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Category Archives: Stereotypes

Who’s A Feminist?

What in the world do you mean by the word ‘feminist’? Does a woman who wants respect, a safe life, the right to voice her opinion and the freedom to follow her dreams automatically become one?

Then let me ask you three questions:

  • The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, says “…..recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of the human family is the foundation if freedom, justice and peace in the world”.  This is applicable for and by every individual on our planet and I count myself one among them, don’t you count yourself there too?
  • The Indian Constitution gives us (1) the right to equality, (2) the right to freedom, (3) the right against exploitation, (4) the right to freedom of religion, (5) the cultural and educational rights, (6) the right to constitutional remedies for enforcement of Fundamental Rights. Are not women being exploited and denied to freedom of living as equals in society?
  • This phrase from the United States Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” what do these inalienable rights stand for and why should we not demand them?

If wanting the above makes me a feminist, then I am proud to be in the company of some of the world’s greatest leaders, women and men. You definitely are not better than that.

Image Credit: Image 1

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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Stereotypes

 

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A Girl and Her Jewels

“Romance is divine, and I’m not one to knock it,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
Romance is divine, yes, but where can you hock it?
When the flame is gone” – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,

A friend of mine shared this article on facebook and it was like the author had gone into my head and was saying ‘Yes, you are doing the right thing’. To be honest, I didn’t really know the detailed history of how Madison Avenue and De Beers created the ‘Diamonds are Forever’ craze, but the sentiments expressed in the article are what I’ve always voiced.

Before I start seeming holier than thou, I must tell you that both the techie and I have diamond engagement rings (in India we exchange rings, double the sales for our jewellers). We choose them with great care and made his and her rings because it meant a lot to us to show that we were committed. It was diamonds by default, so I think De Beers has done a good job there, but it could have been any other supposedly valuable stone and we would have been happy. We wear these every day and now that we have put on a few post wedding kilos, they won’t come off, so I guess we were meant to be together for life.

Whenever my mom went jewellery shopping (which was an event saved and planned for over months), from the late 90’s onwards, my brother and I would always lecture her on not buying stones and buying more of gold, but gold that did not have too much of making charges as part of it’s cost. My mom would first try to explain that, yes, she understood where we were coming from but she was buying this to wear, or to give me or her future daughter in-law as gifts, and that she had no intention of ever selling them. My brother and I considering ourselves more worldwise than my housewife mom, not considering that she had run a household for years in a foreign country, told her that jewellery is too expensive to be an indulgence and always has to be thought of in terms of investment, so why doesn’t she just buy gold bars. At this point my mom would glare at us, turn her back on us and ignore us till we got home.

My mother was a typical Indian mother. Indian parents have always set aside money and collected jewellery for their daughter’s weddings. Sometimes, starting form the day the child is born (obviously depending on the families economic status and income levels). In my limited experience, I have seen this happen in families barely above the poverty line (yes, I know it’s unbelievable  but it’s true), as well as, the very, very rich. I understand the sentiment and the practicality of this habit, given the patriarchal society that most of India is governed by. Traditionally, the house and money go to the son, the daughter is given her share of the wealth (or non-wealth) at the time of marriage. Again we won’t go into the reasons for this difference, as that’s whole new ball game.

Anything that is given to the girl, right from a wardrobe to cash, is considered ‘dowry’ and the property of her new family, though it’s technically hers (and the word dowry is never openly). Giving a daughter jewellery carries some gurantee that she will have access to what is hers, over any other gifts. In a crunch the girl can depend on some amount of liquidity from the resale of her jewels or can raise some money against them. It’s the family’s way of giving their daughter some form of security and reducing her dependence for survival on her new family. It will also be preserved to be passed on to her children as family heirlooms from her side of the family. How much of this happens as expected is a discussion in itself which embraces most of the negatives against women in Indian society.

Given today’s ‘modern’ young Indian women, who work and support themselves and their families, the jewellery gifted to them by their birth family is cherished and pulled out to be worn at every major family function. It shows the world the her parents are still a part of her life, irrespective of her married status. She may even use these to start her own business with her parents blessings, though always working towards clearing any debt attached to them. Again, these are hopefully passed on to her children and treasured through generations.

Having explained a little bit of the Indian jewellery sentiment, I will now tell you that I received a good amount of jewellery from my parents when I got married. Some pieces where vintage, having been passed on from my mother’s trousseau, some where over 20 years old (the pieces my mom bought for me every year since the day I was born and some where new, having been bought by my mom to go with my wedding trousseau. Till today, I treasure these pieces and wear them as often as possible (I live in India and attend multiple traditional functions a year, so there is quite a bit of opportunity). Whenever, I wear these pieces, I lovingly explain the significance of each piece to my little daughter, who adores jewellery. And that’s where my relationship with jewellery ends.

