I took the day off in solidarity, not out of privilege.

One day, there will be a cool documentary about feminism, women’s rights, and the international fight for female equality and it will garner praise and recognition at a fancy black-tie occasion. There will be a beautifully subtle fictional movie about an American girl who struggled to fight for her own identity, perhaps casting off the myth of the American Dream, or ideals of the model immigrant her parents so desperately clung. Soon to come, a compelling documentary of extraordinary length about how systemic misogyny ruined a famous woman’s life or career (hmm I can’t think of an example, kidding). Or we, as women, will have our own “James Baldwin-like” prophetess come forth and rip apart the obvious bias we face each and every day through our debates, careers, family life, and institutions. She is out there, not everyone is listening right now, her words are still shrill and unappealing to those whose ears aren’t tuned into strong women voices. We will realize her legacy years too late and post-mortem there will be a glossy movie about her personal story, laced with the backdrop of our feminine struggle. We will all proclaim that we knew sexism existed in 2017 we just didn’t know how to deal with its obvious power, and we ignored the voices in the wilderness. We will cry.

I’ve tried to discuss the importance of women rising up together, that the movement requires our support for each other, not us ripping apart messages and symbols. The image of a group of women fighting for self-determination has been seared in my mind, 1917 in Russia, suffragettes in America and England, Indian women fighting rape culture, Liberian and Icelandic all gathering en masse, saying enough is enough. Standing together, shoulder to shoulder they say go ahead, rip our bodies to shreds this is an emergency, you must listen now. But to have deep discussions with fellow women, of every stripe, class, color and creed, to ask women to truly dig into internalized misogyny usually winds as some of the most fraught conversations and I fear my passion comes off as judgemental, but it’s not. I notice that in my circles we can talk about racial bias all day long now, this is a new development, but gender bias, norms, and identities are still tricky. Why? I must continue to poke at this obvious tender spot. For one we lack tools, language, movies, short videos, a pithy slogan, and leadership. Try searching for a very well made video about feminism, or a bit of inspiration for an 8-year-old girl, they border on overly comic or are an ad for a technology company, or large corporate conglomerate trying to sell snake oil feminism. Secondly, we don’t want to admit we still make decisions for ourselves that are rooted in sexism, some apparent and others buried under layers of bias and outdated narratives. Many women still live under the shadow of a man or haven’t seen how we play into gender roles that still hamper our growth. It’s harder to admit in this day and age of supposed surface-level equality that deep down we’re still holding back, feel insecure, less than, ugly, unable to speak out freely, and enslaved. And all women know the truth of the matter that we’re still vulnerable to every range of sexism, violence, physical and mental abuse. We think to change our culture entrenched with masculine violence would mean to attack the men we love, or rip apart our own comforts, become an ugly feminist, cast asunder with no sexuality, berated and alone. And frankly, there may be some truth to this because every activist is often alone in the woods for a while until critical mass erupts and solidarity becomes more than just a word. Instead of facing this hardship, we convince ourselves that everything is fine, we have it all, and those women who are out pushing our buttons should shut-up because they’re going to topple what little protection we think we’ve built up in this male-dominated world. We can barely square our own ambivalence about being a woman in 2017 and so we stomp out words like feminism, equal rights, and intersectionality because it brings so much to light the problems we want to shove behind sofas and under carpets. We’d have to admit that past women’s movements were focused on white female empowerment and left behind black and brown women by design. Just as today, back then, women in the movement felt it was important to stick to one topic, adding racial and economic inequality concerns to the march made it hard for the establishment to understand the movement, so they thought. They said, it would water down the message, it would be too confusing, too many topics is not a good strategy, and this sounds all too familiar today. I just read an article about this idea yesterday and I stand firm that to focus on a single issue, like reproductive rights, does more harm to that issue and does little for the progress of full equality for economic empowerment, religious freedom, migration, and safety. It’s also interesting that many of my white liberal women friends have come around to the idea that Black Lives Matter but still find it hard to accept that women’s rights, feminism, and their own liberation intersect with the powerful movement for racial equality. Women hold the key to toppling the structures that are holding us back due to our race, sexual orientation, gender identity and class. I believe this strongly and don’t treat the burgeoning feminist movement as an isolated issue, it’s all one in the same fight. Instead of white journalists berating us for attending a march, or wearing a certain hat, or what we name marches, their energy could be better served by identifying their own bias towards women of color or their own barriers to achievement as a white woman. Furthermore, to assert that white women marching is some sort of privilege is to admit that white woman have it all and they live some sort of life that precludes them from the fight for equality. Now white women can wring their hands and say, see, I have privilege, it’s not my fight to fight and I feel like I am taking the stage again. But have all white, upper-class women freed themselves from the psychological bondage of sexism? It would be an amazing day if all women could rise up together and discuss all the ways that men still dominate the cultural and political power centers in this world. I mean, we just watched a powerful white woman get hammered in an election by the blunt instrument of misogyny. Are we to believe that the rest of the white women in America are living some life outside this same world? It’d help if white women would admit they may have a slight advantage due to skin color but they too are still subject to sexism and male violence. That would be a show of solidarity, that would go far and I will say we began to hear this when it related pussies being grabbed. For the first time, I’ve heard many women admit that they’ve faced some sort of assault by a man, that this is a common refrain, this is our bond, sadly. We all nodded our heads, and brought up memories and let ourselves become triggered in 2016. Let’s use that energy and remember we’re all in this together!

