Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Women-Characters or Performers?

In today's day and age, it's easy for someone like me to go off on film and literary analysis. Let's be honest. Everybody in my particular social class agrees on what is good and bad, to the point of there being very little difference of opinion to pique my interest, and most people get their opinions from reading reviews or watching video essays. Now, there's nothing wrong with this widespread interest in film and literary criticism. However, there is a lack of artistic honesty with believing every source of such criticism and repeating the views of someone else without thinking it through.

A lot of complaints made by cultural critics have been regarding the lack of "strong, female characters" in cinema. I say that in quotes because the term has been used so many times now that it has become less of a description and more of a trope. Just imagine a stone-face, straight-backed woman in muted colors, fast-talking and straight-talking in a way that would undoubtedly make her sound cold in real life, walking with her head held high into a boardroom/operation theatre/NASA/inner city high school/war (or intergalactic war, I am looking at you Rae) or whatever high stress scenario the writers decided to put her in. Critics had reasonable complaints about the lack of strong portrayals of women. However, at some point, the criticism went on for so long and existed so unchallenged that now, what we get in the name of a 'strong, female character' is not a character representing a person, but a character performing feminism. She has no flaws, no weaknesses, and is always ahead of the men around her in a way that is not only unrealistic, but also looks down upon the audience, as if we don't understand that women are strong in spite of having weaknesses and not because they were born with Angelina Jolie's face body with killer martial arts and mathematical skills and just jumped out of the womb ready to raid tombs.

If you're looking for examples, just think about Hermione from Harry Potter, a character so brave, so self-sacrificing, so intelligent, that it is obvious that she is what J.K. Rowling wishes she was, a character I can't bring myself to like because in high school, I was plainer and more bookish than Hermione was ever portrayed to be (thank you, Miss Watson). It's because no my plainness and bookishness had a consequence--no Victor Krum would have asked me out back then, I didn't always get the smartest lines in my group of guy friends, and most importantly, even though I wasn't beautiful by any high school standard, I didn't really have the heart to look upon the girls who liked makeup and clothing and had boys taking interest in them because while I got into a reasonably good architecture course in Kolkata, some of those girls went on to become doctors and economists by getting into colleges I honestly wouldn't have gotten into. Their overt femininity had nothing to do with their brilliance, and I'm saying that even though I didn't necessarily share a great relationship with them. I wonder why nobody looks at the Yule Ball scene as frivolous wish fulfillment even though we're so critical of ugly duckling-to-swan stories where a girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly beautiful. And this is arguably the most beloved female character for our generation.

Hermione had one flaw, that she was plain. But
they fixed that when they cast Emma Watson.

Then came the Reys, the Katnisses, the Trises (because in young adult fiction, 'strong women' can't have normal names). I'm sure this trend is not over, even though the YA dystopia genre is struggling and is getting replaced by the John Green-brand of flawed, sentimentality rooted in real world struggles. Unfortunately, adults don't fare much better. I've already spoken of Tomb Raider, a woman so perfect she puts her male contemporaries to shame, but I must say the reboot did a much better job with its central character. Then there's the superhero genre, which went from corners of nerd culture to the most mainstream cultural phenomenon of the 2010s. There you have your Black Widows, your Captain Marvels and all the women in Black Panther (and I freaking loved Black Panther). These women can have bad things happen to them but they have no internal weaknesses. These characters have no real flaws to speak of, and when they do, it's usually something that's not a real flaw but is presented as a flaw, such as being adorably naive or improbably clumsy or just blissfully unaware of her own beauty. The only exception was Wonder Woman, who is all-powerful but still fawns at the sight of a baby (okay, so maybe I'm being a bit biased about this, as people who know me will say). They perform the feminist narrative of women being equivalent to goddesses, a narrative based more on superiority than equality, and unfortunately, a narrative developed primarily by first-world white women who are now in a position to influence millions of people.

