I didn’t expect Netflix’s show Maid, to trigger me the way it did.
The show, based on a true story, is the story of a single mom, Alex, trying to build her own life by escaping an emotionally abusive relationship, trying to take care of a mentally ill mother, and having no qualifications, or money.
She is always steps from homelessness, battling a very flawed welfare system, and every time you think things are going to get better for her, her paper-thin foundation collapses.
Even almost 8 years after my own toxic relationship ended, I realized my emotions are raw and tender to the touch.
That 2020 has been a strange year is true of every single human. When we started the year, COVID was a foreign problem, something barely on the speck of the horizon.
But I’m not writing this to talk about the innumerable ways our lives have changed, for two reasons.
Firstly, we have all lived it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly – that experience of change has been unique for each and every single individual – and there is nothing particularly noteworthy about my experience, besides perhaps that I eventually contracted the disease – an experience that I’ve already documented extensively.
I have always been clumsy, but since Friday, have had a serious case of butter fingers. My limbs felt weak, and still do. I fumbled trying to put on a pair of earrings dropping one in the process. At night I toss and turn trying to find a position that doesn’t make the tightness in my chest worse.
After eight months of a paranoia, stringent precautions and multiple skin breakouts thanks to the chafing of masks, it is a rather strange thing to have a COVID positive test report in front of you.
It’s like you spend all these months running from something and when it finally catches up with you, there is some sense of relief.
I was told it was inevitable. I had come to visit my parents as a surprise for my mother – and much to my surprise, they all tested positive. In a house inhabited by three COVID patients, there were just too many germs. Masks and social distancing attempts were more farce than protective.
Good morning! I’m reporting straight from the hot zone. It is day 7 since my exposure to Corona 1 and Corona 2, aka Mom & Dad who tested positive for COVID the day after I arrived after a long and difficult eight month separation.
Forgive my humour but there are so few cheerful things about COVID, we have to snatch up small moments of laughter where we get them.
At around 3 am On Tuesday morning (aka exposure + 4 days) I found myself in a half-crazed delirious fit of shivers. I took my temperature from an admittedly questionable digital thermometer. 99.8.
The first reaction is always fear. That’s what I felt when I thought about getting tested.
In our mind’s eye – even us, the ultra – privileged – we picture the government storming our house and seizing us, and holding us captive in less than sanitary treatment facilities where poor hygiene would kill us before COVID would.
No matter how eloquently we wax on about civic duty, we all feel this little spot of selfishness. I know I did.
My first book of 2020 was a book called Can We All Be Feminists. It is a collection of essays examining, dissecting and discussing intersectionality and feminism. It is a stellar book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who identifies with the word “feminist”.
The concept of intersectionality got me thinking about my own privilege.
Yes, as an Indian woman I face gender-based discrimination, I face unwanted attention from men sometimes in professional settings where it is hard to mitigate, and I look over my shoulder when I find myself alone in dark lonely spaces.
But I am also privileged.
I am privileged never to have been the victim of any serious sexual assault. I am privileged to have a family that supported me in education and in living and working for myself, a family that did not define my success in life by my ability to bring home a suitable husband.
I am privileged to have the means to have access to an education, a roof over my head, food to eat and access to clothing.
I am privileged to have a partner that treats me as an equal, that doesn’t put me down, respects me and as far as I know is loyal to me.
Though I have been fat-shamed and body-shamed, there is a privilege to having a body size that is close to the norm. I am trying to choose my words carefully on this one, as the essay by Selina Thompson on fatness and feminism, and our own agency over our bodies. The further you are away, the more dehumanised you become.
I am privileged to have had many opportunities to live and work abroad as well as the privilege of growing up in India. I am privileged to belong to a sexuality and a gender identity that does not expose me to the ugly whims of insecure prejudice.
I am privileged in a seemingly infinite number of ways.
If I claim to be a feminist, an identity I struggle with often for a while host of other reasons, I want to be a feminist in the pluralistic sense of the word, at least to the best extent that I can be as a flawed, biased human being.
I think it’s important we recognise our own privilege – because the privileged rarely like to admit they are so. As someone who is as infinitely privileged as I have described above, I know I don’t like to admit mine.
But admit it we must, because it is only when we recognise the good fortune, we have in ourselves, that we can empathise with those who are oppressed for reasons we would never be. It is only when we can understand this, that we can help others.
The shame, at least for me, comes from guilt. I feel guilty for my abundance, and it makes me want to deny and hide it. It’s difficult, at least for me, to admit that I am fortunate. It is easier to focus on what I don’t have.
I don’t like feeling like I’ve had things handed to me. I’ve worked very hard for a lot of the things in my life, and I want to feel I can celebrate my accomplishments. But if I’m to be totally honest, I had some advantages that helped me in doing those things – access to resources that is far from equal.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight against the oppression we face. If we don’t fight for ourselves, who will? But in my humble opinion, we could consider recognising the oppression we don’t face, because someone out there is facing it, and wishing we would just understand how lucky we are.
I am making this pledge this year, to be more sensitive to the experiences of other human beings, and my own blind spots that have led me there because of my privilege.