Saturday, January 31, 2015

Day 31 of Feminist Joys: Prickly and Stunning

I have never been able to get flowers to bloom. The only two plants that have survived with me for more than a couple of years are a fern and a leafy plant whose name I can't remember. What with being frequently unwell, I usually ended up having my plants wilt and die.

But I have a cactus now, and I'm also healthy enough to get up and water the plants every day. The cactus stays green even if I don't water it, but when I do, it puts out these lovely bright flowers.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Day 30 of Feminist Joys: Claiming My Flaws

I love reading advice columns, though that's a post for another day. I recognized something of myself in this one, especially:

For as long as I can remember, I've been ashamed of myself... I like to write. Does anyone know? No — I'd never dream of saying. I like to take photos, like to lie in bed during the day, like to eat big lunches, like to spend time alone sometimes — all of these translate into things I should hide, or people will judge me and I will feel inferior. I've always envied people who say things like "I'm learning Spanish" — for me, that was always something to do in private, to hide.

So it's something to celebrate that I now feel secure enough to reveal my weaknesses, even small ones, to the world and mock myself for them.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day 29 of Feminist Joys: Celebrating Unmarried Couplehood

It's funny, but the only couples I know who lived together before they got married -- the women are all from Assam. Proof of our boldness perhaps, our relative freedom and relative self-confidence, our throwing off of arbitrary social rules.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day 28 of Feminist Joys: Celebrating Failure

I was a bad entrepreneur. But there was no way I could have known that if I hadn't tried.

It's a privilege to be able to take a risk like that. It was both stupid and brave. But it pushed me out of the stagnation I felt I was growing into, and in spite of many difficult moments, I am glad of having done it.

I wrote here about what it was like to shut down, to admit we failed. And here, I wrote that it's alright to call it failure. 'Failure' is a fact, not a judgement. We failed at this. It doesn't make it less important that we tried.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day 27 of Feminist Joys: The Success of the Mockingjay Movie

It's a relief when a movie I love (and I love very few movies) does well at the box office. It's a wonder when a movie about a tough young woman in a dystopic world makes a lot of money (at least in the US).

It’s an anomaly that the  No. 1-grossing film two years in a row features a female lead.
Most importantly:
In fact:
If you want to find a No. 1 movie with a woman as the clear, unambiguous lead, you’ve got to go back to 1968’s Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand as groundbreaking comedienne Fanny Brice.
The odds aren't in our favor, are they? 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why I Love Bombay Reason #34

I was talking to an old friend from Assam, and we both agreed how important it was for us to go gaze at a body of water once in a while. Growing up as we did with ponds and rivers and lakes and swamps within reach, living in arid cities makes us long for the trees and water. I am lucky now: I can go look at the sea. And even though behind me is all busy city with dense crowds and tall buildings: ahead is a vast stretch of water with nothing to block the view. Dirty water -- and sea water, not fresh -- but water nonetheless, and with it, some measure of peace and calm.

Day 26 of Feminist Joys: Same Sex Love in History

Read about the secret history of same-sex marriage (in the west).
In the 1680s, Cornelia Gerritse van Breugel disguised herself as a man in order to wed her long-time lover, Elisabeth Boleyn, in an Amsterdam church. They were only found out years later, when Cornelia tired of wearing men’s clothes... 
In the early 1730s, when both were in their late teens, Mary East and her girlfriend decided to move to London and make a life together as husband and wife. Mary put on male clothes and turned herself into “James How”. The two of them became successful publicans and pillars of their East End community. Everyone presumed they were married. Over the years, James was elected to almost every parish office: s/he served as the foreman of juries, on the night watch, as overseer of the poor. For more than three decades, they kept their secret, and lived as a married couple.
Though that makes me wonder whether James How was a trans man and not a gay woman.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Day 25 of Feminist Joys: Not "Girls' Work"

I have nothing to add.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Day 24 of Feminist Joys: Girls Who Play Sports

I've never played sports -- I don't have enough body coordination -- and I have less than no interest in watching it. But I think this girls' basketball team is awesome.