In Hollywood, the festival circuit has been more successful in portraying real women. I fell in love with Ladybird last year, and it didn't matter that she was white and had first world problems because she was real. The unlikeable, difficult and whiny protagonist of The Edge of Seventeen won me over and made me laugh. Heck, Hidden Figures had three heroic, humble, and most importantly, undeniably female and feminine characters that I will remember my whole life. But commercial blockbusters have, for the most part.

What might be surprising to many, but not surprising to me, is that Bollywood has faired much better in this regard. The moral struggles and dilemmas of Raazi's Sehmat had me at the edge of my seat, because she wasn't the usual spy, the killing machine originally written for men and then replaced by a woman. She is a spy because she is a woman, and it is when she sacrifices the stereotypically female ambitions of love and family that I felt the most for her, because one can see how much this sacrifice cost her. For a veriety of reasons, Queen wasn't my favorite film, but Rani's decidedly Indian naivety was so relatable at parts that I had to forgive some double standards in the film and enjoy her antics. People make fun of me for my love of traditional Yash Raj Films, but I related to Shruti Kakkar's dreams in Band Baaja Baraat, and cheered when it was her hard work and diligence, and not male-defeating one liners, that bring her success, and then rooted for her when she chooses to get into an arranged marriage for the sake of her family and her own security, true to her Janakpuri upbringing. But my favorite is the title character from Piku, because give me a few years, and that is who I am becoming--perenially irritated by my parents' house but actually becoming like them, and to top it all off, she was an architect! And I am so proud that these films were not just critical darlings but also commercial successes in a country like India, where Ladybird and Hidden Figures have to settle for festival circuit success which only gets some financial recuperance after awards season promotions.

The reason for this is simple. Commercial Indian cinema written with female characters (at least the good ones) is often written with adult women in mind. Commercial Hollywood fare still has more male fans than female, at least statistically, whether politcial correctness lets us admit it or not. They are geared towards the crowd that grew up with comic books and fantasy worlds, and there is nothing wrong with that per se (even I love myself some of that action) but to hail these characters as the championing voice of feminist representation is to spread misinformation and sets up more unrealistic standards than any Barbie doll could ever set. As a real-life woman, I find it difficult to relate to women on the page or on screen who are so strong, independent and flawless that they could never be real human beings. I feel as if these characters are just wish fulfilment for their writers (whether male and female) who grew up on first world feminism, and their fictional women are projections of what they wish they could be or have. Unfortunately, these characters have an inordinate amount of influence, and are informing a whole generation about what 'good' women are like. What is also unfortunate is that this generation is being deprived of mainstream female role models, ones that we can realistically look up to.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Indians in a Gun-Free (Fictional) Paradise

Recently, I was reading a thread on Quora, all posts answering someone's questions regarding the pros and cons of settling down in the United States. Unsurprisingly, most of the answers were from men, as up until recently, it was men who made the decision to stay and their wives, regardless of whether or not they had a career, who stayed with them. Things have obviously changed. Now, women can purposely seek a life in the States as a part of their life plan, a freedom that many women are taking advantage of, a fact that I am very happy about. The right to choose is relatively new for members of the female persuasion, especially in the Indian context, but it is a welcome change.

Trust me, I wanted to just be proud and be done with the thread. But of course, one woman on the thread had to say something that now has me typing away in the middle of the night, with much to say and nobody to hear me.

Just go on. Read what she wrote:

I'll be honest, her reply left me feeling embarrassed. It is hard not get defensive about the place you were raised in, the one which gave you much of what you have today, even though any NRIs refuse to acknowledge the contributions of IITs and ISIs and many other universities and a traditional family structure in their achievements. As a knee jerk reaction, I wanted to tell this woman (a Bengali woman, one who was probably never exposed to the misogyny and dangers of much more regressive states anyways) that I may not have had a similar sparkling clean park in India, I did enjoy street shopping, street food, and tiny benches under banyan trees, all things that could be relegated to 'cute' by Westerners but had deeply calming and reinvigorating influences on my life, especially when I was in college.

