Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The word that comes to the mind when one thinks of women, irrespective of their nationality, culture, religion, class and social situation, is "beauty". Just as all men are assumed to have different I.Qs, so are all women assumed to have different Beauty Quotients, which means that some women are more beautiful than others, though all women are beautiful. Beauty is no more defined in terms of abstract ideals such as "truth" (Keats), "essence" (Lawrence), "exuberance" (Blake), "genius" (Oscar Wilde), or bliss. Today, the concept of "beauty" has grown into a flourishing global industry which treats beauty and the female body as commercial equivalences. Sheer paradox. Worldwide, a woman's "Agency" and "Empowerment" are advocated, while a consumerist culture traps women within the ambit of market exchange relations. This trap is laid for women right from childhood. For the girl, to be assessed as being "pretty" or "beautiful" is the highest accolade. "Little boys are made of frogs and snails, but little girls are made of sugar and spice"... thus goes a nursery rhyme. A baby girl is "beautiful" as a baby boy is "mischievous". The girl becomes a "charming" woman while the boy becomes a "daring" man. Beauty is no more an abstraction but can be made concrete by any woman who is rich enough to spend to measure herself upto the beauty standards set. A global market revolves around these beauties or else it collapses. Beauty contests are, therefore, held all over the world. Female faces — from hoards of advertisements — stare, smile and invite us to buy everything under the sun: that new jar of face cream, box of powder, tube of lipstick, mascara, eyeliner..., which promise magic formulae to transform ordinary women into extraordinary beauties. When a girl grows up, she is taught to absorb an ideal image of a woman which, in our contemporary world, is a "tall, thin frame perched confidently on stiletto heels". This frantic pursuit of beauty goes to the extent of skin peeling, reshaping of noses, fitting breasts with silicone, wearing false eyelashes and false nails, and starving at the risk of damaging one's kidneys and liver. But beauty is worth it all! Beauty standards are neither natural, constant nor absolute. A woman's body and looks are assigned different meanings by different generations. The images created represent historically inert structures. The inertia and change are not merely cultural conditionings imposed on women but a result of their own construction of psychological gender. Taste and judgment are always contingent upon the observer, changing with time. The historical variations range from the most painful experiences in ancient societies to modern elective methods used to reshape the anatomical parts of the female body. Devices to reshape women to whatever image that happens to be currently acceptable to those with the power to define it, have resulted in sometimes painful, and harmful, contrivances. Women have to change their figure every time the beauty standards are altered by the shifting social, economic and political influences. The old Chinese practice of binding a girl's feet is a vivid example of the omnipresent principle of controlling women's bodies. Chinese poets went into ecstasy to see a woman's bound feet like "three inch golden lilies". They found beauty in women walking on their tiny feet like tender young willow shoots in a spring breeze. The story of Chely Rodriguez of Carpentaria, California, in our times is not much different from the heinous practice of Chinese foot binding. She starved herself so that her weight dropped to 98 pounds to concur with the ideal "hour-glass" image. In classical Greece and Rome, female curvaceousness was unattractive. Women wore restrictive bands to flatten their breasts. Similarly, by the 1920s, flat chests were again fashionable and "boyish" figures were in. In the 1950s, the trend was different and elective breast surgery was in demand to increase the bra size. Elizabeth Taylor, who underwent cosmetic surgeries quite often, was described to be "the most beautiful 61 year old on the planet." Notions of beauty are class advantageous. Beauty is contingent upon age and there is no level playing field in advancing age. The western images are downloaded in developing countries, which are potential markets of the beauty industry. Powerful signals are sent to girls to reshape themselves to the "hourglass" figure. Blatantly and subtly, the media preaches the ideals of beauty. For those who have earned their living through the beauty-game, by playing to the tune of beauty-architects, aging is hellish. This is the case with film stars and models. As they grow out of 25, they are thrown out of the profession because their only merit was their "beauty". Failing to value themselves, some of them end their life. A woman's body is functional. It has to carry a child, unlike a man who is better fitted to keep whatever looks he is born with. But a pregnant woman or an average woman is not the modern ideal of beauty. Even those women competitors in beauty contests are not allowed to be natural. They are the creatures of artifice. They wear false eyelashes, artificially lift their eyebrows, undergo cosmetic surgery to reshape their breasts, and are required to dazzle us with full make-up and have elaborate hairdos and the latest fashionable attire. As a result, average women are encouraged to artificially imitate them as these beauties themselves are not quite as nature made them.
