Sunday, January 20, 2008

We must be equally concerned to help couples who don’t marry become better co-parents

With half of all Americans aged 25-29 unmarried, marriage no longer organizes the transition into regular sexual activity or long-term partnerships the way it used to. Although teen births are lower than a decade ago, births to unwed mothers aged 25 and older continue to climb. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. And gay and lesbian families are permanently out of the closet.
Massive social changes combine to ensure that a substantial percentage of people will continue to explore alternatives to marriage. These include women’s economic independence, the abolition of legal penalties for illegitimacy, the expansion of consumer products that make single life easier for both men and women, and the steady decline in the state’s coercive power over personal life. Add to this mix the continuing rise in the age of marriage, a trend that increases the stability of marriages once they are contracted but also increases the percentage of unwed adults in the population. Stir in the reproductive revolution, which has made it possible for couples who would once have been condemned to childlessness to have the kids they want, but impossible to prevent single women or gay and lesbian couples from having children. Top it off with changes in gender roles that have increased the payoffs of marriage for educated, financially-secure women but increased its risks for low-income women whose potential partners are less likely to hold egalitarian values, earn good wages, or even count on a regular job. Taken together, this is a recipe for a world where the social weight of marriage has been fundamentally and irreversibly reduced.
The decline in marriage’s dominating role in organizing social and personal life is not unique to America. It is occurring across the industrial world, even in countries with less “permissive” values and laws. In predominantly Catholic Ireland, where polls in the 1980s found near-universal disapproval of premarital sex, one child in three today is born outside marriage. China’s divorce rate has soared more than 700 percent since 1980. Until 2005, Chile was the only country in the Western Hemisphere that still prohibited divorce. But in today’s world, prohibiting divorce has very different consequences than in the past, because people no longer feel compelled to marry in the first place. Between 1990 and 2003, the number of marriages in Chile fell from 100,000 to 60,000 a year, and nearly half of all children born in Chile in the early years of the 21st century were born to unmarried couples...
When a wife takes a job today, it works to stabilize the marriage. Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not, according to sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke. And the Amato study found that husbands and wives who hold egalitarian views about gender have higher marital quality and fewer marital problems than couples who cling to more traditional views. So there is no reason to give up on building successful marriages — but we won’t do it by giving people outdated advice about gender roles...
The second lesson of history is that the time has passed when we can construct our social policies, work schedules, health insurance systems, sex education programs — or even our moral and ethical beliefs about who owes what to whom — on the assumption that all long-term commitments and care-giving obligations should or can be organized through marriage. Of course we must seek ways to make marriage more possible for couples and to strengthen the marriages they contract. But we must be equally concerned to help couples who don’t marry become better co-parents, to help single parents and cohabiting couples meet their obligations, and to teach divorced parents how to minimize their conflicts and improve their parenting.
The right research and policy question today is not “what kind of family do we wish people lived in?” Instead, we must ask “what do we know about how to help every family build on its strengths, minimize its weaknesses, and raise children more successfully?” Much recent hysteria to the contrary, we know a lot about how to do that. We should devote more of our energies to getting that research out and less to fantasizing about a return to a mythical Golden Age of marriage of the past.

Stephanie Coontz teaches history at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families ( Her most recent book is Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. This entry was posted on Monday, January 14th, 2008 at 8:58 am and is filed under Lead Essay.

Taylor’s politics authorizes speculative history

As a story, A Secular Age rivals Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (which curiously it ignores) and does indeed belong to the largely neglected genre of speculative history. No doubt, it is a work of a lifetime’s worth of erudition – about this there can be no argument – but the easiest thing one can do is to praise it. The best and most profound of what it has to offer is precisely that the domains of thought and history it privileges be interrogated in order to stand as departure points for further thinking. This interrogation and evaluation cannot stay simply at the level of the story, but must extend to what authorizes the story, Charles Taylor’s (conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit) politics. [...]