But then the knee jerk reaction was over, and I was struck by a more disturbing realization. This woman is acutely aware of crimes against women in India, and yet, she doesn't seem to register the horrific and inexplicable gun violence in the United States. One day it's a church, the next a school, and then a concert. Lady, innocent children are dying in the middle of class and a hell lot of people think that the answer to that is more guns!

I'm sure some people on the thread pointed this out to her, to which she replied that she was simply stating an undeniable fact. However, her obvious inclination to state the horrible undeniable facts of one country while completely overlooking the undeniable facts of another country signals to a disturbing pattern amongst Indian expats to cherry pick in a way that justifies their decision to stay in foreign lands at the expense of the reputation of an entire country full of people.

Now, there are three possible explanations for this.

The first is that when these people arrived in the United States, they were taken by the obviously better infrastructure, cleanliness and the freedom of being able to start over in a place where nobody knows you. I reluctantly say that this is quite understandable.

However, I believe that the second explanation is more likely. This explanation revolves around a perpetual need of some Indian expats to paint themselves as lifelong victims of oppressive, regressive and sometimes violent systems. If you read the pieces written by these women (including another piece I commented on a few months ago, which many people read and commented on), one notices that their pieces sound somewhat similar to those written by women who escaped, well, the Taliban or North Korea. Sometimes, they claim to be "immigrants" the same way those illegally crossing the border to flee dangerous homes claim to be "immigrants" (I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few who uses the term "expat.") The gun violence doesn't register to them, because that recognition doesn't benefit their narrative. At the end of each piece, when they stoically leave their beloved families behind or resist tears when making the decision to settle away from their motherland, it is obvious that their language is borrowed from accounts of real victims, which is shameful because if most grad students who come to the US, especially women, come from relatively well-off families, have educated parents, attended private schools and later reputed universities which operate as liberal bubbles, and (I know I am generalizing here, but still) were for the most part insulated from the lack of freedom or violence that they allude to. Don't get me wrong. Obviously, I am one of those women. The only difference is that I don't use my from-a-developing-country status to spin myself a tale of escape and liberation.

To think of the fact that a few years ago a private conversation between Aamir Khan and his wife, where they talked about leaving India due to safety concerns, became such a heated debate, but there's hundreds of NRIs selling stories of escaping the shackles of India, and even though they are not famous, they do have a voice on the Internet.

I understand that my comments on this matter might seem inflammatory to some. Some might argue that, well, this woman was just stating her opinion and everybody is entitled to do so. I would counter that by saying that language is very important, and the way many of these pieces are written often don't blame personal problems of a strict family or Indian customs, but of vague, generalized social problems that they can't allude to having much first-hand experience in. In fact, those are the parts where they start to write in more literary and imaginative language because these are not really their problems. So, yes, everybody is entitled to their opinion, and I'm entitled to point out what I consider to be stories and would be happy to debate anybody who would like to challenge me. You see, even though I grew up in the same country these women did, I am capable of constructive debates. I actually prefer it to unnecessarily being a victim. Would you look at that!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Time and Time Again

There's been a lot of hype about this new movie that's come out, called 'A Star Is Born.' Initially, I didn't pay much attention to the movie, because we've seen way too many renditions of the same story. But that was before I realized that this is actually the fourth remake of an evolving movie franchise. The first one came out in the 1930s, and there were remakes in the 50s and 70s, and now, our generation got its own version. Perhaps the story of the transient nature of fame ring true as a fundamental reality of life, and the student surpassing the teacher is something that never stops being complicated. The timeless story is getting enough buzz. Maybe there's going to be an acting Oscar for Gaga. Maybe a directing Oscar for Bradley Cooper. All that typical buzz, which seem well-deserved for the people involved in the making of this movie, but today I would like to talk about something outside of the universe of this franchise.

