Retraining Police

We expect police to do too much and without enough training. In Georgia, to be an officer requires a high school diploma and 11 weeks of training. In Germany, police training is 2.5 to 4 years. We can screen better in applications. We can train and teach better, including ethics, psychology and sociology. In Germany, visiting a concentration camp is mandatory for a police officer, and their federal police union organizes two annual trips to the Holocaust memorial in Israel.

This past Sunday I was invited to a panel discussion of the Odia Society of the Americas, to bridge the gap between the youths who support Black Lives Matter, and their parents who might struggle to understand it (I guess being 35 puts me in that age where I am 12-18 yrs older than the kids and a similar age younger to their parents 🤷🏻‍♂️😂). Some of the questions were similar questions we read in news – violence in black communities, the model minority myths, etc.

Centuries of subjugation, mass incarceration from a young age leading to poverty, lack of jobs, they all contribute to crime. Marijuana usage is same across skin color. But when a black youth is arrested, that record will stay in every job application, mortgage application, rental application. When parents get sent to prisons at a disproportionate rates, who will guide the youths? That is the term “systemic” that suppresses a population over generations. It was slavery, then Jim Crow, then war on drugs, and now voter ID laws. We have private prisons and states that take away a convict’s the right to vote for life. That is systemic racism. How will we fight mass incarceration that destroys a life when we authorize for-profit prisons?

Defund the police is a reductive hashtag. But policing reform is urgent and necessary, for the safety of the public and to help the police officers who are asked to do things beyond rational scope or training. Police have the power to take lives. Their training should be as much, if not more, than a physician’s training. And yes, they should be compensated as much (notwithstanding my earlier posts). They should be specialists for certain purposes, but their responsibilities and numbers should be reduced and redistributed to social workers and to address other needs. Not anyone should be a police officer.

Pondering Parenthood

I have wanted to be a parent since I was in my late teens, as strange as it might sound. I guess the parent mind-set entered into my brain when I became a big brother a few months before turning four. I had to help my mother in taking care of my baby brother; I had to be a role model, mature, and act like grown up. Part of it might be genetics, but the concept of responsibility was inculcated into my brain at a very young age.

As I grew older I understood the sacrifices my parents have made for us. My extremely qualified mother had to stay home to ensure our education was never neglected. My parents never went anywhere or did anything fun for themselves so that we can have a disciplined life at home. They did not take cable TV when we were young so we won’t be distracted from our studies. They spent their entire life savings on our education, and my dad left a stable career where he had worked nearly 25 years and stayed back in a country for our education. Along with these major sacrifices, we cannot quantify the infinite smaller sacrifices they have made for us nearly every single day of our lives, from financial support to emotional support to cooking for us every time we are home, and packing a week’s worth of food when we leave!

Even though our parents have loved us unconditionally, as children we weren’t always grateful. Many a time we never appreciated or understood their love. One of the sad facts of life is that many of us don’t understand someone else’s love until we have loved ourselves, and many of us don’t understand the love of parents until we ourselves have been parents. That is a mistake I might have made in adolescence, but something I have actively tried to avoid since my mid-20s. I do not want to be the person who appreciates someone else’s love, caring, kindness, and sacrifice when its too late.

As such, being a parent for me is giving back to 1-2 more lives what my parents have done for me. It is passing on what I have learned in my life, my experiences, knowledge, my mistakes. Each generation should learn from their’s and previous generations so they can make the next generation’s lives better. I want to have a kid or two, and give them all my love and affection. I might not be the most verbal individual in the world, but I hope they can understand my love for them through my actions. I want to be a role model for them so they have healthy childhood, and they in turn can be a role model for their own children. Not only as a father, I want to be a role model to them as a husband to my wife so they learn from childhood that both genders are equal. If they see me doing household chores, cooking, cleaning, and grocery, maybe they will grow up with a progressive mindset towards gender roles. Marriage, or any relationship, should be a partnership – a teamwork, where both couple complement each other. Today I might cook, and tomorrow she might cook. Or I love cooking more and she loves cleaning more, maybe I will cook more often and she will clean more often. There should be no defined roles, but a true partnership based on our interests, desires, and compromise.

Being a parent also means living a disciplined live so they have a stable childhood. It also means being disciplined financially so they can pursue whatever they want to do, whether it be a doctor, tennis player, or a musician. My parents gave me a better life than they had. And I want my kids to have a better life than I do. I hope they can travel more, learn more cultures and languages, and see the world more. But that can happen if I can provide a stable foundation as a parent. The responsibilities are enormous, but nothing can compare when you see your loved ones being happy. When you unconditionally love someone and see they succeed, prosper, smile, and be happy…that is a reward in itself for all your efforts.

