Today, four of the infamous Delhi rapists have been sentenced to die. Millions of people around the world are thrilled and millions around the world are infuriated, both by the much-anticipated verdict. These cases are in every society and sexual desire is clearly something the world must socialize its earthlings to better cope with, especially when it reaches as far as murderous rape. As I write this, elated crowds are on the streets of Delhi celebrating the verdict. But what do you, dear reader, have to say about it?
Perhaps that segues into my column about desirability especially since I am speaking to a woman currently living in India. This week I continue my column about desirability in the workplace. Sneha Subra is not just a friend of mine but my essential rock, and ours is a truly romantic story of friendship. I am privileged to have trudged through teenage-hood side-by-side with such a dynamic intelligent friend and now to be walking through adulthood still together with her in loyal friendship. She is an educator and writer currently based in India. She is a graduate of Knox College in Illinois and Azim Premji University in Karnataka, India.I recently spoke with her about her experience as a woman in education. “Chinchilla” is an inside joke. Enjoy!
DM: My dear chinchilla, do you see yourself as a woman in education or an educator who is a woman?
SS: Well, I have a very broad scope in terms of my work because I see what I do not only as a profession but as a calling. I am an educator. In the narrow sense that means I design curricula, observe, analyze and attempt to improve school practices through research, theory and development. From the larger picture, though, I think I’m here to help people and make their lives better, as a professional, yes, but first and foremost as a human being.
DM: I ask that question because somehow men are usually just called “writer” or “educator” but when it comes to women there is always the lopsided need to place “female” before those words.
DM: Tell us, is education a male-dominated field in your experience?
SS: Education? No, on the contrary I would say that the field has been feminized and, as a result, continues to suffer from a low status. Most teachers are female. However, in terms of who decides educational policy- that ultimately governs the entire education system- yes, I would say decision makers are predominantly male.
DM: Right. As you know my column discusses how “desirable” one has to be in their professional life. In the past we have heard about sexualized images as a necessity to get ahead in the workplace to get ahead. Could you speak to that a little bit?
SS: I think, for a woman, the image enters all domains of life. A good looking teacher or professor is likely to garner more initial interest from learners and so, perhaps, it becomes important to tap in on this appeal to get learners thinking. In the long run, however, it is the human connection and content that overrides image. On the other hand, while working with different communities and attempting to implement policy or conduct workshops, the image can make a crucial difference. For the woman to be accepted as a leader and someone who wields power, a traditional attire goes a long way in asserting authority and experience. The idea of the working woman is convoluted in the image- not only with regards to sex appeal but also in temrs of what values this woman embodies. The antiquated virgin/whore dichotomy as the basis for perceiving the woman is, very sadly, something I see living and thriving in contemporary society.
DM: Tell me though, chinchilla, can this image of appeal be harmful to pedagogy?
SS: Well, like I said, chinchilla, I think appeal can be used as an initial trigger to reel in the learner.
SS: Also by conforming to standards of beauty and appeal at times, and not conforming at others through one’s physical manifestation one can probe into critical thinking to ask learners to start thinking about the image an the woman and how they go hand in hand. not only in our everyday but in film to we must analyze the image of the female and desirability – through our own experiences and ideas of the male and female gaze. So if one is aware, it can be helpful but mostly with people who haven’t reflected and thought about how they fit into the scheme of womanhood and how it fits into their identity, it can be harmful. And this reflection is not one reached by intellect but by exposure.
DM: How does one expose oneself to that reflection? Is it socialization or a more individual quest?
SS: I think it’s a bit of both. But definitely socialization comes first, otherwise the question of that quest may not come into the picture. The thing is that being a strong woman is not just about defying stereotypes. It is not about playing sports or being a business tycoon, it is about fully knowing yourself and experiencing your independence as a matter of course that you will fight for if need be. No course can really teach this because it is so very personal. This is my conception of being a woman, anyway, and I find many people getting lost in the trappings of stereotypes and losing out on questioning the ideological influence of being the Second Sex, as Simone de Beauvoir said.
DM: Fascinating. I love it. Let us, at this juncture, shift the focus to male colleagues now. Do male colleagues also have the capacity to use desire to lure the learner or is the appeal different?
SS: I think they definitely do but the appeal there probably comes from the fact that they are so unconscious of their image. I find this very attractive but I’m a bit of a sapiosexual, especially when in a classroom scenario
DM: You said before that you were not the “good” woman in how you spoke freely about sex etc when you first came to Delhi.Tell us a little bit more about your unorthodox behavior as a woman in that setting.
SS: Haha. Oh, chinchilla! Haha!
DM: Not like that, you chinchilla!
SS: Hmm, okay. I don’t consider myself unorthodox although many people see me that way. It is a simple question of have the social and mental freedoms to make my own decisons and live my own lifestyle and be a good human being for me. That is what informs my day to day. I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about how I am being perceived at every turn as long as I can live my my own ideals.
DM: Are you able to be yourself as a happy feminist woman despite the male gaze?
SS: I think I am conscientious of the trappings of the male gaze and deliberately ensure I do not fall prey to it. For me, my understanding of men, women, sex and human beings comes out in my conversations. I am not afraid to talk about gender discrepancies that are ailing society from any lens -whether that means talking about sex or whether that means leading a highly independent lifestyle and making choices and exhibiting behaviors that are not traditionally thought of as “correct” for the female. I strive to be fearlessly myself in terms of my mind’s articulations and actions. I do not know if that is desirable or not for the other, but it is for me.
DM: Thank you, chinchilla, for your time.