myself, I would remove the caveat "unless where love animates the behaviour", for I do not believe even love should be confined within gendered roles.
[2] To say women are not contradicted might be a bit of a stretch now, but how often have you heard a man claiming to moderate his words due to the presence of a woman?
[3] The last statement is, of course, no longer true, but it illustrates that we have indeed, travelled some distance.
[4] Also read this.

Thoughts on HR (and Bosses)

There are managers, and HR people, who break into ire when they discover that an employee has updated her resume on a job site. In the midst of their disapproval they might also consider that that employee has been uncommonly foolish.

And then there are HR people who expect this and see it, and decide not to remark on it. Who might take it as a sign and ponder how to deal with it without accusing the employee of wrongdoing. There are managers who react to the employee's hint of looking at better prospects with the assurance that the employee is valuable, and an offer of help in exploring career opportunities outside the company.

I realize that the second is far more rare than the first. Yet isn't the second approach far more effective?

If you were in the second situation, would you have second thoughts about leaving? Would you be more inclined to stay, or come back later if circumstances permit, than you would if you were in the first situation?

Friday, June 27, 2008


"I do not want you!” I cry

Like a petulant child.

But he settles in my head

Making me open my mouth wide.

I try to fight him off

Scare him away:

But he has established control.

And when finally,I give myself up

Wholly into his arms

Hoping for succour,

He laughs sardonically

And hovers just beyond reach.

While I toss and turn

And wish for deliverance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Announcement: The 60th Carnival of Feminists

is going to be right here!

The Carnival of Feminists is usually held every second Wednesday, and features recent feminist posts from around the blogosphere.

I have been following the carnival for the last couple of years, and have learned a lot from it. It has helped widen my perspective on feminist issues, and made me glad that there are so many women around the world who identify themselves as feminists and apply feminist principles to their lives.

So it is a great honour for me to host the carnival. Please send in your submissions to unmana AT gmail DOT com with the subject "The Carnival of Feminists - Submission". For more details about the carnival, go here.

And come back on July 9th to join the carnival!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

To a Friend

I am glad we talked last night, you and I.
Before those words in the darkness the distance melted away
And months of silence, of doubts, dissolved.
And we were younger, and friends, again.

I have cared, and cried, and raved:
Wished for you when you weren’t there,
Pushed you away when you were,
Yet you always came around again.

And that is what I remember most of all:
That is what I want to keep.
That is what separates a friend from all others:
That he hurt and hurt me back, that he didn’t understand, yet stayed.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In a Dark Mood

When things go wrong, it might help to remind myself of all that I’ve been through already.

I watched my father go through years of illness, and have hoped and prayed for his recovery – and for the strength to cope.

I watched my father die, smoothened his eyelids to close forever, and held my mother as she cried and struggled while they took him away.

I had relationships shatter around me as I realised that the person I trusted most was not true – had probably never been.

I lived alone in a strange city and spent entire weekends in my tiny apartment, doing nothing.

I was ill and had no one come to visit me.

I cried for hours at a stretch, thinking about the person I had become and the person I had wanted to be.

I got out of all that – with help, but got out all the same. I have been mostly happy and at peace for the last couple of years. I did realise then that this cannot last, that no one can be this happy for a long time, no one can want nothing.

I had gone through all that pain and fear, and survived. I will survive lesser evils. Especially as I now have the Guy to come home to at night, to hold me as my wounds heal.

Yet isn't despair stronger than courage? When you feel you have reached the bottom, there is little to fear. You fear when you have much to lose.

P.S. - I am perfectly all right, and this was written some time ago.

