Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why An Indian Girl Who Chose To Grow Into An Indian Woman

The Indian girl who chose to become an American woman was right about one thing. She did learn how to sit at a big round table and say things in a way that made it seem like she knew what she was talking about, and it is clear that she is perfectly capable of making a convincing argument about pretty much anything.

I knew this to be true the minute she brought about Nirbhaya. Because the Nirbhaya case was a matter of national shame, probably the lowest of our lows, something that shook us to our core. But for me, it was the incident that put the Indians who truly believed in the potential of the country to become a great nation into a defensive corner. I knew that it would be the story that many would look bring up from now on to definitively “prove” about the barbaric inferiority of my country, thereby reinforcing the ideas of being inherently lesser that colonization has deeply cemented in our psyches.

Like the newly minted American woman, I too am at an American university right now. However, I think that’s where the similarities end. Therefore, allow me to present a different perspective on the country I still, quite proudly, call home.

When the Nirbhaya case happened, I had just started with college. I started living in a PG which charged me a meager sum of money for basic living facilities, with three roommates who all came from smaller towns. We were all women, and all rattled by what had happened to a girl similar in age to us, all exposed to pretty much every side of the argument, from the feminist protest and women’s safety marches to the groups that blamed the victim, and the case became something through which we started exploring our own perceptions of ourselves and our womanhood. We had disagreements about what constituted sexual harassment, what could be called rape and what punishment suits the horrific crime. And yes, I will admit that many ignorant comments were made (there was a girl who said, “Look, if you have an expensive laptop, you can’t go around parading it in front of a thief. If you’re a woman, you can’t live with the same liberties as a man. That’s just how it is.”) Fights broke out, with me often losing my temper and yelling when women were accused of being temptresses of some kind, provoking young men to commit actions that they wouldn’t otherwise commit. But at the end of our stay together, as a result of all our controversial conversations, we all grew. We became better people, more understanding of the struggles of other women, broadening our minds and our inquisitiveness, and instead of being disheartened and wondering why we were still having arguments about injustices that are very clearly, well, injustices, I felt like I had been a small part of a small change.

When I left India to pursue graduate studies abroad, it wasn’t because I was running away from something. My grandparents on both sides were refugees, and thankfully, at least in my family, the running away from violence ended with them. My father, hardworking and ambitious as he is, had a good job he was proud of and that led us to living in New Delhi and Mumbai, and for college, I went to Jadavpur Unviersity in Kolkata. My college experience was different from the American woman’s. I went to school with students from all stratas of society, and we all became friends, and I don’t think there will ever be a day when I will not be proud of that, and I had no loans or debt because I basically studied for free. My classmates were curious, overwhelmed with work and expectations, getting drunk and waking up hung over, engaging in philosophical debates even though Hegel wasn’t a part of our syllabus. It was a fun four years, and they made me look forward to the rest of my life, even though I understood that college was a bubble and grown-up life would be different.
By the end of my 23-year stay in my country, I kind of felt like I had seen it all. I wanted to see what education abroad is like. In Europe and Japan, language would be a problem, so America would be my destination of higher education. I wanted to do research here. I like America and I think I am doing well for myself here, but I have a plan to eventually go back to my own country.

The minute I stepped in America, I became Indian with a capital ‘I’. I felt like someone who was a representative of a vast and diverse country, and therefore, felt responsible to be honest as well as dignified in my representation from it, which basically meant that I needed to hold my head up high and pray and work and root for Mangalyaan in the face of constant media coverage of rape and child marriage. Some days, this was such a hard task that I wondered if it would be easier to just get on some Mangalyaan thin and just move to Mars. But fortunately, I am not devoid of hope, not superior to my countrymen who I’m now living 8000 miles away from, and perhaps naively hopeful that there is a miniscule sense of power to bring some positive change in my representation of my country. Some of my fellow Indian graduate students call me stupid, while some have expressed admiration in my views. But my views aren’t for any of those two groups. They are for and my home.

