gender identity

Alex Karydi's picture

Gender Identity and the Conflict Within

Gender. Identity. What does it all mean?
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Jaded's picture

Dusty Women And Our Spaces

 

Yesterday I was cleaning my grandmum’s cupboard as I do every winter on her death anniversary. We’ve given most of her things away, all that is left of this amazing woman are a few clothes, a few letters and many photographs for which I cannot be thankful enough. Every year I see these frayed pictures, and she’s always standing in the kitchen, or the veranda. Some pictures show her in room where the temple is. And a few are with me, standing beside me in the balcony, pointing at something far off in the distance. I’ve seen these pictures many times, today I couldn’t help noticing how in all of her pictures she is in one corner or a room. There are just two pictures of her outside the home space, those are when she went to her native place with my grandfather. This isn’t to say she didn’t ever travel out of the house or that she was kept confined. In fact, my grandmum has visited most of India and a few countries of the Subcontinent as well. But if you just see these photographs, you’ll see a woman always in a room, in a corridor or in the veranda; never is she idly sitting either. She’s either cooking, praying or showing something to her grand-daughters. If I were to construct her life on the basis of these photographs alone, you’d see a Lady who never set foot outside the house, was preoccupied with many household chores as one would expect from any Lady of her generation — or this one too — a life that revolves around others while she is lost in one of the other corners of the house. The truth is, there are many women who didn’t enjoy the class and social privilege my grandmum had, who spent and continue to spend decades in their homes. I don’t mean to intone that this is in any way a negative thing or just blame The Evil Patriarchy for it — how I wish it were that easy! — but rather point out how some spaces are so heavily hued with this blemish called ‘gender; till even their representative counterparts share the same inscription.

These gendered spaces aren’t unique creations of this country or any specific community, rather it is a universal disease. White Women’s writing and even movement has been heavily censored and controlled by their spouses or other male-relatives — from Christina Rossetti to Sylvia Plath — isn’t exactly a secret or a revelation. However, if these women had been Dusty, this LadyBrain thinks their disembodiment would have been much more severe — here we can place responsibility on the Empire all we want! Squee! — as the idea of a Dusty Lady being anything other than an object to be gawked at is a threat to Whiteness. Earlier this year a movie called Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts came out and I can safely say I’ve never seen so much loosely packaged neo-colonisation since AVATAR came out. Spaces, people, cities, people all open to lead the Whitewashed tone of the film into giving us a ‘well-rounded’ spiritual journey of a woman who wants to ‘discover’ herself, predictably in adequately exotic countries. For the most part, indigenous people exist in the movie to lend insights to the Poor White Woman who is simply lost, who has lost her appetite for life and simply mustappropriate other cultures ceaselessly to feel better about herself. At one point, the protagonist comes to India in search of ‘the spiritual’ — because White people come to Dusty Land for mainly two reasons leaving aside their fascination with Dusty Poor People: Either to feel closer to God in a language they don’t understand or to learnKamasutra — and quite predictably, we see the protagonist provided with a Dusty Lady (Tulsi) who makes her realise how lucky she is, to not have parents who will marry her off like cattle. Liz enjoys the kind of mobility and agency only White people can in movies and spaces like these, where she says “Perhaps you and your husband will be happy after all” in her parting scene with Tulsi. Another similar example that comes to mind is Elizabeth Russell from Lagaan — yes Dusty films can perpetuate Whiteness too. Insert appropriate gasps here — who is allowed physical as well as social mobility because of her pearly exterior, whereas Gauri is laughed at when she talks about the power Elizabeth yields. In addition, Gauri has to contend being the Third World Earth Goddess, one who soothes the male protagonist’s wounded ego, Elizabeth can openly defy her brother’s imperial policies and is rewarded in the course of the narrative. Even in many books, Dusty or otherwise, the same claustrophobic policing of gendered spaces is upheld when it comes to further erasure of hued women. As readers we’re encouraged by the narrative to sympathise with Jane Eyre while Bertha burns in the attic, to not question when Tagore’s Dusty women remain within the home sphere while his Memsahib’s coo exotically over the ‘enchanting landscape’. Even in Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, women who identify as Western (though they may never be able to scrub off their hued epidermis) or who are Western are the one’s with any real complexity or nuances. Many Dusty Ladies are simply a litany of names, or are present in the scene just to make their lighter counterparts seem more ‘liberal’ or ‘emancipated’.