Fictional Characters I Love

I picked up this tag at Usha's. My favourite fictional characters are:
  1. Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird (the book): The book is definitely an old favourite, and Atticus was the person I wanted to grow up and marry. Honest, kind, just, brave - this guy seems perfect.
  2. If not Atticus Finch, George Knightley from Emma would have done. He was sensible, steadfast, honest, kind, and not very careful of appearances. I am only surprised it took Emma so long to realise she wanted him!
  3. Zeenat from Dor is common with Usha. She is one of the strongest women characters I have ever seen in a movie.
  4. And while I am borrowing from Usha's list, let me also take Sydney Carton: another fictional hero I'd sighed over as a teenager...
  5. Jupiter Jones of the Three Investigators - not much brawn for an amateur detective and yet so competent.
  6. Another Jones - Jughead from Archies comics. I always preferred the laidback Jughead who knew what he wanted (food!) and didn't (girls!) to the spineless Archie.
  7. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice was the first fictional character I fell in love with. And yet when I read the book now, I think I like...
  8. Elizabeth Bennett better. She showed spunk, and was not afraid to make mistakes or to admit to them.
  9. Dobbin in Vanity Fair was in many ways the perfect lover - steadfast and loyal through and through.
  10. I thought for some time about this last space before deciding it should go to Severus Snape. For all his prejudices and weaknesses, he was a true hero - brave and strong enough to overcome them.

I found it surprisingly difficult to make this list - and I'm sure I'll disagree with it in some time!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Encounter

I look at the old woman with her bags, and the tattered sari drawn over her head, standing at the door of a shop.

I look with pity for a moment, before catching myself and looking away, lest she should see the pity in my eyes and come near.

I tell myself there are other claims on my purse. And feel slightly guilty.

She comes over eventually. I give her two stray coins lying before me. I try not to meet her eyes.

She touches her hand respectfully to her forehead before walking away.

And I wonder about the life of someone who feels grateful for two rupees.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stray Thoughts...

When someone expresses distaste at the idea of drinking from the same glasses that watchmen or peons use, are they being hygeinic, or is it a small shard from the structure of caste and untouchability?

Does someone who finds the idea that a husband might wake up early to cook for his wife funny enough to phrase as a joke, find it as funny when (as all of us must have seen) a wife does the same for her husband?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Rains

The rains have come again. When I walked in from the gate to my office, droplets sprayed on me and the wind blew my hair about my face. I did not take shelter but walked on, enjoying the weather: the gentle coolness so welcome after many weeks of the harsh sun. If I hadn't been wearing such businesslike clothes and been so near my workplace, I might have been tempted to stop and dance. Ah, I was tempted anyway. And I thought of our balcony and wished I could have been there with the Guy, watching the rain and talking away...

I wrote the above yesterday, and today I am at home, having called in sick. And I'm glad I'm not too ill to enjoy the weather, to sit by my window and read the Lord of the Rings that the Guy gifted me, and enjoy the breeze. Too bad it's not raining...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Things to Remember for the Next Interview

Not that I'm anything of an expert, but as I've recently changed jobs, I thought of some things that I ought to record to look at later when I need it. And if it helps someone else as well, that's a great bonus.

After my interviews for the new job, when I was going through the mandatory sleepless nights of anticipation, I remember telling the Guy, "You know, I realise that till date, I've got every job I really wanted - yeah, there's only been two of them, but still... I'm scared that I'll find it really difficult to deal with rejection."

As it turns out, I did have to deal with rejection in a way, because I didn't hear from them for weeks and I am too practical to remain optimistic in spite of that. I was wondering what went wrong, what signs I misread, because I was so sure it had gone well. This coincided with a particularly bad phase at work, which made it much more difficult. And then the call came after all, and the victory was sweeter than it would have been if I'd got it straight away.

So I'm going to put down here some things that I think helped me and that I should remember for the future.

First, keep an open mind. When I first got the call for this job, I didn't think I was interested. I was preoccupied with something right then, I wasn't told the exact job profile and didn't know it was something I would love to do, and I wasn't sure I was ready to leave my current job. But fortunately, I agreed to go along and take the interview. If nothing else it would help me prepare, I thought, because I was planning on changing jobs sometime in the future. If I had said no then, I wouldn't even have known what I'd missed.

