The Problem with Post-Modernists

Warning: I’m not planning to do a detailed academic analysis on Post Modernist philosophy itself, this are my views (or rant) on my personal blog, because I’m tired of reading this nonsense on a daily basis.

ETA since I got a few negative comments: Again, I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t take this as a critique of post-modernism itself, which was never my intention. 

pomo social construct

Last month, a blog was posted in CNN about a white woman who visited India and had horrible experience with sexual harassment over here. This was met by outrage from many parts, some having victim blaming overtones. Myself as a guy who lives in India, and most feminists I know of, found it very relatable and not even slightly hard to believe. That’s hardly the point. The point is, when a woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or race, narrates her experience in India, deserves to be heard and understood. You can’t just go on to blame her or ask her to mince the words just because you are offended. And there was no reason to either, she was very polite and did not attempt to paint all Indian men by the same brush. This has been already discussed at IHM’s blog, you can read it there.

Coming to the central point, postmodernism. I have never been impressed by postmodernist philosophy in general (I have respect, but although I don’t want to imply that their entire field is obsolete without proper exploration on my part, needless to say the sort of nonsense from many postmodernists is getting far too much for me to tolerate. Alan Sokal did a good take-down on the anti-intellectualism that plagues postmodernist philosophy in his book “Fashionable Nonsense, but that is not again my central point. This blog is to discuss about how some post-modernists get it so wrong, you can’t sometimes even tell the difference between a post modernist and a misogynist. And when that happens, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

1. Victim Blaming

This was posted on a tumblr, and was posted in relation to the RoseChasm article I mentioned:

shitpomossay1

Post-modernist nonsense exhibit 1: Victim Blaming

“Yet another deeply obnoxious, racist, classist and douchey, white woman’s account of her experience in India. […] There are ways to tell this story without being colonizing, white supremacist piss hole. Find that way or shut the fuck up.”

I saw absolutely nothing generalizing or unbelievable about her account. Why should a woman watch her mouth to stroke your post modernist sensibilities to narrate her terrible experience of sexual harassment? And what’s worse, this is riddled with personal attacks towards her. Yes, it is important that woman of color be heard, absolutely. How does that make this venomous personal attack on a person who faced sexual harassment okay? So extending the same reasoning, should non-dalit women be allowed to speak in India? Would you say the same shit to them? This is just downright misogynist douchebaggery. Oh no, we have to take everything as white savior complex, completely ignore the fact that this was a victim narrating her personal experience.  Just write a post-modernist guideline that women ought to follow from now on to speak of their personal experiences, I’m sure they would be very grateful for that.

This is the worst form of post-modernism, which is, in my view, anti-feminist and misogynist.  And this runs so deep down, where being offended  and having an us vs them mentality is good enough to rant on about anything.

2. Cultural reappropriation

shitpomossay2

PoMo exhibit 2: Racism

Now we come to the so called ‘cultural appropriation’ issue, in this case apparently the burning issue seems to be: “Should you wear a Bindi?” First of all, for all the things Po-mos say about racism, this post is ironically racist and such a sweeping generalization. Not all desi woman who wear bind wear them “cheap ugly looking desi chappals” – in fact many women who wear bindi probably from middle-upper middle class. And many of the women who do so themselves use these fairness creams. That is just the colorism they have internalized, and unfortunately confirm to. It’s an amazing leap of logic that you just made there.

And I am thankful that people from the west don’t make a fuss out of all this “cultural re-appropriation”, because we do that ourselves, if you are even aware of that. We’re not some monolithic group that wear “cheap ugly desi chappals” along with bindis. Bollywood actresses wear bindis. Upper class and caste women wear bindis.  I haven’t seen many Indians getting ‘hurt‘ in India because some white women wore a bindi here, and we’re a very sensitive bunch when it comes down to religious and cultural sentiments. But regardless, being offended is not good enough reason to refrain from doing anything. Because especially living in India, I know very well how that is used to shut down any debate. If you offend any religious sentiments, you’re screwed. And that has worked out great for us, as you can see. You may find it silly, or you may not like it, but that does not make it inherently racist. That is just irrational prejudice, nothing else.

