Archive for the ‘appearance’ Category

Deepika IS or DOES?

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Via MissMalini, yet another example of ‘men DO, women ARE’.

Deepika Padukone: “Killing them softly with her smile” – Deepika’s feminine mystique prompts us to dig deeper into….. what makes Bollywood’s current dream girl tick
Imran Khan: “I should lead by example” – Actor Imran Khan writes….on how he works on greening life in the metropolis.

It’s like palmistry when I was growing up – they all kept saying you should read the right hand of men, and the left hand of women. And then, further, that the left hand is what you start out with, what is ‘God-given’, and the right hand is what you make of it. My mother, then still a feminist, said categorically that I should always extend my right hand – because “nowadays women are also in control of their destinies – or should be”.

If women even today in 2009, in the most privileged class of Indian society, including the most visible, most successful career women – are only about their beauty, their looks, and who their families are, there’s very little chance that they can do or be anything different from the cards they were dealt. And one of the fundamental ideas, if not the fundamental premise, of modern human civilization is that no matter who you are, you get a chance to make of your life what you want to – through hard work and smart use of the resources available to you. It’s still not an equal playing field by any means – but each one of us has the right to try, the right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ (and not just in the US of A). And when half the population is denied that basic human right, how on earth do we call ourselves civilized?


Ugly girls must rightfully be abandoned

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment

The story is, in itself, sickening – who was this orange-sareed-woman who could so callously drop off a new born infant the middle of a busy Indian road with cauliflowers on top of her head? What was the system around her that compelled such action? And what are the bets that there’s no police searching for this woman or her family, even though she’s attempted to murder a human being in cold blood?

But the last line in the article should get a prize.

Newborn girl found abandoned in vegetable bag
AHMEDABAD: The cries of an infant from a bag kept in the middle of a road confounded passersby in Amraiwadi area on Friday night. Some curious people ventured to probe and found a newborn girl, wrapped in a white cloth, kept under vegetables.

According to residents of Amraiwadi, a woman in her 30s, clad in orange saree, was spotted by a few handcart vegetable vendors placing the bag on the divider around 9.30pm. They thought she would come back for the bag. However, she did not return.

When Ramesh Gadhavi, a local resident, was passing by Hatkeshwar Circle at 10.30pm, he heard the baby’s cries. He opened the bag with the help of others and found the infant.

“Vegetables such as cauliflower, eggplants and potatoes had been placed atop the baby. We then rushed her to Civil Hospital where she was examined by doctors who found her healthy. She weighs 2.55 kg,” said Harshad Patel, a social worker from Amraiwadi.

According to local residents, the circle, bustling with activity, has been used very often for abandoning unwanted children. “The girl is very pretty. One cannot understand why such a child has been abandoned by her parents,” said BR Patel, inspector of Amraiwadi police station.

Shame, power and nudity

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

huh. Who knew?

Naked girls plow fields for rain

PATNA, India (Reuters) – Farmers in an eastern Indian state have asked their unmarried daughters to plow parched fields naked in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain, officials said on Thursday.

Witnesses said the naked girls in Bihar state plowed the fields and chanted ancient hymns after sunset to invoke the gods. They said elderly village women helped the girls drag the plows.

“They (villagers) believe their acts would get the weather gods badly embarrassed, who in turn would ensure bumper crops by sending rains,” Upendra Kumar, a village council official, said from Bihar’s remote Banke Bazaar town.

“This is the most trusted social custom in the area and the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily.”

India this year suffered its worst start to the vital monsoon rains in eight decades, causing drought in some states.

(link via Confluence)

This is like that scene I remember from the TV show in the 90’s based on quaint South Indian stories set in the last century (NOT Malgudi Days, though this starred Girish Karnad, of course) . There was a Malayalee woman who was going to be beaten up by a man (her father-in-law, I think), and as he was menancingly advancing toward her she dropped her sari. The father-in-law, being a ‘respectable society man’ with ‘concern for ladies’ dignity’ (though not TOO much concern, since he meant to beat her up after all) instantly cursed her, and with a very disgusted expression, turned around and stormed away (thinking, no doubt, “how dare she defend herself in this reprehensible way from my beatings. Shameless women!“).

Female nudity has always been a powerful means of communication, of manipulation, and it was especially powerful when it was so rare. It’s just that in the Indian context, female nudity has taken on so many non-sexual or asexual connotations – remember Akka Mahadevi ?- that it bestows oblique power on the woman. Even though that power is derived from the basic premise that nudity = shame, at least there’s some karmic recompense for women who pay the price of that shame.

As opposed to, of course, the female form today and in the West always, which has nothing but sexual connotations (whether or not the woman is nude), and removes every stitch of power or control from the woman and bestows it to the viewer.