If the Indian girl who chose to become an American woman wants to settle in the US, good for her. It is her choice, and perhaps she doesn’t know this, but many Indians believe in personal choice and freedom, even the ones who never studied abroad. But to say that India failed its women on an international platform, and using our biggest shame, the Nirbhaya case, to justify your personal decisions is, well, low, not to mention, a mockery of people like me who don’t mind putting in the belief and work to make our own country a better place. Feelings aside, her position is damaging to all immigrants. It gives ammunition to white nationalists like Richard Spencer who claim that non-white immigrants are just people who couldn’t do anything in their country and are now just trying to feed off what  “white” countries have already built. The part where she says India is just a place where everybody’s just getting raped every minute is disturbing, because it makes Indian men sound like monsters who do nothing but torture women all day. How is it any different than some very powerful person claiming all Mexicans are drug dealers or all Muslims are terrorists?

Also, how does her position make sense? Should 1.3 billion Indians just move to America? Is that a solution? Last but not the least, it is important to note that there has been a recent surge of NRIs bombarding social media with their views on what is wrong with India from the relative safety of their foreign “first-world” abodes. But their constant criticism is hurting India economically. In the age of globalization, many countries need foreign investment to thrive, and who would want to invest in a country its own people are disparaging of? An example of badly affected industry is tourism. Every month, I meet an American who tells me they could never dream of going to India because of how it’s unsafe for women, and now, they will never see Kashmir, Agra, Kerala or Shantiniketan, which is a shame.

As I type up this article on my computer, passionately banging away on my keyboard after a night of not having slept, I feel a deep shame, this time not for the crime and corruption that I hope we keep fighting against in India, but for the colonial mentality that still plagues my countrymen and seems exacerbated in NRIs. Because, to be honest, I think that’s what the article was about. It wasn’t about the safety (or lack thereof) of women in India at all. It was about the happiness many Indians seem to get simply by being in a foreign country. They may not feel themselves inferior to their new mostly white, mostly wealthy peers but they do feel superior to us backward natives, and the idea of coming back to India is the stuff of nightmares for them. I am hurt and saddened by this, and wish it weren’t true, but how else can I explain someone joining the freaking American army when they seem to have not a single thought to spare for our brave armymen fighting for what is good in our country, or any of the values of the truly patriotic Indian? All this just for a citizenship?

Maybe I believe in too much and hope for too much. But here I am, being me, hoping to bring some small shred of change. And yes, I feel like superior to those who don’t even try.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Flor and Snow

Once upon a time, Prince Flor fell in love with Princess Snow.

One day, they met in his room, with a lotus bed topped with a leafy canopy, sitting quietly in a forest where his powers ensured that the flowers always bloomed and the leaves always changed colour.

“You bring out in me a softness, my dear prince,” said the golden-haired princess with eyes the color of the setting sky. “But most importantly, you love me as I am.”

“And you, my dear princess, bring me strength, inspire in me a power I never had,” replied the blue-skinned prince. He wrapped his lanky arm around his princess.  “But yes, I love that you love me the way I am. Would you please marry me?”

“Yes,” replied the princess. “Promise me we’ll never change, and I’m yours forever.”

As was custom, the two went to the court of the king and queen of love to be married in the presence of all other kings and queens in the land, and their families. There’s had always been a world of precarious balance, and all the rulers needed to approve of all unions to ensure the balance would never disturbed.

The red-haired king and queen of love had the final vote, though, and after all the monarchs had risen in their seats to express their approval. They exchanged a look of concern.  “Are you sure?” asked the queen. “You belong to different world, and this marriage won’t be easy.”

The princess took a long look at her prince and replied, “But we know each other now, and we love each other the way we are. Not to mention, we both deserve someone who will be our companion till the end of time, because look at us! Look at what we’ve made of ourselves!”

The king nodded. “Yes. It appears the two of you will be successful contributors to the natural order.
The king and queen turned to each other, and deliberated in whispers for a few minutes. Then, they finally faced their court and said, “Fine. We bless your union. May you flourish together on your destined path.”

Prince Flor and Princess Snow retreated to their palace on the foothills, somewhere between the icy chill of the higher peaks and the lush greens of the fertile plains. They worked all day, helping their parents oversee the realms below. But things changed one day, when Princess Flor came to their living room and looked out of their window to see their flowers lacking in colour. She found her prince in his study, and asked, “The roses don’t look very red.”

He smiled, but the corners of his mouth wouldn’t rise high enough. “Mankind can be rough on my family.”