3.  Savior Complex and Western Allies

This is a more sensitive issue, and I hope I get the nuances right here. I agree that racism in the west is not a trivial issue to this date, and I get that white savior complex might well exist and be very prevalent. But here is something many people just annoyingly go overboard with again:

PoMo exhibit 2: White Savior Complex

PoMo exhibit 3: Savior Complex

Now here comes the oft repeated phrase: “we do not need saving“. I repeatedly hear this, that “we do not need saving” strawman. What is the point of this? I mean I could say that to any activist. That “women don’t need saving” or “LGBT people don’t need saving” – and you would rightly call bullshit on that. Homophobia is terribly prevalent in Islamic communities, that’s just a reality. And I don’t see how accepting that is a problem – and I would go so far to say that acknowledging the problem exists and is widespread is the first step.

Progressive Muslims (reformists) are still in the minority, and they’re mostly the ones who are vocal about LGBT activism. So yes, allies are important. At least in my view. This kind of broad and unhelpful rhetoric just negatively affects LGBT activism in Muslim communities. And I’m just pointing out Muslim communities in this specific case, that applies to a broader context too. And it’s hard to tell if it’s a satire or real thing (spoiler alert: it is real) when you say things like “”We” are not helpless objects for you to (hyper)sexualize and prey upon with your colonial gazes.” – seriously?

Yes stereotypes are bad, and should be done away with. I appreciate that. But how about some nuance? Or being more specific and conflating strawman arguments with genuine issues that should not be brushed under the rug? I love how “hyper sexualization by colonial gazes” is an acceptable statement, but criticism of veil as a form of sexualization is “orientalist and offensive“.

And I could go on. This is just me talking from a feminist perspective and me randomly choosing a few examples to present a case.

When you yourself engage in black and white thinking whilst criticizing black and white thinking, that’s the epitome of irony. Issues in the so called “third world countries” are that bad. Ignoring that because you’re “offended” is just counter productive. And it’s not just white people, anyone who doesn’t confirm to this absurd and irrational west bashing, and black and white thinking are subject of this nonsense as well. Recently I had the misfortune to read this horrible article attacking Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Muslims, for pointing out the irrational anti-west sentiment and pointing out the obvious denialism from this crowd. And not to mention the obvious Taliban apologia or rationalizations (blame it all on the west!) these usual articles come with.

So bottom line, for all your criticism of the “west” and “white savior complex”, just stop with turning a blind eye to the very important issues that people in so called “third world” face because it “offends” you. That’s erasure of people’s experiences and reality denial. And that hurts the activism in these countries more than anything.

End of rant.

It’s all your fault.

This is a brilliant (and yet disturbing) satire on rape culture and sexual violence. There have been superficial satires before, but this hits right where it hurts. And that’s how satires should be.
I can’t praise them enough for making this. Thank you, All India Bakchod!

“So you have depression? Deal with it.”

I will come straight out and say this – I have gone through some terrible times in my life. I have remained in a ventilator, gasping for breath. Those were all very terrible times in my life. But what got me through is the desire to be alive, hope that this will go away, and thankfully I did get out of that eventually. But when I go through phases of depression, this is exactly what I have to fight – when you lose your grip on the feeling – the very desire to be alive, it sucks much worse. My depression is not as terrible as many, and I cope alright with taking my mind away and distracting myself when I go through such a phase. But it still sucks really, really bad when it happens.

It really ruins my day when I see some horrible victim blaming shit about a person who took his life owing to depression. A person, an acquaintance of a friend took his life, and this status was posted by one of the ‘enlightened’ people, who speaks against all the victim blaming women face (and rightly so), say this kind of vile bullshit:

victimblaming sucide

This is what people here do – just refuse to acknowledge the very existence of depression. Do you think we choose to be depressed? Do you think being in USA or India or Afghanistan has anything to do with any of this? Can I tell my brain “stop being depressed, because I am in a much better position than many others?” Well how great it would be had that worked.

...said no one ever.

…said no one ever.

So why I don’t they get help right? Because you have answered your question yourself. This was your attitude towards a person who suffered from depression. And you felt all the self righteousness to shame him in public after he was pushed over the edge.  The stigma is terrible. As I said, I cope alright myself, but I know how this works here – you would be met with some pseudo-medical advice here (because everyone’s an expert, like yourself) – “pray more” or “stop being on the internet all the time” or “we used to never have this in our time <insert random story of hardship here>” or worse, you might get your parents paranoid (not their fault though, understandably). And even if you manage to get past all that and go see a qualified therapist for professional help, you’ll be branded ‘crazy’. I would urge everyone to get professional help if they can’t cope,  but he unfortunately didn’t have it in him to go against the flow and seek help. And our fucked up society and stigma attached to mental illnesses is to blame for that, not him.