“We’d walk in, and all the boys would be like, ‘We’re playing girls?’ ” said Anne Rupnik, a point guard. “Then we’d beat them. Some of them cried.” 
We practice hard,” said Meghan Wegner, a 10-year-old guard known to her teammates as Megatron. “I think some of the boys are scared of us.” 
When Mr. Toran started coaching the Xpress two years ago, he viewed it as an opportunity to get involved with his daughter’s athletic development. At the time, he said, he was an assistant coach with a semipro men’s team and was eager to escape what he described as the “whining and complaining” of players who were resistant to coaching. 
In search of a more mature audience, he turned to a group of 9-year-old girls.
Pictures here (and I love the title).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 23 of Feminist Joys: Things Are Getting Better

It can be difficult to believe that, with so much bad news around. But I believe bad news reaches us better now, and some of it (like sexual violence) is amplified and outraged at instead of being hushed, which is a good thing.

The Slate says we've never lived in such peaceful times.

Rates of rape or sexual assault and of violence against intimate partners have been sinking for decades, and are now a quarter or less of their peaks in the past. Far too many of these horrendous crimes still take place, but we should be encouraged by the fact that a heightened concern about violence against women is not futile moralizing but has brought about measurable progress—and that continuing this concern can lead to greater progress still.

This is for the US, but the article posits that the trend should be similar in most countries. And it provides similar information for other kinds of violence, including genocide and violence against children. Go read, and let's feel relieved at the progress.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Day 22 of Feminist Joys: Working in a Feminist Organization

This is a borrowed joy.
On the other hand, many of my women colleagues who are married don't wear any signifiers of their relationship status, so I'd like to think they would react similarly. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 21 of Feminist Joys: Women Make Better Teams


Read the New York Times article, though that's the really fun bit.

Of course, I knew this already, since I am currently in an all-women team at work and it's awesome. Working with women (both within my team and outside) is great: they are usually more polite, they are rarely competitive or inappropriate (which is the same thing as being polite, but still...), and most of them are very good at their jobs. (Fine, I work with some awesome men too, but still.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Day 20 of Feminist Joys: The Toast's Women in Art History Series

If you're not already reading, you're wasting your life. I was wasting mine till a few months ago; now I regularly worship at the altar of Mallory and Nicole and all the other gods.

And if going through the posts in their 'Women in Art History' series isn't a joy, I don't know what is.

Hard to say which is the most precious gem of all these precious gems, but Women Rejecting Marriage Proposals might just be it.
no im totally listening 
this is my listening guitar 
im playing my listening song
Women Listening to Men Play Music is also excellent.
 Mummy there’s men at the door that want to play music at us 
you might as well let them in, darling 
it’s time you learned that when men want to play music at you 
there’s simply no stopping them 
and the sooner you get it over with the sooner they leave 
Also also, Women Having a Terrible Time at Parties.

Also also also, Women Listening to Men.

Read all of them, that's what I'm saying.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Day 19 of Feminist Joys: Sharing Stories of Mental Illness

Depression of course, is as near the opposite of joy as you can get. But it is heartening to see a woman in India, even if she is a privileged celebrity, share her story of depression. Thank you, Ms Padukone, and I hope you continue to use your platform well.

I suspect I have had depression several times in my life; most notably, for a year or more after my dad died, and recently, after Markitty failed and we moved to Mumbai to make a clean start. I didn't know that it was depression, and I never got diagnosed or treated. I wonder how many others face this, or something similar, and don't realize that help might be available.

The only reason I know anything at all about depression and other forms of mental illness is because of my obsessive reading of advice columns and blogs. There isn't nearly enough conversation about this, either in our lives, or in mainstream media. And the portrayal of such illness in mainstream media is often distorted; it is presented as something scary to others, rather than to the person who has the illness.