“I’ve heard,” said Princess Snow. “But what can I say, you just have to stand strong.”

Prince Flor furrowed his brow. “Believe me, I am trying.”

“If you want, I could freeze half the land.” The princess shrugged.

“That’s not what I want. I want mankind to flourish and appreciate my family’s work.”

“Well, a little bit of chill never hurt anyone.”

Prince Flor didn’t say anything, but a short wall came up between them, growing taller by the day. It wasn’t as if they were changing. They were merely becoming more of who they were.
Prince Flor’s instinct was to always nurture, and he went to dozens of meetings with the prince of humanity to reach a solution to his problems. But both princes were losing, but at the same time didn’t want to punish the lower realm for their hurt. It just wasn’t in their nature.

“You said I brought you strength,” said Princess Snow. Their bedroom was slowly growing colder, a thin sheet of ice spreading through the ceiling. “Sometimes, one nedds the strength to deliever justice. Unfortunately, justice isn’t always sweet for everyone.”

“But I cannot be like you,” replied Prince Flor. “I believe in letting things grow, not thwarting them by force.”

“Well, I believe things need to end in order to begin again. That’s my role. And yes, I use force, but force is necessary.”

Prince Flor got out off their marital bed and started walking away. “I think I’ll sleep on the couch today.”

“You can’t. It’s freezing there. I was lying on it this afternoon and I was angry with you-“

“I’ll bring it back to its natural state,” said Prince Flor. “Because that’s what I do. God! I would love a bit of appreciation around here.”

The strong, icy princess had had enough. The next morning she went to the king and queen of love.

“We need to break up,” she said. “It’s just not working out.”

The queen raised her eyebrows. “You are married. You can’t just break up.”

“But you can reverse the union, annul it!”

“But we won’t. Because there is still love between the two of you. We can feel it in our bones, because that’s what we are good at,” said the kind. He leaned back on his red throne, his face set in lines of determination.

“But we don’t love each other for who we are anymore. We want each other to change. Doesn’t that mean we have failed? Because I know I’m one hell of a woman and I don’t need to tailor myself to the needs of any man.”

The king and queen were speechless for a second and then burst out laughing. The princess through her hands up in the air, exasperated. “Is this a game or something?” she shrieked.

“Young girl, everyone needs to change and that’s how love wins out in the end,” said the queen.

“What?” said the Princess.

The king nodded at his wife. “We don’t mean you need to change your very being. That’s not love. But you must learn to link yourself to your beloved, and feel him in your very heart as if he’s part of you. You don’t have to tailor anything, but you have to be receptive to growth, which in its own way, is change.”

The princess was confused. But she knew she couldn’t change their minds. She went home, unsure of what to do, and found her husband in their garden. Their vegetable patch would soon die off. Princess Snow watched the cabbages growing brown and wrinkled, the spinach in their last stage of life. She looked at Prince Flor. And for the first time, she was defeated. She hadn’t been able to freeze his heart and instead he had melted hers by just standing strong and unmoving, and wasn’t that what she, the heir to all that was chilly and cold, was known for?

She looked up at the sky and lifted her arms in the air, using her powers to freeze the realm in town, channeling her uncle, the king of time, to freeze the heavenly clocks and not just the air. Prince Flor felt the change. He turned around to see his wife working her magic.

“I want to know what you were going through,” said Prince Flor. “I love you as you are, but we will grow together.”

They went to their room and the Prince told her everything. “I just don’t know what to do,” he said. 
“I want mankind to grow, but I’m not sure they will be able to once my family loses its powers. I have given a lot to the earth, but what did I get in return? I have been cut and slashed and burnt, and yes, I can take a hit, but now it’s just too much.”

That was when he held out his arm to her, and she saw the lines on it, skin ripped open and then healing but not all the way, flesh that now threatened to burst open. She held his hand and kissed his palms, and a tear slipped from her eyes.

It started with their bedroom. The frost subsided. Then, time started moving again. Slowly, the upper reaches of the heavenly mountains became warmer. Princess Snow couldn’t stop crying.

Her tears had a way of manifesting themselves in the realm below, as the glaciers began to melt. The cities mankind had so painstakingly built, taking from the gifts bestowed by Prince Flor and his friends, started drowning.

Mankind was taken aback. What had they done? What could be done now? They weren’t sure, but it started by planting a tree.