I am under no illusion about how hard it is to be a parent. I will have months of sleepless nights. I will be worried about them for the rest of my life. I will be hurt by them. It might be a disaster. But when I see my parents do it all, see so many people sacrifice so much for their children, I want to too. Whatever my strengths or weaknesses, I know when I decide to love someone with everything I have, I can go farther than most people. And that is what I hope to do, love my kids and wife…have a loving family where we can build our own stories, our own laughter and tears, and hopefully leave my children with a better world and a better future. That must be the goal of every generation – leave a better planet than what we found. And if we can do that successfully as a good role model, hopefully our kids can learn from us and leave an even better world for their children and our grandchildren.

Gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity

Recently, I read on the internet about a famous director’s statement that women have never been complicit in any atrocity in history. Many women took offense at it because that is factually not true, and putting women on a pedestal propagates gender stereotypes and is ultimately detrimental in fighting sexism, including benevolent sexism like this director’s supposedly well-intentioned statements. In this blog post I want to focus on how gender stereotypes from everyone can affect us all. Whether it is society’s unrealistic expectations of women, or the expectations of men that can lead to toxic masculinity, both issues need to be addressed honestly. Since I was in high school, I have had dozens of female friends who have shared their most intimate pain and sufferings with me, details they even hide from own parents and husbands. One of the most common themes I have heard over these past 18 years is that it is the women in their lives – their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends – are the ones who have enforced the rules of patriarchy and made their lives miserable. They are the ones who enforced gender rules detrimental to these girls’ independence and freedom. They are the ones who have slut-shamed their sisters and friends. From my grandmother’s time in her village in India, to my own friends’ lifetime here in New York City, it is the mothers-in-law who have treated their daughters-in-law the worst. And stories that break my heart the most is when mothers and grandmothers know of sexual abuse in their household, but protect the male perpetrators to maintain the “honor” of the family.

These personal anecdotes doesn’t even encompass the complicity of women in wartimes, crimes, and genocides. The point is to show that women too can commit crimes, they can lie, and can entrap. Indian society has had a huge problem with women being murdered and tortured over dowry, as well as facing sexual harassment and assaults in daily lives. As the laws have strengthened to prevent these atrocities, false accusations of dowry harassment or sexual assaults in exchange for extortion have also skyrocketed. It is factually true that women suffer more than men because of their gender and associated stereotypes, but putting anyone or any group on a pedestal of perfection doesn’t help anyone, least of all women who suffer because of other women.

I and countless others have written about male and female gender stereotypes of women and how it negatively effects women. In this article I also want to focus on the male and female gender stereotypes of men and how it can lead to toxic masculinity. It would be negligent to say that our evolutionary history has no say in what traits we look for in a partner of the opposite gender. Combine that with cultural expectations of gender roles and we have a toxic situation in our hands. Whether it is looks and obedient attitude from women, or power and being the provider from men, these expectations has led individuals to act out in detrimental fashion. We shouldn’t train boys to withhold their emotions. They will grow up to be men who cannot express themselves, men who bottle up their feelings before they explode. We shouldn’t have toys and games for different genders, where girls are guided towards traditionally feminine toys such as Barbie dolls that focuses on looks, and boys are guided towards action figures that focuses on violence and power.

To combat toxic masculinity, we should be teaching men and boys how to harness their traits and testosterone towards better causes. We should stop rewarding testosterone-charged behaviors and traits, the side-effects of which leads to war, violence, domestic abuse, and sexual assaults. As per many psychologists, rape is less about sex and more about power and domination. Expecting men to be the strong, silent type can have detrimental effects, and both genders are complicit in propagating these stereotypes. Both genders use the phrases “be a man”, or “grow some balls” when talking about courage. Does that mean “being a woman/girl” means lacking in courage? And what does it matter if someone lacks in courage about something? False bravado or trying to be stupidly brave has led to enough wars and violence. Let men be emotional if they want to. Let women join the combat marines if they want to. Let boys play with dolls, let women play with video games. Many times I hear, even from the most feminist/progressive women, that they want the stereotypical manly men. When I point out the contradiction between the views of no gender expectations for women but having the same expectations from men, many fall back upon the tried and tested answer of “it is in our nature/it is part of evolution”. Are we going to be limited by our genes and natural selection, or do we believe in free will and think we can rise beyond our primal instincts?

