Veiled

I have been raised in an environment where self-respect equates to chastity and modesty in your dressing style. I have been told by quite a few adults, my teachers included, that my body is something that should be hidden behind what society deems as appropriate clothing.

The female body has been indicted to so much scrutiny that everything from our reproductive rights to what we chose to wear is being consciously regulated by what others think is right. Something as natural as breastfeeding is confined to dirty bathrooms because people are so actively repulsed by the sight of women’s breasts doing anything other than pleasing the male-gaze.

I remember quite clearly that once my teacher told us, a class of around seventeen young girls, that when women wear “provocative” clothing or anything revealing it only encourages men to turn into rapists. I have never heard anything more blatantly blaming the sexual assault victim than that statement. Rape culture thrives on people who think that sexual assault happens because of how the victim is dressed. It gives legitimacy to the rapist – and in my eyes there is no bigger crime than giving legitimacy to a person or a law that violates the body of another human being.

It is a mindset like this, which is very unfortunately embedded in majority of the Asian society, that makes the environment hostile for women and trans men. When you start thinking that respect is earned by how people choose to dress themselves, that is when you start viewing human beings as tools of an institution rather than individuals who have rights of their own.

The aggressive advocacy for covering up the female body through the society accompanied with the hyper-sexualization of the female body through the media only incites young girls to view their body as merely something that arouses men and nothing else.

It surprises me every time I come across a person or an institution that polices someone to dress “modestly” to earn self-respect. The idea of self-respect is that you respect yourself as a human being and I can do that just as well when I am naked like I can when I am fully clothed.

What adorns my body is my skin and not the society veiled under a cloth.

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Food and Habit

What you’ll be reading is something one of my close friends told me and I am sharing this because the world needs her voice to be heard.

It starts with thinking about food. All the time. You would think that having an eating disorder would mean that you thought of anything else except food, but it’s quite the opposite. You think about food all the time and you think about how you are eating too much, even though you are probably eating a lot less than what you should be. You start thinking about food as numbers, about how many calories are on your plate and about how many hours you’ll have to spend in the gym to burn them all off.

But that’s not it.

Eating disorders are much more complex than that.

Sometimes you are binging, eating more than you should be. Other days are drastically the opposite and you are starving yourself and trying vainly to keep yourself occupied so you don’t have to think about food. But it is always in your head.

What makes eating disorders so easy to relapse back into is because they are so hard to talk about, especially if you are talking to someone who has never had an eating disorder. It’s much more than simply wanting to be skinny; it’s about needing to aggressively control yourself. It’s an outlet of bullied self-infliction, it’s an aftermath of stress or depression, it’s a pathway to insomnia, and it’s something that affects every person who has had it differently.

One thing that makes it so hard to talk about is that after you tell someone that you have an eating disorder, they start seeing you as just someone who has an eating disorder. You are flattened in their minds to just one, impressionable aspect of yourself – your mental health condition.

Eating disorders have become so common because the aesthetics of the human body are embedded into young minds as notions of success. Images on social media distort the view of your body until instead of seeing yourself in the mirror you see the amount of food you have consumed.

Eating disorders are that part of mental health that are not only romanticized in some cases, but also promoted by so many online platforms and even by our peers. You will not know the effect of a single comment until you have stared at your body, reducing its value to that comment playing in your head over and over again.

Over and over again.

Until you relapse.

Does Political Correctness Limit Free Speech?

Political correctness is the notion that we should use politically correct language, or language that isn’t consciously offending any particular section of the society, in our daily speech. This means eliminating the usage of racial slurs or sexist slangs that may have been formerly prevalent. It also incorporates using the preferred gender pronouns of an individual while addressing them.

But the eminent question is whether incorporating political correctness in your speech limits your right to free speech within a democracy?

Free speech is one of the most important facets of a democracy as it not only allows the individual to express his concerns about the society without any limit, but it also acts as a check to the functioning of the government and the accountability of the leaders to the general public. But should there be a certain limit to this free speech?

