Men are Allies in the Feminist Movement


Welcome to the fourth edition of The Feminist Reading List. Find the previous lists here. And don’t forget to tell us what else you are reading or what you think about these reading lists.


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Notice how we phrased our title here? We are in no doubt that you awesome male-bodied folks out there are kindred souls when it comes to the feminist movement. We understand and forgive your confusions. We know you have questions and we want to be the people with the answers or at least the resources that contain the answers.

We know you have opinions, and we know many of you are better attuned to feminist discourse than a lot of us, and we tip our imaginary hats to you. We want to befriend you and have occasional brunches with you. No, we won’t attack you if you disagree with our ideas. We want to have civil, open-minded dialogues with you.

Let’s also get another thing clear – we the feminists don’t hate men. Or rather, we don’t blanket-hate all men just because they are men. We may end up hating or disliking or ignoring some men for specific reasons, but then that’s another story.

This list is for all those men who at some point or the other have been commanded to “man up!” We know that’s a lot of men!

This list is for all those men who like pink but won’t dare wear pink; who like reading ‘women’s’ magazines but do so only on the sly while sitting on the pot; who are befuddled when accused of ‘mansplaining’ or ‘manspreading’; who believe women are from Venus; who openly declare their feminist credentials; who don’t know the first thing about feminism; who think all feminists have hairy legs and bushy crotches; who have/have not read textbooks on female anatomy.

In short, this list is for all men! And women! And for all the people who give no shit about that gender binary!


1. What is feminism?

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This fundamental question seems to flummox many, many women and men alike, even in these times – irrespective of educational qualification, geographical location, and level of interest in the music of Beyoncé. Time magazine even wanted the word ‘feminism’ banned last year.

We know, it’s kinda sad!

Why ‘feminism’ remains one of the most misunderstood terms in the lexicon is down to multiple factors. Its true definition got lost in translation across the third wave, and got pushed along to confusing banks as the Internet took up the cause and launched a million blogs. But the word, the movement, the belief was and remains fundamentally the same as it has always been – it means equality of choices, benefits, opportunities, and rights between women and all other sexes, and men.

Keep it simple! Read –

Feminism: What is it? (via Eastern Kentucky University, 
Women & Gender Studies
I Asked Indian Men On Tinder About Feminism. 
Here Is What They Said... (via Huffington Post)
What Men Learn What Feminism Means and Then 
Realize Something Obvious (via Upworthy)

2. Do men belong in this movement?

FRL 04Hell yeah!

The Feminist Movement has been historically led by women (duh!), but to hold that against the movement is to ignore the realities of those initial times. The first few decades of feminist movements were fraught and often disparate. Women were forced to jump in front of horses, starve in jails, and face up to all the ignominy of spinsterhood to communicate their points across. These were women who were bold visionaries, fiery speakers, and fearless activists. But not even all women were in on this equality movement; even the seminal Suffragette Movement had spawned very active, women-led anti-suffragette camps.

To think that feminism has from the start been a gargantuan gang of all women of the world was as false then as it is, unfortunately, even now. Why initially there were few men joining the movement or even peripherally supporting it is in fact a reflection on the men of the times, and not the women. In all probability, the latter would have welcomed every iota of support from the former. There never has been a decided campaign against men joining feminist ranks, there has just always been the reality that men never thought it their ground to join, or rather, mistakenly thought it was an assault on them.

It wasn’t as well articulated then as it is now that feminism is in fact an assault on the patriarchal system, one that sneakily and constantly insults and imprisons both women and men. The men who have realized this have rallied with women, they have written in support of women, they have sung songs for them. And so many of them have shed all inhibitions and called themselves ‘feminists’.

So, yeah, men can be feminists, men have been feminists. ‘Feminist’ doesn’t define or represent a gender. It is a commitment to equality between women and men. Period. Make it a habit to strongly disagree with anyone who tells you otherwise. Read –

What Roles Should Men Play in Feminism? (via Finally Feminism 101)
A Few Good Men – India’s Hidden Male Feminists (via Kafila)
So You Want to Be a Male Feminist? Here Are 11 Simple Rules 
to Follow (via mic.com)

3. Gender stereotypes are two-edged swords

Few women will disagree with you when you as a man choose to assert that you feel the obnoxious pull of patriarchy in your life as well. We all know you do. We know how stupid it is to be dictated to about the colours you can wear, the kind of music you can listen to, how you are expected to be brave all the time, how the Marlboro Man should be your ideal of manhood and not your neighbourhood hipster with his androgynous choices. How you get called a ‘pussy’, or ‘henpecked’, if your female partner earns more than you, or is taller than you, or is more vocal than you. Rest assured, even the US President, Barack Obama, cannot escape the idiocy of these judgements.

These stereotypes are dangerous and insidious, and have played havoc with the minds and relationships of generations of men. If you have ever thought about how to become a feminist, you could start right here, by vociferously questioning these rigid gender-specific roles, and by daring to forge healthy relationships with women beyond these dictates. You have every right to be yourself and be free of imaginary rules of ‘manhood’, just as women have every right to be truly free in their lives.

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You see, our fight is more similar than you had ever guessed! Read –

How Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (via Feminism in India)
Because Boys Can’t Wear Pink (via 365-reasons-to-be-a-feminist)
When Men Experience Sexism (via The Atlantic)
5 Stupid Sexist Things Expected of Men (via Salon.com)

And Watch –

Movie Recommendation: Revolutionary Road (imdb)

4. That said… don’t try to derail feminist discourse

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Patriarchy-dictated gender stereotypes affect both men and women. We are in agreement. Completely. But this line of thought becomes hugely detrimental to the feminist cause when it is thrown around every time women want to focus on grave issues affecting them. There is even an acronym for it – PHMT – Patriarchy Hurts Men Too – devised specifically to express our irritation with this trend. To constantly bring up your sufferings as a man while discussing the plight of women, some of whom have suffered crippling disadvantages all their lives, is selfish at best and smugly condescending at worst. Once you start misusing this ‘I am a victim too’ card to wantonly drown the voice of the majority of women, you become part of the massively annoying culture of derailment of feminist understanding, and in fact, may possibly make even the most liberal feminists wary of your presence around them. Because every time you do that, you are re-asserting that old habit of pushing down women’s concerns and making men’s gripes the top order of things. You are telling us that, ‘Hey, you think you got problems, look at me, listen to my concerns, and then let’s compare degrees of suffering!’