To my mother’s distress, I have bought only one set of bangles (and these were gifted by my husband and in-laws when I was pregnant) since my wedding. I have got myself no other jewellery. For my daughter, we got the traditional must-haves at her birth (the two gradmoms put together can be formidable) and another set when she expressed delight at a similar set of mine for her birthday. By Indian, standards this is makes us highly irresponsible parents.

My friends invest in a piece of jewellery every Dante Ras or Diwali, at a minimum. My cousin, who has a son the same age as my daughter invests in two to three jewellery pieces every year after a lot of careful saving and planning. She’s a successful business woman, but loves her jewellery and wants to grow her collection over time. This is partly a personal choice and partly the effect of having grow-up in a family of women who have followed this tradition for generations and still do.

The techie and I have both been on the same page when it comes to our daughter’s upbringing and future. Though we want her to know all the traditions that are part of our lives and appreciate the history of our land, we also want to give her a chance to grow to be the person she wants to be. An independent young woman, who can knows who she is, what she wants to achieve and where she wants to go. For this we have directed all our resources – times, energy and money – towards giving her three gifts. The gift of education (we hope to be able to support her in whatever she chooses to specialize in), the gift or travel (because nothing broadens your understanding of the world as much) and a legacy (no I’m not pretending we royalty, I just mean something special for her to treasure and maybe carry on). This legacy may be the business we are currently struggling to build or something else that will add value to her life (we are fortunately not soothsayers).

To be truthful, again, I have never been a jewellery kind off girl, in the traditional Indian sense, and am a chartered accountant by profession, so it’s easy for me to hold this opinion. That being said, I love my shoes and bags and do plan to buy a few special pieces when I make my money, the only difference being I’ll never consider them as an investment. These purchases are like my mother’s jewellery purchases. She scrimps and saves to buy a special piece because she knows she will enjoy wearing the piece herself or gifting it to someone she loves. She is not thinking of resale value, liquidity or justifying her purchase as an alternative to saving money in the bank.    

The buying of jewellery by Indians, is a really complex topic of discussion  with a lot of history behind it. I don’t think I can actually do justice to it in one post, and I definitely can’t even begin to address the traditions and gender based reasoning that are such a large part of it. What I did what to touch on here was the economic aspect and how it doesn’t really work or apply in today’s world.

I understand if people want to buy jewellery because they derive some enjoyment from it, but buying jewellery today as an investment is not the best move. Yes, when our grandparents did it, gold was a fairly steady commodity, banking was not for everyone and stones where not such a common factor in jewellery unless they were special pieces. The making charges for the metal and the highly erratic and quickly depreciating value of gemstones today (though some are better than others) make jewellery an unreliable investment proposition. If you want to gift you child something, invest in blue chips shares and watch them grow in value as she becomes a young lady or take out a fixed deposit in his name and give him a little egg nest when he needs it. Yes, there are risks involved in any investment, but the ones that give come with a balance sheet or a statement of account, give you a chance to re-asses and change strategy, if required, and they don’t lose value the moment you hand over your hard earned money . If you do get a piece of jewellery buy it because you, or someone you love, will really enjoy it.

Photo Credit: Image 1

 
10 Comments

Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Family, Stereotypes, The Economics of Life

 

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Winning Against Ourselves – Mind Games

V comes up to me this morning and starts talking about school.

“Mommy I’m really getting fast at running, I ran past S and K when we had games period yesterday.”

“That’s great V but isn’t the running part more fun than the running past other children part?”

“Yup, I love running with you in the park mommy, and we run together. So, I loooooooove running. It’s almost like flying a bit. But mommy I can’t go faster than the boys you know. That’s okay coz A (my nephew) told me that boys are stronger than girls.”

That put me in a dilemma, I didn’t want to encourage competitiveness in a child not yet 5 years old, but I also didn’t want to leave her with the weaker gender idea. That’s when I had a half-formed brain wave.

“V do you know far we run together at the park?”

“Yup 3 rounds?”

“Right and that’s one and a half kilometers darling. I’m sure no one in your class, boy or girl, runs that long and far.”

“I don’t know mommy. Their mommies don’t take them running so how will they know?”

Okay…… that was the second spanner in my works. Still, I decided to gamely plough on.

“Right, darling but here’s my point. See we are both girls and we are doing something nobody else in your class is doing, boy or girl. It doesn’t matter who’s stronger or weaker. All that we need to think about is this. Do we really want to do something? If we do, we keep doing it and enjoying it. After a while we will become the best at it. So the next time A or anyone else tells you that someone is stronger or weaker, tell them this. ‘The person who really wants to do something and enjoys it, is stronger and the person who doesn’t is weaker.'”