Jaded's picture

The Disease Of Being Universal

This week, as India deals with the after-effects of Obama’s visit,  where we dissect every word he said, try to re-read into the words he didn’t say, search for any snippets of news that would piece the puzzle to just what did the President really want to convey, we somehow conspicuously forget to think about the organised deaths in the Kashmir Valley. This is an old strategy employed by Indian politicians and policy-makers, to completely dodge the issue and hope the problem — this can mean anything: the poor, the huge population, silly Ladies asking for rights, take your pick according to your mood! — will just dissolve away as we busy ourselves with four more years of systematic oligarchy. Every single newspaper since the past three weeks have been talking about the President’s impending visit to India, covered every second of his visit and now are doing soul-deep articles on the clothes the First Couple wore and other extremely relevant topics while the account of four Dalit women who were raped yesterday just outside of Mumbai for pressing charges against army officials for previous episodes of unwarranted assault and violence are somehow unwritten about.

This morning as I seethed in fury at the sheer injustice of it all, another post about the Obama visit shines at me from its spot on the newspaper. I can re-hear the words, “I am so happy, that India has now left behind the rank of being a Third World Country” that had almost become the national rhetoric last week; only this time the question “At whose cost?” is glowing just beneath it and refuses to go away unanswered. Many history lessons from my school days come to mind where I’d read India’s name in the list of ‘backward’ nations and shuffle around it, swirling the words in my mouth, imagining what ‘forward’ must look like then. And today, it seems that ‘forward’ is here; I’d always thought this day would somehow magically manifest itself over the calendar, be celebrated and leave a mark. Little did I know, this very mark will never come off of my skin, no matter how hard I try to scrape it off. I can’t seem to understand our dedication to the words “global village” or “solidarity” especially since they’ve started to look more dangerous than ever to me, considering our fetish with borders and chalk lines; between nations and states, added to our affinity with using the many perks of ‘democracy’ — military authoritarianism of course! — or any other ‘freedoms’ can afford us. In some part of my LadyBrain I can for a few moments understand why would being ‘Universal’ appeal to us, for who wouldn’t want to UnWrite the narrative of the Empire, People Of The Olde Interwebes? I won’t lie, being the Inscriber has held its charm for me; I have dreamt many times how would possessing and prodding spaces feel like, instead of just ‘occupying them’. But when reality sinks in, too many discrepancies between the dream and the lived reality become painfully visible.

Jaded's picture

Weekly Sexual/Textual Reader (Week Three)

As it turns out, recovering from flu is more exhausting than it seems — something about watery eyes, raging fevers and runny noses fits in here. Of course I won’t mention that here because I’m classy like that — so I’m posting this book review three weeks late. Apologies from an invalid lady on the delay! For the uninitiated, you can read Part One and Two here.

Dear Tumblr,

It shouldn’t surprise you too much when I say I can’t easily tolerate misogynist writers or their ‘critically’ acclaimed works — my pesky gendered brain raises its head at the most inopportune moments! — and I have flung many books on the wall the moment the narrative gets too dudely for me; when the ‘unsexed’ narrator played by the White Male Default Human insists on me achieving a series of mental orgasms because the dudely protagonist lifted a finger or sneezed, when women are devoured whole under the pretext of being ‘universal’, ‘progressive’ and when they’re written with the intensity of lightly buttered toast to shed Lady Insights On The Resident Douche are a few of my feuds with such writers and their works. In brief, this LadyBrain is fatally allergic to anything even remotely dudely. In such books, the Body is heavily inscribed with invisible meanings and norms that almost always further heteronormativity — patriarchy is so predictable! — here the body becomes a site of conquest, possession and most importantly, a sort of a Tabula Rasa, waiting to be inscribed upon. This Body is almost always feminine or made feminine, either by blatant submissiveness or misogyny, reserving the spot of the creator or sculptor for the Default Human or the occasional case of the Lady acting ‘tough’ (read: Dudely) and veritably focusing agency and action on the male-identified characters in the narrative.