Next and possibly most important: an interview is a two-way process. While the prospective employer evaluates your fit to the job, you check them out and try to find out if you want to work with them and if the job really excites you. One very positive side effect of this is that you are less nervous at the interview (which is very important if you are as prone to nervousness as I am) as you have an agenda of your own. It helps if you look at the website and the job profile and compile a list of questions that you want to ask about the company and the job. Apart from helping you gain information to help your decision (of whether you really do want the job), this creates a positive impression on the interviewer: you come across as confident, interested and well-prepared. So take the interview as a conversation between two people who are interested in doing business with each other, for that's what it is.

In a similar vein, to keep up your self-confidence (of course, if you have enough already, you don't need this), try to remember that you've already created a good first impression. This is especially true for candidates with a little experience, but might also hold for fresh graduates. They wanted an interview because they've seen your résumé and liked it.

That brings me to the next thing: read your résumé. Your interviewer will - ideally - have read it. They might ask you questions related to something you've written in there. You might find it easier to pick up something from there and elaborate on it to make a point.

Also, think about what you've done in the last few years that's relevant to this job. Think about the successes you've had, and try to articulate that to yourself in a few sentences. Think about the failures you've had, the projects that didn't work out, and what you learned from them. Think about what you've done out of work - some social group you're involved in, some sport you play that promotes teamwork. Think about what you would do for them if you were given the job. I'm in marketing, so one of the things I thought about was having paid search ads on Google. If you're in HR, you could talk about how you'd like the hiring process to be, or an idea you have to improve employee morale. They might already be doing it, in which case you've demonstrated your knowledge and enthusiasm on the subject. If they aren't, you've earned yourself some bonus points.

Think about why you're the right candidate. They might ask you that straight out. (I was asked that, and I don't think I gave a very good answer - the one place in the interview where I fumbled.) Even if they don't, to demonstrate this is the whole reason for the interview.

One circumstance that made it much easier for me was that my first and most important interview was over the phone. I am much more comfortable over the phone than in person: I find it easier to concentrate on what I'm saying if I don't have to worry about whether my posture is right or how to steady my trembling hands.

By the end of the interview, the interviewer who is now my boss hinted that he liked me and said that I would have to go down to the office in town for a meeting with a couple of people there. By then I knew what the job involved, and I was very excited. So I was more nervous for the face-to-face meeting because I hadn't anticipated the earlier one - I'd treated it as an exercise rather than an interview. Sometimes it pays to not be prepared.

It wasn't just the job description that made me decide to take the job, though. When I was on the phone, I realised that I was enjoying the conversation, that I already liked the guy. I also liked the head of the India office when I met him. It's extremely important to work with, or at least report to, people that you like and respect. (I've written before about how lucky I've been in this regard.)

It's been a month at the new job, and it's been exciting and challenging so far: and excitement and challenges was exactly what I'd been pining for earlier. So I seem to have made a good decision (or been plain lucky, whichever way you look at it). And I'm hoping I won't need to look at this page any time soon.

On Love, Songs and Movies

I loved the song that goes "Yeh ishq haye..." from the movie Jab We Met the first time I heard it, and subsequent hearings have not diminished its appeal.

But it was after I watched the movie and after I listened to the lyrics carefully that I liked "Na hai yeh pana na khona hi hai". I love the way love is depicted in that song, love that he misses her but isn't pining away for her. In fact, he's inspired to work hard and be a better person: he's enriched by the experience even though she's not in his life any more. That is what I feel love should be: a strength, not a weakness.

This isn't the first time I've been struck by filmmaker Imtiaz Ali's sensitiveness in depicting love. For the Guy and me, Socha Na Tha is our movie, and it's song beginning "Mera tumhara kya rishta hai" is our song. The Guy had seen this movie after we had parted as friends, were living in different cities, and not in touch with each other. And it struck a chord with him - much later, after we were together, he would still get emotional on hearing it.

Because I love it so much, here's a lame attempt at translation:

mera tumhara kya rishta hai

kuchh bhi nahi

What's the relationship between us?

Nothing. We are strangers.

agar kabhi tum guzarta dekho

kya tum mujhe bulaogi

shayad nahi

If you see me pass on the street

Will you call out to me?

