Sep 152016
 

I wrote this for She the People, earlier this week

Many years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s, dystopian novel, Handmaid’s Tale. Set around a plausible tomorrow, it looks at a world where fertility has plummeted, and there are a special category of women   who are kept especially for reproductive purposes. As I read the “Politics of the Womb” by Pinki Virani a frightening today began to emerge. Where there are women, whose only value to the world seems to be the eggs that she produces, the uterus that she has, and the womb that she rents.

A riot, in very slow motion, is being engineered on the woman inside her body; to take her apart, part by profitable part.

The slow rampage is in the name of God – for hers is the womb and she shall conceive.

In the name of science – for hers is the hostile uterus and medical evaluation must arbitrate. ……The world over, the combined might of religion and science has converged to martial many a uterus with a child. At any cost; to the woman, to her baby.

The opening lines of Pinki Virani’s long hard look at the surrogacy industry, hits you in the gut, and pulls you into a narrative structure that takes you into the universe of uterus pimp; the woman (who is the walking uterus; IVF clinics that charge, and charge, and charge;  the desperate, would be,  parents who want to have a biological child; and the mad rush for designer babies. Politics of the Womb – The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies is both a behind the scenes look at the new industry that seems to have grown without regulation;  the ethics of such work; and a normative framework for regulation. It is also a manifesto of the rights of the unborn child. Someone has to speak for the child, and Ms Virani makes a very strong case for children born of IVF.

 

The books looks at how expensive  IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment  is being pushed as the first option, on desperate parents, when there are a gamut of other options, that could spare the prospective parents both an expensive bill, as well as physical and mental trauma. There is between 72-80% failure rate per IVF cycle. Less than a third of people who start the IVF treatment, come away with a baby. The costs-  financial, physical and emotional – are seldom publicized or discussed. And, all this in the backdrop of an  industry that sells a myth of fertility, and downplays the medical risks both to the mother and those that may occur to the child. Virani  looks at the data surrounding IVF and birth defects, that leads to children being born autistic, and  with mental retardation. The risk of babies conceived through Ivf or Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is 37% higher than babies conceived naturally. “Collateral damage” says a doctor, on the side effects, and birth defects.

Virani’s anger against the commoditization of the uterus, and its commercialization, is palpable. When she quotes doctors, involved in the baby making business,  she lets their callousness and utter disregard for the woman’s body, and the reproductive process , stay there unvarnished. “What is a uterus, it is like a room. Repaint, redecorate any number of times”’, Virani quotes a doctor saying.

Surrogacy is in the news of late, because of the bill being discussed in Parliament, as well as the Government’s banning of commercial surrogacy. In light of the high pitched conversations around this topic, it might be worthwhile to read the “Politics of the Womb” to look at the issue in a holistic manner.

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(Politics of the Womb; The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies; by Pinki Virani; Viking; Rs 599; Pages 304)

Aug 242016
 

Speaking to The Indian Express, Maneka said, “Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”

I am appalled by the minster’s statement. There are men, and men, and men.

In an extended family set up, where there are other people who can help with the child, or with the mother – i can still imagine what she saying to be true (not really, but i am willing to give her the benefit of doubt). But, in nuclear families, and much of employed India is moving there, new fathers are increasingly playing a role in the nurturing of their new born, bonding with it, helping his wife – who is recovering from the delivery, and so on.

Many moons ago, my father did everything except ‘breast feed us’ (my mother’s words, not mine). I have seen my male friends and cousins do much the same – be doting fathers, cooing over their kids, fussing over their wives/partners, run around and do chores, open the door when the bell rings incessantly, and more. My driver, took time off when his kids were born, to help around the house. I have seen men across socio-economic groups do this. For a man to bond with his family, is important. Part of it is work. the other part is empathy, and sharing, caring. If the minister wants to build a more gender equal society, she needs to throw her weight behind paternity leave.

I think men will be better fathers, if they bond with the new born at a younger age. Better husbands, by looking after their spouses in the post recovery time. Be all round better people, if given the time off to be so. I would rather not have men lie about sick leave for this, but take something that is owed to them as right.

To write off all men as those who will treat “paternity leave” as holiday, is the same kind of gender stereotyping women have been fighting against. As a feminist, as someone who supports gender rights – i can’t but support the right the of the father to bond with his family.