A video essay I saw on Youtube makes a point about how the character of the male star (played by Bradley Cooper in the most recent version) pointed out that when you put all movies together, it's the evolution of the male lead and female leads in relation to each other that shows how the same story would play out with the passage of time. The first female lead was a headstrong ingenue dreaming of making it big in Hollywood, the second an exceptionally talented young woman to whom fame just happens to by chance, the third a feminist rockstar, and the fourth, played by Lady Gaga, a woman insecure about her ability to 'sell' because of her unconventional looks in a world of Photoshop and 'Most Beautiful' lists and women being open about their imperfections and subsequent insecurities. All timely portrayals of women, but all somewhat politically incorrect for their times. When women were supposed to be subservient, we got the stubborn woman who got to dream. The 70s gave us girl power and Barbara Streisand's rebellious heroine. The 2010s gave us a fragile woman in a time when it's all about 'strong female character' and 'Miss Strong and Independent,' when acknowledging the role of a man in your life is almost taboo.

But it's the male protagonist's development which is the more politically correct one, and it's surprising how that development is what I found more compelling and thought provoking. Over the years, the male lead's ego seems to have grown less of a factor in his journey. Their growing irrelevance in the entertainment world in contrast to their partner's growing popularity has slowly become less of a factor in their eventual downfall and (spoiler alert) death. The 1930s hero just couldn't bear to be someone's husband and offed himself. The 1950s one was slowly broken by how the world that made him abandoned him in favor of new talent, showing a vulnerability that can't be tied only to masculine pride. The 1970s version was the self-destructive rockstar, and it is in this period when we see that how maybe its not external factors but internal demons that consume him, and his partner is the mere collateral damage in that process. Then we have Bradley Cooper, with his history of mental illness and his inherent goodness and weakness and efforts to fight the monster growing inside him but constantly failing. We now have a man who is not afraid to cry, unreluctant to share his darkest and most vulnerable self, and it is somewhat ironic that he is portrayed by a man that is the stuff of dreams of many women, something that would have been unimaginable in previous decades. This is no rebel without a cause. It is a human being with issues, and to humanize him further, there is an honest effort to heal and overcome, even if in the end, the efforts are in vain.

So we have the evolving characters, but there is one thing that remains unchanged. It is the bond shared between the man and a woman, and yes, its portrayal evolves with the passage of time, but does it really? You see, when we evaluate interpersonal relationships, we are bound to put them in the cultural context that we live in, but it is our naivety and not our intelligence that tells us that something that is politically incorrect is not real love. In previous generations, parents were not informed by parenting books and just went with the flow. They sometimes hit their kids, more usually boys. They didn't give special thought to the development of their children's self esteem. They may have been less acceepting of their gay kids. Does that necessarily mean they loved their children any less? Similarly, in older times, a lot of men were troubled if their wives had more professional success or power than them. Now, we think of those men as such losers, don't we? They're just the old-fashioned caricatures with their 'toxic masculinity' and 'male ego,' men who would scoff and spit at any talk of mansplaiing and manspreading. But do we stop to think that maybe they loved their partners too, maybe as much as men today? Do we consider that they too, like women, had pressures to be 'the man,' pressures that could be just as crippling as pressures to be 'the woman'? 

Unfortunately, what doesn't evolve in this movie franchise is the ending. The male lead always dies in the end, emblematic of setting the woman free. And yes, Aashiqui 2 was a remake of the original A Star is Born, which is why this ending might feel familiar to you even if you haven't seen any of the movie. I am unsatisfied by this lack of evolution. In fact, I hate it. You see, if mankind in general evolves over time, so do people over the course of one lifetime, and if we weren't okay with a suicide in '13 Reasons Why' we shouldn't be okay with it here. It sounds cheesy when I say this, but I think for this franchise to grow, the next version actually needs a happy ending. You see, we may try to deny it, but a final death, a great sacrifice, these are dramatic gestures romanticized to the point where they don't convey the unfairness of life as much as a mythical dramatic end. But this is a talk about stars being born, and I think the ending needs to reflect the theme of 'life goes on' a little better. Maybe we see more fights, more relapses, more compromises towards the end, but I think this movie should end with the two characters committing to to give their relationship another chance. That is a messy story without  a neat ending, and that is what the audience needs to see.

