Tag Archives: women

Be Careful What You Tell Little Kids Through Toys

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I don’t much believe in women’s day – don’t ask, it’s a long argument – but suffice it is to say that for me, the fact that we need a woman’s day is unfortunate – will rant about this on another post soon.

However, there is one thing I do like about all this hullabaloo around Women’s day – the fact that there are these great stories that come out of every corner of the internet, and I make my girls read them – to drive home the point that they are no different from boys (they know that, but I feel the need to reinforce it in the face of so much inequality that women face today)

One such example of a story I read was about Lego – the toy company – making female NASA pioneers as Lego figures. I think it’s a brilliant idea and, refreshingly, moved away from the gender stereotyping the company has done in the past (Lego girls is pink with beach and salon stuff the boys one is blue with all the “boy stuff” to make – you know the typical). In my opinion, the company has redeemed itself a little bit.

This is what toy companies need to do – to make gender neutral toys (hear that Kinder?). Children have impressionable minds, and the toys they play with – or the ones people gift them – tell them something about who they are supposed to be. Sure, that’s not how it should be, but that’s exactly how it is – when you give a girl a kitchen set to play with, you’re telling her that this is what she’ll enjoy, because that’s really what should come naturally to her. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with girls playing with these. The problem happens when that is all they play with – the “girlie stuff” – that’s giving them a message, even if unintended. Anyway, I think I’ve made my point (and I’ve said it before – you can read more about it if you like)

So, back to Lego’s NASA women – it’s a great idea. And, I cannot believe I am saying this. Why? Because I have hated Lego Friends – it’s all that women stand against today and I look at it as exploitation for mercenary gain. But, this is more of  give-the-devil-the-due kin fog thing. Like I said, they’ve redeemed themselves a little – even if it is an overt way to compensate for their other follies.

The next time you want to gift a Lego, go for the NASA one – for both girls and boys. It’s equally important for boys to grow up believing that women are equal to men – in every possible way. They too need to question the inequality and help break it. So, if you have a son – go ahead and gift him a Lego female NASA pioneer set.

 

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The Appalling Attitude Towards Male and Female Birth Control

pills

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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The Thing About Gender Stereotyping

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I was standing near a teller’s counter in my bank the other day, waiting to be served. It is one of those so-called new-age banks that make a big deal about service and customers, and adding value to peoples’ lives.

As I waited, I noticed big, cheery posters behind the counter extolling the various virtues of the bank. As is typical of such ads, they trumpeted their superior expertise in helping people achieve their dreams, whatever those might be.

One particular poster caught my eye – not for any design brilliance, because in that it was much like the rest (they pretty much merged into each other), but because of the message it sent out. I can’t remember details about the exact financial product this ad offered but, in essence, it asked you to plan for the future – to put away enough money for your kid’s requirements when they grew up, the time that you’d need it. It showed a father with his grown-up son and daughter. They were all beaming with joy at the camera – the son in his graduation attire and the daughter in, you guessed it, a wedding one. So while the son’s aim is to graduate from a good college, the daughter’s is to get married. I wondered if anyone else around me had noticed the blatant stereotype. Of course, no one had. They were keen to get the teller’s attention and get out of there. I did too, because waiting at a bank is stuff of people’s nightmares (unless you are my father, for whom it is a social outing, and who would never go a bank like mine where he could not exchange details about his grandchildren with the teller). But that’s beside the point.

The truth is that to the people who created this ad and the ones who approved it,
this did not strike as odd. Nothing in the image looked incongruous to them, which is why it made it to the walls of the bank, and many others. If, however, the images had depicted the reverse – that is a delighted father flanked by a daughter in a graduation hat and a son in a groom’s dress, it would have seemed inconsistent – inconsistent with the reality that is. And reality is a matter of perception.