So, today, on International Women’s Day, I am going to infuse myself with the history, spirit, and solidarity of women who have marched for our freedom as it stands today. In the past 100 years or more women shut down governments or changed policies in Russia, Iceland, Liberia, US, England just to name a few bright spots in history. Look up Leymah Gbowee for some inspiration, her peaceful women’s strike toppled a genocidal dictator in Liberia. They’d want us to continue the movement and the movement must be inclusive and intersectional, don’t reduce these to buzzwords, make it happen, model the behavior as women! When women join forces it’s always one to be reckoned with and without full solidarity, the movement will lose its power. That is what the establishment is hoping will happen. Don’t give in.

I have taken the day off, used my limited paid vacation to spend the day marching in San Francisco and Oakland. I appreciate my friends and co-workers who are with me in spirit, have expressed solidarity, or guilt for not being able to take the day off for understandable reasons. My actions are not about inducing guilt or acting privileged, rather my intention is to deepen my family’s commitment to our values of community activism and progress. I am not taking the day to just sit around my house watching TV, this is not a vacation day, I’m not out soaking in the sun and zoning out. I am tuned in and feeling rather concerned, fearful and anxious about our future. After I finish pounding out this essay I am working all day to meet and connect with women, walking miles on foot. My 8-year-old daughter has chosen to come with me even after my stark warnings that today is not about having a jaunt to the city, or relaxing, we have work to do! We are going to soak in what we can, listen to speeches, feel the energy in close proximity to other women who I hope feel this is the start of a larger movement. The fact that the Woman’s March also joined in and have provided a platform is not a bad thing, it’s a powerful show of force, a reminder that we’re still here. We marched on Jan 21 and are back at it again and we will continue. I find all the sniping back and forth a tad draining, but it fires me to write again, to document where we stand, and frankly it’s kind of a mess but I still go forth. Right now, we are in the midst of extreme discomfort with the idea that our world is misogynistic and racist and these two evils are the ancient foundations for white male supremacy that is literally destroying our world. This is our common cause from Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March and any subsequent movement, we must gain traction, we must gain more freedom, and shatter the false notion that women, especially women of color, have equal opportunities. We don’t and we won’t win unless we stop infighting and join together! At the very least, I hope the energy of critique by women gets turned away from the women’s movement and towards the institutions that hold us all back. There is much to dismantle.

Seriously, are we still calling girls sassy?



I’m tired of feeling apologetic for my sassy eight-year-old daughter and I know I should try to rise above but I’ve become more concerned about it as she gets older. It’s ironic that in this Amy Schumer/Jezebel/Beyonce world that even 30-something year old women still feel the need to point out my vocal young girl. It makes me think we have still have a lot to change. My Noona as I have called her since she was a baby has always had a strong personality, maybe naturally but also probably because we let her. But I often notice people’s discomfort with a brazen young girl. Just the other night, I was at a BBQ where Noona was having a blast, hopped up on cupcakes and playing outside past her bedtime. I do what I do at parties, which is chat away with people while Noona runs free chasing cats and searching for lizards or whatever. I was talking with a new mom and was oohing and awing over her newborn baby girl, when Noona comes over to swat me or do something randomly silly and loud. Just then New Mom says, “Oh is this one yours?” New Mom then tells me that earlier she had asked Noona about her nail polish color and I guess my girl put her hand up and popped her hip and said something, like “Yeah, I got a manicure.” I dunno, it didn’t seem that weird to me, but I could tell New Mom was surprised by Noona’s sassy level. I responded by over-explaining about my child, telling funny stories about her sassiness in a self-deprecating way. Finally, New Mom says to me “Oh I’m sure she is sweet at home.”

That comment just stuck in my craw. Why do girls have to be sweet and what does that even mean? Is her sassiness more acceptable if she is also sweet? Of course, sweet girls never talk back, interrupt, pop their hip, or roll their eyes or say “whatever.” Oh no, if a girl is sassy, people say, “woah you sure do have your hands full.” And I always laugh, oh yeah, she is a handful, har har har. I even laughed for a second when another mom said “She sure is filled with vinegar.” I did correct her and I think she got the point. Filled with vinegar, who says that? But this just happened in 2016, by progressive, open-minded folks. The comments sometimes make me wonder if I’m raising a “mean girl.” Other times I have stupid worries that she will grow up to be a career-climbing bitch with shoulder pads and big hair, knocking down all the sweet ladies that come in her way. In fact, New Mom even called Noona an “alpha” at one point and that bugged the hell out of me too.

