A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

Conflict

Posted by Pepper on April 25, 2015

Every time I walked in and out of office, I noticed B eyeing me hesitantly. Sometimes he would even come up to me, seemingly wanting to talk. But then an apparent flicker of uncertainty would make him change his mind and turn away. When it went on for a few days and I was reasonably sure something was up, I asked him if he wanted to talk to me about something. His gaze was unsure and he looked anxious.

This was unusual. B is one of our oldest employees. He has worked in our office as a peon for over 35 years. He takes pride in telling the world that he has been in our company much before I was even born. He has a reputation for being bold and outspoken. So I was curious. What was causing him to be so anxious and unsure? It was very unlike him. I was concerned. He has been extremely loyal to us and I wanted to make sure we do everything we can to make sure he is alright.

Finally he told me. He wanted the company to loan him a massive sum of money as an advance payment. The number made my jaw drop. What do you need so much money for? My daughter is getting married, he said. Here is the list of things I am supposed to buy for the boy. Saying that, he placed a sheet of paper on the table. I glanced at it. Washing machine. Microwave. Mixer grinder. Pressure cooker. Silver tumblers. It went on.

Shocked, I asked him what this was. I told him he shouldn’t be forced to buy all of this. It is dowry. And dowry is a criminal offence. Did the boy demand these things? In which case, I could help him report the matter to the police. He looked at me as though I was an alien. He said the boy hadn’t made those demands, but they were unspoken rules. The bride had to come with these ‘gifts’. There were no two ways about it. It was the way of the world. We couldn’t go against it.

I sat him down and had a long conversation with him. I tried very hard to make him believe that it needn’t be like that. He could indeed get his daughter married without having to buy these ‘gifts’ for the groom. He countered my arguments with a lot of examples from his family and village. He told me I came from a different world and I was unaware of the ground realities. He told me I would never understand his lack of choice. If he didn’t do this, nobody from his community or social circle would marry his daughter. And if she remained unmarried, his younger daughter wouldn’t find a suitable groom either. Both his daughters would continue to be a burden on him. And his community would also make life hell for him.

We talked and talked that day. My reasoning would just not appeal to him. It was all too unrealistic in his opinion. Fed up, I decided to let go. I also refused to sanction his advance. I told him I refused to support such ideas and I would not help him out in this. Over the next few days, we grew distant from each other.

I could see B getting more distraught by the day. I knew he was in dire need of money. The stress was showing on him. I had several conversations and debates with myself. Was not giving him the money solving the real problem? No. Was giving him the money encouraging and supporting such behaviour? Maybe. Since I didn’t know what to do, I ignored the conflicting voices in my head and sat over it.

Weeks passed. I found out that B had tried to get personal loans from several other sources. He had been unsuccessful in all his attempts. The worry was beginning to make him physically ill. At any time, he always looked bogged down and distressed. Despite all my inner voices, I tried to overlook his condition. I must say though, this was very hard for me. I felt torn.

At one point, his desperation peaked and he came to me with tears in his eyes. He begged me to sanction the advance. This time, he told me he wasn’t planning to buy the ‘gifts’. He would only use the money for partial wedding expenses. We both knew how obvious his lie was. I remained silent for some time. The pressure to make the right decision was weighing me down. I realised then that I would never really be able to determine what was  truly right. 

I shut my eyes for a second, took a deep breath and give him my nod of approval. He gave me a big smile and told me I had taken away a lot of his struggles. I told him I was glad. As for me, my struggle to ascertain the rightness of my decision continues..

Posted in Gender | 39 Comments »

Where she came from

Posted by Pepper on January 6, 2015

We’ve been looking out for a good cook now that we have begun setting up the kitchen in our new house. Although I seem to enjoy cooking sometimes, neither I, nor Mint has the time or inclination to do it on a daily basis. We did it in the US when we *had* to, but now that we have the option of hiring somebody for the job, we would rather do that and use the time we free up to focus on other things. Infact, we’ve always had a cook since the time we started living on our own in India. The setup works quite well for us.

