Monthly Archives: May 2010

externalising the internal – part one

At the age of ten there was one thing I hated deeply about myself. This was long before body angst became a feature of my life and I had already come to accept my bookish nerdiness. What I hated about myself was my name. It was (and still is) long and ungainly, an immediate signifier of my foreigness in a place where while there were lots of brown people – there were none quite like me.  I dreaded the sudden pause as a new or relief teacher went down the roll and hit my name – unsure how to tackle its nine letters. I hated the endless mispronounciations and subtle mockery. I swore to myself the minute I turned 18 I would get it legally changed to something easier, something less odd. Something better.

A lot of time has passed at a lot about me has changed. I no longer hate my name. It is a good hindu name that has an interesting meaning and a good story behind it, but I have never ever forgotten the pain and humiliation it caused me for a good chunk of my life. This experience to me is representative of the incredibly subtle nature of oppression. I did not mind my brown skin or my black hair (mostly)  but what I did mind is the part of me that made life a tiny bit more difficult for others – the part of me that caused them to pause in fear of making a fool of themselves.  I was not just ashamed of my name because it was a marker of difference (I had many others). What consumed me was guilt that others had to struggle to pronounce it. As a “good immigrant” it was my job to make my difference as palatable to those around me as possible.

This I believe is one of the driving forces of the assimilationist model of multicultural societies. Incorporating and accomodating difference makes life difficult for the “regular” folk. It means they have to think about whether their actions offend or harm someone else, they have more opoprtunities for embarassment when they do not know how to say or do the right thing. They feel like this shouldn’t have to happen in what is THEIR PLACE anyway.  We as immigrants absorb this idea. We have come to THEIR PLACE we must never do anything that makes them uncomfortable. It is  part of the price we pay.

Why I identify as a feminist

I am of Indian orgin. I am young.  I have watched porn, I have been to stripclubs a number of times, I have worn high heels and lipstick,  I have not worn high heels and lipstick,  I don’t believe all prostitutes are victims, I don’t believe all people who wear hijab or niquab are opressed.  I am into kink. I am fat.   Any or all of these facets of my idenity and my beliefs have the potential to marginalise me within the mainstream feminist movement and indeed at various times I have found myself at complete odds with people who, just like me, identify as feminist.

For a very long time the feminist movement has not been kind to those who do not fit nicely into neat little boxes. It has not been kind to women who’s lived experience has never been close to the dominant narrative of what it means to be a woman. It has not been kind to those who are genderqueer or LGBT. It has not been kind to people with disabilities/disabled people. It like many social justice movements has had many problems and for a long time and in many ways has been just as much a tool of oppression as it has been a tool of liberation.

It is certainly a large part of my privilege – a reflection of my class, my currently able status, my level of education my cis status etc..  that more often than not the feminist movement has worked for my interests rather than against them and I am very much cognizant of this. It would however be ridiculous to say that I have never been marginalised within feminism, that my thoughts and voice have never been erased and silenced.

So I continue to identify as a feminist because I expect more from feminism. The feminism I envision works for the advancement of all women – whether they were born that way or not. The feminism I envision involves a nuanced articulation of  pro-choice values and policy which does not marginalse people with disabilities/disabled people. The feminism I envision comes from a place of collaboration, comradeship and alliance – not imperialism, oppression and saviour type dialogoues.

I believe that feminism can be all of these things and that one day and this is the feminism I strive to make mine. Part of making the world better includes making feminism better. Thus for me part of being feminist is making feminism better, both by the inclusion of my own particular perspective but also by making show I understand the perspectives of those who live the world in a way I have never experienced.

On Justin Bieber

I find that many reactions to Justin Bieber illustrate a particular intersection of sexism and homophobia which is very demonstrative of the subtlety of both oppressions. If you google Justin Bieber Sucks you will come across a facebook page where when people invited to post what they hate about Justin Bieber, the most common complaint is that he sings like a twelve year old girl and that his hair looks gay. When a friend of mine posted a comment on his own facebook page regarding Bieber I found one comment particularly interesting: …..”My issue with Bieber and his ilk are that they represent the absolute lowest common denominator of the music industry – cheap, commercial pop music with a pretty face singing and marketed to the dumbest consumers in the market (hormonal teenage girls)”……  The same commenter also mentioned that the fact Bieber sings like a twelve year old girl also does not help his cause.

Why is singing like a 12 year old girl such a horrible thing?  Is being  a 12 year old girl so horrific that no one should ever want to be associated with one  (or lots and lots) ever? The answer is unsurprisingly yes.  First of all singing “like a 12 year old girl” means that Bieber’s masculinity is in question. No real man, young or otherwise, should ever willingly associate themselves with anything vaguely womanly – let alone “girly” it is demeaning as things which are girly are obviously with out a doubt stupid.  After all teenage girls are the lowest common denominator when it comes to all things right? People like say…. the Beatles and…. Michael Jackson weren’t made famous because they appealed to teenage girls right? Those guys aren’t now considered legends now right? Although to be fair the legendary part only came with time and distance from the screaming fangirl part.

The idea that men or boys should never ever have let alone want to have feminine qualities of any kind is a form of oppression.  Being associated with womanly or girlish things means that you are weak, deviant and/ or (heaven forbid) queer. Fundamentally it implies that that womanly or girlish qualities are weak, irrational and disgusting. That these qualities are things to be overcome, not to be aspired to.

Sure hate Justin Bieber because of what he represents, or  because he can’t sing well (this is different from saying he sings like a teenage girl)  or because he is totally manufactured and you prefer you music to be more authentic, but please for your own sake don’t criticize Bieber because he is associated with young women and that somehow makes him less than a man or man in training – because that is not ok and it really reveals you for the bigot that you are.

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