Instead of silence, we can teach boys to be communicative and expressive, so they can grow up to be communicative partners. Strength shouldn’t mean physical strength, but emotional strength, so men have a proper outlet for emotions and pain without resorting to unhealthy vices and outbursts. “Being a man” can mean someone can be loving, caring, affectionate, and expressive of emotions, without any of these traits being mocked at. “Being a man” can mean teaching responsibility and maintaining equanimity in tough situations. Men should police themselves so we do not glorify behaviors such as rape jokes or using degrading language used towards women in our personal conversations. It is not the woman’s responsibility to dress in a way so that they don’t get assaulted or harassed. It is men’s responsibility to be respectful and not see women as walking meat. If a man doesn’t think he can control himself around a woman, he should remove himself from the situation or from society, not remove the woman from the situation or from society by making her stay indoors. Power can be used to dominate, and it can also be used to bring about changes. Men should be part of feminist issues because change isn’t happening without both genders working towards it. It means men taking a deep look at how their attitudes and behaviors and assumptions affects women. It also means many women not instinctively assuming all men as scum or pigs, which can quickly turn off potential allies. It means men not putting women on pedestals, and helping women calling out their own who are complicit in abuse and misogyny. As individuals and as society we have to decide how quickly we can rise above biology or culture. Arc of time has always bent towards progressive values. It is up to us to decide how quickly we can accept change, and if we as a generation want to be on the right side of history.

Female Modesty and Good Character

Let’s be honest. When it comes to dressing modestly, the rules are usually applied to women. And dressing ‘modestly’ means covering up as much as possible. But who decided that covering up is modest? What is the logic behind it? We are all born naked. Every other living species on this planet is naked. Different cultures across space and time have different standards of dressing up. A lot of it also depends on the climate where all these respective cultures originate. So why is covering up equated with modesty? And why is it applied to women predominantly? Well the answer is Patriarchy, but ideas are generally hard to break down in a single word.

I believe a person has the right to dress as they please. Of course there are exceptions, which depends on workplace rules and/or safety issues. A business might have rule about a certain dress code for employees, or a lab might have one about fully covered legs and no open-toed shoes. As long as these rules are applied uniformly, there is no discrimination. But what happens when society and/or state expects or requires certain standards. And what if those standards are invariably applied to women. I think it is a woman’s right to choose what she wants to wear and how to express her individuality through her attire. But what annoys me is the idea that women covering up = modest = good/pious/virtuous women.

Why does a woman’s character depend on her attire? Why is covering up seen as representative of a ‘good woman’? When someone argues “XYZ is worn as a symbol of modesty”, then doesn’t it mean that someone not wearing it is seen as immodest? If covering up is good, what makes a woman who wants to wear a summer dress, evening gown, a two-piece, or nothing at all? How many individuals and societies in the world see it as a sign of decadence and immorality? Isn’t that where the attitude ‘she was asking for it by her dressing’ originates from?

When I criticize one side, I don’t mean to say that only that side is bad and other sides aren’t. It only means I am talking about a particular side because I might be more familiar with it, or I want to talk about that side right now. Big chunks of South Asian society (and elsewhere) is highly misogynistic. There is a lot of cat-calling, harassment, and many other forms of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of women. Showing of skin is seen as a sign of ‘loose morals’.  And doesn’t this thinking originate from the original idea that ‘covering up’ = good? As an immigrant living in the United States, one of the most disgusting ideas I have experienced since childhood is that white women are ‘easy’ because they don’t cover up or have loose morals compared to brown women. They are seen as highly sexualized objects. And it is not just an attitude among young men. Even too many old women are against having Caucasian daughter-in-laws because they are seen as having loose morals, bad characters, or not good family values. So whenever I see immigrants sexually harassing or abusing white women, for me it doesn’t just fall under any sexual harassment. I have seen it and experienced it again and again how white women are seen in sexually repressive cultures. For men who think like that, white women are easy while brown women are properties that they own. Husbands, fathers, brothers have veto power over the lives and decisions of women. Any disobedience = woman is of bad character/morals. And sexual harassment is extremely prevalent, if hidden under the carpet. The worst part is how many women publicly proclaim there is nothing wrong, and privately bemoan the harassment and abuse they themselves or women they know have faced. Shoving this under the carpet drives me crazy.

Yes, our planet is patriarchal. Abuse and harassment happens everywhere. But not every place is the same. Some places are worse than others. And it has nothing to do with genetics. It is just an attitude that is taking longer to modernize in some places compared to others. Criticizing one place more than another place isn’t racism, it is just about facing reality. It is about trying to improve our species everywhere. And we can’t move forward in fighting sexual harassment if we keep equating ‘covering up’ = modest/good etc. And if we don’t speak out against these medieval attitudes, we are not helping the women living in those societies! We cannot support individuals and still challenge collective attitudes. If we become so scared of being called racists for questioning ideas, not individuals, we are failing the women who are fighting battles in their own cultures regarding their status. We are failing the women who are fighting to break free, if we keep saying criticizing ideas and attitudes itself is racist. Sure, fight for a woman’s right to cover her head. But don’t let someone get away with saying “this is a sign of modesty”. A woman’s character depends on the same traits as a man’s character – actions, behavior, thinking.