While talking to my mom in law on phone, I mentioned to her that we were looking for a cook. She let out a small laugh and asked me why we wanted a cook. Does Mint dislike the food I cook? I took a deep breath before responding to her. This one has always been a sore point. My MIL does not understand why I cannot take on the entire responsibility of cooking on a daily basis. The assumption that I am and should be the self appointed cook while my husband should do nothing other than judging my abilities and skills obviously pisses me off.

I told her calmly that I cannot be the one responsible for cooking because my office is quite far from where we live, and it is too late to start cooking after I get back home. I let out another laugh and told her, that if at all, she should be telling Mint to cook because his commute is less tiring and he gets home sooner than I do. We were both silent after that.

Here is the thing. I know my MIL secretly agrees with me. She understands logic and reason. But she has spent her entire life living by the norms set by the world. She always wants to ‘fit in’. Her family is full of unreasonable and rigid women who actually believe their daughters in law should be sweating it out in the kitchen, dishing out and serving hot dosas to the rest of the family, no matter what. That is the kind of stuff ‘good’ daughters in law are made of. But most of those women aren’t capable of logical reasoning. Their minds aren’t trained to think. They aren’t very educated.

My MIL is different. At times, I think she is caught in two very different worlds. I’ve tried to understand where she comes from, several times. She was born in Madurai. She was highly interested in education and was a class topper all her life. She completed her BSc in Nutrition. Since she wanted to do her Masters, she was granted permission by her father to do her MSc. After completing that, she set her sights on an MBA. Women completing their MBA in those days was very uncommon. Since she was of marriageable age by then, her father told her that she could start doing her MBA while they were looking out for suitable grooms. If they found any good match, it would be upto the guy to decide whether she could continue her MBA or not.

Her match was arranged. My FIL permitted her to complete her MBA after they got married. They lived away from each other for the first 9 months of their marriage because my MIL was still studying. After that, she moved in with my FIL and that is how they began their married life. Equipped with an MSc and an MBA degree, she considered working for sometime. But she had married into a highly conservative family in which women did not work. In my FIL’s family. almost everybody had chosen to marry within the family. Crazy, in my opinion. But apparently, marrying your cousins and your uncles wasn’t very uncommon in South India back then. My FIL was the only sensible one who put his foot down and insisted on marrying an ‘outsider’.

She began her married life as an ‘outsider’. She tried hard to not be seen as one by the rest of the family. But that tag never left her. Given the circumstances,  she did not want to do anything that set her apart from the rest. Obviously, going out to work wouldn’t get her any brownie points. So the idea was nipped in the bud. Soon, she was pregnant with Mint. And then, with Oregano. She devoted her entire life taking care of her husband and sons. She served them with utmost sincerity, their health and well being being her priority.

That is how she has lived her life. Pleasing and obeying the men and serving her family. Sometimes, I wonder how her life would have shaped had she gotten adequate opportunities. If you talk to her, you’ll know she is a very intelligent individual. She is very knowledgeable and has a strong sense of logic. She has a good command over the English language and is also very well read. So when I speak logic to her, when I talk about feminism and equality with her, I know she gets it, even though she doesn’t say it.

And yet, she will try and persuade me to cook without any help, to look after her son, to strive to be a better homemaker and do everything that we consider to be highly sexist. She is surrounded by conservative, close minded individuals and she has been made to idolise their way of life. She has been made to believe it is the only right way. But sometimes, I wonder if she acknowledges the recurrent clash between logic and belief.

Posted in Gender, Meet the family | 10 Comments »

Proud to be an idiot?

Posted by Pepper on September 25, 2014

I am quite sick and tired of seeing women share this nonsense on my timeline. I feel like unfriending them. Have you seen it?

nonsense

 

I’ve been writing long comments dismissing this rubbish on Facebook. Perhaps they call me a spoilt sport. Never mind. I call them idiots. Pushing doors that say PULL is a human tendency. There is some research that proves it. Look it up. Are you really trying to imply that women do not have their brains wired the right way? Laughing harder when trying to explain why you are laughing is not gender specific. What are you trying to say? Counting on fingers in math really? Some people are good at calculations and some are not. What do women have anything to do with it? If you assume women in general are bad at math, I have no words for you.

