Let’s Talk About Sex-Changing

There has been a lot of conversation lately about Caitlyn Jenner and her decision to change her gender and embrace her desire to become a woman. And by conversation, I mean debate.

Many people have taken to social media to express their opinions. Some feel that her decision is “disgusting” or an “abomination.” They feel that because she has spent her entire life as a man, has won awards, and been in the spotlight as a man, that she doesn’t have a reason to be anything else. There are also arguments stating that her decision to become a woman and essentially be the face for the transgender community, will take away from the health concerns around sex changes. Undergoing sex change operations and hormone therapies can have dangerous consequences and some fear that the glamorization of Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation will overpower the awareness of this (Crowder, 2015).

On the other end, many have held up their social poster boards and congratulated Caitlyn on her bravery and courage. Deciding to make such a life altering decision in the public limelight can be stressful, and the grace with which she did it has been applauded. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook blew up when she reveled her new look. The hashtag “#CaitlynJenner” became instantly popular, and she even surpassed President Barack Obama’s twitter follows within an hour of her new Twitter account (@Caitlyn_Jenner).

In the center of these debates is her appearance. People everywhere have been commenting on her new look, which was shown on the cover of Vanity Fair. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

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The question that many have been asking is: why do her looks matter more than her mind? Why does the way she is posed and the clothing she wears in the photos the primary concern? People are focused more on that, than her actual decision to make the change. Prior to her sex change the focus was on her awards and success, but now that she’s a woman its about her appearance?

Caitlyn Jenner has paved the way to a new door of acceptance, or so we all hope. We hope that this is the first step towards more accepting of individuals in a way that goes beyond their appearance and to their minds. Whether someone identifies themself as a woman, man, or something in between, it shouldn’t matter as much as who they are as a person. And this is the message that I hope gets heard among all the cyber-yelling.

Caitlyn Jenner is happy. End of story. End of debate. She’s happy. Who are we to try and question that?

“I’m me. I’m a person and this is who I am. I’m not stuck in anybody’s body. It’s just who I am as a human being.”- Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner, interview with Diane Sawyer

Link for the full interview: http://abc.go.com/shows/2020/listing/2015-04/24-bruce-jenner-the-interview

 

The Mirror of Rape Culture

In the Oscar nominated film Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who will do anything to succeed. As a freelancer who captures video footage for news stations, he manipulates, lies, and cheats to achieve his goals. Director Dan Gilroy uses this story to satirize a number of subjects: from the media, to capitalism, to the underbelly of the American Dream. Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz accurately depicts the film as a “warning against being fooled (in life) by people…..who see what they want (fame, money, a job, a mate), and go after it, and refuse to take no for an answer, even if the “no” is delivered through tears.”[i]

If you agree with this theory, the subsequent question is: who are these people we need to be aware of? One of the prevalent themes in Nightcrawler is that the media plays a pivotal role in shaping what we believe to be true. The Indian Government seemed to follow this ideology when they decided to ban the documentary India’s Daughter thinking it would “encourage and incite violence against women.”[ii] A letter to news media outlets stated “The media is likely to be seen as a voice for the perpetrator of such crimes by providing him a medium to communicate his views on the matter repeatedly.” In hindsight, the Indian Government’s knee-jerk decision was a terrible one on many levels, ironically bringing even more exposure to the film by banning it. If they truly believed the documentary’s method was wrong, a press statement analyzing the documentary would have been a much stronger move than an outright ban. If we’ve learned anything from the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it is that freedom of expression (especially in art) must exist in order for there to be any type of conversation.

However, vilifying a poor government decision is too easy of a target. It is much more complex to understand why they made this decision. These reasons could range from a pure cover up, to shame, to a response to previous media coverage of rape in India. Rape in India has become a very polarizing topic and many have called for a larger societal shift. Earlier this week, the Youtube video ‘Rap Against Rape’ was released, depicting two Indian women criticizing the inconsistencies between cultural and social expectations for women in India. Another side states that despite high profile cases, India has one of the lowest rates of rape in comparison to Western Countries. A Belgian professor, Jakob De Roover, makes the case that India has become “the rape nation in Western Imagination” and that statistics don’t take into play the difference of population between countries.[iii] While some Western news reports may have dealt in generalizations, stigma and other barriers towards victims reporting often play a huge factor into these statistics. It has been estimated that underreporting could be as high as 54% but it is likely much higher as not many studies have been conducted to analyze this topic.[iv] Anyone can understand that no country wants to have their reputation tarnished by being known as a nation of rapists. Even in the United States, the idea of ‘rape culture’ is often derided as a ‘feminist’ theory or as an overblown issue, when the statistics of rape and sexual assault in this country show that there is a serious problem being ignored.