A woman’s character is not dependent on whether she wears a sexy summer dress or is covered head to toe in summer’s heat. Because this attitude continues the subjugation of women in a man’s world. This attitude prevents women from expressing themselves fully in many cultures and countries. This attitude supports laws passed in many nations jailing women for not covering up. This attitude continues attacks on women because ‘she was asking for it’. This attitude continues to see women as objects. Making a woman cover up so she doesn’t distract men is also sexual objectification of women. A woman is not a distraction. Men must be taught to see women as their peers and as people, not sexual objects or something they have power or control over. We have to let go of the anachronistic ideas of modesty, something so disproportionately applied to women. Modesty varies by culture. Modesty is subjective. And modesty or good/virtuous character does not depend on what a woman wears or doesn’t wear. So anytime I hear someone say ‘women covering up is a sign of modesty’, I am going to speak out. Because that single attitude sees too many women negatively. That attitude has caused too many problems for women for far too long. Skin is not a reflection of ‘loose morals’ or  ‘bad character’. Skin is what we are born in. Let us celebrate our natural ‘clothing’…our skin, our individuality. Let us speak out against rules/expectations/attitudes that literally wants to hide women in clothes/curtains/four walls and sees it as good thing.

A little empathy for our fellow human beings

Over the last 6 days I have seen two sides of human nature. I have seen people across the globe support a group they weren’t required to support. But many did. Maybe it was because they wanted to show support for their shared humanity. Maybe they found it weird that a ‘Power’ that is supposed to transcend all dimensions, multiverses, and the singularity would be so creepily obsessed with all aspects of human sexuality. Or maybe they supported because of empathy – because they have experienced and can imagine what prejudice feels like. Many took a stand knowing their families or friends would disapprove of them. Many took a stand knowing it goes against what they have been taught most of their lives. Maybe you don’t belong to the LGBT community, maybe you don’t even know anyone who is one, but you showed support that another human being should have equal dignity and rights. To those who took a stand to show support – thank you for your courage. It is because of people like you that our species has progressed from the stone age.

Then there was the other side, and I was honestly taken aback by how many homophobic people there are. Could it be because you find it unnatural – as unnatural as left-handedness, different hair, skin, or eye colors? Or could it be because it was written on a piece of paper centuries or millennia back – papers that have obviously not been subjected to ‘reinterpretations’ by every generation of humankind who over time have been taking it less and less literally? Do I even need to remind everyone about the evolution of the interpretations of slavery in the last two centuries in these papers? Is this what having a sense of entitlement that only your group possess a monopoly over Truth and Righteousness looks like – to condemn our fellow human beings for who they are? Are we really going to let a piece of a paper let us discriminate against a group of people – the same piece of paper that also says that the greatest and only unpardonable ‘sin’ is wrong beliefs? Not wrong actions, but wrong beliefs. And what is sin but a construct of different groups across varied geographic and cultural locations. What is sin for me might be steak or a hamburger for you. And that truly baffles me – how can anyone say ‘how do these people believe such ridiculous things?’ and then say ‘this is wrong because this paper says so’? Quite simply, where is empathy? We follow every sentence literally and blindly like sheep till it affects us negatively, then we choose to reinterpret it till we become comfortable with it. And we call misguided or wrong whoever doesn’t accept our interpretations. How can we be so hypocritical and lacking in empathy for another group? How are we not ashamed in condemning any group of people who have done no harm to anyone, but who just happen to be different from us – be it religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation? Isn’t it the same fanaticism of seeing the world in Black and White, and Us vs Them that has been tearing apart our species since time immemorial?

But what has really made me sad is seeing the actual people who are still homophobic. People with a bachelors/masters in ‘science’ who apparently didn’t learn critical thinking and questioning. People who call themselves doctor but never learned empathy. People who have a biology major but never learned about the human body. People who have faced or cried prejudice who ironically cannot show empathy for another group facing prejudice. Today we are going to be prejudiced against a group because of a piece of paper, but if tomorrow we scream bloody discrimination against us or our [self-identified tribal] group, everyone else is going to turn a deaf ear to our pleas and plight. It shouldn’t take geography or culture or religion to have basic humanity and empathy. Can’t we all come together because of our shared humanity? Can’t we all accept that who we are as a people should matter more than our beliefs or our background? Can’t we all learn and show a little empathy?

