Empowered Woman? Who is She?

Author: Khadija Begum

I was at a local film fest earlier this week that was screening movies by amateur film makers on gender based violence. During one of the audience discussions, a girl who must not have been older than 13 and an actor in the movie, in a very well-meaning manner asked a question: How do we teach boys/men to deal with the new generation of empowered/progressive women?

A lot of answers flew around the room but the question bothered me for some reason and I couldn’t put my finger on it for a long time. Then I realised it was the very phrasing of the question “How do we teach boys/men to deal with the new generation of empowered/progressive women?

It gives us an insight to the problem of power imbalance. That female empowerment is a problem that men must “deal with.” Instead of teaching men to “deal with the new generation of empowered women” we should be teaching them to “understand the new generation of empowered women.”

Perhaps the best way one can begin to understand an empowered woman is by defining her. Is she someone who wears a red lipstick? Is she ambitious and career minded? Can she be called empowered if she wears a hijab? Does she have to be well-versed with theories of feminism? Can she really be defined by her choice of lifestyle and clothing? It isn’t that hard to say.

We must begin to change the question from “deal with the new generation of empowered women” to “understand the new generation of empowered women.”

While an empowered woman is definitely not a single construct, at the heart of it all lies one idea – an empowered woman is the one who is able to devote herself to that which she finds meaning in; who can exercise her rights and her choices.

If this idea can be grasped by everyone, the Indian society which has been opening up slowly for a while now, through the efforts and initiatives of many, will reform at a quicker pace. Our business is and always will be to ensure that this awakening is uniform in all cultures and classes of society.

How to ensure? By addressing the issue on all levels that it exists, i.e., societal, professional, household and the individual. There must be gender sensitization sessions in schools, colleges, offices etc. That media and literature is needed which challenges the mainstream notions and stereotypes. The gender roles in office spaces and homes have to be redefined or rather undefined so that they loosen any paradigm of unwarranted limitations. As an individual, one can understand an empowered women by being conscious and critical.

However to truly check the problem of power imbalance, we need to take the next step of awakening, which is, evolving. We evolve when we leave behind our distrust in change; when women empowerment is not a topic of discussions, dialogues or debates but a way of life; when the idea of empowered woman becomes a norm. All of which could take a little more time. Until then, one can strive to be more empowered each day because the best way to make someone understand an empowered woman is to project one.

Khadija Begum writes at ‘Unduly Unruly’ and is a contributing writer at the Conversation Room. You can follow her blog here:

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The Beauty Myth: Time To Wake Up

Nothing in American culture has caused so many health problems as the Beauty Myth. The belief, due to media-crazed hype, that women must be painfully thin to be beautiful has caused both physical and mental distress for so many young women. The fact these issues are mostly ignored outside the medical community is an even larger problem. It is ignored because it affects mostly the half of the population that is thought to be unworthy of thought, women.

Using myself as an example; I have been on both sides of the weight issue and have been part of the problem. As a model in my teens and twenties, I was painfully thin and portrayed that image. I was also suffering from a common disorder among our young, anorexia nervosa. I counted every calorie, lived on salad almost exclusively, and exercised like a madwoman to maintain the weight expected of me. At five-foot-five (66 inches or 165.10 CM), that weight was an unhealthy low of one-hundred-ten pounds (50 KG); right off the BMI chart altogether at the low end. Normal weight for someone my height is roughly one-hundred-eighteen pounds (54 KG) up to one-hundred-forty-eight pounds (67 KG): and I strove to lower that even more.

 

Fast-forward to my forties, and I am attempting to find some relief from a lifetime of major depressive disorder. I was put on a medication called Remeron, a tetracyclic drug, used for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In six months I gained a whopping one-hundred-fifteen pounds (52 KG)! Suddenly I went from the normal end of the BMI chart to the obese domain. I was devastated, as you may imagine. My delayed research indicated that researchers don’t know why, but some medications can cause weight gain of up to twenty pounds a month and change your metabolism and the way your body stores nutrients. I have struggled for the past ten years to remove that weight, with little result.

