Feminist Fight Club

5 09 2017

An Office survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight ClubThis is one of those rare books that I couldn’t even wait until I finished it before I ordered not only my own personal copy but also copies for my friends.

It’s irreverent, hilarious, witty, sarcastic, and above all practical and helpful. It lays out the many self-sabotaging and self-defeating behaviors and thoughts of women that accentuate the age-old stereotypes and thereby result in the vicious circle of widening the chasm between the sexes in the workplace. It talks about all the implicit ways that both men and women indulge in that contribute to the problem. It provides sensible tips and advice on how to tackle these damaging tendencies.

It highlights the pervasiveness of gender discrimination at work and points out that today’s sexism is not overt but seemingly very subtle and imbibed in countless  “normal” behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s not less damaging. We still do have a wage gap, glass ceiling, and other ways of limiting the growth of women in their careers. Women are interrupted more than men when they are talking, more likely than men not to be given due credit for their ideas and work, judged harshly/negatively compared to men for same behaviors etc.

Even if we think of ourselves as very progressive, the deep rooted stereotypes and cultural notions are assimilated in many seemingly harmless and often times subconscious reactions and behaviors. Everyone needs to consciously work on their own implicit  (and otherwise) biases in order to be able to address this issue and bring out the change. Because gender parity benefits one and all. It frees everyone from the boundaries of the stereotypes, because that’s what stereotypes do – they confine us all – men and women. Men need not limit their actions in order to conform to the “macho-man” stereotype, which sometimes involves significant cost to one’s own conscience, morality, humanity, and others. They need not bear the burden of primary financial and career responsibility solely on their shoulders and instead share that with women. Rising above the stereotypes is a challenge but not insurmountable. They do have their purpose as shortcuts but it helps to evaluate them and make conscious choices instead of succumbing to them blindly. Knowledge and awareness is power.

Men can not only help by not engaging in detrimental actions but also by stopping other men from acting so and/or supporting women. Likewise, women can help themselves as well as each other through a network of support.

I found at times that the tone of the book is too brazen and bold, but that may just be my cultural conditioning restricting myself from accepting such a tone from a woman, as well as applied to women. 😛 Also, I felt that some tips sounded more like “how to be like a man”. And it seemed that the culture associates most successful tendencies to be “masculine” and the less successful or even detrimental behaviors as “feminine”, at least in the workplace. It’s a dismal realization. There is even a chapter in the book titled “What would Josh do?”, which encourages women to emulate the tendencies of a successful male in certain situations. This is not ill advice at all. But I hope for a day when distinctly feminine behaviors also connote success, strength and professionalism. Currently, in case of transgressions or slips from ideal work behaviors, women are judged more harshly and often those actions get ascribed to the entire gender (and how women are inferior/unsuitable/out of place) in contrast to men, in which case, they’re only mere transgressions or “he just being a man” (a good thing).

The book evoked in me lot of emotions. I found myself surprised by some insights and facts (from studies), nodding in agreement at many places with the arguments, cringing while recalling my own self-sabotaging behaviors, inspired by the support available and the ray of hope to change the status quo.

Anyone who cares about gender discrimination at workplace should definitely read this book. I think that any workplace that likes to combat sexism can start by

  • Recruiting more women
  • Offering women same pay as men (very important and I think very doable. No, please don’t blame it on negotiation skills)
  • Educating all employees on various contributing and exacerbating tendencies and how to avoid or work around them

Here’s to empowering one and all! 🙂

Fairness, not sameness

8 12 2016

What if all humans are alike? In looks, behaviors, and thoughts? It would be a dull and boring world. Isn’t it? Diversity is what makes life interesting. Of course, from a big picture perspective  we are more similar than different. Keeping this thought aside, we can safely say that each one of us is different and unique in myriad small ways. Despite our differences – in capabilities, attitudes, behaviors etc., we expect to be treated equally aka with fairness. We don’t like to be subjected to any prejudice.