So it's a relief, if not a joy, to come across sympathetic, realistic portrayals of such matters. Some such mental places I have found recently include Tamara Pierce's Will of the Empress, which I just read today; Jerry Pinto's amazing Em and the Big Hoom, Gloria Steinem's Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, which I am also reading and has a moving account of her mentally ill mother. And there's this, on the Ladies Finger (which you should be checking out if you haven't already).

Anything else that you've found that I should read/watch? Or have a story of yours to share? Would love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Day 18 of #FeministJoys: Five Words to Ruin a Date

I really enjoyed some of these.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Day 17 of Feminist Joys: Agreeing with Compliments

This is both fun and brave: a young woman tried a social experiment where she agrees when boys compliment her. Shockingly (not really), they don't seem to like it:

Another young woman liked the experiment and tried it out herself, with similar results.
"Many responses state how 'vain' and 'conceited' I was for agreeing with their compliment which I found baffling," Bateman said. "Why give me the compliment in the first place if you didn't want me to believe it? I feel that some boys believe that women should base their self worth off of the compliment that they feed to them, and as soon as a woman realizes that she's awesome without their help they get incredibly angry."
As someone who grew up thinking that you should never praise yourself, and who usually reacted to compliments on my appearance with an incredulous look before she realized how rude that was... it's heartening to see how strong, how confident these women are. 

I've got much better at accepting compliments, though they still embarrass me. I want to try this: to say, "thanks, yes, I am". To own my awesomeness. Let's try it this year, shall we?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Day 16 of Feminist Joys: When Is a Tiara Feminist?

Tiaras are girly, feminine, a weird affectation of girls who want to be spoiled princesses rather than do something worthwhile.


This photo got a lot of attention last month, but it still makes me smile so I'm cheating and using it anyway. Everyone in the picture looks adorable, even the guy in the middle.

I also, also loved the stunt Obama pulled at his last press conference of 2014. Such a wonderful show of support. Way to be a feminist ally, dude.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Day 15 of Feminist Joys: The Slaves Who Found Freedom

I inadvertently wrote over an entire blog post I had written, so I was looking for something to post today and stumbled upon this incredible story. Ellen Craft pretended to be a rich white man while her husband pretended to be her slave, so that they could both flee slavery. I'm in awe of their bravery and love.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day 14 of Feminist Joys: Making Friends with Women at Work

Last night I went out with a woman colleague who is visiting town. We had a lazy dinner conversation and went for a walk on Marine Drive. We talked about work and personal lives and books and the wonder of Marine Drive (and I felt annoyed at myself for not having been there recently, but that’s a different story).

I work with more women than men I think, and while (most of) the men are nice and friendly I would find it much more difficult to build such a relationship with them. To feel comfortable and safe telling them how I really think about work. To show my vulnerabilities and discuss things I find difficult. 

And I’ve found that women are usually more polite and easier to make friends with; they reach out and make friends with you so even an introvert like me gets drawn in.

Thank you, all you women who have been kind and friendly and warm: I have needed it in the last year, after being beaten and cowed down by failure, after feeling like I’ve left all my friends behind and don’t know how to make more. Thank you for giving me something I sorely needed, without knowing I needed it. I work in a big, big company, and I thought it would be impersonal and bureaucratic and conservative… I hadn’t imagined I would find something so like family.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Day 13 of Feminist Joys: Reading Women Authors

With little comment and in no particular order, here are some women authors I have read in the last year. (I’ve only included the books I completed — I also started a few I haven’t so far been able to finish.) Many, even most of these are murder mysteries, and I also read a bunch of fantasy and romance. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Day 12 of Feminist Joys: Reading Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic Books

I’m reading Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens books, after seeing them recommended several times as feminist fantasy. And there are so many things to love about them.

The protagonists are four children, each of them have had difficult childhoods before they are brought together and tutored in the magic each possesses. Briar is the only boy, and he was a street urchin and thief. Sandry is a noble, Tris is from a merchant family, Daja is a trader (lower class than the others, and an outcast even among traders). All of them are orphans or have been abandoned by their families. Dana is black and Briar, I think, is brown. So you can see, the books score high on diversity.