I now have all the complications you would expect from being overweight: diabetes, high cholesterol, and self-esteem issues aplenty. As a teen suffering anorexia, my self-esteem has always been largely tied to my weight. I now live with “fat discrimination” and “body shaming” as a regular occurrence. One of my oldest friends does not believe that I don’t just sit on the couch, stuffing my face with pies, cakes, and cookies. I have
been called both a cow and a pig, especially by young men.

I have now seen both sides of the beauty myth coin and would like to call attention to them both. Neither extreme is healthy, either physically or mentally, for anyone, man or woman. For men, it is different. Men don’t live under the beauty myth’s focus. Not to say, by any means, that there aren’t young men whose self-esteem is tied to body weight and image, or suffer the debilitating effects of anorexia, there are, but it is far less common than it is for young women.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Many have medical issues that put them on one side or the other of a healthy weight to begin with. Most women do not meet the glorified ideal portrayed through the media naturally. We expect a young woman to be thin to be beautiful putting a tremendous strain and mental fixation on our youth. Who doesn’t want to be considered beautiful?

Especially in this media-driven, advertising society where beauty is worshiped more than any god. It forces young women who were not fortunate enough to be small-boned and low in body fat into being anorexic to fit that image, to fit in, to be good enough, loved enough. In the case of so many, like Karen Carpenter, a music icon of the seventies, it can lead to death, or at the very least, an unhealthy idea of eating. I know an eight-year-old girl whose mother put her into modeling.

She is already showing signs of developing anorexia, and she’s not alone. The age of development of these disorders drops every decade. Body shaming has become a common term because it is so prevalent in our society which is so enmeshed in social media.

The good part of social media is that people have become more aware of health and wellness. We have begun, as a culture, to educate ourselves about a healthy weight and how to achieve and maintain it. At least among some of the adult population. Our young women are still inundated by the media ideal of beauty being an unachievable or life threatening level of thin. It’s time we started to open our eyes to the problem of the “beauty myth” and start to break through it.

Michele is an American writer, a student of psychology, and a substitute teacher. You can follow her blog ‘a single step’ here: 

https://notasweknow.wordpress.com/

Teach Your Daughters To Break Glass Ceilings Not Break into Glass Slippers.

Why parents should worry less about their daughters fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.

Author: Ana Rasheed

 

Attend tuition 100 hours a week. Check.

Make sure you get 4 A*’s at A-Level. Check.

Get into a Russel Group university. Check.

Get a first in your degree. Check.

Now sit at home, get a job near home and wait to get married. Urm…what?

Something I have always struggled with in my community is this disparity we seem to have between our sons and daughters when it comes to pursuing a career. (Alhamdulillah, I never faced this in my personal experience but saw many of my female peers go through something similar which prompted me to write this article.)

Parents will push and push and push from the moment we start school to college to university, endless tuitions, endless lectures, endless study groups – to ensure we are following the pre-determined path to get top grades, all the scholarships that the school budget can afford until we get that damned degree paper in our hands. Parents will impatiently wait till we graduate so they get the opportunity to hang our graduation pictures – hats, gowns and the whole shebang – on the wall (my grandma has an entire wall in her room dedicated to all our graduation pics) – a metaphorical trophy up for display for anyone and everyone to see.

But then what? Can we honestly say that we as daughters are given the same liberty and impartiality to pursue our careers with the same determination as our brothers? Can we really #jetsetgo from the onset? For many of my peers, unfortunately, I found that that was not an option.

To my dear parents out there…if you are going to educate your daughters to the same caliber and resolve as your sons, you must give them the same amount of autonomy to go and pursue their careers just like you give to your sons.

Surah Al Alaq (96: 1 – 5); Read in the name of your lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read!”

This “read” in this ayah for me is not just subjected to us obtaining a paper education to fit the social norms we are constantly confined within as a community – but rather a continuous journey to not only attain but also implement knowledge. We encourage our daughters through laborious projects, dissertations and examination stress for 10 years of their lives, yet to what objective – have a framed degree certificate on the wall and stop achieving? Why do we expect our daughters to start slowing down after their degrees whilst we push our sons towards achieving the next milestone?!

