Category Archives: Feminist shapes

Choice

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This subject is a polarizing subject for me. I am beginning to have strong opinions (on it) and keep wanting to express them. Much like all subjects and all people today. I read this book over a year ago. I had jotted these points down. I want to put them out there.

I also realize that reading book that promotes my point of view is hardly broadening my knowledge. But I did read it. And I feel the need to reinforce, to myself, the reasons for such decisions.

Selfish, Shallow and Self Obsessed – sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids

Edited by Meghan Daum

  1. Babes in the Wood – Courtney Hodell

It’s always interesting to know how we think we should feel versus how actually feel. We also juxtapose these feelings against what others are or are not supposed to feel. This essay made me think about those brief moments when I did believe I wanted a baby. It passed.

  1. Maternal Instinct – Laura Kipnis

This essay made me think a lot about the “naturalness” of having children because we are women or because we have wombs. As an aside I feel like I show get to know this author better because her name is so close to Tipnis, a close family friend.

  1. A Thousand Other Things – Kate Christensen

This particular essay reinforced the societal conditioning that demands we must want children. Must love it. Expect it with excitement. The author spoke about missing her phantom children during a particularly dark period in her life. It’s not something I could relate to.

  1. The New Rhoda – Paul Lisicky

This essay was a very different POV. Not just because it was a male POV but because of the time it was set in. I had never encountered (in writings) the generation that was singed by the AIDS epidemic. I never thought about the impact it had on reproductive health of that particular generation.

  1. Be Here Now Means Be Gone Later – Lionel Shriver

It’s an interesting thought that once life and education improves, women will push out having children. There are statistics and other curves proving that very fact and yet society somehow pushes women in the other direction. It’s as though nature (and society) want to disprove reality? Maybe not reality but it helps everyone apparently except women for women to constantly be stuck in the cycle of bearing and rearing children.

  1. The Most Important Thing – Sigrid Nunez

This essay talks about how your own upbringing influences your decisions – something I can relate to very keenly as a large part of my reason in not having children is linked to my upbringing. I was not traumatized or deprived in any way. I am not trying to compare myself to what sounds like hell for a lot of these writers. But I relate to it being linked to our own upbringing.

She mentions a lot of Sylvia Plath.

  1. Mommy Fearest – Anna Holmes

What is perfect femininity? The crazy devotion that motherhood it seems to demand? And the glorification of it leads to the other extreme POV of women staying children. She, along with others, talk about the fear that having children leads to losing any opportunity to create any memorable position/ achievement.

(It lead me down the road of thinking about my achievements, whether they were of any value especially since I did decide to get married but not have children; choose to work but not really pursue a career – where do I lie? Where do I find my place? Is it linked to this gender and this role and parts that I play or will I be shaped by parts I choose to exclude?)

  1. Amateurs – Michelle Hunneven

This essay drove home the point that we interpret life’s nuances to mean things they might not.

  1. Save Yourself – Danielle Henderson

This story talks about abandonment and makes me wonder about the wisdom/ ease of procreation. How fair is it that women who can so easily endanger their kids should be allowed to have kids! Is this (my) judgement fair?

  1. The Trouble with Having It All – Pam Houston

The title of this essay is pretty self-explanatory. More importantly, here the author speaks to a young girl who, while is very patriotic, is also very clear that she does not want children. She declares her view at a table where women of different ages are discussing child-bearing plans. There is no ‘having it all’ for any or every side.

  1. Beyond Motherhood – Jeanne Safer

In this essay, the author, who is also a psychoanalyst, details her painful coming to terms with the fact that she does not want children. She, like others in this collection, want to want children. They even have physical reactions to the process.

“Asserting an Affirmative No”

  1. Over and Out – Geoff Dyer

I loved this author’s writing style. It’s very non-apologetic, non-defiant unlike some of the female voices in this collection. He touches on all main points – freedom, (dis)inclination, propagating the species, leaving the legacy. Two points stood out – Why does life have to have meaning? And we regret (he does he said) almost every decision, so why should this be any different. “When it comes to regret, everyone’s a winner!”

