ABCs of Gender- What Does Sex Mean?
ABCs of Gender- What Does Intersex Mean?
An Interview with Priyanjali Mitra
Priyanjali is a development sector professional based in New Delhi. Having completed her under graduation in sociology from Lady Shri Ram College for Women (University of Delhi) and masters from the University of Oxford, she went on to work with the International Labour Organization (ILO) at the ECSAP Regional Office in Bangkok. Thereafter she was a CM’s Good Governance Associate in the Haryana Government posted in Panipat.
Presently, she is working with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Bharat – on microfinance, livelihoods and social welfare of women in the informal sector. Her key areas of interest are gender, education and labour and employment in South Asia.
You worked with rural women in Haryana. What were the key issues they were facing?
The most pressing issue faced by women in rural Haryana is the adverse social norms and gender discrimination that is deeply entrenched in society. The second would be the discriminatory laws and lack of legal protection. The reason why I mentioned the former is because it is the main barrier to women having freedom of mobility, education and the ability to express themselves. To add to that- a collapsed public health system, lack of infrastructure/transport in the districts are other factors that are hindering the advancement of women in the state.
How can these issues be solved?
It is essential for a wide range of stakeholders including women themselves to come forward and do their bit to push the envelope on issues related to women empowerment. State and non-state institutions as well as every individual if you come to think of it, has a role to play. Without a sustained, collective effort we won’t be able to ensure equality in its truest sense. To me, the issue of gender is as much a personal issue as it is political. Often the toughest space to bring about any change, is within the confines of the home. Each of us should begin there.
Why is empowerment important?
Empowerment is a broad term that has multiple meanings and various definitions. Borrowing from a UNFPA definition of the same, if we consider empowerment to have five components: women’s sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally, then the reasons informing the need to empower women are clear. To ensure the advancement of half the population of the world, it’s a moral imperative to empower them. Gender bias is still deeply embedded in cultures, economies, political and social institutions around the world. Women and girls face unacceptable levels of discrimination and abuse, which is not only wrong, but also prevents them from playing a full part in society and decision-making. This is the most crucial reason for furthering empowerment. Secondly, most of the work done by women today goes uncounted, unremunerated and unnoticed. In most societies and economies, women’s unpaid work and nature’s services are not accounted for and therefore not valued properly in our systems.
Why did you decide to work in the development sector?
I have always been inclined to work for people at the grassroots, workers who were more vulnerable and those who do not have the kind of access to social welfare we often do. I didn’t box this as a sector per se but through the work I do and hope to in the future, I want to keep the evidence based research and bridging the gap between policy and praxis at the core.
How important is it to consider gender concerns while working in development?
It goes without saying that it is not just a programmatic requirement or ‘good’ practice today to do so, but also the most pragmatic consideration to include gender in the entire policy cycle. The idea case is when a specific intervention/policy/programme seeks to transform gender relations in a community.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism is one of the guiding principles of my life. If I had to pin point at exactly what point the awakening occurred – it was during my under graduate years at LSR. We were taught gender as a paper by one of the stalwarts in the sociology department- Dr. Anjali Bhatia. It was through her tutorials and the debates in the classrooms that we developed a feminist lens. Stalwarts like Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, Nivedita Menon, Sylvia Plath, Gloria Steinem were introduced to us and we were encouraged to examine the ideals against our everyday lived experiences. This was the turning point for a lot of us – questioning patriarchy, thinking through how we could influence change in society and our own lives. Feminism in a nutshell is the idea of establishing radical equality between the sexes- whether that is political, social or economic. And no, humanism is not feminism. To be a feminist is to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us and it is a responsibility to make the world a better place for women. I find a lot of women our age hesitating to accept the word for the myriad often negative connotations it has. To make it easier – Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Well if you do, then you’re a feminist.
Are cultures and traditions changing in India?
This is a tough one. It needs to be understood that norms and traditions are deeply entrenched in society and to bring about change it often takes generations. If you take an example of marriage – a cursory glance at the matrimonial sections of the newspapers will tell you where we stand even today. If you think about honour killing in parts of north India, ‘love jihad’, incidence of rape and molestation – it is hard to conclude that we are changing as a nation.
Do you think India has made progress towards gender equality?
We surely have made some progress when it comes to gender equality. This itself is a vast and complex term. What does equality mean? Are women more empowered to take their own decisions today? In some spheres, they are and in a great many there remains much to be done. More women are getting educated today, compared to a few decades ago there is greater mobility due to development of infrastructure, more women hold positions of power in politics and in the higher rungs of the corporate world, women are pursuing off beat careers. But having said that, the scenario is far from ideal.
