Children with Choices

15 Apr

“Don’t you want to be a mama?” I ask my daughter. She starts to cry. “No,” she says. “I want to be a pilot.”

I feel a pang of failure. How is it possible that, despite the fact that I have held a job for my daughter’s entire life, I have somehow failed to convey that one can be both a mama and a pilot?


This New York Times article is a joy to read, insightfully dissecting the complexities of negotiating ones identity while growing up in a gendered society. Recently we have seen quite a few voices critiquing the gendering of childhood by retailers and products marketed to children, whether it is toys (Let Toys be Toys or #liberateLEGO campaign, for example), clothes or books. This article looks at a more nuanced ways in which a child in the modern society interacts with and appropriates gender roles and identities.

Programmes like Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam are examples of ways in which children are taught about societal roles, professions, and adult life. So although the passage I have quoted from the article is a bit alarming in some ways, and slightly comic in others, I think that it just shows that the child has not yet grasped the idea of a person occupying different roles and identities in the social structure throughout their lives as well as at a particular given time.

Of course if the child found it incongruent to be a woman and a pilot, rather than a mama and a pilot, I would be significantly more worried. That would signify that our education system has not really progressed to realistically reflect the changes in the gender make up of our workplaces, or the possibilities open to join different industries regardless of gender available today. (Although, I would be interested in whether children see the roles of dad and pilot/businessman/scientist/postman as equally incongruous.)

I should mention here that a real problem I see here is the sort of inequality that comes with girl children being confronted with the ‘choice’ or the possibility of impending motherhood some time in the future, whereas boy children are perhaps not reminded as often of their possible roles are future fatherhood/parenthood in the same manner.

In fact, one of the only critiques of this excellent expository article that I can think of is of the expectation that children should be individuals who make their own choices. Personally I wonder whether we have let our fear of growing up in a structure that genders (and in other ways hegemonizes) the space in which we make our life choices lead us to the other extreme – where we try to give our children an abundance of choices, even ones they might not be ready to make.

Schank writes, “For her birthday she asks for a new duvet cover, to replace the pink one. After much Googling we settle on a blue, green, yellow and white striped cover.” The idea that living space needs to reflect the person’s personality is a rather modern, consumerist idea. As someone with anti-hyperconsumerism sentiments, I am concerned about whether “much googling” is required as a prelude to buying a duvet cover for a child. Moreover, I am concerned about whether children need to be faced with such relatively unnecessary decisions between an overwhelming amount of choices available of products online.

My suspicion of whether we have started expecting too much from children in terms of showing ‘individuality’ as well as making their own choices about things like clothes, hair, etc., finds its apex in the points in this paragraph.

For the second year in a row, my daughter is one of a handful of girls in a class dominated by little boys. And in what seems to me like a pretty girlie impulse, my daughter wants to dress like her friends. This means her favorite color right now is plaid, and her outfits consist primarily of T-shirts layered under flannel hand-me-down shirts from her older brother. “This is just like Emmett’s shirt,” she says as she buttons up a red and white flannel shirt over a blue striped T-shirt. Emmett, who as a 4-year-old boy probably doesn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to his wardrobe, is the Vogue magazine of my daughter’s life.

Firstly, I think that the impulse to dress and act like ones friends is as much “girlie” as an important developmental phase that most children go through that allows them to successfully form social connections, as well as ‘find their place’ amongst various social groups. Secondly, the idea that Schank’s daughter is just following her friends who, being boys, don’t have to think about their own identities and their selves in relation to everyone else might be debatable. The way that patriarchy operates means that if Emmett’s mother tried to encourage him to dress differently (not in “T-shirts layered under flannel hand-me-down shirts”), he might protest as dominant masculinity ideologies arouse feelings of anxieties that affect the choices that men, women, boys, girls make. Both Emmett and Schank’s daughter are probably trying to dress and act like the rest of the group that they identify with and want to be accepted by.


Dating Docile Bodies

30 Oct

Here’s the long and short of it – I have recently joined an internet dating site and started dating. I am not exactly sure what I was expecting, but it surely wasn’t this. You see, dating to me has always had a nice (read: idealistic) ring to it. I never understood people who were frustrated by it. To me, dating meant choice. And giddiness. A space where expectations and desires could be communicated safely and without the fear of judgement.

