DarkMatter is a platform of spoken poetry started by two Asian Stanford students :Janani Balasubramanian and Alok Vaid-Menon. Both identify themselves as brown and transgenders. They are known for their bold and bright style statements and powerful poetry about their lives as queer and trans south Asian themes.Cour
Image Courtsey: AC Voice
They started of their journey in 2009 in Stanford and both of them started working as DarkMatter independently in 2013 after joining slam poetry club at Stanford and also performing at C.U.P.S.I.( college Union Poetry Slam Invitational). They were inspired by lack of representation of colored people in realms of trans activism and decided to focus on their issues drawing their personal experiences. They openly say that is is highly political and they are opposed to “homo nationalism” an idea which in guise of queer welfare evidently biased towards colored queers and only benefits white queer. This has made them one of the most powerful artist voices in U.S especially in New York where they are based. In addition to political performances both of them are also engaged with various organizations which are working for Queer people, Alok works as a Fund raiser and Communication coordinator for Audre Lorde project an organization for queer people of color activism.
Agents of Ishq(FB Page) is an online community which is trying to “give sex a good name”. It has just released a super interesting video which explains the basics of reproduction and also bravely tries to explain the concept of gender. Using colloquial language, smart and funny it is tailored for Indian kids. Directed by Paromita Vohra, it should reach the thousands of kids in India who grow up in an environment which shrouds even the necessary bits of sex education in a blanket of secrecy and shame.
According to the The Hindu reports published on Jan 21, the Wings Travels and Management India spread across nine cities and 5,500 taxis is going to offer training and employment to LGBT community in the profession of chauffeuring. The service is called wings Rainbow Radio Taxi service. The company has kicked off a pilot project with 5 people from LGBT community including two eunuchs. The project has been undertaken with collaboration of Humsafar trust based in Mumbai. The project includes one year long training in driving for all Indian license and also customer etiquette.The officials state that they see it launching next year in 2017.The service would not be only confined to people of LGBT community but for everyone.
Image courtesy: The Hindu
Also the project would be scaled up to all the nine cities including Delhi, Ahemdabad and Chandigarh after the success of the pilot. The pioneer of the project claim that this would help the people of the LGBT community to rise and inculcate in the so called mainstream heterosexual community, providing them respectable livelihood and better ways to interact with the society at large.
One is compelled to deliberate that by providing an affirmative act of providing the opportunity to the LGBT community would help them to feel more exclusive as they want special efforts to integrate in society. The step is welcomed by the NGO Humsafar and others which are actively engaged in upliftment of the community from the dungeons of anonymity . Also this step is providing a sort of introspection to all the service providing firms to analyze how they choose their employees and how important is sexuality of the employees. This would also help sensitize the general public about the daily struggle of the sexually ostracized in finding decent jobs for themselves.
image courtesy: HT
What is interesting here is that not all the public amenities still offer the option for third gender after NALSA( National Legal Service Authority) judgement(2014), lately only Odisha government and MSME have been using the check boxes with option of third gender on their portals.
The step is commendable and we hope they successfully scale up the model and the project gets replicated across the platforms and jobs across India and world.
What is common between Pharrell Williams and a group of transgenders in Mumbai? Well, both of them ask you to be Happy and clap your way to share the happiness. Y -films a segment of the celebrated Yash Raj films has presented India with its latest proud addition- India’s first all transgender Band called- The 6 Pack Band. The video of their first song which is the cover of Pharrell Williams’ global hit Happy(2013) has received more than 1.4 million views on You Tube which is quite a history in its own measure.
The video portrays them all dolled up in bright colored lehnga cholis and singing and dancing in different settings- from chauls, near beaches and in office. The song also highlights vividly the practice of their signature Taali (Clap). The Trans look no less than actresses in bollywood songs with all the makeup, jewellery and hair done.
They have become mini celebrities – professional choreographers, make up artists, producers, dancers and dress designers and creative directors are working with them.All of them projecting their own understanding of Hijras in practice.The dance , drama and clothes all is manifestation of a trans dream in their head. The attempt is subtle and does not play with the identity of Hijras in our society but only puts them in settings where they are not anticipated . The Best part is that they even sing in English.Surely there are many layers to this song.
