Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Chak De! India and feminism

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Question, not necessarily needing answer. Is Chak De! India a feminist film?

For those unlucky, unlucky people who haven’t seen it: it’s the archetypical sports film, charting the rise of the team of no-hopers to international champions, with the unusual characteristic that the team in question is the Indian women’s national hockey team. (Field hockey is India’s national sport. Don’t pretend to be unsurprised.)

Also, it’s pretty fantastic. I watched it again recently and Andrew ended up drawing up a chair so he could read the subtitles, and we cheered and groaned in the right places. I highly recommend this vid as a much better introduction to it, and, in fact, a just a brilliant vid in general. I’ve recommended it before, it’s fabulous.

And on the face of it, it ought to be a feminist film. It’s a film about women’s success, after all – women succeeding at something together. It passes the Bechdel test in every scene. It’s about power, and how to find it. The problem, though, is that the main protagonist is not one of the women – he’s their coach, Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan, who else), who’s coaching them after, years before, having been accused of throwing an India v. Pakistan match, and their success redeems him. And nowhere is it more obvious that it’s his story is the fact the film begins and ends with him – the women have their individual arcs, but these are resolved, literally, over the credits – the closing shot of the film is of Khan returning to his childhood home.

And further, the individual arcs of the women are not always given the attention they deserve, either. While they all have stories, it’s notable that the ones that get the most time are Vidya, Preeti, and Bindia, the three middle-class city girls. Which isn’t to say their stories don’t have feminist undercurrents – I absolutely love that the film doesn’t, for a second, avoid the point that these women’s families think their dedication to their sport makes them unmarriagable, and doesn’t avoid the choices they have to make.

But I wanted more about Soimoi, a woman from Jharkhand whose Hindi is limited and English non-existent, who gets called junglee by the others, and about Mary and Molly, Christians from the north-east who get called “foreign” rather than Indian. My favourite is Komal, who is tiny and determined (hey, guess why I love her), and is going to play hockey rather than get married. What I mean to say is, all the dynamics of bias other than gender are right there for you to see, it is in no way a perfect film.

But at the same time… I suspect to analyse this film from a Western feminist perspective is interesting but not helpful. This is India we’re talking about – India, and Indians, and it’s this post that reminded me today of Chak De! India, this is the country where a woman needs a broken mirror to go and see a film.

Which brings me to the point of all of this, really: that scene, That notorious scene, near the beginning of the film, which I remember everyone talking about when the film was first released, some in disgust, but most with a quiet understated glee. Simply put: a man makes a crude remark at a professional female athlete in public. She ignores him. He tries it on again. She tries harder to ignore him. Her friend, also a professional athlete, loses her temper and punches him in the face. He gets pissed off and calls over his friends. And then fifteen other professional athletes punch him in the face.

Look, watch it.

(My apologies – I couldn’t find a subtitled version. The only dialogue you really need, though, is the bit where SRK is holding the guy with the cricket bat against the wall – he’s telling him he’s a bastard and not to hit people from behind.)

And okay, I do not think violence is the answer, and this is a fantasy. But I defy you not to enjoy it. I really do. And that goes for the film as a whole – which, for all its failings, is about brown women being awesome. And, you know, I am okay with that.

it’s all about cock

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Just in case we wimminz hadn’t got the message yet, today’s xkcd sets it out for us:

The “typical internet user” has a penis.

Like, obv.

Recipe: roasted vegetable salad with feta and rocket

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I am not a great fan of salads as actual meals. In my view, a salad counts towards your daily calorific intake the way oxygen does, and I probably consume them both with the same enthusiasm.

(And while I’m here, a quick thought. Nightline, that bastion of journalism, did a televised debate about whether it’s “okay” to be fat. Er. Anyway, anti-obesity activist MeMe Roth said this:

“We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we’re behaviorally and neurochemically dependent upon food.”

Seriously. Seriously, she actually said that. Dependent on food. Like, I am so dependent on food, I can’t go a whole day without a fix of it. Sometimes my physical and emotional health suffers because I haven’t had any!

…ah, you get it. That people can actually say things like that – yeah. This comes entirely courtesy of Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose, which, for what it’s worth, is one of my favourite feminist blogs out there. I’m not much of a fat activist – to my sorrow and exceedingly large dollop of privilege, I pretty much resemble the societal ideal for how women should look in terms of body shape, only shorter, smaller breasts and a bit too brown – but certainly I agree with the central tenet that the media preoccupation with obesity, and body size, and the purported health dangers of the former, is not value-neutral science but comes with its own assumptions and prejudices. At its worst, it’s a well-disguised way to damage women, to make them sweat and obsess over their bodies, to drive them to constant distraction as a means by which they can be controlled. (Hey, the population is fifty-one percent women, the patriarchy can’t be everywhere.)

And more than fat acceptance, Kate Harding writes well about feminism, really well – unlike the mainstream blogs, she doesn’t tolerate racism, ableism, or in the case of Feministing a couple of days ago, just plain information fail. Consider this a rec.

This was going to be a recipe, wasn’t it? Normally I don’t approve as salads as main courses. Normally. But this one has lots of protein, and is tasty, and just about passes muster if you weren’t that hungry to start with. And, hey, it is tasty and you can always have some cake after.

You need:

-one large pepper, preferably red;
-handfuls of rocket, or baby spinach, or both, or anything else green and leafy;
-feta cheese, about 100g;
-a couple of slices of good ham;
-cherry tomatoes, a few;
-pine nuts or sunflower seeds or both;
-a small red onion or half a big one;
-nice olive oil.