Toe me, this is a typical example of how stereotypes seep so deep into our psyche that we fail to notice it, or imagine any other truth. A daughter must get married, a son must get a job – that’s essentially the message that this ad is sending out. And everyone seems to be alright with it. Not quite new-age if you ask me.

Let me take this a little further. If you look at the other advertisements of the bank in question, or most banks or financial institutions for that matter, notice how they depict men and women. If it’s an ad about net banking to pay shopping bills, you’ll have a jubilant woman celebrating the fact that she can hereafter shop from home. However, if it is one about paying taxes online, there will be a content looking man quite chuffed at the convenience – again, women shop, men pay taxes (because women don’t get numbers)

To take this even further, I now come to the much-talked about Rajdeep’s question to Sania Mirza about motherhood and settling down. Did he think about what he was saying? I doubt it (if he had, he would not have asked it). Which is my point – stereotypes creep into your being and influence your thought process in ways that you don’t even realize.

The ad at ICICI and the question that Rajdeep posed have one thing in common – they equate womanhood with marriage and children. Such are the perils of falling for stereotypes – you stop thinking, even as you believe you are.

And only when this changes, will perceptions about women change. Only then will women will be treated as equal.

It’s a long road.

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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

Suicide Series 3

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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From a Stay-At-Home-Mom to a Working One

manos 2

I can tell you this – that I never thought it would happen. I never thought I would get back to real work. Yes, I was pretty sure that after ten years of being at home and looking after kids, I was good for nothing else. That no one in their right minds would hire me, which was quite alright, because, in my opinion, I was quite un-hireable. That’s what being at home does to you – you start to believe in the stereotype.

Well, I could not have been more wrong. Neither was I un-hireable nor had my being at home taken away from the person I was. Yes, I had been sucked into the demands of my home (and that was a choice I made, for whatever reason) and for a while I was that mother in the park who befriended others like her and thought that she would never be able to escape from the unending cycles of birthday parties, piano classes and fixing the mixie. But that was a period in time when I could not think beyond that. And while it may have temporarily lulled my grey cells into talking about maids, mothers-in-law and electricians, it really did not really make me into the person I thought I had become.  When I went back to work, the real me (ya, I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true) just wriggled out of that home-mommy skin and rose to the occasion – something I never thought I could do.

And this is not about me being some super star who could rise from the ashes and go back to work because I was some genius who’s been rescued from the interminable demands of domesticity.  No, I am like every other mother who makes a choice to be at home, but that so-called choice is not really one. Because a choice gives you options and let’s you pick what you like. When someone like me chooses to be home, she’s doing to because she has nowhere to leave her child – really not a matter of choice. I’ve heard so many people say to stay-at-home moms that they made a choice, and I always find it interesting – the use of that word. Given a real choice, where the woman can get back to work and be allowed to be flexible as long as she delivers the work, many women I know would have opted to be back at work.

But what I do want to say to women is this – stay mentally active, that’s key. You will find something to do once things at home settle a bit. No, it’ll never be fully settled, but that’s ok, you’ll learn to deal with it. This last week my daughter had been ill, so I left work early and came home. Then I worked at night and on Saturday from home and completed some tasks. And yes, I still have to do the birthday stuff, the homework, the classes and all that comes with being a mum – work has to be managed with all that. But you know what, you learn to do it. Sure there are days when you feel overwhelmed, but nothing in life is easy. I’ve wanted to get back to work for so long and now that I have done it, the other things will have to be fitted in. The people around you learn too – your husband, your kids, your help – they all start to do their bit to help you. That’s what I learnt – they see that you are happy and they want it to stay that way.

I underestimated the people around me. I always thought that things would fall apart if I plugged out. But they don’t – somehow it all happens. And yes, I’ve learnt to let-go of a few things – the dust behind the cabinet for one. I don’t care if it gets swept once in a few days. It’s just not important anymore. Working on a presentation for a client beats that any day.

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My Profile Picture and What it Says About Me..

