Category Archives: mommyrage

It Took More Than Two Years For Uber To Fire The Top Executive Who Secured Rape Victim’s Medical Records

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It’s all over the news – Uber has fired Eric Alexander for illegally securing medical records of a woman who had alleged rape by an Uber driver n December 2014. She was raped by, Shiv Kumar Yadav, an Uber driver in Delhi when she was on her way home after a party at night. Yadav, it was later found out, was a serial offender (women in his village knew this well and kept away from him – clearly Uber had not done its homework). After the incident, Alexander, then head of Uber’s Asia Pacific business, along with some other senior executives, had refused to believe the woman’s story and had obtained her medical records to prove that she was part of a conspiracy against Uber.

The story is all too familiar – woman cries rape, man says conspiracy. End of matter. It’s what we see everywhere – either there’s complete apathy to issues of women’s safety, or there’s extreme doubt (somewhere in between there are token actions amid cries of anger and candle light vigils).

Turns out that Alexander had shared the medical records with CEO, Travis Kalanick as well as with Emil Michael, another senior leader. They had come to the unanimous conclusion that Ola, Uber’s nemesis in India, had conspired to bring them down. End of story.

Not quite. It’s come back to bite them, and man am I glad. A law firm in now looking into the matter – as part of a larger, and unrelated to this incident – investigation. In fact, there are lots of other skeletons tumbling out – there’ve been multiple (more than multiple actually) incidents of misbehaviour within Uber and investigations are on. According to online magazine Racode, there have been 215 total incident reports, including sexual harassment, bullying, bias and retaliation.

215 incident reports? And now they wake up? Being made to wake up is more like it – the lawyers are now on them, so there’s little choice in the matter.

Coming back to the Delhi rape, the investigation report says that “Alexander carried around the document for about a year before other executives — presumably the legal department — obtained the report and destroyed his copy, according to the sources.” Wow.

From Donald Trump and Uber to Mahesh Murthy and Mulayam Singh – the thread seems to be similar (I know, quite a motley collection this group would make – and I can think of so many more) – malign the woman, because she is obviously the villain here.

Uber must pay for this big time – and why only the executives who were part of it? Sure, they’ve fired the employees (more than two years later)– but does that absolve the top management of their misconduct? What about Travis Kalanick and Emil Michael? Why must they duck the charges? If they are found to be complicit in this, they too must pay for it. This is a serious offense – to get medical records of a woman who has been raped and then destroy them. This must be a lesson for those who believe that rape is a figment of a woman’s imagination.

 

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Feminism Lite Is A Dangerous Thing

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If you don’t know who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, that’s ok. But, you really should.

To give the Wikipedia definition – she’s a Nigerian novelist, nonfiction writer and short story writer. But that’s not why I am writing about her. And that does not even begin to tell you who she is. I’ll let you Google her and find out more (there’s a lot).

Why am I bringing her up? Because she is a feminist, and I love her for it. I’ve always thought she’s the real thing – as in, a real feminist (which does not mean she wants to biff any man she sees on the head – it simply means she wants equality).

I read something she said recently and it made a lot of sense – and also tied in with what I’ve been saying for a long time. Here’s what she said – “Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.”

I couldn’t agree more. But there’s more – which I completely, wholeheartedly agree with. She adds that – “Feminism Lite uses analogies like “He is the head and you are the neck.” Or, “He is driving but you are in the front seat.” More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to “treat women well.”

I have heard this from so many of my female friends – even the so-called liberated ones. Male superiority is so deeply ingrained in our systems that we do not even realize it. I’ll give you an example – it’s a line I’ve heard so many of my friends use when they speak of their husbands. Things like, “he’s a really good father, he spends so much time with the kids, he’s really hands-on”. They say this beaming with pride and, in some cases, feeling blessed for having a man who spends time with his own kids. My question is – he’s the father, so what’s to be impressed by here? Do we, for instance, ever say this of the mother? – that she spends so much time with the kids, hence she’s awesome. So, why the accolade for the man?

Here’s why. Because “most-men” don’t do this, so the ones who do, deserve mention.  And that’s really the unfortunate part. It should really be the reverse. It goes to show who very far we are from an equal world.

Chimamanda goes on to say that – ‘feminism Lite uses the language of “allowing.”’. She e hits the nail on the head when she say that. It’s a word one hears a lot – “he allows her to work”. Inherent in that sentence is that the fact that the male has the power and he uses it the way he wants. So, remarks like – “he’s a good father”, or “he’s let her work”, or “he takes care of the house, so she’s really lucky”..the list goes on.