It's strange, but I think a Bollywood movie, Abhimaan, starring Amitach Bhachchan and Jaya Bachchan did this. It had the same story as A Star Is Born, but it's a lot messier. Amitabh's character is flawed to the point of being hard to like at points, and he goes so far as to have an sort-of affair in the movie. Even in the 21st century, a relationship challenged by an affair is hard to portray because it's ugly, it's messy, it's so goddamn human, and we, people who claim to be practical and sympathizing viewers, can sometimes not digest the inherent betrayal of such a gesture. There is some talk about how this may have been the real life story of the Bachchan couple, who at that point of time, may have struggled with Jaya Bachchan's respect and popularity when Amitabh was still growing as an artist, a gender role reversal difficult to digest at the time, and the alleged infidelties of one of the most respected artists in the industry. Or maybe that's just Bollywood gossip fed to me by my parents. Whatever it is, the movie ends with both Amitabh weakening one last time and in a moment of true humility, in a momoent completely unlike his 'angry young man' persona, genuinely apologizing to his wife and asking for a second chance. And no, his wife isn't the 'strong, independent female' here, refusing to take him back and walking away in slow motion. Instead, she gathers the strength to forgive somebody who loves her but has made mistakes. There's very little that takes the kind of courage that this kind of forgiveness takes, and this is what we need to see on screen the next time we see an ingenue and a megastar and how their roles shift.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Thing All Our Relationships Have In Common

When we talk about relationships we usually mean the type which is a subject in many movies, the type where two people meet, sparks fly, something goes wrong, and then everything's right. We assess these relationships as being fundamentally separate from all other relationships we have, but I think that's not true, at least in my opinion. Perhaps I think so because recently I have been observing a common pattern in people engaged in all kinds of relationships and today, I will talk about it.

Have you ever heard a young man or woman say, "I wish I could just give up this family life and travel! I need my space. I need my freedom." Or something along those lines.

Have you ever heard a parent say, "I don't know why I had kids. I was so much better off without them." Or something along those lines.

Have you ever heard a spouse say, "I could have been so much had it not been for the pressures of the family. I had dreams and I had the talent. But what can I do? Family comes first."

Have you ever heard someone young say, "I'm never getting married. It's such a trap. Once you're in it's so hard to get out."

We've all heard these complaints, and I'm sorry to say that these complaints are more commonly heard from males than females, not because females have a different attitude but because that's currently the socially accepted norm (and can we please not dwell on this gender difference for too long and move on to the matter at hand?). It's so common to get tired of the relationships that bind us down, so understandable to get frustrated by the people who are closest to us.

A lot of us reason that it's because human beings are biologically not designed to get stuck with the same groups of people forever, and that is especially problematic since we live twice as long now. There are narratives of how being shackled inhibits our creativity and productivity, examples of how single men and women have done great things in life which may have not been possible had they had three other living beings to worry about. I'll admit there is some substance to this argument. I do think some amount of distance is important, and it is at that distance that our best can come to light.

My only issue is that I've noticed a pattern where whenever people talk about being too tied down, they're usually talking about being the one that would leave and not the one that would be left behind. In a lot of people's heads, their hero's journey begins with leaving, but getting left behind is quite the opposite of being a hero. It's being a victim, a ground for disillusionment and suffering.

Don't get me wrong here. There are relationships which truly are unhappy and people definitely have the choice of leaving them. Here. we are talking about relationships that, in our hearts, we do cherish and would hate to lose, but lose sight of the value of when we're too close to them. In our heads, we grow the idea that we'd be doing so much more if not for the people we are bound to. My favorite example of people thinking this was when a couple of my friends said to me, "I sit with my work for so long but what can I do? The minute I reach an epiphany somebody from my family assigns me with a task I must perform right away. It breaks my flow." And all I could think was, "Well, that's one heck of a coincidence, isn't it?"