Why certain sections of the domestic sphere, such as the kitchen and bath, resisted change

Amita Sinha
One of the few books written on the urban history of South Asia, Indigenous Modernities is ambitious in its effort to demonstrate that the momentous changes in the social and physical environment of Delhi, taking place between 1857 and 1947, exemplified "indigenous modernities." Reviews Home
Hosagrahar sets out to read this cultural landscape in the window of time that ushered in modernity. In five chapters she traces the fragmentation of the domestic spaces of havelis (mansions); the withdrawal of the community from the public realm; the breakdown of traditional health and sanitary systems; privatization; and the commodification of community property. Modernization extracted a terrible price, combining as it did urban reform with profit-seeking motives. The stresses generated by these imposed social changes were enormous and had the potential to destroy the social fabric. That, however, did not happen. The colonized inhabitants proved resilient and appropriated modernity in ways they saw fit, ensuring their survival and furthering their lot in life. Delhi survived the departure of feudalism, the birth of nationalism, and the attainment of independence, all in less than a century. Hosagrahar's study illuminates the price the city paid and its ill-gotten gains in private and public spheres.
In the aftermath of the Mutiny/First War of Independence (1857), havelis, residences of landowning gentry, suffered from neglect and were converted into warehouses and smaller residential units. These large houses had been the mainstay of neighborhoods, because the occupants supported artisans and their trades. At the same time, the rising entrepreneurial classes sought to live in hybrid versions of courtyard housing and European-style bungalows. Although the courtyards shrank and extended families fragmented, older lifestyles did not disappear entirely.
Attempts to produce public spaces as a public good were contested vehemently, accustomed as the residents were to using available land for their own purposes. Enforcement of bylaws and other regulations met with considerable resistance since matters concerning property rights and territorial encroachments had previously been resolved within the community or arbitrated by the elders. New urban spaces generated by the building of institutions such as the town hall became the venues for nationalist demonstrations, so a kind of civic realm, independent of religious or royal associations, did emerge, even though it had a conflict-ridden genesis. New medical systems of knowledge and the practice of their technologies produced spaces and built forms--hospitals and dispensaries--that did not entirely displace the shops of hakims and vaids, practitioners of unani and ayurvedic systems of traditional medicine. Similarly municipal services including piped-water supply, sewage systems, and trash collection did not result in the banishment of sweepers.
Hosagrahar draws upon municipal archives and her own interviews with Delhi residents to write an urban narrative that is handsomely illustrated with historic maps and photographs. The earlier chapters on havelis, streets, and geographies of health make for more interesting reading than the last two chapters on land development and new housing projects meant to create a "modern" citizen. I would have liked to know more about the influence of changing housing typology on gender roles, children's socialization, family structure, and social networks or why certain sections of the domestic sphere, such as the kitchen and bath, resisted change more than others and were transplanted into the bungalow.[1] One also wishes that other types of public spaces, not just the street and square, were discussed. For example, what was the role of greenery in ameliorating the effects of urban congestion?

Jyot Hosagrahar. Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and Urbanism. New York: Routledge, 2005. xiii + 234 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. $43.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-415-32376-5.
Reviewed by: Amita Sinha, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Published by: H-Urban (February, 2007) ... Copyright © 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes

Consider the "great" Rousseau, who had five children with his companion, but abandoned them all without a moment of remorse

