Tag Archives: feminism

Human rights should begin at home

Ever since I first considered becoming a parent, I wanted a daughter. My partner concurred, vehemently. We have two now, lovely beings both, growing up all too fast for us to prepare them for the world that lies ahead. We wanted daughters because there aren’t enough in India. Our country loses, gets rid of, far too many daughters, in utero, in infancy, in youth… and we felt it our responsibility to do a little to redress the skewed sex ratio. We won the chromosomal lottery, twice, on that count.

We have two daughters to offer to this world. How do we offer them a safer world to explore?

Amid the seemingly endless orgy of violence that appears to be endemic to our cultures, from India to the US, violence directed against women in particular, Eduardo Galeano’s words have been haunting me. Growing up in the traditional family culture he describes, I was quite stunned when I first read him, decades ago. I keep returning to them now, as a parent myself to two daughter, trying to change this culture, starting at home:


the dark room,
the icy shower,
enforced fasting,
forced feeding,
the ban on leaving the house,
the ban on saying what you think,
the ban on doing what you feel,
and public humiliation
are some of the methods of punishment and torture traditional to family life. To punish disobedience and discipline liberty, family tradition perpetuates a culture of terror that humiliates women, teaches children to lie, and spreads the plague of fear.

“Human rights should begin at home,” Andrés Dominguez told me in Chile.

From “The Book of Embraces” by Eduardo Galeano.

Whether it is guns or men’s penises, in India or the US, the talk these days is all about tougher laws, bans, hangings, castration, capital punishment, stemming from an angry desire for vengeance in the wake of heinous crimes. Maybe these will bring some change for the better. I sure hope so. But the violence, like the misogyny, is too deeply embedded in our cultures for these to be sufficient deterrents. It lies too deep, and too close to the surface of our daily domestic lives for us to see, acknowledge, and attempt to stop it.

The violence is within us, reinforced by these traditions which “humiliate women, teach children to lie, and spread the plague of fear.” Therefore, any lasting change to the culture of violence must also start within us, when we challenge these traditions, change them, teach new ones to our sons and daughters: based on respect and kindness, rather than power and obedience.

I sense the implacable anger of women in India right now, and hang my head in shame for my gender, for what we men have wrought against our better halves.

Bringing more daughters into this world is only half the answer. We need to raise our sons better too, in better families rebuilt without the traditional violence shadowing our daily lives. We need to change the culture so that it doesn’t continue to warp them in the ways it has already warped us into accepting so much violence as routine.

Human rights must begin at home.

“Rights, not privileges, its that easy!” Happy International Women’s Day

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCJ3Q_PcFI8?wmode=transparent]

I just finished watching, once again, “Made in Dagenham” the powerful movie (one of my favorites in recent years) about the fight for equal pay for women in the UK which started in the summer of 1968 with 187 women sewing machinists going on strike in the Ford factory in Dagenham, and ended with the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1970. Stirring stuff for International Women’s Day, which, after all, started as International Working Women’s Day in the first place. It is worth remembering that history lest this day loses its power to become just another hallmark greeting card day when you bring flowers and chocolate to the women in your lives. It should be much more than that!

I am particularly glad I was able to share the film with two of my favorite people who played a huge role in helping shape my social conscience in my youth – my sister Vaijayanta and her husband Anand – and their son Kaustubh. At a time when politicians and corporations are colluding to roll back every hard fought human/worker’s right, especially for women, this is a movie everyone must see, to remind ourselves of those fights that won us the precious rights we do enjoy, and what it takes to keep hold of them.

Here’s one of my favorite moments in the film, when the well educated upper class Lisa Hopkins, married to the manager of the Dagenham Ford plant who treats her like a fool of a trophy wife, tells Rita O’Grady, the woman whose “gob” has made her the leader of the machinists, to make history, and to tell her what that’s like:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv2hRfqlJaE?wmode=transparent]

As for the men reading this post who are (and also those who aren’t) supportive of women’s rights, and perhaps feel a bit smug about how much they do (including poetry) to support the women in their lives, here’s a little reminder that that is as it should be!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbjSOt7NxIY?wmode=transparent]

“Rights, not privileges, its that easy!”