We must ask ourselves, how are we supporting our daughters to continuously develop and learn? What are your daughters doing to break the status quo and become the next directors, managers and leaders of their companies, of their cities or their countries? What example are they setting to pave the way for other girls to follow suit. Why is it that less then 10% of executive directors in the FTSE 100 companies are female? (Guardian, n.d.)

This is a real cause for concern in our communities that we must address and work towards rectifying. The stress of getting our daughters married is sometimes so prominent that it becomes the forefront of our priorities – tunnel visioning us from being able to see the social and developmental growth that a career brings for an individual. Nothing else seems to matter then finding the right match for some, even if it means telling our daughters to “find jobs closer to home”, “nothing with too long hours”, “nothing where travel is involved” and the list of constraints can become an endless abyss if we are not careful.

The task of getting your daughter “married” should never be a hindrance to her career, rather a spring board for its success. The right partner will support your daughters in her career, not hinder her. Both can run in parallel and there is no greater example for us in this than that of the companionship between Bibi Khadija (a.s) and the Holy Prophet (SAW).

An esteemed, brilliant and independent business leader upon her own merit – one of four of the most remarkable women of mankind. Bibi Khadija traded all sorts from furniture to pottery to silk through primary commerce centres comprising from Mecca to Syria and to Yemen even. Her business was larger than all the Quraysh trades combined and infamous for its fair-dealing – gaining her the title Al-Tahira (The Pure One). Yet did her pursuit of brilliance stop when she got married? No. She only got bigger and better.

1400 years ago, in a severely male dominated Khadija was slaying in trade and commerce. So why in the 21st century are we not letting our daughters effortlessly follow this incredible example? If these are the role models we want our daughters to aspire towards, we as parents we need to pave the path for them to follow suit.

Thus, we as parents need to stay consistent, if you are educating your daughters to the highest levels, let them pursue their careers to the best of their ability. Indeed, teach your daughters to worry less about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.

Ana Rasheed is an engineer, blogger and contributing writer at the Conversation Room. You can check out her blog ankaraweb here:

https://ankaraweb.wordpress.com/

When A Desi Girl Goes to University

Rabia Khan writes on the everyday difficulties of university life for women in the sub-continent. 

 

‘My mom asked me to send her a picture of what I was wearing.’ 

All of us flinch. 

OMG, same.’

More flinching.

‘What did you do?’

‘I stopped replying.’

All of us laugh.

I can’t say if this is something all girls living away from home at university experience but it’s definitely something common. 

About two years ago when my sister was preparing to leave for university,  she was sent out a list of clothing she was allowed to wear on campus/ dorms etc. She had to get almost an entirely new wardrobe. According to university requirements; necessary wearing of dupatta (long scarf), no jeans, no short shirts, no heels, no capris etc. I remember my mom rushing my sister from gulf to dolmen mall, buying her dupattas, longer kurtis etc.

Thankfully, the university I am currently attending doesn’t have a strict dress code like this but conversations like the one at the beginning of this piece still take place. The only difference is, now, far from home, there is only so much your mum can do to check up on what you are wearing.

We live in a society where girls have to dress a certain way, be back home at a certain time, have a certain sort of  company to not be termed ‘loose’ women. Therefore going away to university is a whole new world, especially for women. There is so much more space and freedom to navigate around; it’s liberating, yet, at the same time it’s overwhelming.

Conversations between friends tend to go something like this: 

‘Man, I went back to my dorm room at like 4 a.m last night.’ 

‘What were you doing until then?’ 

‘Nothing just hanging out with ‘x,y and z.’ It was so boring and exhausting, yet, I didn’t want to go in.’

‘Why not?’ 

‘Because, like, at home, my parents have never let me stay out this late ever. And now, to be able to do that, it’s just like you don’t want to miss the chance to stay out.’ 

I remember my first week at university was spent staying out of the dorm till at least 2 a.m, doing absolutely nothing but sitting with a group of people and laughing over the stupidest stuff. It felt great. The conversation eventually grew stale and boring, but knowing that hey I can do this. I can exist outside of ‘home’ this late at night, without being told that girls aren’t supposed to be out at this time of night, was worth it.

When you start living in a hostel with a bunch of other girls you start having conversations and start noticing how many of the things we do are simply because of the restrictions placed on us by the society we have lived and have grown up in. 