Gender pay gap

Gender pay gap is a serious topic. And to have an honest discussion about it, we must also present honest data. The “77 cents to a dollar” argument is like me asking why do I earn less than a neurosurgeon. If we are going to compare apples to oranges, we are starting out with a dishonest data. The real wage gap is 93 cents to the dollar. And we must do everything we can to abolish pay gap discrimination based on gender. It must be equal work = equal pay.
But I do want to know why does the 77 cents to the 93 cents gap exist. Do women choose fields that pay less, or are women nudged/forced/conditioned since childhood to choose fields that pay less? If it is the latter, we must do everything possible to encourage women to choose the career of their liking, not the career we think we should have.
Second, motherhood should not be penalized when it comes to pay. We need a society where we have parental leave and parental benefits, where both parents can take a break of a few months. Mothers should not be penalized when it comes to pay or promotion because they had a child. We need 2.1 children per couple to maintain the population level and prevent a world where a smaller younger population is supporting a larger aging population.
And to discard the gender pay-gay, we must all – and this includes women too – discard the idea of traditional gender roles. That doesn’t mean that everyone should be forced to do everything. But if a woman wants to be a soldier, she should face no cultural, social, or legal barriers. If a man wants to be a daycare teacher, he shouldn’t face any social ostracization. And this is where we also need women’s help. In survey after survey, across cultures and continents, majority of women prefer a spouse who will support them and be the primary provider. We cannot make a moral argument about equal pay if one gender is expected to be the provider and payer. It is neither false nor politically incorrect to say that in every survey, majority of men prefer appearance in women, and majority of women prefer money and power in men. And if we are going to ask men to move past their evolutionary preference for appearance, women must also move past the evolutionary preference for the provider. Because if the best chance to pass on genes lies in chasing money and power, men will keep doing that and keep the money and power for themselves. Equal pay is intrinsically related to traditional gender roles and ideas.

Marriage – Love, Arranged, and Other Things

First of all, let me set some ground rules. It will help in understanding this essay. I am a classical liberal. That means I believe in individual liberty and social progress. I am less likely to blindly agree with traditional rules or authority figures. This is in contrast to a classical conservative who puts the group/society/family customs over individual rights, and is more likely to follow tradition and be wary of change. But supporting individual rights does not mean blindly supporting individualism. We are a social species. We need to be with people, and we should work with others. For nearly all of human history the individual has been subservient to the group. Supporting individual rights means that society’s rules do not intrude on an individual space’s and our inherent right to pursue happiness.

Secondly, people glorify their own side while minimizing any of its weaknesses, and do the exact opposite to the other side. And that leads me to talk about the sense of privilege of particular groups. For example, in the United States there is white privilege. It is better to be a Caucasian here than to be a racial minority. On Earth, there is male privilege. Life is much better for a man than for a woman. In urban India, or among South Asians living in the West, there is a privilege of choice that isn’t available to the vast majority that live in rural areas and small towns. Reality isn’t cherry picking and fetishizing toned-down ancient traditions and beliefs for modern times; instead reality is the daily lives experienced by the vast majority.

Finally, we are defensive by nature. No one likes to face uncomfortable truths about themselves or their self-identified groups. It forces us to think and make changes, and most everyone prefers to continue the status quo than rock the boat. Therefore, we tightly hold on to whatever our side has always been doing because the known devil is better than an unknown angel and the uncertainty of change.

In my culture, I repeatedly keep hearing “arranged marriage is better because there is no divorce, while love marriage causes divorce”. I have two problems with this. First, it is even embarrassing to use ‘correlation is not causation’ because it misses and ignores so many different points. Secondly, this attitude is universally used in a racist way towards the West, especially Caucasians, because of the existence of divorce in the West. This racist attitude goes along with the view that Americans are selfish, immoral, and have no sense of caring for each other or having family values. It is an attitude that disgusts me and it nearly always starts with the topic of ‘arranged marriage’.

Here is the reality of ‘arranged marriage’ – it was universal in the entire world. Marriage was, and still is in many places, a societal institution that involved the family and/or the tribe – the individuals never mattered in the marriage. It was a political deal, a business deal, or a family/tribal deal. For most of human history no one got a say in the choice of his or her spouse. It was decided for them. That is still the reality in the majority of India. Your elders pick your spouse for you. Till 15-20 years back, majority of Indian women married before they turned 18. Is there a choice when you are married off that young? Or is there even a choice when your spouse is picked for you when you are 18, 21, or 25? This is arranged marriage that is a reality for the majority of the population. And what are the criteria for an arranged marriage? It starts with religion, then caste, then sub-caste, then your state, then job/education/income for a man, and education and beauty/skin color for a woman. This is reality. As the nation is progressing, some parents are giving their children choices to look at the photographs before their spouses are finalized for them. But what happens when some wants to go against the criteria picked by their elders? I live in the United States and I have friends having to fight against family in the matter of someone being from a different caste or a state. This is arranged marriage for the majority. The person getting married has few, if any, real choices.