One book that influenced me along the way was Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, which is packed with fascinating details about what life was like for pre-modern Europeans. In contrast, A Secular Age is so dense and wordy that I'm having a little difficulty getting through it. Reminds me too much of school -- one of those books I should read, but don't really want to. Oh, the things I do for my readers.....
Surprisingly, Stone's book has only one amazon review, but it's pretty spot-on:
"It is an excellent source of information for genealogists trying to understand the motivation of ancestors whose actions seem incomprehensible today. By providing detailed analysis of family relationships from 1500 to 1800 in England, Mr. Stone has given us all an insight into thought processes and values that are very different from our own. The book would be equally valuable for anyone trying to understand the everyday lives of people in another time, to historians, to authors doing research for historical novels or plays, or simply to anyone who wants to take the equivalent of a ride in a time machine."
Having said that, I think I read somewhere that Stone was a Man of the Left, so I have no idea if he had some other agenda in writing the book (e.g., "deconstructing the family" or "queering the patriarchy"), but it seems hard to fault his data. It certainly rang true to me, because the one thing I always wanted to know about history is, "why were people so freaking crazy?" One of the things that made history so boring to me as a young kit is that it was just a chronicle of insane behavior, with no explanation for why people were so nutty. Not until I began studying psychohistory did things begin to add up. Now I wonder why history isn't even crazier than it is. As Woody Allen said about the Holocaust, the only question is why it doesn't happen more often. At the same time, the psychohistorical perspective has added to my gratitude for being so fortunate to live in the United States at this particular time. Judged by the standards of historical precedent, every day is a miracle. In any event, Stone begins by pointing out the four key features of the modern family -- again, things that we probably just take for granted, but which, from the point of view of developmental psychology, could hardly be of more earth-shattering consequence. If we fail to understand how different we are from our furbears, we will just project the present onto the past, and thereby not really understand it at all. The four features are
1) "intensified affective bonding of the nuclear core at the expense of neighbors and kin";
2) "a strong sense of individual autonomy and the right to personal freedom in the pursuit of happiness";
3) "a weakening of the association of sexual pleasure with sin and guilt"; and
4) "a growing desire for physical privacy."
All of these trends were well established by the mid-18th century in the English middle and upper classes.
However, it's not as if it were a linear process of evolution. Rather, Stone describes it as more analogous to an archaeological dig, in which different layers and strata are copresent, revealing very different "psychoclasses" (deMause's term), so to speak, living side by side. This is no different than today. For example, in my work conducting psychological evaluations of a culturally diverse population, I see the vast "vertical" differences between different cultural practices and beliefs, especially with regard to childrearing. For the left, these differences are purely "horizontal," which is why, for example, feminist groups have been so conspicuously silent about the greatest global threat to the well-being of women, Islam.As Stone writes, "older family types survive unaltered in some social groups at the same time other groups are evolving new patterns." One of my beefs with the Democrat party is that they make transparent appeals to more primitive mentalities and psychoclasses, which probably constitute the majority of their constituency. The appeal of a John Edwards is strictly limited to the very stupid and very angry. Oddly, the left is a combination of the over-educated (or uselessly educated), the fortuitously wealthy (i.e., Hollywood, the MSM), and the psychoculturally primitive, the latter of whom are ceaselessly manipulated by the former because it makes them feel good about themselves, even while guaranteeing that their largely self-generated problems will continue -- which may be the whole point, as the contemptuous leftist requires people to whom he can feel morally and intellectually superior under the guise of "rescuing." Look at the flack Obama is getting from the Clintons for being an ungrateful negro. Doesn't he realize that without LBJ, that goddamned nigger preacher (as President Johnson called King) wouldn't have accomplished a thing?
Let's not get sidetracked. With regard to marriage, it doesn't surprise me at all to learn that what we take for granted as modern companionate love, just didn't exist in the pre-modern world. Rather, through the middle ages, marriage was basically "a private contract between two families concerning property exchange, which also provided some financial protection to the bride in case of the death [or desertion] of her husband." I can't help thinking that most people literally couldn't fall in love, for a whole host of developmental reasons, not the least of which being that the foundation and possibility of love is laid down in the first two years of life, during the critical period of bonding and attachment to our parents. If you consider the incredibly callous way in which children were treated (which we'll get into below, both today and in subsequent posts), it is not surprising that earthly love was not on their psychological radar.
