RACE RELATIONS

For the last week I have been recruiting a hard to fill role in HR, which was referred to me upon another colleague leaving. The role has been on the market for the last two months as the client believes the candidates that have been short-listed are “underqualified”.

Today I came across a top tier candidate with one of the best CV’s I had seen in a long time, having been employed by some of the best top tier firms globally.

Before sending her CV to the client, I asked my senior colleague who had worked with this client before what his thoughts were. He looked at the CV and said “She has a strong CV and she would be a great fit but you can’t send her over. They will see her name and reject her. No Indian’s, just Caucasian’s!”. I stood there in rage at the blatant racism that was unfolding in front of me, remembering how many times I had come across this issue as an IT recruiter in the last four months.

This incident reaffirms the message that no matter how hard people of colour work and no matter what level professional success we achieve, there is a large portion of this society that will never believe us to be just as good, if not better, than our white counterparts.

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RAPE CULTURE

Recently an associate of mine disclosed to me she was almost raped. In a situation where things were getting hot and heavy physically, she asked her date to stop and pull the breaks. However, he kept going.  After repeating “stop” several times and having him dismiss her request, she managed to push him off her. Distraught and upset, she confronted him about his actions, only to have him laugh the entire thing off.

As she told me this story I began to cry.  I was devastated by the thought of not only another woman, but someone close to me, being violated in such a way.  However, she was quite surprised by my reaction, telling me that other people she had mentioned this incident to had made comments like “What did you expect getting yourself in that situation?” and “It’s like taking a horse to a lake to drink water, but then not letting it”.

Those responses to her experience are a part of the everyday cultural practices that excuse and tolerate sexual violence. By subtly saying that “girls allow themselves to be raped”, society not only further victimises women and their experience with rape and sexual assault, it also legitimises the entitlement and ownership men have to women and their bodies.  And this is just one of the many forms of how gender oppression works.

I AM NOT FOR MALE CONSUMPTION

As a feminist, I often get asked by men what my views are on a woman’s preference for make-up, gym clothing and sexual partners.

Just to make it clear, as a woman, I believe women are entitled to do whatever they feel comfortable doing or whatever makes them feel great about themselves. My job isn’t to sit here and judge the next woman on her personal preferences. I am here to understand the insecurities women have, what factors contribute to them and to empower women to overcome them, just as I try to do for myself. And frankly, I do not have time to prioritise your issues with ‘skimmpy gym clothing’ or ‘cake-faced chicks’ over the 28 women have been killed due to violence against women in Australia since January 2015.

Either way, women are not here to succumb to male ideals and as Janelle Monáe put it, “I am not for male consumption”.

PARENTS PARTNER SHOPPING

“I wish I was a boy” was one of those not-so-serious and out-of-annoyance statements you made when you realised that being a woman meant getting cramps once a month, harvesting a child for nine months and having to wax parts of your body which have a low threshold for pain.  For me the “I wish I was a boy” was a statement I made when I realised that being a woman of Bangladeshi and Muslim descent meant getting married off at 18 to the first guy with a resume that addressed the criteria for a good husband. Except I wasn’t the one taking job applications or interviews, my parents were. This probably sounds appealing to those who met too many freaks while internet dating, who had a non-existing love life or who were simply experiencing the ‘A man will save me’ mid-life crisis.  However, I am lucky enough to not be going through any of those phases.

During an important episode of Masterchef my parents presented me with a photo and a resume of a prospective husband. At that instance I felt like I was in a horror movie with a poorly written script. This script did not involve me getting murdered at the end by a serial murderer with an axe, it just involved me being burdened off to some other man in order for my parents to proudly boast about my newly acquired ‘Wifey’ status.  One could argue that was the equivalent of being murdered by an axe murderer and in my case more preferable.

According to ABC News 55% of marriages in the world are arranged. Regardless of being raised in a culture where arranged marriages were a century old fashion trend, I believed arranged marriages carried an offensive and oppressive odour, a scent which made me squeamish.  In Asian and Middle Eastern cultures arranged marriages for women involved little or no choice. Parents employed methods of coercion, culpability and contrivance to gain compliance, subliminally dismissing contemporary views of love, romance and marriage.  Women were often married in their late teens or early twenties, the prime years of physical attractiveness and youthfulness. This was a view my own father held, his precise words being “With age you will lose your beauty and no man will want you”.  Although the words were harsh, it was a truthful depiction of reality, one evolutionary biologists and psychologists continuously confirmed through experimental and theoretical methodologies.