Men and women are equal partners – they shoulder responsibilities equally. That’s the truth – or rather, that’s the real truth, but it’s been stifled and gagged in a world run by men. Read how a British newspaper described Theresa May, the British Prime Minister’s husband: “Phillip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine.”

I rest my case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Appalling Attitude Towards Male and Female Birth Control

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So let me see if I understand this right. A male contraceptive trial was conducted on some 350 men as part of a study that would’ve paved the way (could’ve, would’ve who knows?) for men to share the responsibility for birth control. And even though the results looked promising – the combination of hormones was found to be nearly 96% effective – the study was brought to a screeching halt. Hmm. What on earth am I missing?

Turns out, not much. Except, of course, that this is men we’re talking about.

There were side effects – particularly depression and other mood disorders – in some men. That can be hard, sure, but was that rare or reported in too many men? Not to both.

So now let’s see what the side effects of the pill, or other forms of birth control which women have been taking for years, are. Let’s see..headaches, nausea, weight gain, menstrual cramps, yeast infections, acne, mood swings, vaginal-tissue irritation, vomiting, migraines and decreased libido, to name a few. And oh – ovarian cysts, depression and heavy menstrual bleeding.

And women have been going through this for years. A bit of history. In the 1950s a trial was carried out for the female hormonal contraceptive (the predecessor of the one used today) in Puerto Rico The doctor in charge of the trial recommended against its use. But, guess what? a U.S. pharmaceutical company released the same formulation anyway.

Wait there’s more.

As this article tells us – the same group of doctors that studied the female pill also considered one for men, but decided against it. Why? Because of the supposed side effects (testicle shrinkage being one) . Also, they believed women would be able to take the side effects better than men!

Not much seems to have changed in the past sixty odd years. The male contraceptive study has, once again, been abandoned as women, the uhm, weaker-sex, are stronger to tolerate the side effects.

And now, after years of women complaining, a recent Danish study found a correlation between the use of hormonal birth control and being diagnosed with clinical depression. Not that this is news to women.

So, to state the obvious here, it’s unfortunate, yet again to know what an unequal world it still is –  men must have an equal responsibility towards birth control, but they don’t. Far, far from it.

And the one chance we had of getting there just got snuffed out.

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Why I Will Never Call Myself Fat Again

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Ok, this is an unusual admission from me – I am not fat. Not saying I am not thin, but am not fat either, whatever the definition of thin or fat is.

Which brings me to this question: what is the definition of fat, or thin? And who defines it? And why do we accept it?

The truth, unsurprisingly, is based on our perception about the issue. What I may think of as thin, may not be so for someone else (my children’s friend’s bordering-on-anorexic mothers probably think I am fat. I differ. Conversely, my mom thinks I am thin. Again, I differ). It’s all relative.

Today, somehow, being thin means being skinny, or somewhere near it. The whole definition of beauty has changed completely. And women, more than men, are trying to live by some warped standards of beauty, and are putting themselves through torture to conform to it. Innumerable studies and life experiences of people have repeatedly shown that physical qualities in people do only so much to make them happy and contended – one because they are fleeting and two, because they don’t add meaning to people’s lives. That may be a philosophical outlook that you may or may not agree with, but it does not take away from one simple fact – that our obsession with looking good and the methods of achieving it are unhealthy. And this must stop – because what we’re doing, and by we I mean women like myself who have unknowingly fallen into the trap and perpetuated the idea, is passing it on to the next generation. Most of us (like yours truly) may not mean to, but we are. Every time I look in the mirror and exclaim that I have gained weight, I am (albeit inadvertently), passing on my idea of beauty to my children. I may tell them otherwise, but children look at actions and take away from that. They are watching us at all times and learning from our behaviour. What we do or say seeps into their sub-conscience and feeds their ideas about life and society – in this case about defines being thin; it tells them what they must be like to be accepted as attractive.

Children are sponges – so if you, even in jest, say that you are fat, they will process this very differently than you may have intended.

Let me now confess that I have been guilty of this. I have often made a correlation between my weight with feeling good and not, as I should have, being fit and feeling good – because that’s what it should be about. I want to be healthy, and not being fat, in the medical sense, is part of it. But that’s not what I conveyed in my actions and words. I am a runner and I do believe that it makes me fitter. Yet, I have somehow done a bad marketing job of making those feelings known and amplified the ones that I don’t really believe in – which is about wanting to be thinner than I am.

For instance, when my sister and I joke about “going on a crash diet”, we lead our children to believe that depriving yourself of food is justified and even required if one needs to be acceptably thin (and thus physically attractive). The fact that neither of us never act on our words may not be enough to quell the ideas we had engraved in our children’s impressionable minds.