An Interview with Ashe Vernon
Ashe Vernon is a queer poet and playwright from Austin, Texas. Author of four full length collections of poetry, Ashe is a very tiny person with very tiny hands and a whole lot to say about it.
1. How do you think your gender identity and sexual orientation has impacted your work as a poet and artist?
I started writing poetry before I fully understood (or even had started to understand) my gender. Poetry was a place where I could explore questions without having to have an answer. I’ve always used poetry as a way to know myself better, and most of my poems are self reflective: examining feelings and events with greater detail and a broader understanding. It would be impossible for me to turn inward without addressing my gender and my sexuality. Queerness has shaped every part of my life, and every part of who I am. I think my best poems are about the queer experience. Some of the most profound moments of my life have been when someone I care about talks to me about their gender. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by other people with similar experiences to me, but many people aren’t. For this reason, I feel poetry is vital–it shows people that they are not alone, even when they feel like it, and gives you that intense feeling of catharsis in knowing that you are seen and you are understood.
2. In your poem “QUESTIONS FOR GOD, OR JUST ANYONE WHO’S LISTENING “, there’s one line that really stuck with me – “my gender is language i cannot speak, yet.” – Could you explain your thoughts when you wrote this line, and the poem?
I wrote that poem during an uncertain time in my life. I knew that “girl” felt wrong on me–an ill-fitting hand-me-down that I had never been allowed to grow out of. I knew what my gender wasn’t, but I didn’t know what it was. It was very isolating. I often worried I wasn’t “trans enough” for the trans community, but I certainly didn’t relate to the cis gender experience. Of the many gender related metaphors in that poem, “a language I cannot speak yet” was the most honest. In a way, it’s still the most honest. Gender as a concept never made sense to me. I couldn’t relate. It was something forced on me, not something I experienced for myself. As a teenager who was just starting to learn about things like feminism, I assumed that my various gender issues were just a combination of internalized misogyny and self loathing. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I saw the early signs for what they were, and myself for who I really am.
3. How have the people around you reacted to your gender and sexual orientation? Has it been, or is it still, hard for people to accept you the way you are?
4. Do you think your poetry is political? Why/why not?
I think all art is political, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Art is often either the creation of the kind of world we want to live in, or an exploration of the kind of world that we don’t. I rarely write poems that directly address things like legislation. However, every time I talk about the space between queer bodies, I’m talking about what I believe in. The things I value. The world I want.
5. A lot of your poems talk about religion, your family and where you grew up. How do you think your location, family and religion impacted the way you viewed your gender identity and sexual orientation?
It’s interesting how many of my poems talk about religion, when religion has so little impact on my daily life, however I grew up with a pastor for a father and it was deeply ingrained in my upbringing. I am not a religious person, but I was raised by one. And I was raised in Texas, which is a militantly Christian state. There’s no getting around the impact that growing up in a deeply conservative state has on a young queer person–how it suppresses you in a way that can feel impossible to get out from under. I think, had I grown up somewhere else, I might have discovered these things about myself a lot sooner. Especially since all it took for me to realize my sexuality was to hear a pansexual person explain what pansexuality meant.
I don’t think my upbringing changed how I viewed my gender and sexuality once I KNEW them, but I think it had a profound effect on how long it took me to know them. I wasn’t exposed to queerness except in the simplest of terms, and it prevented me from forming a vocabulary to express my experiences.
You can find Ashe Vernon at:
The Problem with Reactionary Legislation by Pranjal Pande
In the backdrop of the protests over the violent abduction, rape, and murder of Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old girl from the Rasana village of Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, the government released fresh guidelines regarding the rape of minors. The case, popularly known as the “Kathua rape case”, touched a nerve- leading to widespread protests from the public, along with multiple discussions about the prevalent yet sensitive issue of rape in the country.
On April 22nd, 2018, the Union Cabinet assented to an ordinance- a temporary law signed by the President when Parliament is not session- which would allow the courts to sentence any person(s) to death in the case of rape of a minor below the age of 12. When taken at face value this seems like a perfectly valid, even justified, action to take against perpetrators of such heinous acts. But dig a little deeper and one can see the action was not only taken in haste, but may also have adverse effects.
The ordinance came amid shock, outrage and protests all over the country. People were furious with the mishandling, politicization, and communalization of a brutal crime and demanded justice. The government needed a strong response to such a crime and this response came in the form of the ordinance, which serves as a prime example of “reactionary legislation”- when a government enacts laws hastily in response to a pressing issue. While reactionary legislation looks great on paper (who would ever argue that the rape of a child below the age of 12 shouldn’t be punished by death?) it has many detrimental effects, seen only in the future, that may be more harmful than the event which caused the legislation itself.