If you are out with a group at the mall, someone is going to say, ‘hey, I wanna get a picture with just us girls so my mom knows that I have female friends.’ Or that she knows I was out with girls only. 

You ask your roommate to take a picture of you in a proper shalwar kameez and dupatta, to send on your family group, because that’s what good girls wear, and because you know that’s what your family expects you to wear. 

Before your roommate’s mom comes to visit, you both have ‘the talk’ where you decide what things you are supposed to mention and not mention. And, as her mother asks what time her daughter goes to bed at, you tell her with your face in the closet, ‘Aunty, she is back by 10 everyday.’ 

The first few times you go out in jeans and that T-shirt your borrowed from a friend, you are extremely apprehensive. You keep asking if you look fine, if your butt isn’t too obvious, or maybe if you should just change into a kurti. 

When you go out late for coffee or dinner off campus, you are scared and you keep asking your friend ,’ what if my mom calls?’ You make sure that you call your parents early and tell them you are tired and going to sleep so they don’t call you when you are out. You stay off social media, in case they see you online. 

You hear the line, ‘ there is a difference between lying and omitting the truth’ about a gazillion times, because you have told your roommate, about a gazillion times, how much you hate lying to your parents. This conversation takes place right after you have both just told your mothers that ‘yes, we have been praying.’ 

Sometimes the worst thing is sitting in a group of people listening to your friend talk to her mom, trying to convince her that she isn’t lying, and then being made fun of by the boys at the table because they just don’t understand. 

And the thing is, it is so hard to come to terms with the fact that what you are doing isn’t wrong, but that you have been socially conditioned into believing that it is. It isn’t easy to rid oneself of almost two decades worth of conditioning. It is relentless and unreal how difficult existence is made for women in society. 

Rabia is a blogger and university student in Pakistan, you can visit her blog ‘Travesty’ here: 

https://rabianajmkhan.wordpress.com/

Frankie Boyle on Grenfell Tower, Being Offensive & The “Outrage” Media

 

 

In this riveting exchange Guardian journalist Owen Jones interviews Scottish genius and highly offensive comedian Frankie Boyle. 

Boyle who has a huge social media following is back on the BBC after it was rumoured he was permanently banned for “offensive” material on the queen and autism. Yet he recently returned with a new hit satire show “New World Order” on BBC 2.

He is a well known social commentator with an acute and always fascinating take on the public sentiment. In this interview he discusses the media, morality and political correctness:

“People can see a link between Theresa May’s desire to scrap the Human Rights Act and the inhumane disgraceful treatment of the Grenfell Tower victims; even if they don’t have a media which is willing to convey that”

He further spoke of faux public morality and how “as we live in a country which profits from selling arms to viscous regimes and launders money for financial institutions” we have to create a fake morality based on taste.

“Oh that joke was too much” or “that play should be banned” to create the illusion that we are morally pure.

Whatever you make of Boyle he offers some exciting ideas on morality, political correctness and the media here.

 

Frankie has been a long term proponent of having more female comedians on the public airwaves and his show features two of the best in Britain right now, Katherine Ryan & Sarah Pascoe – you can watch the latest episode here:

The Death of Owning

The Google generation is fascinating. Children growing up in an age with unlimited access to information at the end of their fingertips. Have a question about sex? Ask google. Forgot to do your homework? Copy and paste Wikipedia.

Its incredible to believe that only twenty years ago none of this was possible. You needed to own books, actually ask real people uncomfortable questions and unless your friend let you copy their work you were screwed if you didn’t do it.

 

In 2014 I wrote on the massive impact of streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify were having on the power of consumers and disrupting the economy through the digital world. Since then, Uber and Air BnB have further changed the game in the subscription economy, Instagram and Snapchat have become the social currency and more and more people have traded the onerous obligations of ownership for the ease of subscription and service.

The video attached above documents how this massive shift in power from industry to consumer marks the end of the ownership economy and the beginning of the subscription economy.

Young people these days don’t dream of buying a house and a car and working for a big investment bank. They dream of travelling the world, spending on experiences rather than materials and sharing the photos online for the world to see.