Would you bring up your annoyance with a car break-down at a meeting about cake-making? No, right? Exactly. Pick your moments, respect all discourses, and never act like your issues are more important than the others. Read –

Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (via Geek Feminism Wiki) 
#YesAllWomen [TRIGGER WARNING: The content includes mentions of 
gender-based abuse and/or violence] (via Slate.com)
Male Privilege, Discussion Derailments, and the Politics of Politeness 
(via Vegan Feminist Network)

5. Question male-privilege

FRL 08This is another fantastic way of asserting your commitment to feminism – by recognizing how you, as a male-bodied person, have certain undeniable privileges in your everyday life. It is tempting, especially in an urbane environment, to out-rightly reject the notion of such a privilege. But it can’t change the fact that it does exist. Have you ever felt the compulsion to change out of sweaty/baggy clothes just because you are stepping out of the house, even to buy milk? Has anyone ever suggested to you that you are successful only because you have a fine rack and/or probably gave the boss a discreet hand-job? Have you felt your heart flutter in panic every time a stranger came too close to you while walking on a street? Have you ever had to stay on in abusive relationships because you have been told that your child needs a father, no matter how violent or indifferent? Have you been called a slut for wearing make-up and short dresses, and made fun of as a drab queen when not?

Jumping into these uncomfortable questions and realizing that in all probability most of your answers are negatory can be a great first step into a feminist state of mind. How you choose to go from there is of course your decision. Read –

13 Questions That Men Never Have To Ask Themselves (via Role Reboot)
10 Ways Men Can Combat Sexist Entitlement in Public 
(via Change from Within)
Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist (via Not a Pattern)

6. The Male-Gaze and Phallo-centrism

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These two ideas are massive monoliths in the academic kingdom of gender studies. If you consider yourself male and are sitting on the fence about feminism, we highly recommend that you put on some Patti Smith music in the background and read up on these terms. The male gaze especially has taken on a million layers in this age of unbridled exposure to media of all forms. It brings to question how we modern folks define sexuality and sensuality when it comes to women; who we anoint as sex symbols and pin-ups, and who we tear down as whores and skanks; how we choose to represent women on the screen, what their clothes and dialogues seek to communicate; why only ‘jocks’ can ‘land’ ‘hot chicks’ and the rest of the male-kind must pick at scraps; why men and women can never be platonic friends who empower each other’s thoughts and outlook; why James Bond is awesome for being able to sleep around with no commitment issues, but no major female-hero film figure can manage to be that guiltlessly promiscuous. This list is long, folks. Read –

This essay will give a clear overview of the Male Gaze theory
 and how it applies to media. (via Storify)
The Male Gaze Has Outlived its Usefulness (via Movie Mezzanine)
We’re Taking Lesbian Sexuality Back from the Male Gaze and 
the Result Is Awesome (via Everyday Feminism)

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7. Assigning convenient definitions to a gender

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To conflate one person’s idiosyncrasy as being the hallmark of the entire gender that person belongs to is a serious mistake we all tend to make. So, if your boyfriend is sloppy and can’t work a flush, then ALL men are sloppy and need flush coaching. If you had bad sex with an ex-girlfriend who had small boobs, then presto! Now you know that ALL women with small boobs are going to give you blue balls.

What a load of crap!

This kind of simplistic thinking is exactly what is turning books like Men Are From Mars….etc. into bestsellers. And also filling the Internet with endless memes and posters and GIFs that push distressingly stupid ideas about women and men. And these often get pasted onto Facebook feeds, and then people go ‘like’ it, and ‘share’ it, or go ‘sooo true!!’ in the comments section. Phssssh!!! We have lost count of the number of times we have mentally slapped people who have uttered the words “Men will be Men” in front of us!

So do this – next time you are tempted to think that women/men are this and that, try remembering that there are billions of people on this planet and that there is a thing called the law of averages. Let’s beat this drivel with some good old scientific thinking, and some faith in the complexity of human behaviour.

What It Means To 'Be A Man': How Male Gender Stereotypes Try 
To Fit Growing Boys Into A Mold, And Fail (via Medical Daily)
Gender & Gender Identity (via Planned Parenthood)

8. Protect the man

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There is no point in denying that there probably exists a fiery sub-brand of feminism that possibly dreams of mass castrations and the annihilation of all male-kind. The second wave of feminism did indeed produce some thinkers who wept at that extremist altar. But, just as it is unfair to denigrate an entire religion because of the actions of some fundamentalists, so it is unfair to consider the entire feminist landscape as invested in just one violent line of thought. Indeed, even self-proclaimed feminists need to constantly whip their hair around trying to keep up with divergent thoughts on what women want and should be fighting for or against.

So, yeah, we get why some men around the world have thought of protecting themselves from feminists, and of launching ‘meninist’ movements. Technically there is nothing wrong with such arrangements, we are all allowed to protect our own interests against real and perceived dangers. But the ‘meninist’ movement at its worst comes across as an institutionalized derailment tactic against feminism. It misunderstands the latter’s capacity to stand up for aggrieved men as well. It tries to play up the ‘men as victims’ card to do just what patriarchy expects men to do all the time – make sure that their voices are the most dominant, and to view any female expression as some grandiose evil plan aimed at usurping power from the male. In short, let’s make sure that everything is back to being all about men. Thankfully, we are not buying it.

Why calling yourself a ‘meninist’ is both insulting, and stupid. 
(via Day of the Girl)
Will 2015 be the year of meninism? (via Telegraph)

9. Feminism and friendship/love/sex/casual attraction

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Rarely will you come across a girl/woman who will co-relate your stubble with your political beliefs. So is the case with body hair when it comes to women – in most cases we keep it, or shave it, or just don’t care either way about it, only as a matter of convenience and not because the feminist charter forced us to take an oath about it. Girls and women embody all sorts of quirks, and to believe in nonsense like all women hate video games is just as annoying as saying that all guys love video games. Your dating ‘game’ should not be coloured by ridiculous claims that all women are over-sensitive kooks and that you as ‘men’ need to be on guard against manipulations. These notions of behaviour are constantly piled onto us by businesses who look to make tons of money by playing us as their pawns. Did dousing yourself in that deo make mini-skirt clad women fall all over you like dandruff? Exactly!

