Words Matter

WORDS matter. Words matter in how we talk about the two genders. What does “man up”, “grow some balls”, “don’t be a girl” convey? And both genders use these words. Not only does it show girls as weak, it also prejudices boys who don’t behave in a stereotypical way. If we call women as “bitches”, even for fun, how are we teaching young men and women that we should be respectful towards women? When we say someone is not a good mother because she has a career, why can’t we accept that someone might not want to be a mother, might not be good at motherhood, or just plain wants a career as much as a family? Children can learn a lot from a mother who can do both. Same thing with a man being a provider. If both genders deserve to earn equal pay for equal work, just a single gender should not be stereotyped as provider. If we want women to be high-paying executives, we should also accept that some men could be low-paying artists. Work that allows a person to support themselves should be respected, not who earns more. More importance should also be given to fatherhood, so that fathers, if they want, can spend more time with their children. No one ever asks if men want time off to spend time at home with family and kids. Equality is moving past stereotypes about both genders. Equality is respecting the individual, not prejudiced views based on their reproductive organs. And both genders are equally guilty of gender stereotyping. Men have to get past the traditional idea that they have the final word, and women must get past the idea that they are entitled to be provided for. Words matter when a man calls a woman “fat”, or a woman calls a man “short”. Words matter when we cannot look into the individual, but only how the situation or the person appears. Change can only come when we look into our attitude, and the words we use to describe each gender.

Why would anyone stay in an abusive relationship?

For a very long time I used to wonder why do abused women stay in an abusive relationship (of course both genders face abuse, but we mostly read about women). I used to think – if someone would treat you bad, logically you would cut off with that person. Why would anyone ever stay in a relationship that everyone else sees as abusive?

Abuse isn’t a straight forward mistreatment of someone. It is mixing love (or appearance of love) with control. The abused person is blamed for his/her hurt feelings, as if they deserved what is happening to them. The abuser flips the script where they abuse, but they blame the abused person for hurting them. Now the abused person thinks – ‘I am a good person. I didn’t mean to hurt him/her. But it must be my fault why these bad things are happening to me. Only if I try harder to please him/her, maybe it will stop.’ Soon it devolves into, ‘I am a bad person, that is why this is happening to me. This person claims to love me and claims I hurt him/her. I have to try even harder and prove that I don’t hurt him/her.’ And so the abused person stays, trying harder, working harder, doing anything to make things better. But nothing they do ever stops the abuse, because it was never their fault. It was always the abuser’s fault to maintain control. But a good person will always try to show that they aren’t bad when they are blamed for something they didn’t do. And that’s what someone in an abusive relationship does – they keep trying and trying to show they aren’t bad. With the false, toxic sense of love, the abuser breaks down their self-esteem till the abused person believes that he/she isn’t good nor worthy, and he/she must keep trying to please this person to feel a sense of worth. Why do they lose their self-esteem? Because they are constantly blamed for whatever the abuser is feeling. In the beginning the abused person might say that they didn’t do it. But over time they start believing the blaming and the accusations, that they must be responsible for whatever the abuser is feeling. And when they do what the abuser wants, they get a little bit of love which is like a dopamine shot to their brain. For a few days or weeks, they feel a sense of worth again. And it lasts till the abuser has a new need and the cycle starts again.
And abuse is one of the hidden curses of society. The abuser doesn’t look like a monster. They could be a smiling parent, spouse, or significant other. They could be highly respected members of society, or appear as good, normal people. The abused person might not appear like a miserable human being. They could your friend whom you think is a perfectly happy person. But what we see in public is always an appearance. Abusers are great at wearing a mask and showing a perfect side to the world. And deep down the abused know what is happening to them, and the shame of it makes them hide it even more. Abuse, be it sexual, psychological, emotional, or physical is the greatest harm to society – because it is hidden, because it self-perpetuates where the abused becomes the abuser, and because it rots the society from within where people live in fear, not happiness.
I finally got it, it is not the broken people who stay in an abusive relationship. It is good people who are broken down in a relationship with a person they absolutely trusted. A person they believed cared for their best interests or loved them. And in that belief, they do whatever they can to make that person happy. And that is abuse – power and control by one person, a desire to please and be considered good and be held blameless by the other person.

Choice, control, and respect

Control is about power, not benevolence towards another person. People who do not give choices in life decisions to others do not respect the other person. Control is just another form of emotional abuse. The sad, and ironical part of control is that it perpetuates itself from the abuser to the abused – many who themselves become controlling people. Controlling attitude is prevalent across societies, cultures, and ethnicity. And it generally passes down from generation to generation. It could be nature, but it could also be nurture where if someone never had a choice in life decisions, they do not give that choice to others.