“What did you do?” said Prince Flor. “I feel…warmer.”

“I don’t know,” said Princess Snow. “I just listened to you, and I couldn’t help it.”
Prince Flor sighed. “Thank you for understanding. I have a feeling everything will be fine now.”

“Indeed,” said the king of love, miles away from the couple but still experiencing their reconnection, still on his throne with a glass of wine. He raised his glass in a toast, and said, “To the power of love.”

His wife nodded once and raised her glass to his. “And to the power of change. May they always coexist for the sake of every realm in the universe.”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Most People Have Jobs

Jordan Peterson is a famous professor of psychology and clinical psychologist. By Western standards, he is a conservative. He is known for advocating traditional gender norms and insisting there are, in fact, only two genders. Although I don't agree with a lot of things he says (no, Mr. Peterson, not all women are attracted to dangerous men, although we do collectively apologize for the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey), I must say there's something he said in a podcast that caught my attention in a positive way.
He said that before we go on to debate whether the right to have a career should be socially limited by gender, race or class, we must first acknowledge that most people don't have careers. They have jobs. Careers and jobs are very different things. The whole point of something being a job is that you're being paid to do work that you wouldn't do unless you were paid. I write this blog without any financial benefit because it's my interest. I go to architecture school in hopes of securing a job. I'm sure you can find the distinction in your own life as well. Therefore, Peterson argues, this glorification of having "careers" must be stopped as it is selling the wrong idea to people.

Children are taught that a) everybody has something they're good at and b)if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. These lessons are taught in the context of informing their professional lives. However - and remember we're all either already parents or have a chance of being one some day - are we completely misleading the future generation? Are we feeding them dreams of something that does not exist? Because if you're an adult and you're reading this, how did following your dreams and going after what you want work out for you? I'm guessing not so great, unless you are very lucky. This is not because you didn't try hard enough or because other people are out to get you, it's because all sanity in the world depends on the rigged system in which there will always be more people dying to be actors than to be accountants, accompanied by there always being greater need for accountants than actors. It is economics in its purest forms. There are a lot of bright, talented people out there but unfortunately, there isn't a need for that many of them working professionally, which is why our dreams might not come true unless we are in the top 1% or something. You could be in the top 5%, which would practically make you a genius in your chosen field, and still not be equipped for astounding professional success in your field.

But let's be honest. We all knew this, right? That's why people go for the next best option to actually making a career out of their passion : going after the most socially valued positions. If you sat for the IIT entrance exams, you know what I am talking about. I find it hard to believe that every year, millions of students aged 17-18 all have the dream to become engineers because it is downright ridiculous for so many people to want the same thing. Yet, the two years preceding the exams, at least for me, were about being surrounded by classmates who truly believed that becoming an engineer was their calling in life. I remember thinking that if there truly is an existence of Gods and they are all fighting for supremacy, at least in India, Lord Bishwakarma had clearly won, inspiring more people than any other Hindu God chilling in the five-star abode of heaven. Same goes for top management positions as well, which is even more laughable when all those who were dying to become engineers just four years ago can't think of any valid career option that can be accomplished without going to management school. None of this has anything to do with passion, or dreams or even ability for that matter. It is about vying for positions achievable on limited means that offer the highest amount of social capital and you're doing it out of pure interest. Sure, there are some people who really do love their professions, but I think it's fair to admit that's a minority. 

The thing is that even the privileged 1% who do make their dreams come true aren't necessarily exempt from the frustrations of doing things they don't want to do. What we are not aught in school that most people we see to be financially secure (or rich) are not only the products of high salaries but of the decision to suitably invest those salaries, and trust me, most people don't enjoy the headache of buying and selling shares and property. Secondly, even the super successful aren't exempt. Just look at famous actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. Shah Rukh trained to be an actor with one of the most prestigous theatre companies in the country, and from what I hear, was pretty bad at academics during his time at Jamia. But now, he has to invest in a cricket team to stay rich and act in movies like Happy New Year (in spite of being capable of doing a Chak De India every year) just to keep the connections that would enable him to get better jobs. Even Aamir Khan, with his big words on cinema and society, has to watch Katrina Kaif do an acrobatic striptease in Dhoom 3 from time to time. This is all because even successful people are not bigger than the market they serve, and once again, we are back to simple economics. Perhaps there are people who change the world altogether, but they come maybe around once or twice in a generation, and I don't care how awesome you are, it would be arrogant to think you're one of them without substantial proof.