Indeed it is, lads, indeed it is that simple. Let’s remember that.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Womb Envy (a poem for International Women’s Day)

Since I’ve been digging up some of my old creative (or nay, you may say) writing lately, and inflicting it upon readers of this blog, here’s something to celebrate International Women’s Day – an image and a poem I wrote some years ago:



Womb Envy
(Old Freud got it upside down)

Freud got it wrong when 
he said, the problem with 
women was: penis envy. 
I think the truth really
is upside down, nearly,
the problem with Men is:
not enough womb envy.

Of course, being born male.
I have enjoyed the fruits         
of centuries of male rule
in education, in science,
at work, play, home,
claiming superiority 
for the male hormones.

Malehood has let me rule,
dominate, subdue, kill half 
of humanity, most of nature.
I revel in my dominion as 
a man, even champion males 
of other species, malehood, 
not humanity, my badge.

How sweet it is when
women come to believe
they have less than I do
and I can tell them their 
problem is penis envy,
they’re doomed, it’s Nature’s 
law, however unfortunate…

We are both bound, I say,
to follow my penis’ lead – 
Mankind’s leadership – 
as we pilot our species, 
and also spaceship Earth
on this testosteroney ride
to nowhere and to doom!

But … No. Wait. I have to
rethink this whole scheme…
We have it all, I admit: power, 
pleasure, security, posterity
and quite cheaply too, for
we generate our lineages with
plentiful cheap wasteful sperm.

While women have to bear 
all the costs and the pain.
Yet, we’ve got it all wrong.
We have everything, dubious 
virtues and benefits, 
but we don’t have that
which matters above all.

Men kill, extinguish, annhilate, 
but can scarcely create life.
After the minuscule male effort, 
to nurture, nourish, and 
to bring forth in the world
every single one of us –
this power is all Woman.

The womb, in the final reckoning
matters far more, than we do,
with our mighty penises.
And I would much rather
give up all my dubious glory
to be able to do that: give birth 
to a single human being.

Yes I envy all you women.
though you oft seem not to 
realize it, appreciate it enough,
you are far more richly endowed.
It is men who have the rough deal
from Mother Nature, hence seem
bent upon destroying her too.

Yes, my dear old Freud
you did get this wrong:
Castration Complex
in women? Not nearly…
It is the men’s Potency 
Complex that needs 
to be cured if doom be 
averted for humankind.

Freud got it wrong when 
he said, the problem with 
women was: penis envy! 
I think the truth really
is upside down, nearly,
the problem with Men is:
not enough womb envy!

– Madhusudan Katti

(sometime in the mid-’90s)

Miss Representation: How do I raise strong, independent daughters when the media tells them they can’t be so?

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/28066212 w=500&h=283]

Much as I might jokingly complain about being always outnumbered and always outgunned by women in my life (3:1 growing up; 3:1 now!), it is tough being a dad to young girls, and a professor/mentor to female undergraduate and graduate students. Not because I don’t know or understand women (can’t say I always do, but…), don’t know how to communicate with women (haven’t done too badly), or miss the company of macho male friends (I definitely don’t miss that). No, that’s not it. Rather, it is hard to tell them that they really, truly can grow up to be all they want to be, and that nothing should hold them back from chasing their dreams and fulfilling their rich potential. Hard to make them truly internalize that confidently. Because our global culture is so male dominated and has become so saturated with misogyny in virtually every medium of communication, that it is hard to keep those insidious images of women as sex objects from seeping into the subconscious of young girls figuring out their roles in life. The above documentary Miss Representation” is therefore something I welcome, and hope there are many more like it to even begin pushing against the tide.