And why is divorce so low? Divorce has always been historically low or non-existent. But let us go back to the real India. What is the status of a divorced woman? Does society accept such a woman? Where will she go or how will she sustain herself? What are her chances of getting married again? Divorce does not exist because the woman’s life will be destroyed if her husband divorces her. The social stigma will follow her to her grave. 70% of women in India face domestic violence. Dowry and harassment by in-laws still exists, as does marital rape. The woman in rural India has no recourse to protect her rights. Yet she cannot ask for a divorce because it will be even worse for her. So the idea that arranged marriage doesn’t cause divorce is a bullshit theory propagated by those living in a fantasy land and without the moral courage to face the truth.

The singular advice I always got growing up, of how a marriage works, was this – “For a marriage to work, one person has to be submissive to the other. You can’t have two equals in a marriage. And by default and because of their ego, it is the man who has to be in charge.” It is my goal to see a world where that advice is no longer applicable. This is how marriages have lasted without divorce. Because the husband can treat his wife any way he wants and he knows there is nothing she can do. Because the wife knows the best way to make it work is to be obedient and submissive to the husband. Maybe it is good for many people and maybe they like it that way. It is their choice and I won’t stop them. But I will call out the intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy of the low divorce rate. A close friend of mine told me another story. This is what her mother told her in college – “if you ever leave your future husband/in-laws home and come back because of problems, I will beat you and kick you out of our home and send you back.” With a mother like that, how can this woman stand up against abuse from others? The saddest story I knew in my personal life was a guy being forced by his father to marry someone imported from his home country. He loved another woman and his father wouldn’t accept it. He never loved his new wife and never wanted to be with her. His father wouldn’t even allow him to divorce her. That girl, imported to a new strange land, suffers in misery. This is the ugly reality of arranged marriage. As far as the increasing divorce rate in urban India goes, it is because women are finally standing up. With education and financial independence, many women are refusing to be mistreated by their husband and/or in-laws. They are no longer tolerating things they might have tolerated before. Divorce has become empowering for women. As much as it is better to not have to divorce, it is not always bad. I would rather see someone be divorced and happy than be married and miserable. And yes, even in my extended family I have seen divorce bring happiness and continued marriage in the previous generations bring nothing but absolute misery.

So why do so many Indians living in the United States think it is better? Well, as I mentioned, we fetishize the past and we have diluted the reality so much that it doesn’t really affect us. Whether it is here or in urban and liberal India, the proper term for ‘arranged marriage’ should be ‘match-making’. Children have much more choices, no one is forced, and most of us have the right to say no. There is absolutely nothing wrong with parents being involved in marital decisions. It is actually better that they should be involved a little because they know us quite well and can give advice that we might have missed ourselves. But this is not real arranged marriage, this is ‘arranged marriage ultra lite’. Yet even with the choices we have, many families balk when their children go out of their community – be it religion, caste, ethnicity, or nationality. That is when all this idealism of arranged marriage comes crashing down. To those who think arranged married is the most wonderful thing in the world, I have two questions – do you say it because you are in one, or do you say it because you are pretty sure you will be in one because you know your parents won’t allow it otherwise? Because I certainly haven’t heard it from anyone who is married to someone they themselves picked! And to those who are happily in an arranged marriage ultra lite – I am happy for you. But just because your situation worked for you does not mean you can make blanket statements without understanding the reality that exists for the majority.

There are basic components to make a marriage work, and it doesn’t matter whether you picked your spouse or your parents did it for you. They are – respect, compromise, communication, understanding, trust, honesty, passion and love. To paraphrase Steve Jobs – do something or be with someone you have a passion for. Only then will you be trying your absolute best all the time.  When I saw the movie Gone Girl, I noticed how similar to real life it is in the sense that two people live a lie to each other.  Both try to be someone they aren’t, and after a while it does become exhausting. We should be allowed to be ourselves to be in a happy marriage! As a believer in the individual’s right to pursue his/her happiness, I believe every individual must have the right to have the final say in his/her life, especially in a matter as big as choosing a spouse. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If a Caucasian finds happiness with an African, so be it. If a Chilean finds happiness with a Chinese, so be it. The presence of those basic components in a marriage is what makes it work. Otherwise there is either divorce or an unhappy everlasting marriage. If race and religion mattered, there would never be divorce or an unhappy marriage when someone married within their own group. But we all know that is not true. It is about our ability to respect the other person and our differences. It is not about which side is right, but about what is best for the two of them. It is not about teaching our children my way or your way, but what is the best thing we can teach our child for the future. These are the things that can make a marriage work. When we marry, we must also expect that our spouse might change. It would be shocking if they didn’t. So marriage shouldn’t be about marrying an idea of a static person, but growing with them and accepting them as they are exploring new aspects of themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the change can be bad or so severe that there is no other alternative but a divorce. In such a scenario, it is better to go your own ways than be miserable with each other.