So let me explain. My Noona is not an alpha, she is not bossy, or sassy, she is not interrupting me for attention, and she is not a mean girl/bully. When I drop her off at camp or school, she has a group of friends that immediately gravitate towards her to play. My Noona organizes her playdates, confidently handing out my cell phone number to other moms so we can finalize details. She walks right up to new kids at the park and asks them to play without hesitation. She comes up with silly new games, like pretend restaurant or find the lizard, and the kids happily play along. I’ve always called that leadership and assertiveness. She has caring and connected long-term friendships. The other day she and a close friend were reciprocating back rubs after a long morning at a swim meet. Noona laughs out loud at her own jokes and can handle sarcasm better than some adults. This amazing young lady is determined, filled with care and a natural curiosity. We snuggle every night but now she has turned the tables and reads to me instead. And yes, she is vocal, opinionated and highly observant. All the while, I pay attention to her growth and there are certain behaviors I’m not going to stop.

For example, Noona has been raised not to accept aggressive behavior and anger. She will even point out when I sound angry and ask me to speak with care, and though it’s tough I will try to readjust my tone. So what others call “mouthing off”, I call advocating for herself. What sounds like “talking back” is really an immature kid trying to figure how to challenge authority or express an opinion, they’re just not very good at it yet. Labeling these behaviors just shuts girls down, and I bet most of us women have a defining moment when we were criticized or put down when we speaking up. I hope Noona never gets squashed, or appease others who feel uncomfortable around feminine dominance. I never want her to be abused or used. I never want her to feel shame for speaking out about her safety. And I hope she always asks questions, just like her mother.

So, instead of worrying about her eye-rolling or “whatevers” I’ve been busy building a foundation of communication based on mutual respect and advocacy. This type of relationship means my husband and I listen to her opinions, and we expect her to defend her positions with well thought out reasoning. Sometimes, we have to allow her to butt heads with us, and sometimes I walk away to diffuse the situation so we can talk later. In my opinion, this is better than reminding her to be sweet and obedient. I hope when is older she never begins a question with “I’m sorry to ask but….” Of course, I try to model kindness, teamwork and care. These values are not mutually exclusive–a person can be direct, opinionated as well as compassionate.

It’s interesting that I still bump up against prevailing societal norms that dominant women come off mean, or that little girls are bossy or type A (whatever that means). Let’s not pretend that the world is equitable. We still say “boys will be boys” when they act aggressive or rough. We never assume they have a sweet side in private and maybe we should! Nor do we call boys alpha or bossy if they are loud, outspoken or vocal. When a boy yanks a girl’s ponytail we still stay, “oh it’s okay, he just likes you.” I know my Noona would tell a boy who bothered her to stop it!  We’ve been talking about these double standards for a long time, yet we’re still making the same comments. If a boy is acting rough, we don’t worry that he will grow up to be a douchebag. If a boy has anger issues we still let him express himself freely without saying, “he is spirited.” If a boy talks back to their parents, we don’t then assume he is a bully. I’m pretty sure that bullies come from homes where there is a level of toxicity, abuse, and abandonment. And trust me, I was bullied in school, so I think I’d be pretty aware if my child was treating someone badly. And if she were I’d be the first to figure out solutions.

And why am I justifying any of this to anybody? Because it still astounds me that I bump into people that need to label my child’s outgoing personality. Even when they try to go with it, I still discern a sense of unease, or worry that I will be so screwed because she is really expressive. In the end, these judgments are exactly why I protect her rights as a child to form her personality, to experiment and modulate her communication as her brain matures and makes new neural connections. I’m trying protect her from developing shame and debilitating self-doubt because society still wants to pigeonhole little girls as nice and sweet. Those type of creeping thoughts make it hard to make clear decisions in life, trust me I know! It is much more challenging to parent in this way, constantly strategizing ways to assist her development as human. But I remain resolved to this process and will always stick up for my intuitive, self-motivated, and smart Noona. She has to go out there and become an adult at some point. Leadership, strong communication and critical thinking skills are already in her toolbox. So you know what, seriously, she can roll her eyes or pop her hip if she wants! If you see her, or any girl express themselves this way, don’t get all judgmental and concerned that she is not acting right. Just think you’re watching the growth of an assertive, independent and self-assured woman, these are more useful descriptions than sassy, alpha, bossy, or type A.

I tested my racial biases and got a kick in the gut


I’ve always had a good reason for not marrying within my own race, religion, caste, and class–as my Punjabi-Sikh parents would have liked. My usual response to everyone, Indian or not, is that I would’ve married someone from my own race if I had met the right guy, it just never happened. Really, I’m just an open-minded person, I don’t value one race, class, or religion over the other because I like everyone equally. That’s why I fell in love and married a man from Iceland. I valued him the same as every man, and as a person, for his values, attitudes and beautiful smile. His race didn’t have any bearing on my decision.