The irony of rape culture is that the more we strongly claim it does not exist, the further we help point to its existence. In early 2014, the YouTube channel Fousey Tube posted a video titled ‘The Public Rape Experiment.’ It showed various people’s reactions to a tape recording that suggested rape was occurring in a bathroom stall. Some people left the room immediately, while others charged into the stall in order to help. For those who entered the stall, they saw the tape and a mirror inscribed with a message “This is what a rapist could look like.” Backlash in the comments were immediate: ranging from people expecting more of FouseyTube’s norm of prank videos to frustration for calling those who tried to help rapists. It is this reaction that we want to focus on. We are not attempting to justify the government or some media outlet’s unfortunate handling of the documentary. We are not stating that the U.S. or India’s media, government, or people have a bigger issue of dealing with rape. Rape is too serious a problem for people to point fingers at other countries in such childish arguments. However, as Indian Americans we would like each of our respective countries to take a hard look into the mirror with us. What would happen if we critically analyzed the problem of rape culture and our own tendencies?

While most people believe rape is merely about sex, rape stems from the desire to have power and exert control. The story behind India’s Daughter is the story of a girl who was working to better her life and was brutally murdered as a result of a vicious gang rape that may have also used an iron rod to attack and penetrate her on a bus. Regardless of country, we do her life and the life of other rape victims and survivors’ injustice by trying to cover up what happened. Without understanding that any one of us COULD abuse power to such a degree and that this is not solely a first world or third world problem, we will not understand why change is so crucial. By staying silent and not holding our respective governments, media, friends, family, and ourselves accountable, we will never enact change. However, just because rape culture does exist, does not mean that it always will. Even though it may be a long road, the journey to change can begin today.

This petition aims to increase support for rape victims and hold India’s government accountable for helping change the mentality concerning gender equality. Please use your voice to help the voiceless.

https://www.change.org/p/mr-narendra-modi-prime-minister-of-india-take-action-to-change-laws-and-influence-mindsets-to-combat-gender-based-violence-in-india?recruiter=25433984&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

-Written by: Chris Chacko & Eeshwar Chandrasekar

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

[i] http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/nightcrawler-2014

[ii] http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/04/asia/india-rape-documentary/

[iii] http://www.niticentral.com/2015/03/11/indias-daughter-and-bbc-belgian-professor-speaks-out-306333.html#.VQXAwsSfx3A.twitter

[iv] http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc271840/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf

From Princess to Warrior Princess

A few days ago I went to a friend’s house to visit her and her adorable new baby girl. I walked with her up the stairs to an impeccably decorated nursery. I admired every detail of the room. The specific color choices, the images hanging on the walls, and the pristine white furniture got me thinking about how much time, effort, and love her parents had put into their daughter’s first room. Her haven. Her safe place. I couldn’t take my eyes off of this precious little girl’s face. As I watched her mother nuzzle her, I said a quick prayer for her and all the other little girls out there in the world. That they would all be so fortunate to feel that same love, safety, and joy that this little angel was experiencing now.

Recently, I was asked if our blog was going to only be about feminism. I said we would write about anything that weighed heavy on our hearts. It’s true that the issues that make an impression on us the most are ones that women face. And why wouldn’t they? We are both women.

Being a woman is incredible. The ability to bring life into the world is nothing short of a miracle. That extra gene in our body to be able to show compassion and to nurture is really marvelous. I know this very well because I see it daily in my own mother. She has an incredible ability to juggle her family, career, and responsibilities without ever missing a beat. She’s strong, confident, and intelligent, and the song from the Disney movie Tangled is so accurate in saying “mother knows best” (Hi Mummy!).

But there’s another side to being a woman. This other side consists of inequality, harassment, and discrimination. These aren’t things faced by women of a specific geographical location or certain socioeconomic class. Women on this other side are combatting things like wage inequality, the right to drive a car, and the right to decide whom and when they will marry.

I came across an article recently that really troubled me. A mother in Maharashtra shaved her 16 year old daughter’s head so she would be “less appealing” and would be spared by her rapists who continue to harass her for making a complaint against them. Where the justice system failed her and her daughter, this mother decided to take what little control she had in the situation and did what she thought would protect her child.

Maybe you can’t relate to this article because its not something you think would happen in your hometown. Maybe it’s something you think only happens in rural villages in third world countries. But what about the places you live. Have you faced or witnessed some kind of injustice in your place of work or education? I have.

The other day I was taking the red-line train home after class. For any Chicagoans or for those who have taken the train during prime-time rush hour, you know that it can get a bit crowded. However, that was not the case in this instance. It wasn’t shoulder to shoulder jammed packed as it usually is.

