Continuous scales for injustice

I was thinking about why I am ashamed of my posts and don’t want anyone to read them, and pealing back the layers of feelings and thoughts involved, I realized that the reason is simply that I think these issues are ultimately not-important-enough in the universe of issues that I should/could be worrying-obsessing-doing-something-about. So while racism-feminism is something that affects me on a day-to-day basis and frequently reduces my enjoyment of daily life at work and out-in-the-world, and homophobia is just wrong and ridiculous and makes-me-angry-sick-sad, I ultimately believe that my preoccupation with these issues is a frivolous past time – like focusing on a bruise on my arm to avoid thinking about the cancer in my brain. For instance, last time I went back home, I saw a child, about five, sleeping on the sidewalk. I saw many such children every day until I stopped seeing them. And then I came back and spent time feeling furious-helpless because the lady downstairs came and questioned us because someone had broken the apartment lights, and her gut-sense told us that it must be us.

So how do other feminists think about this? Do they too rate their sense of injustice against other injustices in the world?


Saying what I really think.

I am envious of my dear friend Unamerican. She has found, through what most likely was a not-straightforward process, a spot within academia that reconciles multiple interests and fits within her moral view of the herself and the world. I am jealous while also simultaneously disagreeing with her and being happy for her. Let me focus on the disagreement part for the moment.

Let me back up a bit and start with what I thought/hoped for when I joined academia. I thought: (a) that by joining academia, I’m participating in a parallel world that is set-apart and away and above the industrialist system, giving me the role of overseer, evaluator, and educator. I thought that an academic job, where I might contribute to understanding alternative forms of firm governance and corporate wrongdoing, was a simultaneously more worthy and more interesting task. (b) I also thought/hoped that this more critical view of our existing system would be my contribution as a teacher. (c) and finally, I thought that my presence (as a brown woman teaching a business course) helped overturn implicitly held notions about who does what type of work.

And in the past 12 years within western academia, it is true that some of these did hold. It is true, for instance, that as a researcher, I have had the opportunity to study the industrial system as an outsider. However, what is also true is that there is almost no demand/interest in such work, and the bar for publishing/getting a job/tenure in such areas is impossibly high, which tends to happen when there is too little demand for a particular type of work. I cannot, in good conscience, encourage PhD students who are interested in this field. The reasons for this dearth become painfully obvious as soon as you walk into an MBA classroom. This is a place populated by keen middle-aged men (and a handful of women) who have shelled approximately 50K in the hopes that an MBA will give them a boost in the career-race. They want courses on leadership and motivation and negotiation skills and technology strategy. They don’t want to hear about how the industrial system is organized and which types of arrangements are most likely to lead to corporate wrongdoing, and you can’t teach something people don’t want to learn. No demand for a particular type of teaching -> less interest in that field of research (on average, 3 people read the articles published in top-journals in this field) -> a greater and greater reliance on contribution to core theory to justify research -> high bar for publication/tenure -> a handful of white men survive and dominate the field -> activism consists of these few getting together once every couple of years and bemoaning their irrelevance.

So at least in my little bit of the universe, there is no connection between academia and social relevance.

