The conspiracy of status quo

28 09 2009

“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.”

Gloria Steinem

O well. We knew that. Most women – and especially south asian women – absorb the laws of status quo at our mothers’ knee. Interestingly, this education is neither classed nor dependent on income group or language or any other factor, excepting only our womanhood. How we deal with it, and to what degree we accept or attempt to reject it is another matter.

Maintaining the status quo literally means ‘to keep things the way they presently are’. In sri lanka this often seems to be the guiding principle in virtually every public or private activity. Fear of change (closely followed by ‘the protection of the fabric of society’, treading on whose heels comes of course – ‘what will people say’,) is what governs many important, potentially life-changing decisions in all our lives. It is the powerful voice of a conservative majority that celebrates conformity and stifles that dangerous activity: original thought. And by extension, the capacity for and drive towards great art, music and literature.

My question is: are we even aware of how much we have all embraced the status quo? If we were to dissect the subtle, unwritten laws by which we all live they would make a most miserable list and their number would be legion. These laws apply to all of us – men, women and children but sri lankan women carry a responsibility far greater. As the back of every bajaj constantly reminds us – we are everyone’s Mothers. And as such we are expected to relentlessly uphold the traditional virtues of chastity, purity and dignity while manifesting a goddess-like disdain for all things new, radical or different. So how do you rebel against anything when you carry a burden like that? How can we see what’s out there when our eyes are modestly on the ground?

Some random things that are frowned on:

Disinterest in cooking.

Disinterest in cleaning.

Pre-marital sex.

Dressing ‘immodestly’ (revealing your arms, legs, stomach or cleavage).

Short hair.

Not practicing your religion.

Smoking, drinking, doing drugs.

Homosexuality.

Being loud.

Being aggressive or confrontational.

‘Disobeying’ your mother, father, boyfriend, husband.

Not being resigned to things (or disregarding the principle of ‘what to do’).

Drawing attention to yourself.

Living alone.

Being single (or uninterested in marriage anytime after the age of 18).

Not having a vast wedding/reception/’homecoming’ (so everyone is quite clear

that you are actually married).

Not having children after marriage.

Having children without marriage.

Disinterest in childcare generally.

Divorce.

Questioning the status quo.

I could go on and on. But as someone who would rather slit my wrists than conform (to the point where my obstinacy has often worked against my own best interests), I often wish we could lighten up here. If only we could all stop being so terrified of the idea of change – of unraveling centuries of fossilized beliefs and behaviours that are accepted as the rule simply because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ (ie: the status quo). If only we could celebrate the individual who stands out rather than the one who successfully blends in; if we could create an environment where a different voice would be greeted with screams of joy, not quickly silenced, mocked or hounded into oblivion. Where original and liberal thinking would prevail and the status quo would no longer be the altar at which we would all be required to worship…

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The 7 questions you always wanted to ask lesbians*

24 09 2009
  1. How did you become lesbian? The same way you became straight.
  2. How do you find girlfriends? I use pheromones
  3. What do you do in bed? Please read the graphic description provided here.
  4. How do you have sex with a woman? How do you have sex with a woman or man or whoever it is you do it with?
  5. Did your parents fighting make you lesbian? I wish. I would be assured of most women around me turning lesbian!
  6. Are you a man hater? Yes, but I would like to state here that I love my father, brother, male cousin, two gay friends, my ex-boss, my guru the English professor and the boyfriends of my three best friends.
  7. Who is the man in your relationship? If I wanted a man, why the fuck would I be lesbian?

*For further information on lesbians please read a book or surf the net.

Vak





“I never ask for it” – a Facebook project by Blank Noise

21 09 2009

http://blog.blanknoise.org/





Traffic!

17 09 2009

As in most things excepting perhaps weddings and housework, driving in Sri Lanka is an activity ruled and dominated by men. And as in other activities, that dominance is often indisciplined, ill bred and frequently dangerous to other people. This is nothing new. Everyone knows that getting your licence is simply your pass to enter an arena where bigger and faster is better and safer.