This applies to racial discrimination too. There are obviously differences among different races in regards to certain aspects (just like people within the same race are different in certain other aspects). Nevertheless, we agree and aspire to treat everyone equally and with fairness.

Shouldn’t the same thing be extended to gender discrimination as well? Men and women are obviously not same. (I touched upon some aspects of how and why in my earlier post – Are men and women equal?) They possess different sets of strengths and weaknesses. Despite the dissemblance, we ought to treat them with fairness. Feminism should argue for fairness, not sameness. As Helena Cronin, an eminent Darwinian philosopher, puts it, gender equality doesn’t and shouldn’t suggest “sameness”, but rather only fairness.

We should celebrate all the differences and rejoice the diversity. Diversity is what makes the world much stronger, more interesting, more exciting, and more creative.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it

27 09 2015

This talk on “gender equality” by sociologist Michael Scott Kimmel is the best. Funny, witty, and drives the point home. The two highlights, according to me, are:

Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” – That’s the reason why a white American woman sees “a woman” in her mirror while a black American woman sees “a black woman” in the mirror. And a white American man sees only “a human being”.

Kimmel’s response to the diatribe by a few men who lost their jobs – A black woman took my job , is really epic. “What makes you think it’s your job?

Amen to that.


18 04 2012

I’ve been coming across this issue on the Net and newspapers for quite a while now. Lots of discussions and heated arguments are being made on this and as I went through them, the issue seemed more and more intriguing.

As per my understanding, the term ‘Slutwalk’ was coined in Canada last year, where a police officer had commented that women could avoid sexual assaults by not dressing like sluts. Agitated women immediately held protest walks with attention grabbing title ‘slutwalk’ in Canada and then US. Marches in many other countries followed, including India. The issue gained instant popularity and controversy owing to its title and people all over the world indulged in discussing the issue. And incidentally, a similar kind of comment was made in India recently by two prominent people – a DGP and also a state minister. This ensued similar outrage in India.

When I first encountered this issue and read through various articles, I was convinced that slutwalk makes much sense. I even endorsed the need for it and tried to defend it in my arguments with people  both offline and online. But as I thought about it more and more and read different perceptions of people, I’m not so sure right now.

Basically, there are two different opinions about it:

  • Those comments make perfect sense and women should be careful about their dressing so as not to invite trouble. People who believe so argue that doing so doesn’t take away the blame from the offender or rapist. It merely advises women to be more careful. Analogies are also brought in, comparing women with revealing or provocative clothes to people exposing Rolex watch and full wallet in a dark alley, both  cases drawing unwanted attention resulting in possible crime.
  • Such comments take the onus of responsibility away from the offender and unfairly blames the victims.

I believe that the society (media, people at large, general collective psyche) by blaming the victim for rape is not considering rape as a serious offence unless severe physical injury is done. When the first question in a rape case is about the dress or morals of the victim, the rapist doesn’t feel guilty..

Some argue that talking about victim’s dressing doesn’t slight the offence. But I feel that that is not so. The prevalent notion is present no where in the spoken or written word, but still one can feel its vibe undercurrent if one cares.

Kalpana Sharma, in her article, states that “The current approach shall only result in giving potential rapists the signal that they are excused from all responsibility since it is for the victims to take care of themselves and ensure that they do not get raped.”

While I agree that not all rapes are done as a consequence of dressing provocatively ( as is evident by rapes of minors, old women, burqa clad women and the like), being the weaker sex (unable to defend oneself at times of sexual assault), women better be on the safer side.

But here comes the question – what does one mean by dressing provocatively? It’s highly subjective and may be the buqra covering from head to toe is the only plausible solution. Not that it would guarantee no rape or sexual assault incidents, but may be in that case, the blame will be shifted from the victims and rightly be placed on the perpetrators. But is it happening that way in the countries which impose burqa on its women?