Maharani Gayatri Devi

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

What is it with these iconic Indian women – that makes three of them about whose exciting lives and activities I last heard in college about 10 years ago in dusty books in the Miranda House library, about whom there were mysterious references thrown around in conversations between my mother and her parents, three women who were always for me, part of the hazy past, the paradoxical and confusing 60’s, all now gone.

She passed away yesterday, and was hardly in my mind a feminist icon, though definitely a strong female aspirational figure. The one thing I did always know about her was that she was once accepted by Vogue, that bastion of strict stereotypes of female anatomical acceptability, as being one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. Oh, and that she was the brand ambassador for a diamond jewelry brand, and that caused a big debate on whether celebrity endorsements have gone too far, too cheap.

But, like Princess Diana, or Grace Kelly, or Marilyn Monroe, or Aishwarya Rai, she has the irresistible appeal of someone who ‘s young, beautiful, intelligent, connected, royal and unattainable. These women all hew so close to What Constitutes GlamorTM, and do so well per the unfair standards imposed on them that they’re celebrated so much more than any ordinary achievers who didn’t have to confirm to such standards.

So I went and did some research, and discovered six kewl things about the late Maharani Gayatri Devi:

  1. She had a governess named Miss Oliphant (ha! beat that, Kipling, or Saki)
  2. She helped set up one of the oldest girls’ schools in Rajasthan. While I think that sex segregation in schools is actually not good for equality, sometimes that is the sweeter pill for orthodox cultures to swallow: the first step to getting girls an education. And I know from my experience in a girls-only institution that once you take the boys out of the picture, the excuses used to keep women away from physically intensive and stereotype-challenging activities (e.g. leadership of various student councils, sports, public speaking, mechanical/mathematical contests, even lifting heavy objects, like desks and tables) mysteriously melt away. So, thanks, Maharani.
  3. She drank (alcohol) and played sports, both openly and publicly, and was good at tennis and riding: “Apart from tennis, she was an expert rider herself and both husband and wife greatly encouraged young polo players”
  4. She and that other legendary post-Independence royalty, Gwalior Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, had a lot in common, – both of them were members of non-Congress parties (like most Indian royals, really) and they held elected office. Their power was not necessarily derived from the powerful men they married or gave birth to or were fathered by – their power was derived from exactly the same source that all political power in India has been derived from – class, wealth, income, education, caste, royalty, and an existing powerful family structure or genes (could be maternal or paternal).
  5. Gayatri Devi’s mother, Maharani Indira Devi of Baroda, was a regular Princess Kickbutt herself. She was supposed to marry the Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior in 1910 (she was eighteen, he was forty). She didn’t want to marry him, but it was an arranaged marriage she couldn’t get out of. So she sent him a secret letter explaining her position – this by itself was really bold, but she stood her ground and Scindia graciously called the marriage off (why hasn’t this been made into a kickass Hindi movie again?). And then she had a roaring clandestine affair with the Prince from CoochBehar and married him a couple of years later. Now the sordid wedding-scandal could’ve affected relations between Baroda/CoochBehar and Gwalior, but the women held it together.
  6. She not just held elected office, she was a regular ultra-achiever there as well: she was “the woman with most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election.” Contrast this with Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who received barely 5% of the vote in a two-way contest in Haryana.

This is exactly the paradoxical nature of things in desh, especially of social change movements, that P and I were talking about the other day. For instance, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar and our (my) obsessive interest in it: it could and does stand for the cheesy, cheerful oppressive triteness of reality shows everywhere – for gender stereotypes, for bad fashion choices, for drastic invasion of privacy, for utter Lowest Common Denominator dialogues – which it does, but it’s such a breath of feminism still! (Rakhi deserves a whole ‘nother post – she’s getting to be a fascinating, intriguing character after all). For another instance, see this: “In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, 40 former rulers decided to fight with modern methods: they formed what was, in effect, a trade union to battle for their rights”. I fear sometimes that I’m totally forgetting how to grasp complex ideas by staying out here in the Wild West.

Anyway, I’m revising my opinions of the Maharani as just a pretty & privileged lady – I’m so off to read this woman’s autobiography.

Pictures and thousands of words

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Apparently, even a flimsy, two-dimensional sheet of paper has more agency than a living woman – as long as that paper is imprinted with the image of a man. And men, of course, do the gazing, the “active looking”, even when they’re just staring off into the mid-distance. And women are always being looked at, even if their eyes are in focus – even if they’re actually looking at things and people in front if them, it doesn’t count because they’re women.

“Sticking around: Posters of moderate candidate Mehdi Karroubi gaze at women strolling in downtown Tehran on May 26.”

Now I have nothing against Preeti Aroon, who usually does a good job being provocative, informative and fairly unbiased in her daily posting at Madame Secretary. This one is just the most recent in a series of very badly crafted captions I’ve caught recently from all over today – it’s Freaky Friday.