Over the past ten years, the roads in Colombo have been steadily improving in quality and design. Undoubtedly we have seen major advances in signage, planning and road building – which give the safety-conscious driver hope that some day we too might have something approaching orderliness and discipline on our streets. But traffic management is not often apparent and policing is weirdly selective – (for instance, talking on a cellphone while driving is severely frowned upon, while driving randomly all over the road is not).

Drivers tend to pick and choose which rules to obey and which to ignore entirely. The red traffic light used to cause a sort of scrum of vehicles all trying to get through the intersection at once but this seems to be getting less frequent. Still, there is usually at least one overweight individual on a small and ancient motorbike with a vast load of coconuts or three tiny children at the back, who can’t see the point of waiting and will wobble forth uncertainly at the last minute, causing frantic braking and swerving by oncoming traffic. These episodes are not helped by the traffic police suddenly deciding to wave people through the red lights at peak hours, which jams the flow elsewhere and increases people’s confusion about what the lights are there for in the first place.

As we all know, while the lane indicators on every road are clearly painted in white, no one ever pays any attention to them. This means that no one really knows where anyone else is planning to go, while many uncertain drivers tend to float diagonally across the lines, which is terrifying. Add to this the fact that lots of drivers often signal a left turn and turn right, or vice-versa, or even just leave their indicators on for no reason at all…and things get very complicated.

Sri Lankans have invented signals and driving habits that are unique to us. Flashing your headlights rapidly, (especially at an intersection) means “I’m coming through, whatever happens. GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY.” Using your hazard lights at an intersection means (not: “oh dear, beware, I’ve had an accident/flat tyre/baby vomit episode and can’t move.”) but: “I’m going straight ahead through this intersection. SO GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY.” There’s also The Swing that occurs when some male drivers observe young girls walking on the road and swing towards them, scare them and drive away laughing uproariously. The Swing is also frequently used by the huge buses that drive like juggernauts directly at everything on the road. All buses drive at incredibly furious speeds everywhere, as if the drivers were on speed themselves – and one can observe the trapped passengers inside being thrown around like peas in a can or if its really packed, swaying together in a badly coordinated heap. This is a war that is waged freely across the roads every day, at the risk of everyone’s lives.

Parking is a whole story in itself. Suffice it to say that not too many people have learned the fine art of reverse parking, which means that three parked cars usually take up the space of five. Pedestrian crossings are another tale of woe. Observe the poor pedestrian hovering at the edge of the road at the crossing, stepping forth and drawing back in terror as the traffic swoops by regardless, until a sympathetic policeman steps forward and stops the headlong rush for a few seconds, allowing them to scurry across while the halted vehicles grumble and lunge…

And then of course, there are the three wheelers. Some people like to get excited about the three-wheeler. They talk sentimentally about how cute they are, how handy and convenient and so cheap! What friendly chaps the drivers are! Those quaint pictures of babies on the inside, and even quainter verses about ‘Mother, where would I be without you.’ painted on the rear.

Well. Quaint they may be. Environmentally friendly, safe or road-rule-conscious they are not. Bajaj drivers are friendly. That much is true. But they’re also completely fearless. Or suicidal. Once you’re inside, all hell breaks loose. The bajaj being a relatively small vehicle, it is possible to squeeze it into the smallest of spaces. Up the pavement, through the drain, down the alleyway….if they could drive on top of the other cars, I beleive they would. To the bajaj driver, the roads are just a space to be driven all over. So they do. So while they are doubtless serving a great need, (being so cheap and handy and quaint and all), they are also a pain in the neck to every other driver on the road. However, it is very hard to be mad with the bajaj and its driver for very long. I’m not sure why. Maybe because they’re both so quaint.

And let’s not forget to mention the motorbikes. His vehicle being smaller even than the three wheelers, the motorbike rider will do anything to get ahead of everyone else. Creeping, crawling, swerving, edging in between, holding on to other vehicles… The motorbike will cut in front of you, come up very fast on your left, proceed very, very slowly in front of you on an empty road or, since he’s usually positioned close behind – practically up your exhaust – if you brake, he will drive into the back of you.

Male drivers vastly outnumber females in Sri Lanka, as I guess they do in varying degrees in most countries. And male drivers in Sri Lanka believe, (again I think, like their counterparts in other places), that they are infinitely better drivers than their womenfolk – always have been, always will be.