The truth is that we use our jobs to make ourselves look good, and judge others for their job. But ask any grown-up who has been in the workforce for thirty years or so and they'll tell you that jobs, even the most socially lauded of them, aren't all they're cracked up to be. Calling them "careers" is glorifying them and in spite of claims to the contrary, fueling a society where a people are valued mostly by the work they do and not by who they are, a culture where mere teenagers are pitted against each other to determine who is the "best." Wouldn't we be better off just admitting that jobs are what we do to make money in a legal, non-harming way, so that we have the luxury to pursue the relaxation offered by our passions?

I'll be honest, I have often be accused of having a very bleak outlook of life. However, recently, a close friend of mine asked me how I could stay unchanging and have a general idea of what I want. I was obviously flattered by the question, and here is my answer : I don't consider myself to be good enough to get exactly what I want. That is my starting point in any matter. I started writing stories as a very young child. I put up my own play when I was ten and wrote more than fifty emails selling my book to literary agents worldwide when I was twelve. My play was horrible and I still have the rejection letters from the agents. These experiences had a profound effect on me. Firstly, I realized I wasn't good enough just because I felt I was better than X.Y. and Z, which was disappointing at them time. But the reason I am one of those rare adults who is still doggedly pursuing their childhood dream is because with the disappointment and depression, there was a sense of pride in knowing that while other kids my age were thinking of becoming something someday, I was already producing written works, and I felt that if there was one thing that could one day help me achieve my dream, it would not be my superior literary talent (frankly, I don't even consider myself an avarage literary talent), but the fact that I was I was constantly producing something. And once again, it was production and not intention that put me at an advantage, because, well, that's just how economics works. But this is about more than economics. This is about how I choose to live my life.

Look around you. There are so many people who say they want to become something, but how much of that is transformed into action? This can most notably be observed in the recent phenomenon of a large number of young people wanting to have businesses in tech. How many boys who want to have startups are already looking for investors? Or coding a part of their program? 

Now, I am nowhere implying any sense of superiority. I am, quite evidently, average at best, and if I wasn't, I would have already had my dream so there's no logical reason for me to assume I am better than anyone else. But as I finish this post, I realize that I started writing about one thing and ended up writing about something completely different. This is because words like "dreams" and "jobs" and "careers" have now been so jumbled up that we are constantly trying to figure out what we want, which is the biggest handicap of our generation and what is keeping up from being proactive. We are not clear about who we are and what we want, reluctant to admit that the work we do isn't what we like to do or to confess our true notions of how important our work, on an individual level, really is. It is making us wait too long, hope for a career than may not exist for us, and encouraging in us a false sense of I-can-achieve-whatever-I-want. So perhaps it's time we take a step back and look at our jobs for what they really are, and give people a chance even if they don't have real careers as we define the term.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Of Women and Work

Before I start with the post, I want to tell you why I decided to write about this in the first place.

For the past few days, I have been watching videos about what the right path is for women. Is it a career? Is it motherhood? Or is it both, in which case, are we asking for more than we can handle? I'm new to America, and out here, it seems that ideologies are inflexible, and what women should or shouldn't do is a core principle defining every ideology. Evidently, there is a lot of gender politics, and I admit that not all of it is against women. Some of it is against men as well, and it's not like men aren't burdened with expectations as well. I mean, we'd be lying if we said a stay-at-home dad is shamed less than a woman whose priority is her career.

I'm not going to go over what feminists and anti-feminists and conservatives and liberals and blah blah blah. It seems to me that ideology is politics, and I'm not going to make decisions regarding my life based on politics. I only want to talk about what view I have about how I should live my life, and people are free to disagree.