I stood up as the train approached my stop when a man, who I don’t know, grabbed my bottom. I turned around quickly, fists clenched and arms stiff by my side. I felt this red-hot burning anger inside of me.

Infuriated, I immediately asked the man, “what the f**k do you think you’re doing?!” And the response I got was even more enraging. At this point, I didn’t think it was possible to be more pissed off, but I was wrong. This man. This stranger who had no business putting his hands on my body had the nerve, THE AUDACITY, to say, “Well, with those tight jeans you’re wearing, you’re basically putting it out there for people.”

Mouth hanging open. Eyes wide. Speechless. That was my initial reaction.

I have no words to describe the pure, unadulterated rage I felt at his comment. How one man, can make me feel so cheap and disrespected with one sentence rendered me speechless. Fortunately I quickly recovered and told him (or yelled, tomato-tomatoe) that I could be naked and it still wouldn’t give him the right to put his hands on my body without my permission. And then I ended with a not-so-nice line telling him what he should go do, before exiting the train.

This is the type of mentality that plagues our society today. The “she-asked-for-it-because-of-what-she’s-wearing” mentality.

What was most shocking to me was that no one on the train reacted to this incident. There were 10 other people standing near me and not one person spoke up. No one felt the pull to say something about an incident this disgusting that happened in front of their eyes. Awareness is step one. Action can only began after. Today it was me. Tomorrow it might be you or someone you know. Will you still stay silent?

And to all of you who share his mentality, I only have one word for you that sums up my feelings perfectly…

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You’re a shoe!

life-is-the-word-typography Ever since I turned 20 there are few things I’ve been hearing from the older adults in my life. When are you graduating? Did you apply to grad school yet? What do you want to do with your life? Medicine or Engineering? You’re living alone now. Have you learned to cook? You’ve put on some weight. You’re a girl. You shouldn’t be out that late. Did you hear about so and so? She’s marrying a doctor. My aunt’s brother’s wife’s friend has a son. He’s an engineer. You should talk to him. And my personal favorite, you should think about making a profile on shaadi.com. (There is nothing wrong with shaadi.com, I’m just not interested)

From the time you’re born, you’re raised to be your very best self. Sometimes that message gets lost and rather than doing your best, you’re expected to be the best. Ever. The emphasis goes from be better than you were, to be better…than that kid over there. You’re enrolled in every possible extra curricular activity from dance to debate. You spend every waking moment studying harder, running faster, and jumping higher.

Up until I was in high school the questions were about what college and major I was choosing. I was instructed to not look at boys and just focus on my schoolwork. But in just a few years I’m expected to have every detail of my future planned!  And it doesn’t stop there. Once you work your absolute best and have graduated with that hard-earned degree and just take one step into the real world, you’re flooded with even more questions. When are you getting married? When you’re married, when are you having kids? When are you having your second kid? You should buy a house. You should think about signing up for a life insurance policy. Have you started planning for your retirement? And before you know it you’re 5 years from retirement and you don’t even remember how you got there.

For some people it works. And that’s great! You had a plan and you stuck with it. More power to you! But what if I don’t have a plan? Or maybe my plan didn’t work out like I had intended.

I mean is it okay that I’m not Yoda and don’t have all the answers to everything right now? Is it okay that I’m struggling to find my place in the world and trying to figure out myself before I invite someone else to join my mess? Is it okay I didn’t take the conventional route when it came to a career but nonetheless, love what I’m doing? Is it okay that I don’t compare myself to those around me and am doing what works for me?

I think Rachel said it best in the first episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S when she said, “Its like all my life I’ve been told. You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe! But what if I don’t want to be a shoe? What if I want to be a purse or a hat?”

And while conventional has worked for many, I’m comfortable with taking the path less traveled. I don’t think maturity comes with age. I think it comes from your experiences and you’re molded by your failures and successes.

We sometimes get so caught up in trying to fit this role that someone else has created for us, that we tend to loose ourselves in the process. We get so lost in trying to be better than the person next to us, that we forget to become the best version of ourselves.  We are groomed to believe that beating our opponent will bring us success, and ultimately happiness.

But I say forget that! You have the power to dictate your own happiness by making your own choices and being the person that YOU want to be.

So who cares if you don’t have all the answers yet? Just go out there and be a purse, hat, or even a belt buckle if that’s what you want! And if you ever feel like you’re losing your way, as I sometimes do, just remember the wise words of the best non-teacher I’ve ever had…

“Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good. I love you all. Class dismissed.”