Also by doing this the curator- Shameer Tandon and his team has also opened up new discussion on question of inclusion in Indian society. It is a double edged sword- in a way that it allows the viewer to make peace with the fact that Hizras are dancing in the office but doesnot allow them to work in the same office as well or dress the same way.It is exclusion in inclusion. The idea of Hizras in viewer’s mind becomes romanticized all thanks to Yash Chopra’s style of larger than life setting. This could be received in different ways: viewers might think it is the jovial life they live, while others might try and question their beliefs about them. In any of the cases at least people are made to think about them.
In India Yash Raj is a renowned and credible label with them coming out to bring light on their status ,it would certainly gauge common so called”main stream” audience. attention.In Bollywood, where the projection of LGBT community has been highly sexualised and problematic, this comes out as a welcoming gesture.
Till now they have posted three videos including Hum Hain Happy and a teaser of their new sing where they are seen sharing space with Sonu Nigam. It would highly recommended and useful to see their progression to trace out media’s role for them.
When it comes to Gender Equality,Sweden, along with other Scandinavian countries , always seems to be one step ahead of the rest of the world. In April 2015, the Swedish Academy’s SOAL dictionary was updated to include “hen” a gender-neutral term. The SOAL which was established in 1785, aims to expand the Swedish language with changing times. “Hen” as a pronoun can be used in two different scenarios. First, where the gender of the person is irrelevant and second, to refer to an inter-gender person. The term has made its way into regular use in Sweden over the years and now schools are introducing the term as an all-encompassing term for pre-school kids. This is just one of various measures that Sweden has taken to ensure gender neutrality which can be a possible reason for Sweden to consistently figure in the top 5 in Global Gender Gap Reports by the World Economic Forum.
In December 2015, the Swedish Women’s Lobby announced that every 16 year old in the country will get a copy of “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Originally a Ted Talk, which has now received more than 2 million views on Youtube, the Swedish translation of the essay inspired by the talk was released in Swedish in the same month. Adichie is a Nigerian author whose best known work “Half of a Yellow Sun” won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007. In her Ted Talk she talks about discovering feminism and the negative connotations that come with it as a young girl in Nigeria. “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better,” says Adichie. “All of us, women and men, must do better. Clara Berglund, chair of the Swedish Women’s Lobby feels that “This is the book that I wish all of my male classmates would have read when I was 16. It is a gift to all second-grade high-school students, but it is also a gift to ourselves and future generations.” (Source: The Guardian)
In the Ted Talk Adichie describes how she came about the term Feminism when an elder male cousin used it for her pejoratively. Her experience resonates with all young girls, especially in countries like India, who are completely unaware of what Feminism means or stands for. The education system does nothing to help. When they begin to notice how their gender greatly shapes their lived experience and are disturbed by it, even then they are hesitant of calling themselves Feminists because of its negative connotations especially in the eyes of the men of the society. Eventually, they are left to their own resources, which is mostly the internet, to figure out that they are not alone and that they are not wrong in feeling a general sense of dissatisfaction with the way the society operates. In this context, Sweden’s steps are laudable because this particular text is possibly the easiest and simplest way to introduce young minds to the essential concept of how gender affects the ways in which they interact with the world. More importantly, it helps young girls easily comprehend the realities they face instead of battling with them in solitary confusion, which can only mean better preparation to face them and later change them.
Mad Max: Fury Road is blazing a trail of victory in a manner that is unforeseen for an action movie. Action movies are supposedly “dumb movies”that one goes to watch with an intention of wasting time, munching on popcorn and gaining calories. Mad Max Fury Road will make you question this this concept while you munch on popcorn and lean at the edge of your seat. This movie hits that sweet spot of entertainment and intelligence and is an overall treat to watch. It is no wonder then, in the past week, Mad Max Fury Road has been not only nominated for 10 Oscars but it has also won 8 Critic’s Choice Awards!