But there’s more to it than that. Briar often makes sexist comments (on the lines of girls can’t stop talking for example), and the book mocks him for it. Tris is fat, and it’s explicit that those who mock her size or tell her to lose weight are wrong. She also wears spectacles, and is careless of her appearance, and is not criticized for it (although Sandry does get the creases out of her dress).

The book’s world has, for lack of a better shorthand ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ schools of magic. In our heroes’ city and even in their cottage, the kind of magic that’s practised is based on intuition and introspection rather than formal study, and is centered on everyday objects and concerns: plants, weather, metal, and thread and cloth. In the only university of magic mentioned so far, the learning is more standardized, on the lines of a regular university.

Classism is also called out explicitly. Through Briar’s eyes we see what it is to be poor and desperate; and when the plague hits in book 4, it hits the poorest first, those who make their homes in the city’s underground sewers. 

I found it very comforting that after the kids reach their new home, they are truly safe. They have all escaped abusive environments; but unlike, say, the Harry Potter books, their new guardians and mentors treat them kindly and with affection. The adult everyone seems afraid of, Rosethorn, is just  introverted and prickly, not cruel. The grand mage Niko, who has all the trappings of class and power, lets his student answer him rudely when he apologizes for neglecting her (because of a disaster that he has to try and protect the city against), and merely apologizes again. The children are rarely punished, rarely even spoken harshly too, and they thrive in this new environment.

I found book 4 difficult to read, because disease seems somehow nearer to home than earthquake or storm. But it was also the most interesting, perhaps for having more of a plot. The others meander around a bit as books about boarding schools tended to do, focusing mainly on the children’s friendships and learning, and throwing in a climactic disaster that needs to be countered or recovered from. But since the characters are interesting, I didn’t mind this much. 

But one of my favorite bits is in the first book, when the kids get into a street fight.

I won’t tell you more — read these. And if you have, let me know what you thought of them.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day 11 of Feminist Joys: Women Friends

For a few years, I had barely any strong friendships with women. I had boyfriends and men friends who I opened my heart to. But with the circumstances I was in, and my naturally unfriendly nature, I hadn’t any women to rely on. And somehow when you’ve found a woman you can trust, the friendship can be safe in a way it rarely is with men.

(Rarely. I have at least one man friend, apart from the Guy, of course, who is almost necessary to my happiness.)

But in the last few years, and partly if not wholly due to blogging and Facebook and Twitter, I have women friends again. I don’t have a circle, but I don’t think that’s ever been my scene. I have different friends scattered in different cities, whom I can catch up with once in a while and feel like I’ve got something back. I have a few friends I can call up and talk to when I have nothing much to say.

And — my privilege is showing, again — I am fortunate enough to be able to meet these friends once in a while, even if they don't live in my city. 

Right now, I need to shut down the computer and go to visit a friend from college, whom I haven’t met since (12 years!) We were never best friends, but we were friends, and I liked her (which doesn’t seem to have been terribly common for me in those years unfortunately — I was very much in the Groucho Marx club of friendship), and I am really looking forward to spending the day with her.

Have a lovely Sunday, you all.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day 10 of Feminist Joys: Babies in Gender-Neutral Clothes

Recently I met a guy who used to be a close friend, though we’ve drifted apart a bit in the last few years (though we sat and talked for half a day and only parted because we had to — I had a flight to catch — with some old friends, you can pick up the threads again). He is a new father, and talked of his little daughter with affection and amazement. He informed me proudly that they are dressing her in gender neutral clothes.

“We didn’t know she was going to be a girl, so we had both kinds of clothes. Why waste them.”

I know it’s easier to dress a girl in ‘boys clothes’ than it is to do it the other way around. But after seeing new, apparently liberal fathers refuse unmacho names and accessories for their boys, this made me happy.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Day 9 of Feminist Joys: Cartoons

Some days you can't think of anything good, so you take refuge in art or humor -- or both.

Check out these cartoons (and all the others on this website -- they're all so good they're not funny.) (Click on the image to get to the rest of the cartoon.)