Rejecting this trend that treats men and women like airheads is a fantastic statement in feminist thinking. If you identify as male and happen to be dating a person who identifies as female and is vocally feminist, then hey, pop out the champagne! Because you will be the recipient of eye-opening dialogues on female orgasms, female tropes, vaginal mysteries, body-shaming, clitoral stimulation, rape culture, and so much more awesomeness.

Sex with a feminist is awesome, sex as a feminist is awesome. So is love, so is everything else. Because it is based on mutual understanding of equality and respect and opportunity. The moment you stop viewing a feminist, or rather any woman aware and communicative of her feelings and opinions, as a threat to your manhood (whatever that is), you have crossed over to the other side. Don’t let anyone tell you what makes you a man. Read –

I am a Guy and I Hyphenated My Last Name When I Got Married 
(via Lover.ly)
What’s The Best Way to Have Great Sex With A Woman: 
Just Ask These 11 Kickass Men (via mic.com)
Gloria Steinem Explains Feminism’s Perks For Men (via NY Mag The Cut)

10. Rape Culture and what constitutes Consent

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In this age of thinking up labels for all things and happenings, one of the terms we are most glad about is ‘rape culture’. Because it scoops up micro-aggressions as well as everything beyond that relates to rape. It is time we all stopped thinking of rape as one incident somewhere against some person by some random salivating stranger in a dark alley, and start looking at it as a compound problem that has every day symptoms, affecting a lot of women, and also a significant number of men. Rape culture afflicts not just actions, but language, gestures, presumptions, clothes, and more.

Reading about the proliferation of rape culture will naturally lead to the question of consent, again an issue that should be fairly simple, but is expressly not. We could all go on and on about ‘yes means yes’ and the absence of ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’, but a lot of people will still be confused when faced with the possibility of easy sex with a drunken girl friend or acquaintance. The one good solution could be to educate oneself and as many folks around as possible so that there are enough voices of reason to yank confused brains back to rationality.

And as a side note, never say “I know you want it”. To anyone! Ever! Jeez. Read –

[TRIGGER WARNING: The content below includes discussions on sexual abuse and/or violence.]

What is Rape Culture (via Women Against Violence Against Women)
This is Rape Culture – And Look at the Damage It Does (via The Guardian)
Yes, Rape Culture Is Real, And Here's What It Looks Like 
(via The Huffington Post)
This Woman Just Explained Consent With The Most Perfect Metaphor 
(via The Loop)

11. Feminist fatherhood

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We as daughters cannot overstate the influence our mothers can have on us, both great and tragic. What we cannot also ignore is the deeply significant role a liberal, feminist father can have on our lives. Really, this example can colour everything from our relationships to our parenting philosophies. A feminist father can impart valuable lessons on what a healthy relationship truly means, and on how to identify abuse, and most importantly, imbibe that crucial level of confidence in their children to walk out and seek better lives for themselves when the going gets unfair. A feminist father will raise feminist sons, and in effect, will help realize a feminist generation.

10 Tips For Feminist Fathers (via Feminist Fatherhood)
Thanks, feminist movement, for making Father’s Day better for dads 
(via MSNBC)

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Motherhood: Pro, Anti & Everything in-between


This third edition by The Feminist Reading List is for pregnant women, expecting fathers, people who don’t want children, people who have children for way too long, and people who just can’t understand why others annoy you to have children. It is also for children whose parents have shouted, “You will understand this when you have one of your own.”


Social duty?
Natural impulse?
Social obligation?
Biological dictate?
Personal choice?

Depending on your current station in life, motherhood could mean any, some or all of the above; or mean nothing at all. Few issues (if one may call motherhood an issue) relating to women inspire greater communal concern and panic as does the idea of pushing out and raising babies. Few issues can also cause as much moral and mental confusion, societal judgement and guilt-tripping among them. Motherhood is, of course, a beautiful experience. There is power in being able to give birth to new life. There is something magical about how the female body can sustain life like it does; how it seems to twist and re-mould to accommodate an ever-growing being within its pit. There are many deeply indescribable things in being able to feed your child’s body and mind; and there is courage in taking up this massive, irreversible responsibility. But understandably, this massive onus of a little being’s holistic development is also a bumpy road, not in the least helped by hardened expectations of how ‘good mothers’ should be. As if all the physical and emotional churning is not enough, there is the unholy specter of male privilege to deal with, wherein the man in the equation can guiltlessly move on, leaving the woman holding the baby alone. Motherhood’s biological and anatomical magic often is on collision course with the practicality of living in an unequal world where a mother’s labour has no value. And therein lies a truckload of problems.


1. Why have children?

High Heels and Training Wheels

Though cultural context is often a major factor here, the answer to why exactly do we procreate has always been rather vague, selfish-sounding, unconvincing to those who think they don’t want children, i.e., to exactly the people who are often accused of being self-centered for not having children! Irony, sigh. The truth that is emerging in countries where women are privileged enough to enjoy a few fundamental human rights, including that of education, is that motherhood is being questioned. Women and men here are pondering over its repercussions, fallout, benefits, history, irritations, joys, stigma, and so much more; which is great. But then there is the rest of the world, where there remain legions of women who get married criminally early, have little to no control over their bodies, are never offered contraception as an option, and have their lives defined and judged by motherhood that they had no say in. There exists in our world right now a basic clash in viewing motherhood as a choice on one hand, and a rigid, socially-demanded obligation on the other. Read:

Five Reasons To Have Children (via The Guardian)
Why Women Aren’t Having Children (via The Atlantic)
What If You Just Don’t Know If You Want Kids (via NY Mag The Cut)