There are many reasons why marriages don’t work. People get married young and realize they made a mistake. People have unrealistic expectations or do not follow the basic components that might make a marriage work. Some people get married for extraneous reasons like to have kids or that marrying will fulfill their emptiness and boredom. Some get married because of parental pressure. These reasons can result in divorce in more liberal places, or unhappy marriages in more conservative places. My request to parents would be – teach your children how to make right decisions; do not make the decisions for them. Teach them how to choose a spouse, and hopefully you aren’t racist, intolerant, or prejudiced but teaching them how to pick a good person. Teach them how to make a marriage work. Do not tell them they are immature to pick a spouse even when they are 30, while marrying them off at 18 and expecting them to handle kids and in-laws while they are still in their teens. That idea of arranged marriage is about parental control and power, not about you caring for your child. And if you make decisions for them, they will not know how to decide for themselves when they are out of your home. They will always be dependent on someone or learn it at a later age in life when things are more important with significant consequences.

And please do not push anyone to get married. It is not for everyone. Nor can everyone do it well. It is better to be alone that ruin a second person’s life because you thought getting married is a cultural requirement. Get married to the person when you are ready. In the long run that is what matters, not a clock or an idea or other people. It is about the person we are coming home to every day, it is our partner we are hopefully spending the rest of our life with. Otherwise it is no different than rushing towards a marriage or getting married at a very young age without thinking it through. Do it for the right reasons because many lives are involved and life is too long to be unhappy or ruin your and someone else’s life.

The final point I want to make is a request to family, friends, and society not to ruin a couple’s marriage. Once upon a time someone told me – “society will not accept your marriage and you two will not be happy. We will not accept your marriage.” It is true that external stress due to relatives, poor health, finances, and society can cause marital discord. It is why divorce rates or domestic violence rates are so high among the poor and minorities. They aren’t bad people. But the stresses we face because of external factors slowly comes out in front of our significant others. Instead of supporting his daughter and her happiness, I never understood how that man can openly say he won’t support her and mentioning how miserable it is going to make her life. With a parent like that, who needs an enemy? With parental love like that, who needs hate?

There are many causes for divorce. The same rules apply to a happy marriage. Both exist in all parts of the world. So can we Indians please stop with the racist attitude towards Americans? But as someone who supports the pursuit of happiness, someone who knows what love is, I want others to have the opportunity to pursue the same thing. It is beautiful to fall in love with your best friend, to have the privilege to marry such a person. And many times in arranged marriages I have seen the couple become best friends and fall in love. I want everyone to have the opportunity and the right to the life they want, and the way they want it. Let us not fetishize a heavily diluted ancient custom and take away the freedom of choice from people. If you want your parents to pick your spouse, I wish you the best of happiness. But please do not judge those who do not want it the way you do. Please do not make it harder for others. Everyone deserves to be happy on his or her own terms. No one should sacrifice their happiness to please everyone else’s feelings or sentiments. That is not the pursuit of absolute happiness. We get one chance to live, and I want everyone to have the maximum opportunity to be absolutely happy and live the best life they can possibly live. Let us give people the freedom to choose their own life.

Benevolent Sexism

There have been enough debates and writings about patriarchy over the course of human civilization. So is there anything new that I can add to this debate? I doubt it. But I am going to try and show how patriarchy has led to benevolent sexism, and how it is as likely to prevent female empowerment as overt sexism. There is no better way than to give personal examples from the world I live in.

I will start off by making a confession – I was a benevolent sexist till my early 20s. It wasn’t until a friend finally told me “Dude, stop trying to make me feel helpless. Let me feel the self-respect of accomplishing something by myself.” Not only did I realize my mistake, but it started the process of understanding benevolent sexism. It appears to be beneficial to women, but it actually makes them feel helpless. Chivalry, although it has acquired a romantic notion, was a form of benevolent sexism. Women were considered weak and they needed to be protected by men. They needed to be saved by their knight in a shining armor. A single woman wasn’t expected to take care of herself. A woman was incapable of doing something and so should be helped. These were the notions of chivalry, notions that our patriarchal society has continued in a benevolent form of sexism.