If we examine the ordinance in detail, we come across many fallacies. Under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who commits murder is punishable by the death penalty meaning that the Kathua rapists were always eligible for the death penalty, regardless of this ordinance. This subtlety proves to us that the legislation is definitely reactionary, because it makes no difference to the sentence tied to the specific crimes committed in Kathua, as that included murder.
However, what’s nevertheless important to focus on is that this ordinance means that now, the crime of rape of a minor below 12 carries the death sentence, regardless of anything else. This means that any perpetrator of such a rape would have no incentive to leave his victim alive, knowing that they would eligible for death. This takes away significant evidence from the case as the perpetrator may now hide or destroy the body, taking away forensic evidence and more importantly, the testimony of the victim.
While the ordinance opens the door to the death penalty, it is still the judges who decide the sentence. In any case of the rape of a minor below 12, the public will demand the harshest possible sentence, regardless of case facts, placing the judges under extraordinary pressure. This may lead judges to decide against conviction, knowing that convicting the person(s) will lead to immediate, and strong, calls for the death penalty, leading to them to even possibly acquitting the accused.
Looking beyond the legal aspects of this ordinance and instead at its social ramifications, it is seen that the ordinance, in the long run, remains detrimental and ineffective as a tool of meting justice. This is because many rapes of this nature take place within the family, perpetrated by close relatives. It is already considered common practice to hush-up abuse of any kind, including rape, and to never report it to the authorities. This is because reporting abuse is seen as threat to the family name and its honour, and also leads to the victim’s family becoming party to protracted legal battles. The idea of turning a family member in when they could be sentenced to death, effectively killing them, is incomprehensible to most families in Indian and this ordinance will only guarantee that the number of cases that already go underreported will only rise.
This is the problem with reactionary legislation. This is not the kind of article we will see in the headlines, this is not the writing we will read in the papers and this is not what the government wants to promote. But this is the truth. This ordinance is a response to heinous crime, one which should have never occurred, but it’s not remotely enough. It’s the equivalent of fixing a bullet hole with a band-aid. Rapes are a prevalent and pressing issue in this country and one we are constantly linked to in international circles. The problem of rape is an underlying one, and until the government addresses that issue, instead of reacting to the problem at hand, and starts taking proactive measures, we will see more of these rapes and more outrage and in turn, more reaction from the government. It’s a vicious cycle, where ultimately, we all lose.
Credits to Shraddha Chaudhary, whose Facebook post provided vast legal backing to this article.
By Pranjal Pande
ABCs of Gender- What Does Asexual Mean?
An Interview with Lora Mathis
Lora Mathis is a writer, visual artist, zinester, and musician from Southern California. Their first full-length collection The Women Widowed to Themselves was a Pushcart Prize nominee and published in 2015 by Where Are You Press. Their second, instinct to ruin, currently is available. They coined the term radical softness as a weapon, which explores vulnerability as a political move and sign of strength. Right now, they are working on essays and a fiction collection.
How do you think your gender identity and sexual orientation has impacted your work as a poet and artist?
My gender and sexuality are pieces of me that are in flux, and which I am consistently trying to figure out. Poetry is a space where I can sort through feelings on them and be completely seen. All pretenses are dropped in poetry. There is no hiding in it. Writing and art are some of my main tools for uncloaking shame and shaping selfhood. There is still a good deal of guilt, internalized homophobia, familial values, and societal expectations that I am working through. My gender and sexuality have certainly informed my subject matter and my voice as well, as they are woven into my identity. My work has impacted my ability to expand my vision of myself, explore new ideas of who I can be, and to feel like my full self.
Was it hard for people around you to accept you the way you are? How did you deal with it?
This question sparked a lot of feelings in me. It’s written in the past tense, with the expectation that people accepting me has been something that has already happened, but it is an ongoing process. I am not out to everyone around me. My coming out has been selective. I came out mainly to friends and in online circles, but have not had a conversation with my family or employers. In some ways, opening up to friends and the online public about thoughts I was having surrounding gender was incredibly validating. It allowed me to speak about things I was internally questioning, and to find support in them. But in other ways it was discouraging. A lot of people around me, mainly out of a lack of ignorance rather than ill intention, kept misgendering me. Being referred to as “she” felt like I was being shoved back into a self which society fit me into, and to have my my attempts at having myself be seen in new ways stomped on. That was a couple of years ago. In the last few months I’ve been using “they” as well as “she.” Somewhat out of tiredness. Somewhat out of feeling like I don’t always fit into the space of gender nonconforming. (Although in writing those words out I’m thinking—wait, who gets to decide that??) I rarely feel 100% in myself. I have so many doubts & insecurities surrounding gender. Idk! Some days “woman” stings, other days I shrug it off. Sometimes it feels like just because certain aspects of womanhood feel off just doesn’t mean the term totally does. Other times I am screaming inside that I am “NOT A GIRL!!!”