It won’t be easy, though, given that even when women engage in the political process to try and change the system, and take to the street to protest, asshole members of my sorry sex can’t help but ogle/molest/objectify them! I’m not sure how to cure that side of the problem. It is a good start, though, to at least fight the misrepresentation of women in the media, and this documentary may help. Although, I have to wonder how effective it will be if it is airing only on Oprah’s network. We need this message hammered into our consciousness (and subconscious) on more mainstream networks watched by both men and women!

For now, tonight, it may be time for me switch on Oprah’s channel as I embrace the “honorary woman” status conferred on me by a friend years ago, in response to her then husband’s use of stronger epithets against me because I happened to like the movie “Antonia’s Line“. And he was/is a politically progressive dude (self described lefty radical too, in fact) who supports feminist causes in principle – just so long as you don’t flaunt them in his face by depicting strong independent women who don’t really need men to survive, thank you very much. As I said, its a tough uphill battle, but a necessary one to win for all our sakes.

On beauty, popularity, and what young girls may blog about

Earlier today, I posted a link on Facebook, urging people to vote for my young blogospheric friend Christie Wilcox, who blogs about science at Observations of a Nerd, and is in the final round of a student blogging competition for a $10,000 scholarship, where she needs all the votes she can get because the runaway leader of the online poll right now is someone who blogs about “beauty”, but really about make-up! Seriously!! How can that be so much more popular than science?!

A friend then commented saying one of their nieces blogs about make-up, and surely there is a niche for everyone, right? I agree, there should be room for everyone (and in the blogosphere, indeed, there is!), and I suppose there is a bigger market for make-up than for science, especially for girls. At least that’s what the vote on this scholarship indicates right now in a sad popularity contest (but do vote for Christie, as she could put the money to good use). Nevertheless, as a father of young girls, and a mentor to mostly female graduate students in my lab, I can’t help but feel that surely there are worthier things for them to write about! If you really want to write about beauty, think about what that really means – and it ain’t make-up!

So, for my daughters, my students, my blogger friend seeking votes in this popularity contest, and for my friend’s niece who blogs about make-up: allow me to share some inspiration from Katie Makkai, articulating what it means to be bound by the word “Pretty” (and, oh, unlike many commenters on this video on YouTube, I have opted to share the unedited “profane” version – so be warned ye who may take offense at a “dirty” word):

Put 4 Indian women in shorts against a loud Delhi crowd, and of course they’ll run like the wind…

I jest, of course, because what these young women accomplished at the much maligned-before-being-lauded Commonwealth Games is to be celebrated indeed! They sure make India, a country resolutely non-athletic by disposition, incredibly proud!! I mean, outrunning Nigerians? Seriously – where did these women learn to run like that?

Yet, if you (or any woman you know) have ever spent much time at all amidst Delhi’s leering throngs, you’ll know whence my jesting sprouts. If not, start typing “eve teasing…” into the newly extra-helpful Google, and tell me if it doesn’t offer Delhi within its first 5 suggestions. Click on a few links to get the picture. For such is the reputation (well-earned) of the male populace of that city that most women who pass through there will have a war tale or two to share about being harassed (if not groped) in the public square by aggressive repressed men. I daresay these proud gold-medal-winning young women will not be comfortable going for a run along the streets of Delhi in their gold-medal-winning shorts and t-shirts. Unless the much ballyhooed makeover the city got for these Games included a wholesale transformation of its notions of masculinity!

But seriously: that run was frikking awesome!!! And may it inspire many more such feats.

[Tip o’ the hat to Arvind]

Plant a mango tree. Turn your village green. And save your daughter!

For a refreshing change from all the bad news and dark humor I’ve been sharing here lately, here’s a positive story of grassroots community action in one Indian village to save their daughters in a nation still deeply mired in female foeticide, dowry deaths, and myriad daily insults inflicted on women:

The tree-planting has been going on in the village for generations now.

“We heard about it from our fathers and they from their fathers. It has been in the family and the village from ages,” says Subhendu Kumar Singh, a school teacher.