–George Feeny, Boy Meets World

*Today’s blog was brought to you by feeling Lost and Confused a partner of the Life of a Grad Student Foundation. Its easy to feel lost and confused when you’re a grad student =)

Silence Hides Violence

A picture speaks 1,000 words. That’s how the saying goes. But how about what it doesn’t say? We are surrounded by images day in and day out and generally, we take them at face value. I mean, why not. Take this Nike advertisement, for example.

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Seems harmless enough, right? It’s just a photo of a woman wearing their brand while working out. But what is this picture not saying? Take her posture for instance. Granted, it shows off her strong muscular figure (thumbs up Nike!), but look at the angle of her back. It  is slightly arched, showing off her bottom quite nicely, wouldn’t you say?

Now take a look at this advertisement, also by Nike.

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See a difference? Well for one, this man is fully clothed and is depicted to look like he is flying through the air. His posture is supposed to represent talent and the ability to make a slam dunk, which is reportedly not an easy task. Look again at the picture of the woman. She is being tethered by a sling, which ideally is supposed to represent strength and determination. However, this picture is able to illustrate the same concept despite the fact that he is flying through the air with the fluidity of water. He has no tether to the ground and no gravity holding him back from achieving his goal, yet we still see determination.

This is an example of how we are so prone to accepting pictures and images at face value. We are trained not to look beneath the surface to find meaning behind it.

Have you ever looked at someones Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and said to yourself, I wish I had his/her life? I have! Guilty. I’ve actually gone page to page just “window shopping” for what I wish i had. How envious are we of people whose private lives we are not a part of? How badly do we look at pictures of “happy couples” or that “perfect family” and wish we had their lives. I see their life and compare it to mine. I look at them and say, “I want that!” But what am I really looking at? Am I looking at a perfect life or a just a perfect moment? We project our own picture perfect fantasies onto the images we see so we don’t have to accept our own reality. We turn a blind eye to things to things that may cause us unhappiness or distress because it’s easier.

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This image was circling Twitter during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) and every time I look at it, I get the chills. I remember thinking, how accurate is this?

The U.S. department of housing and urban development reported that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. 1 in 3 female homicide victims are murdered by their current or former partner. But abuse does not discriminate. Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender (although largely faced by women), race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income.

Ever walk into a room and feel like all of a sudden the room got quiet and everyone is staring at you? The once chatty crowd has now come down to a dull whisper and you are almost certain the conversations are about you. Imagine that feeling every where you go. People talking about your visible wounds, the rumors they’ve heard, and how awful they feel for you. Thats the life of a domestic abuse victim every day. A topic that society is often too shy to discuss openly is somewhat of a conversational piece behind closed doors.

There is a stigma attached to victims of abuse. The word itself: victim, has such a connotation and label surrounding it. Many times they refuse to come forward for help. Only reaching out to hospitals for help when their wounds can’t be tended to at home. Unlike child and elderly abuse, hospital personnel are not required by law to report this abuse. Only if the victim asks that the crime be reported is an official complaint made.  More times than not they go back to their abuser. You may judge them for going back to the lions den and putting themselves at risk again. The reasons vary from lack of financial independence to feelings of guilt brought on by the perpetrator. Abuse is not just physical. It is also psychological and emotional. No victim is to blame for any occurrence of domestic abuse or violence. But months of psychological torture lead the victim to believe that the fault lies within them. That changing some part of themselves will pacify things at home. When the reality is that domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence.

Many times the ones who suffers the most in abuse are not even addressed. Children. The innocent and silent bystanders. Family violence creates a home environment where children live in constant fear of their surroundings. Children who witness family violence are affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused. Research shows that children who witness domestic violence show more anxiety, low self esteem, depression, anger and temperament problems than children who do not witness violence in the home. The trauma they experience in childhood can actually show up in behavioral and social disturbances in adulthood. If children cannot feel sense of security and safety within the home, how are they to find it outside in the real world?

Chances are you already know someone who is going through this problem right now. Maybe it’s the man behind the counter at the coffee shop you see every day, or the couple you sit next to at church, or your child’s school teacher. Instead of talking about them as victims, it’s important to refer to them as survivors. Because that is what they are. They are survivors of pain, torture, and neglect. They are survivors who endured a traumatic experience and came out of it a stronger person.

We have the ability to decrease the stigma around victimization. We have the ability to offer our support and empower individuals who were abused to use their voices to spread awareness and generate real change.

So no more accepting things at face value. No more turning a blind eye because it is easier. It’s time we stop being afraid of controversial issues and start being more comfortable talking openly about them. Let’s educate ourselves on the signs of abuse. Let’s stop the judgement in our communities.

