My Angry Feminist Poem

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I began identifying as a feminist before it was cool to do so. I have felt the weight of my gender for most of my life. And I have fought it every step of the way. But being back in India for the past few months brought that fight to the forefront again. And my gut response to my oppression and my oppressive culture was anger. I see anger as a legitimate response. Better anger that spurs action than dejection and surrender to the pitiful state of affairs. And sometimes, I can take the anger and turn it into something more, something better, like art. I might not win an award for it. But it might strike a chord with a reader or two. And that’s better than having it burn a whole in my brain. So here is a piece I wrote well over three months ago. I call it “My Angry Feminist Poem”. 

I am more than a vagina or the size of my breasts
More than your evaluation of “hot or not”
I am not “the helper” or “the weaker sex”
And I will not fit into your imaginary box

I am more than the shade of my skin
More than my sexual orientation
More than a stereotype, label, or diagnosis
And more than a fleeting first impression

Don’t limit me to gender roles
To kitchen duties and laundry loads
Don’t downplay my wit and intellect
Don’t tell me I’m emotional and mess with my head

Don’t make shit up about how I am “nurturing”
I may not see motherhood as my “high calling”
I am more than my education or ambition
More than “career-minded”, “homemaker”, or “super woman”

Don’t reduce me to your assumptions
Or whatever signals you think I sent because
At the party, on the train, at the office, and in bed
My silence does not mean consent

Don’t speak for me, let my voice be heard
And pay attention to my words
Your attitude and platitudes do nothing for me
Oppressively upholding the plague of patriarchy

I am more than daughter, mother, sister
More than girlfriend, fiancé, and wife
I am not your slave, maid, prostitute, or secretary
And no, as a matter of fact, you can’t decide for me

I will not make myself small to protect your ego
Don’t expect me to live in your shadow
I refuse to be ashamed, terrorized, or patronized
And I refuse to let your ignorance slow my stride

I am earth and I am heaven
I am a story still being written
Wild heart, free spirit, untethered soul
I am a complexity, imperfect perfection

P.S. Have You Never Met A Woman, Let Them Stare, and follow me on Instagram.

© Copyright Benita Grace Joy 2016


The Post I Didn’t Want to Write

“India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it. I shall respect my parents, teachers and all elders and treat everyone with courtesy. To my country and all my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well-being and prosperity alone lies my happiness.”

–The Indian National Pledge of Allegiance

It’s a Wednesday morning in April. It’s already summer in Mumbai and these few morning hours are the only comfortable moments of the day before the humidity settles in like a thick, heavy cloud that covers the city. There aren’t enough handkerchiefs to wipe the perspiration that forms large droplets along the temples, between the breasts, or flowing down the small of the back. The heat has a decidedly authoritarian air about it, demanding that all succumb to its debilitating force. The brain struggles to keep up as the body focuses all its resources on cooling itself. Decision making suffers. Irritability becomes second nature. And escape? Ha!

Roadside vendors find shade under trees, makeshift shelters, or large umbrellas. Caste staring back with every passing glance. Street dogs take to napping on small patches of shadow. Even rickshaw drivers pull over to snooze. The sun is a friend and the sun is an enemy. Pollution hangs in the air as industrialization rages on. And the mounds of garbage on every street corner make social progress look next to impossible. All the while, the haves retreat into their high rise flats fitted with air conditioning units and wealth that affords them the luxury of ignoring the disparity of a growing class divide.

Over the five months I’ve spent here, I’ve been asked about my caste, blatantly, on three separate occasions. The most peculiar episode was when I got into our building’s elevator and a woman who lived a couple floors above stepped in with me. She asked if I lived in the building and then asked me point blank what my caste was. I told her I was Christian and she told me she was a Christian too. I scratched my head and looked back at her dumbfounded. She didn’t seem to notice anything ironic about that.

So here I sit. Sipping what remains of my lukewarm black tea. Laptop whirring quietly. I can’t help but think about how the last five months have changed me. In moments of frustration, I have voiced the sentiment: I love India. But India doesn’t love me. I am protective of India. But India isn’t protective of me. I want progress for India. But Indians don’t seem to care for progress any more than the stray cares for dog treats. So let’s just be real, tell the whole truth, and sit with it in all its yuckiness.

First, this whole idea that India is so welcoming and hospitable? Well, it is. If you have loads of money or are perceived to have loads of money. If you have fair skin. If you’re male. If you can make threats or appear authoritative. Or if you’re somebody’s somebody or connected. Or if you are a good little human that fits into your place, status, and function in society. For example, an unmarried woman living alone is already problematic. But most importantly, if you’re white. India’s so called “hospitality” is a testament to its internalized and overt racism, classism, and dare I say it, self-hate.

Self-hate is such a strong word, you might think. But how else would you describe a nation with a multi-billion dollar fairness industry? How else do you describe people that go gaga over foreign dog breeds but can’t take care of their own strays? How else to you describe a nation that is racist towards its own Northeasterners who are said to have (yes, this offensive and derogatory word I’m about to type is still in use) “mongoloid” features? How else do you describe those situations in which the person shouting the loudest gets served first? How else do you explain the militant staring? How else does the sexual assault of women in the general compartment of the Mumbai local train become a “normal” thing?

Most importantly, how else do you explain raving reviews about hospitality and kindness from Caucasian tourists while tourists from African nations are met with discrimination and straight-up hatred, and some are even jailed for crimes they never committed? How do you explain the disdain I face every day because my Hindi isn’t up to par, while a white person in the same situation still gets treated like a VIP? And how do you explain the rampant and ridiculous VIP culture that this country is cloaked in?

And the thing about caste is this: if you can’t value the perceived lowest among you, you aren’t valuing yourself. Because the “lowest” caste is just as much a part of you as you are a part of them. How else do you explain the common refrain: “But this is India” and “India is like this only”? All this is not to say that progress isn’t occurring. In fact, I think it is, for sure. But it is slow. And the growing global disparities in wealth distribution make social progress feel like a pipe-dream at worst and a grim hope for the future at best.

As dismal as this post reads, I have to say, I love this country. It has always evoked the closest thing to patriotism for me. Maybe it’s a connection with the earth here. Something about belonging to the land. And maybe it is precisely my love for this place that gives rise to my anger and indignation about its state of affairs. And I salute the few and far between who are working towards social progress in various areas. What am I doing about it? Well, I’m saving that for my next post.

P.S. Let Them Stare, Have You Never Met A WomanCreative Sabbath, Navigating New RealitiesThe Adventure Heart, and follow my travels on Instagram!

© Copyright Benita Grace Joy 2016

Have You Never Met A Woman

Does my loudness offend you?
Does my confidence make you squirm?
Have you never met a woman who refused to conform?

Does my wisdom unnerve you?
Does my intelligence trigger your insecurity?
Have you never met a woman who could think independently?

Are my opinions too much to handle?
Do my questions make you upset?
Have you never met a woman who could speak for herself?

Are my bare shoulders a “stumbling block”?
Are my legs too much for your repressed sexuality?
Have you never met a woman who was comfortable with her body?

Does my light shine too brightly?
Are you pissed about my radical rebirth?
Have you never met a woman who recognizes her own worth?

Is my ambition so unsettling?
My drive and passion a threat, or worse?
Have you never met a woman who knew the world was hers?

Do you have it in you to support my dreams?
Or do you prefer that I stay low key and “help”?
Have you never met a woman you saw as equal to yourself?

© Copyright Benita Grace Joy 2016

P.S. Let Them Stare