Walking into a room and forgetting why you are there is being ‘absent minded’. It is not ‘being a woman’ Why assume women hide pain from their loved ones? Or do you expect them to be the ever sacrificing, ever smiling and silently suffering do gooders they are believed to be? Are you suggesting  no man does this? Exaggerating, caring unduly and being stupid and illogical in general is what you think women are about?

I am mighty offended. It would be bad enough if only men shared this, but to my dismay I see women sharing this all the time. Claiming to be PROUD of their gender. Will you give us a break and stop propagating such sexist stereotypes? None of these traits and flaws are exclusive to women, you assholes.

 

Posted in Gender | 24 Comments »

Driving and women

Posted by Pepper on February 2, 2014

I started driving at 18, so I can safely say I’ve been driving for a decade now. Okay, fine, 9 years, if you want to nitpick. I do believe I am a good driver. I have good control over the car, my reflexes are sharp and I can maneuver skillfully. All my life, though, I’ve heard this one statement – Women are not good drivers. 

It is sad, the way we pass on this idea, from one generation to the next. It irks me a lot, because I spend about 2-3 hours at the wheel, every single day. And in all my driving time, I come across a million idiotic male drivers. Male drivers that drive slowly, with zero confidence – in the right most lane, thereby obstructing the flow of traffic. Male drivers that brake dangerously, without any warning. Male drivers that stop the car in the middle of a busy road and step aside for a smoke, exhibiting such baffling levels of stupidity and inconsideration. Male drivers that consider themselves to be speed demons, and carelessly whiz by your side without much regard for the dent they created in your car. And when I realise that the world would still consider me to be a worse driver than most of these idiots I spoke about, simply because I am a woman, I feel enraged. 

Where do we get our ideas from? Some people say they go by statistics. I tell you most statistics cannot be relied upon. The chosen sample set, the environment, the attitude of the researcher, the already existing bias, all play a role in influencing the end result. And ofcourse, we as a society, love to feed on this idea. Women are not reliable drivers. Which is why when I do driver skillfully, when I overtake other cars, when I confidently squeeze my car out of tight spots, I see other drivers around me looking at me admiringly. Why? Such driving is not expected from me because I am a woman? Why don’t they feel impressed by other men who do the same?

Ofcourse, female drivers make some mistakes, just like male drivers. The other day, I was driving in search of a petrol pump, (or gas station, depending upon your location). I really needed to fuel up, but I just couldn’t spot one. And then I saw it suddenly. It came on my left, the petrol pump. I was in the middle lane, and I swerved to the left, without much warning. It was a move I shouldn’t have made. I realised my mistake. Because of me, a bus in the left lane had to brake suddenly. I saw the driver get out angrily. I was just about to step out to apologize. But before I could, the driver who was about to reach my car, saw me. He let out a small laugh and told the conductor who was following him, “Samjha karo, ladki hai.” (We need to understand, it is a girl). He didn’t even wait for my apology, and climbed back into the bus.

Me? I was left feeling very insulted, and very angry, for further having maligned women drivers. I would rather face the bus driver’s rage, like any man would have to. I would rather apologise for the mistake I made. Instead of allowing this bias to seep deeper. I mean, how many times in a day do I see men driving stupidly? Men changing lanes erratically, without any warning, all along relying on my reflexes to brake suddenly? But the one time I do it, it gets written off as ‘typical female driving’? 

I do keep coming across women drivers who are not confident about their driving skills. This, despite them being good drivers. They just don’t have faith in their abilities. I think we as a society love to feed this idea to women. They are conditioned into believing they can’t drive well. And this lack of confidence can seriously hamper your ability to drive. It is sad.

Two days ago, I came across this article. It spoke about how a lot of fast selling small cars in India are not safe enough. In response, the Volkswagen representative said they understand the need for more safety features because of factors like increasing driving speeds, more women drivers, longer driving time and a younger driver. The separate mention of women drivers and younger drivers left a bitter taste in my mouth. What are they telling us really? That we need more safety features because more women drive? What does that imply? And this bias in an official statement? Also, why mention a ‘younger’ driver? Young drivers do not necessarily mean reckless drivers. Young might mean less experienced, but I can tell you, skill and experience do not always go hand. 