I have been mocked for the fact that I love children and the idea of motherhood. In my college years, I felt like I was the only girl openly admitting to feeling that family is one of the most important things in my life, while most other girls went on and on about how career should be the only focus at least the next decade. On several accounts, I felt like my beliefs were a joke, open to ridicule because they sounded more conservative, and debunking conservative viewpoints makes you a champion of progress, doesn't it? Never mind that a man saying he doesn't need a woman is called sexist and a woman saying she doesn't need a man is called a feminist by the liberal media, because we're all about equality here, right? Never mind the fact that this constant criticism and abandonment of traditional female roles shames and trivializes all that was done by our female ancestors and reduces their contributions to nothing simply because they weren't warriors or kinds, because if a woman wants to have a family, she's just conforming, isn't she?

The part that disturbed me the most was the fact that most of the ridicule towards my view on life came from other girls, not boys, and that's embarrassing not only because I thought we agreed that after years of oppression it's time for girls to stick up for one another, but also because these girls weren't really doing better with their careers than I was. I did reasonably well in my college career, and whether or not I wanted to devote my whole life to a career was not something I could be judged by as we were all in exactly the same point in our professional lives, and it was like they could claim some kind of social superiority just for an ideology they have, not for actions and results.

And to be honest, this is just disturbing:

So here's my take on all the "feminists" who are busy making fun of "housewives" and "girlie girls" or whatever - FEMINIST IS NOT A PROFESSION. You're not making things any better for your gender just by believing in equality, because what does belief really amount to anyways? Actions, on the other hand, amount to a lot, and a woman who wakes up at five in the morning prepares food for her whole family, gets her children ready for school, gets her husband (or wife) a cup of tea, manages the resources of the household, supervises the more tedious household chores, and teaches her kids values, is doing a lot more than someone who just believes they're a feminist. Household work, whether done by a man or a woman, is, at the end of the day, work, and doesn't stop being it just because it's not paid for or credited. It doesn't come with health insurance or company retreats, and there aren't any paid vacations.  Yes, it's true that there are housewives who don't work very hard, but that's just as common as women who don't work very hard at the workplace, so stop devaluing the work that millions of women are doing when you're just a student and before you yourself have done any real work.

Also, if the pursuit of a career really is about equality, a woman shouldn't have to choose it over a family because men don't have to choose between the two. If you're a modern woman under the impression that you're somehow becoming superior by rejecting traditional female roles, try to remember that men aren't being asked to reject traditional male roles to become worth something. And just so you know, making fun of motherhood doesn't make you modern anyways. It makes you just as judgemental as the people criticizing working women, just in a reverse way.

That being said, I never agreed to being a stay-at-home mom, either, and it bothers me that I am being made to choose. At this point, one may ask, "If you believe in the power of traditionally female roles so much, then why are you not okay with being limited to them?" The answer is simple.

Even if I do become a mother, and do choose to become a stay-at-home mother at that, there's always the fact that my children will grow up fast and one day, won't need me as much. Therefore, even if I am completely fulfilled by motherhood, my work will lessen with time till finally, in old age, I will be the one dependent on my children. This is the reason that I have a desire to be something aside from a wife and mother. I want access to a socially contributing community apart from the people at home, and for that, I need to work. And yes, motherhood is a gift given to humanity, but I won't glorify it so much as to say that a woman's worth comes only from that. If that were the case, women would lose their value the minute they weren't at the prime age for having children anymore, and I am not okay with that. I don't want to have a shelf life, and I don't want to ever become obsolete. Also, if I get a good job, fair and square, why should I let it go? In today's economic climate, it's uncertain who will or will not stay employed and for how long. It is quite possible that my partner loses his job due to company cuts or whatever and if I work, I will be serving my family by being the breadwinner for that period of time.

For the rest of my life, I'm going to balance between family and work, and I am okay if I have to stay home for a while to start a family because technically, I stayed out of the home for a long time to start a career too. I hope companies will understand this and allow up to ten years of gap in employment for women who have families, and I will accept it if the sabbatical means I have to start from one or two loser rungs in the ladder as long as I'm not expected to start back up from the very beginning. But most importantly, I'm not going to judge and shame women who are not like me, because let's be honest, the whole family versus career debate is complicated for them! If you are not like me and only want a career, that's great. If you only want a family and are willing to be completely devoted to that role, then that's great too. Whatever works for you is fine. But if you're young like me, I think the best thing to do would be to think all life decisions through before buying into any particular ideology, no matter how traditional or progressive, because women have been dealing with social shackles for centuries, and being confined by ideology is, at the end of the day, it is only by keeping our options open that we become truly liberated.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raj and His White Girlfriends

