Spread the word.

2 04 2010

I just realized that since I am neither an academic nor a self-identified feminist, it has taken me over three quarters of my life to recognize the fact that I have been and still am oppressed. By men.

Recently I thought about why it took me so long to realize this glaringly obvious fact. Living in a strongly male dominated society as I do, it should have been very apparent but maybe the conditioning went so deep that it was never something I thought about till I moved towards women – lesbians, feminists, academics – all sorts of unusual and intelligent characters who taught me, above all, to think.

Coming out was probably the first step on a long road towards the dawning realization that most men bully, tolerate or patronize women in ways so numerous that listing them would be exhausting. But one of the most important factors in my state of ignorance about my own oppression would have to be the fact of my privileged position in society. My life has been far easier than that of most Sri Lankan women, for no better reasons than that I was taught to speak English and was reared in a secure and liberal environment. So, my awareness of male oppression never got beyond the point of a fury that I would never win a physical battle with my brother, even if I was fighting for what was mine.

But then, how easy it would be to simply go with the mainstream flow and block out the incessant and infuriating male behaviors I now observe so clearly around me – from the tiniest details of thoughtless behavior to the relentless objectification/sexualisation of virtually every woman around.

Don’t straight women notice these things? Or is it just much more in their interests to deny and so condone them? Straight women have to live with men and off men to a great extent. Men are their protectors and providers and most importantly, the fathers of their children after all. Perhaps these are compromises they make, consciously or otherwise, in the search for motherhood and security. And living as we do in a deeply conventional South Asian society, the pressures to conform that are placed upon all women, are even greater.

I imagine that women suffering poverty and violence have little time or energy to meditate for long upon their circumstance. Their battles are for survival. They are the ones who suffer the most, who are deeply oppressed and whose voices are therefore rarely heard. But on the other hand, a high profile, educated, intelligent woman might not always wish to jar the status quo. The ways in which she is oppressed are much less apparent and far less painful and she has much to gain by silence and cooperation. So the most articulate women capable of effecting the greatest change become precisely the ones who would never be required to raise their own awareness and speak out. Given a choice between protecting one’s personal comfort and security and waging a constant battle for equality and power, few would choose the latter.

I know there are some amazing women who do just that – who give up so much and spend their lives fighting for equality and women’s rights. They are usually the lesbians, feminists and academics. In our society it often seems the word has not spread much further than that.





If you love somebody…

18 10 2009

“If you want to keep something precious

You got to lock it up and throw away the key

If you want to hold onto your possession

Don’t even think about me…”

“If you love somebody, set them free”

Sting  (Dream of the blue turtles 1985)

You’ve heard the rest of the track. And you certainly know the end of that quote.

I believe in freedom, independence and giving people the power to choose. I also understand that freedom, independence and the power to choose are all huge concepts and in practice they are necessarily limited by numerous factors – colour, race, religion, income, social rank, geography, environment, genes and personal history. But I still believe that there is a gap between the degree of freedom each of us could have and what we actually dare to embrace. And maybe more importantly – a very clear limit on how much freedom we are willing to give other people in our lives.

By freedom I mean personal space, physical space, an absence of suspicion, jealousy, insecurity and all the anxious and controlling behaviors that seem so common in love relationships. People often seem to require constant attention, interaction and incessant reassuring communication while demanding conformity to accepted norms of behavior. We have a need to change the other person ‘to fit’. Even worse, the absence of this sort of possessive control in one person is often perceived as lack of care by the other.

There are clear boundary lines drawn on every interaction, acceptable opinions, fashion, eating habits and life style. And so partners in both gay and straight relationships often seem to end up with identical political views, religious convictions and sense of humor. Is it why they are together in the first place? Is it just more convenient that way? Or did it all come on over time…as part of that relentless melting of one personality into another that inevitably takes place in most relationships?

People make compromises in life for many reasons, especially when they marry or enter a relationship, however superficial. Reasonable compromise is necessary to maintain any relationship, a sort of oil in the gears – assuming the other factors such as sexual compatibility and affection are already present. But how do we decide what’s worth giving up? Do we gradually become conservative from being a liberal? Do we change our religion – become born again or buddhist? Turn vegetarian? Stop wearing short skirts? Give up our friends? Stop talking to ex-lovers? Change jobs? Get pregnant? Stop working? Move in with the in-laws? Or visit them every Sunday? Do we stop eating sushi? Give away the dog? Start wearing make-up?

Do we chuck our Celine Dion CD’s? Lose weight? Stop reading? Stop smoking? Colour our hair?

What do we have to do and how much are we willing to give up in order to keep that special someone in our otherwise lonely lives?

Someone always gives up something and too often it is a one-sided stream of sacrifice by women on behalf of their men. Observe the patient girlfriends at rugby matches, wandering around car sales or watching league football on tv? Is that ‘sharing’? Or ‘pleasing’? And are the men ‘letting’ them have their little entertainments…girl’s nights out or the spa on Sunday morning?

On the other hand are most women just filling in the time till the right man comes along with Saturday plans for the car sale, rugby and footie? And is the real unseen exchange the Child that virtually every woman seems to need and desire so passionately? In exchange for which the men get an uncomplaining wife and the power to rule unchallenged, as long as they continue to protect and provide?

These quiet manipulations are not necessarily gender biased or dependent on sexual orientation. Queer relationships are often very emotionally manipulative and controlled too. Everyone does it to everyone else all the time to different degrees and in different ways. And often the personality that gets swamped is quite happy to be that way – passive, accepting of guidance and the state of benevolent dictatorship that guarantees the comfort of the relationship. It removes responsibility and the need to make decisions. Often it guarantees that one person (usually the woman) need never have to work for a living again. It takes away the need to think for oneself. It fits into and wins approval from society. And so, in exchange for uncritical support you get a socially acceptable, comparatively peaceful life.

But why can’t we arrive at the same place while accepting or even insisting on our own and the other person’s right to be independent? Surely this is something to aspire to? How can we become fully developed personalities if we get sidetracked on the way by the desperation of our need for love, sex, social acceptance, escape from parental control, maternity or companionship? None of which are available without the accompanying sacrifice of a degree of our thinking selves? How do we become accomplished writers, artists, scientists or musicians – or even simply free-thinking individuals, if we have taken this smooth path to hell?

The alternative is terribly difficult. It requires constant effort to find a balance between necessary compromise and independence of spirit. It is hard work to defend one’s beliefs if your partner does not always agree. The battle for freedom to live in the way that makes you happy can often be fatal to the relationship itself. But this is surely one of the finest efforts in life? If one has the slightest interest in personal development, surely this is the place to start? Neither to bully nor go under but to find a way to live with someone else as two individuals together, different but equal.