Mental illness Stigma Bingo: Same shit everywhere

Mental illness Stigma Bingo: Same shit everywhere

Depression isn’t being ‘sad’. Depression isn’t just being ‘moody’. Depression is having your soul sucked out of you and having that very thing – i.e. that desire that keeps you alive – being taken away. You just feel empty, everything otherwise you would not even think about would magnify itself thousands of times and manage to make yourself feel crappy. For many, it wouldn’t take much to push them over the edge.

If you live in a society where people with mental illness are branded ‘crazies’ and depression isn’t seen as a mental illness and something you can ‘get over’ with some chirpy optimism, and have depression – you would know what I am talking about. It has nothing to do with ‘being rich’ or having all the things you deem to be ‘valuable’ in the world. You can’t just say ‘look at the people who suffer!’ and make it go away. Do you really think we put ourselves voluntarily through all that? Do you really take us for being some brainless morons just because we are depressed? And the last thing people with depression need is such douchebaggery and victim blaming on top of what they already struggle to cope with. So congrats, you are no better than any of the victim blaming rape apologists that you condemn yourself.

Mental illnesses are every bit real as physical illnesses. It’s no different from a badly broken arm – but the only difference is that for many it’s much worse when you don’t have that desire to live anymore, and neither do you get shamed or doubted for it. 

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness. Depression is the sign of a person being strong for far too long. 

The problem with Burka Avenger

I was glad for once to see a female superhero being introduced in Pakistan. I am always a big believer that media can do their share in bringing in change to a culture, especially when it comes to children’s cartoons. I’m sure we all fondly remember the Disney films and various other cartoons that we grew up with. So when news about Burka Avenger came out, I  had my reservations about the choice of Burka as a costume like many, as in a very conservative society, especially when it is worn by a child, it could be problematic. I won’t get into that because that is not the topic of my post here, and here is a post that I mostly agree with regarding the choice of burka as a superhero costume.

Finally, I decided to watch Burka Avenger after a long time, as the series is uploaded on YouTube by the makers. Seeing that sites like Huffington Post had good thing to say about it and claimed that Disney could learn a thing or two from the portrayal of female character in Burka Avenger, one would expect it to be really good, right? Wrong. 

Can I haz moar pink?

Can I haz moar pink?

*Spoilers ahead, if you consider it that*

So the series starts with the prologue, of how an orphaned Jiya was raised by a ‘kind man’ who taught her ‘Takht Kabaddi’ which involves fighting with books and pens, and she uses her skills to fight tyranny and ignorance. She leads her ‘normal’ life as the teacher in a village school (and always wears a pink salwar with even pink chappals – god forbid she gets gets any less womanly, right?), and worries about ‘Baba Bandook’, the villain, preventing a girl’s school from getting opened (segregation much?), and rightly so. Him and Vadero Pajero, believes that women should have nothing to do with education and should just stay at home. Burka Avenger manages to throw books at his goons and save her kids from them meanwhile in a sub plot – and it’s boring. I mean, what’s the point? Yeah books and pens are probably supposed to be a metaphor (and in my opinion, it doesn’t work at all), but if you are supposed to land blows using them, what’s wrong with fighting goons like any other superheros? It’s not as if it’s non violent attack, it does hurt them, but no – a female superhero kicking ass would be too bad?

But that is the least of the problems with this atrocious show. This is where it all crashed down beyond redemption. Baba Bandook and his goons block kids from entering the school. Then this conversation takes place between kids and him – where he asks “Do these girls want to become modern? What will these girls do with education?” A girl just comes running into the scene screaming (Nahiiiiiiiiiiin, Bollywood ishtyle!) and says these gems that would just made my want to stick needles in my eyes.

burkaavengersexism

 

Yup, that’s the reason why girls should be educated, because they are mothers of tomorrow, and if mothers remain illiterate, the kids too will remain illiterate. Really? And the whole scene was so bad, with background maudlin background music and everything (think bad Bollywood movies from the 50’s) and the girl pleading in a very (fake) sad voice. And this was a child who was mouthing these dialoguesand they actually thought it was good to put in a children’s cartoon? Ugh.

Burka-Avenger-555x370[1]That’s not to say the whole thing is really bad, but even the good portions (that were the fight scenes in my opinion) were itself not so great, if you exclude the end credits – which was really cool.