My facebook pictures have never been selfies. They’ve always been happy-happy family ones or couple types that would gets lots of “aww” responses (ok, too cutsie, I know – *cringe*) I’ve, somehow, never put one up of just me.

And here’s the thing, it didn’t even occur to me to do it. ( I am not too much of a facebook person and like to stay dormant mostly). When it  finally did dawn upon me, my first reaction was to analyze why I hadn’t thought about it before (why let up a perfectly good opportunity for introspection?)

I had many explanations in my head – you know, the typical, I-have-submitted-my-identity to the family, I have lost my individuality, I see myself as a mother and wife first – all that self-depreciating crap that women love to mull over and then do damn all about it. So, me being the textbook X chromosome explored it from all angles and came to the conclusion that in the past few years I’ve done little for myself and even when I’ve thought of doing something which would not have involved the family, I’ve been bogged down with unexplained guilt and dropped the idea. Why? don’t ask. Like I said, I am quite your archetypical X chromosome.

The irony, however, is that I always lost patience with my mum all through my growing years, when I saw her do the same. She would always put us and our dad before her own wishes – always, always, always! And it irritated me. Even today my father logs on to her mail and then tells her that so and so has written, blah blah blah, because he likes to be in control and she does not protest.  She’s an extremely intelligent self-made woman who has built a great institution, but at home she’s the wife who will submit herself to the fancies of her family and sacrifice her own desires for, well, for domestic peace.

I am not my mum. Not by a long shot – I have not the will and the determination that she seems to posses in copious amounts. And yet, I am the wife and mother who will (almost) never do something for herself. One instance – I never catch a movie with my friends. I love film, I can tell you that, and I am one of those weirdos who can go for one alone. When I lived in New York, I’d watch anything that caught my fancy (and a lot did).  Now, I live walking distance from a cinema hall, and yet it never occurs to me to skip away for a few hours and come back a much happier person. No, I don’t do it.

Each day, I live minute by minute, get sucked into this and that around the house, do some writing and before I know it, the day has gone and I am reading to the kids in bed. Then when I lie down, I think about the day gone, about the day ahead and about what I want to do with my life.  Or, I play Candy Crush till I run out of lives, then ask my husband what level he’s reached, express my jealousy and the next minute, I am asleep. That’s it. Day over.

So anyway, back to the profile picture (see what it unleashed?) After all the why and I should etc, I decided to put one up of myself alone. Not that this was an easy task. Because now I had to find one (the selfies come out distorted and I hated them all!). This led to another set of interesting observations. I don’t have any of me alone. All are with family etc. I could’ve cropped one out but I’ve never been a fan of those, they seem culled, and don’t end up looking that great. So, then, what was the revelation this time? Not much different; that I am always the one clicking the pictures and never really hand the camera to anyone else to get one of me by myself. I am the gatherer, always in garnering mode – get the flock together and take that perfect family pic, that sort. My husband is the opposite and strangely, I do see his point.

The profile picture, thus, remains the same. It’s a nice one of husband and me and I am okay about not changing it, not till I find a suitable one which seems worthy and has potential of many likes (I know -*cringe*).

The bigger picture, however is so – that the need to change my profile picture is  symptomatic of a larger attitude that I am now trying to embrace – one of getting my life back, bit by bit. The past few years have swallowed away chunks of my individuality and while I understand that that’s what rearing is about sometimes, I am now keen to get back on my feet and reclaim a bit of myself. Sounds corny? Probably. But this is what life is about – about seeing truth in aphorisms and platitudes. It’s true. I used to dump on housewives who went for kitty parties and now I have respect for them – that’s one thing they do for themselves and enjoy. When I  see a group of middle aged women in a restaurant cackling like schoolgirls, I applaud them in my mind for living the little life they enjoy. I am not sure what their profile pictures are like ( my bet is on family-type, though) but when they come out and meet their friends, they’ve left domesticity behind and are, for that moment at least, living for themselves.They have my new found respect.

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