2. Not feeling sacred or grateful or in control

FRL309Grateful Leadership

Imagine this – one night, a woman pees on a pregnancy test stick, discovers she is knocked up, and then retires to bed. The next day, she wakes up with a ladle in one hand, and a diaper in the other. She looks into a mirror and she sees a goddess, halo and all, looking all kinds of divine. Her veins no longer are sewers of junk-food/nicotine/alcohol tarnished blood, but of purified goo that is composed of love and compassion for the upcoming baby. Her smile is made of indelible ink and stardust, it can’t be wiped off! Sounds ridiculous, no? But, heck, this is exactly what we expect of mothers. All the time! If and once knocked up, the mother-to-be must appear to develop a glow so pure that it cuts out all crap about doubts, moods, regrets, and anger. While undoubtedly any woman who wants to view her pregnancy as a parachute-ride across a rainbow is totally allowed to do that, it is deeply unfair to saddle ALL mothers with these expectations. Primarily because the women don’t stop being who they were pre-pregnancy, they just grow, adapt, tweak, re-align. There is a difference. And secondarily, because it ignores every normal biological phenomena related to motherhood, from morning sickness to post-partum depression. Read:

I Wish They’d Stop Calling This Sacred (via Renegade Mothering)
I am silenced by the tyranny of impending motherhood (via The Guardian)
I Was An Unwanted Child (via Experience Project)
Israeli Photographer Elinor Carucci’s Haunting Series 
on the Realities of Motherhood (NSFW) (by Elenor Carucci)

 3. The natural instinct or not

FRL303Buzzfeed

Of the million things that women all over the world are contractually obliged to be guilty about, ignoring the utterly natural instinct to bear a child must surely be the most shock-inducing. The woman who makes the voluntary, informed choice of childlessness must surely be off her rockers! Yet, millions of women of this fertile generation have done just that – refused to kowtow to nebulous ideas of motherly instincts and decided to never interrupt their monthly period routine, however annoying that period maybe. Of course, this mythical ‘natural instinct’ is supposedly felt, nurtured, and fed by many, many women, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It becomes a monumental problem only when, here we go again, ALL women are assumed to be under the spell of this instinct. It accords an untouchable quality to motherhood, making it like a cult whose higher power should not be questioned. Or else, you are a traitor to the cause! Read:

How I Signed Up For Letting My Heart Go Walking Around 
Outside My Body (via Womens Web)
Childless, Naturally (via LiveMint)

4. Abortion and Adoption

FRL301Giphy

Once a child is born, who or what decides its destiny? Where that little person stays, what values get given to it? What visuals get shown to it? Who all get to be called its parents and siblings? How truly free this person gets to be? These loaded questions often collide with each in the vortex that is the issue of adoption. It brings to question the overarching, all-conquering force that the love of a birth mother is supposed to be. It dares to postulate that motherhood has little to do with owning a womb. It empowers girls and women with the choice to live a life they are unwilling to derail because of a rape, a drunken one-night stand, a bad relationship, incest. Standing on this very spectrum, albeit on a more prickly stage, is the question of abortion. Some say it is like playing God. Some view it is an essential choice every woman should be afforded in times when the father can easily walk away from all responsibilities. While many others bring up another critical issue preceding motherhood – being ready for it. Abortion needn’t just end a painful past, it could also prevent a tragic future. Read:

The Moralising Compass (via Fountain Ink) 
I'm a feminist and I'm against abortion (via CNN)
Jemima Kirke Talks About Her Abortion (via NYMag The Cut)
Birthmotherhood (via Scarleteen)
An Adoptive Mom’s Powerful Photo Essay (via rageagainsttheminivan)

5. Single motherhood

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One of blogosphere’s most active corners is the one filled with motherly reflections. Some of the most vociferous voices here belong to single mothers, talking about the sheer loneliness of their choices or fates, how they got there, why they stayed, and how they plan to survive. These are powerful stories, related by truly heroic women whose heroism often goes unacknowledged. Read:

An Interview With a Single Mother: How She Survives 
In The Indian Society (via YouthkiAwaaz)
India’s Single IVF Mums (via Friday Magazine)
Surviving Single Motherhood (via ScaryMommy)

6. End of the road for a feminist?

FRL306Buzzfeed

Feminism and motherhood have historically been an on-again-off-again couple. This relationship has become painfully more complicated as the third wave has rolled in, bringing with it complex questions of choice and gender and sexual agency. The question, “Can a woman manage to remain a feminist after giving birth?” usually gets answered in the most convoluted way possible – with a flurry of more questions! “First of all, do you even understand what feminism is?” “Why did you choose to become a mother anyway?” “Didn’t you know that motherhood is a series of endless compromises?” “You will never be truly free again, you know that right?” And the most awesome of all, “Why are you even asking a question like that?!!” Read:

Feminism and the Mummy Mystique: Why being a mother isn't the 
"full stop" on my life (via New Statesman)
 
I Thought Becoming A Mom Meant Changing Who I Was
 — I Was Wrong (via Bustle)
Death of a Revolutionary (via New Yorker)

7. Judging bad mothers

FRL304Buzzfeed

Ask your mother, and she will give you multiple instances of motherhood often having been a depressingly thankless job. In fact, this prototype of the demanding kid and the capitulating mom is so commonly accepted that any mother rebelling against it instantly gets slapped with the ‘bad mom’ medal. The ‘good mommy’ is the one who picks up dirty underwear off the floor, whips tasty food out of thin air no matter what time of the day, quietly listens to and often takes the blame for your academic misdemeanors, doesn’t mind you running around like a lunatic inside a department store, has endless money for your insatiable need for toys/clothes/video games, couldn’t care less about the dark circles around her eyes…phew! She is not supposed to mind you forgetting her birthday, interrupting her in public, disturbing her while working, or laughing along when your father is making fun of her. Was ‘good’ motherhood always this warped an arrangement? Can’t say. Read:

The rise of the 'bad mom' in the social media age (via Star Tribune)
We are All Bad Mothers Now (via New Yorker)
10 Signs She’ll Be A Bad Mother (via Ask Men)

8. Screw the ‘yummy mummy’ syndrome!

FRL308FamousFix

Ah tabloids, you with your ugly yellow fonts and idiotic headlines, how you capture the guttery recesses of our imagination! You body-shame every female body that has dared to become famous. You spew lies. You never read any biology textbooks, and you still happily perpetuate nonsense about women’s bodies. You truly believe that a mother’s body is like a shapely puppy that goes missing during a 9-month gestation period, and then can be ‘got back’ only when she submits to a grueling regimen of exercise and starvation. You think a MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck) is the only type of mother deserving of space on this planet. You call such mothers ‘yummy mummys’, because the only difference between a woman and a cupcake is that one can wear Louboutins. And, of course, you will never stop what you do, no matter what we say. Because what is a modern mother if not a big odd bag of insecurities? Read:

Free us from the curse of the yummy mummy (via The Guardian)
There's No Such Thing As a Post-Baby Body (Bitch Magazine)

9. Possibilities

FRL307summer5610

You know how sometimes the best way of showing that something is possible is by shutting up and just getting it done? Just letting the action speak for itself? That is what some pregnant women like to do. They accept their state of vulnerability, their need to get and provide care, but they vehemently reject the society’s dictate of becoming a pampered, unproductive doll for 9 months. Women when pregnant needn’t lose sight of their careers or passions, and if their bodies are willing, should have equal opportunities of choosing to continue what they were already doing, or indeed to find new things to do. Read:

What Can A Pregnant Photojournalist Cover – Everything! (via NY Times)
 

10. Rockstar Countries for Mothers

FRL305ETOnline

The reality of our world today is that some places are just too good to mothers, while others view them as liabilities. State financial support, good hospitals, helplines, trained medical professionals, insurance – there is so much a government can do to support mothers-to-be. And some governments sure are. Clap clap clap! Read:

Mother’s Day Report From A Mom in Norway (via CS Monitor)
10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Norway (via Cup of Jo)
Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (via BBC)
Women Can Have It All...In Iceland (via Ozy)

 Now it’s your turn to tell us what to read

The Female Body as a Shameful Thing


Look out for this weekly series every Monday by
The Feminist Reading List on Chai Kadai to explore the shapes and forms of feminism around the globe.
The first list brings you articles, songs, and open letters on how ‘shame’ is (/needn’t be) an ingrained identity of the female form whatever its shape or size or body part.


1. Everybody say, “Vagina”!

Most men and women still tend to get tongue-tied when it comes to uttering the V word in public. This either results in the collective skirting of the vagina and its issues, or in the usage of a rather long and sometimes interesting list of nicknames for this critical female body part. But no linguistic acrobatics can hide the truth here – we continue to be ashamed of the vagina and publicly acknowledging its existence is akin to sacrilege.

The Everyday Feminism site is the blog equivalent of a world-wise, liberal older sister. If you haven’t already seen it, we highly recommend that you read through its excellent, easily digestible thought pieces on modern-day concerns of feminism. Here’s an article on vagina hate: 5 Ways Society Breeds Vagina-Hate (And How to Combat It)

Now that we are on the topic, this is a good time to start discovering the magic of vaginas, and we found an excellent article on a (surprise surprise!) men’s magazine site to help you along: 12 Things Everyone Should Know About Vaginas (from Men’s Journal)

2. Historical Art and the Female Form

Vagina/vulva hate apparently goes back far in time and, unsurprisingly, found expression in art as well. If one decides to think about it, when was the last time you saw a vulva slit/opening in a public painting or sculpture of the female form? Heck, even the Barbies are as smooth as mayonnaise down there. Why is the penis acceptable on public art pieces but not the vulva?

The Fascinating Reason There Are No Female Genitals on Statues (from AlterNet)

Art Recommendation: The Great Wall of Vagina – “Changing female body image through art” (NSFW)

3. Big Boobs, Small Boobs

Ah, boobs! One of the most contentious topics that feminists can’t tire of suffering mental breakdowns over. Boobs (‘breasts’ are for medical articles!) continue to fascinate because they seem to be the literal focal point of the male gaze, and thus become an important feminist issue. Women are shamed for having both boobs that are too big, or too small. But then, no one can really classify what the perfect bust size is! So it continues – shaming women for possessing big boobs and daring to show any cleavage, or shaming them for being ‘flat-chested’ and thus ill-equipped to be used as satisfactory sex objects.

Open Letter: Big Bust Shame (from afterthree.net)

An alternate view presented here is this – why are breasts considered weapons of feminine shame in the first place? (from The Atlantic)

For some research help on the topic: Oppressive Beliefs And Breast Size Preference (from Feminist Philosophers)

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4. Crotch Sweat

As girls and women, we desperately wish to inhabit a world where people have come to terms with the fact that we bleed almost every month, pee and poo every day, and yes, sweat even around the privates when we exert our bodies. Till that day dawns, prepare to be bombarded with body-shaming ads selling panty-liners and sweatpants that hide the shameful pit stains that seem to inexplicably develop down there after you, gasp, work out at the gym. Not to mention all the male attention you risk missing out on because you dare to be sloppy and sweaty like a normal human being!

Unless, you are lucky enough to come across a man like this one: This Dude’s Response To Female Crotch Sweat Shame Is Perfect (from Bust.com)

5. Hide Your Sanitary Pads

Have you ever found it funny that most chemist stores in India display a phalanx of sanitary pad ads on their main showcase or doors but the moment you purchase a packet, it is promptly wrapped in a black little plastic cover before being handed to you? The idea of menstruation or the period is just about OK only till is presented in isolation. The moment it draws attention to the female anatomy, or what actually the period entails, it becomes a taboo topic. Generations of daughters have been raised to be ashamed of this absolutely natural physical transition and thus afraid of being seen with pads in public, or god forbid, with a maroon stain on their skirts.

The wonderful Menstrupedia movement is working to change this attitude – Ladies Keeping Periods A Secret From Men Is Unnecessary

And, here is what happens when you dare show on a social media site the consequence of the bleeding: Rupi Kaur Instagram Photo (The Huffington Post)

6. A Mother’s Body Can’t Possibly Be Sexy

Everything leading up to a baby’s birth is magical, only as long as you don’t mention the throwing-up, the weight gain, the tiredness, the water breaking, the vaginal dilation, the blood and the placenta, and all that! The problem with sanitising and soft-focusing motherhood for public consumption is that it breeds unrealistic expectations of mothers, most vicious of which is her prerogative to get back in shape pronto after delivery. The vapid celebrity culture doesn’t help the cause either, unless when some bold famous mothers come forth and flip their middle fingers at the fat-shamers. Find out how 13 celebrity moms stood up to “fat shaming”

7. Would you like to be a pearl or a lollipop?

It would be difficult to find a girl or a young woman who hasn’t ever been told to cover up or dress appropriately because her female form has the potential to attract (male) predators. It comes as benevolent advice, but hides this message – your form is vulnerable and ‘honourable’, and men are rapacious animals, so keep yourself sheathed at all times. Some communities tend to promote graphics that ideally should offend both women and men to drive home this point.