This is not to say that pre-modern marriages were entirely loveless. Again, remember the idea of the psychohistorical "strata." It's just that by the 17th century, as described by Spierenburg, there emerges an unprecedented "romantic ideal," along with the greater choice of a partner. At the same time, the "emotional distance" between family members begins to shrink. Before 1700, wives and children typically open letters with"My Lord Husband" or "My Lord Father," and use very formal and stiff language. From the age of 7 or 8 -- or whenever they were capable of doing so -- children were simply put to work. They were mainly regarded as an economic resource, not a cherished object of emotional intimacy. There was a much higher rate of accidental deaths of children, partly because parents just paid so little attention. I look at my son, who is admittedly on the "spirited" side of the continuum, but he would have been dead in five minutes without a body on him at all times, something that would have been quite difficult in the pre-modern world, when everyone was working from sunup to sundown. One reason we are so much more empathic toward our children is that most of us remember what it was like to be young -- we remember the ecstasies, the frustrations, the fears, the rages. But we know that people who were traumatized during childhood generally don't remember it all that clearly or accurately. In fact, the more they were traumatized, the more they tend to act out the trauma as adults, often toward their own children, as a pathological form of "recollection." I always find it fascinating to interview such a person, because as you get close to the trauma, their mind begins generating "flack." They start to lose coherence in the most striking manner. Not uncommonly, linear history breaks down altogether. I call this a "dimensional defense," as they essentially break up time into incomprehensible "bits" that prevent them from being synthesized into an unwanted meaning. Along these lines, Spierenburg writes that adults were so preoccupied with their own concerns, that "they never seemed to remember what it was like to be young."
Not surprisingly, there was "a large measure of indifference" toward sucklings in particular. Any parent who had the financial means to do so, simply placed the infant with a wet nurse, even though (because?) this greatly raised the chances of mortality. Stone cites much evidence of "culpable neglect" for the astonishing rates of infant mortality, from lack of attention in the first few critical weeks of life to outright abandonment of the child. Even if left at a the doorway of a church or foundling hospital, the rate of death was astronomical. Hazards were everywhere -- death from fevers during teething, worms, contaminated water, poisonous pewter dishes, inadequate milk supply. Dead and butchered animals were left to decay in the street, latrines were adjacent to water supplies, open pits were used as common graves, only covered over when full. "In 1742 Dr. Johnson described London as a city 'which abounds with such heaps of filth as a savage would look on in amazement.'" Human excrement was everywhere, which lead to constant outbreaks of bacterial stomach infections. The medical profession "was almost entirely helpless," since even their theories of disease were catastrophically wrong. Not a single disease was properly understood. For example, a doctor might treat cataracts by blowing dried and powdered human excrement into the eye.
Spierenburg writes that "when a child died, the parents felt hardly any grief, thinking the loss of one would no doubt be compensated by another birth." In the contemporary West, we call such a person "Schizoid" -- that is, someone who is curiously indifferent to intimate relationships. It's more common than you may realize, and in fact, most "normal" neurotics might have some schizoid "envelopes" that essentially form closed sub-systems within the psyche (this would be a typical form of mind parasite). Consider the "great" Rousseau, who had five children with his companion, but abandoned them all without a moment of remorse. In a letter, he casually commented that they were all "put out as foundlings. I have not even kept a note of their dates of birth, so little did I expect to see them again." None of his contemporaries -- including enemies -- chided him for this. Even under the best of circumstances, about half of children had lost at least one parent by the time of adolescence. So to say that attachment, bonding, and intimacy could not flourish under such circumstances is not to criticize them. Again, the great mystery is how modern people broke through that emotional barrier and became.... modern people. Stone writes that in order to "preserve mental stability," parents were naturally "obliged to limit the degree of their psychological involvement with their infant children." Even when wanted, "it was very rash for parents to get too emotionally concerned about creatures whose expectation of life was so very low." In fact, multiple children would often be given the same name, assuming that only one would survive to carry it into the future. It cannot be coincidence that, as infant mortality begins to fall in the mid-18th century, we see a corresponding great rise in affection and intimacy in general.Stone concludes that "it is impossible to stress too heavily the impermanence of the Early Modern family." None of its members "could reasonably expect to remain together for very long, a fact which fundamentally affected all human relationships." To be continued....