This is mainly the reason I stray away from books that focus on the Body alone, it scares me how easily it can be consumed and made into an object, with a few well-placed phrases and words. I remember being moved to tears by just reading Toni Morrison’s description of Sethe’s scarred back in Beloved to the extent that whenever I see a knotted tree trunk, I can only think of her. Can you see People Of The Olde Interwebes why reading about the Body is often triggering and a stressful subject position for me to take? But somehow, Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Written On The Body’ came nowhere close to the trauma I expected. In fact, it has carved a permanent niche on my skin. Perhaps that bit about the Tabula Rasa is true after all!

Jaded's picture

A Woman Like That

Last year, I met an extremely interesting woman; she was fierce, passionate and charming. She had one ‘problem’, she was a part of the bigger sect we post-caste Indians have conveniently labelled ‘Dalit’. And to advance her (un)popularity, she was a former sex-worker. She worked as a maid in one of my aunt’s houses and I spoke very briefly with her before my aunt reprimanded me for talking to a woman like that. As if, whatever ‘problem’ or ‘disease’ she had, it would somehow seep through my skin too, or worse I’d become a woman like that too! Or maybe she just really hates two utreuses talking — and you know utreuses,  they ruin everything! — and that’s why she made me go to another room. Or maybe having a woman like that under your roof makes the air contaminated and you need to make sure that her ‘stench’ leaves with her. I for one am confused as to why would you let her work in your house if you feel it’s necessary to douse the house with ‘holy’ water after she leaves (think of the water waste daily!), obviously considering you can’t stand to be in the same room as her. I’d rather not employ someone I have a problem with than to employ them and treat them as less than human. But, that may just be me. I’m just a sillyarse LadyBrain after all.

I’ve heard about women like that since I figured out ‘that’ was a part of the Secret Indian Code parents or grown-ups use when referring to sex-workers. Or a woman who commits adultery – are you shocked that some women out here have affairs? Perhaps you should really give up thinking that all we do is squat in the mud all day. It might make comprehension of humans as a species a tad easier — or perhaps she’s a woman who had pre-marital sex. A woman like that always had to correspond with any vulva going out of line. Somehow circumstance, context and coercion wouldn’t be a part of such a discussion, just emphasis on how wrong the sexual transgression was and it ends with the same bleat of These Modern Women Racing To Be The Next Best Prostitute. Imagine my shock when someone I know called Arundhati Roy a woman like that. It shook the ground beneath my feet — take that Rushdie! — when I realised I didn’t know the Secret Indian Code at all. Turns out, a woman like that doesn’t require special prowess or inclination to indulge in more than socially sanctioned amounts of coitus but rather any woman whom the DudeCouncil considers ‘going out of her place’.

Jaded's picture

Hark! I Hear Whispers Of 'Hysteria' Again*

As it is required by the Handbook of LadyBusiness, I do have a mandatory LadyFriend who helps me pick out books and bags, nods in agreement after I'm done talking and sometimes talks; and even then only talks about me. Fine, I embellished a little. The truth is, often we agree so intensely on so many subjects, it seems like we're speaking a language only the two of us understand. It's an equally flattering and jarring experience to see yourself reflected in someone else, to such an extent. So a few weeks ago, I was down with what are commonly known as VulvaBlues, where once a month a monster looms over you and everything you say comes out lined with fire. In the middle of one such rant, I lost it and started crying, hysterically. She managed to calm me down after a while and we left it at that. Later that week, she confessed she had these fits of emotions too from raging fury to a suicidal calm, from feeling euphoric to wanting to be left alone, all in the span of a few hours. She thought she was the only one with these "mood swings". Over the next few days as I discussed the same topic of 'Female Hysteria' with my professors, friends and some ex-students of mine, one thing became clear. We're all 'hysterical'. Just like the time in Victorian England, a woman would be silenced and put in the attic -- Who can ever forget Bertha? -- under the notion of being 'hysterical', seems like we are also labelling ourselves 'abnormal'; for this 'fury', 'rage' and 'anger' that we feel can't be normal, can it? Especially when we know just where the problem lies. Or that was the assumption, anyway.

