Ripples of my Reflections

I think, therefore I write

WhatsApp and Sexism – part 2

Read part 1 here.

I couldn’t quite cover the other side of the coin with my earlier post. So, penning down this sequel in an attempt to cover more vantage points.

So when I discussed how lack of social responsibility leads to a trend with WhatsApp forwards that portray men as victims of marriage at the hands of women, I also had a look at the other side. Are there no jokes about men? Of course, there are. In fact, I would argue, the same jokes that target women are the most insulting ones to men. They portray men to be weak dummies in a marriage, they show men as incapable of being independent, taking part in running a household, unable to cook… the list is endless. One counter-point to my earlier post was that men take such jokes lightly. Well, they shouldn’t. If I were a man, I would be terribly offended by this trend. Especially when the men are equally equipped with household, help out in parenting, do everything they can to pitch in. These jokes are totally unfair to them.

If we analyze the direction in which the scales tip when you see the statistics, even with generalization, there are a lot more jokes that target women than men. This, as I said earlier, is just how the meme/joke creation process. Whichever jokes go viral, their themes are the trendy ones. So if a certain theme is more prevalent, we only have ourselves to blame. So how do we achieve balance or equality? There are quite a few ways to go about it. The easier way would be to take everything lightly and make fun of both men and women equally. Or the longer route would be not to use social media as a platform to target any particular faction. Unbiased social media! Well, that’s the dream 🙂

Let’s also look at another way of taking things sportively than to blindly make fun of everyone. Let’s say, a husband makes fun that his wife can’t cook, straight to her face, and she gets back with an equally funny response about him being useless in the kitchen and the family enjoys a laugh. This scenario is less nefarious because it is a personal situation handled directly within the family. There is no stereotyping that all women cannot cook. There is no generalization that all men are useless. This is about a couple/family laughing together over a funny comment about themselves. They know what boundaries not to cross. However, when we take this scenario, share it on all social platforms, influence the audience who might or might not have an opinion about it, that becomes a meme. Slowly as the meme feeds on colored opinions and conditioned mindsets, the boundaries fade into non existence. And eventually it ends up offending some while others say it is not so bad.

Now, let’s go one step further and remove gender from the main premise. Even if a meme is just about how bad married life is, think about the message being conveyed. And if the number of times you listen to this message keeps growing exponentially over the years? It is easy enough to be influenced. After all, we live in the digital age. If we look at a particular brand’s advertisements often, we are tempted to choose it over others. How hard is it for teenagers or younger children to think that marriage as a concept is just a joke? How can we explain to them about the value or culture of marriage after feeding them years of bias? If we are fine with them taking this message in, then we shouldn’t be cribbing about how the culture of this country is going downhill because youngsters no longer want to get married, they prefer live-in relationships and the such.

Social media is bad enough with the privacy invasion, tracking users and their behavior, mining users’ data and selling it for profit. Throw bias and prejudice into the mix and you get one colorful cocktail. One that will make you feel on top of the cloud while actually robbing you of your personality, individuality, and credibility.

Until later 🙂

WhatsApp and Sexism

Of all the evils that WhatsApp represents, sexism is the one that I resent most often. Although I am not an active user, I am (unavoidably) a member of a lot of WhatsApp groups – Family groups, work groups, friends’ groups.. you get it. There is one thing that stands out as a common factor in all the groups, no matter what the group is or who the members are – the never-ending sexist jokes on women, marriage, and how men are victims of these two factors. I experience a lot of reactions to these jokes that range from ignoring them for the sake of keeping my peace to getting into arguments with people who forward these jokes.

Note how I emphasize on the action of forwarding these messages. It is typical of any social media user to think that forwarding/sharing/liking a message does not transfer any onus to them about the message. In my opinion, “Forwarded as received” is the most outrageous phrase that exhibits a total disregard for your friends, family, and other contacts. These memes or messages are created based on the responses they gather. The more they are forwarded, the more they are created. So there is an implicit responsibility in forwarding or liking these messages even if you don’t create them.

The ultimate defense when someone raises an issue, is always – It is just a joke, why are you being so sensitive?, be a sport, and the like. If the argument goes beyond a threshold, they turn it around on you and mention that perhaps you shouldn’t be on social media if you cannot take it lightly. They think they can escape with the lame I-just-forwarded-it excuse.

I am astounded by the fact that none of these people stop to think that they are actually showing their support or their preference for these messages by forwarding it. It is not about taking a joke. It is about taking a stand. As a set of generations who experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media first-hand, is this the message we want to pass to our next generation? Let’s think for a minute – our kids read such information and consider this bias as normal. Our daughters will think that it is normal for them to be made out to be a joke. Our sons will think that it is not wrong to repeatedly make jokes at someone’s expense, even if the underlying message is not true. What hope is there for a better world if our kids see this as the reality? As a parent, wouldn’t you cringe inside if your son-in-law or someone in his family makes a joke out of your daughter? How can we expect younger generations to believe in the concept of marriage or take it seriously after we have repeatedly joked about it?