I don’t know if I got through to her this time or if the the idea was too convoluted. However, I’m making a promise on this Women’s Day to keep reminding myself, my daughter and my nieces that we can be and achieve whatever we want as long as we really want it and enjoy it. Gender is just a category like hair colour or height, it can’t affect who we are and what we choose to become. Yes, we’ll have a lot of battles to fight as women, but let’s win the one in our minds first. 

P.S. – Funnily my first ever post on this blog was on gender discrimination 🙂

P.P.S – It doesn’t matter if your little girl chooses to play a princess game or climb a tree. As long as she is confident in herself as an individual, she will make the right choices for herself.

P.P.P.S – Wow! I just realised (when I went to get the link to my first article) that today is this blog’s two year anniversary! I somehow missed the first one! Yay! Happy Anniversary to me.

Update: A couple of days back I found a new trophy in V’s prayer basket. She apparently won the girls running race for her LKG batch. That’s like first among 60 kids, I’m guessing the boy- girl ration is 50-50. Now I know where that boys being faster/stronger than girls discussion came from. It’s the school making them compete separately. She never mentioned winning and she just shrugged when I asked her about it!

Photo Credit: Image 1

 

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Sugar and Spice – Has the Recipe Changed?

One of my friends K (from the girlfriend search) is leaving town for good, as I write this, and we decided to have a last meal (sounds dramatic right), together with the gang, before she got on the train. We are a bunch of women who love our food, controversial topics and books, so it wasn’t long before we were discussing recent posts of interest in the blog world. One of the topics discussed was stereotyping people by gender and then eventually bringing-up kids based on common stereotypes.

It was the age old discussion of should girls be encouraged or even allowed to do girlie stuff. Are we doing the right thing by letting our children think that it’s necessary for girls to wax, while boys can wear sleeveless vests with sweaty underarm hair peeping out. Though, this topic always feels fresh for us and we can argue for hours, somehow today only one part really affected me and I steered the conversation that way. Apparently, a pretty good blogger (who I’m now dying to read), quoted by K , stated that she doesn’t let her daughter do all the girlie stuff even if she begs. K then mentioned that another friend of hers has a gorgeous little four year old whom she dresses up for hours, including using (child-safe) make-up for certain events.

The group’s natural reaction was for all of us to get on the case of the second mother. “What is she thinking off? Does she want her little one to think that girls should look like Barbie dolls?” Now as most of you know my very first post on this blog was about stereotyping women, however, today I saw myself react differently.

Having a four year old girl myself, who loves dressing up, I could immediately empathize with that mother. I as an individual never really gave my clothes or looks a thought (till I became, well a mother and started feeling a bit drab around all the yummy mummies I saw). I remember my own mom complaining because I refused to join her on any of the numerous shopping trips she had to go on on for my wedding outfits and jewellery or even my trousseau. I used to cite exhaustion or boredom and curl up with a book and a cup of herbal tea, the moment she stepped out the door. My poor mother.

Anyway I digress. For a person like me, I have been blessed with a child who takes after my mother! She appreciates well-put together people, likes to be well-dressed in feminine outfits, loves bling (okay that could be a bit of me), her fruit glosses and just isn’t able to comprehend why she has to wear the same uniform to school everyday. (Day one: “Wow mommy, such a beautiful green frock and new shoes! Thank you.” Day two: “Silly mommy, I just wore this dress yesterday………. What? I have to wear that everyday? But why?” I of course gave her the spiel about everyone being the same and how it helps make things easier for the teacher.) She loves her frilly frocks (only pure cotton as she finds synthetics itchy), her multi-coloured plastic beads and being called daddy’s princess.

Initially, I resisted and tried to steer her along a different course and that’s when I realised; I was making it difficult for her to express herself. When I let her dress they way she wanted (within limits, no makeup or heeled shoes please), she would don her tutu and five minutes later be out playing football with her cousins in the mud (it did mean a lot more laundry for me though) or trying to pluck raw mangoes from a nearby tree. Her favourite movies are Monsters Inc, Tangled and KungFu Panda, and more recently Brave which tells me that she’s fairly balanced in her choices. Of course there are moments when she mimics the friends of her older cousins and moans “Mommy why do I have curly hair, I wish I had beautiful straight hair like you.” It is at these moments that I intervene with “God designs all of us from head to toe and he puts together the best combination”, since that’s definitely not how I want her to grow-up.

When I asked K if the said blogger stopped her son from dressing up as super heros, when she stopped her daughter from doing the princess scene, she said yes. So that seemed fair to me. With respect to the second mother if she’s forcing the dressing-up on her child or letting her get away with make-up on a regular basis, I definitely don’t think the same, however, dressing is also a form of self-expression, and as the mother of a child who loves to create, whether with colours, numbers or words, I’m okay with her choosing to dress a certain way or like certain things. Parenthood is a controlled democracy and as long as we imbibe the right values in our children, the rest is just window dressing.