The fact that rape happens even in cases where no provocation in any manner is involved, isn’t a very reasonable and logical argument for dressing less modestly, in my opinion.  But I feel the reason why the proponents of slutwalk make this point is not because they encourage women to be careless and invite trouble but because, all this dressing issue has deeper  implications and nuances.

An  interesting and stimulating discussion on Facebook reveals much about the opposing views:


In particular, I felt that the following made much sense:

“Rape obviously, is much more violent, and a much greater degree of malice and ill intentions attributed to it. Why does that amount of malice get generated? Why does such an evil intent get formed so easily? It’s because of the psychology of rape, that it is permissible. The psychological causes of robbery and mugging can be easily traced, the cause of sexual assault, not so. It is only something that happens so easily because of the permissiveness attached to the concept of rape. Once men understand that it is NEVER okay to rape, then the issue of precautions does not arise. 

 “We’re still talking about whether it is right or wrong to look primarily at the people sexually assaulting other people, instead of the people being assaulted. This prevention approach ALWAYS takes focus away from rapists. It has been doing so for years. Which is one of the reasons we need to switch lenses. FIRST look at why that man felt he could/why he wanted to force himself on someone and what you can do to change that. Then look at ways of helping women fight back while everyone works to make this an easier place to live in. Don’t ever say that it was her responsibility to ensure that she wasn’t sexually assaulted, because it isn’t. It is our responsibility as a society to bring kids up not to think that women are objects to penetrate and dominate at will, but people you never touch without consent. You know why I think no one even talks about why men rape? Because its something everyone takes for granted as a regular part of our lives. Women get raped, its a fact of life, so all you can do is prevent it from happening to you. That won’t cut it, sorry. For as long as people’s reaction is “who asked her to get into a dangerous profession/drive her car late at night/wear skimpy clothes/drink at a bar” I have a problem. Call it what you want.” 

“What we rebel against is the idea, that women, because they are women, should somehow be expected to be on red alert all the time. Say that, and you are effectively saying that such men, are who they are, live with it. We cannot accept that. More importantly, we cannot allow that excuse for anyone. Maybe, on our own, we can choose to be more careful. But when we say it’s a responsibility, we’re offering a way out for those responsible for enforcing the rules. We’re splitting responsibility, and allowing a host of stupid notions to enter, and that is dangerous. Can we choose to be careful? Yes. Is it our bounden duty to be? No. It’s a fine distinction.

It is also a well known statistic that most sexual assaults happen not from strangers but from men in and around the family or social circle. And almost always, rape is not an impulsive act, it is usually planned well ahead. And in most cases, rape is more about power and domination rather than about sex. Quoting Kalpana Sharma again, “Those who commit such acts do not do it out of any form of compulsion or sudden provocation caused by the victim’s attire, but are in fact, motivated by their own perverse thought process. This thought process is bolstered by societal sanction and acceptance of sexual assault as routine, especially against “immoral” women. ”

Coming to the analogy to mugging, say some valuables are stolen as a result of “provocatively” flashing them. The thief here and the rapist – are they treated the same way by the society in terms of blame put on them ( and not in terms of the seriousness of the offence, of which obviously the one committed by latter is  graver)?

But on the face of it, it’s sad and unfortunate that the victim has to prove her innocence (by not having dressed provocatively or not being with loose morals) before the offender can take the blame.

A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.

HENRIK IBSEN, From Ibsen’s Workshop 


13 12 2011

Bear with a brief prelude before getting into the main topic of the post. Of late, I’ve not been writing anything much other than movie reviews. With research work occupying most of my mind and available time, there hasn’t been much “thinking time” and breathing space to accommodate blogging. I’m enjoying  my research experience a lot. Though technically the research work hasn’t yet started, the groundwork isn’t unexciting. There is so much to do and learn that the number of avenues open to me  gives me a heady feeling at times. I always like my passion to drive my work and research is no exception. The only problem I face now is that I need to channel  my tremendous energy into a narrow stream so that a tangible and worthy output can be delivered. Well, the process isn’t so easy – it’s confusing, bewildering and undoubtedly frustrating.  But of course, struggle is inevitable to achieve any success.