Why this is so disappointing is because this was a good opportunity for them to push the envelope for all the media attention it got – and they completely grassed it. This could have been so much more. Production values when it comes to animation and such are really good for a Pakistani cartoon, and only if they had hired some good writers to make this at least a little better without. I shouldn’t have expected much better when the co-writer is apparently the guy who is behind this comic.

The whole point of me writing this brief critique is in some vain hope that the creators would notice this and at least try to stay away from reinforcing gender roles, ending up doing more harm than good.

Why the romanticization of Arranged Marriages needs to stop

I just happened to come across this video, which is apparently a video made by students of University of Berkeley as a part of their Campus MovieFest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtppMsiqqrM

The video description reads:

The movie is a light-hearted take on the custom of arranged marriages in India. Although widely practiced, the young generation is uncomfortable with the concept and feel compelled to show that it was love that brought them together.

I wouldn’t have honestly minded this, and I did find some parts of the video funny in a cheesy way. But it ends with this ‘message’:

Most Marriages in India are arranged…  amazingly enough this bonding lasts forever!

This really made me angry. There is nothing romantic about arranged marriages. marriage

The main part that disturbs me is the concept of spending a lifetime together with a partner you barely know. If it has worked out well for some people, I am happy for them, but I just don’t see it how we are supposed to marry a random stranger you barely know, whom you would have to decide if he or she is a good enough match for you looking at the photograph? Oh, and how are these photographs chosen? Either through online marriage services, or some agents who would do the same offline. And potential ‘grooms’ and ‘brides’ are handpicked by families based on factors like religion, caste, class and even color. Yep, because that is what is very important for the stable marriage, being of the right classcaste or religion. And this is what you are romanticizing, instead of criticizing. 

And what makes it all the worse, people who break this ‘tradition‘ of arranged marriage would face serious pressures from many families. Many just don’t bother resisting, but those who do, are disowned from their families. And many who resist are disowned by their families, which has happened in my family itself (although they later made amends, but in many cases they don’t). And that is me ignoring the common problem of forced marriages, which deserves a whole separate post – and this outrages me even more as one my friends now is living under the fear of getting married by force herself.

 

And as for the, the ‘bonding‘ lasting forever is mostly because there is still really bad stigma associated with divorce, and families would still ask them to ‘compromise‘, even when it comes to domestic abuse – because as  ‘well mannered woman’, you have to make compromises. That is how it rolls. Because it is all the inevitable part of a family life, apparently. This is why I hate it when people bring up divorce rates in the ‘west‘ and compare it to that of India to show how ‘stable‘ our relationships are. 

Now remember, I am not talking about those who have a good healthy, relationship that happened to be a result of arranged married, but rather the process itself, as it is widely practiced in India. It’s an utterly despicable and hardly talked about practice in my view – and the last thing you need is a propaganda telling us ‘young generation’ who are ‘uncomfortable with the concept’ how great this absurd practice is.

Even when they do it ‘right’ – They do it wrong.

keep-calm-coz-maa-behen-sabki-hoti-hai-3[1]

I had been meaning to write on the M.A.R.D. (literal: Man, acronym for: Men Against Rape and Discrimination) campaign (launched and promoted by Farhan Akthar)  after the Delhi incident took place. And it was about time, although such a horrible incident had to take place to shake our nation, while sexual violence against women were mostly brushed aside as a small column in newspapers before and not to mention that the root issue, misogyny and rape culture was not addressed by most people even in light of these events.

Before I begin, I have to say that I appreciate Farhan Akhtar’s good intentions and I do believe that he genuinely is interested in the cause of promoting women’s rights. Much before, I was happy to see him tweet against victim blaming multiple times most big ‘Bollywood stars’ just distance themselves from making any political statements and recently, his support of One Billion Rising campaign. Although to promote violence against putting the ‘true man’ rhetoric on pedestal is non constructive. What irritates me more is that he gets it partly, and agrees that patriarchal mindset is the problem, and still thinks  making posters like the one below is a good idea for an anti-rape campaign:

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This gender norm of mardangi (masculinity) is exactly what should be done away with, instead of stroking it further to promote women’s rights. This does nothing in addressing patriarchal gender norms. Although to their credit, they share some very good posts (along with some not so good ones, which still promotes the patriarchal  mindset) on their FB page, which I haven’t seen many such celebrity-endorsed campaigns (in India) do. Only if they had taken those seriously and done a serious re-evaluation on what they are promoting, this could have had some real good impact, but sadly fell short by a long way. You can read a detail critique of the campaign here, also addressed well by the video I had shared here. Oh and meanwhile could we please end the “maa behen” nonsense, once and for all? Because women deserve respect because they are people, not because they are some man’s mother or sister. This has been so since Bollywood films of 60’s (or earlier) and people won’t just let it go.