I was definitely not prepared for the ritualized three step programme it turned out to be in most cases. It being ritualized meant that people came to it with their own expectations of the space or the interaction which they often felt justified in imposing upon my body-space.

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50 Shades of Feminine Submission

4 Aug

This article was originally written for and published in the Unite Society website.

Yes, I am a woman who can read Fifty Shades of Grey without turning fifty shades of crimson. I have read erotica a lot in the past (grew up in the internet age, he-llo!). And although the hullabaloo around this series led me to believe otherwise, this is really like most other badly written erotica that are available online for free.

But here’s the catch. It’s not free. It’s selling out faster than Harry Potter. (Yes, people are paying for bad porn in the internet age.) And people just can’t seem to stop talking about it! On Twitter, on the Ellen Degeneres Show, with friends – you either love it or hate it, but you definitely talk about it. All the polarizing opinions around this bad soft porn novel smell of very good PR.

In the day and age of flash-in-the-pan trends powered by the all-pervasive PR and marketing teams, this would not worry me too much. As a feminist, what I do find worrying however, is what this discussion is doing to women and sexual freedom. Let me elaborate.

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Trashing Teenage (Fan)Girls

1 Jul

This article was originally published in the international affairs, politics and culture webzine Unite Society.

At a recent conversation over tea, an acquaintance of mine declared that he had lost all manner of respect for me. And for what reason? Because I vouched for the addictive nature of the popular TV show ‘The Vampire Diaries’.

I find this trend of trashing popular media commodities – TV shows, movies, books, celebrities, franchises – consumed mainly by teenage girls extremely worrying. More worrying is the fact that many self-identified feminists seem to be taking this stance. As a feminist blogger, therefore, I am almost expected to share this point of view. Continue reading

Green With Unwanted Attention

14 May

I had written a few months back about the sexism prevalent in women’s dress-codes at work. Perhaps today’s incident has put the issue more firmly at the forefront of my mind now. Dressing up for interviews is always daunting; and never more so when the brief is to wear smart casuals (its less of a dress-code and more of a quagmire that only the most practiced wade through without sinking on nine out of ten occasions) that also shows off  my personality.

So I decided to risk it with my green skirt! Spring-time and eye-popping colours and all that. Of course I dressed it down appropriately with sober black shoes, opaque tights and high neck top and a jacket. Walking down the street I felt so dapper! That was until a hoot and a call of ‘Hi there, gorgeous’ hit my blushing earholes. Now, I am not usually the type such comments are often directed to. I, thankfully, pass by unnoticed when inappropriate and objectifying male attention is being doled out on the streets. So this not only caught me by surprise, but also made me doubt the appropriateness of my interview attire.

Was it the skirt? I fidgeted with it until it was as long as it could be. Stretch for me a little more, baby, there’s a good girl! Was my makeup too much? Blusher too dark? Heels too high? Bag too bright? What in the goddamn world was wrong with ME? I almost rushed back to my apartment to change. I felt obscene!  (In case this sounds like an over-reaction, I was even followed to the tube station by this very ‘complimentary’ admirer.)

This reaction was compounded by the fact that my mother asked me to take a PICTURE of what I was wearing so she could see if the creepy masculine attention it attracted was justified or not. Bless you, mother, but I would please like to get out of the habit of chastising myself (my attire, behaviour, lateness of the hour I choose to return home) for what is obviously a type of behaviour that is intended to make me uncomfortable, and is hence intentionally anti-social and inexcusable. For the umpteenth time, ‘my skirt is not an invitation’!

(While editing this blogpost I noticed that I was all too eager to point out the specifics of what I was wearing in what I can only assume is a defensive attempt to avert blame. I do resent this self-censuring and self-policing impulse that, unknown to me, has obviously been hibernating within me, waiting for a catcall to surface.)

#Julia: What’s in it for me?

7 May

I have been following the conversations and controversies regarding Obama’s ‘The Life of Julia’ campaign introduced last Thursday with great interest. Ever since I read Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring Politics into Democracy in 2010, I have been interested in topography of (or in) political communication. Obama’s campaign, with its savvy inclusion of technological objects and channels, is an interesting case study for this. So here are my thoughts on this: Continue reading

Gay Marriage: Who is it for?