Recently, I was hanging with friends, we’d been talking about diversity and race all afternoon. I brought up my choice to marry outside of my race and gave my little speech about how I view everyone as equal. One friend interrupted my cliche little story and said “Na, na, na…I gotta challenge you on this. You have your own biases and they played into the decision not to marry someone Indian.” That stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t put off by the point he made, partly because he is an African-American who married a white woman–so he’d probably explored his own choice. But mainly because, I knew that he was right in that instant. I looked at him and said, “Hmm. Maybe I’m biased against Indian men?” He shrugged, rhetorically. I laughed, “You know I’ll be thinking about this for a while”.

The thing is when you’re invariably talking about racial identity, culture, diversity, black lives, brown lives, white lives, conversations go deep. You begin to challenge others, to notice your own bias and to see points of view in a different light. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend such as mine, who is smart as a whip and doesn’t let you get away with crap. Now this is progress if you think of it. Each of us opening up, digging into the murky ugly bits. Sometimes it’s mean sounding, growling and unrelenting. The conversations can leave you with a squirmy, uncomfortable itch that crawls from your toes and rolls around your belly. It’s everywhere, it’s nowhere and then it’s back out to surprise. Your nerves get frayed. You hope the conversations go away. But sitting in a sweat-inducing spot of discomfort is the first clue, you’re onto something good.

So what about my own revelation? It didn’t take me long to get to the core of my friend’s objection. He was proposing that I chose not to marry someone Indian because I have a bias against my own race. I knew enough about implicit bias to recognize it right away. But it was the first time that I realized it within myself. Denial or unawareness of implicit bias is a defining principal, as this definition from the Kirwan Institute from Ohio State University points out;

Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

Recognizing bias is a first step, like any subconscious thought that has been buried under deep layers of denial, facing such issues takes a willingness to sit with discomfort. I’ve been down this road before, coming to terms with personal baggage over the years. Honestly, I thought I had worked pretty hard to uncover what was hidden from my conscious self. But here I was again, I had to face this and I did want to understand how it was possible that I had a bias against my own race? Once it was pointed out, I couldn’t unsee it. I mean I laughed at Stephen Colbert every time he joked about race saying he didn’t see color. I laughed because it’s a ridiculous statement. And yet I was saying the same thing to everyone, without seeing the joke!

I figured I should take The Implicit Association Test (IAT) that I had seen referenced many times, mostly when discussing bias against African Americans or gender. It struck me that I never thought to take the test myself up until this point. Why was that? If I think about my explicit statements about race, mainly that I liked everyone equally, it made sense that I wouldn’t find it necessary to test my biases. Consciously, I genuinely felt I had no biases against any race, gender or sexual orientation, and definitely not against my own race! I’m a product of multiculturalism, immigration, and the American Dream. But now that my position that I viewed people with absolute racial equality had been questioned, I became more curious about my unconscious motivations.

According to the Project Implicit website, “the IAT measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about.” This is exactly what I wanted to learn, what was I unable to see about my own biases. Interestingly, the test comes with several warnings and this is the last statement before entering the site; “I am aware of the possibility of encountering interpretations of my IAT test performance with which I may not agree. Knowing this, I wish to proceed.” I entered the testing site and was surprised that there were 14 different tests, arrrgh. I naively thought that there would be one simple test that would show my bias against Indian, or South Asian men. Hint Hint, Project Implicit!

But no, that would be too simple, so I had to improvise. The first test I took was the Arab-Muslim IAT because it seemed the most relevant because it compares Muslims to Other People and I figured an Arab-Muslim is kind of like and Indian. Plus, I grew up in a Sikh household and Muslims were not spoken of in a positive light. Long before the negative propaganda hit mainstream media, my grandmother was already priming us never to speak to Muslims. Not only that, as a young girl I was also told that the worst thing I could ever do was to marry a Muslim. This goes back to centuries of conflict between religions in India, including the fact my grandmother walked from Pakistan to Punjab, during the 1947 partition amidst murderous strife between Sikhs and Muslims. But I grew up in America where diversity and freedom of religion were pounded into my head. My father talked of the egalitarian values of Sikhism, that preaches we are all one in the eyes of God. So, I always felt uncomfortable with the negative portrayal of Muslims and I’ve often stood up for them arguing that xenophobic statements are dangerous and untrue. So it’s fair to say I was more than surprised to read the results of the Arab-Muslim IAT that “suggest a moderate automatic preference for other people compared to Arab Muslims.” Okay, well it at least it was moderate and technically it plays into my hypothesis that I may have a bias against my own race and I preferred other people.