A lot has been said about how romantic comedies give people unrealistic expectations. But not a lot has been said about how the narratives that are the exact opposite of these give us unrealistic expectations, too. The act of leaving has been associated with emancipation and independence, coupled with the romantic notion of 'If you love them, let them go.' I agree with that caveat but I don't think people are necessarily trying to hold us back anyways. But the way it's portrayed is that the people in our lives are essentially hurdles in the path to freedom, and it is only by cutting some ties that we can attain a state of fulfillment or realize our dreams.

Pop culture also plays a part. We hear stories of great men and women who've done so much without any familial responsibilities and very soon 'greatness' becomes connected to 'detachment.' We do hear stories of people who have supported each other to reach a better life, of families that have established themselves over generations, but those stories often don't have the drama of the single man who made it. We can get conditioned into believing that people are the sacrifices that we need to make to reach our goals, even when those sacrifices hurt and there's melancholy music playing in the background as our hero walks away in slow motion with a quivering chin and steely eyes.

A little bit of tragic romanticism is good for all of. As I have mentioned before, a little bit of distance is beneficial too. But if you take people out of every equation in our life, all that remains is objects and places, and is that truly worth it? Is it possible that our constant urge to walk away is probably just a fantasy we hold on to, something that undervalues the contributions of others in our lives? These are things to think about the next time we go on a rant about what we could have been, if only there weren't so many other people to think about.

As for me, without the people who love me, I would be nobody. I feel that everyday I grow from all my relationships, even when I'm at blows with my family, when I'm at odds with my parents, when somebody's in tears and the other doesn't know what to do, because I think we all act out because we care. These people multiply the value of my accomplishments and set a bar of expectations that I strive to reach because I care about their opinion. As Barney Stinson says, it only matters if you're legendary if your friends are around to see it. I hope I never leave anybody behind.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

10 Things People Are Using Way Too Much Of

Taking advice from myself, I am writing a post about the environment. After coming to the States I have become very conscious about wasting of resources, as I think it's being done more severely here. Because Indians seem to want to do whatever Americans start doing, here's a list of things to avoid overusing before we create environmental havoc for ourselves:

1. Disposable Gloves

I get it. You want to keep your hands soft. But why do your gloves need to disposable? Just buy one pair and use it again and again while remembering to clean it regularly. And honestly, nobody needs to wear gloves to clean a half inch stain from the couch.

2. Ice

Really, what's the point? No, seriously, I don't get it. Why do you want a foot tall glass filled to the brim with ice, with only the remaining gaps containing some carbonated drink which just gets diluted because of all the, well, ice.

3. Take-Out Containers

Just get a container from home and ask the vendor or server to fill it. I've been doing it with food carts in NYC for a while, and it's made me pay attention to all the waste that I would be generating if I hadn't been doing so. I also try not to take the disposable spoons and napkins.

4. Plastic Bags for Everything

And I mean everything. Sometimes I get a plastic bag for one small box of cookies and I resist the temptation to ask if this is some kind of joke.

5. Air-Conditioning

At least where I live, in Pennsylvania, there's no need for airconditioning for most of the summers. I wish more people thought so.

6. Soda Cans

Okay, first of all, you're not doing yourself any favors by ingesting the 54 grams of sugar in a can of coke everyday.

7. Travel Packs

You're not only generating more waste but also wasting your money. Keep a few small empty bottles for essentials and refill them whenever you travel.

8. Water Bottles

Just carry your own. This one's not even hard.

9. Flushable Wipes

You know they aren't really flushable, right?

10. Coffee cups

I think at this point, I've made myself clear. Refills are possible my friends. 

The Case for Case-by-Case Consideration

Last week, something interesting happened. A friend of mine, who happens to be living in what is supposedly one of the unsafest neighbourhoods in the US, was working late and told me he would be heading back home at around one at night. I was a little worried, and proceeded to tell him to be aware of his surroundings and to make sure he wasn't the only one unnecessarily working late as that could be an indication that others were being more prudent about the whole being-out-late-at-night situation.