It is an open secret that there exists gross misrepresentationandunder-representation of female characters in popular media, especially in genres such as Sci-Fi, action and comic book adaptations. Generally, these genres are a commentary on power, justice, masculinity and their dynamics, which caters to a male fantasy. Perhaps, this is why most female characters are sexually objectified or depicted as passive responders in them. There have been many attempts to subvert this trope and root out the entrenched sexism, one of which is the action movie ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.
First things first: Bechdel Test. Bechdel test is a very simple test that could measure any work of fiction and how “women-friendly”it is. It has some very simple criterion to fulfill:
There should be at least two named women characters
These women characters should speak (i.e, they should have dialogues)
They should speak with each other about something besides men.
It seems as if these are criterion that most movies would fulfill, right? Wrong! In fact, most Rom-Coms (which supposedly caters to female audience) doesn’t pass Bechdel test. So, what about Mad max: Fury Road? Does it pass the Bechdel test?
Mad Max: Fury Road passes the Bechdel test with flying colours! In fact, in this film, nearly all the female characters have names (including famous Furiosa, and the Five Wives which includes Angharad, The Dag, Cheedo, Capable etc.). However, more importantly, they do have dialogues and they talk to each other about their hopes, fears and plans of escape (almost everything except men). In fact, the true masterpiece of this movie is that it subliminally subverts the sexism entrenched in media, while lending to the character-building. In fact, Max is the one who doesn’t have dialogues (he grunts throughout the movie). Also, he reveals his name towards the climax. Hence it is the male lead (the hero of the movie) who is unnamed throughout the movie and has few dialogues rather than the female characters. This subliminal subversion is a piece of genius, because it doesn’t pander or bend-over-backwards to be women friendly but rather weaves it to the narrative and overarching story of the movie.
The movie makes an argument for the notion that sex is intricately linked with power and this notion is reiterated in the movie not just in terms of its plot, but also in its characters and symbolism. The movie focuses on a dystopian arid world where a society called ‘Citadel’ is under the control of ‘Immortan Joe’ who maintains his power on the basis of his control of water, women and plants. He has ‘Five wives’ who are precious to him since they can give him heirs. The plot revolves around these women are trying to escape the oppressive regime this system with the help of ‘Furiosa’, a female former general of the army of antagonist, and the title character ‘Max’. It is interesting to note that these women are not damsels-in-distress, but are actively planning and executing their escape. Hence, the theme is women helping women to escape patriarchal systems and thus, the narrative is taking out victimhood associated with femininity.
Furthermore, the subversion of general action movie trope continues onto the subtler layers of the movie. Immortan Joe has his status and power not because of his skills, but rather since he regulates the water, fertile soil (concepts generally associated with femininity) and female sexuality of his community. His authority is derived from his ability to regulate femininity, and he is almost considered to be a deity. Therefore, the movie is directly commenting on how different societal structures are not just reinforcing gender roles and patriarchy, and are doing it on the basis of formulating a narrative of sexuality that eroticizes dominance.
In fact, the ‘War Boys’ of this movie is practically a study in how patriarchy disadvantages and oppresses men too.
They are called ‘boys’, maybe indicative of how they aren’t ‘men’ yet and thus introducing the concept of how masculinity is something to be achieved. So, they have to overcompensate for their apparent lack of masculinity by performing “heroic” stunts. They spray chrome upon their mouth before doing crazy, non-efficient, mindless and possibly fatal actions and shout “WITNESS ME!” as they die. This showcases the mindset of achievement and glory that is pervading our society. This is thus a subtle commentary on our current patriarchal achievement-centric society where masculinity needs to be achieved either through physical or mental aggression.
In contrast, Max represents the male feminist ally. He is also captured and oppressed by Immortan Joe and his War Boys. In his effort to save himself he runs into Furiosa and the Five Wives. He reluctantly agrees to help because Furiosa has the kill switch for the truck. It must be noted that he literally only helps the women in their escape plan, he doesn’t “save” them in a typical action movie fashion. He takes the plans and efforts of Furiosa seriously. He ackowledges her area of expertise and instead of trying to prove himself better than her in all aspects, uses her expertise and skills to save themselves. Finally, unlike conventional action movie heroes who rule the world after the happy ending, he is very happy that the women are taking back the Citadel (read as: doesn’t try to take over things he has no claim over) and disappears into the crowd.