And this one.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Day 8 of Feminist Joys: Talking about Periods

My parents were less religious than most of my friends'. The Assamese have this absurd ritual when a girl gets her first period (and she's said to have "grown up"). My dad refused to have any form of that for his daughters.

On one hand, this celebration that a girl (barely a teenager) is now capable of theoretically bearing children. On the other hand, an unnamed taboo on ever directly speaking of periods where a man or boy might hear. On the one hand, segregation of women who are menstruating because they are "unclean". On the other hand, this pretense that menstruation isn't uncomfortable and even excruciatingly painful for many of us. (Remember the "happy period" ad?)

So it's a victory when we can talk about periods openly, when I inadvertently leave my bag open with napkins visible in it and merely shrug at the thought that men near me may have seen it.

I may not have a happy period, but I don't need to have a hidden one.

Some interesting links:

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Day 7 of Feminist Joys: Selfies

I used to be pretty.

Now I’m fat.

I’m well aware of the insidious effect of conventional beauty standards, and I try not to be influenced by them. I don’t think appearances are particularly important. I find dress codes and all such arbitrary rules around clothing and appearances an imposition into privacy. 

But it doesn’t mean I don’t wish I look like I used to ten years ago. 

Much of this admittedly is because of how people who knew me earlier — especially relatives, who seem to think being related relieves them of the need for politeness, or perhaps they never learnt any — react when they see me now. Some of it is because I still feel a disconnect with my new body (not so new anymore).

Often though, I’m glad I’m fat and ugly. (I don’t think fat and pretty are mutually exclusive, not at all—but it feels that way for me sometimes.) I’m treated like a person: men rarely flirt and only rarely eye or grope. I faced much, much more of that when I was younger (admittedly, I was in different cities then but I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes). 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Day 5 of Feminist Joys: Food and Friends

I wrote in yesterday’s post about my diet issues. For a long time after I discovered it, I used to feel embarrassed talking about it. And food is so fundamental to most social interactions that it often came up. I’ve even just taken a bit of food that I knew would be bad for me, just to avoid mentioning the issue. 

But it’s been a couple of years now, and I’m getting used to it. And I’m encouraged by the number of people who have been kind and accommodating. My friends have been amazing: remembering what I can’t or can’t eat and making sure I can eat what they are offering, and cooking around my preferences, and Chicu even made me a special birthday cake when we visited her and the Mian (think of a regular cake recipe that doesn’t involve gluten or dairy… it’s not easy). 

What’s more, colleagues and new friends at work — whom I naturally feel less of a claim over — have also been extremely sweet. My boss remembers what I eat and makes it a point to let me know when she brings in home-cooked food that I can eat. When we go to a restaurant together, she makes sure I find something safe, and encourages me to ask the waiter about the ingredients of a dish. Other colleagues who I meet rarely yet remember and ask if the restaurant we’ve agreed on for lunch will have enough options for me. 

One especially kind friend brings me back Lindt extra dark chocolate from Paris, because he remembers I can’t eat the regular chocolate he gets for everyone else. Another offers me chakli, and I ask if it has maida. He says no but walks back to his desk, calls his wife, who made it, and comes back to me to confirm it's safe for me to eat.

On my birthday, my team can’t manage to find a gluten-free, dairy-free cake to order for me, so they get an Indian sweet instead that fulfils the criteria, and I cut that like a cake. 

For someone who’s always been shy about speaking up for my comfort, of making waves, of standing out… all of this encouragement and warmth is particularly sweet.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Day 4 of Feminist Joys: Having a Caring Partner

For a few years, I used to be ill very often. I was never very ill - never enough to be hospitalised — but I would get what seemed like the flu, what doctors diagnosed as the flu or a throat infection or a stomach infection, more and more often. Towards the end it was once a month, so I was practically always ill, on the verge of being ill, or recovering from my last bout. Not a pleasant life, and I know how lucky I was to have a somewhat normal life in spite of it and even hold down a job since my boss was incredibly accommodating and allowed me a great deal of flexibility — I couldn’t have had my current job then. 