I disagree.

Granted, women are not as bullheaded, aggressive or egotistical as the average man, and for these reasons women do not battle around the roads, fighting for every inch of space at the highest possible speeds. Instead, women tend to drive cautiously. They are usually very patient, give way to other drivers and generally display better manners and better instincts than any male driver I ever saw. In fact, I believe that if our conditioning did not cause us to give in to the constant bullying we women-drivers experience on the roads, we would indeed be so obviously superior to men as drivers that the matter would be beyond debate.

Anyway, here are some handy hints for driving in Sri Lanka.

Be very calm.

Expect suprises.

Maintain at least three feet of space all around you at all times.

(Because everyone else will be trying to get as cosily close to you as they possibly can)

And finally – don’t ever, ever, ever be in a hurry to get anywhere.





Ladies Specials – Indian Women Find New Peace in Rail Commute (NY Times)

16 09 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/world/asia/16ladies.html?_r=1&ref=global-home





Baby for sale: Rs 20,000/-

15 09 2009

Recently the newspapers carried a story of a woman who sold her baby for 20,000/- rupees. After carrying an unwanted child in her womb for 9 months, I think she should have asked for a higher price.

Abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka. Even if you are raped. Even if you are a survivor of incest. Even if you have no desire to have a child. Even if you had no control over the decision to get pregnant. Even if you were forced into it. None of these matter. If you are pregnant – legally – you have to carry the child to term. No choice.

So what happens to a young girl who has sex without contraception and gets pregnant? First of all, mostly likely, she would have had no idea that the consequence of her actions (and those of her lover’s) would lead to pregnancy. After all who’s  to tell her this? Who is going to educate her?  This subject is not included in any school curricula and even if it was, no teacher is willing to talk about it for fear of being called “vul teacher”. Her parents? No. Most parents are too embarrassed to educate their children about sex. These are not things we talk about in our culture, you’ll hear them say. And even if she knew the consequences and wanted to take precautions, where would she access contraception from? Can you imagine her going into a pharmacy and asking for a condom? A woman?  Not only would she get the dirty stare but, as when purchasing sanitary pads, it would be wrapped in layers of brown paper in the usual attempt at discretion. Discretion my arse. Every women has her period and everybody has sex at some point in their lives. What’s to be discreet?

So who’s going to educate our young people about sex? NO ONE. No one is willing or able to educate young people about responsible sexual behaviour today.

So a girl gets pregnant. She isn’t married. She can’t abort the child. What are her options? Suicide seems to be one. Yes, we have one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Ever wonder why? 95% of the time suicide is not premeditated –  meaning that young people often commit suicide on impulse, to show the world, to teach them a lesson, to take revenge…

Wouldn’t it be much simpler to acknowledge that we have a problem and try to find a solution together, instead of this band-aid culture we see emerging in Sri Lanka? Instead of conducting raids on abortion clinics and driving the problem further underground, why dont we look at why women are trying to abort their babies? Why are women getting pregnant without intending to? Why are children being born to parents who didn’t want them in the first place?

And what if men could get pregnant and had to carry the child for 9 months in their (non-existent) wombs? Would we be having this discussion at all?

The first reactions to challenges in Sri Lanka are knee-jerk ones. Ban anything you don’t like. No evidence needed, just impulse – a whim and some political clout.  Ban mobiles in schools, ban porn sites, ban abortions – raid the clinics, ban adult content movies, ban women from buying alcohol, ban overseas migration of women as domestics – ban, ban, ban. As if any of this really works! The less accessible these things are, the more inviting they are to young folk who are adventurous and willing to experiment.

I am frothing mad.





“Open your mind” Hindustan Times TV commercial by Lowe Lintas, India

13 09 2009

The Indian Newspaper – Hindustan Times and their advertising campaign by Lowe Lintas….

An absolute gem can be found at:

http://www.afaqs.com/perl/advertising/creative_showcase/index.html?id=15200&media=TV

no words, no noise, just expressions and a very strong message. “Yes, people: it is time to open our minds.”