Moving past M.A.R.D., this is not just the case of one misdirected campaign. But people who care (or pretend to care) about women’s rights repeat the same mistakes again. Another example the Bhartiya Mahila Bank initiative, which is a project worth millions, for an exclusive women’s bank (read detailed critique here), which is one of the worst forms of tokenism. Apparently our government thinks gender segregation is a good idea, instead of promoting diversity, making these male dominated areas more accessible to women and taking measures to counter workplace harassment. One would have thought these people would have put more thought behind these projects before implementing them. To quote from this well written piece, “Segregating women into separate spaces is easy; giving them real equality is far more difficult.”

And then there is hilariously bad pretenders, Raj Thackeray recently asked Women to ‘Send bangles to Patil‘, because ladies, as you would have guessed, the worst insult to a man is to be called a woman. Questioning his ‘manhood‘ is the worst thing you can do. And far be it for me to care about what Raj or his cronies has to say, but this is not at all uncommon. This is exactly why I have such a big problem with the M.A.R.D. campaign and how they confirm this again, which really undo a lot of effort they put into this campaign.

What is the solution? I think Rahul Bose nailed it, gender equality should be compulsory part of curriculum. None of this ‘aurat maa hoti hai‘ nonsense, but a robust inclusive course which isn’t gender essentialist. And when you go ahead with some activism or ‘progressive‘ projects, put some thought behind as for what you are trying to achieve. Or else this could go all wrong – not only as just a wast of effort, but even reinforce the patriarchal norms that many activists are trying to counter.

Independence day thoughts

Historic_Lal_Quila%2C_Delhi[1]

Disclaimer: This may turn into a rant soon, so fair warning to all patriots and nationalists.

Alright. I, like any other average school going Indian kid, has been thoroughly spoon fed the greatness of our nation since childhood. I have, like everyone else, thoughtlessly mouthed our bizarrely worded pledge (…all Indians are my brothers and sisters..). I have also seen enough “Paki bashing“, through media and movies, which of course is supposed to give us some sense of superiority (or something). Or had my Facebook news feed full of images proclaiming superiority of our nation. None of this has made me feel anything. I don’t deny that it inevitably becomes a part of my identity, but I never have I been able to grasp the concept of how I have to be somehow proud of being born in a country through pure random chance.  Also, I get a good chuckle when some enlightened ‘peaceful‘ Indian comes in everywhere from the movies to the internets, and point out the people who fight in the name of religious superiority to remind that “we are all proud Indians and we should stay united..” (insert random ‘proud Indian’ statements here) – the irony of using one divisive ideology to combat another never ceases to amaze me.

nationalismoct[1]Of course, that might all be narrow minded, cynical me who don’t just “get it”. What worries me, is when all this propaganda and nationalism breeds intolerance. A good example last year was actress and model Gehna Vasisht getting attacked for wearing a bikini with Indian flag – and not one source have I found to date condemning physical violence against her. All I saw were how she was doing this for cheap publicity stunt – perhaps she was. But does that really matter? Is it such a hard thing to understand that violence against women is wrong regardless of her supposed intentions or your beliefs?  And at the time, I happened to see an FB page sharing the same, congratulating her attackers for beating her black and blue. And the number of likes and shares that received was unbelievable. When a shred of cloth trumps basic human rights, then maybe it’s time to re-examine your core beliefs and moral stance.

So it would seem that Independence day is another great day for us to brush the issues of misogyny, homophobia, oppression against non believers and minorities, casteism etc which still remains to chain us. aside and be proud of our inherent national superiority. Maybe I am generalizing. Maybe I am being cynical. But I have seen nothing much to that effect. I’m desperately hoping that I’m very, very wrong, but sadly that hasn’t been the case (aside a few exceptions like this). At least maybe it’s worth re-examining if that which supposedly unites you divides you more than anything. Maybe it’s not just the colonial forces we need to be free from, as we are still chained by the aforementioned issues. When we begin to address those, then maybe I’ll cheer you along with the whole ‘Proud Indian’ chants and whatnot.

What am I doing, ruining your good national holiday. Happy Independence Day everyone!