In fact, like a feminist ally, Max helps women fighting patriarchy because he knows it would also help him and because it is the right thing to do (rather than out of ‘pity’); he defers to their lans and expertise because he knows that they have probably been planning this for a much longer while than him; and most importantly, he isn’t fighting a patriarchal villain to take the power for himself but rather to right wrongs.
Actually, this movie continuously asks, “Who killed the world?” (an actual dialogue in the movie) and answers it subtextually : toxic patriarchy and vitriolic masculinity.
The movie is actively criticising the hyper-masculine and machismo heroism being idolized in the current patriarchal world, as it is linked with the antagonist rather than the protagonist. Thus, the audience aren’t disappointed if they expect a movie full of explosions, action and machismo, but are made to rethink their choices and aspirations.
However, we cannot talk about Mad Max: Fury Road and not talk about Furiosa. Imperator Furiosa, the other lead of the movie, is played by Charlize Theron.
It is a common movie-logic to pit women against women – whether it is for the affection of a man or whether one of them is the bad woman’and the other ‘the good woman’. The character of Furiosa defies this insane logic. She has good successful relationship with all the female character of the movie, be it the Five Wives or The Vuvalini. She is fighting for not just her own freedom but that of her friends too. She is no ‘damsel-in-distress’and does not need saving. She is an iconic character that you cannot forget. Most importantly, she is not another action movie heroine: she isn’t skimpily clad in impractical clothes; she doesn’t stand in contrived poses to draw attention to her ‘assets’; she doesn’t fight gracefully.
In fact, there hasn’t been any attempt to make her pretty or seductive (she is not the traditional femmefatale) and she is allowed to grunt and makes faces and spit blood in the middle of fight scenes.
“I don’t need lipstick while I smash your face in.”
Mad Max: Fury Road is thus challenging the expectations from a typical action movie, by subverting the tropes as well as power structures in the fictional dystopian world. Thus, this movie raises a lot of questions regarding current representaion in media. DoesMad Max : Fury Road and its success allow us to rethink not just action genre but all genres? Does it open new avenues to subvert the tropes associated with each existing genre? Is it a herald for more feminist movies that are hugely entertaining? And perhaps, a step towards a more gender-inclusive and liberal media?
Josephine Baker, the famous dancer, singer, and actress, was born as Freda Josephine McDonald, on June 3, 1906 to washerwoman Carrie McDonald and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson.
She is famous for being the first black bisexual woman to star in a major motion picture.
She was born in St. Louis, Missouri. During her childhood she worked as a live-in domestic help for white families in St. Louis who reminded her “be sure not to kiss the baby” and according to some reports abused her. As she became a teen, she quit school and got a job waitressing at The Old Chauffeur’s Club. While waiting tables she met and had a brief marriage to Willie Wells. Her street-corner dancing attracted attention, and she was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show at the age of 15. Baker toured the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers performing various comical skits. After the troupes split, she tried to be a chorus girl for The Dixie Steppers in ShuffleAlong. She was rejected because she was “too skinny and too dark.” However, she learned the chorus line’s routines while working as a dresser and became the replacement when a dancer left. Onstage she rolled her eyes and purposely acted clumsy. The audience loved her comedic touch, and Josephine was a box office draw for the rest of the show’s run.
She headed to New York City, performing at the Plantation Club and in the chorus of the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revues. She performed as the last dancer in a chorus line. She enjoyed moderate success and her performances landed her an opportunity to tour in Paris. She opened in “La Revue Nègre” on 2 October 1925, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. This turned out to be a turning point in her career. After a successful tour of Europe, she broke her contract and returned to France to star at the Folies Bergère, setting the standard for her future acts. Everything about her routine was new and exotic, and Baker with her erotic dancing and uninhibited movements captivated her audiences. She became an overnight sensation.