  1. You’d Be Such a Good Mother, If Only You Weren’t You – M G Lord

This essay also talks about a physical reaction to having/ attempting to have children. The writer feels like she doing something wrong when she expresses relief at no children. It feels very painful – as though it was painful for her to get there.

More than one essay share this theme. Where it almost feels like the author/ writer/ person had to go through physical wrangling just to get to the point of admitting that, no she doesn’t want children.

  1. The Hardest Art – Rosemary Mahoney

One of the few questions strangers everywhere are apparently permitted to ask is “ do you have any children?” This essay addresses the vulnerability of being a parent and having little emotional agency. She knows she will succumb and wants not to do that. “Parenting is an art and not everyone is capable.”

  1. Just an Aunt – Elliott Holt

This essay touches on not being able to take care of one self emotionally – (genetic lottery) and consequently making that decision. Depression and self harm are scary companions to introduce a baby into. That can be scary.

  1. The End of the Line – Tim Kreider

This was the third male POV in the collection. Yet again it’s a voice that’s very irreverent. Not having children is a decision much like other decisions in life that are not taken. High risk ones.

Some other observations.

#1 There are multiple common references that run through many of these essays. One such reference is about articles that appear in the press about being childless and “carefree”. The stories showing visual depictions of “freedom” without children.

#2 Judgement from fellow parents. (I have never encountered a parent saying they’ve had to deal with judgement from non-parents) Again mom vs non-mom yes but do men face this too?

# 3 Women writers in this collection are constantly critiquing their decision. The male writers don’t seem to face such internal dialogue.

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Dispel the dichotomy

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In these (politically and social-media driven or) charged times, I have begun to feel the need to confront the multiple dichotomies that exist within me. I feel it’s not enough to only mouth what you think you should feel. It’s also not important to only talk about what one feels. It’s necessary, for me, to bring those two planes on the same level.

It’s important to acknowledge all the areas in my life where I might not actually do as I say. I have never felt it more strongly. The more I look around, the more I see this everywhere, and in everyone. Where everyone, including me, reads one set of facts and reaches another conclusion,  that suit us individually perhaps. So what makes my right more right that of that person whose opinion I despise the most?

Some dichotomies that stand out more starkly that others I can’t spot yet:

  • For the feminist in me who is not able to stand up and honestly state her opinion in social situations
  • For the feminist in me who is not able to be charitable to women who have no patience for my way of thinking
  • For the modern person in me who constantly wonders about her worth because she does not draw a conventional salary
  • For the girl/woman in me who is able to help friends think about their bodies objectively (I think) but uses extremely hateful terms with herself (and has a continuous bad relationship with the mirror)
  • For the friend in me, who is not able to call out other friends for their obvious disconnect
  • For the writer in me, who is not able to shake off the feeling that I have been living on the surface
  • For the friend in me, who can’t believe the friends who stuck with me and wonders about those who I thought I would be stuck with

The next step perhaps is trying to reduce the distance between these two persons.

 

Is the mirror your friend?

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I recently encountered someone with an eating disorder. Her name is Anaya. One reads and hears and thinks, like most things unpalatable, that it could not happen to someone you know personally. I want to help her and I also don’t want to help her. I see behavior in her that raises so many red flags and all her friends do is shrug it over. “She has always been like that,” is the most common refrain I heard. What I was hearing was she has always been eating so little and experiencing blackouts and deleting pictures she did not like and exercising like a fiend and yet never being satisfied with how she is. In typical style, Anaya is an extremely successful businesswoman who runs her own outfit, negotiating, managing, and achieving scary-sounding targets. But her entire worth is linked to how she thinks she has to look.

Someone had once said a very important thing to me, about looks. She had said, “Janaki, it doesn’t matter how I look. It matters what I see in the reflection. I was a chubby girl who was a daughter to a very beautiful mother and for the rest of my life, I will always see a chubby girl in the mirror.”

Anaya, too, suffers from this, am sure. I do not know her well but have seen up close the effect her mother’s comments have on her. Mothers often and as a generalization, are always critical of their daughters. It is usually “to improve them” but rarely does it lead to any so-called improvement.

She hardly eats any food, pops pills which occasionally take her to the hospital, survives on caffeinated drinks and exercises like a fiend. And constantly berates herself on how she looks and yes, has been known to delete photographs from cameras that do not flatter her, according to her.