Do the men who forward such messages really have such women in their life ? Do the women who endorse these messages (apparently for fun) really behave this way and do they not wish the men in their lives were more attuned to their feelings? And then there are people who remain silent because the sender is either your boss, a close friend, or a family member. How can we aspire for equality when we groom our attitude with such daily doses of biased humor? How can we claim to be educated when our education isn’t helping us identify the stand we are taking? How can we claim to be sophisticated when it isn’t stopping us from endorsing a wrong message, however implicitly?

In the end, unlike most of us think, this doesn’t boil down to men vs. women. It boils down to people vs. prejudice. It boils down to taking responsibility for the information we share with our contacts who trusted us with their contact number and time. Do we have the guts to do that?

Until later 🙂

Too good to be true

I have always believed that when something is too good to be true, it probably is. That’s the reason I approach seasonal offers, giveaways, and the like with a sense of wariness. However, I fell long and hard in one experience. I had hired a domestic help when I moved to our new home back in 2015.

It was my first experience as an employer and I didn’t know the nuances of being the boss for a domestic help. I decided to just be compassionate and honest with my expectations. It seemed to be working fine and despite my neighbors having issues with the same maid, I didn’t have much to complain other than the occasional issue of her taking off on many days without informing. I took it in my stride and just warned her to inform me when she takes off. I have almost never cut her pay, have given her an advance on her payment whenever she needed it for her family, even loaned her a significant amount when she claimed that her son had met with an accident and she needed money for hospital expenses. I never gave her extra work, was sympathetic when she was ill etc. Overall, we had a very cordial employer-employee relationship.

Over a period of time, I noticed her dropping work from other houses and expected her to do the same with us as she had gotten a big contract of cleaning the corridors of the entire apartment. I understood that it would get her the salary she needed in one go, without having to go to 7-8 houses and build up her salary. It also meant intense effort for 2-3 hours of her day but after that she gets the entire day off. So I expected her to tell me that she cannot continue working for me and had resigned to the fact that I had to get another maid. I was also a bit sad because she was the best at what she did. She used to wash the vessels sparkling clean and she cleaned every corner of the house she could reach. While many of friends kept cribbing about the quality of work that their househelps did, I considered myself lucky to have found someone who cleaned the place better than I could. In any case, she never dropped the work at my place and I assumed that it was because she found it easy enough to complete along with the apartment cleaning work and also because I was never very strict with her in terms of leave and other issues.

I should have known better. What I didn’t know was that she was maintaining a very calm and low profile with me and probably took extra effort to keep me impressed (this is my guess, could be wrong) while she was skimming money from us. We had found ourselves second guessing that we had less money in our wallets but assumed that we had missed monitoring our expenses. This last month, we had started logging our expenses to the penny and when we found ourselves in the same position for more than 3 times in a row, we knew something was amiss. What followed was a cat and mouse game and eventually I gathered evidence, confronted, and fired her. When I spoke to my neighbors, I learnt that she had done similar things in other houses and got fired from there.

Now, I don’t know how long she has been stealing from me – was it recent or was I a fool all these years but I am glad that it came to an end. And now I understood that there are other things to look for other than the quality of the work. For the past week, I felt so enraged that I was such a fool to have trusted her. But there is no point in crying now when it was really my mistake to have done so. So in all aspects of life, when something is too good to be true, it is.

Until later 🙂

Kids and gender bias

I admit that I was that rebel kid who constantly questioned unfair treatment, just because I am a girl. To the question whether rebellion got me anywhere, the answer is – it’s complicated. It solved my issues at times but it made things worse at other times. But my stand has always been and is still that, just because you cannot change anything about it at the moment, it is not right to stay compliant and swallow the pill forced down your throat.

If I trace back, gender bias is so seeped into our lifestyle that I am shocked to discover the many, many, normal things that we do are colored by unwanted stereotypes. Like when we unconsciously pick out a barbie doll or a cooking set for a girl’s birthday party while cars and trucks are piling up for a boy’s birthday. Like when we unconsciously tell a story or pretend play, where amma is cooking and appa is watching TV. Like when you find only pink colored shoes for girls and not for boys. These are the most famous stereotypes and given the struggle I have to go through to avoid these, I am pretty sure that there are many more where these came from.

It is not news that kids are easily suggestible, impressionable, and more importantly, super observant. Fighting against open oppression seems easy than weeding out the ideologies that are intertwined into our lives. But the reality is that neither is easy. Each demands a different method, voice, and effort. That’s a topic for another post. So with kids, it is super important to question yourself on every word (you can use the 5 whys method) before you tell them something.