The concept of free speech has been incorporated into most of the democratic constitutions so as to expand on the rights of the individual and to create a society that is more receptive of the needs of its citizens. But creating a platform where everyone has the right to speak their mind can have some negative consequences, and I believe that political correctness curbs these negative impacts.

When a relatively privileged person uses their position in the society to restrict the rights of individuals from lesser privileged sections, then the basic foundations of a democracy are violated. When people use antiquated and offensive terminology, they are restricting the rights of the group who they are allegedly attacking.

This is why I believe that political correctness doesn’t necessarily limit the right to free speech, but instead expands on it when you look at its impact on the society as a whole. So while political correctness shouldn’t become a legal mandate, it should definitely be something that people are actively sensitive to.

The Gavel Gap

“In a perfect world, when the men and women who deliver justice look more like the communities they serve, there is greater confidence in our justice system overall.” – Christopher Kang.

It’s not a particularly surprising fact that there are significantly more men in the judicial system as lawyers, advocates, consultants, and judges than women. The same can be said for a majority of professions. But what really is surprising is the statistics – more women than men enter into and graduate from law schools than men in the United States. But still, law is a male-dominated profession in the USA, so much so that there have been cases where cabinets of only male lawyers have been consulted for the preparation of pro-choice and pro-life bills, which is ironic considering how this topic affects mainly women and trans-men.

Women comprise of half the population but less than a third of state judges. Women have entered law schools and the legal profession in large numbers for the last forty years and they are doing significantly well in their professions, but are severely under-represented in state courts.

The international courts and arbitration centers show a little less disparity when it comes to gender-based discrimination, but it is still hard to deny the blatant truth that though women are equally qualified to become judges, their male counterparts are constantly seen as a better fit for the same position.

Lack of representation of women in law-making and law-enforcing bodies leads to unbalanced laws that the whole population (half of which is female) have to follow. Most of the judges upholding and deciding on healthcare bills or hearing on pro-choice cases are male. They are inherently deciding on fundamental factors that are never going to actually affect them.

In India, there is a very wide gap between male and female judges and consequently India’s justice system often fails to deliver adequate hearings on sexual assault and abortion cases and those cases that are primarily concerned with the welfare of women. It becomes increasingly hard to break antiquated notions that prevent women from getting comprehensive healthcare and work-field protection when those implementing and formulating these legislations are predominantly male.

We need more women in courts as judges and senior judges to make sure that our voices are heard when it comes to legislations that directly affect us. We need to close the gavel gap.

Access to Water – Access to Education

During my internship at a law firm, one of the advocates who was working there told me a small anecdote about how he, along with a few other individuals, helped fund a program that made water more accessible to the tribal population in Kenya.

Kenya, although adorned with green glory and an infinite supply of food, faces a dearth in accessible water for all the obvious reasons: politics that directs almost all the water to urban facilities, lack of adequate water preservation, and industrial greed. This leaves little drinkable water for the poor population: the forest dwellers and those who live under poverty.

Most of the tribal population has to walk for miles to reach a small lake where they can access clean water. And in most of these cases, it is the female population that has to walk under the sun to get water for their villages. And this practice isn’t limited to Kenya, the same thing is quite common in India and other South-East Asian countries as well.

Retrieving water for an entire village takes up almost the entire day for the women and girls of that village; this means that they have little to no time to do anything else. Their mundane routine is to wake up, collect water, come back to their village and do household chores, sleep, and repeat the entire process the next day. They do not get time to go to school to get even the most basic education.

What the advocate in my law firm did was fundraise money for a charitable organization that built a mechanical well in one of the tribal villages in Kenya. The women no longer needed to walk almost six miles to get water because it was now available just a few steps from their homes.

A Christian missionary school operated a mile away from this village where all the boys used to go to get education. Within two years of installment of the well, the school which previously had only male students, started getting almost forty percent attendance from female students as well.