In the last couple of years, my focus with gender validation has been on creating internal space for me to explore identity, even if others don’t see me through this. Most of the time my head feels so clouded and overwhelmed by this though. Even though gender is a construct and there is no right way to look trans, I know there’s a privilege in me being “cis passing.” I know that those who are visibly trans, especially nonwhite trans people, are subject to violence and discrimination I don’t face. I haven’t had a convo with everyone about my gender thoughts and maybe I don’t want to bc some convos I did have were disappointing in how others ignored the subject. And I know this too is a privilege.
Queer friendship and poetry have allowed me to drop all pretenses and feel totally seen. I feel very thankful for those spaces for allowing me to be confused, in flux, shifting. They don’t require me to feel 100% in my feelings of identity, they support and see me through any stage. It is difficult to share feelings of gender with others when I am still shaky in them and coming into them myself because then others’ questioning and invalidation discourages my process. I am most comfortable exploring things internally and in trusted circles!
One of the projects you’re doing is titled ‘radical softness’, could you explain what it means, and why you began it?
Radical Softness started as a photo series I created in 2015, which, in its simplest intentions, worked to prove that being connected to your emotions was a sign of strength. I made that work at a time where my mental health was at an extreme low, and my head was feeding me messages that I was weak and worthless because I was sensitive. Many societal ideas seemed to support these negative thoughts I was having. But in moments when I had some clarity, I recognized that getting through the days while being severely depressed and working through trauma was not weakness. It took a good deal of strength and energy simply to stay alive. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, and that damaging messages were being fed to us all the time.The idea that strength solely means to be turned off emotionally didn’t resonate with me. I saw strength all around in me, expressed in many ways which society didn’t uphold. There is strength in being vulnerable despite pain. There is strength in the basic actions that get you through the day. Strength looks a lot of different ways. Yes, there is strength in holding yourself together, especially for others’ sake (as men are often told to for their families), but too often the inability to access feelings and view of feelings being “weak” is a disconnection from the self. Being honest, sharing about difficult experiences, takes strength. I laid out the messages promoting vulnerability because I needed physical reminders to combat my negative thoughts and because I wanted to combat the sweep of patriarchal, ableist thinking that wrote off anyone who had emotional reactions.
Do you identify as a feminist? What does feminism mean to you?
Yes, I identify as a feminist, although in the last few years I have become less concerned with labels. I hold the political values that feminism often promotes, but I do not run to declare myself a “feminist” in my first breath of meeting people. This is mainly because much of the mainstream feminism is not what I subscribe to. Feminism has become trendy and therefore, watered down. It’s been slapped on t-shirts, used to further careers, made into something which promotes solely white cis women. Feminism has to go beyond a fashion statement, otherwise it’s meaningless to me. Feminism has to acknowledge the system of oppression as a whole, which I think it often fails to do in the mainstream. If we are working for a better world, then it means not just acknowledging gender oppression (or always upholding it as the most important thing to work on), but all measures of oppression. Yes, I’m a feminist, but that’s not where my political concerns begin and end.
Would you concur with the statement that ‘All art is political’? Why/why not?
I think so. Everything we do is political. Politics affect even our simplest actions. Art is a statement of the self and the self is political.
You can find Lora Mathis at:
Weekly Roundup- 30th to 6th May
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”
– Abigail Adams
In today’s world of information overload, we might miss something worthwhile. Every week, I’ll be flagging some of the articles I have read, which I found interesting, for you. Here’s the roundup for the week:
- A state of national emergency is being declared in Costa Rica in response to skyrocketing rates of gender and domestic violence against women, as newly appointed Minister of Women’s Condition Patricia Mora told reporters.
- Vox explains the sexual misconduct allegations against R. Kelly since 1994, when he married 15 year old Aaliyah.
- Yasemin Besen-Cassino writes about her new book, where she explores the earliest gender inequalities in the labour market, those that arise among teenage workers. Cassino carried out an experiment asking participants if they would give a babysitter a salary increase (sample size of 100 American adults from an online sample, who were paid for their participation; most had hired a babysitter within the past few years).
- As reported by Bloomberg, the Saudi government program to improve the quality of life in the kingdom called for the legalization of gender mixing and an end to the mandatory prayer closures for businesses.
- Pitchfork analyses the gender balance in 2018 music festival lineups, with the use of extensive data. One of their conclusions are that while the gender balance has increased since last year, there is still a large disparity, that may in part stem from the unwillingness of organisers of larger festivals especially to take risks.
ABCs of Gender- What Does Genderqueer Mean?