She became immensely famous and obviously was compensated heavily. She loved animals and kept a menagerie of them which included a leopard (Chiquita), a chimpanzee (Ethel), a pig (Albert), a snake (Kiki), a goat, a parrot, parakeets, fish, three cats and seven dogs.
In early 1930s, she starred in two films – “Zou-zou” and “Princess Tam-Tam“. The movies were a huge successs in Europe and cemented her fame. Despite her popularity in France, Baker never attained the equivalent reputation in America. Upon a visit to the United States in 1935–36, she was met with lukewarm audiences, in part because the audience did not approve of her nudity or her singing. Most American audiences couldn’t accept the idea of a black woman with so much sophistication and power. Her star turn in the Ziegfeld Follies generated less than impressive box office numbers, and she was replaced by Gypsy Rose Lee later in the run. Time magazine referred to her as a “Negro wench”. She returned to Europe heartbroken.This contributed to Baker’s becoming a legal citizen of France and giving up her US Citizenship.
She was way ahead of her times. She never depended on a man for financial support. Therefore, she never hesitated to leave when a relationship soured. Baker was married four times. Her first marriage was to American Willie Wells when she was 13 years old. The marriage was reportedly very unhappy and the couple divorced a short time later. Another short-lived marriage followed to Willie Baker in 1921; she retained Baker’s last name because her career began taking off during that time, and it was the name by which she became best known. In 1937 Baker married Frenchman Jean Lion. Thus, she became a French citizen and became a permanent expatriate. After he died, she married French composer and conductor Jo Bouillon, who helped raise her 12 adopted children, but their union also ended in divorce. She was later involved for a time with the artist Robert Brady. However, they never married.Her adopted son, Jean-Claude Baker, described his mother as a bisexual, having had relationships with men and women.
Though Baker was famous for her career in entertainment, she was also an activist. Just because people turned out to be racist, didn’t mean she would take it lying down. When she visited the United States during the 50s and 60s, she returned with a renewed vigor to fight racism. When New York’s popular Stork Club refused her service, she engaged a head-on media battle with pro-segregation columnist Walter Winchell. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She was the only woman to speak at the rally. After the rally, she played a series of four extremely successful charity shows at Carnegie Hall for the benefit of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations.The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named May 20th Josephine Baker Day in honor of her efforts. It was also during this time that she began adopting children, forming a family she often referred to as “The Rainbow Tribe“. Josephine wanted her to prove that “children of different ethnicity and religions could still be brothers”. After Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, his widow, Coretta Scott King, approached Baker in Holland to ask her if she would take her husband’s place as leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. However, Baker declined, stating that her children were ” … too young to lose their mother.”
Baker had also served France during World War II in several ways. She performed for the troops, did undercover work included smuggling secret messages written on her music sheets and was a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She was later awarded the Medal of the Resistance with Rosette and named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government for hard work and dedication.
In 1973, she performed in Carnegie Hall. Due to the leaps in cultural and racial sensitivity, she was met with a standing ovation. She received great enthusiasm and adoration, as she deserved. On April 12th, 1975 Baker passed away due to a cerebral hemorrhage.
She was the first American women buried in France with military honors, as she was honored with a 21-gun salute. She is buried at the Cimetiére de Monaco, Monaco.
She continues to inspire people to be more than what the world thinks they can be. In an era where women weren’t allowed to be much, she was a dancer, a singer, a performer, a comic, an actress, a pioneer, a civil rights activist, and a spy. She pushed boundaries and never gave in.
You can watch one of her mesmerizing performances here:
Life for a girl comes in full circle when she gets her first period. Well here is why: We live in a society which doesn’t allow women to speak ,discuss or even buy their sanitary napkins freely.The society sanitizes itself by washing sheets, clothes and bed covers , cleaning and painting and does everything possible to keep this secret . Well I have mostly seen women talking in hushed tones about : they being down.. on cycle..being in that time of month to uphold the same sanctity of secrecy around their menstruation cycle. I was also told to keep quite, be watchful of my clothes avoid going out and not visiting temples or entering the pooja room of the house. When my unabashed , rational mind asked : why?? I was told it is so because it has always been so, no arguments taken nor discussed.