A person might resist a controlling family or spouse, but when a child has known nothing but control since birth, many just accept it as reality and give in to the controlling parents. Some might be strong enough to resist and be rebellious as kids and establish their independence as adults, but many are conditioned to believe that absolute obedience to parents is what makes one a good person. These children grow with an unhealthy outlook on life, where pleasing parents or any authority figure is the only way to receive validation. From a logical standpoint, it would appear that if someone suffered some sort of abuse, that they won’t perpetuate that abuse. Unfortunately, human psychology works in a way where abuse is perpetuated and it passes down in a never-ending cycle because for too many people the abusive life is a reality and they know of no other way of life. Experiencing kindness, compassion, and even freedom could be confusing and sometimes terrifying. When we are in an abusive environment, we learn to stop trusting people and even ourselves. We know that when our so-called well-wishers or loved ones ask something of us, they are actually looking out for their own benefits. As such, we start distrusting other healthy human beings who might show us compassion or love without having any ulterior motives.

The result of being in a controlling relationship is that the abused person tries to get control over whatever aspects of life they can, even at the expense of invading boundaries of newer relationships like friends, spouses, and even children. Besides power, the other aspect of control is a lack of respect for the other person. When we deny someone the life they want to live, we do not respect them. For children, it is an invalidation of their feelings and choices, and if that’s the reality they have known their entire childhood, they grow up to be someone with low self-esteem who needs others’ approval or permission to make any decision. If a child says he feels cold, and a parent says it isn’t cold – it invalidates the child’s feelings. If a child wants to wear something or a teenager says he wants a certain career but his parents say no – it invalidates the child’s choices. Children don’t always make the wisest of decisions, and parents must not agree to every demand. But there is a difference between teaching children how to make good decisions and making decisions for them because of the parents’ controlling and narcissistic personality. If control and a lack of choice is all that a child knows, he/she will grow up to be the same way for two reasons – 1. It is all they know and therefore it the normal to them, 2. They try to make up for the lack of control they had in their lives by trying to control anything else they can. Just like their personal boundaries was invaded by their parents, they invade the boundaries of their partners and children.

Society can be just as controlling as individuals. At the root of it is a lack of respect for individuality. When parents control their children through adulthood, when spouses control their partners, or when government or society makes rules intruding in our private lives, they all disregard the individual. Someone else makes the decision of how we dress, what we eat or drink, what we believe, or whom we can marry. Just like individuals control for power, governments too control the population to perpetuate their power. This is because a population whose thoughts and actions can be controlled isn’t a population that will question its government or leaders.

The opposite of control is choice, and choice is given through respect. When we give someone a choice, we acknowledge their individuality; we respect their thoughts and beliefs. It isn’t choice to tell someone “you must do this or face negative consequences”; it is a threat and an ultimatum. True choice is respecting an individual’s right to shape his or her own life because life is a journey of learning and growing up. What we believe in our 20s isn’t what we believe in our 40s or our 60s. We learn everyday, and we change everyday. I might be a non-vegetarian today, and some day I might become a vegetarian. These same things might become true for my partner and my children. Respecting them is giving them the choice to be what they want to be. It is about respecting their thinking, their personality, and their individuality. If my kid does not believe what I believe, it does not hurt me. But if I prevent him from believing what gives him comfort, then I neither respect his choice, his thinking, nor his happiness. And many people make the mistake that because we are a certain way, our family members must be the same way. Such expectations doesn’t allow others the freedom to grow, learn, or be independent. The only thing we can expect of those close to us is that they treat us with respect, compassion, empathy, love, and kindness. Having expectations of how they should live or believe is disrespecting their personal boundaries. And isn’t this what creates conflict in the world? When we treat our children as an extension of ourselves, not as individual human beings. When we want society to follow our beliefs because we take those beliefs as facts. When we do not respect the rights of others to be different. I might have some personal beliefs, but the difference between beliefs and facts is that beliefs are subjective. Someone else might have equally strong beliefs that completely differ from me. In a controlling or intolerant society, differing beliefs aren’t allowed to exist. Choice and tolerance does not mean giving up our beliefs. It means understanding and respecting that two brains can think and believe differently, and to acknowledge that our beliefs are subjective, and not an universal Truth. Because very few people can treat beliefs as facts and not feel that the other side is Wrong. And if we see someone as inherently Wrong, it becomes less likely to respect them or tolerate their choices. I might believe in God, but I don’t see disbelief as wrong because I cannot prove my beliefs to be a fact. My belief only affects me in a positive way, without negatively affecting others. But if I believe that homosexuality is a sin, I am having a negative belief towards something that does not affect me in any single way. With a negative belief, I am more likely to be intolerant and treat something as a fact that has no basis in objectivity. And once again, we let our subjective feelings invade others’ personal boundaries. When life is a constant journey of learning and growth, beliefs do not stay the same. Seeing them as private beliefs leads to tolerance and harmony. And when we do that, others also see that we respect their choice to think differently, we respect their choice to believe differently, and we respect their individuality. Let us hope for a world where governments, societies, and individuals are less controlling, and more respectful about individuality and personal choices.