I felt a little stunned and I understood why the test had so many disclaimers because the results are not suggesting that I’m explicitly racist toward any group, rather I had a more nuanced, subconscious bias, despite my well-meaning liberal intentions. Based on my upbringing and the more recent portrayals of Arab-Muslims since 9/11, it’s no wonder I have a moderate automatic preference for non-Arabs. Ugh. I can barely write this sentence without feeling the need to be apologetic and guilt-ridden. But this is the whole point of implicit bias, we don’t see it, but we may act upon it.

Okay, well the only thing to do next was take another test and so I chose the Asian IAT, knowing full well it would focus on East Asian identity, which is different that South Asian identity. Maybe that would get me closer to testing my bias against Indian-Americans. This test was less alarming in one sense that it didn’t compare a race against negative terms like disgust or pain. But, it was testing my ability to categorize Asian-Americans, European-Americans, American landmarks and foreign landmarks. But it did tap into an old memory, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in Southern California. It was always in the atmosphere for Americans to complain about Asian immigrants as foreigners, unable to integrate into American society. I could feel old memories creep back into my conscious mind as I took the test and I could sense a bias toward one group over the other, just based on how quickly I answered. The results of this test showed that I had a “moderate association of Asian-Americans with American compared to European-American.” Basically, I feel that Asian-Americans are more aligned with the US than European Americans. That’s also probably because I’m biased due to growing up in an immigrant household and don’t associate foreignness with otherness or being less American. It also shouldn’t go without noting that I’m married to a European and I do think of him as non-American. Interesting, how the test can suss out this slight variance. But, now I was bothered that I didn’t show “no automatic preference” proving that I simply didn’t have a bias, as I’ve so often mentioned and wholeheartedly believed.

Okay, one last test. I can do it. Just the process of taking these tests bring to light the moments that you have a slower reaction to one bias than another. As your fingers are placed on the keyboard, there are are easier to answer combinations and then there are others that take a second thought, or a re-read to combine two usually disconnected combinations. I really wanted to learn if I had a bias against Indians and because there wasn’t a direct test that compared South-Asians with European-Americans, I had to hodge-podge it together. So I decided to take the Skin Tone IAT. And what do you know, I show a “strong automatic preference for light skin compared to dark skin.” In fact, 70% of respondents score either strong, moderate or slight preference for light skin and just 12% score a preference for dark skin over light. I was pretty disappointed not to be a part of 17% of respondents that show “no automatic preference,” which is what I’ve consciously thought.

All in all, after taking three IAT tests, I show a slight preference for other people over Arab-Muslims, slight preference for Asians as American and a strong preference for light skin. But does this prove I’m biased against my own race? This is complicated and startling and has made think back to what I’ve absorbed my whole life. Obviously, I have been thinking a lot about this topic since my friend pointed out that my attraction to my husband was subconsciously influenced by my implicit bias towards something I may not have explored. What I’ve learned is that I prefer light skin and I have always found white guys more attractive, so I guess it’s true.

If I think about influences, I was raised in an immigrant household and my parents did everything they could to assure I was on the right path in life. That may have meant they instilled some sense that white America was an ideal identity, either by abandoning a second language or watering down their own religious and cultural practices. It was more important to my parents that I worked to blend in with my white friends than to stand out or promote my own racial background, even though at the same they scolded me for being too American. This focus was sometimes very subtle, but other times, in the case of language, it was entirely concrete. Along the way, someone told my parents that my education would suffer if I spoke a second language, and so I was told to only to speak English. So there goes Punjabi. Also, my parents moved to Southern California and started a family in the early 70’s when there wasn’t a large community of Punjabis, as there is now. We had close family friends that were white and Indian, of every type, Hindu, Gujarati, and Sikh. Although this sounds ideal, and in many instances it was, my parents also had a strange distrust towards Indians. I always remember a time when I was about 13 and my parents decided to work with an Indian couple as their real estate agents. Over the course of many months, I had seen both of my parents struggle with this couple and at one point they  told me that they just didn’t like doing business with Indians. Strange, right? You’d think that they’d have an allegiance towards fellow countryman, but in many instances that I can clearly recall, they didn’t. Another factor I find interesting is that they began to see a second wave of immigrants come to the US, and this group had stronger ties to their culture, homeland, and language. I can image that this made my parents feel like outsiders within their own race and at the same time not fully integrated with white American families either. We always straddled both cultures, kind of in an isolating way.

I suppose this is the whole point of digging into implicit bias. It’s not as apparent as explicit racism and the causes, sources and backstory tend to be complicated, nuanced and hard to understand. For me, I can understand now that I have a bias against Indian men, even if at the same time I love many things about my culture, like yummy food and over the top Bollywood films. But the few Indian men that I dated only served to validate my assumption that they were chauvinistic, close-minded, and arrogant. I still joke that no Indian man would put up with my mouthy, rebellious and adventurous ways. If I think about it, this version of my story is counter to the myth that I was really open to marry anyone. I just happened to fall in love with a fairly feminist man who is the complete opposite of the stereotype I created for Indian men. Was this a bad thing? Probably not, I do feel I found a partner that I prefer, for many reasons. But for my parents and my family, it was a disappointment and I’m sure they felt that I turned my back on my own culture. Up until this point, I would have argued that this wasn’t true and I just followed my heart. But now I know that there was plenty more going on subconsciously that led me to this decision.