Why this sudden awakening you may ask? Because my older daughter (now ten) said to me the other day that she feared being fat when she grew up. It was one of those passing things that kids say, which they forget about the next moment and move on. But, her words stopped me in my tracks. I realized what I had done. I knew she didn’t fear it, like she fears the dark, or earthquakes. Yet, just the fact that she, at ten-years-old, had thought about gaining weight when she grew older, was enough to set me on a path of correcting the wrong I had done.

Parenting, I have learned, is not about the ability to always do the right thing, or about berating yourself for doing the wrong. It’s about realizing and admitting when you’ve made mistakes, and setting them right. That’s exactly what I plan to do now. And it can’t be done by siting my daughter down and giving her philosophical monologues on the idea of beauty. That’s taking the easy way out and frankly, it never works. She’s growing up in a world surrounded by image-obsessed people, who, along with some ill-timed remarks by her mother about her own weight, have influenced her little mind. What she needs is to see the right ideas in action. She needs to see her mother run and then talk about being fit, she needs to see her mother dress for a party and not ask if she’s looking fat, she needs to see her mother feel good about herself about the way she looks and not rue about her lost youth when she was thin.

My new-found resolve, however, does not mean that I shall now proceed to wander around with unkempt hair and live in sweatpants, because that would really prove I don’t care about how I look and thus send the right message to my kids. It won’t, they’ll just think I am sloppy. No, it means that I stop saying things I don’t mean and, through my actions, I prove that being healthy is what matters.

And the effects of this will be two fold – one, of course, I will teach my daughters the right thing about their body-image and two, I will feel good about myself, which I have not been doing lately. I run to be healthy and because I enjoy it, not to be thin – whatever that means today.

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What Changed When I Started Working

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For one thing, going for gatherings became easier. I had a ready answer to, “so what do you do?”. Yes, I know I being at home with the kids is “commendable” and one of the “toughest jobs in the world”, and that I should never have felt bashful about being, well, just a mom. Except, that I was – bashful, as well as just a mom. I hated the question, no matter how innocuously it was asked. And I never felt fulfilled (whatever that means) doing a seemingly noble job that was supposed to satisfy my motherly instincts. I was happy, yes, spending time with my kids, but always felt a sense of restlessness that took away from the contentment that motherhood is said to bring.

But, that was then. Now things have changed. And not. I still hold the portfolio of the home and cabinet minister combined. I won that uncontested, of course, and my having returned to work did not mean that the posts had fallen vacant. All it meant was that I had, willingly, taken on more responsibility. The previous ones still stood (and shall continue to do so as long as I live). That was the truth.

Why? Because I am the mom, and that’s the way it is. Mommies fix things, as everyone else pretends that they can’t. That, and also because I earn so little that it has no bearing on the husband’s life. He still has to bring home the bacon – so his life has not changed, while mine has turned on its head. And that’s why yours truly still does the stay-at-home-mommy things – ferrying the kids to classes, remembering the vaccinations, getting berated by the doctors when she forgets, rushing home to tend to a sick child, getting the house cleaned, things fixed, dry-cleaned, darned, repaired, cooked – you name it. And of course, added to this is the unenviable task of making a dash to the stationary shop on a Sunday evening, when mommy is most kindly informed about a project due on Monday morning. Yes, that is fun and brings me to the conclusion that real estate prices should not be driven  by hospitals or schools in the vicinity, but by the number of stationary shops near the house – try getting into one on a Sunday evening. I can tell you, from experience, that entry into sold-out Broadway shows are easier, as opposed to getting into a shop to buy Blu Tack. Try elbowing out harassed moms being trailed by sulking kids. I do it with more regularity than I comb my hair.

My bag, much like the rest of my life, is also bearing the brunt of the additional responsibility. Because it’s still a mommy bag (I am just not the sort to change bags, and when I have tried to be the sort, I have ended up returning home to pick up my wallet I forgot in the old one). So I carry one bag that lets me switch from the calm, working-mom at the office to the, never-know-what-you’ll-need mommy once I am back home. Which means that in office, when I reach for a pen, my hand returns smeared with ink from a leaking felt pen or a half-eaten melted chocolate (which I had refused to mop up and shoved into my bag a month ago). Or both. I also find broken crayons, smiley stickers, biscuit crumbs, spoons, flattened candies, paracetamol syrup, headache medicines, tampons, tissues and often, an expired credit note I had declared lost. Underneath all this is where I usually find the notepad on which I scribble notes while my boss rambles on about strategies we ought to be impressing our clients with.

So I would say that working has not changed so much as it has added things in my life. And on that note, of adding, guess what else has been added on me? Yup, the weight. I haven’t been able to run that much in the past year and bulges have started to appear, much to my consternation.

