Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blasting gender stereotypes

TheIndianhomemaker, someone whose blog I read fairly regularly, recently asked what things I do -- that are against the social gender stereotype. Things that would normally not be considered feminine, in my case. The discussion, obviously, was about gender stereotypes of the “men don’t talk and women can’t read maps” variety. Much as I would like to think that the 21st century urban Indian does not subscribe to these ‘too convenient’ labels, the reality is unfortunately not as rosy. Perfectly intelligent, educated, MODERN, and “with it” people I know believe or perpetuate these stereotypes – overtly or subconsciously.
It could be the person who picked a fight with me over my analysis of Hindi film songs because he claimed “so many songs are depicting the goddess and mother. Why do you always look only at the negative?” (apart from the fact that he had OBVIOUSLY failed to grasp what that discussion was about, he has betrayed his ideology of the age old Madonna/whore stereotyping of women which became a lot more evident on hearing about my lifestyle, smoking, drinking, and what not—at which point he went on my ignore list) or the family that does not allow its highly educated daughter in law to get a job because “the home is a woman’s first priority”.
If you just look, it is everywhere. The constructs of what is, or is not, feminine or masculine behavior colours many of our actions and perceptions. While some of us seek to resist this conditioning, most are unaware of, and comfortable with, these pigeon holes.
Luckily for me, I grew up in a family where the roles were not so deeply felt or adhered to. My mom did a lot of the financial analysis, bill paying, and bank work, and dad was perfectly happy to help out at home or to take care of us kids. However, it is undeniable that I was exposed to a lot of the same messages that most people face…in general society, and the ones that my parents subconsciously might have retained. The great thing was that there was never a “you must do this because you are a girl” or “you must do this because you are a boy” where my bro and I were concerned.
So, a lot of things we are comfortable doing are what would be considered contrary to our gender roles. Here are some of mine.
  • I definitely CAN read a map. In fact, in my family’s obsessive-compulsively constant road-trips, I am usually the one in charge of the navigation, especially since uddie left for far pavilions.
  • I definitely don't depend on a man to change light bulbs or fix things like the TV antenna, cable, telephone, and so on. I have always been mechanically inclined, and can happily do a lot of unfeminine things – from assembling do-it-yourself furniture to changing fuses, taking VCD players apart and putting them back together, changing gas cylinders (really simple thing, but people seem to get attacks of helpless female over it) and so on.
  • I do all the banking, bill paying, form filling, fee giving “outside” duties.
  • I am a lot more practical and rational in a crisis, and do not dissolve into the expected waves of tears or screaming hysterics (a trait I inherited from my mom whose dry eyes and calm head saved my brother’s finger when it was almost severed in an accident in infancy, but earned her the epithet of dayan or witch for being so heartless as to not faint dead away. Fainting or getting hysterical would have been a lot more feminine, and of course more maternal, even if it cost my brother his arm….go figure!)
  • I can tell one brand and model of car from another on the road. (Very unfeminine…apparently women are supposed to proudly say things like “oh they all look the same to me, four wheels and a bonnet”)
  • I can change a tyre, and fix a few other minor car problems, and I know what “could be the problem” even if I can’t fix it sometimes. I definitely do not belong to the “oh! I don’t know anything about these machines!” brigade.
  • I do not like to shop. I believe in targeted shopping where I walk into one store knowing exactly what I want/need. Find it fast. And walk out. Total time spent….probably 15 minutes. I HATE going shopping with women who don’t know what they want or want to dawdle endlessly from shop to shop looking through hundreds of items, haggling, arguing, and then walking out… for hours and hours before (if) they actually buy anything.
  • I buy clothes once or twice a year, and throw out 2 or 3 older dresses for every set I buy. I don’t own 40 pairs of shoes/slippers or 25 bags.
  • I wear clothes for comfort, not fashion, and refuse to consider uncomfortable clothes or ‘look’ just to fit some category of what is IN. as a result, as most of my friends know, my hair is always pulled back in a tight bun high on the back of my head. I catch a lot of flack for not letting my long hair down….but I hate hair on my face or neck especially in summer. The only time I wear it down is in winter, especially when visiting cold places.
  • I prefer flats, comfortable shoes and sneakers/floaters to stilettos.
  • I don’t spend chunks of money and time in a beauty salon. Have had my eyebrows ‘done’ only about twice in my entire life, and never had a manicure. Clean clipped nails, no varnish, and looked after hands and feet does it for me just fine.
  • I don’t have a beauty regime. Never use moisturizer/night cream blah blah. Have never even picked up and looked at an anti-wrinkle cream or fairness cream. I like my skin just the way it is, and the people who matter love my complexion (they better!). Cold water and soap is all the skin care I need, and a basic shampoo and conditioner all the hair care necessary. Haven’t OILED my hair in about 20 years and cannot imagine all that mehendi/ritha and whatnot hassle.
  • I HATE keeping house and DO NOT obsess about how the house looks every minute of every day. The décor is eclectic Jia-brand do-it-yourself, and it is often a mess with washed clothes lying in piles, soft toys everywhere, the little monkey’s things all over the floor, etc. My housekeeping abilities DO NOT appear to me to be a reflection of how much WOMAN I am. If it piles up…it piles up…until one of us has the time to get to it. No biggie.
  • I Do Not like Shah Rukh Khan. I hate all saas bahu serials, and usually don’t enjoy any of the so-called chick flix. I have even chosen not to have cable at home, and obsessive serial watching is totally out of the question. No addiction to TV at all.
  • I don’t inhale romance novels. I own about 12 of them (out of some 400 books), which I read about once a year, in one go, as a break from the heavier reading I enjoy. When the brain starts to seize up from an overdose of Derrida, Kafka and Hesse, 12 straight M&Bs can do a lot for unclogging it! I don’t buy, exchange, or rent more. Never needed to.
  • Cannot tolerate PNPC, and backbiting gossip. Hate segregated parties where the LADIES always end up talking about clothes, kids, kids’ studies, kids, kids’ latest behavior, ad nauseum. 98-99% of my friends are men and I like mixed crowds where there are a lot of different topics going around, from politics to world peace, global economics to philosophy, and everything else one can imagine.
So….these were some of the stereotype blasting things I do. What’s yours? Come on people….

Monday, July 26, 2010

The unknown unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

-Donald Rumsfeld