In addition, our children do not need to learn that the stronger person (here the parent) always gets to impose their will on the weaker person. I’m not above using the “I am your mommy so you better listen” line, but I definitely don’t want to be unreasonable. If I to tell V that I don’t like you doing the princess thing because I don’t want you to grow into a girlie girl, am I not stereotyping in a way too? Pick you battles, so that they communicate the right message and don’t inadvertently create a bully.

Lastly, and a fairly important point in my view, no child really goes through life thinking that he or she is royalty, except maybe Paris Hilton (and even she seems to have matured), so we might as well let them have their fun and if they want to wear a tiara (I still wear on to bed on my birthday) or a blue and red wristband with the picture of a spider. Let them be I say.

P.S. – I am not an expert on children in any way and I speak only from personal experience and the wisdom handed down to me by my mother and other women in my family. This is my personal opinion and may be completely wrong from someone else’s perspective.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Family, Lessons in Parenting, Stereotypes

 

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Silk Route

I’ll tell you why I’ve been AWOL recently, in the next post. I may even have some interesting news in the near future.

Right now I have something else to share with you. My husband paid me the cutest compliment today, he called me an iconic Indian woman (yes, I know he’s married to me, but it still felt great). You ask why? Well, here’s why.

My cousin sister had a traditional women’s function at home today and this is what my morning looked like:

  • 6.30 am – leave mom’s house (we spent the night there) and head home
  • 7:00 am – get the little one ready in her Indian finery (she loves it and I have to hide the stuff from her on regular days)
  • 7:30 am – start tying 9 yards of gorgeous but confusing silk around myself. My cousins, aunt and I are dab hands at tying a 6 yards saree, however, for a 9 yards one we turn too ……. you tube 🙂 Here’s the video we followed . My husband spent the whole 15 minutes laughing at the tiny grandmom and her super tall granddaughter.
  • 8:00 am – get into the car for the one hour drive. I was driving, since I would drop my husband off at work and take the car. I didn’t want to get out in all my finery at the office gates to switch sides (silly huh!)
  • 9:00 am – reached my cousin’s beautiful house
  • 11:30 am – changed into my work clothes, changed V into more manageable clothes and did the goodbye routine with V (she was spending the day with her cousins after skipping school)
  • 12:00 pm – walked into the office and started the day with a meeting with the bankers

It was during the car ride that my husband made the ‘Iconic Women’ comment. He found it amazing that I managed to drive the car wearing 9 yards of slithery silk. He even took a picture of me at the wheel with sunglasses (I look ridiculous), when he caught a whole bunch of people on a bus staring at us (my daughter was also dressed in a heavily embroidery silk outfit paired with purple flower sunglasses). I’m sure we were quite a sight and must have provided a lot of family entertainment when that bunch of people got home from work.

Why did I write this post? Well, primarily because for once in my life I actually felt that I was pulling the work-life balance thing off.

What do you think, did it sound like a day of balance or the day of a confused woman? Is this just an Asian thing or do women all over the world have to manage outfits along with all the other juggling we do?

 
18 Comments

Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Stereotypes

 

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Happy Stereotype Day

I had an SMS conversation today which went like this:

60+ Male: Happy Mother’s Day.

Me: You mean Women’s Day 🙂 Thank you.

60+ Male: Yes. In my view, WOMEN ARE MOTHERS.

For a moment there I didn’t know how to react and then I was mad (though I hid it well). I know a lot of women would have just shrugged it off and some would have even taken it as a compliment (especially with this person being from an older, more traditional generation).

I, however, could not accept this stereotyping. What did he mean? That outside of being a mother I had no identity. Excuse me, I was a person way before I became a mommy, and though I love my baby to bits, I am an independent, successful (in my eyes) woman.

Why do people never say such stuff about dads? Why is it that, being a good dad deserves an outstanding ovation for balancing your dynamic life perfectly, and does not mean the man is defined as ‘Mr.Daddy’?

Am I over-reacting? Could be. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Could be. Fortunately or unfortunately, my first post here has been very revealing. This is the real me, so I won’t hold it against you if you don’t continue, though I will be flattered if you do (and I will return the favour).

To all the wonderful women out there, who enrich my life everyday. Happy Women’s Day. I like you for the person you are and not because of a role you play. I dedicate this song to you – I AM WOMAN by Helen Reddy

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Note: I am not usually this way (most of the time). I can be very friendly and charming, if you don’t judge me.

 
22 Comments

Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Stereotypes

 

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