Unwilling to Allow His Wife a Divorce, He Marries Another

Here’s my observation from a different perspective – the religious law says she needs permission from her husband to remarry. But in civil law, she is a divorcee and can remarry. So she wants to change the religious law so she can again marry under the orthodox religious law. And that makes me wonder, if you do not like the religious law, do not follow it. But wanting to dilute it or change it for personal preference is well…picking and choosing what you want to follow and what you want to change. Either the entire thing is divine, or none of it is. Treating those parts that are easy to follow as divine, and anything that is politically incorrect as “culture”/”man-made” is cheating in my opinion.


The “other” sexism

I say all the ‘right’ things about women’s rights and I am Batman – they should be treated as equal partners, not as minors who always need permission or protection from a male. They should be able to pursue any career or life they choose. They have the right to expect domestic help from their partners, that they don’t have to work all day outside and then do all traditional house chores alone. Telling them they should or shouldn’t do this or that because of their biology, hormones etc is just plain stupid. That women shouldn’t be judged on their physical attributes like weight and looks, but on their brain, personality, and character. That they have the right to earn the same amount of money for same work as men do. All girls love it when I say all this stuff.

But then I ask – should men be expected to be the sole breadwinner because of their Y chromosome? Can they be allowed to work part-time because they really want to spend more time with their young children? Does anyone ask men are they happy working their ass off supporting a family and missing out on family time? Can they pursue their passion of working as an artist or a photographer where they don’t have a fixed monthly salary, don’t earn enough money to support a family on a single income, but with their spouse’s added income the family will be alright? Will you marry them if they don’t have the traditional, stable monthly income of an engineer or a banker? Can men expect working women to share dating expenses when they aren’t married/don’t have a single bank account? Can men expect not to be judged on their physical attributes like height and looks? When I ask this amongst a lot of females, I suddenly go from being Batman to Bane because men can’t/aren’t supposed to do X/Y/X because of their biology/hormones/emotions or because the gender roles and expectations are set in their respective traditions and cultures.

Society (and men) has created unrealistic expectations of women that has been harmful to young girls. They have to act, behave, dress, talk in a certain way to desirable and to be wanted. Men want a tigress at certain situations, and a lamb in other situations. A woman who never lived her life before marriage, but should know how to fulfill her husband’s fantasies after marriage. And of course it is all wrong and unfair.

Yet what about the expectations of men? They are to be strong but not dominating. They are to be sensitive but not emotional. They must be suave and charming, but not a player who has practiced a lot to hone the skills that are so dearly desired. But no one wonders how all this might confuse men and affect their self-esteem.

I don’t get human beings. Every single group on Earth faces discrimination at some place or situation, yet every single group on Earth discriminates when its beneficial to them. I don’t get the psychology of human beings. Of course, not all men nor women are like what I described above. Today we are having a lot of conversations about women’s rights and roles. But we must not forget about men either. Not all men enjoy the “male privilege”, not all women are victims, and men are also victims of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse at the hands of their female partners. The conversation should be about a fair, equal, and better world for both genders.

Fight for fairness and justice everywhere, not where its convenient

Everyone knows about my stance on issues like child abuse, women’s rights, homosexuality, science, place of religion in the public square etc. And the Catholic church deserved getting bashed for the child sexual abuse. But I also get angry when it is only the Catholic church/Christianity that keeps getting bashed for things that are not unique to them. After a while, constantly picking on an institution that doesn’t respond back in violence is cowardice. There are at least 76 nations that have same or worse laws than Russia about homosexuality. There is a huge chunk of the planet that sees women as subservient to men. Take an anonymous survey about sexual abuse and you will find how prevalent it is in the world and how easily it is hidden under the carpet in closed communities/societies. So just picking on one side because it is politically incorrect to pick on others is not cool. Adam and Eve have no meaning for half the planet. But the fundamentalists of the other half that take it literally are not all Christians. Picking on someone because it is easy to pick on them is not bravery.