- First, beauty norms render a very negative, devalued identity for women who gradually lose dignity. In the name of beauty, women are reduced to "biology" which, in turn, reduces the body into an "object", which again may be gainfully bought and sold profitably as a commodity in this new consumerist culture. The concept of beauty relates to a woman's body as the only merit that women can boast of, irrespective of any social distinction.
- It is reductionism to the base. A woman is reduced to an object. It is the aggregated quality of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual endowments that make a man or woman an agency. When a woman is reduced to her looks alone, she is deprived of dignity and worth. Her looks alone define her, not her differentiated mind. Therefore, women are not naturally accepted by men as colleagues or intellectual companions. Beauty and intelligence are rarely thought of together. Nietzsche said "when a woman inclines to learning, there is usually something wrong with her sex". Rather, a girl who tries to show off her mind instead of her body is penalised. When a girl stops listening and starts talking, she is considered to be rude and aggressive.
- Whether a woman's I.Q. is 60 or 160, her first duty is to look attractive. The value of a woman is in proportion to her approximation to the beauty standards set. In 1966, when a woman was appointed as a vice-president of a corporation, journalists were impressed not by her competence but by her own statistics — 34-24-36. People marvelled at the anomaly that a brainy woman can be built too!
- Consequently, women are tutored to feel that their body is not worth unless it fits the "beauty" frame set by society. They are psychologically alienated from their body, feeling inferior and detesting every normal phase of their physical growth. These phases do not relate them to men. What is more painful is that they are treated as an inferior species and in a culture like ours, they are untouchables during those women-specific occasions in their biological growth. A woman's body is deemed to be valuable only as long as it satisfies men or pleases others in the society. In fact, one's body represents one's integrity, as a separate self, distinguished from others. It is only through the body that one integrates sexuality with gender. But the silent and meek subjugation of women under the barrier of "beauty" encourages the display of obscene advertisements, posters, and the broadcasting of vulgar film songs, dialogues, dances and postures. To women who are involved in these displays, it is one way of asserting themselves and turning their body to be gainfully used as an asset in a market world as it is in the case of a poor manual labourer for whom his body is the only asset accessible.
- The saddest fact is that women absorb only what society imposes on them and try to live accordingly. They do not realise what they really are, but seek for a pattern from men. Being-in-the-world for women is conditioned by the relationship between body and beauty. Hence it results in the differentiation within the psychological experience of a woman, between how they relate to self and others and how they construct their identity. Their relatedness and identity are constructed by external agencies of power — in our times, by the business tycoons who spin out of the beauty concept a multi-million dollar industry.
- It is time we corrected out attitude towards women. The dehumanisation of women is not only detrimental to women but to men also. A woman's subservient status signifies an aberration in the nature of men too. It is imperative, therefore, to unmask the beauty myth. Our concern should be to create those roles in which women and girls are valued for their merits other than sex and beauty. From childhood, girls should be taught to respect their own bodies and their options and choices in order to feel self-worthy. Above all, the media and advertisements that constantly dredge up insulting and demeaning images of women should be countered through a powerful convergence of political, social and institutional wills.
To sum up, the cult of beauty is a cultural insanity. Its touch is beastly. Destructive. Surreptitious. Glamorous. Ultimately death — the death of human dignity and worth. Beware of it! Both men and women.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005
I have an ongoing dialogue with an artist who converted in the mid-1990s. His journey began when he listened to tapes of African-American Muslim preachers while at graduate school in America. The tapes made a clear-cut link between a commitment to Allah and black liberation from poverty, drugs, gangs, and meaninglessness. His first visit to a predominantly African-American mosque was life-changing. Hundreds of smartly dressed black men full of self-belief, black pride, purpose, and respect immediately became role models.
- First, our politics has become big business, and rent seeking and abuse of power have become endemic. Money, muscle power, caste clout and pedigree have become the chief determinants of political recruitment, not true leadership qualities and contribution to public good.
- Our democracy is robust and liberties are real. But our polity is in disrepair and needs mending. Greater representational legitimacy, democratic management of parties, better systems to make honesty compatible with sustenance in power, institutional checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, true empowerment and participation of people through local governments, accountability, and effective mechanisms to combat corruption are all critical to make our democracy work for the people.
- We need to reclaim the republic stolen from our people. Expatriates who have seen how democracy can work for public good and prosperity, human dignity and empowerment, rule of law and institution building can play a creative role in reshaping our polity.
- Second, India is confronted by growing challenges of modernization. Vast numbers complicate the crisis immeasurably. Even if we assume the will, commitment and resources, we lack the domain expertise in meeting these challenges. Education, healthcare, urban management, policing, delivery of justice, water, drainage and sewerage systems — all are in crying need of rejuvenation. Even a casual acquaintance with European public transport, British healthcare, American universities or the world’s great cities reveals how much we have to do to make up for lost time.
