Critical Thinking cards


I don’t often back kickstarter initiatives, but I backed the Logical Fallacy card game. I have bought and used the Logical Fallacy poster before, and now I’ve got two sets of Critical Thinking cards. Check them out. It’s a good game, and a great way to teach your children, students, friends, and family the foundations of critical thinking. In their next edition, I hope there are women philosophers in the cards. 28168513_1580163162030695_1398027793386866266_n


The labor of academic job applications

The Passion of Creation
Leonid Osipovich Pasternak – 1892

In the past few years, I realized that one of my guilt-bundles comprises the guilt that I am not participating in the madness of job application season to the requisite level.

Why, you ask? Why wouldn’t you apply for the few academic jobs available?

Here’s why: because of the emotional labor of academic job applications. (Thank you for writing this, Andrea Eidinger.)

I hate to admit this to myself, but I actively avoid job applications. I still do them, but the very thought of going through the creation of a serious, customized document (many hours and days of work that really ought to be paid) renders me a huge lump of emotional garbage. 

The cover letter asks me to define myself. Redefine myself. Explain myself. Who am I? What have I been for the past decade? How have I re-invented myself, time after time, in the throes of the horrors of the job market? How have I turned academic tricks simply to remain relevant? How have I performed whatever acts needed, changing, morphing into whatever I was required to become? How have I plastered new posters over my identity billboards? How have I sold out everything I worked to become in the past? Really? I’m supposed to say all that, and then face myself in the mirror, rather than let the earth devour me?

Then you want a resume, or a curriculum vitae, customized to the length your committee desires. Because you want hundreds of us to commit hundreds of hours but you don’t even want to read, skim, or scan through my glorious fourteen page c.v.? Do you realize how many ways there are to organize a c.v.? Do you realize how much detail of font, size, paragraphing, and punctuation is required? You want me to re-do all that?

I get it. You’re on a committee. You want to reduce the work hours you spend. But you expect all of us – who are unpaid, unemployed – to spend those work hours? Just to prove we can perform as workaholics?

And then you want a separate document that says something about how I do diversity. How about just read my cover letter, which you barely skim through anyway?

In this market, it no longer makes sense to demand that hundreds of applicants perform hundreds of work hours to produce trash for the employer’s waste basket simply to make the first cut. The first step should be a simple industry standard of a short cover letter, a former reference letter, and a c.v. 

Yes, a former reference letter. Don’t overwork our referees. Please. We go through many seasons of job applications. We need that goodwill. Why would you destroy it? We’re academics: one of the few things we have is our networks and colleagues.

The process of job applications dredges up the depressive memories of dozens of previous job applications over the past decade. The dreams, the excitement, the potential, the promise, – it’s an enormous emotional investment. What will this teaching be like? What are the curricula? The majors? The departments? The new town? The cultural life? The institutional service? The colleagues? Their research agendas? It’s like preparing to get married. You have to imagine an entire life in an entire universe for it to work. You have to imagine being a whole person in that universe. 

Infographic-DossierWhile imagining several other universes (because you can’t just do one job application).

And then, just like that, the universe collapses around your head. And you’re supposed to pick yourself up, say thank you for not (reading) my materials and thank you for replying (with a form letter) (eventually, after I begged for a response).

Many potential employers don’t even bother to acknowledge your application. (Too much work, I’m guessing). At times, you end up in toxic and insulting exchanges with potential employers (professors who advocate social and educational justice are no exception at all), poor planning and communication by their administrative staff and committee chairs (while demanding that applicants perform, like circus animals, to perfection).

May I suggest sharing the workload?

In fact, perhaps employers could also be required to do some work, proportional to the labor job applicants perform? Here are some possible tasks that employers could do, prior to soliciting job applications: 