Some would say that it was an overreaction, but I disagree. The advice I was offering a friend was merely one that has been given to me thousands of times, because such advice is more commonly reserved for women. I do agree that there are many situations under which women do become the more vulnerable gender, but I also believe that there are times when we ignore men in debates of safety. I grew up in New Delhi, which is considered on the less safe metros in India, and I always thought that I could be sexually assaulted by someone but its just as likely that one of my male friends could be beaten up or even killed in an incident of 'road rage.' I think there's a misconception that men are protected from harm simply because they are men, but there is no logic in that. Everyone must be encouraged to exercise caution, and men should be believed in their claims of having been harassed or assaulted.

Just today, I saw this video, about Priya Seth, who murdered her Tinder date and cheated thousands of others.

This case is obviously horrifying and I hope nothing like this happens ever again. But I do have a question : Are we so stupid, as a people, that we can't really assess crimes and misdemeanours on a case-by-case basis? And I'm asking this because it seems that everyday victims are disbelieved and offenders get off with no consequences. In some cases, it seems that the bias favors one group (in this case women), such as in cases when the very fact that somebody is a woman is used as their defense. But there's also times when the other group gets the advantage of bias (in this case men), as brutal crimes like rape are investigated with a focus on the woman's 'character' and the length of her skirt. Why is it so difficult for us to dispense justice on the basis of truth, and I am not asking this question in a cute blogger-y way. I really don't know the answer.

By the way, since the video put up here was uploaded by Deepika Narayan Bharadwaj, I have this video of her arguing against having any laws against marital rape as she thinks rape laws only exist to be misused and doesn't seem to understand the logic that just because a law can be misused doesn't mean it shouldn't exist. If that were the case all laws could be done away with, and not all accusations of equal punishment.

I do appreciate Bharadwaj's efforts to create a more equal world for both men and women, but I do feel sometimes that she feels that all women are liars and abusers and all feminists are basically supremacists. The reason women have more support groups and helplines is because violence against men happens it is usually not a systematic phenomenon and the result of an individual deplorable woman's actions while women are often victims of a system which has existed for years which is why even now there are entire villages where every girl and woman is raped or sold to the flesh trade.

I think the underlying issue here is identity politics, which is an issue no group seems to be able to address appropriately because it goes against the very idea of them being a group in the first place. Honestly, I can't address it either. But I do recognize the need for greater subjectivity in cases where groups are pitted against each other. There is also a need for us, those who understand the complexity of the situation, to present more balanced viewpoints in the media (that is, the Internet). My honest opinion is that for a while we should all take a break from sharing articles about gender, sexuality and religious violence and instead focus more on issues of education, economics and the environment, but so far nobody has agreed with me one-hundred per cent. But I think we can all agree that something must change, and that there are flaws in how we are discussing matters where idenity can either be a wound or a weapon.

(Also, I apologize for the poorer quality of writing today. Because I'm not a professional writer or anything, I can't always present my thoughts in the best way. I was discussing something today that I didn't have clear answers or opinions to and I think that shows in my writing.)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Tiny U-Turn From The Left

I support women's rights (I mean, it would be stupid to be up against myself), gay rights, the rights of minorities, better public infrastructure. I believe in global warming, am alarmed at the rate at which we are generating and accumulating waste. I am agnostic and do believe in democratic socialism. It seems that on the Internet, I am a 'good' person.

Unfortunately, I can be, for lack of a better word, an asshole sometimes, and today, I want to talk about how that is.