I think this is the lesson, that going forward I may have a more accurate picture and won’t continue to propagate a very narrow view that I was just such an open-minded person that race and skin color played no part in choosing a mate. There isn’t an easy way to deal with this revelation, except to pass on to others how important it is to challenge one’s own deeply rooted subconscious biases. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to face the idea that you may not be living the dream as openly as you thought, but it’s utterly necessary if we are to understand how racism truly affects our society. Also, learning about biases shouldn’t validate our current position, it’s important to try to remove the power bias has in our decision making. We can’t just go around saying “I don’t see color” and expect people to believe us, especially if we can’t believe ourselves.

Ferrante Fever versus the Forces of Franzen

FerranteFeverI felt so pleased with myself today. For months, I’ve waited for Elena Ferrante’s next book, “The Story of the Lost Child.”  Finally, the crescendo of the Neapolitan novels was soon to be in my hands. I walked on a rubble path, through Golden Gate Park with a friend and I told her of Elena’s hidden identity and how some say the books are written by a man. I tell her I found it implausible and if someday proven true my belief in anything would be crushed forever. She had heard about “Ferrante Fever” from Jezebel and just started reading book one. I immediately rebuked her for liking Jezebel, I called it click bait and a snarky form of feminism I found insulting. She liked the blog because they posted issues she cared about and I told her that she didn’t need Jezebel. She kind of shrugged and I realized I could have tempered my proclivity for being overbearing.

I thought of how lucky we were to work near Green Apple Books on the Park, one of the last remaining bookstores in San Francisco. I knew exactly where “The Story of a New Name” would be placed. It was as if I took a standing leap, like an out of shape ballerina, straight to the wooden shelf. In a few short seconds, I grabbed one of remaining two copies and placed it on the counter. An irrepressible squeal, a few claps of my hand came next as I fished around for money, eagerly awaiting to complete my purchase.

“I bet you didn’t expect people to come in squealing over a book,” I say in a pleased tone.

“You aren’t the first one today!”

“Oh that’s good, I can’t wait to start reading. I’ve been waiting for months!!!”

“Ferrante is getting more excitement than Franzen today,” says the youngish bookseller boy.

“Well, of course, I’m not choosing Franzen over Ferrante!!”

My friend obviously hadn’t been too offended by my dislike of Jezebel.  She stuck around the bookstore to watch as if I was picking up a huge cash prize from the lottery. She happened to bump into a friend who just happened to be there to pick up her Ferrante pre-order.

“I overheard you’re reading book four!”

“Yes, I’m so excited. You know what I’ll be doing tonight!”

“Yeah, I tried to come in yesterday to pick up my book early and they wouldn’t release it until today!”

“What?! I’m sure the book was here!”

Just then the bookseller showed up with a box that said Ferrante Fever Party Box. He handed us pins that said “Ferrante Fever” in a strangely inappropriate but eye-catching hot pink neon style. Then he reached in the party box and handed us Europa tote bags. It really couldn’t get any better I thought to myself. I may have squealed again.

“I heard you mention Franzen,” says the woman who was picking up her order.

“Yeah, there is no way I’d read his version of feminism over Ferrante,” I say without holding back again.

“Right?! I don’t like his style.”

The bookseller pipes in, “Yeah he’s not really that great.”

I walked back through Golden Gate park and thought of how willing I was to make so many opinionated proclamations. Earlier in the day I had posted an article about the death of the San Francisco Hipster and for some reason I had called out my closest friend. I didn’t feel like holding back the truth. I did cringe every time she offhandedly called me a hipster or referred to my hipster family. But what kind of friend had I been to tag her name on such a post, laughing about the death of the hipster? Because, yes the hipster is dead and really all counterculture identity is pretty much dead, but did I have to be such a snot? I must have found it necessary to share this opinion with so many people. My friend may have meant little harm calling me a hipster, or maybe it a compliment, or a simple observation. Here I wasn’t so sure. Perhaps it was out of some weird combination narcissism and smugness that prompted me to let everyone know that I dislike labels. Yeah don’t call me anything, I want to say. I’m undefinable.