- It is not merely a question of investment and infrastructure. We have to redesign them and make them replicable and sustainable by viable institutional and technical mechanisms. We need to adapt the best practices and innovate constantly. Who better than expatriates to make it happen, with their understanding of our special problems and intimacy with the best systems elsewhere, that work?
- Finally, our society has unique advantages which promote harmony and happiness — strength of family, respect for elders, civilisational ethos, great sense of right and wrong, societal pressure moderating individual behaviour, contentment and natural propensity for restraint. But we also have some terrible deficiencies.
Moral neutrality to inequity by birth, wealth or position, mistrust and antagonism across groups and vertical hierarchies, and lack of a sense of common fate are our great failings. These are cultural traits in an ancient society with enormous baggage. Egalitarian approach to life, fair reconciliation of conflicting interests, and fusion of private gain with public good must all be integrated with our societal life. Expatriate Indians have the advantages of distance which lends objectivity, and exposure which opens new vistas.
They need to be in the vanguard of a social movement to overcome some of our egregious propensities. Our national leaders during freedom struggle were inspired by the liberal values and rationalism of renaissance. But popular nationalism was largely shaped by resentment against British racial bigotry, cultural atavism and idolatrous sense of patriotism. Expatriates can help us rediscover true nationalism based on liberal values, human dignity, enlightened self-interest, fulfillment of our potential, mutual respect and harmony. The writer is the coordinator of Lok Satta movement, and VOTEINDIA, a national campaign for political reforms Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Saturday, November 19, 2005
The Trotskyist/Fabian version of Communism is alive and well. Open-border immigation, casual relationships treated as equivalent to marriage, sex war, parents afraid of being "dobbed in" to the government, children equal to parents and the property of the state ... the wreckage of family life was brought to the West from the pre-Stalin period of the Soviet Union. We did not recognise it as Communist simply because we identified Stalin's modifications as Communism. In the early (Trotskyist) period of the Soviet Union, marriage was abolished, polygamy was abolished (this mainly affected the Islamic cultures of Central Asia), and homosexuality was legalised. Stalin restored marriage, gave advantages to married women over unmarried women, and made sodomy a crime. The Marxist Cultural Revolution, begun the West in the late 1960s, has taken the West down the path pioneered by the USSR. This change was engineered by the New Left, which had substantial non-theistic Jewish leadership: new-left.html. One must distinguish between the theistic and non-theistic Jews in this respect.
To understand the change wrought by New Left, one needs to know the Marxist theory of the history of relations between the sexes. It may be expressed as follows: Marriage as we know it arose only a few thousand years ago, when men enslaved women, making them their private property. Before that, descent was matrilineal, and a woman's children were supported by her relatives, no matter who the fathers were. Generally, the fathers were unknown. A woman had one or more husbands or lovers at a time, discarding them as she tired of them or fell out with them (or as they died). When this system was restored in the USSR, the state took over the role of the relatives, in looking after a woman's children. The woman joined the workforce, and the children were looked after in childcare centres. sex-soviet.html.
H. G. Wells, a closet Trotskyist, advocate of One World, wrote of Marriage and the Family: "Socialism, if it is anything more than a petty tinkering with economic relationships is a renucleation of society. The family can remain only as a biological fact. Its economic and educational autonomy are inevitably doomed. The modern state is bound to be the ultimate guardian of all children and it must assist, place, or subordinate the parent as supporter, guardian and educator; it must release all human beings from the obligation of mutual proprietorship, and it must refuse absolutely to recognize or enforce any kind of sexual ownership. It cannot therefore remain neutral when such claims come before it. It must disallow them." (Experiment in Autobiography, Gollancz, London, 1934, vol. ii, p. 481). Wells' "socialism" is quite different from what I mean by that term. More from Wells: opencon.html.
Teenagers in the West are totally turned against religion, and their parents, by the music & Hollywood TV shows that fill their minds. The West is the new Soviet Union. People like me are the new dissidents. I am no prude, but I believe in marriage, because it's for the long-term rearing of children. However, I don't believe that husbands & wives should be each other's private property. We all need to love more than one other person, and this includes sexual love. Is my position hypocritical? No - there's always been a certain amount of sex outside marriage. But to make that the norm, in place of marriage, to treat "relationships" as the equivalent of marriage - in effect to abolish marriage - that is another matter. As social breakdown proceeds, desperation will force us back to the essentials of life. We'll be looking for ways to re-establish family ties, and the bonds between men and women.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005
The Indian Express: Friday, November 11, 2005