Quick to judge…

You know how when we meet a stranger and find out that person shares our background and our face lights up in joy. This person is one of us, he must be awesome. If we meet a stranger who is from a neutral background, we are cordial but not friendly. But if we meet a stranger and find out he is one of the others/enemy, we are suddenly on alert. We have to be wary of those people because those people always do this and that. The awesome person who shares our background might become Hitler or Stalin. The enemy or the infidel might become Gandhi or Mandela. But our face glows in a smile or turns into a frown based on their background, without finding out what kind of human beings those strangers are.

Let the living wage be the minimum wage

Anyone who works deserves a living wage. When private businesses do not pay a living wage, the difference is paid by the tax-payer. If you work, your wage should allow you a living that is not dependent on the government. For example, in Allegheny county where I live, the living wage for an adult is $8.29. In Queens county in NYC it is $12.75. And when the minimum wage is $7.25, the difference to survive is paid by the rest of us, not the private businesses. Yet in many places of South Dakota, the living wage is less than $7. So rather than a federal minimum wage, maybe the fairer way would be to have each locality have their own living wage as the minimum wage. (All my living wage numbers are from MIT’s living wage calculator). And as far as the threat of job loss goes, it is up to the businesses to devise models to afford a living wage in their localities. Else might as well get rid of the minimum wage, bring down unemployment to zero, and have a large chunk of the working-age population be supported by the government. The biggest drawback of a living wage as the minimum wage is when someone has children. When small businesses hire single parents or a person who is the sole breadwinner of a household, paying the living wage can drive them out of business. Solving this issue will require a lot of work by the legislatures and society, and that is a separate topic. A couple of big points would be to promote stronger families, less divorces, and two working parents. That will lessen the burden on a single breadwinner. But when there are two working parents, there should be stronger support system for the parents including maternal/paternal leaves and better and cheaper childcare facilities. But as a starting point, I believe that the living wage in a municipality for a single adult should be the minimum wage in that municipality.

The ‘other’ sexism

I always called myself a feminist because I believe women are equal to men. To me that’s what the word symbolized – equality and fairness. There are countless traditional/religious/cultural expectations of women which aren’t equal and which a lot of women complain about, and rightfully so. Expectations to be obedient, ‘beautiful and thin’, housewife, child-bearer, or to work outside and do house chores too, etc etc. But there are expectations of men that are equally unfair – to be the ‘provider’, to earn money, to not show emotions etc. Yet many women want all the equal rights of modernity while also wanting all the benefits of traditional gender roles. Many women get angry when men say – “that’s what women should do because it’s been done like that forever”. Yet somehow for many it is okay to say “that’s what I expect of the man because that’s how it has always been”. Just like a woman can do anything outside, a man can also work inside. Both can be child-rearers. Both can be earners. Whether both work outside or which one stays home and which one works outside should be up to the couple. But having traditional expectations of men when you don’t like traditional expectations of women is hypocrisy. And hypocrisy and unfairness extremely pisses me off.

Telling a woman “you can’t find someone because you aren’t beautiful or thin” is cruel. But somehow too many women think they can get away with telling a man “you are not ready to marry because you aren’t earning enough to support her”.  A man wanting a beautiful and thin wife is an idiot, and society is becoming better in letting him know that. But it still hasn’t reached that point when it comes to women choosing a partner based on his income. I am not saying let’s reverse the old system where only the woman works outside, and make it worse for her by making her work at home while the man stays inside and does nothing. My ideal scenario will be that the couple share the outside work and the inside work. And if someone has to stay home to raise children till school-age or even later, it should be up to the couple to decide who stays home. Yet many think “women can raise children, men can’t”. That is as insulting to a man as saying “men are better at working outside, women aren’t”. I have known men who have been excellent stay at home fathers.  Even when children aren’t involved, many say that “we wan’t to stay home because housework takes an entire day”. As an unmarried man, I do grocery, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and work outside. I do everything required to do inside the house, while also spending 50-60 hours a week working outside. So the excuse that housework even without children is a full-time job is baloney.

Now this isn’t about all women. This is about a small minority, but this topic doesn’t really get talked about as opposed to the sexism towards women. I have always been the first in line to fight sexism towards women, and I completely agree that sexism towards women vastly outnumbers any sexism towards men. But even that little sexist attitude towards men should also be part of the social discussions about sexism and gender roles. And the worst sexist comment is when men complain of sexist attitudes, they are taunted with the phrase that they aren’t manly anymore.