Save widows and their families from lives of stigma, harassment and humiliation

Op-Ed Contributor The Mourning After By CHERIE BLAIR Published: December 18, 2007 London
LIKE many people nowadays, I’m the product of a single-parent family. My sister and I were brought up by my mother after my father deserted us when we were young. It must have been very tough for my mother but we children thrived because of a huge amount of support from a big extended family.
When I reflect on the plight of millions of widows across the world, I realize just how fortunate we were. Although we were surrounded by love, widows and their children in many societies are shunned, abused and exploited.
The centuries-old practice of suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre — has all but vanished. But the few cases of self-immolation that do occur are a reminder of how bleak the future is for many widows.
After a shocking case just five years ago in rural India, a sociologist in Delhi, Susan Visvanathan, explained that the widow who set herself on fire “would have assumed her life would be one of isolation and despair and shame and suffering.”
In rural areas of Nepal and India, widows may still be expected to shave their heads, sleep on the floor and hide from men for the rest of their lives.
In Afghanistan, where two million women have lost their husbands in decades of fighting, widows are prevented from working and have no way to provide for their children. In Tanzania, among other countries, the legal system makes it difficult for widows to inherit their husband’s property.
The result is that many widows and their children are kicked out of their homes, forced to live in abject poverty on the fringes of society, and are prey to abuse, violence and sexual exploitation. With no money to pay for education, the children of widows are pulled out of school. With no education, these children are doomed to spend their lives in the most menial of jobs, if they can find work at all.
This is a huge problem. In India alone, there are estimated to be some 30 million widows struggling to bring up children. Across the developing world, there may be as many as 100 million in a perilous state. Conflict, ethnic cleansing and AIDS are increasing these numbers by the day and creating younger widows. In countries where disease or conflict are most rife, half of all women can be impoverished widows.
Given the scale and nature of this injustice, it’s disturbing that this problem has remained largely invisible. Statistics are too often not kept by national governments. And despite the United Nations’ welcome focus on tackling global poverty and gender inequality, there is no specific mention of widows in its Millennium Development Goals — an oversight that makes it that much more difficult for the international campaign to work.
Improving the situation of widows and their children, however, won’t be easy. A much greater effort is needed from national governments, including, where necessary, an overhaul of legislation to protect the inheritance rights of widows. It would help as well, where possible, to raise the minimum age for marriage. Children of 14 or even younger should not be married off to men as many as 40 years older, not least because they will soon join the ranks of widows.
Governments must be prepared as well to stand up to cultural pressures, however strong, to enforce existing legislation. Many of the countries where widows are treated worst have good laws in place to protect them. The problem is that they are routinely ignored by local communities and seldom enforced.
Any government efforts will have to go hand in hand with a sustained education campaign, letting women know their rights, explaining to local elders the legal protections that exist and informing communities of the long-term damage these injustices are causing to the health and wealth of their societies.
In the end, it is not just widows who lose out because of this damaging prejudice and discrimination. We all do. Only with determination and courage will we be able to save widows and their families from lives of stigma, harassment and humiliation. Cherie Blair, a human rights lawyer, is the president of Loomba Trust, a charity that campaigns for the rights of widows and their children in the developing world.

Men are generally more novelty-seeking than women, and label the boredom of the routine — as midlife crisis

Mind: Crisis? Maybe He’s a Narcissistic Jerk By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D. NYT: January 15, 2008
Popularly viewed as a unique developmental birthright of the human species, it supposedly strikes when most of us have finally figured ourselves out — only to discover that we have lost our youth and mortality is on the horizon.
No doubt about it, life in the middle ages can be challenging. (Full disclosure: I’m 51.) What with the first signs of physical decline and the questions and doubts about one’s personal and professional accomplishments, it is a wonder that most of us survive.
Not everyone is so lucky; some find themselves seized by a seemingly irresistible impulse to do something dramatic, even foolish. Everything, it appears, is fair game for a midlife crisis: one’s job, spouse, lover — you name it...
Why do we have to label a common reaction of the male species to one of life’s challenges — the boredom of the routine — as a crisis? True, men are generally more novelty-seeking than women, but they certainly can decide what they do with their impulses.
But surely someone has had a genuine midlife crisis. After all, don’t people routinely struggle with questions like “What can I expect from the rest of my life?” or “Is this all there is?”
Of course. But it turns out that only a distinct minority think it constitutes a crisis. In 1999, the MacArthur Foundation study on midlife development surveyed 8,000 Americans ages 25 to 74. While everyone recognized the term “midlife crisis,” only 23 percent of subjects reported having one. And only 8 percent viewed their crisis as something tied to the realization that they were aging; the remaining 15 percent felt the crisis resulted from specific life events. Strikingly, most people also reported an increased sense of well-being and contentment in middle age.
So what keeps the myth of the midlife crisis alive? The main culprit, I think, is our youth-obsessed culture, which makes a virtue of the relentless pursuit of self-renewal. The news media abound with stories of people who seek to recapture their youth simply by shedding their spouses, quitting their jobs or leaving their families. Who can resist?
Most middle-aged people, it turns out, if we are to believe the definitive survey.
Except, of course, for the few — mainly men, it seems — who find the midlife crisis a socially acceptable shorthand for what you do when you suddenly wake up and discover that you’re not 20 anymore. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Role and status of the grandmothers if the urban youth is developing a preference for late marriages and deferred child-births