She is surrounding by people who, though never disparage how she looks but also never want to intervene and see that she gets some help. As I recount incident after incident I realise the situation in her case is so dire. She never listens or hears things that do not suit her way of thinking (who does, after all) and she perhaps has a confident shell that does not let others approach her for an intervention.

Being around her makes me feel grateful often. Grateful for the disregard my brain had for the obvious dissociation I faced all through my growing years for being fat. I am grateful I didn’t succumb to peer pressure into feeling shamed and starving myself. I have friends who did. (Maybe going to a really nondescript college helped?) I also didn’t have friends who thought it necessary to take it upon themselves to “make me thin”.

Or maybe I was just the default  ‘fat girl’ in the group. You know that every group has one? Especially one with women? This default fat girl usually has no say or no opinion worth considering and always has  dates and outings thrown her way since we know that men would never voluntarily seek out a fat girl right?

Today there are days when I suffer pangs of low self-worth or worth that are linked to an outfit not fitting me well or me not looking a certain way and then, thankfully, it passes. I have no issues looking into a mirror and even scrutinising my flaws. I know I can change what or how I look whenever I want and it will not change what is on the inside.  I will not change if more people ‘like’ or ‘approve’ of how I look.

Maybe something will change with Anaya too. She will meet someone like me who is stronger than I am today. Who will have the strength to pull her out and help her find balance. Till then, whenever I see her, I will push a plate of food toward her and keep reiterating how great she is.

Gaining independence but losing ground

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I have always loved and read this blog. And no, this is not a feminist blog. It is a blog with strong opinions. But if being honest and having strong opinions means a feminist, you need to read up on what feminism today has evolved to. I read the earlier post  and a girl’s email to it some days ago and it got me thinking.

It is true. We are slowly gaining a lot more ground in terms of economic independence and the capability of making decisions.  I look around and see most of my colleagues and friends who are single which is fantastic as they are taking their time and exploring various nuances to find the right person. When one says right person, I assume, that person means right in nature and thought. Someone who would not want to change you. Someone who would respect your space, especially in a economic context and so on. The manifestations of these (what should be normal but are quite rare) thoughts are things like respecting your parents, not patronizing you, considering your input while making a decision, not forcing  to do anything you wouldn’t want to do. This should also hold true for women I assume.

But what I see instead is that women want all these fabulous traits in men but can rarely spot them. Not because they do not exist but because women might not like how the wrapping looks. Women still want rakishly good looking men who were bad boys till they met these specific men, then, the women would change them and make those men what they want. That is worse because, at least, earlier women were clear on what they wanted and went after what they wanted. They spend their lives changing men (muttering about wars and battles) and that was life for them.

For a single woman, in a society not ready to handle single women after a certain age, this fake  feminism and liberalization can be cloying. Because, then every year someone who knows someone is getting married at (Oh my god! lucky her) 34, the predominant sigh of relief is “Thank god, HER search is over”. Because there are liberated women, as a friend calls them, in control of their shakti, but reduced to all manner of pandering for finding that divorced man, because she herself is now divorced!

Because brides, now, in the midst of their mehendi, turn around and announce that feminism is bullshit, forcing other potentially strong and speaking-their-minds women cowering into a corner. Women who run businesses but struggle to lose weight and achieve the shape they think they should be and wonder why are they unmarriagable. Women are labelled divorced (likening it to something bad) because ‘she feels so strongly about men’.

Have you ever encountered these women?

What it means to be you.

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You are not your mother.

You are not your sister.

You are not your family.

You… are just you.

 

You are not your friends.

You are not the friends you left behind.

You are not your enemies.

You…are just you.

 

You are not your job.

You are not your salary.

You are not just a number.

You…are just you.

 

You are not your manicure.

You are not your tires.

You are not your wrinkles.

You…are just you.

 

You don’t have to compare to live.

You don’t have to barter for love.

You don’t have to fish for compliments.

You can be just you.

 

You don’t have to be afraid of reflection.

You don’t have to be afraid of failure.

You don’t have to be worried about opinion.

You can be be just you.