I recently came across this Buzzfeed video about why Asian men aren't considered attractive by Western society:

Don't be fooled by the provocative thumbnail. The video is actually filmed in an discussion format, with fully dressed men talking about some serious issues of race and discrimination. I would suggest you watch the video, but if you decide not to, here's the summary - four representatives of the Asian community voice their concerns about Asian men being emasculated, infantilized and disrespected by Western media, perpetuating the myth that Asian men are unattractive. Of course, there are male Asian celebrities who are considered very attractive, but it feels unfair to name genetically-blessed celebrities in this argument because there's always going to be some attractive people in every community, but if that community has negative stereotypes associated with it, these people will be considered the exception. Also, the discussion is about average guys of all races. I mean, think about it. Nobody says, "White men are so not attractive," with someone replying, "That's not true. Just look at Tom Cruise." In fact, the reply will most likely come in the form of collective raised eyebrows doubting the naysayer's sanity. Lastly, it is important to understand that even though this may feel like a trivial concern at first glance, the impression you form of someone based on their race is, at the end of the day, a manifestation of racial discrimination, and is likely to seep into other, more important matters. For example, Americans are less likely to accept an Asian president as they are often portrayed and perceived as less "manly" than their counterparts in other races, and people would think they're better suited for Silicon Valley than the White House.

I agree with most of the things they say in the video. To be honest, it riled me up.

But then I started thinking about it more, and there was something disturbing happening here, in my opinion.

On of the most famous Asian characters in recent times is Raj Koothrapalli. For a second here I'll ignore the ridiculous surname. When I was in high school, some of my friends picked up on how Raj got the fewest lines because he couldn't talk in front of women (which is just taking a stereotype too far), and is the only character to not have a long-term girlfriend even in the eleventh season. He's portrayed as having feminine characters, and there's nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that Hollywood reserves these roles for gay and Asian men. So, yeah, there's a lot of things that are wrong with how Raj has been characterized, and it's all pretty racist.

There's one thing that always bothered me, though, and I am sorry to say that I have, in fact, noticed this characteristic in a lot of Asian men.

Still from an episode in which Raj invites all his ex-girlfriends to talk while Howard takes notes

While Raj may not be very attractive to most white women he encounters, the real issue here is that Raj himself seems to only want to date white women. He's at a university. You could find hundreds of Asian women at most good universities in America, women who wouldn't look at his Asian-ness as a negative. He probably didn't go mute around all the girls back home, right? Is it just a nervous tic for attractive women, which in this case seems to imply mostly white women? I often feel infuriated by the way Raj talks about his life back in India, as if coming to America was all that matters, as if his education prior to the part he is pursuing in America was worthless (even though that education gets thousands of Asians to prestigous universities around the world every year). I will openly admit that I actually kind of hate Raj as a character, which is why I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

It's not just Raj. While Asian women have been historically sexualized and commodified by white men, Asian men have also been guilty of idolizing white women as the pinnacle of beauty and sophistication. This is especially true in Indian men. Indian society values "white" features (straight noses, high cheekbones, and most importantly, fair skin), and a lot of men are fascinated by white women, placing them higher than Indian women in terms of attractiveness. One might argue with me on this in the comments, but the sales of fairness creams and magazine covers featuring Indian actresses who've used plastic surgery to eliminate the Indian-ness of their features will speak in my defense.

Why is it that members of Asian media suddenly seem to mean more when they succeed in Hollywood? More importantly, do you think any white men would really care if Asian women didn't find them attractive?

At some point, I stop to question : Are we fighting for representation, or are we begging for approval from a politically more powerful and represented community, hoping that we'll be let into their elite club?

What we need is a thorough acceptance of our Asian-ness and the creation of a culture that caters to us. A community doesn't become powerful by seeking approval. It does so by sticking together, with the members building each other up instead of striving for ideals set by a different community. In order for people to see the attractiveness in us, we must first see the attractivenes in ourselves, and do so without changing our accents or the way we dress or how we naturally look.

And FYI, I'd be lucky to be able to date a lot of Asian men. But also, somebody like Raj Koothrapalli would need to be born again as a different person to be able to date an Asian woman like me, and I'm not even bragging here.