Ode to Idyllic Places

Why is it that idyllic places that are green everywhere the eye can see, with no glass monstrosities marring beauty, why is it that these places are also the most explicit in their misogyny? The West does a good job of hiding hate beneath layers of talk about equality and anti-discrimination and diversity. Idyllic places show no such artifice, and a part of me admires this honest cruelty – it seems easier to battle something that is visible and out-in-the-open. I come from an idyllic place and everytime I take my husband and kids there, I feel pride and yearning and I want them to love-this-place-like-I-do, and I spend much time translating away all the weirdness, and equal time cringing in horror, angry at all the unnecessary ignorance. If I give directions to the taxi driver while my husband stands silent, the taxi driver becomes monosyllabic and rude and finds it hard to answer basic questions like the rate and how long it will take to reach; at the temple, if I step forward ahead of the husband (yes, I do that, badly bought up that I am) and ask the priest what time the darshan will start, he averts his eyes and mumbles to the floor since talking to me, a woman, will risk…I don’t know what…something horrific is sure to happen; oh and then there are the countless men at every store who speak to my chest (I am flat chested but that does not seem to discourage them); at the ancestral home, my aunts are sweet and motherly and stand as we eat, waiting to serve us, and then they ask me later what my husband does (and I tell them, failing to mention what I do, filling in all the empty spaces with much talk about the kids – why spoil a perfectly smooth interaction and the yummiest meal I’ve had in years); at the neighbour’s house, the girl whispers and asks me how I snagged him, my husband (because he is fair and I am not, and my parents must have paid a bomb to purchase such a fair husband for me); and all the advertisements for cholis and dhotis and elaborate silk sarees have happy-looking white people modelling them (tis better to be white, even when wearing a fully embroidered gold and red colored Ghagra and Cholli); and then on our last day in my idyllic homeland, a kindly aunt compliments me that my daughter is fair – she is being nice – it is much harder to marry off a dark-skinned girl and all the marriage ads are full of “wheatish” skinned prospects – no one of marriageable age in Kerala is brown. Let’s not even get started about racism and homophobia, and all the sly comments about “those people”…..

No. Idyllic places cannot be accused of pretence – hate is all very explicit and clear.

Blog. By Anonymous.

Should I blog anonymously? Seems dangerous to say these things as me, wanna-be Professor of strategy. I could get fired (unlikely) or denied tenure (possible) for saying these horrid rude bitter things….like going to a wedding ceremony with smiling hosts and bringing in a pile of shit and placing it on the clean white cloth. The guests at this event, is it their fault, that they fit in and I don’t? It’s not their fault they found me outside looking into the party inside and were kind enough to invite me. And did I care much about class as an upper-class woman in India? No. Indeed, I remember spouting some nonsense about the government handouts given to lazy moochers. Hierarchy is a problem for me, it appears, only when I am towards the bottom of it. And these people, my colleagues, did I say bad things about them? And if I did, ‘tis not even fair what I said, and ‘tis not even true. My ire, my anger, is not about them, these are kind people, who took me in, and helped me, and guided me, and like me as one-of-their-own. No it is not them. They are me and I am them, at least most of the time.

My anger, my hatred is born of a thousand small bitter things, adding one upon another over 15 years, mementos of my career. Sharp, spiky things. Like walking into a conference event, for perhaps the hundredth time, and finding crowds of suited people, and only one approachable, a small Chinese woman as alone as me, a PhD student new to the field. Or looking straight at any security guard I walk past since I think they think that I might have stolen something but thieves don’t typically look people in the eye, I’ve read somewhere. Or when I am mistaken, for the hundredth time, to be a PhD student or an MBA student, by colleagues, students, administration, hitchhikers, neighbors, visa officials, everyone. It was flattering the first 50 times – the look of surprise when I said I-am-Prof, but after that, it is shaming – like a servant girl caught wearing her employer’s clothes. Like when I email some executive using my office email and they respond with deference-obsequiousness to this prof-in-HEC, and then I meet them in person, and inevitably, the deference vanishes replaced with “are you a Phd student?”, and a sense that I somehow cheated them. Or when my students just cannot believe that a core strategy course is being taught by someone-so-implausible, but they can’t put their finger on what exactly is wrong with me – maybe it is the content? Not really, the content is great. Maybe if I was more forceful. No, not really, no one wants a forceful Asian woman. Maybe, if I was just someone else, someone-more-plausible. But the worst is when fellow-researchers, like that guy from LBS, the Indian quant guy, or that one from INSEAD, the network guy, react with cold-hard-hate, looking away at anything other than me, moving one chair away in the round-table discussion (maybe-I-smell?). I don’t even know these people. What could I have done to earn this hate? I rack my brains, anger and despair warring within. Are they psychopaths? But they seem to get along fine with Adam-with-the-three-A-pubs.