But I finally figured out what the problem was — I’m sensitive to both gluten and lactose, and not being aware of this, had never tried to avoid these foods. Since I cut these out of my diet, my health’s dramatically improved.

I don’t know what I would have done during this time without the Guy. He was my caregiver when I was unwell — taking care of me with patience and love. He rarely showed any resentment (I can’t say ‘never’ because he is, after all, human). 

I am better now, but he remains kind and loving, and indulges me when I am not feeling well. This ‘not feeling well’ can encompass something as trivial as getting my period and (very) mild cramps and feeling like staying in bed all day, as I did today. Between intervals of lying by me and reading or setting up a movie for us to watch, he asked me what I wanted to eat and cooked for us — breakfast and lunch and dinner. 

I am incredibly lucky.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Day 3 of Feminist Joys: Making New Feminist Friends

I was in another city for some meetings, and my colleagues had just treated me to lunch at a wonderful restaurant by the sea. We walked down to the beach, talking, somehow, of 'Gone Girl'. After warning her of spoilers, I explained a bit of the plot and how much I’d liked the first half, but it got “really weird” after that. I mentioned how the titular ‘girl’ (actually, a woman who’s over 30) is portrayed. 

“But aren’t you a feminist?” she said.

We had never talked of feminism. She’s an older woman who has always treated me in a somewhat maternal fashion, and I appreciate our tentative work-fueled friendship. But she assumed I was feminist, or should be. I felt a surge of happiness, of contentment. This is how it should be.

“I am,” I said simply. “That’s why I didn’t like the book.”

Friday, January 02, 2015

My Year of Feminist Joys: Day 2

We go out for a romantic dinner. I order a glass of Italian wine after hesitating over it, feeling guilty, and finally going for it. I have never ordered foreign wine before (except when I was in New York and followed my boss' lead in ordering wine). The food is delicious, the service is excellent, and I even like the wine, though I barely finish my glass even with the Guy's help -- I'm not much used to wine. The bill comes and we feel a little guilty at how high it is. But it's the New Year, and we're both earning more than we ever had, and we're finally happy again, and these are some things we are celebrating.

We take a taxi, but get off a little before we reach our building. After much deliberation, we finally order vada pav at a street stall. The vendors are galvanized into action at our order of 20 vada pav. We clutch the bags and walk towards our building. There are homeless people on our street. The temperature doesn't drop much in Bombay even in winter, but the wind can set you shivering. We have stop at the first little family and drop off a vada pav. Even before we walk on, people's faces light up and they call to us. Our meagre stock of food is over too soon. A few children are boisterous and demanding: the adults are more dignified, but a few of them thank us with shy smiles. I smoothen and fold the now-empty bags and we walk on. I remember that woman's smile.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

My Year’s Worth of Feminist Joys: Day 1

It’s so easy to find bad news. As a woman and a feminist, I keep avoiding the news because most news seems to be bad. And then I read blogs and Facebook posts and find more instances of misogyny and other bigotry. 

But I also acknowledge I have a great life. Yes, I’m very privileged, privileged enough to be able to ignore so much of this. But I have often wished that I could find some good news, some positivity, some hope that the world is a better place than I fear it is.

So I’m making a start, right here. For the next year, I want to blog every day, and post something that’s good. Most of it will be about my own life — about people in my life, about something that I’m proud of, even about something I’ve read that I like — so yeah, it will be all about me. It’s a way to remind myself of so much that’s good, to motivate me… and maybe it will help you feel better too. And I would love it if you would share your stories. 

Today: it's the start of a new year, and I am happy. I have a good job, I love the city I live in, I live with a man I love and who loves me... I am content, and I am incredibly lucky and privileged. And I can blog. I can sit in the comfort of my home and tell you about this, my new blog project, and if I'm lucky you'll read. I can do this. I've been blogging for nearly nine years and it still feels so wonderful, that soon, or in a few days, or in a few years, a friend or a stranger may read this.