  1. Write a 10 page essay on the toxic dysfunction in the department (with a convenient bulleted list as Table of Contents). Perhaps at least 30% of your applicants might save themselves the bother of applying when they discover that 60% of the department don’t actually speak to each other, and 90% of them take turns shunning each other. Maybe this way, new employees know better how to survive.  
  2.  Provide a list of all the different roles all the different department members are expecting the new hire to play (with footnotes and details of all the tasks). This would help her prepare to politically and strategically dodge, bow, and scrape her way through the first 6 years until she gets tenured or (used up and) dumped. Or perhaps this way she knows in advance that she can have no semblance of a life once she lands in her office, and she can weigh the pros and cons of not having a baby versus having your shit academic position. Maybe 20% of your applicants would swipe left when they discover that Full-Professor doesn’t do anything ever, and that he doesn’t even recognize his doctoral student on the day of the defense (True story, guys. And he’s still flying high, using the labor of Fresh Academic Blood on a year-to-year basis). 
  3. Compose a historical narrative of all the passive-aggressive encounters in every department meeting, with warning signs on which professors and administrators to watch out for, vis-a-vis plotting together or with students. Provide a list of persons who must be avoided in the hallways at all costs, as they will try to drag you into their ongoing badal vendettas with the other tenured faculty.
  4. Along with a clear chart of all department faculty, provide notes as to which one is a only in the job because of his fundraising abilities (his former sports fans donate money to him for the department), and which faculty is there because she is a Collegial-Thug on behalf of FullProfessor (see above), so he can’t legally be traced as the source of Thuggery. (More true stories). This way, the new hire knows and can never be disillusioned about FullProfessor or Collegial-Thug, and can simply fake-smile his way through to tenure.
  5. Provide a organizational chart, showing which graduate students are really just going to get their Ph.D.’s in return for politicking on behalf of which faculty. For instance, Insecure-But-Tenured Faculty Member who is always looking for dirt on everyone else via graduate students. That way New Hire can avoid crossing Graduate-Student-For-Hire, or can avoid pissing off Insecure-But-Tenured by inadvertently applying plagiarism regulations to said Grad Student.

By providing a bank of such documents, academic departments can cut back on their hiring workload by simply weeding out any potential applicants who don’t have the stomach for skullduggery. Perhaps any real human beings, seeing the writing on the wall, can just tell you to shove your academic appointment up your own a***s. Perhaps such applicants can save their labor, and look for a position where they might work with actual human beings.

Aging immigrant at a desi restaurant

me devonSomething came upon me today. After I’d had my usual breakfast, watched my usual TV, cleaned up and did the dishes as usual, I felt a great restlessness come upon me. It was as if I’d been replicating the same groundhog day over and over and over for ever. If I remained in this cycle, I would disappear, dissolve, and cease to be.

I tried to persuade another person “Let’s do something different,” and I failed. In a great sulk, I stuffed my bag (my usual laptop and my usual lunch of a banana), and got in my car and started driving. Where was I going? I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I was trapped in a cage, and I didn’t know how to get out. I drove south, then east, then toward the library – no, not the library, I always go to the library – then to Trader Joe’s – no, I will not go grocery shopping; I will not make myself useful, I will not be sensible. I am sick of being sensible. I feel like a pressure cooker. I have been good, and restrained, and moderately pious for so long. I am like a shriveled turnip.

I don’t even know who I am and what I like. I just know what I don’t do. I know what I refrain from. I know who I’m not. I’m so used to telling myself no, I don’t even know what I want anymore. My heart has stopped telling me.

I ended up on Devon Avenue. Parked, paid, and walked up the street. The wind was bitingly cold. In my sulk, I hadn’t brought a scarf or thick gloves. I popped into all the expensive-ish clothing stores that I never visit when I’m with my husband and my daughter. They have no interest in the clothes. They are always impatient to leave. Why do I do everything with them? I will buy something outrageously expensive, I tell myself. Then I check the prices and restrain myself. Again. Off I go.

I stop at a desi restaurant and order lamb chops. I never get lamb chops. They are delicious and tender and I eat them all, alone, watching people hop on and off the bus outside. There’s a woman talking on the phone near me, in English, with a slight accent. I used to have an accent. I think. I used to be out of place. When did that stop happening? When did I start stumbling over Urdu? My friends who are immigrants don’t do that. Maybe because I married an American and not a Pakistani.

Years ago, when I was visiting Pakistan from the UK, and was scheduled to fly out the next day, my mother told me my father had been crying during the night: meri kuri bahr li hogayi eh (my daughter has become a foreigner, an exile, an outsider). I now understand, and I see why crying, grieving is the thing to do.