Let's start with an example. Recently, I had some confusing thoughts about elections. I was brought up under a school of thought which says that it's important to vote. Our voices matter, and the act of voting is not just our right but also a responsibility. To a great extent, I agree with that. However, I don't understand why people equate ignorance with not bothering to vote, because if you believe voting is a step in the path to the well-being and progress of all, wouldn't votes cast by the ignorant derail us from that path? In a nutshell, why do we encourage people to vote without taking into consideration that they might vote for the side that we are fundamentally opposed to? My confusion grew deeper when I noticed that those encouraging voting were mostly in the same camp of reasonably well-to-do, educated, liberal (perhaps even progressive) and well-intentioned people that I myself am a part of.

When I thought about it deeply, I realized where my mistake lay. When encouraging others to vote, I was making the assumption that they were on my side, because how the hell could someone not be? In this particular case, I was, quite ironically, fundamentally opposing my own views of how every voice matters because I had counterintuitively invalidated some voices. As human beings, we have a tendency to think of those who act in ways that we would not as the outliers and weirdos, but is such a thinking, even on behalf of liberals and progressives, in any way productive? Also, is it, in fact, hurting our own cause?

Now that I have stated my case on this matter, I would like to venture into the slightly more controversial territory, and I hope you will give this a fair hearing. Recently, I have read a lot of articles being shared on the Internet about how people who are not transgender should label themselves cisgender and how we can't say 'Latina' or 'Latino' anymore and should say 'latinex' instead. To be fair, I didn't think there was anything wrong with these discussions per se, but I did think there was something disproportionate about how much traction these discussions were getting and how these discussions were being put forth by the people starting them. The issue is that these are issues that can be argued about endlessly, but in the life of a common person, there might be very little time or opportunity to give them serious thought, and it might make this common man think that liberals are people who are constantly debating issues that have little relevance to them and don't have direct impact on their lives, so what's the point of showing support to their? There might even be some women who are tired and overworked and desperately balancing jobs and families, who just need longer paid maternity leave, and when their issue isn't covered the same way as the politics of semantics and wordplay, they might get frustrated and start to believe in the established order of power more because the group looking to challenge that power dynamic seems to have very little time for her.

Another example of leaning too far left was the case of Aziz Ansari, where he was accused of sexual misconduct for what turned out to be a bad date. When that case was reported, my first thought was, "Man, now a lot of men who were on my side will become victim to fear that something similar could happen to them." This was just another example of how the liberals took too many liberties and suddenly things were out control. A similar case I have seen is of men from metropolises ridiculing the patterns observed by men in smaller towns or less economically well-off groups when it comes to approaching women, calling those men 'despos' and 'creeps' without giving due consideration to te fact that these men unfortunately function in a different social setting than us, where direct communication between men and women is more difficult and therefore indirect actions (that is, the actions which are ridiculed) are thought of as the only way to start any kind of a relationship.

I think, on some level, we have a tendency to think of those that don't agree with us as people that are stupid and uneducated, and on an average, we don't give any consideration to their thoughts or feelings. As Indians, we often use words like unpadh and gavaar against them, and make fun of them, and act surprised when they don't sympathise with us. But when have we ever sympathised with them? We trolled them and invalidated them. I think a big example of that is how many liberals and progressives are now trolling those who voted for a right-wing government (both in the United States and in India), and we accuse them of being hateful, gullible citizens who can't tell the difference between right and wrong, and maybe a significant proportion of the voters were like that, but it is also possible that many people were just frustrated with the establishment for not having come through on their promises, disillusioned by governments that self-claimed to be the good ones without ever receiving direct benefits, and they thought that if I vote for someone different this time, maybe I'll get something out of it.

Lastly, there is significant research concluding that conservatism is often driven by fear, and fear cannot be recognized in ourselves that easily. If someone feels that their position is being threatened, it might be their natural instinct to fight back. At the end of the day, everybody reacts to attacks, and attacks often cause people to hold on more dearly to their beliefs than if they were educated with due consideration.

My dear fellow liberals, let's fight the good fight but let's not do things that cause us to lose our soldiers along the way. If our intentions are true and good, they must go hand in hand with trying to convince others into seeing our point of view instead of completely invalidating theirs, because then, we're just turning into the deplorables that we claim to be fighting against.