Women are neither pearls nor lollipops (TRIGGER WARNING FOR VIOLENT ASSAULT)

Ad for Hijabs! From Spirit 21 that reposted The National Article

Sultana’s Dream

by Begum Roquia

Roquia Sakhawat Hussain

Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Begum Roquia, also known as Begum Roquia Sakhawat Hussain, Begum R. S. Hussain or Begum Rokeya, was a pioneer of women’s liberation movement in the South Asian subcontinent. Sultana’s dream was first published in The Indian Ladies Magazine, Madras, India, 1905 in English. This text has been reprinted from Marxists Internet Archive. Please feel free to copy, share, distribute and perform this text and please attribute it to the author and MIA. 

***

One evening I was lounging in an easy chair in my bedroom and thinking lazily of the condition of Indian womanhood. I am not sure whether I dozed off or not. But, as far as I remember, I was wide awake. I saw the moonlit sky sparkling with thousands of diamond-like stars, very distinctly.

All on a sudden a lady stood before me; how she came in, I do not know. I took her for my friend, Sister Sara.

“Good morning,” said Sister Sara. I smiled inwardly as I knew it was not morning, but starry night. However, I replied to her, saying, “How do you do?”

“I am all right, thank you. Will you please come out and have a look at our garden?”

I looked again at the moon through the open window, and thought there was no harm in going out at that time. The men-servants outside were fast asleep just then, and I could have a pleasant walk with Sister Sara.

I used to have my walks with Sister Sara, when we were at Darjeeling. Many a time did we walk hand in hand and talk light-heartedly in the botanical gardens there. I fancied, Sister Sara had probably come to take me to some such garden and I readily accepted her offer and went out with her.

When walking I found to my surprise that it was a fine morning. The town was fully awake and the streets alive with bustling crowds. I was feeling very shy, thinking I was walking in the street in broad daylight, but there was not a single man visible.

Some of the passers-by made jokes at me. Though I could not understand their language, yet I felt sure they were joking. I asked my friend, “What do they say?”

“The women say that you look very mannish.”

“Mannish?” said I, “What do they mean by that?”

“They mean that you are shy and timid like men.”

“Shy and timid like men?” It was really a joke. I became very nervous, when I found that my companion was not Sister Sara, but a stranger. Oh, what a fool had I been to mistake this lady for my dear old friend, Sister Sara.

She felt my fingers tremble in her hand, as we were walking hand in hand.

“What is the matter, dear?” she said affectionately. “I feel somewhat awkward,” I said in a rather apologizing tone, “as being a purdahnishin woman I am not accustomed to walking abut unveiled.”

“You need not be afraid of coming across a man here. This is Ladyland, free from sin and harm. Virtue herself reigns here.”

By and by I was enjoying the scenery. Really it was very grand. I mistook a patch of green grass for a velvet cushion. Feeling as if I were walking on a soft carpet, I looked down and found the path covered with moss and flowers.

“How nice it is,” said I.

“Do you like it?” asked Sister Sara. (I continued calling her “Sister Sara,” and she kept calling me by my name).

“Yes, very much; but I do not like to tread on the tender and sweet flowers.”

“Never mind, dear Sultana; your treading will not harm them; they are street flowers.”

“The whole place looks like a garden,” said I admiringly. “You have arranged every plant so skillfully.”

“Your Calcutta could become a nicer garden than this if only your countrymen wanted to make it so.”

“They would think it useless to give so much attention to horticulture, while they have so many other things to do.”

“They could not find a better excuse,” said she with smile.

I became very curious to know where the men were. I met more than a hundred women while walking there, but not a single man.

“Where are the men?” I asked her.

“In their proper places, where they ought to be.”

“Pray let me know what you mean by ‘their proper places’.”

“O, I see my mistake, you cannot know our customs, as you were never here before. We shut our men indoors.”

“Just as we are kept in the zenana?”

“Exactly so.”

“How funny,” I burst into a laugh. Sister Sara laughed too.

“But dear Sultana, how unfair it is to shut in the harmless women and let loose the men.”

“Why? It is not safe for us to come out of the zenana, as we are naturally weak.”

“Yes, it is not safe so long as there are men about the streets, nor is it so when a wild animal enters a marketplace.”

“Of course not.”

“Suppose, some lunatics escape from the asylum and begin to do all sorts of mischief to men, horses and other creatures; in that case what will your countrymen do?”

“They will try to capture them and put them back into their asylum.”

“Thank you! And you do not think it wise to keep sane people inside an asylum and let loose the insane?”

“Of course not!” said I laughing lightly.

“As a matter of fact, in your country this very thing is done! Men, who do or at least are capable of doing no end of mischief, are let loose and the innocent women, shut up in the zenana! How can you trust those untrained men out of doors?”

“We have no hand or voice in the management of our social affairs. In India man is lord and master, he has taken to himself all powers and privileges and shut up the women in the zenana.”

“Why do you allow yourselves to be shut up?”

“Because it cannot be helped as they as stronger than women.”

“A lion is stronger than a man, but it does not enable him to dominate the human race. You have neglected the duty you owe to yourselves and you have lost your natural rights by shutting your eyes to your own interests.”

“But my dear sister Sara, if we do everything by ourselves, what will the men do then?”

“They should not do anything, excuse me; they are fit for nothing. Only catch them and put them into the zenana.”

“But would it be very easy to catch and put them inside the four walls?” said I. “And even if this were done, would all their business, political and commercial – also go with them into the zenana?”

Sister Sara made no reply. She only smiled sweetly. Perhaps she thought it useless to argue with one who was no better than a frog in a well.

By this time we reached sister Sara’s house. It was situated in a beautiful heart-shaped garden. It was a bungalow with a corrugated iron roof. It was cooler and nicer than any of our rich buildings. I cannot describe how neat and how nicely furnished and how tastefully decorated it was.

We sat side by side. She brought out of the parlour a piece of embroidery work and began putting on a fresh design.

“Do you know knitting and needle work?”

“Yes; we have nothing else to do in our zenana.”

“But we do not trust our zenana members with embroidery!” she said laughing, “as a man has not patience enough to pass thread through a needle hole even!”