Maybe, the Minister can use her good offices and get TV shows, and ad producers to create positive messages around a new father. And, how he dotes on his new born (and most do). Rather, than write off all fathers are lying layabouts.

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Aug 232016
 

mm

 

🙂 world class athletes reduced to “hotties”. And, i don’t see a single hot male here…..

I am yet to make up my mind whether it is sexist towards women (by portraying them as mere ‘hotties’) or discriminatory towards men ((not one makes the list of ‘pin ups’).

Also, apart from Natasha Richards, not a single person of colour — i am assuming, darker variants of skin are not hot #justsaying

Your view ?

Aug 222016
 

This is the front page of the Mumbai Mirror.

sindhu

What Lakshmi, who represented india in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, actually  said “Sindhu has what i didn’t have back then – my husband as a coach”

I know readership is an issue. I know clicks are difficult to come by. Maybe the reason is that editors play around with the truth. And, maybe, just maybe … that is why readership and clicks are a problem.

This kind of salacious stupidity really, really, bothers me. Really.

Jul 282016
 

(this first appeared on shethepeople.tv )

A headline caught my eye today, and made me grimace. “Chennai man killed by speeding Audi, police to determine if woman driver was drunk.” It made me ask the same question I seek to answer, every time I write. Is a descriptor needed? Does the line still read right, if I bump off the word ‘woman’. Does it really make a difference whether the drunk is a man or a woman? But, there are things that we don’t expect women to do. And, it is not just headline writers. A few days ago, a professional acquaintance was telling me about a case of corruption in a private company, and someone getting sacked. “She was caught red handed” they said. I responded “a woman taking a bribe?” part incredulous, part shocked. Frankly, after all these years of working, some of it in news, things like this should not surprise or shock me, but they do. There are things we expect of men and women, and there are things we don’t expect them to do.

All of us, to a greater or lesser extent refer to the world, through gender lenses. There are things we expect ourselves to do, and expect to be done for us. And, it applies to men, women, and society at large.  The number of female friends who do not pay attention to personal finance (I used to be one of them), and leave it to the men in their family; the number of men who have no cooking skills, and leave it all to the women in their family (how many men do you know who tell you they can just make tea, and boil an egg). These are at a very basic level. And, the roles determined by culture and society, which we broadly call gender roles, impact both sexes.

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(Trapped & Chained by gender)

At my age, my father was the main provider for a family of 7. A spouse, 3 children, and two from the older generation. He never went on holiday. Or got himself  new clothes. We lived on a honest Government servant’s salary, that was supplemented by a honest teacher’s salary.  I asked him, much later in life didn’t he crave for the nicer things in life – a new pair of shoes, a watch, a new tie, maybe even a holiday.  He laughed and said, ‘I had the pleasure of seeing you all grow, I didn’t really need anything more.”  My father was the provider. My mother was the nurturer. He loved photography and travel. She loved reading and studying. Both put their dreams away for us. A former colleague of mine, who wanted to start up, put his dreams aside. He wanted to be the good provider. Another colleague, stayed at home to look after her family, because she believed it was her role. One is not judging any of the decisions here, one is simply saying that our decision making is often, even sub consciously, based on gender programming.

While sex is biological, gender is societal programming.  And, while we often talk about how gender roles impact women, the fact is, it impacts both.  A woman is expected to be responsible for the upbringing of the children and taking care of the household, never mind if she has other dreams. A man is expected to go out and provide for his family, dreams be damned.

The question of gender has come back into the public sphere in a big way, for the first time since the 1970s. And, it has to do with discrimination. And, that discrimination is neither governmental, nor organizational. Both encourage diversity. That discrimination is innate. Within individuals. And, most of us don’t even recognize it, because so much of it is linked to society, culture and traditions.

So the starting point in ending discrimination is to recognize that there is something called genderthat is a product of society and culture, and that it is very distinct from sex that is determined at the point of conception. It has to do with roles that we perform. If we accept that roles have little  to do with biology, then we can make a beginning to end gender.

As women, we cannot achieve equality, until we recognize that men are as weighed down bygender roles as women are. The average  man –father, brother, partner, colleague, friend – is not patriarchy. He is an individual, just like the average woman. Maybe a set of conversations will help change things at the individual level. A conversation on dreams, and wishes, and how they can be achieved, may really help redress the balance in our own immediate universe. And, many adjoining universes, may end up shifting the balance towards a more gender free, or gender neutral world.  It is the world we owe future generations.