If you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, contact the 24/7 National Domestic Violence hotline. Call 1-800-799-SAFE.

DON’T GET RAPED

That’s it. Enough is enough. I have stayed silent for too long. I have tried to rationalize it in my head for too long. I must speak out now. I must express the grief and anger I feel before I completely lose my mind.

This morning was like any other. Or so I thought it would be. I woke up, picked up my phone and opened up my NDTV news app as I have every day for the past three years. I had gotten used to reading the cringe-worthy headlines -neigh, numb. Another corrupt politician scamming money, another rape, another infant girl’s body found in a landfill. But today’s headlines made my entire body freeze up. It was like a jolt of electricity had passed through me. The words I read continued to play over and over in my head. This feeling was familiar. I had felt it before.

Two years ago another headline shook me to my core. The morning of December 17th 2012, I woke up to numerous breaking news alerts. The alerts were about the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old female medical student on a moving bus in the Indian Capital of New Delhi. She was on her way home with a male companion after watching Life of Pi. I won’t go into the gruesome details, as most of you know the story.

News of this incident spread like wildfire. The entire world was outraged. Thousands of men, women, and children stood up in protest for days. The images are still fresh in my head. Pictures of children holding posters that contained powerful messages. India woke up. They were angry. They wanted change. They wanted justice.

But as I always say, outrage is short-lived.

Nirbhaya, (which means without fear) a name given affectionately by the people, succumbed to her injuries and passed away on December 29th.

So what headline today, over two years after this incident, made me feel so sick? “Delhi rapist says victim shouldn’t have fought back.” 

In a matter of minutes I experienced a plethora of emotions. But soon it was pure anger that came over me. I had so many questions in my mind. How could he say this? Doesn’t he feel any remorse?

Leslee Udwin, a filmmaker, has been working tirelessly for the last two years to put together a documentary about this case, titled “India’s Daughter.” She was inspired the by the protests held around India in response to the rape. The film has faced much criticism in India. She is accused of sensationalizing the case and giving the rapists a platform to justify their actions. She interviewed Mukesh Singh, one of the six accused rapists, to find the answer to a fundamental question. Why do rapes happen?

“A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.  “Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.” People “had a right to teach them a lesson” he suggested – and he said the woman should have put up with it.When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy,” he said. Chillingly, he went on: “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”

The above is an excerpt of the interview from an article by the BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31698154?OCID=fbasia

The Indian government has banned this documentary from being televised in India.  What are we really afraid of?  Some believe the film is disrespectful to the victim’s memory and family (the film has been made with the cooperation of Asha and Badri Singh, the victim’s parents). Some politicians believe that it is an international conspiracy to ruin India’s image in the world. Ruin your image? Rape is the fourth most common crime in India and you’re worried about image?  The only thing you are “protecting” is the rationality and mentality of this man. What about the victim or her family? Who’s protecting and advocating for them while you continue to uphold your image?

I want to understand how someone can justify such a heinous crime. What factors are precipitating this rationality? Does it begin when we teach young boys that they are strong and masculine, while girls are fragile and damsels in distress? Or is the influence of media a stronger predictor? Maybe it’s a cultural thing? It is hard to put my finger on what exactly is contributing to the rape culture today, because all of these factors play a significant role. We teach our boys that they are the “head of house” and are the family’s bread winners. They do the hunting while women do the gathering. We teach our girls that they should be domesticated and focus on raising a family providing emotional stability, not financial security. Looking at the media today, the same is portrayed. Granted these traditional roles are less overt, but they still exist. Women are sexualized and men are their knights in shining armor. It’s a great message to teach future generations, right?

Looking at it from a cultural perspective, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that 93 women in India are raped everyday (2013). Every day. That is 33,945 incidents of rape per year. In a population of over 1.2 billion people, 93 may seem like an insignificant number, but consider this: this is just an average number based on cases that were reported. How many cases of rape and abuse fly under the radar everyday? If the reported average is 93 per day, imagine the number of unreported incidents. And for this perpetrator to sit there and say that he does not deserve the punishment he was deemed, because women are responsible and it would make it worse on them? I’m disgusted. Enraged.  Appalled.

How can our society continue to choose to ignore the big flashing neon signs that are screaming for change? How many more our daughters, sisters, and friends have to endure such an injustice before people stop adopting this nauseating mentality and start learning to respect one another and advocate for each other? I urge you to share his story and spark discussions around the world. The broadcasting of this documentary is not what will shame us. Banning this film and not educating ourselves is what will.  No more sweeping this under the rug. No more “protecting” an image. No more letting men like him off with a slap on the wrist.  It is time we start the journey towards real change.