8 Apr

This post was originally written and published for the British cheeky feminist blogzine The High Tea Cast.

Those who know me, know that very little else on the internet gets under my skin as Brendan O’Neill’s articles. It might be because in his articles he inducts ideas I support in a logic stream that, to me, seems almost perverse and twisted. For that I say, “Well done Brendan”. At least you are helping me to think beyond the ‘left’ and ‘right’ ideological boxes that I long assumed the world’s opinions were divided into.

Take, for example, Brendan’s recent Spiked Online article on gay marriage. He claims that the issue of gay marriage is a bad idea, not only because it erodes traditional institutions in place (the classic conservative argument against gay marriage), but also because he doesn’t think ‘the gays’ actually want it because gay activists once campaigned for their right to live outside these institutions. He doesn’t think the gay marriage issue is ‘populist’ enough to be given much weight as there has been ‘no leaping in front of the Queen’s horse, for the right of gays to get hitched’. As is typical of him, he smells an ‘elitist’ agenda at play here.

However, I would really like to know where you get off dividing the (post) post-modern consciousness into ‘populist’ and ‘elite’. He blames conservative ‘political parties’ and ‘massive corporations’ as having an elitist interest in regaining their sanctity by rallying support for this issue. I find this quite problematic as by adding an elitist tag to a particular political demand he is downplaying its legitimacy.

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Why I Will Be Walking the #SlutWalk

1 Apr
  1. SlutWalk started on April 3, 2011 in Toronto, Canada, as a protest march reclaiming the word ‘slut’ and against instances of rape and sexual harassment being correlated to women’s appearance, clothes and behaviour (victim-blaming). It quickly spread across major cities of the world.
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    Slut Walk London 2011 Part 1 *WeAreChange*
    Sun, Apr 10 2011 17:12:02
  3. What appeals to me about this campaign is the way it addresses the dichotomous and paradoxical way women’s sexuality is conceptualized in society. But not everyone agrees.

Gender Folding and Pre-Teen Kissing

3 Mar

This article has been published collaboratively by LSE Equality and Diversity and LSE Engenderings blogs to mark LGBT History Month 2012.

I kissed a girl. I liked it. Long before I had heard of lesbian sex or desires or even contemplated issues regarding sex or gender consciously. She was just a person who I found attractive and who had previously made me blush by publicly announcing that I was the prettiest girl in the class. The kiss, or the attraction preceding it, never made me question my sexual or gender identity. At that age we were already talking about the boyfriends we would have, and although a boyfriend was something I wanted, she was what I desired. Desired in a way that had more to do with the electricity in our mutual gaze and her ‘devil may care’ attitude than with an interest in her ‘lady bits’.

In later years, while reflecting about what this fact might signify about my desires and how it fits into the narrative that informs my sexual and gender identity, I realized that it is a representative slice of the fluid way I experience desire and project it on to the fabric of my identity. By then, of course, I had started to question and reorganise my experiences conscious of (and often rebellious against) the social concepts of gender and sexual orientation. Continue reading

On Rogue Hemlines- The Feminine Body Goes to Work

18 Jan

A pencil skirt and pumps in the British winter? That’s right, I have been interviewing with some companies this freezing January. And as a part of putting my best foot forward, I have, of course, read through countless articles about what to do (or not do), say (or not say), and wear (or not wear).

I have never been one of those who cringed at the thought of donning a suit for work. In fact, being a young executive in a start-up digital media agency in the image-conscious Dubai, I have always been quite conscious of what my work wear communicated to my clients and co-workers. We are told to let out ‘femininity’ show through the severe lines of formal wear. But to beware of the occasional cleavage, distracting jewelry or a hemline that refuses to be shy.

In fact, in this rather scintillatingly written story about Debrahlee Lorenzana, is hidden a gem of conventional wisdom – women in the corporate world have been entrusted with the responsibility of keeping their ‘femininity’ out of their workspace. The repurcussions of not following this adage is seen as a moral panic caused by unruly female bodies in a workplace where men who carry out the important duties are too distracted to concentrate. It is our responsibility to cover up the offending body parts or risk being thought of as unprofessional. Continue reading