I eat my lamb chops and pakoras while I read the local Urdu paper. I watch the people outsider. An older Pakistani woman gets off the bus, in her thin shalwar kameez and a coat and plastic shoes that are out of place here and wrong for the weather. Maybe she’s not “older.” Maybe she’s my age, aged by work and struggle. She’s pushing one of those personal grocery carts. I could be her, I think, married in my teens, and by now thinking of my grandchildren, worrying about the relatives I must sponsor to the US. I could be thinking everyday thoughts, how to get through the day, where to get the cheapest tomatoes and how to wheedle some money out of my husband.

Instead I sit here, indulging in an existential sulk.

I feel incomplete, eating the lamb chops. My kid loves lamb chops. I text my husband to say I’m in Devon. He says they are heading over to join me now. I think I’m happy about this. I’m not sure.

The shopkeeper makes friendly conversation with me. They don’t usually, when my husband is with me. Or maybe it’s just him. He jokingly calls me Shabana Azmi. When I’m done eating, he calls out to me by name, asking how the chops were. I tell him they were excellent, and head out.

Then I head over to another desi fast food restaurant and order some biryani to go. Here the clientele aren’t speaking English. Clusters of working men speaking Urdu and other  South Asian languages I don’t recognize. I order and wait. Guys look at me with harmless curiosity. I don’t fit, they think. I sit, and I think I fit just fine. In fact, I can already feel myself aging.

Some years from now, maybe I will sit here a lot oftener. Some young woman will look at me and feel grateful that she is not me. I will sit here like the old men sitting at a corner table, talking – not about Trump or Rauner or global warming or dinosaur fossils, but something else, something not those things.

As I sit longer, alone, I feel a whisper of wind that takes me, little by little, back to a previous life. Me, sitting in an Islamabad restaurant, eating with other niqabis. Haggling with a shopkeeper. Nagging the hostel maids to cook better food. I really am having an existential moment. I am a stranger to myself. When I think of my life in English with my White husband and my half-White child, I feel like it’s a life in a lab, like The Truman Show, unreal, made-up. The stage props will melt away suddenly, and I’ll be revealed as that woman in her plastic shoes, planning a bhindi dinner, worried about how my kameez looks and what my mother-in-law thinks of me. I feel like I almost don’t want my husband and daughter to show up right now, so that real me can come back. Which real me?

The Gilded Cage, by Evelyn De MorganMaybe I will sit here, oftener, waiting for my shell to crack and fall off, so all my Urdu grammar and my head-bobble will come back to me. I will sit here and talk to the restaurant owner – except he keeps trying to chat me up in English, because he can tell what I am – what I am now. I want to say, no, I want to shed that persona right now. I want to return to my home self, but I don’t have the option. When I see my daughter’s face, red and raw with cold, appear in the door, I have to drop anchor quickly. I can’t go back. It’s not an option. Now I can’t speak Urdu anymore. This world of English comes slamming down upon my head. I am a princess in a gilded cage again.

Women at the Mosque: shrinking, hiding, triggering


Three weeks in a row I’ve been going for jumah this January. I’ve been trying to be mosqued again. “Get off your butt and get involved,” I’ve inwardly yelled at myself for years. “How can you complain when you don’t involve yourself?” Everyone who watches the Unmosqued film tells us this. At all those community assemblies, the imams and directors say, “Dear sisters, how can you change anything if you don’t come?”

It’s a familiar cycle. I go to juma; I feel like shit; I stop going; then I feel like shit for not going.

My husband went with me. He just goes in, prays, and leaves. He’s not aware of anything but stinky socks near him.

I lug my body around – my woman’s body.

I am conscious of all parts of my body as if they were 500-ton breasts, a 900-ton vagina, 1000-ton buttocks, and 20 tons of hair on my head. I’m aware of my wrists and ankles too now. I’m triggered. 

Today I wrote the current front-page story at

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this one:…/1698634…/no-space-for-women 

bosnianTwo weeks ago, at a local mosque (Mosque A) I found there was no space for women. I wasn’t a category. I parked myself in the corridor to pray.