Not willing to have a month pass by without at least one post, I’ve resorted to the easy way. Needless to mention, movies present ample opportunity to dish out a post in no time. 🙂  I’ve read only a few books in the past few months and even less that moved me to write something about them. Of course, I haven’t actually written anything about them “yet” but the intent still holds good. The thoughts are just lurking around awaiting their chance to be penned (typed) down.

It is only recently (to be precise, 8 months ago) that I discovered Ranganayakamma and she already found her place in my list of favorite authors. I’ve read 6 books of her so far and loved each one of them. My reviews on two of them: Krishnaveni, Ammaki Aadivaaram Ledaa? Read 3 of her novels in the past month and found myself addicted to her narration. Finished each of the books at one go. Worth mentioning among them is “Rachayitri”. It is a story of a young writer Vijaya, who is highly individualistic with progressive views, and her husband, with conservative notions and beliefs. The novel depicts the clashes that arise between people of completely different levels of thinking and questions many prevalent practices and roles in the society. These days many women are thinking beyond the traditional confinements and age-old conventions, with education and change in the upbringing. But the rest of the society hasn’t kept up with it. I felt that every husband, who puzzles over the individuality and the questioning attitude of the wife, should read this book. The novel also presents a pragmatic account of married life. Like all her books, “Rachayitri” too is educative.

I like the author’s feminist ideas. In fact they are humanist; she urges people to develop right attitude and individuality, regardless of the gender. For women to achieve them, they need to fight against this patriarch and oppressing society and hence the need for  ‘feminism”. The term raises many a eyebrow and makes many people treat it with suspicion. Some even think it as frivolous and/or stupid. I feel that this is mainly due to the misinterpretation of the intention behind the movement by zealous practitioners with half-knowledge and inappropriate activities and also by the  innocent bystanders.

She is also a communist and atheist. I have no issues with any of her beliefs but she thinks that  a person’s true progress is measured by the extent to which he or she acquires the above perspectives. According to her, understanding and believing Marxist’s theory is the true education; shunning god and idol worship is true wisdom. Developing these convictions is the sign of growing up, in her sense. I’m not arguing for capitalism and theism here. In my opinion, every philosophy is relative. There is no absolute truth. I have trouble with her attitude that those without the knowledge of Marxism and acceptance of atheism are primitive people who need help. For me, this sounds exactly like Christian missionaries whose main concern is to convert people of other faiths to their religion; make them believe in Jesus and thereby save themselves from condemnation. There is nothing wrong about any belief. One believes a certain thing for one’s own convenience and comfort.  One finds solace and courage in one’s faith. I find it silly and arrogant of those who deliberately try to establish the superiority of their belief over others’ and actively seek people to join their cult.

It’s one thing if a person explores that particular knowledge and faith and gets interested in it by himself. But forcing it on someone by simultaneously elevating their belief and  debasing other beliefs doesn’t sound well to me. I have little respect for such beliefs. As long as a particular philosophy or faith doesn’t harm anyone, it can be left alone and let the individuals explore other philosophies by their own quest for knowledge. May be the contention between Capitalism and Marxism isn’t that innocent. Each philosophy favors one segment of people, causing harm to the other. While capitalism is based on the principle of individual rights and in effect  states that the fruits of a tree can be devoured by the one who raised it, Marxism calls for uniform availability of resources and wealth to one and all, irrespective of  the origin/source of the bounty. (Excuse my crude and limited perspective; I hope I’m not too far off the mark.)

But I suppose that this” forcing of your beliefs on others” is a universal phenomenon forever in existence. I believe that if something is worthy enough, it doesn’t need trumpeting. I am not against preaching. Preaching is usually done to a willing audience. But trying to sell the philosophy or faith to unsuspecting and impassive individuals, I perceive it as something degrading. Somehow I can’t view philosophies/faiths as commodities that can be advertised and sold.