Dadis and Nanis: ROLE AND STATUS IN INDIAN FAMILY AND SOCIETY: A SYMPOSIUM PROPOSAL, PUNE, April, 4-6, 2008, From: "Prakash Chand Mathur" Indain Book Chronicle
For all us, grandmothers are a fact of life of, but, surprisingly, there appears to be very little appreciations of their role and status in social science literature encompassing such ‘social’ disciplines likes Sociology and Psychology, let alone the more prosaic disciplines, like Political Science, Public Administration, Law and history; even Philosophy, Theology and Religion offer very little portraiture of grandmothers either those belonging to the family of which one is a progeny or the family of which one is enrolled with deliberate and due mate-selection processes.
In other words while we all know that grandmothers are very much a part of most urban and metropolitan households, but the lack of serious analyses of their role and status is certainly too glaring an academic deficit which must be erased as several divergent change-chains are uprooting the cultural traditions of Indian families as, on the one hand, the proportion of 60-plus persons is steadily rising but, on the other, the proportion of 21-minus persons is also growing in the Indian’s demographic profiles multiplying the chances of grandmother-grandchildren cohabitation for much longer periods than was the case in, say, the 18th or 19th centuries giving rise to the possibilities of more families having resident grandmothers and , one may even dare to prognosticate, even great-grandmothers than possibly was the case in pre-British villages, towns and cities of India...

AS a (Academic) sequel and also as a serial celebration of grand-mother-hood, DNFT would like to organize, hopefully every year, a 3-day Symposium, to (socio-culturally0 celebrate and (socio-scientifically) calibrate the lives and life-crises of grandmothers in, to being with, urban and metropolitan locales, encompassing nearly 30% of Indian’s total population paying due attention to Literature, Social Science, Demography and Public Policies

Tentatively, the Symposium is scheduled for April, 2008; preferably at Pune (Maharastra, India).While more details are being worked out this Call for Expression of Interest is being broadcast on the occasion of the release ceremony of DADI - NANI: MEMORIES OF OUR GRANDMOTHERS edited by Subash Mathur and Subodh Mathur and published by Spenta Multi-Media, Mumbai.

P.C.Mathur, Symposium Coordinator, Jaipur, Tel:-94148-52747
Ashok Mathur, MT, DNFT, Pune, Tel: 98231-23050

If you're too polite or too soft you don't get taken seriously

Without 'sharp elbows', you'd never get anywhere in India
Her reply, after some thought, struck me. She said, "I'm not sure I'd want to stay in India forever, it makes you too aggressive."
I've been thinking about this in recent days and I think my friend has a serious point.
India is a tough place to live in. There are 1.1 billion fighting over limited resources - from food, to water, to electricity - and limited space, whether on the roads or in the great slums which where almost half the population of cities like Delhi and Mumbai reside.
Of course as a wealthy ex-pat you are insulated from the real fight for survival which is played out daily in India, however you cannot escape it completely.
Whether driving in New Delhi, shopping in the bazaar or even queuing for check-in at the airport you need to develop - as my mother would put it - "sharp elbows" to get on.
Being passive just doesn't work here. There are no points for politeness as I discovered this early on in my tenure as South Asia Correspondent. Having come from Europe - where charm and politeness will get you a lot further than being tough and forceful - I had to learn a new way of doing things.
I might get shot at a little bit here, but one of the reasons for this phenomenon is the highly stratified nature of Indian society. Bosses are bosses and those below you in the hierarchy expect to be told what to do, just those above you - in age or seniority - expect respect.
It is one of the most exhausting things about living here. You have, to use another English phrase, to "be on everyone's case" to make things happen. If you're too polite or too soft you don't get taken seriously.
And it's not just foreigners who feel this pressure. I have an Indian friend who runs a very successful travel business taking foreign clients on high-end tours round India.
He too gets fed up with the fight. It's not enough to arrange the bus driver to show up at 7am two weeks in advance. You have to check again the night before and then again in the morning of departure to make sure the guy is up and running and on time.
And then, if the bus company owner thinks he can get away with it - ie you're a soft touch - he'll send a different kind of bus than promised, particularly if he's being squeezed by another client he fears more.
Another example. My friend will book a tour group of eight couples into a hotel a full month in advance and the night before their arrival the manager calls asking if it's "okay" if the party gets a couple 'triple rooms' instead of all doubles.
Answer "NO!" - and then my friend spends several hours cracking heads and breaking balls on the phone to enforce the original arrangement. Sadly, if you don't yell, you don't get.
This is not just about being a 'stroppy sahib', if affects all strata of society here. You have to be tough to survive - at whatever level your karma has set your station.
All the above is intended as observation, not criticism. This is the way India is, and there is no point in moaning about it. And of course in a wealthy society - where people are less hungry, actually and metaphorically - it's easier to be civil all the time.
But all the same, I shan't miss the need to "bust balls", to quote my dear late assistant Sanjeev (a master of the art).
I don't consider myself a naturally aggressive person, but I think after four years in India I have become more so. And like my friend, I don't like it. Posted by Peter Foster on 16 Jan 2008 at 12:04 Telegraph Blogs Foreign Blog Home Peter Foster Blog Home

