Thinking today about the idea that we can only become what we can see and hoping that some of you will relate!
Growing up, I saw and heard a grand total of zero Indian American artists on TV or on the radio. There were a couple of Asian American artists -Rachael Yamagata, Vienna Teng - and I would look to these women as hopeful examples that maybe I could also write and sing songs of my own rather than stepping into the extremely limited stereotypical Indian American roles offered to me by TV shows, film, magazines, and commercials.
These images in the media are so powerful and they both expand and limit what people think is possible for their own lives. Only now am I beginning to realize how heavily these images impact what I consider to be possible in my own life.
Growing up, I wasn’t interested in most of the films my older brothers wanted to see - action films, political thrillers, male-centric dramas. I accepted the easy explanation widely sold to me that as a woman, I like 'chick flicks'. I found this infuriatingly condescending but accepted it because I didn’t have the words yet to articulate that, in the movies my brothers wanted to watch, I didn't see myself on the screen. I could enjoy the movie, yes, because I am human and a songwriter and thus love to hear pretty much any story, but I couldn't enjoy and connect to these films in the same personal way that my brothers could. They watched movie after movie while a huge variety of male stories played out across the screen.
I leave the theater feeling a little beaten down when I spend two hours watching a woman follow a man’s lead and when all of the eye candy shots are created to please the male gaze. Now multiply this feeling times most movies you’ve ever seen in your life and you will start to get an idea of the imbalance of a woman’s movie-going experience.
Years later, it turns out, I LOVE action movies...that is, when there is a female protagonist, when she has opinions of her own, and when she doesn’t exist for the sole pleasure of the men around her - in other words, when the movie portrays a real woman.
One other thing that's only recently beginning to change for me is politics. Growing up, in the same way that I couldn't connect with movies where the only stories I was watching were those of men, I couldn't seem to connect as personally to what was going on politically as my brothers seemed to do. I was interested in politics and followed current events on a daily basis but with one man after another giving his opinion, politics always felt like someone else's world...that I could learn about it but my voice didn’t have a place there. And I think this is due in large part to how male-dominated the political arena is. Because in the last few years, I've started to find the female activists, feminists, and political leaders to look to and it’s now becoming very, very relevant and personal to me.
I’ve spent most of my life taking my interests or lack of interests at face value. And I've recently started to question why I don't really want to see that movie, why I feel unqualified to speak out about certain issues, and why I think a certain career isn’t the ‘right fit’ for me. And in asking these questions, I'm starting to see in the answers that I can trace each of these preferences back to whether or not each part of my identity (Indian American and female) is represented in that arena.
I guess I'm writing all of this because I don't want women to miss out on so many potential passions and on having their voices heard just because they haven't seen their stories told thus far - in politics, in movies, in whatever professional field they've chosen. I'm SO excited for this next generation of women who are growing up with an ever widening variety of stories that they can try on to see what fits. Yes:)