If we go by our standard text books on information about periods it simply states that this happens because woman’s womb prepares itself to nurture a child each month and then if it doesn’t receive the fertilized egg, slowly over the course of 3-7 days discards all the soft lining made of cells and repairs itself by making new one and gets ready again. Well theoretically it is the most important body function because of its relationship with reproduction and nurturing the human race.
Then comes another twist to the tale, if it is just a bodily function like eating or urinating then why the hype and the mystification. Perhaps it is the blood , maybe common people squirm at the sight of blood, but we have injuries all the time. Additionally if bleeding is so normal and each girl on earth goes through this most of her life then why such indifference , such secrecy. The problem must clearly lie in the source of the blood: the uterus, the root of all contention. Men have their genitals that are visible and physical but women’s parts are hidden and concealed in her body and clearly men are not comfortable with the idea of bright red blood flowing through her body from parts he cant even see .
The idea of hushing and concealing the monthly period has become so internalised in our societies that some women are disgusted by the acts of free bleeding and exposing period stains. Some claim it is unhygienic which is why they cant bear the idea, but the truth is the blood that flows out is the same that flows if you cut your finger, maybe with million more life giving stem cells in it.
Fact is in almost all communities in world, women are not allowed to perform tasks which are regarded as ‘holy’ like performing religious rituals and customs, cooking food or carrying out any auspicious activity, so much so that even a new mother is considered impure as she bleeds days after she gives birth and can only be reinstated in the family once some ritual sanitizing is performed.
Purity of women is of such an extreme concern to society that it gives out guidelines and forms standards for measuring her purity where everyone gets to choose the elements of definition except her. This is what is leading to the arousal of a new age uproar against these sanctions. One of the early risers was Rupi Kaur from Canada on Instagram posting her staining pictures which were removed from the platform on account of not abiding by community rules, which clearly didn’t mention not posting your own pictures which had you fully clothed in a non sexually provocative imagery. It is funny that you can find nude pictures on Instagram but they removed her pictures not once but twice.They restored it at last when her numerous followers started writing to Instagram and she herself wrote an open letter to them.
Its funny how a woman, when she cant have sex properly because she is menstruating, is considered impure and unclean in a world obsessed with virginity and purity of girls. Clearly the very definition of purity manufactured by patriarchal structure is intrinsically flawed. There are also political leaders announcing in public that they would allow women inside Sabrimala temple if there were machines to detect if she was menstruating . Then again, there are women like Kiran Gandhi who ran a full marathon freely bleeding because she chose comfort over pads (read more about her here). Campaigns #happytobleed and #freebleeding signify the amount of rage and discomfort women share over being stifled over being on periods and staining.
There are more significant issues of providing basic sanitation and clean toilets for women and children across globe. Also, making basic essentials like sanitary napkins accessible to millions of young women at affordable prices so that we could really live without fretting over staining.
Here’s another beautiful article on menstruation taboos in India by an ex-Young India Fellow in Open Magazine: Women Don’t Bleed Blue
Frida Kahlo, the 20th century painter from Mexico, was a non-conformist in every way possible. She defied ideas of femininity all through her life. She was rebellious and audacious refusing to be subdued just because she was born a woman. She was bisexual and led a sexually adventurous life.Her paintings are known for their intense and painful frankness. Her dark unibrow and thin moustache have found an honest representation in each of her widely acclaimed self portraits. She was full of the lust for life which even the pain of a terrible accident could not take away from her. She loved dressing up and her flaming clothes are well known and a curated extract of her wardrobe can be found here.
What is lesser known is that she would sometimes even give up her bright colourful Mexican skirts and don men’s clothing.
Frida Kahlo appears more like a son than a daughter in this family portrait. Its not just her dress but also the cocky way she stands right next to her father.
The difference between the other women in the pictures and Frida Kahlo is not just the attire but also her posture. Her confident open stance is in stark contrast to the delicate womanly postures of others. Her strong personality seems more at home in these clothes. It helps us to better understand the life that she led- uninhibited by her gender.