Odd Organisms via Photo Shop…aka ‘oops’!

April 21, 2009 Leave a comment

This picture from Victoria’s Secret definitely has me sniggering. Seriously, Mr/Ms Photoshopper – did you forget to add back her waist? Is the mask still on? Did you not flatten the layers right?

Or did you want to say, as the cheesy RSS papers do, that women contain dualities within them, and so they have one body’s upper half and another’s lower half?

Why the furore?

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment

So, yes, along with the rest of the entire planet, I’ve seen Susan Boyle’s performance in BGT 09 here. Go look already if you’ve been living under a rock.

I saw the video myself, and I have to be the only one human being who wasn’t shocked or totally shaken by the performance (there! I said it!). I liked her voice and loved how she sang that particular song, no doubt the performance was great. But nothing before she started singing had led me to believe that she would or would not be good. Unlike the audience there, and the judges (especially Piers), who seemed to expect her to fail – doing what, exactly? screeching? fubbing her lines? falling on her face? what??!!!?

Of all the various critiques and analyses I’ve read and seen, this one at Kate Harding’s by fillyjonk is what I recommend to crystallize half the world’s thoughts (the other half can’t articulate why they like the video). (S)he says in the above link:

In a culture that values youth, wealth, and carefully-maintained femininity, this woman is like a cheat sheet for “don’t take me seriously” signifiers. She’s over 40, she’s ungroomed, she’s on the fat side, and her accent denotes low class. As it turns out, she also has learning disabilities and has never been on a date. She flies in the face of what we expect out of a performer and what we, as a culture, esteem in a woman. The judges respond accordingly: they snigger and mock, and her confident posturing just makes her (in their eyes) more ridiculous, more dissonant. Dissonant because confidence and sass don’t compute from a woman who falls so short of the ideal.

So that was it – unlike everyone there in the video and outside who’d been writing about the performance, for me her doing well was no surprise, no big shock, no re-thinking of mental frames. I should give myself credit for this – not wonder what’s wrong – for not taking those external ‘signifiers’ so seriously. It should – and does – bring me pride in my judgment all over again (e.g. in not thinking Hillary was cold-hearted and conventional and even evil and would eat live puppies because she was old or short or ugly).

This incident reminds me of the time in our college physics lab when I had a surreal – and unintendedly honest – discussion with a friend about how I had no idea how to evaluate beauty: I didn’t understand what I was supposed to find pretty and what not. And she asked me, a bit disingeniously, “you don’t see any difference in me and Gauri ?”(Gauri was a not-conventionally good-looking classmate of ours, dark and scrawny and buck-toothed). I said – I know you’re pretty because you’re popular, because of the way the canteen guy looks at you when you walk by, by how strangers smile at you, and with Gauri, all of that is different. And that was true, I knew Gauri was smarter than her but badly lacking in self-confidence. I knew enough about beauty by then to know that the low self-confidence was probably a result of her not being pretty – and it also exacerbated the problem, because low confidence helps a beautiful girl be more accessible, but makes the ugly ones looks even less like they’re ‘worth it’. And I was beginning to personally discover how being full of gumption and charm and being well-spoken and bold and being groomed but also blasé about your looks can make up for not having any (and so’ve Mallika Sherawat and Rakhi Sawant, evidently in very different ways from me).

So, back to my friend – she was shocked, and repeated, “so you can’t tell the difference between Aishwarya Rai and KSG” (KSG was a professor of ours, who wasn’t supposed to be very pretty – and that’s putting it mildly). This time I said “I know KSG is a bad teacher and not smart or really competent, but that’s my quibble with her as a person, not because of the way she looks”. My frank admission then became a big discussion point for a long, long time and led to many, many sessions of ‘leg-pulling’ over warm winter chai discussions in the Hostel too. I believe it even found its way into my scrapbook at the end of college days. But no one really believed me then, and some parts of me didn’t believe myself either: I was smart enough to subconsciously pick up on who was conventionally good-looking and who wasn’t, because the non-beauty metrics (e.g. popularity, confidence, preening, clothes, etc.) are such good indicators of beauty and self-image of beauty in our world. I’d trained myself by then in life to quickly read everyone’s signals and analyses, and even if I didn’t have any bias I sure acted like I did. In other words – at the same time that I was learning what clothes to wear and how to behave so I could fake being pretty, I was also learning how to behave I could fake my knowledge of what “pretty” was.

Susan Boyle’s video brought me back these memories, and my pride in my own judgment. Even thirty-odd years on, evidently, my knowledge is still fake, I’m still pretending :-). I’ve not internalized expectations and stereotypes, and so, like everyone else is saying, I can say “Susan Boyle has given me pride in myself” – for entirely different reasons, and mean it.

Thanks, Susan!