Without sharing a biased perspective, arranged marriages have a high success rate with approximately 4% ending in divorce. This statistic is confirmed by testimonials of individuals who have agreed to partake in an arranged marriage.  Statements such as “Spending a couple of days in the room with her, alone, I fell in love with her” and “Our first year of marriage has been crazy exciting and fun filled” suggest that the discrepancy between arranged and love marriages may not be vast and arranged marriages can lead to fulfilling futures.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but wonder how transparent these statistics and testimonials are.  Do these couples stay together because their society does not allow divorce, do these couples stay together in hope that the love will grow or worse do they stay because they feel forced?

From personal experience I know several women in my culture who have suffered through arranged marriages.  They get tricked into visiting their homeland only to come back to Australia with a husband, a complete stranger they are expected to share their bed with for the rest of their lives. After a year or two of marriage, it becomes evident that just because you share your bed with someone doesn’t mean you share your heart with them, with divorce being the only way to resolve a relationship you never wanted in the first place.

Divorce in most Eastern cultures for women comes with a stigma. That stigma is carried around like a bad smell where the women will always be blamed for the failure of the relationship, even if her husband was abusive or unfaithful.  This was my major issue with arranged marriages, that in possessing selflessness by fulfilling family duties, I would still come out looking like the bad guy for making the choice to not continue the marriage.  So I must ask what do I get out of this societal system? What are the benefits? The truth is the benefits cannot be determined.  It likens to the rolling of the dice on a board game, the number you roll is up to chance, or if I were to romanticise it fate.  Fortunately for me I am not much of a gambler.

The importance of being a relationship or marriage was not confined to the Eastern world, it exists just as much in the Western world, often masked by the freedom of choice.  Evolution into modern times did not render the traditional values of society which denoted “coupling up” as being the natural process of progression through life.  I argue that it is unnatural for one to commit to a relationship due to societal pressures and for there to be correct time for relationships, marriage and children.  Through experience I found what was natural was creating a loving relationship with yourself, developing and exploring yourself and having the option to choose how and who you spend your life.  Without such we disregard and disrespect our individual freedoms.

I place no judgement on people who partake in arranged marriages.  I believe that like with everything in life with devotion and dedication they can work.  However, love, relationships and marriage is not a part of my life that I want to work at, I have a 9 am to 5 pm job for that, it is a part of my life that I just want to fit like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  When someone asks me the question of how I met my husband, “I met him by reading his resume” is not the story I want to tell, but then again I am a romantic and a rebel.

I firmly believe friendships, families, love and marriage are a beautiful part of life. However, that beauty is something that cannot be appreciated if it is enforced upon you; it has to be a choice you need to make for yourself.

DEFINITIONS

People often ask me to define feminism and I sit with a blank expression uming and uhing because how can I define something that is so personal to me?

I never liked definitions, I felt like they confined and constricted concepts, hindering them from ever being considered outside the box. When I tell people I am a feminist I receive a strange reaction, where if I were to read between the lines it would say something like “But you don’t look like the angry-lesbian-bra-burning type”.  Here lies the problem with definitions, especially when infused with stereotypes; they give society a reason to not consider other possibilities.  It is precisely this lack open-mindedness which causes society to be indolent and intransigent with their ideologies, imagination and introspection.

Feminism within the Western world began in the 19th century. While it can be referred to as a new movement, the relevance of feminism can be applied to as far back to when men and women first walked the earth.  On the surface feminism aims to calibrate and correct issues which relate to domestic violence, equal pay, maternity leave, reproductive rights, sexual harassment and women’s suffering.  But if you take a look below it, what you will find is that feminism allows personal experiences of women to be shared ones.  These spoken and shared stories rid us of carrying weight that burdens us.

I grew up in an Islamic household with traditional Bangladeshi values, a lethal combination to say the least.  The resentment I developed from the pressure of adhering to such a robust, reserved and retrograde view of women often left me feeling like volcano that could erupt bringing with it avalanches and mudslides. I had the displeasure of experiencing the men of the household dominate women, women who submissively suffered in silence.

For me the most critical moment in my transition into feminism was when my father pointed out “You’re different from your sister, you’re much more timid and tolerant”.  That statement sent me into a mental rage, was my tolerance of his occasional bad behaviour the reason I had suffered through his mistreatment of me? If so, this was a notion I could easily extend to men I have dated in the past, majority of who were narcissistic in nature with little regard for treating women with an ounce of respect. It was that recognition along with my need to go against the tides of social standards that bought me to travel the road of feminism.  It is a road which has lead me to discovering some beautiful destinations within myself, within other women and within humanity.

Every Google search on feminism will give you numerous definitions of feminism. However, don’t let that fool you.  Feminism is much more than a definition, it is a journey.  Feminism has healed me, like the experience of running and yoga, it has been cathartic.  Feminism has allowed me to release emotions, ideas, knowledge and potential that I never dreamed possible.

I thank feminism for teaching me the infiniteness of possibilities within myself and within every other being with a XX chromosome and raise a toast in celebration of the fact.