Maybe not.

agar jo phir hum

kabhi na mile to

kya tum yaad aaogi

If we never meet again

Will I think of you?


kyonki tum meri koi nahi

main janta hoon magar

ho jub meri koi nahi

kyon lagti ho mujhko parayi nahi


Because you are nothing to me.

I know this, yet

if you are nothing to me

Why don't you feel like a stranger?

jub bhi mile hum

aisa laga phir milenge nahi

Whenever we met I felt

We'll never meet again.

phir bhi najane kisi bahane

milte gaye hum tum magar kahin na kahin

Yet some or the other excuse

brought us together, again and again.

jub aaj koi nahi hain bahana

phir kyon thaher jayen kadam yahin

Today, when excuses have run out

Why do my feet linger here?

ho tum meri koi nehi

main jaanta hoon magar

ho jab meri koi nehi

kyo lagti ho mujhko parayi nehi

You are nothing to me.

I know this, yet

If you are nothing to me

Why don't you feel like a stranger?

ek ajnabi se

itni na ki thi

batein kabhi

I had never talked so long

to a stranger.

jo chaha dil ne

kehta gaya main

tum se koi bhi doori mujhe lagi na kabhi

I spoke out

whatever was in my heart

I never felt any distance between us.

paas tumhare aaya tha kitne

yeh ehsaas ho raha hai mujhe abhi

I had grown so close to you

I realise that now...

par tum meri koi nahi

shayad mujhe hai yakeen

But you are nothing to me

That I am sure of.

ho jab meri koi nehi

kyo lagti ho mujhko parayi nehi

If you are nothing to me

Why don't you feel like a stranger?

These simple lines seem to me to capture the beginning of love very well: that period when you are drawn to the other person, and what you feel for him or her doesn't seem to be adequately accounted for by friendship.

I also love the song in which he proposes to his girlfriend (who is a different person from the girl the song above is meant for).

main seedhe saadhe dhang se

kehta hoon aapni baat

I'll say what I want to

in a straightforward way

ek ghar basaane chahata hoon

main tumhare saath

I want to build

my life with you

kya doogi mere haathon mein

bolo tum aapna haath

Tell me, will you give

your hand in both of mine?

khushiyon se ghar ko sajaoonga hamesha

daftar se bhi main waqt pe aaonga hamesha

I will light up our home with happiness

I will leave office on time and come home to you

Laoonga main thode taaza phool bhi

Karoonga main puri har khushi

I will get some fresh flowers for you

And will fulfill your every wish

Maanoonga main manoonga

manoonga har ek baat

I will obey, yes I will

every word you say

kya doogi mere haathon mein

bolo tum aapna haath

Tell me, will you give

your hand in both of mine?

chanda aur sitare laoonga teri khatir

tum joh kaho main woh gaoonga teri khatir

I will get you the moon and stars

I will sing whatever you want me to

chalo yeh bhi tumse vaada hai mera

chahoonga main tumhe toot ke

jitna satao ya rulao tum

jaaonga na kahin rooth ke

Here, I promise you this too

that I will love you with all my heart

However you torment or sadden me

I will never go away

aaonga main aaonga, aaonga tere paas (This is sung loud, to warn that he is about to follow her into the ladies' room)

kya doogi mere haathon mein bolo tum aapna haath

I will come, yes I'll come to you

Tell me, will you give your hand in both of mine?

Yet even in the middle of making this romantic proposal, the young man is thinking about this other girl who may have got into trouble because of him. And eventually realises that he is after all in love with the girl who isn't his girlfriend.

But I still like that proposal song.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Some of the things that have happened over the past month:
  1. I joined a new job.
  2. We moved house.
  3. We decided on buying a flat.
  4. We visited a nearby town for an event with a not-for-profit group.
  5. We bought and planted plants.
  6. We did some serious tidying and disposed of a lot of stuff we didn't need. (Actually, there's one box of books still waiting to be given away.)
  7. We bought a chair – a very comfortable wicker one.
  8. We got the agreement for purchasing the flat registered.
  9. I got a haircut.
  10. We got our housing loan sanctioned and are working on the agreement with the bank.
Any wonder we feel tired?