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.

Why do women want to be like men?

5 03 2010

As women’s day approaches I wanted to write and reflect a little bit on what it means to me. Sometimes I talk to friends and colleagues (who are not necessarily feminists) and they ask me questions like “Why would we want men and women to be equal?” or “Why do women want to be like men?”

Actually, I don’t want to be like any man I know. I don’t want men and women to be exactly the same either. It is our differences that make us interesting as individuals. What I do believe however, is that men and women should be given the same opportunities to be the best they can be; so for example, if there is money enough to send either me or my brother for higher studies, I want to be given the opportunity to qualify too. If there is fish for lunch, as a daughter I should be given the same share as my brother. If my father owns a piece of land, I want equal share in it with my brother. I believe in equality.

National decisions that affect us all are made by members of a parliament. They decide if I should pay an additional 3% as Nation Building Tax when buying clothes for my kids; they decide if we should start another university in Sri Lanka; they decide if young adults should be taught about sex in schools; they decide which laws should stay and which should go and they decide if I am a criminal because I love another woman.

The national parliament has 225 seats. I want women and men to have an equal number of seats and an equal voice.

I somehow know my mother understands me much better than my father; her voice is stronger even though it may not be louder. I want to hear her – and women like her, as strong voices in parliament. I want a woman who knows and understands me to speak about the issues that affect me. I don’t believe a man can do justice to this.

There are 960 million illiterate adults in the world. 640 million are female. Why?

There are 130 million children not enrolled in primary school. 90 million are girls. Why?

Parliamentary seats worldwide: only 11% occupied by women.

In Sri Lanka it is 3%! Why?

Total land in the world: only 10% owned by women. Why?

This is what I question and this is what I believe needs to change. For me this is what Women’s Day is about – its about questioning and changing and equity.

International Women’s Day is on March 8th.