But, having said all of that, I will take the working mom, any day, over the stay at home one. No question about it. Sure, I am tired and my plate is spilling over, but I will not trade places with my old self at all. I love the fact that I leave the house and get into my own space, even if that space belongs to my boss and even though it’s not exactly the corner office (to put it mildly). But, just being out of the house and leaving the chaos behind me is liberating. Of course, the chaos tends to follow me – with the maid, the kids and the mother in law calling to ask inane questions. But still, I am physically away and don’t have to deal with it all the time.

“I was in a meeting” is a wonderful phrase I have re-discovered and use it quite liberally.

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A Mother – In Life & In Death

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A neighbor of mine recently killed herself. She was around forty, has two kids and was separated from her husband. I knew her a little. She wasn’t a friend, but was more than an acquaintance (there really should be a word for that). I used to wave to her every morning, as she brisk- walked around the colony and I zipped past her with my kids in the car, in a mad dash to make it to the bus stop on time – pretty much a daily morning routine for us both.

And now she’s gone. She decided to exercise the exit option, something that has been topic of hot debate in our otherwise sleepy little colony. Unsurprisingly, she’s being judged by all and sundry, irrespective of their closeness to her. A suicide evokes everyone’s opinion, especially if the person in question was a mother. So the leitmotif, so to speak, that binds everyone’s judgements is that she had no business killing herself because she was a mother. Why she did it, or the fact that she was depressed to the point of suicide is not something anyone wants to deal with – she had kids, so she owed a responsibility to them. That’s that.

Sure, I agree that parents ought to be there for their kids. I’ll get to that shortly. But, before that there is a larger point I want to make, which is about the woman herself, about her own desires, her needs and her wishes. We expect mothers to be superhuman, to never tire, to indefatigably battle all emotions, all odds, all the time, irrespective of their nature and intensity. That’s the mother we put on a pedestal, and there she must remain – any sign of her stepping down and we start to lament, to question the sanity of her mind, to wonder how she sleeps at night (she probably just passes out) .

The truth is that when this incident happened, everyone in the society was only interested in knowing the gory details, in assembling in corners and talking in hushed tones, and then announcing their unsolicited opinion. It’s what we like to do – to judge, to take a stand, to climb onto our self-made pulpits and announce our verdicts, which we see as extremely logical and reasonable. We don’t like to answer uncomfortable questions or face the truth. No one really understood why a mother would kill herself. We judge a woman in life and in death. She is not free to even die on her own terms. I feel terrible for her kids, but, somehow, I don’t question her decision. What I do wish was that she had not reached that point, one where life looks too dismal and bleak, when the thought of waking up and taking on another day seems like an insurmountable burden, when the walls close in on you and you just want to end the trauma that is life. That’s what depression does to people. Yet, it was hard for people to understand that she simply ran out of steam. She had kids, is all they chanted, in unison, almost like they’d rehearsed it.  I didn’t bother to try and make them see her point – because they seemed to lack the bandwidth.

Also, there is another aspect to this. As Indians, we don’t really accept depression as an illness that needs addressing, let alone medication (exceptions aside). We believe we don’t need shrinks because that’s really for the “westerners”, who don’t have families to fall back upon. “Our Indian families are structured to provide emotional support to each other” – said my aunt once, whose son was diagnosed with depression. For years, she waved it off that finding as nonsense, till she was forced to accept when his condition got worse. I am not so sure I buy into the whole Indian-family thing. I mean, sure, we’re close/er to our parents than some other parts of the world are (though by saying this, we are implying that our definition of closeness is the accurate one- it could mean different things to different people, but that’s another post). However, even if we believe that Indian families are closer knit than the western ones, it does not mean we don’t feel depressed or that we always share everything with each other. I would actually argue that the average Indian woman is a lonely one – she toils at home and sometimes at work too – all day. She is never really asked how she is feeling, or what she is going through (a few cutesy television ads aside, this is the grim reality for the average Indian woman). She lives among constant, unending and enervating chaos –  the husband, the kids, the assorted in-laws, the house issues – she handles all of it, and she does it at her own cost.

The term lonely housewife applies to the Indian woman as much as it applies to any woman from around the world. A housewife is surrounded by people, and yet she is lonely. Often, her only real friends are other women like her, who she befriends here and there – in her colony, at the market, at parks, as she tends to the needs of her home and kids – and they develop a strange connection, an enduring I-hear-ya-sister kind of bond.