And what of this comparison between Ferrante and Franzen? I had found it so validating to have a conversation about disliking Franzen. Obviously, in the literary world it’s de reiguer to put one’s nose up at highly promoted fiction writers. Yet I always end up reading his books, while all the while complaining of his misanthropy. I remember that I had ordered a signed version of “Freedom” before the release date and read it with rapt attention commanded by such a literary force. I had blabbed to all my friends about “Freedom” not unlike the incessant stream of platitudes I lay upon Ferrante’s work. But what had struck me after reading “Freedom” was that I was left feeling hollow. At first his characters had pulled me in and I wanted to follow their transgressions, hoping for redemption or insight. But “Freedom” doesn’t take you there, one is still trapped within the confines of unlikable characters and murky ethics.

When I finished “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” book three of Ferrante’s series I gasped out loud and raised my fist to an empty space. I couldn’t believe the end, even if I had seen it coming, perhaps a thematic device. For months after, I kept thinking of Lenu and Lila and they brought up insights into what it means to live as a woman in the shadow of men, those in our family and those we love. I thought of all the times that I had been a selfish friend, especially to those who I consider close, even to this day. Lenu and Lila’s lives together created a portrait of friendship and feminism that unfolded with so much energy, connection to others (including the reader), to the past and to the present, it became hard not to layer in our own memories. The many flaws of the characters left small wounds, not unlike the how I feel when I see a child left out on the playground. Oh, I how I wanted to go and offer my hand, to take away the isolation and abandonment. Ferrante creates dynamic characters who inhabit a small world, but within a span of decades of complicated friendship we are taken through so many depths of emotions we feel as if we had lived along with them.

As I write this I almost feel a strange nervous trepidation to start the last and final novel because I know it will be the end of the story of Lenu and Lila. But this is the pleasure that I long for, the joy of reading with transfixed attention to the end, and even after I finish I will still make connections and think of their story.

Are you there Judy Blume?


“I’m a part of the women’s movement, even if nobody knew it but me.”-Judy Blume

As a girl, I learned so much from Judy. I learned about periods from reading her books. You know menstruation not grammatical. Seriously, I thought she meant the period at the end. One of the girls on my block with an older sister had to tell me about the bloody kind. Of course, I was horrified and somewhat intrigued. I never asked my mother, instead I read every Judy Blume book I could. I even hid away and read “Forever” with the girls on our block and at age 8 or 9 and that book reaaaally freaked me out. But this was sex education in the 80’s. Our mothers were busy with work, raising a family and probably even trying to discover themselves as well. I know my mother did not come from a family that discussed anything remotely sexual. It was definitely not a topic that my mother ever tried to broach with her daughters.

Why am I even thinking about all of this? The other night, I finally watched Makers: Women Who Made America, a documentary about the Women’s Movement, covering the last half century. Judy Blume was one of the women highlighted and her quote is from this show. I have to say I was riveted and I definitely got sucked into the emotional tie of the movement. For a minute, I felt bad I didn’t support Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency. But I know there will be a woman in The Oval Office in my lifetime.

I was a young girl in 80’s and many of the events are still memorable. I can clearly recall Anita Hill’s testimony and protesters burning abortion clinics. But those events were merely in the background, for me life at home meant being a latch-key kid, with two parents who worked their butts off. My mom was always proud she made her own money. Self-sufficiency is a big deal for my mom, it was and is still a message she often repeats. I know her biggest fear was that we would be stuck, beholden to a man, without our own power or money. In a way, we did listen to this advice.

But where are we now as women? Where is the “movement”? Do we not care as women? Why are we not out in the streets? A few women in the show answered for us and projected the idea that maybe our generation feels that there is nothing left to fight for and we are taking feminism for granted. Maybe we even feel entitled. Obviously this is far from the truth. Every time this question came up in the show, I just wanted to shout..MAYBE WE ARE TOO BUSY AND TIRED to march in the streets! Plus I don’t want to protest, I want to change things without too much shouting.

I loved that the show featured Abigail Pogrem, the daughter of  Letty Pogrem one of the founding editors of Ms. Magazine. Abigail quit her job as a high-powered TV producer to spend more time raising her family and admits that her decision to stay home and slow down was concerning to her feminist mother. Abigail described the “ambivalence of motherhood” as the state all of us reach when we hit a wall and wonder “How are we supposed to do ALL of this?” For me this is the unanswered question and legacy of the feminist movement and we should not spend our time wondering why we are not marching in the street and screaming about injustice toward fellow women. We need to go deeper and start providing tools and guidance for all women, mothers and non-mothers, that allow us to be flexible, authentic and to form our own unique brand of feminism. There should be no war or judgment.

I’ve come across many brands of feminism and recognize and cherish the message. But sometimes, I do find it confusing and hard to figure out how to process all of the choices. The paths are not so clear cut any longer. There are so many flavors of feminism and I feel worried that these ideas are not simply honored as different facets of the same movement. Instead the dissent gets labeled as cat fights and wars. What good does do for all of us? We are are struggling in the trenches trying to make ends meet, trying to do our best.