“This is our way of meeting the challenges of dowry, global warming and female foeticide. There has not been a single incident yet of female foeticide or dowry death in our village,” he says.

His cousin, Shankar Singh, planted 30 trees at the time of his daughter Sneha Surabhi’s birth.

Sneha, four, is aware that her father has planted trees in her name; the child says she regularly waters the saplings.

As yet she doesn’t know what dowry is, and says the trees will bear fruits for her “to eat”.

The village’s oldest resident, Shatrughan Prasad Singh, 86, has planted around 500 mango and lychee trees in his 25 acres of land.

His grand-daughters, Nishi and Ruchi, are confident the trees mean their family will have no problem paying for their weddings.

“The whole world should emulate us and plant more trees,” says their father Prabhu Dayal Singh.

On the grotesque portrayal of women in films

Over on ScienceBlogs, a kerfuffle has been brewing this week, starting apparently with a male blogger delving into some old literature on the psychological effects of pornography and what it says about male aggression and violence towards women. Not surprisingly, the dude got into hot water with fellow female science bloggers and feminists because the studies in question, and his original post, asked the wrong question: what are the effects of watching pornography on how aggressively / violently men may subsequently act towards other women?

But what about the violence already perpetrated against the first set of women, the ones already brutalized in the course of the making of the pornography
Apparently, says the dude (in a revised blog post), the two questions are separate, kinda like asking if drilling for oil in the deep ocean is bad in the first place vs. asking what are the effects of oil drilling when it inevitably fucks things up! Really?! As scientists, it seems, we should be interested in the potential effects of viewing porn on aggressive behaviors by men towards other women – but what about the actual violence that has already been perpetrated against the women in said porn? Which of the two questions should really concern us most as human beings and scientists? Why must science limit itself to the superficial male-centric question about effects, but not get to the root causes about violence against women? To put it back in terms of the oil spill metaphor du jour: is it enough if we ecologists merely focus on the after effects of the BP spill and clean up, but never challenge the whole notion of drilling in such dangerous ways for a substance we really shouldn’t be dependent upon in the first place? Why not work towards finding a good answer to that deeper question so that the more superficial one never has to be asked at all?

All this brings to mind some thought-provoking discussion about what pornography does to women, men, and healthy relationships between the two, which took place when Robert Jensen visited us at Fresno State last year. Rather than pontificate from my own limited expertise in these matters, let me to refer you to Jensen’s excellent book “Getting Off: Pornography and the end of masculinity” based on his own research and experience as a participant in the feminist struggle against pornography. I was surprised to find no reference to Jensen’s work on ScienceBlogs – and daresay that the male scientists/bloggers in particular should at least give him a read before shooting their mouths off. 
Allow me, then, to pull you in a different direction, and ask about the violence against women in mainstream (supposedly non-pornographic) cinema (or what passes for it in your nearest multiplex these days of summer). Especially cinema that is supposed to be about liberated women enjoying the fruits of the feminist movements of the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve been really troubled for some weeks by the egregious depiction of women in that supposedly post-feminist female centered mainstream movie, Sex in the City 2 – even the trailers made me gag, and I hoped, dearly, that women would turn against it en masse. Alas, enough viewers (women, mostly?) turned up to watch it worldwide to put it among the top 3 films when it opened. Mercifully, most film critics tore the movie to shreds – and sharply and entertainingly enough to the point I thought the reviews alone were worth the movie having been made! 
In particular, I want to share this incisive non-rant from my current favorite film critic Dr. Mark Kermode over on BBC:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHeQeHstrsc?wmode=transparent]
Lest you dismiss this as another (un)rant by another man, here’s the review by Lindy West that Kermode points out as being unreadable-on-air.
So, tell me, whatever happened to feminism? Why are we stuck between so much pornography on the one hand, and such ghastly fare in the mainstream “chick-flick” genre on the other?

Aren’t these enough to make you join Dr. Kermode in his rallying cry for another revolution?