“Have you done all this work yourself?” I asked her pointing to the various pieces of embroidered teapoy cloths.

“Yes.”

“How can you find time to do all these? You have to do the office work as well? Have you not?”

“Yes. I do not stick to the laboratory all day long. I finish my work in two hours.”

“In two hours! How do you manage? In our land the officers, magistrates — for instance, work seven hours daily.”

“I have seen some of them doing their work. Do you think they work all the seven hours?”

“Certainly they do!”

“No, dear Sultana, they do not. They dawdle away their time in smoking. Some smoke two or three choroots during the office time. They talk much about their work, but do little. Suppose one choroot takes half an hour to burn off, and a man smokes twelve choroots daily; then you see, he wastes six hours every day in sheer smoking.”

We talked on various subjects, and I learned that they were not subject to any kind of epidemic disease, nor did they suffer from mosquito bites as we do. I was very much astonished to hear that in Ladyland no one died in youth except by rare accident.

“Will you care to see our kitchen?” she asked me.

“With pleasure,” said I, and we went to see it. Of course the men had been asked to clear off when I was going there. The kitchen was situated in a beautiful vegetable garden. Every creeper, every tomato plant was itself an ornament. I found no smoke, nor any chimney either in the kitchen — it was clean and bright; the windows were decorated with flower gardens. There was no sign of coal or fire.

“How do you cook?” I asked.

“With solar heat,” she said, at the same time showing me the pipe, through which passed the concentrated sunlight and heat. And she cooked something then and there to show me the process.

“How did you manage to gather and store up the sun heat?” I asked her in amazement.

“Let me tell you a little of our past history then. Thirty years ago, when our present Queen was thirteen years old, she inherited the throne. She was Queen in name only, the Prime Minister really ruling the country.

“Our good Queen liked science very much. She circulated an order that all the women in her country should be educated. Accordingly a number of girls’ schools were founded and supported by the government . Education was spread far and wide among women. And early marriage also was stopped. No woman was to be allowed to marry before she was twenty-one. I must tell you that, before this change we had been kept in strict purdah.”

“How the tables are turned,” I interposed with a laugh.

“But the seclusion is the same,” she said. “In a few years we had separate universities, where no men were admitted.”

“In the capital, where our Queen lives, there are two universities. One of these invented a wonderful balloon, to which they attached a number of pipes. By means of this captive balloon which they managed to keep afloat above the cloud-land, they could draw as much water from the atmosphere as they pleased. As the water was incessantly being drawn by the university people no cloud gathered and the ingenious Lady Principal stopped rain and storms thereby.”

“Really! Now I understand why there is no mud here!” said I. But I could not understand how it was possible to accumulate water in the pipes. She explained to me how it was done, but I was unable to understand her, as my scientific knowledge was very limited. However, she went on…

“When the other university came to know of this, they became exceedingly jealous and tried to do something more extraordinary still. They invented an instrument by which they could collect as much sun-heat as they wanted. And they kept the heat stored up to be distributed among others as required.

“While the women were engaged in scientific research, the men of this country were busy increasing their military power. When they came to know that the female universities were able to draw water from the atmosphere and collect heat from the sun, they only laughed at the members of the universities and called the whole thing ‘a sentimental nightmare’!”

“Your achievements are very wonderful indeed! But tell me, how you managed to put the men of your country into the zenana. Did you entrap them first?”

“No.”

“It is not likely that they would surrender their free and open air life of their own accord and confine themselves within the four walls of the zenana! They must have been overpowered.”

“Yes, they have been!”

“By whom? By some lady warriors, I suppose?”

“No, not by arms.”

“Yes, it cannot be so. Men’s arms are stronger than women’s. Then?”

“By brain.”

“Even their brains are bigger and heavier than women’s. Are they not?”

“Yes, but what of that? An elephant also has got a bigger and heavier brain than a man has. Yet man can enchain elephants and employ them, according to their own wishes.”

“Well said, but tell me please, how it all actually happened. I am dying to know it!”

“Women’s brains are somewhat quicker than men’s. Ten years ago, when the military officers called our scientific discoveries ‘a sentimental nightmare,’ some of the young ladies wanted to say something in reply to those remarks. But both the Lady Principals restrained them and said, they should reply not by word, but by deed, if ever they got the opportunity. And they had not long to wait for that opportunity.”

“How marvelous!” I heartily clapped my hands. “And now the proud gentlemen are dreaming sentimental dreams themselves.”

“Soon afterwards certain persons came from a neighbouring country and took shelter in ours. They were in trouble having committed some political offense. The king who cared more for power than for good government asked our kind-hearted Queen to hand them over to his officers. She refused, as it was against her principle to turn out refugees. For this refusal the king declared war against our country.

“Our military officers sprang to their feet at once and marched out to meet the enemy.

“The enemy however, was too strong for them. Our soldiers fought bravely, no doubt. But in spite of all their bravery the foreign army advanced step by step to invade our country.”

“Nearly all the men had gone out to fight; even a boy of sixteen was not left home. Most of our warriors were killed, the rest driven back and the enemy came within twenty-five miles of the capital.

“A meeting of a number of wise ladies was held at the Queen’s palace to advise as to what should be done to save the land.

“Some proposed to fight like soldiers; others objected and said that women not trained to fight with swords and guns, nor were they accustomed to fighting with any weapons. A third party regretfully remarked that they were hopelessly weak of body.

“‘If you cannot save your country for lack of physical strength,’ said the Queen, ‘try to do so by brain power.’

“There was a dead silence for a few minutes. Her Royal Highness said again, ‘I must commit suicide if the land and my honour are lost.’

“Then the Lady Principal of the second university (who had collected sun-heat), who had been silently thinking during the consultation, remarked that they were all but lost, and there was little hope left for them. There was, however, one plan which she would like to try, and this would be her first and last efforts; if she failed in this, there would be nothing left but to commit suicide. All present solemnly vowed that they would never allow themselves to be enslaved, on matter what happened.

“The Queen thanked them heartily, and asked the Lady Principal to try her plan.

“The Lady Principal rose again and said, ‘before we go out the men must enter the zenanas. I make this prayer for the sake of purdah.’ ‘Yes, of course,’ replied Her Royal Highness.