Monday, January 14, 2008

She alone is left with this ordeal of sorrow and public shame

Op-Ed Contributor Sex and the Teenage Girl By CAITLIN FLANAGAN NYT: January 13, 2008 Los Angeles
THE movie “Juno” is a fairy tale about a pregnant teenager who decides to have her baby, place it for adoption and then get on with her life. For the most part, the tone of the movie is comedic and jolly, but there is a moment when Juno tells her father about her condition, and he shakes his head in disappointment and says, “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.”
Female viewers flinch when he says it, because his words lay bare the bitterly unfair truth of sexuality: female desire can bring with it a form of punishment no man can begin to imagine, and so it is one appetite women and girls must always regard with caution. Because Juno let her guard down and had a single sexual experience with a sweet, well-intentioned boy, she alone is left with this ordeal of sorrow and public shame.
In the movie, the moment passes. Juno finds a yuppie couple eager for a baby, and when the woman tries to entice her with the promise of an open adoption, the girl shakes her head adamantly: “Can’t we just kick it old school? I could just put the baby in a basket and send it your way. You know, like Moses in the reeds.”
It’s a hilarious moment, and the sentiment turns out to be genuine. The final scene of the movie shows Juno and her boyfriend returned to their carefree adolescence, the baby — safely in the hands of his rapturous and responsible new mother — all but forgotten. Because I’m old enough now that teenage movie characters evoke a primarily maternal response in me (my question during the film wasn’t “What would I do in that situation?” but “What would I do if my daughter were in that situation?”), the last scene brought tears to my eyes. To see a young daughter, faced with the terrible fact of a pregnancy, unscathed by it and completely her old self again was magical.
And that’s why “Juno” is a fairy tale. As any woman who has ever chosen (or been forced) to kick it old school can tell you, surrendering a baby whom you will never know comes with a steep and lifelong cost. Nor is an abortion psychologically or physically simple. It is an invasive and frightening procedure, and for some adolescent girls it constitutes part of their first gynecological exam. I know grown women who’ve wept bitterly after abortions, no matter how sound their decisions were. How much harder are these procedures for girls, whose moral and emotional universe is just taking shape?
Even the much-discussed pregnancy of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears reveals the rudely unfair toll that a few minutes of pleasure can exact on a girl. The very fact that the gossip magazines are still debating the identity of the father proves again that the burden of sex is the woman’s to bear. He has a chance to maintain his privacy, but if she becomes pregnant by mistake, soon all the world will know.
Pregnancy robs a teenager of her girlhood. This stark fact is one reason girls used to be so carefully guarded and protected — in a system that at once limited their horizons and safeguarded them from devastating consequences. The feminist historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg has written that “however prudish and ‘uptight’ the Victorians were, our ancestors had a deep commitment to girls.”
We, too, have a deep commitment to girls, and ours centers not on protecting their chastity, but on supporting their ability to compete with boys, to be free — perhaps for the first time in history — from the restraints that kept women from achieving on the same level. Now we have to ask ourselves this question: Does the full enfranchisement of girls depend on their being sexually liberated? And if it does, can we somehow change or diminish among the very young the trauma of pregnancy, the occasional result of even safe sex?
Biology is destiny, and the brutally unfair outcome that adolescent sexuality can produce will never change. Twenty years ago, I taught high school in a town near New Orleans. There was a girls’ bathroom next to my classroom, which was more convenient for me than the faculty one on the other side of campus. In the last stall, carved deeply into the metal box reserved for used sanitary napkins, was the single word “Please.”
Whoever had written it had taken a long time; the word was etched so deeply into the metal that she must have worked on it over several days, hiding in there on hall passes or study breaks, desperate. I never knew who wrote it, or when, but I always knew exactly what that anonymous girl meant. When I looked out over the girls moving through the hallways between classes, I wondered if she was among them, and I hoped that her prayer had been answered.
Caitlin Flanagan, the author of “To Hell With All That,” is working on a book about the emotional lives of pubescent girls.