We are being sexists when we say women should not be able to do something because they are emotional. When we put women on a “lady-like” pedestal and tell them what a “lady” should or shouldn’t do, we take away their choices. A tough woman working in the fields was never considered a “lady”. It is the woman who was taken care of by a man who was a “lady”. When we say a good woman is a good wife and a good mother, we take away their choices. And “good wife” has hardly ever meant as an equal partner, it has always meant as an obedient wife. And not every woman wants to be a mother, nor are all women good mothers. Isn’t our society littered with troubled adults because they had horrible mothers (and fathers)? Yet we have many societies that look down upon women who do not want to marry or do not want to have kids. Unlike overt and hostile sexism, many of us give in to benevolent sexism unknowingly. I certainly have been guilty of it and I still have work to do on it.

Recently I experienced something that once again opened my eyes. A young girl was carrying a few bags and I instinctively offered to carry some of her bags. She replied, “no, I got it. I am an independent girl”. I was actually impressed by her. This story can be spun in two ways. I might have made an innocent offer to help her and she turned it down rudely. But I also had to think, would I have made that instinctive offer if it were a male carrying a few bags. Or did I make it because I wanted to help a girl. It certainly wasn’t an inconvenience for her. But I thought it might be. Offering help to someone isn’t bad. In other examples, I hold the door open for everyone. But I can also see why specifically doing extra for women can make them feel as if we are treating them as helpless adults. It exists in cultures when we say that women shouldn’t have to work outside. It exists when we say they shouldn’t be doing tough jobs. In the end, benevolent sexism treats women as weak and as people who need a man to be their protector.

So why does it seem to be popular in many places? Firstly, it has been instilled in us from childhood about the nature of women, which is weak and emotional and in need of protection. Secondly, women support benevolent sexism in places where hostile sexism is highly prevalent. In places where women are made to feel inferior and have much of their rights denied, benevolent sexism where they can be protected becomes more alluring.

Sexism harms both genders because it focuses on negative gender differences. I will be the first to admit that the two genders aren’t the same. When we average the 3.5 billion men and women on the planet, we do have many differences. But everyone does not fall within those generalizations. And sexist attitudes and gender roles affects those who do not follow those norms. That is why a woman who wants to focus on a career gets ostracized. Benevolent sexism is when a man who cannot support a large family all by himself is made to feel like a failure. It tells girls that they must give up career for husband and children. It tells boys that they must not show emotions. It calls assertive women as bossy, and sensitive men as weak. When we talk about weakness, we usually equate it with feminine traits and feminine body parts. When we want to talk of strength, we talk about “being a man” or some male body parts. This inherent attitude that women are weak and men are strong is what defines benevolent sexism. It doesn’t allow individuals to be themselves, but to follow norms established by society. And if we can’t be ourselves, how are we ever going to be happy?

And sexism, like anything else in life, is practiced by both genders. Hostile sexism is highly beneficial to men. They get to keep women below them and make the rules about what men and women cannot do. But benevolent sexism is also embraced by a lot of entitled women who feel they deserve a lot of benefits from men just because they are women. They might complain about overt sexism that curtails their rights, but they have no problem with the sexism that allows for men to provide for them or support them. While hostile sexism puts stress on women to fit in to an “ideal” female role, benevolent sexism puts stress on men to fit in to an “ideal” male role. Both attitudes curtail choices, freedom, and our individuality. “Women are supposed to…” is no different than “men are supposed to…” Maybe many do want to follow the norms and it is their choice. But when we make it societal expectations, we invade the space of individuals who do not want to or cannot follow those traditional roles. We will always have hypocrites who will want only what is good for them, while not offering the same to the other side, but we cannot have a society that determines what an individual must or must not do, and we certainly can’t have a society whose idea of the woman is “weak” in need of protection, and whose idea of the man is “strong” and as the protector. We certainly do not live in the jungles where men need to protect women from wild beasts.

For both genders to move forward, we must stop imposing gender norms, either overtly or benevolently. Each gender has its strengths and weaknesses, as does an individual. Let us complement each other as different genders and as individuals. Let us focus on our strengths. We cannot treat half of humanity as if it is weak and needs protection. Let us empower women as leaders, preachers, parent, workers, soldiers, doctors, teachers, and legislators. Let us do the same for men! To move forward, let us give the individual the freedom to be who they want to be, and the best they can be. Benevolent sexism favors neither gender. So let us put an end to the notions of such gender roles.