Then I went to another last week, (Mosque B) and was in a no-sightline balcony. Chandelier. I stayed in the hidden balcony for the khutbah (there were no other women, and the main musalla was about 10% occupied anyway). Then I hurried down for the prayer, putting myself carefully in an unobtrusive corner – I’ll be here, guys; I won’t bother you or contaminate you. If I go back and do the same thing, will they ask me to retreat? I don’t know. Maybe I won’t go back. It’s a calculation.

26733996_1547097822003896_8662317172885949960_nA sightline-balcony is an effort to do an at least. Here goes:

Today, at a desi/Arab large mosque (Mosque C) when I entered the women’s area, my first thought was, ‘oh hell no’ as I saw women sitting in a closed little room with no visual access to the congregation and imam, listening to audio of the khutbah. But then I followed the staircase to the balcony. This is interesting. You can see the main congregation (because, well, the men’s congregation is the main congregation, right?) and the imam for 2 structural reasons: a) the balcony isn’t so high as to make visual access to the lower musalla impossible (you know, when you only see the chandelier, as was the case last week for me) and b) the balcony is headed by a glass wall, not concrete/wood. Fear not, though: the glass is one-way. No men may sneak a peek into crowds of abayah-clad grandmas. Phew.

(So, recommendation for new masajid: if you REALLY don’t want an inclusive main musalla big enough to accommodate women, – which is what you SHOULD have – think about a LOW balcony with a glass wall.)

Last week, for example, at Mosque B, I could see the chandelier, and if I really peeked over the wall, I saw the balding heads of men. (Caution: very sexy heads).

26239875_1547097772003901_1761105767561498546_nSo at least today I could see the imam through a one-way glass.

I am no fan of at leasts. I don’t want to attend your At Least Mosque. I don’t want my daughter to attend your At Least Islamic Center. I don’t want her thinking of herself as an At Least. I want her thinking of herself as enough. In charge.

But at least (see?) I have a place to occupy there. Even if it’s a place that tells me I must be hidden away, I must shrink. An assigned place, right?

But shrinking and hiding are triggering.

Shrinking and hiding in hidey-holes remind me of awful situations. Like listening to a man beating his wife in a room, as I hammered on the door outside to stop him. Like locking a door and standing outside it with another woman, as a man hammered on it, threatening to hit both of us. Like standing at a bus stop, shrinking into a corner. Like being in an alley-way, as a drunk guy yelled misogyny at me.

Shrinking and hiding aren’t benign things. They are triggering. Calligraphy on the walls doesn’t make them better.

And what’s more triggering is when someone – male or female – confronts you and your body, touching it without permission, with demands to cover it or hide it.

When I entered the mosque (Mosque C), on the bright side (we look for bright sides) we entered together. Small victories, right? We go in through the same entrance – and I realized how much of a difference that made to me, that I can occupy the same spaces as the men. My husband and I walked in together.

It was a political sort of day, as Toni Preckwinkle was in the lobby, introducing herself as contesting the Cook County Board president position again. So women were present in the lobby at tables and booths. This made a difference later, as Ms. Preckwinkle was introduced via microphone and she spoke to the entire congregation. Lucky you, I thought to myself. (But she’s non-Muslim, so she’s free. Like Angelina Jolie was.)

So at Mosque C, after the khutbah (long story, into which I will not go, but folks need some education into how preaching against fahsha and zina does not sum up issues of consent, Larry Nassar, etc.; issues of consent need to be raised separately) and namaz, I got up to leave.

Suddenly I heard someone call out, “Excuse me,” and I thought, “Oh, someone wants to talk to me. No one ever wants to talk to me.” So I turned with a smile.

Lady in abayah, total stranger, comes up to me, grabs my wrist – not gently either, but pretty firmly YO PEOPLE LEARN NOT TO TRIGGER OTHER PEOPLE WITH YOUR BODIES BACK OFF AND DON’T GRAB OR I WILL SLAP YOU. Then she grabs my nice ¾ length sleeve, and tugs it down, saying irritably, “you must cover!” 

How many times has this happened in the past?

Listen, girls. I am now almost 50 years old. I am not playing nice anymore.

I tugged my arm away from her, and snapped sharply, with my palm out at her in a back-off gesture: “I’M FINE. I am FINE.” Then I pointed to the heavens and said (she’s not a native English speaker): “Your heart. It’s about your heart.”

But then, I thought, no, it’s not just about your heart. It’s about bodies too. And she needs to learn to respect bodies.

As she walked away, I called out to her – just as she had called out to me. She stopped and turned, and I said, nice and audible: “ And don’t grab my arm again. OK? Do NOT touch me.”

Her eyes darted, shame coloring her face, as she realized other people could hear me. I am not embarrassed anymore. But you touch me, I will embarrass you.

Why can’t people respect each other’s bodies in holy places of prayer and contemplation? Why don’t women – especially – realize that putting your hands on others to grab and stop them and tug their clothes is unacceptable?

You can preach to us to attend and participate. But if every aspect of this space triggers us negatively, there is no way we will attend.

Teach your congregants better. Respect others’ bodies.

As my husband and I exited, a big man in a nice heavy coat was parked in front. He asked my husband for money. Then he parked himself in front again, in the line of worshippers. A panhandler who’s probably not even a mosque attendee doesn’t have to shrink and hide. Because he’s a man.

I’m all upset now. My heart is disturbed.

All my struggles through my life, carrying a woman’s body around, have rushed back to me. The threat, the ever-present threat of being grabbed, of being invisible, of being hurt, are back again.

I swear, I have been trying these past few weeks to return to being mosqued.

My efforts are waning and my heart is weeping. 

Something you have to live with: breast implants

Stark Reality
Artist Jane Birrell MacKenzie, Link


The other night, as I wrestled with the demons of insomnia, I happened to wander into the jungles of the medical internet. I was looking for answers, and I kept stumbling over questions. I was looking for clarity, and I kept finding myself deeper and deeper in fog.

My latest struggle was a case of hives, aka urticaria. Cause unknown.

So I started wondering.

And I found that even the saline implants that were stuck in my chest after my breast reconstruction were unsafe.

Somehow, in signing various release forms at the time of my breast surgeries, I didn’t register the fact that there are serious concerns about saline implants. Until now, eight years later. I have three graduate degrees, and I am a native English speaker. I come from a medical family, and am immersed in medical frameworks.

According to Mentor whose products are in my body, up to 27% of saline implants were removed inside 3 years, “mostly due to infections, pain, or leaking.” A physician at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery described Mentor’s failure rates as “alarmingly high” adding: “it’s amazing to me it seems to be tolerated as just something you have to live with.”

“It’s amazing to me it seems to be tolerated as just something you have to live with.” That should be a tagline for cancer and cancer treatments.

I got to wondering when it was that I’d been properly made aware of all the risks. My husband describes me as an “elephant” – not because of my size, but because of my memory. I cannot recall any moment thinking: “Well, these implants are an option, and they’re a pretty risky one, so maybe I should consider not getting them.” Last time I contacted the Oklahoma hospital for my 2009-2010 medical records, it seemed like they had disappeared or were incredibly hard to locate. As for the Stillwater, OK cancer center, where I got pumped with chemotherapy, it closed down soon after my treatments. So where are those records?

Before my surgery, a woman from the local breast cancer support group visited me. I really didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was angry with anyone who thought they had anything in common with me just because we had this disease. That woman had opted to forego reconstructive work. I felt judgy about that choice. I found the breastless body unpleasant.

Fast forward to the present day. I’m contemplating the breastless body for myself.

“Many women will tell you that their doctors told them their implants were perfectly safe and nobody told them about the failure rate or that implants could break,” said Diana Zuckerman (Executive Director of the Washington-based National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families). “Everybody knows that there is a huge gap between what a written document says and what the doctor tells a patient,” says Zuckerman. “If the doctor says, ‘Don’t worry, my patients are all very happy,’ few women will get up and leave.” (WebMD)

So the other day, I brought up the issue of implants-related health impact with my doctor. She was in no mood to entertain my questions. The first time I’d met her was before my cancer diagnosis, and I’d felt like we clicked. I’d felt like we liked each other. Now, she’s seen me depressed and overwhelmed. I feel like now she avoids eye contact, and rushes me through the appointment before she might possibly lose her temper with me.

As it is, most of my doctors have no time to do anything but deal with a single-dimensional singular issue, and then hurry off to the next patient. Cancer, cancer treatments, and the effects of cancer are not single-dimensional. I can tell that she simply doesn’t have the patience for any such issues.

I still stick with allopathic medicine. Like the deluded proletariat, perpetually in a state of want, I trust my overlords. I will not turn to radical notions of holistic medicine, to quacks, bringers of strange messages, – Look! All you have to do is eat a pomegranate everyday; cancer and cognitive issues will all dissipate! The doctors, they assure me, are lying through their teeth. All the double-blinded peer-reviewed medical studies are falsehoods. I only need to pay $60 a vial for Dr. Sham’s Essence of Health, and then patiently wait, while changing my lifestyle, diet, and emotional life – and all will be well. When I search the internet for answers I actually avoid websites that use terms like holistic and herbal and natural. 

My doctor has no time to be a Sherlock Holmes and figure out my complicated medical history. There was one who tried; she really did. And she found nothing. Except a year later, there was cancer. I wonder if I can switch from a big Chicago research hospital that specializes in cancer to a small practice where a physician might have the time to deal with my many problems. But then, I recall the smaller clinic whence we have to this date been unable to retrieve even my daughter’s vaccinations records, let alone my cancer records. A hospital allows me to go from specialist to specialist, and records are in one place, at least.

Such choices.

In the middle of the night, it seemed simple. As I lay there, struggling to sleep, struggling to power think against the allergic reaction, I thought, of course, if there’s any possibility that the implants are guilty of even some of these effects, why wouldn’t I get rid of them. In the light of day, it’s not so simple. “What if I got rid of my implants?” I asked my daughter. She cringed, and said, no! It would mean I was, perhaps a different person. “There have been so many changes,” she says. How would regular people respond to me? Even in my chaste daily life, in my professional exchanges, I find male colleagues are not as nice to me as they used to be, when I was a real, feminine body. Not that there’s anything sexual in our social exchange, but somehow.

I remembered those months after September 2009. The surgeon removed my cancerous right breast, and refused to do the bilateral surgery until later. I spent a few months with one breast, like a Cyclops, feeling like a freak, my fake breast stuck in a bra, hating my body and what it was doing. My right side wasn’t just an absence – it was concave, not flat. Was I still a woman? Well, what if I became that person, except entirely concave up top? Would this be entirely disgusting to all who perceived me? At this time, people can “forget” I have fake reconstructed breasts. They seem – most of the time – to keep up the act. They’re cold in the winter because they don’t conduct heat like usual (are they dead?)

People don’t have the energy to keep up with this stuff. Hell, I don’t have the energy to keep up with this stuff. Most people want to know one thing: “So, are you cancer-free now? Great!!” And then we can change the subject and they can tell me what they need me to do or to be. With most people, I really don’t want to unpack this stuff anyway. It feels gross, like opening up a wound in front of someone. No one wants to actually know your wounds. People want to mail you sympathy. Everyone has their own wounds; everyone is knee-deep in grief and confusion. Everyone. I get it. In the larger context, I’m alive. I’m not in the hospital. I’m probably okay.

I’m okay.


Some days I wonder that we manage to communicate with others at all; that our words ever mean the same things in our minds as they do in the minds of other people. Often our words go way past their mark, zinging off into the darkness, never reaching a mark. We lob our words, filled with beloved meaning, off toward other hearts, hoping to share our hearts with other people. And – again and again – we discover that our endeavor is a failed one, that we are truly alone but for God.

Me too

pakistani_shoesI was 12. My breasts developed earlier than most. I was awfully naive. I had no idea what the birds and bees were about at all, and I didn’t want to know. I was a good girl, who avoided naughty books, movies, people. I was a child who loved reading storybooks, and I didn’t want to be anything else.

One day, I went shopping with my mother for shoes in Liberty market. I was wearing a simple cotton shalwar kameez and a dupatta.

I couldn’t find a single pair of shoes that I liked. From one end of the semi-circle of shops to the other we walked, trying on shoes.

As we entered the last store – the one near the movie theaters – the store staff ushered us in, saying, “Come in, come in,” and as I walked in behind my mother, the man to the right of me reached out and in one smooth motion grabbed my right breast and squeezed it. I stopped, utterly shocked, astounded, speechless. I barely knew I had breasts at that point, let alone what it meant to be manhandled.

I stood still and glared at him, as he smirked and grinned, repeated, come in, please do come in.

My mother had gone ahead and was examining the shelves, unaware of what had happened. I glared, it seemed, for eternity. And eventually, I didn’t know what to do or say. I sat down. They brought in shoes. And I remember, they brought in the most perfect pair of low wedge heeled sandals I’d ever seen. I let them try it on me, while my heart was ice in my chest. I felt worthless, grieved, depressed. “No,” I said, “I don’t want it. No, I don’t like it,” – as if it was about the shoes. My mother stared in surprise: “you don’t like these? But they’re really good!” “No,” I said, tears springing to my eyes, “I want to go.”

As we stepped out of the store, I whispered to my mother and told her what had happened. She was furious, but she didn’t know what to do. As a woman, she didn’t feel she could go back and accost those men. Maybe she realized it wasn’t safe for any woman.

We had one car in those days, and abbu picked and dropped us everywhere. This is before cellphones, of course, so we just waited and waited at the bakery until abbu arrived. When he did, ammi whispered the news into his ear. Abbu turned his majestic head of hair in her direction, not looking at me, and said, “Iman nal? [You swear/Seriously?”] and then he strode in that manner of his, that said that anyone who stood in his way would be mowed down.

He entered the shoe store, with ammi and me scuttling close behind, and turned and looked at me. “Which one?” he said. “Which one?” I pointed. And abbu rained on that man a shower of blows and kicks that he would never forget. I got the feeling that it wasn’t just to teach him a lesson, but to teach me as well – never to imagine that any man could get away with treating me like a piece of meat.

It wasn’t the last time though. When I was about 30, doing my PhD, I came on a summer visit back home to Lahore, and took a short walk over to the local internet cafe to check my email. As I walked back, I stopped to buy a creamy kulfi from a street kulfi wallah. My head and torso wrapped in a large dupatta, enjoying the kulfi in a quiet afternoon, I was steps from my home when suddenly, out of the blue, a hand slunk to my side and squeezed my breast. I started, horrified and astounded, as a man cycled past me slowly, without even a glance back. As I gathered my senses about me, I screamed at him la’nat eh tere te, haramzade (God’s curse on you, bastard), ineffectually screaming as he calmly cycled away from me.

Me too.

About ten years later, I had breast cancer, and a bilateral mastectomy.

As I mourned my mutilation, there was a part of me that said, I am a little safer now. I am mutilated, but I am safer. 

I will not have my daughter grow up in a world where she must grow up too fast, where she must fear her own body. You will have to teach your sons.

Happy 10th birthday, Koonj

Koonj turned 10 this year. To be totally exact, it’s probably 12 and approaching puberty, but this (wordpress) iteration of it is 10. We are no longer in the heady heyday of the blogsophere, as Facebook has absorbed community and personal expression via the brief status update. But Koonj is still here, and so are you.


If you don’t see patriarchy, consider this

Patriarchy includes the beliefs:

*men must be free; women must not
*men are free to ‘err’; women are not
*men must be believed; women must not
*men are subjects of their sexuality; women are objects for men
*men desire; women are desired;
*men see women; women are seen by men
*men’s bodies do; women’s bodies are acted upon
*men are active; women are passive
*men demand; women respond
*men lead; women are led
*men command; women nurture

If all this sounds like common sense, tradition, divinely mandated,-congratulations: you have absorbed your culture’s patriarchal beliefs.

Disabilities and chronic illness in the workplace

If you watch comedies about minoritized people, people with disabilities and illnesses, etc. you might imagine that these people get away with everything in the workplace because their colleagues and bosses feel so guilty and are so afraid of litigation, ha ha.

Not true. We need ADA particularly because people with disabilities and chronic illness are vulnerable to workplace discrimination. They are not often accommodated despite serious and debilitating conditions, and they are shamed as well as low- and high-key threatened with generally legal financial and career-ending consequences.

Much of what happens to these individuals happens under cover of secrecy because they are afraid and ashamed of how they are treated, and that they are – in this land of rugged individualism – unable to “get over it” and “not ask for special treatment.”

If you work with someone like this, or know someone like this, be an ally for that person. I have met many well-intentioned people in the course of my career who ally themselves by word and deed with the status quo against the disabled and sick. And they still believe they are doing the right thing. It is sad to watch.