Some things that I do, in an attempt to create a gender-neutral growing environment for my daughter:

I go out of my way to pick neutral colors for my daughter’s toys, clothes etc. Sometimes I encourage her to pick a blue toy, when given the choice. This does not mean I don’t pick pink at all. I just ensure that she does not associate any labels with the colors. This is not easy because the market out there does not have enough choices unless you are willing to do the stereotype ride.

I talk about my husband cooking in the kitchen, even if it is a small attempt. I openly appreciate my husband for making dosas for me. Some people may think this is overkill but I think that this is necessary to balance the scale to neutral.

In any story that I tell her, I twist the narrative from time to time to create a gender neutral scene. For example, if I tell a story about a family, I present the scene in such a way that the dad is seen doing a household chore (or something else that is often unconsciously perceived as a woman’s chore) and the mom helping him out. The next time, I do it in the reverse so that my daughter does not associate gender with a chore. And every time, I need to get something done by my husband or vice versa, we call it as asking for help. I think this encourages children to think of a family as a group of people helping and supporting each other, rather than taking things for granted.

When we go to my parent’s place, I addressed it as “grandmother’s place”. It is such a simple thing but you wouldn’t believe the unease that registered because everyone else was calling it as her “grandfather’s place”. No matter what others addressed it as, I stuck to my narrative.

I teach her household chores as life skills to her. It is not because she is a girl but because she needs to learn to be independent. Since she is our only kid, I often refer to my nephew and his activities when I teach her household chores, pointing out that my nephew, her cousin, learnt it and how he is able to handle things independently. I think this helps her focus on the skill and not who does it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every time I do a new activity with my daughter, I analyze it for any bias, not just gender bias, and try to see if there is a way out of it. You could even say that I am obsessed about doing things the right way. Some people say that this is not sustainable but I don’t see any other way out of it. We, as adults, created this biased, judgmental environment, based on our context, our opinions, and our thoughts which are purely subjective. And when you experience the innocence of a kid, as a parent, your core is shaken. Kids are the epitome of pure, non contextual, non judgmental love. Why teach them something bad and then crib that the society is filled with ungrateful youngsters?

Do you know any other ways to break out of this destructive shell? How do you engage your kids in gender neutral activities? Think now, act today.

Until later 🙂

Little things that matter

After the year that was 2020, we didn’t have much plans or hope for 2021. We didn’t plan to break out of our shell anytime soon. But, having a toddler at home and the nanny on leave, Bangalore’s December drove us to different decisions and destinations. After a week’s failed attempt at handling things ourselves, we accepted defeat and ran to our hometown where our parents live.

Amidst the fear and initial shock of the outside world, we were forced to come to terms with the fact that we can only be cautious but cannot force anyone else to follow any form of social distancing or precautions. I agree that we were living on one extreme, not without reason though, and the majority of the world around us was on the other extreme. So this homecoming served as a balancer for us. After a fortnight there and visiting our families there, we came back to Bangalore but I still didn’t feel the pang as my mom came along with us. The plan was that she’d stay for a month. So altogether, we were out of our usual routine for a month and a half. Where did all that time go? Sigh!

After coming back to Bangalore, we were desensitized enough to venture out on our terms with necessary precautions. Our toddler started on the infamous terrible 3s this year and we realized that even if we wanted to, we could not keep her cooped up any longer. When back in Bangalore, she was in her territory and unveiled all of her super powers of throwing a tantrum and melting down, just because she can. On the upside, she had immensely enjoyed the trip – visiting her grandparents’ places, being the center of everyone’s attention, getting to know things outside of the 4 walls that we call home.

After a month that whizzed by, today, my mom left for her place, routine, and life. This time, I did take part in the chores unlike most other times of her visit, when I let down totally and chill. Still, she has such an impact that getting back to the grind hits hard. More than the chores, it is the feeling of being responsible and being a grown-up. Being the pivot of the family at all times. I don’t know how she does it. When she is around, irrespective of how much work I do, she is the pivot. Man, is this how she felt around her mother, whom she lost last year? She never explicitly conveyed the pain of losing her mother and just accepted the fact that her 97-year-old mother’s time to rest in peace had come. But I can understand how the realization, that you don’t have that one person who was your pivot, could be.

It is in the small things that we take for granted – switching off the lights when you forget, ensuring the breakfast is fresh and hot, making sure the bath water is just right for my daughter when she comes back from the playground, keeping my daughter’s attention so that I can cook or attend a office meeting in peace. And more that are so part of the routine, yet sometimes, I’d have to sacrifice and adjust if it is not right. You wouldn’t feel it when it is being taken care of, by someone. It hits you when you are the person who is responsible for each of these and more. I don’t know when I get to visit her place or she can plan to come to our place again . But I know it will be a while to get used to the longing in me and get going. I have a hard time being the grown-up. I do it because I have to but it does not come naturally to me. I often wonder why or how I am not as selfless or as responsible as my mom. I don’t know the answer but I do know this – I can be my own person, I can learn from my mom and I can strive to be the best for my daughter.

Until later 🙂

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