Making water more accessible to these villages indirectly made education for women and girls easier as well. Opening schools is not enough to increase access to education, we need to make sure that the most eminent demands for the poor population i.e. food, water, shelter, and health and hygiene facilities are taken care of as well.

A Labyrinth of Genders

Although it is increasingly being realized that there are more than just two heteronormative genders, it is still not determined how many genders really exist. Most of the conservatives will tell you that there are only two genders: male and female, and most liberals will refute this statement, and while I will always be amongst the latter, I too am not sure how many genders there are and if this indefinite number will increase in the future.

But that really doesn’t matter.

The whole concept of gender was created to give human beings an identity on the basis of their sex. It is human nature to want an identity, it satisfies our incessant need and want to be a part of something but at the same time stand out as unique individuals. An identity helps us do exactly that, whether that is religious, racial, or even being a part of a school group.

Overtime it has started to become obvious that the confined definition of gender that was prevalent since human beings acquired the ability to segregate and classify, restricts the actual identity of an individual.

We have been imposing a very limited definition of gender on people for a very long time. If you were born with a certain reproductive organ, you were directly classified as either female or male. This restrictive identity can have a negative impact on the well-being of those who are unable to identify with either a male or female gender or those who feel that they do not belong to the gender that they had been designated to at birth.

It is, therefore, important that the concept and idea of a gender-based identity expands to incorporate the affinities of all human beings i.e. non-heteronormative people.

Open Sexism in Indian Colleges – The Curfew System

There is a rather peculiar system that works within Indian colleges and that is the system of curfews that is unquestionably established in almost all girls’ hostels. Boys are not subject to this curfew, but somehow the authorities of educational institutions (institutions which are supposed to be imparting education and not imposing sexist and unnecessary rules) think that it’s okay to subject their female students with the curfew.

This curfew is usually at nine o’clock at night and all the girls staying at the hostel (which is pretty much ninety five percent of the female college students) have to come back to their dorms by nine at night and not even a minute more.

There are two things that are inherently wrong with this curfew system.

  1. Firstly, almost all college students are above eighteen years old and shouldn’t be subjected to unnecessary rules that restrict their freedom of movement. College is supposed to prepare you for the real world and there is no curfew in the real world. Instead of forcing the students (and in this case only the female students) to return back to their hostels at nine so that they don’t act “irresponsibly” at night, they should be influencing and educating all of the students to act responsibly on their own. Colleges should be promoting the importance of individual agency rather than collective suppression.
  2. Secondly, and this is more imperative than the former, this curfew system that works within almost all the colleges in India is downright sexist. When you differentiate someone merely on the basis of their gender it is called sexism, and in this case the colleges are discriminating against their female students.

The Indian constitution states that differential treatment on the basis of factors like creed, religion, and sex are a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens of India. Colleges are basically violating the fundamental rights of their female students and hiding behind the façade of “protecting” them. For how long are we going to deny women and girls equal opportunity because we want to “shelter” them? For how long are we going to treat them as commodities that need to be protected?

We need to give women equal opportunities and equal rights in all fields of life, including their living conditions in college. We need to break the curfew system.

The Healthcare Crossroads

Obamacare, though not the most suitable healthcare plan for USA, had addressed some basic healthcare needs for women and the disables. This is something that is exponentially lacking in the AHCA (Affordable Healthcare Act).

AHCA, stripped down to its fundamentals, serves only the rich men who do not suffer from any birth defects, or in other words, those people who are born into the top one percent of the privilege hierarchy.

Although at the superficial level AHCA may seem like a good option, especially for all those who are ardently pro-life, but a closer look at it shows that AHCA ignores the basic healthcare needs for women. Most of the Republicans rejected Obamacare because they didn’t want their taxes going into the funding of the immediate medical needs of the poorer section of the society, although they seem to have no problem in their taxes being directed into the funding of a futile “security measure” i.e. the building of the wall in the southern border.