Is it fair to use sometimes as examples my poor colleagues to make my case, just because this is where I am now, and I am writing this now because my friend suggested a blog, and I see everything now from this prism of hard-sharp memories? If my colleagues saw this, what would they think? They’d be hurt-surprised I think. And more instrumentally, if someone finds this, will I be able to find another job in a business school? Probably not since business schools are race-class-gender neutral zones where these petty-whiny-loser grievances don’t exist. So why do I want my name, my real name, to be on this? A death-wish perhaps, because I don’t want to be scared-little-girl, or maybe because I want an excuse for not succeeding in this my chosen battleground. Then I can say, with some earnestness, that I failed because of an honest blog, not because I am really not old-white-man-classical-scholar-Granovetter material, and then hand over the household reins back to my IIM-husband who always was much better at this breadwinner business.

Black and Brown in Academia

I am weary and my bones ache. I’ve battled for long and hard and am bruised and black and brown. My enemy is a thousand times my size and doesn’t even feel my blows; my scars are not from deliberate thrusts and parries from my enemy but because I’ve thrown myself against this implacable monster time and again. So silly. It is all my mother’s fault really. She is an Indian mom, an ex-nun, the oldest of 7 girls, and she was most irritated with me whenever I was shy or scared or backing away from a fight or wanting to do girly things like dress up and wear pretty shoes. She was proudest of me when I beat all the boys and won. She would cut my hair so short I looked almost like a boy, especially if I dressed in loose jeans. Her heroine was Kiran Bedi, the police woman who faced down a corrupt institution and won (sort of – at least she got a lot of press even though she didn’t really go very high career-wise, but that is neither here nor there). Kiran Bedi was my mother’s hero, and I always knew that I should aspire to be someone like Kiran Bedi; a little woman taking on a goliath and winning. And so I’ve found myself my own goliath to fight with and am beating my fists against this implacable enemy, screaming myself hoarse, throwing all my weight against this great wall of china to see if it would move. So silly. But really what else am I to do? Should I give up and stay at home and raise my kids and have a comfortable life, one where I get 8 hrs of sleep every day and don’t feel guilty about bathing or reading a book, and don’t come home everyday scarred and bleeding from the day’s battles and then spend all night with a sick child; a life where I stay in my rightful place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Things are so much easier when you stay in your place. Like when the four of us (husband, wife, and two kids) go for a walk; people smile benevolently at us – the kids are cute and clean and brown, my husband and I are foreign and don’t speak the language, but we are dressed well and, together, the four of us, we add to the color on a bright sunny day in Europe; my husband pays for the groceries and I stay and run after our 2 year old. Everyone plays their rightful roles and the sun beams down at us. It is nice, easy, soft like a cocoon to play my rightful role. Not sharp and biting like when I have to admit that I’m the breadwinner in the family, or when I have to walk into a class full of Europe’s elite and teach them strategy, or when I say in the department meeting that I want to teach executive education. That is where the money in academia is, it’s in exec-ed, and I have to send my son to private school where the expat kids  are less likely to say that his skin “is the color of my shit” and where he won’t feel so alone (there is one Chinese kid in the expat school and one other brown kid) and I still have a hope that he will grow up thinking of himself as leader-material and not the worker-bee, the number-cruncher, the computer nerd who works 12 hrs, the side-kick to his more charismatic white-guy leader who works 5 hrs but is smart and knows how to reel the investors in. So I need to teach exec-ed (for the money, for my son, and also because, really, how can I back down and slink away like a scared little girl). And in the department there is a dire need for exec-ed teachers, and I am now the most senior among the possible candidates, but to teach exec-ed, a prerequisite is a penis, white skin is a plus, and volunteering myself is yet another throw-myself-against-the-great-wall-of-china, and I can feel the department’s thoughts as clearly as I can read the pages of a book – “why can’t this little brown woman not embarrass herself by pushing herself forward so crassly and really, who are we kidding here, executives are going to laugh at all of us if we send this little brown twit from some piss-poor country to teach – she looks like she is about 20 years old!” But I was brought up to battle goliaths, and so I ask about exec-ed, and the department head says, with remarkable restraint, I later thought, that exec-ed teaching is for seniors. There is a brief pause while everyone else looks away from my embarrassment, and then the conversation moves on as if I’d never interrupted the steady smooth ebb and flow.