Anyway, to come to my neighbour and her kids. I believe that wanting kids is a selfish need and once we give in to that need, it becomes our duty to be responsible for them. But life’s not that simple. Parenting is hard and nothing prepares you for it. Not the child’s mistake I know, but if there’s one thing I have learned about being a mother is that parents are humans but we don’t expect them to be. My neighbour was a human who just gave up. Call it cowardice, selfishness, what you may, but she could not go on. No one saw the warning signs, because, as another tactless neighbour remarked, “why would she want to die? She had kids, but maybe she was insane”. Well, she was not insane, nowhere near it, but she was alone and that can be hard. If only someone had stepped in and helped her, that was probably all she needed. Her kids now face a life without a mother, but it did’t have to be this way.

I am, once again, reminded of a quote from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. She was writing about American suburban moms in the thirties, but what she said applies to women around the world, even today.

“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”

I have often been afraid to ask myself that very same question. The answer can sometimes lead you down the wrong path..

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Homework and the Monster Mommy

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Homework is usually my domain, though the husband does chip in a fair amount too. However, every once in a while it does lead to a you-do-this situation.

Like one Saturday, a few weeks ago, there was some Hindi homework that my ten-year-old daughter needed to get done. Now I am quite aware of the fact that homework is for the child to do and all that, but the truth is that when it’s Sunday night and the blank sheet stares you in the face as your lachrymose daughter informs you, amid bursts of tears, that the work most definitely needs to be given in the next day, somehow the bigger picture that she-must-learn-to-be-more-responsible blurs and all you want to do is fight the fire at hand.  Having been in a few of these situations, I try and not let homework linger on till Sunday evening – the afternoon being the absolute cut-off.

This particular Saturday presented a somewhat tedious Hindi homework and since I was busy with the younger twins’ respective work-sheets, I asked my husband to help the older one’s work. Or, to tell the truth, after an aborted attempt at starting the homework with her and my husband wondering aloud about why mother and daughter were fighting again, there was a slight change in plan on who would tackle this behemoth.  Little did he realize that his question would land him the unenviable job of supervising the Hindi homework. After a few exchanges between us about the merits of patience and of letting her figure it out, I handed him the sheet and said “all yours”. He looked at me helplessly at first and then, in a show of bravado, said that he would “make her do it without a problem”. I smiled and left the room with the alacrity of a cat that had licked the cream. I knew just where this was heading.

I returned twenty minutes later to find my daughter staring out of the window and my husband reading something about start-up ventures on the web. It seemed to be a serene and happy kind of coexistence. There was such calmness in the air that I, for a moment, contemplated leaving them in this idyllic state and returning to the twins’ homework. That noble thought, needless to say, passed quite quickly, and the peace was soon shattered. Father and daughter, lost in their own worlds, didn’t quite realize that monster mommy had made her dreaded entry, so I had to announce it myself. When I asked for a progress report, my husband jumped out of his chair and said “she’s almost done”. I looked at my daughter’s desk and saw the worksheet, clean as a slate. She looked at me with her large, eloquent eyes and said “I am thinking mama”. My husband sensed my mood, looked at my daughter in suppressed panic and asked her what happened to the useful inputs he’d given her. She looked most alarmed and said “dad, you didn’t tell me to write anything!” Ah! this was just the Claire-in-Modern-family-moment that I’d been waiting for– the time when my husband would face the same aggravation as I do with the kids (now you know why mommy yells?) But, there was no yelling, no stamping of feet, no, you-better-look-at-me-when-I-talk-to you exchanges. The air was tense and there was some fraction in the ranks, and while that briefly put into question the enduring unity against the common enemy, which would be the bad-cop, aka mommy, it didn’t last long enough for me to celebrate the sweet reversal of fortunes. The situation was quickly stabilized as my husband clarified that they had mentally gone over what was to be written and all that remained was to pour it out on paper. My daughter was quick to pick up the cue and wholeheartedly endorsed this fact. I rolled my eyes, sighed and gave them an ultimatum. I was to return in twenty more minutes and the pouring-out on paper better have happened till then.

Fifteen minutes later, as I was telling the twins to put back their pencils in their drawers, father and daughter entered the room holding the finished sheet, save for one last question. They said that they’d done it all but needed my expert guidance on one question. It was evident that this had been planned in an effort to make the home/cabinet secretary feel that any task was incomplete without her astute leadership. They both looked at me helplessly, and I played my part with such skill that it would have put Michelle Pfeiffer to shame. I heaved a sigh, took the paper and reluctantly agreed to complete the task.

“Thank you mama”, said the father-daughter-duo, “we were a bit lost without you”.  The battle won, I agreed to put the matter to rest, but not before I’d given my husband the look. The score stood at the usual – Mommy one, daddy Zero, as Salman Rushdie would say.

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