As usual, when I discussed this with a friend, I was accused of being oversensitive. I shared the link with IHM. She is somebody I have always looked up to. And she shared it on her blog. Calling me insensitive is a classic case of victim blaming. The statement by the VW rep was a very poorly worded one, with only one implication. I wonder why people believe I don’t have a reason to feel offended. If I choose to not raise my voice and remain silent, am I not doing my bit in strengthening this bias?

Posted in Gender | 15 Comments »

Gender bender

Posted by Pepper on January 7, 2014

This happened more than a month ago. And for more than a month, I’ve been wanting to mention it on the blog. Finally, here it is.

My office is very far from where I live. In order to avoid the monstrous traffic on the Western Express Highway (Hah, calling it an express highway is such a joke), I usually try leaving before peak hour. But that day I got held up at work. By the time I left, I was well into the dreaded peak hour. It was horrible. Cars going bumper to bumper. On that particular day, the traffic was beastly. I took me over 2 hours to cross a small stretch. I was driving all alone and I groaned. When would I ever get home?

Then my phone rang. It was my mom. I looked around at the sea of cars surrounding me and realised there was not much scope for any vehicle to move. I answered the phone and burst out venting. I told her about the godawful situation I was in. Thankfully, I was relatively calm after my outburst and so we continued chatting. The car inched forward a grand total of two times during the course of my conversation with her. And when I say inched forward, I literally mean inched forward.

I was in the left most lane, and all of a sudden I was asked to pull over by a traffic cop. Oops. He had seen me talking on the phone. Now I am generally not the law breaking type, so I felt quite terrible being caught doing something like this. Coincidentally, the driver of the car behind me was also talking on the phone. We were both pulled up.

The cop there asked for my driving license and I handed it to him. He then told me that my license would be temporarily seized, and would be sent to a district court. I would then have to appeal to the judge there and fight my case. God. This was scary. I knew I couldn’t afford to lose my license. He went on to explain to me how seriously they are taking such cases now. You  might escape if you jump a light, but if you are talking on your phone while driving, or driving under influence, there is no escaping. I was glad to hear this. Really. Oh, but my license.

I apologised and told him I would never repeat the mistake. I also pointed out that the only reason I was talking on phone was because the car was barely moving. I could see him soften a little, but he wouldn’t budge. Behind us, I could see the guy arguing, and alternately requesting the cop to let him go too. I could see the cop was a lot more harsh in his approach with the guy. Anyway, he wouldn’t return my license. I was requesting him relentlessly , also making sorry faces.

After what I call a long struggle, he decided to let me off with a warning. The guy who was facing charges for the same reason heard the cop, and he shouted, “Don’t let her go if you are not letting me go. You always let girls go. That’s unfair! I won’t let this happen”. I looked at him, unsure of what to do for a moment. I knew he was right. I knew, very well that I was being let off because I was a girl. A girl in distress.

But I was also the girl who was selfish, and tired. One who wanted to go back home. So without wasting another moment, I thanked the cop and went back in my car while I had the chance. Since there was a hell lot of traffic and I couldn’t really move away, I could see what was happening with the guy. He couldn’t wriggle out of it the way I did. After many tense moments, I saw the cop confiscating his license and giving him a slip of paper. I also saw the guy fuming as he walked back to his car.

I came back home very guilty that night. Being the staunch feminist that I am, what I did was not acceptable to me. I don’t know why I did it. This is another form of gender based discrimination. On one hand, I find myself fighting for gender equality, on the other hand, I allow such biases to exist. Ofcourse, to relieve myself of the guilt, I can very well say I was not responsible for what happened. That the cop chose to be partial to me because of my gender. But my heart knows all of that is false pacification. That the very fact that I encouraged it makes me equally responsible for it. Perhaps more.

Have you ever taken advantage of your gender?

Posted in Gender | 50 Comments »

 
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