All these women I speak of are either feminist, Marxist, (closeted) atheists,  political activists or involved in some or the other form of an anti-establishment philosophy; in addition to occupying traditional patriarchal spaces of being wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and so many other categories that are too complicated to ever pin down. I don't mean to insinuate that somehow these women I speak of are 'different' -- and by extension inherently superior (Ick!) -- or that women who don't fit any of the above labels have never witnessed the same 'fury', but rather that I identify strongly with these women, I could discuss at length and even seek permission to personalise and localise this collective 'Cultural Hysteria' that we feel. As it turns out, despite being so politically active, most of us lead ruptured lives, where what we are in our Personal Skins is so radically different from what we perform to be in our Family or Public Skins, revealing the TrueSelf only in a few safe spaces, having the Public Performative Identity gulp down huge chunks of our Private Skin. And to say from this fracture between the Public and the Private comes the 'fury' and 'hysteria' would be to easily and anthropologically further fissure our fragmented lives. Also being 'culturally hysterical' myself, such simple unraveling is a tad hard to achieve People of The Olde Interwebes.

Jaded's picture

Negotiating Silences Within Spaces

As the eldest daughter of a Hindu family, I occupy a number of spaces that intertwine, merge and blur with the larger idea or identity that I like to believe is me, somewhere inside. Whether or not I believe in the values and ideals endorsed by Hinduism is inconsequential to the space of the 'dutiful Hindu daughter' that is allotted to me. It works as a double bind, where even imagining another identity is impossible and at the same time, this old one is a comfortable claustrophobia we've become used to. This weekend while talking to a few of my old friends as we sat discussing and catching up whatever we'd missed over the years, one thing was clear -- this is a big one people of the Olde Interwebes -- All Of Us Were Uncomfortable In The Skin That Is Technically Supposed To Be Wearing! After a little alcohol and a few hours of talking, all of us started talking about things that left us uneasy about our 'roles'. From too much expected virtuosity to too many barriers to being "ourselves", the problems started coming through. What struck me is how natural the whole conversation was, like I've heard this many times before and knew exactly where to sigh, exclaim, gasp, be silent, chime in accord. Like a well rehearsed scene, it flowed seamlessly. So did the guilt that comes after such a confession.

Even the way we were talking was shrouded in ambiguity and a hazy layers of meanings. We didn't say, "I hate such and such" but instead started sentences with "I wish I didn't have to..."; never fully coming out and expressing what lay inside. And then like an extremely French déjà vu I remembered where I've seen this happen. Practically everywhere, my LadyBrain now remembered. In family discussions that involve Decisions Of The Extremely Serious Kind, I've seen many an aunt and even my mum enter the discourse from breaks and silences. Retreating before anyone else notices, the Voice is again beneath the purdah safe in its distance from the world and yet sad due to its very muffled impact. I will not say that this is how every woman is every day but confess that we've all played a part in this hide-and-seek at some part of our lives. What really strikes me is how voluntary the action seems, more natural than breathing sometimes.

Quiet Riot Girl's picture

Notes From the Driving Seat

This is a wonderful post by Jenny The Trucker, about resisting gender binaries and celebrating both 'masculine' and 'feminine' aspects of identity.

Quiet Riot Girl's picture

Today I Am...

I help moderate a blog called 'We haven't kissed enough pretty girls'. It is a place for anyone who rejects binary gender and sexuality identities.

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