Where will this lead us? It has the potential to be as detrimental as it has to be phenomenal. There’s something intimate about owning a physical book or a physical Vinyl record – preserving memories of a time. A place. And a feeling. Subscription on the other hand is highly perishable, its gluttonous, and digital storage is not as familiar as a physical item.

What do you think?

Homi Baba: Why We are Still Afflicted by Colonialism Everyday

Author: Anand Bose

Homi Baba is one of the foremost thinkers of Post Colonial Criticism and belongs to the school of thought known as Post Structuralism.

Homi Baba has made intrusions into the philosophy of language where texts become constructs for post colonial criticism. For Baba Colonialism has not been a straight forward clique between the oppressed and the oppressors but an evolving semantic machine marked by psychological anxiety and tension between the oppressor and the oppressor.

Here in this article I would like to articulate some ideas of Homi Baba on Post Colonial Criticism. They are hybridization, mimicry, uncanny, doubling, difference, ambivalence and anxiety. For Baba, a nation is always in the process of evolution and a nation is not a fixed entity.

Hybridization is a process through which cultures interact, mix and develop new cultural and evolutionary tendencies. A common example can be taken is that of the English language. For example Black English has evolved by fusing many dialects of the native black with the colonizer’s English. Indian English has absorbed native English words and has also adopted words borrowed from Indian Language. British English consists of many Gaelic and Latin and French words and therefore if we look at English, it is always going through a process of change or hybridization. Hybrid English is a transnational language and is always adopting new vocabularies into its lexicon. Another common example would be that of Dance and Music. Dance and Music have fused various elements of the Orient and the Occident.

Mimicry refers to the process through which the colonized mimic the language and culture of the Colonialist. Mimicry is a powerful tool, a coping mechanism of the colonized to resist the rule of the colonizer. The white other becomes the subject of my gaze and I adumbrate his or her cultural moorings into my possessive outlook. For the white, the discourse of the Orient has been a fragmented one, a one of bitter misunderstanding. According to Edward Said, the discourse of the orient has been a philosophical and intellectual construct drawn out from occidental narcissism and fantasy.

mimicry colonialism

A lexical meaning of the word uncanny would be something strange, mysterious in an unsettling way. For the white, oriental culture and religion has been marked by the strange or the uncanny. Baba also discusses the problem of migrant cultures. Migrant cultures to the Occident bring into it uncanny elements. Uncanny also represents a misunderstanding of the mass psyche of the colonized. For example let’s take the Blues. Blues a form of Black Music emerged as an uncanny one, a one to show solidarity and protest against the whites. Mahatma Gandhi’s behaviour as a political protester of the English rule was an uncanny one. The British simply could not understand and tolerate the half naked fakir. The occult aspects of the Australian aborigines were ostracised and many were made converts into Christianity.

Doubling as used by Homi Baba refers to the process in which duplicates of the Colonized were created. The colonized were trained in the language and culture of the Colonizer, mainly to suit them for administrative purposes. For example India as a British colony needed a large army of clerks to run their administrative regime. Doubling became a headache for the Colonizer as these doubles soon realized their self worth and started protesting against colonial rule.

Difference is a term taken from Derrida’s Deconstruction. The term incorporates the understanding of semantic binary divide by differing and deferring. Colonialism has marginalized the brown and the black by privileging of the white. This marginalization has been violent and autocratic. There is a conflict between the racially superior self and the racially inferior other. The White self’s Christianity is a racially superior religion than the religion of the Red Indians, Africans and Aborigines. Language has bifurcated texts into binary divides of the self and racial other. For me Colonialism is still an ongoing process. For example let’s look at Native Speakers of English being imported into South East Asian Countries to teach English. A native speaker of English is privileged over whites and browns who are adept in English.

Anxiety as a term used in postcolonial criticism referring to the tension of the colonizer when he is dealing with the colonized. We can use the example of Non Violent struggle against British rule espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. The British simply could not understand what the principle Ahimsa (non-violence) was and used ruthless force to subjugate the peace movement. Their ambivalence and complete lack of understanding of the native people, only strengthened the struggle for independence. Colonial domination was not straight forward but was clearly marked by anxiety and ambivalence.

Anand is a blogger from India who’s blog explores, philosophy, fiction and poetry. You can visit his excellent blog here: