Brown Girl Flying: My Journey with Gender in India

“India?! Do you know what happens to girls on buses there?”

As I prepared for our travels, I was filled with concern for my physical and emotional safety. Dialogue pointing to the Delhi gang rape of 2012, such as the comment above, pervaded nearly every conversation I had. If I wasn’t being cautioned on traveling to India, I was being cautioned on “traveling while female”, a phrase mentioned by Maddy in her previous blog post. I already felt unsafe in public spheres at home, having been harassed and even attacked based on my gender and racial identities. With this narrative of the “Other” tainting my travel preparations, I felt even more anxious about leaving Canada. How could I move past this fear in a way that did not perpetuate skewed narratives of the Global South, while still acknowledging the issue of widespread patriarchy and misogyny in the world and juggling my privilege with my experiences of marginalization?

In class we had examined narratives of the West’s “Othering” of the Global South, the painting of it as a place inherently dangerous to white, Western women. We have a history of emphasizing the brutal violence against women in the Global South while concealing the ways in which we, too, perpetuate it. I am not a (visibly) white woman and I knew I would not be perceived as white or Western due to my South Asian features, but I had internal conflicts about holding my privilege as a Westerner in one hand and my marginalization as a brown-skinned woman in the other. I still felt a form of patriarchal gaze upon me in India, just as I did back home, but I was taken aback, for it was here in India that I also finally felt that having brown skin might actually insulate me from being “Othered”. As Maddy mentioned in her previous post, we were fortunate to have Deepa, a coordinator at a local women’s shelter, speak with us about women’s issues here. Deepa addressed the narratives here about the fetishizing of white, Western women, highlighting the ways in which the narratives of the Global South were both exaggerated as well as validated through lingering colonial systems. She added that Wen-Do Women’s Self-Defence was something practiced here, which interested me as I had completed the basic level of the course last year and thought it to be very progressive. Because of my privilege and biases, I hadn’t properly considered the feminist activism taking place in India, let alone that we shared something in common in our struggles, so unfortunately I was surprised when I learned Wen-Do existed in the Global South. I am embarrassed to think I, too, had judged women here along these narratives after having been so outspoken against doing just that.

My point in examining these particular scenarios is to illustrate that we can neither polarize nor minimize the differences and similarities of how patriarchal forces operate in Canada, India, or anywhere else in the world. These issues are global and in that way we can note their universal similarities. However, they are also manifested differently depending on the cultural, political, economic, and social circumstances of their locations, as well as by the privilege, power, and positionality of those who experience, observe, and articulate them. By working to decolonize the harmful Western narratives surrounding gender and the Global South, we may work to grasp a more accurate picture of women’s lived experiences across the world, to develop more sustainable solutions and become accountable global citizens.

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