“On the following day the Queen called upon all men to retire into zenanas for the sake of honour and liberty.

“Wounded and tired as they were, they took that order rather for a boon! They bowed low and entered the zenanas without uttering a single word of protest. They were sure that there was no hope for this country at all.

“Then the Lady Principal with her two thousand students marched to the battle field, and arriving there directed all the rays of the concentrated sunlight and heat towards the enemy.

“The heat and light were too much for them to bear. They all ran away panic-stricken, not knowing in their bewilderment how to counteract that scorching heat. When they fled away leaving their guns and other ammunitions of war, they were burnt down by means of the same sun heat.

“Since then no one has tried to invade our country any more.”

“And since then your countrymen never tried to come out of the zenana?”

“Yes, they wanted to be free. Some of the police commissioners and district magistrates sent word to the Queen to the effect that the military officers certainly deserved to be imprisoned for their failure; but they never neglected their duty and therefore they should not be punished and they prayed to be restored to their respective offices.

“Her Royal Highness sent them a circular letter intimating to them that if their services should ever be needed they would be sent for, and that in the meanwhile they should remain where they were.

“Now that they are accustomed to the purdah system and have ceased to grumble at their seclusion, we call the system ‘Murdana’ instead of ‘zenana’.”

“But how do you manage,” I asked Sister Sara, “to do without the police or magistrates in case of theft or murder?”

“Since the ‘Murdana’ system has been established, there has been no more crime or sin; therefore we do not require a policeman to find out a culprit, nor do we want a magistrate to try a criminal case.”

“That is very good, indeed. I suppose if there was any dishonest person, you could very easily chastise her. As you gained a decisive victory without shedding a single drop of blood, you could drive off crime and criminals too without much difficulty!”

“Now, dear Sultana, will you sit here or come to my parlour?” she asked me.

“Your kitchen is not inferior to a queen’s boudoir!” I replied with a pleasant smile, “but we must leave it now; for the gentlemen may be cursing me for keeping them away from their duties in the kitchen so long.” We both laughed heartily.

“How my friends at home will be amused and amazed, when I go back and tell them that in the far-off Ladyland, ladies rule over the country and control all social matters, while gentlemen are kept in the Murdanas to mind babies, to cook and to do all sorts of domestic work; and that cooking is so easy a thing that it is simply a pleasure to cook!”

“Yes, tell them about all that you see here.”

“Please let me know, how you carry on land cultivation and how you plough the land and do other hard manual work.”

“Our fields are tilled by means of electricity, which supplies motive power for other hard work as well, and we employ it for our aerial conveyances too. We have no rail road nor any paved streets here.”

“Therefore neither street nor railway accidents occur here,” said I. “Do not you ever suffer from want of rainwater?” I asked.

“Never since the ‘water balloon’ has been set up. You see the big balloon and pipes attached thereto. By their aid we can draw as much rainwater as we require. Nor do we ever suffer from flood or thunderstorms. We are all very busy making nature yield as much as she can. We do not find time to quarrel with one another as we never sit idle. Our noble Queen is exceedingly fond of botany; it is her ambition to convert the whole country into one grand garden.”

“The idea is excellent. What is your chief food?”

“Fruits.”

“How do you keep your country cool in hot weather? We regard the rainfall in summer as a blessing from heaven.”

“When the heat becomes unbearable, we sprinkle the ground with plentiful showers drawn from the artificial fountains. And in cold weather we keep our room warm with sun heat.”

She showed me her bathroom, the roof of which was removable. She could enjoy a shower bath whenever she liked, by simply removing the roof (which was like the lid of a box) and turning on the tap of the shower pipe.

“You are a lucky people!” ejaculated I. “You know no want. What is you religion, may I ask?”

“Our religion is based on Love and Truth. It is our religious duty to love one another and to be absolutely truthful. If any person lies, she or he is….”

“Punished with death?”

“No, not with death. We do not take pleasure in killing a creature of God, especially a human being. The liar is asked to leave this land for good and never to come to it again.”

“Is an offender never forgiven?”

“Yes, if that person repents sincerely.”

“Are you not allowed to see any man, except your own relations?”

“No one except sacred relations.”

“Our circle of sacred relations is very limited; even first cousins are not sacred.”

“But ours is very large; a distant cousin is as sacred as a brother.”

“That is very good. I see purity itself reigns over your land. I should like to see the good Queen, who is so sagacious and far-sighted and who has made all these rules.”

“All right,” said Sister Sara.

Then she screwed a couple of seats onto a square piece of plank. To this plank she attached two smooth and well-polished balls. When I asked her what the balls were for, she said they were hydrogen balls and they were used to overcome the force of gravity. The balls were of different capacities to be used according to the different weights desired to be overcome. She then fastened to the air-car two wing-like blades, which, she said, were worked by electricity. After we were comfortably seated she touched a knob and the blades began to whirl, moving faster and faster every moment. At first we were raised to the height of about six or seven feet and then off we flew. And before I could realize that we had commenced moving, we reached the garden of the Queen.

My friend lowered the air-car by reversing the action of the machine, and when the car touched the ground the machine was stopped and we got out.

I had seen from the air-car the Queen walking on a garden path with her little daughter (who was four years old) and her maids of honour.

“Halloo! You here!” cried the Queen addressing Sister Sara. I was introduced to Her Royal Highness and was received by her cordially without any ceremony.

I was very much delighted to make her acquaintance. In the course of the conversation I had with her, the Queen told me that she had no objection to permitting her subjects to trade with other countries. “But,” she continued, “no trade was possible with countries where the women were kept in the zenanas and so unable to come and trade with us. Men, we find, are rather of lower morals and so we do not like dealing with them. We do not covet other people’s land, we do not fight for piece of diamond though it may be a thousand-fold brighter than the Koh-i-Noor, nor do we grudge a ruler his peacock throne. We dive deep into the ocean of knowledge and try to find out the precious gems, which Nature has kept in store for us. We enjoy Nature’s gifts as much as we can.”

After taking leave of the Queen, I visited the famous universities, and was shown some of their manufactories, laboratories and observatories.

After visiting the above places of interest we got again into the air-car, but as soon as it began moving, I somehow slipped down and the fall startled me out of my dream. And on opening my eyes, I found myself in my own bed lounging in the easy-chair!

***

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