In the end, I remember the sacrifices that were made by my mother and many strong women around the world. My mom woke up at 430 am every morning to drive an hour each away, working a very rough and tumble job at Airborne Express, where I know she endured sexism and racism. I am pretty sure she got about 5 hours of sleep almost every night and often chose to work an extra shift on Saturdays. She made this choice, so she could be home early enough to pick us up from school or at least shorten time with babysitters. Eventually, she retired from this job after nearly 30 years, with a good Union pension. Meanwhile, my father got us girls ready every morning, waking us up to brush our long curly hair and tied into two neat ponytails. He drove us to school, blaring KNX 1070 AM news, that is still seared into my brain. So my parent’s tried, they both worked hard to raise us and give us more than perhaps a young girl in India would ever have at our age.

For me, I still struggle with the legacy of American-style feminism. I watched Makers and was inspired but also noted the glaring omission of storylines from immigrant mothers, low-income families, women without degrees and single mothers. I noticed that a conservative viewpoint was also looked upon with slight disdain, as if women could not have a choice to stay true to their Christian upbringing. I feel as women, we need to set an example and break the division ourselves. An Indian family is a great example where both conservatism and liberalism collide. In most families, women still play a very feminine role that is still a prevalent identity. Most Indian women strive to create a strong family, provide home-cooked meals and may even have some conservative ideals. Yet there is a liberalism to the way Indian women look at their role, although it may not seem that they are the “head” of the household, many women take pride in running the house and know they are engine of success for the family and have a silent power that the world is a better place precisely due to their mothering ways. Yes, not very progressive but this sentiment is strong with with Indian women. But a modern Indian woman can still strive to be smart, outgoing, feisty, loud-mouthed, highly educated and a progressive career women and still make an Indian feast for the in-laws, without feeling guilty. I am not downplaying inequalities, just describing the Indian women I see in my own family here and abroad. Basically, don’t mess with an Indian mother.

This is the mash-up of feminism that I desire and I hope for it to be neither conservative or liberal. I feel so deeply rooted in my role as a mother and this shouldn’t be judged as selling out. Cooking a meal and keeping a tidy house does make me feel accomplished for the day. But I am also ambitious and independent and strive for more. I do not create an obstacle for my husband to be involved, clean and do chores. I don’t make him feel like he can’t do things as well as I can. We are both partners in this household. When we had our daughter, I made sure not hog her away and or put up any barriers. He held her and would try to soothe her. I remember training myself not to run to the rescue when I felt the urge or worried she was crying for too long. Eventually, he did calm her down and still has a special way with her that is irreplaceable and different than my approach. For me this is the feminist blend that I hope to strengthen and is how I “march” in the streets. We are still trying to learn so much about our role as women and I know that the movement is not over. I want it to progress so that more viewpoints are included. That the ambivalence slowly begins to fade. I am raising a daughter, so I feel ever connected to the feminist cause. We certainly don’t feel entitled, especially when we see that women still struggle for equality all around the world. And if it takes some marching, we  will make time for that too, with our kids in tow of course.

Dear Sheryl Sandberg.

Dear Sheryl,

I hear you have a book coming out soon, something about us women needing to hit the accelerator and “lean in” even more than we are now. Apparently, you feel that we still have way more work to do and are offering advice. Your “movement” is getting a lot of praise and you have caught my attention. But before I read your book or commit more of my valuable time to your Lean In Circles, I am just dying to know a few things.

1. Do you have a full-time nanny, housekeeper and cook?

2. When you go home for dinner with your family, what time do you jump back on your computer to answer emails and do more work? How many hours a day do you work and is it more than 40?

3. Do your “handlers” help you through your day? Do you get help or even a little help from a personal assistant, executive assistant, stylist or personal shopper?

4. Do you really think its possible for all women to “lean in?”  What if a woman or has no help, is a single mother, has an un-supportive husband or suffers from a chronic illness?

5. Have you ever been worried about money and making ends meet, or lived paycheck to paycheck?

6. Don’t you think you are simply propelling the paradigm that power can only come from the top and women need to change the world in the same way as men?

7. Have you ever broke-down, hit bottom, felt over-worked and exhausted from all the leaning in and acceleration?

8. Have you ever cried at work? Have you ever hid in the bathroom and cried at home? Have you ever cried in public? Have you ever cried to your friends?

9. Do you think its possible that women can still “run the world” without being CEO’s of big companies?

10. Do you really believe you can lead a social movement, even though you point to our lack of confidence and self-sabotaging ways, which just makes us feel more shame and reminds us that we aren’t keeping up and have more “failures” to add to our ever growing list?

I am just wondering, so I thought I would ask is all. Maybe your book is not meant for me, as I am just a mother of one, with an average-income career, 2/3’s of a college degree, who struggles to keep up with the rush of The Bay Area and can openly admit that all the striving for a high level job that breaks the glass ceiling is not so alluring.

Well anyhow, good luck with your book launch and lean in circles, I can see you are passionate that is always nice to see.

A Mother Trying to Do the Opposite of Leaning In

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