De-seed the pepper, chop into rough chunks, halve the cherry tomatoes, cut the onion into slices. Put them all in a baking tray, douse well with lots of the nice olive oil, stick them in the oven at 180 degrees Centigrade for twenty minutes. (You’re not trying to roast them properly – just till the onion is edible and the tomatoes a bit squishy.)

Cut the feta cheese into chunks and crumble those into a big bowl. Rip the ham into small strips, and after the twenty minutes, add the ham to the baking tray and put it back in the oven for another five minutes, until the ham is curling at the edges.

Then, pour the contents of the tray into the bowl with the feta, mix well and be sure all the oil gets into the bowl, it’s lovely. Stir well, pour in some pine nuts or sunflower seeds, add handfuls of rocket or spinach, keep stirring until it’s alll mixed. Presto, done. And have some cake afterwards for the carbohydrate.

Sins of omission

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

BBC News:

Sachin Tendulkar created history with the first double century in one-day internationals as India thrashed South Africa by 153 runs in Gwalior.

The Guardian:

…the accolades that poured out of Gwalior after Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman to score a double hundred in a one-day international, to lead India to victory over South Africa by 153 runs.

The Telegraph:

…the news that Sachin Tendulkar has scored the first double-hundred in one-day internationals.

…and, judging by Google News, around a thousand other journalists saying pretty much the same thing.

Of those thousand news stories, however, only one – the Independent Online in South Africa – manages to actually include a small but salient point:

…while Tendulkar is the first man to reach the magical number, [Belinda] Clark did it 13 years ago, against Denmark in the Women’s World Cup in India in 1997.

For those who follow the sport (unlike me, I admit), there’s an interesting article here on cricketing firsts which were actually first obtained by women.

Geekitude and imposter syndrome

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

I have just discovered a new blog: Geek Feminism. What a fabulous idea, sayeth I – it’s a great mish-mash of women in science, women in engineering, women in Star Trek fandom, women in all of those and more, and how their experiences are different from men’s experience, and how geek culture can be viewed through feminist eyes.

I’ve been reading back through the archives, and just read this post: On geekitude, hierarchy and being a snob. It’s a interesting post in itself, and worth reading, but there’s an insight in it that I don’t think the author gives the weight it deserves, so I’m going to talk about it. It goes like this:

I think that what I do is easy. Simple as falling off a log. Anyone could do it. Yeah, I know a lot of things that allow me to do what I do, but they’re just things you could learn if you took the time.

Now the eagle-eyed among you can spot imposter syndrome a mile off, and while I know in a vague intellectual sense that I must be at least competent at what I do – otherwise, why would universities have admitted me to study it and organisations have employed me to do it? – it’s an astonishingly hard thing to internalise. And particularly, particularly for women. Women who are told all the time that math is hard, and that excellence is not for them.

Now it is true that if you knew what I knew, if you had read the same books, you’d realise how easy some of my daily tasks are. But, notes the author, but an expert also confidently says, “No. That’s far harder than you realize.”

I’ve never thought of that before. But I know when someone says something about my field – usually, “But why don’t you just sue them?” or “But surely that’s illegal?” – that is patently stupid. I can prove the negative. And I can know something because of my feel for what I do – because of my abilities, training and instincts, and not (just) because I’ve read a lot of textbooks.

So maybe I’m not terrible at what I do. Maybe I’m as good at it as the rest of the world thinks I am. And if I am, imposter of imposters, maybe you are too.

A word on the Stupak Amendment

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

In brief: the US House of Representatives passed the health care reform bill. It is called the Affordable Health Care For America Act and expands federal healthcare provision enormously – 36 million more people will be eligible for Medicaid, most employers will be required to provide healthcare coverage for their workers, and there will be a government-funded “public option”. Also notably, health insurers will be prevented from refusing coverage based on medical history (no more gender-based “pre-existing conditions” such as pregnancy, rape and domestic violence) and the exemption for insurance companies from antitrust legislation will be repealed.

So far, so hoopy. The Stupak Amendment, with which this Act has been passsed, is as follows:

“No funds authorised or appropriated by this Act… may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury or physical injury which would… place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed… or unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”[1]

In other words, to get this Act passed, someone had to be the sacrificial lamb and 150 million American women were it. (Also, something else I have just spotted – the obvious women are excluded, women who want abortions for what are nauseatingly called “social” reasons, because pregnancy is not the right thing for them, but also, women who have mental illnesses which pregnancy would exacerbate are excluded, too.)

I actually have no further commentary to make on the issue, and I wondered if that were just me, but actually, I think there is nothing very profound to say about it. Institutional politics, particularly in the United States, is boring and it doesn’t yield to analysis. Feminist analysis of the narratives of privilege and oppression, that is interesting; so is sociological thinking about why people think the way they do such that amendments like this are seen as a good idea, but on the institutional level of why, in the specific instance, the House of Representatives has voted like this, I’m coming up with nothing. They voted like this because they’re misogynists, fundamentalists, or spineless; you can lobby them, but to be effective, you either run for the House of Representatives or wait for the current incumbents to die, or both. You can’t argue, you can’t write about women’s rights to their own bodies, you can’t talk about restriction of reproductive options as a form of control of women. Well, you can, but it’s a category error to think you can convince an edifice of misogyny to change their minds because that, I think, fundamentally misunderstands why they hold the opinions they do – it’s not because they arrived at them through logical argument.

(Evidence in point: thirty-nine Democrats voted against the reform bill. Twenty-one of them, besides Stupak, voted for the amendment. Institutional politics defies logical analysis.)[2]

It will go to the Senate, but I’m not optimistic.


[1] Yes, yes, this is not proper legal citation.

[2] From here. And yes, lawyers are allowed to run a defence in the alternative, but I suspect it’s not the same thing.