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How The Media Makes You Perform Your Gender And Identity Every Day

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Once we give up on the idea that only heterosexuality is normal and that all human bodies are clearly either male or female, more and more kinds of bodies and desires will come into view. Perhaps also, one body may, in one lifetime, move through many identities and desires. The use of, queer then, is a deliberate political move, which underscores the fluidity (potential and actual) of sexual identity and sexual desire. The term suggests that all kinds of sexual desire and identifications are possible, and all these have socio-cultural and historical coordinates.”
― Nivedita Menon

Gender is an amorphous concept, a social construct carefully designed to ensure a system of dominance, reproduction and structure, often at odds with the psyche. Sex and gender are used so synonymously that we often forget that they don’t always align. As Judith Butler states, “gender is always a doing” and it is this performance that we must continue playing.

Sex is biological, but it cannot be completely absolute, as proposed by many physicians. There is so much more than the XX and XY chromosomes when a child is born, and to categorise the newborn into neat compartments of a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’ becomes a task. Here begins the performance. Our gender is ascertained by the way we act, talk, sit, stand and perform. By continually acting like men and women, we become men and women.

What Does The Media Do To Distort Our Reality Further?

When we see an advertisement for women’s cosmetics, it is always based on delicacy, poise and even infantilising – with women often represented in groups as young girls chuckling and laughing.The ritualisation of subordination by representing the body as a text, to convey subjugation, for example showcasing the woman pining for support or control from the man and licensed withdrawal like the woman going off to a dreamy world is seen. These actions and representations thus reinforce masculine codes of conduct. These concepts, further elucidated by Sir Erving Goffman, show us how presenting a problematic image, over and over again, becomes normative and sells in the name of creative advertising.

An example of the portrayal of women with unrealistic beauty standards was when Priyanka Chopra, a global icon was seen completely dazed, with photo-shopped armpits. Twitterati greeted this advertisement with a lot of criticism. Furthermore, national dailies laughing off feisty women in the Indian parliament as “Aunty National” goes a long way in exacerbating the patriarchal question. The online vitriol against women is nothing new to the ear.

In Indian television soaps, the vamp is mostly in sexy black sarees and a red pout, while the sublime epitome of beauty, the angelic daughter-in-law prefers nude makeup and lighter shades. What we see is what we become – and in a vicious cycle of operant conditioning, we come to associate people’s character with their choice of makeup and clothes.

Representations of the queer community have been symbolically annihilated, with not even one story of lesbian relationships coming to the forefront. Hijras have been intrinsic to the Indian community and were worshipped next to God since times immemorial. But today, the community (that of hijras) is considered to be a disgrace, from whom we hide our morally upright faces. Rarely are they portrayed as successful and educated people. In stark contrast, Apsara Reddy, India’s first trans woman journalist with a soaring career, is one among many who prove that such stereotypes are baseless and formed only to validate the norm. What we often forget is that, what’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.

To understand the role of media in cultural appropriation and slander, we need to open the epistemological fractures of third world feminism. Any narrative based on the plight of the third world, oppressed, hijab wearing woman or the Indian housewife runs the risk of ghettoisation. Is third world feminism a gift to the ‘lesser’ world from able-bodied white women? Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism comes into play here. Our knowledge about people from other cultures comes mainly to us through representations in popular culture, and this knowledge is anything but innocent. It’s neatly packaged and formulated through the lens of the West, to reaffirm the latter’s superiority.

Why is it that we almost always see the thobe and kufeya wearing Arab man with a rifle cast in the role of a terrorist, and not a CIA agent? Sut Jhally’s documentary, Reel Bad Arab dwells into this question of the missing realistic representation of the ‘other’ communities in the arts. A woman from the East is always monstrous, exotic and sensuous. The same idea was sold to us by Beyonce in “A Hymn For the Weekend”, that portrays India essentially as a land of mystery. India in the 21st century is way more than snake charmers and funambulists – it is educated, metropolitan and a global magnet with its large consumer-based economy.

The representation of a ‘timeless Orient’, (one that is miles away from development, remains between tepid waters of tradition and indoctrination) in contrast to the ‘American Dream’ (wherein a utopian world that gives you what you work for). Be it the stifling and intoxicating energy of a typical New York octogenarian running marathons or the successful, young and independent working woman – there is always a stereotype to portray the West as hegemonic and superior – very often, distancing itself from the reality and the anguish of the ‘American Dream’.

Today, witnessing or encountering other cultures has now very little to do with geographical movement. It is available to us at the click of a button. But, it is up to us not to swallow everything we are fed with without investigating.

This post is a part of my series #PoliticalIsPersonal on Youth Ki Awaaz that explores how an innocuous act like opening your house gates to someone has immense political echoes across the system. I plan on understanding the link between political thought and personal liberty and how the two almost always are at loggerheads.

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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