Moreover, AHCA ignores the medical needs for children with chronic illnesses acquired at birth. This means that many of the parent/s who earlier could pay for the sustenance of their children though their medical insurance can no longer do so. AHCA will have a direct negative impact of the lives of thousands of children (and their parents) who, out of no fault of their own, have to live with a chronic illness.

Under AHCA, employers have the right to deny birth control under their insurance policy, which means that the several people suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome or ovarian cancer or some other disease (which oh-so-fortunately doesn’t affect cis-men) will lose access to the one medication that helps them lead a healthy life.

Although a more comprehensive healthcare act still needs to be formulated in the US, the direction in which the country is currently heading can potentially destruct the lives of several sections of its society. USA is at a crossroad and I strongly believe that it should diverge from the path leading up to AHCA, even if that means reverting to Obamacare.

Importance of Individual Agency

All societies across the world are bound by certain traditions and culture that predate the evolution of individual agency. In ancient times, man was always considered to be a part of the whole and not the whole in itself. And while this former presentiment is still true to some extent, there is no denying the importance of individual agency and effort.

Human beings are validated through society. In the long run, their contributions and efforts help to benefit the society and it goes without saying that man is incomplete without the society that he lives in.

However, the fact which is often overlooked but equally important is that the society is incomplete without man.

The scientific discoveries and socio-political changes that have evolved primitive lifestyles into adaptive and more modern ways of living have all been initiated by induvials who advocated for something outside of the limits of their society.

While the society in which we live gives us a home, an identity, and a means of comfort, it also sets a boundary to our potential. It is only when we work against certain boundaries set by the society that we can actually achieve a prominent change and make a difference in the world.

Susan B. Anthony did not win women their right to vote while working within the confines of twentieth century America. She and a thousand other women with her strived for something that their society did not provide for and their individual efforts helped make that same society a much better place for themselves as well as the coming generations.

Each and every one of us has the capacity to push against the walls that surround us. We need to expand on antiquated traditions and evolve them into practices that are increasingly egalitarian. We, especially the youth, shouldn’t be afraid to press against issues of sexism, racism, class ascendancy, etc. just because their society has been nurturing such discriminatory practices.

As Gandhi had said, we need to be the change that we wish to see in the world. It is our individual agency that can reform our society.

Perceptions and Stereotypes

We live in an integrated world where our existence affects and is effected by the actions and even thoughts of those around us. This forms the basis of how we are treated in the society. No matter what our potential or caliber is, whether we are successful in what we do is to a certain extent influenced by how we are perceived in society.

Perceptions that are prevalent in society more often than not stem from existing stereotypes. This is why most women working in male-dominated work areas like engineering, astronomy, computer sciences, etc. often face workplace sexism and are subject to a lesser salary than their equally qualified male counterparts. This doesn’t happen because women in these specific fields perform less than men, but it’s because of the existing stereotypes that influence how their employers perceive them and their contribution to the office.

Movements like feminism in the twentieth century and Black Lives Matter in the twenty-first century were all started in an attempt to challenge these stereotypes and change how these marginalized groups were viewed in the society.

In my home-country, India, class ascendancy and caste-based discrimination is extremely prevalent. While it was started because of a complex creed, its notions prevailed in the society because Indians continued to view those belonging to the lower caste as less than human. Their perception of the lower caste population continued to be degrading and demoralizing and it was this very thought process that continues to make its way into the way the lower-caste members are treated in the Indian society.

But just like Dr. BR Ambedkar, who belonged to the lowermost caste in the Indian society, made his way to the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution; we, too, can change the way that we are perceived in the society. During his work in the drafting committee, Dr. Ambedkar was able to pursuade the committee and the politicians to set up a clause in the constitutions that especially protected the rights of the lower-caste population. This clause is still upheld in the Indian constitution and has significantly changed the way the lower-caste members are treated.

We, too, need to challenge the stereotypes that have seeped into our institutions. We need to create an egalitarian space for ourselves and for the members of the section of the society that we represent where our potential can grow beyond the limitations that had been previously set for us.