Who do we think we are?: A poem on #humanrights

We sleep, safe in our warm houses
Who do we think we are?
We have forgotten the struggle
For our lives and voices.

Who do we think we are,
Scribbling away, warm and safe?
For our lives and voices
We did not pay the price.

Scribbling away, warm and safe
While other women scrimp and hide
We did not pay the price
They still suffer and die.

While other women scrimp and hide,
We have forgotten the struggle
They still suffer and die,
We sleep, safe in our warm houses.

For more information on what this poem is about, see Who are We? a post I wrote earlier this week.

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Dentistry: The Last Bastion of Sexism?

An NHS dentist performing an examination

Image via Wikipedia

I had to go to the dentist unexpectedly yesterday. Thankfully, nothing serious is wrong (read: no cavities, no abscesses, no root canals or fillings needed). But I noticed something about my dentist’s office.

When I walked in the office, I was greeted by a woman, sitting behind a counter with other women — the treatment plan and payment coordinators. When I was called back to the exam room, a woman called my name. She did the initial X-rays, and when she needed help, another woman came. It was like this at my last dentist’s office, too. All the receptionists, payment coordinators, hygienists, and other assistants were female. Which is fine, I’m glad to see women filling jobs that may have been considered men-only jobs 50 or 100 years ago.

But, when the dentist walked in the room, it was a man. And the observing student he introduced, trying to decide whether or not dental school is the way to go, was also a man. I have never had a female dentist nor been a patient in a dental practice with a female dentist.

When I talked about this with my husband, he said that when he was small, he went to a pediatric dental clinic, and there was a female dentist there. But she was the only example of a female dentist either of us could think of.

Why aren’t more dentists women? I’ve met lots of women doctors (I wouldn’t say half the doctors I meet are female, but it’s close) and not just in specialties like obstetrics/gynecology. There are certainly some doctors’ offices where the male doctor is assisted only by women, but not nearly as many as there used to be. What’s up with the dentist’s office?

I’d love to hear from my readers on this. What’s your experience with women & dentistry? If you are a female dentist, I’d love to hear your perspective on this and any barriers you have experienced. Male dentists, I’d love your perspective, too. (I was going to ask my dentist yesterday, but he spent a lot of time with me discussing my options for my teeth, time he didn’t have to spend — and I really appreciate it — so I didn’t want to take up more of his time asking irrelevant (to my teeth) questions.)

The Rules

Rules rules rules
What we always tell boys
Follow the rules or be fools
Rules rules rules
You must be cool or suffer ridicules
When the news says you’re not strong alloys
Rules rules rules
What we always tell boys.

For Monday Poetry Potluck.

Movie Review: Over The Hedge

I saw Over The Hedge the other day. I know I’m a little late reviewing it, since it came out over 4 years ago, in 2006, but in my defense, I don’t watch many movies.

While I was uncomfortable with the way the wild animals were thriving on human junk food (umm, no, human junk food is really bad for wild animals), the rest of the movie struck me as, well, a movie. Until my little daughter asked, “Mommy, why did they make the woman a bad woman?”

If you haven’t seen the movie, there are two main human characters. One is a parody of an exterminator (male), and the other is a single, well-dressed woman, president of the Homeowner’s Association, and the villain of the piece.

I told my daughter that they (the makers of the movie) hadn’t made the woman bad because she was a woman, but because they needed a bad person, a villain. I ended up explaining how a movie plot generally works and left it at that.

Until I started thinking more about the original question. Because, on second thought, the woman seems to be a caricature of a high-powered female executive. She’s dressed in a power suit (or expensive-looking pajamas), her hair is nicely styled, and she’s always on the go. She doesn’t seem to have a family, or even a significant other, just a snooty Persian cat.

She’s portrayed as obsessive, uptight, and terrified of wild animals or anything else disturbing her precious orderly neighborhood. Why should the single woman doing well in life be the villain? I can easily see a mother being much more worried about the wild animals in the neighborhood — what if they bite one of her children, she might think.

But no, the one mother in the movie who has a speaking part is portrayed as kindly and concerned for the animal, although she doesn’t want her children to touch it (understandable, considering it’s a possum playing dead).

Now, the traits of the villain I have described could easily also apply to a high-powered male executive. So why don’t they? What is it that makes the villain perfectly cast (if such a term can apply to an animation) as a woman?

If you know me, you know that I don’t generally consider myself a feminist. And you know that I don’t rant on about discrimination against women. But sometimes, I still feel the need to speak out.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the way this woman is portrayed in this movie (and the way she is humiliated at the end) makes me think that the directors are threatened by competent, capable women and felt the need to bring them (or at least one) low.

It makes me sad that my little daughter (and my son) saw this humiliating portrayal of women and that strong women need to be brought down.

Book Review: Cinnamon Gardens

Cinnamon Gardens, by Shyam Selvadurai, is a meticulously researched account of two distantly related families in an exclusive (and eponymous) neighborhood  in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), in the late 1920s. I really enjoyed the book, but I have read much about the British Empire and its colonies. A reader without that knowledge might be somewhat mystified by portions of the novel.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

The Mudaliyar Navaratnam, member of the Governor’s Council, rules his large house and the people in it with an iron hand. Twenty-eight years ago, when his eldest son wanted to marry a low-caste servant in the house, he exiled them both to Bombay and forbade the other members of the household from contacting them. Twenty years ago, upon learning that his younger son, Balendran, was living with another man as more than just flatmates, he traveled to England and destroyed their relationship. Now, Balendran’s former lover has returned to Ceylon with an English government research commission.

Meanwhile in the much smaller house next door, Louisa lives with her three daughters. They are distant relatives of the Mudaliyar and moved there after Louisa and her husband, the father of the girls, became estranged due to his return to Hinduism (after being a Christian for many years, like Louisa) and his abusive treatment of his eldest daughter, Annalakshmi. Annalakshmi, against the wishes of her family, has become a teacher and an aspiring feminist.

Mr. Selvadurai does an excellent job of evoking 1920s Ceylon and its oppressive social strictures. Woven throughout the book is an account of the caste and ethnic divisions in Ceylonese society, and how they translate into the politics. I have been rather interested in current Sri Lankan politics, particularly in the recent war between the Tamils of the north and the Sinhalese of the south. I found it fascinating to see the roots of this struggle in the colonial period and how the British Empire handled these divisions.

The book focuses mainly on Annalakshmi and Balendran. They each embody a different facet of struggling against Ceylonese society. Annalakshmi must fit herself into a society that considers women to be less than men, and fit only to be married. She also encounters racism when her beloved teacher and headmistress, Miss Lawton, refuses to promote her to assistant headmistress of the school when the position opens, and instead hires a male clerk. Annalakshmi discovers that appearances are everything, and that she can easily become an outcast of polite society for the smallest, seemingly innocent actions, like riding a bicycle.

Balendran learns that he can acknowledge his homosexuality and reach out to the man he loved in college without endangering his wife and son’s home and position. He does not need to remain in thrall to his father, but at the same time he does not need to run away from his duties that make possible the house his wife loves and the education his son is receiving in England.

Having sent away his former lover because they fell in love again, at the end of the book Balendran writes to him, asking for his friendship even though he, Balendran, cannot offer more because of his obligations to his wife and son. Through this, and earlier confronting his father, Balendran releases himself from the web of guilt and recrimination that has haunted him since his father’s visit to England.

Cinnamon Gardens is an excellent book about finding one’s place in society, and the nature of love, marriage, and family. Four out of five stars.

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