Excerpts I liked from My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor

Excerpts I liked from My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor

Found these written down in a random document on my computer from last summer!

Excerpts from My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor

July 8, 2015

I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can’t imagine someone else’s point of view.

They were like two trees with buried roots so tangled that they inevitably leaned on each other, and also strangled each other a bit.

If you grow up on salsa and merengue, then polkas and jitterbugs look as if they jumped off the pages of the National Geographic.

As I lay in bed at night, the sky outside my window reflecting the city’s dim glow, I thought about Abuelita’s fierce loyalty to blood. But what really binds people as family? The way they shore themselves up with stories; the way siblings can feud bitterly but still come through for each other; how an untimely death, a child gone before a parent, shakes the very foundations; how the weaker ones, the ones with invisible wounds, are sheltered; how a constant din is medicine against loneliness; and how celebrating the same occasions year after year steels us to the changes they herald.

I remember wondering what made her so intriguing. How could one become an interesting person? It wasn’t just having a boyfriend you could describe as a hero, thought that certainly got my attention. It had more to do with her questioning the meaning of her existence, thinking in terms of a purpose in life. She was a teacher but still educating herself, learning about the world and actively engaged in it.

The parish in Yonkers was 100 percent Irish, he rationalized, and the priest had no choice but to affirm his community’s values. I disagreed. Bigotry is not a value.

“Half a debate is listening to what the other person says,” Ken advised. It was easy to present your own points, much harder to listen well enough to respond effectively to your opponent.

When I was little, listening and watching for cues had seemed like the key to survival in a precarious world. I notice when people hesitate or get defensive, when they care more about what they’re saying than they’ll admit, or when they’re too quick about brushing something off. So much is communicated in tone of voice, in subtleties of expression, and in body language.

A line of reasoning could persuade, but so could a sequence of feelings. Constructing a chain of logic was one thing; building a chain of emotions required a different understanding.

The freedom to talk about and control our bodies

The freedom to talk about and control our bodies
Damn cool lady.
I so deeply admire women who speak out about these taboo, stigmatized issues in these sorts of societies – knowing the kinds of horrific comments and jugments (and potentially dangerous retaliations) that are going to be thrust upon them and those close to them, not just in relation to their views on these things but in associating with everything else they do and how they choose to live their lives forever onwards. And so interesting how other judgments that have absolutely nothing (at least overtly) to do with the matter at hand – like calling someone a Naxalite or seditious/anti-national (see recent accusations against John Dreze’s partner) – are so often tacked on to obfuscate the issue and promote alienation of any woman that dares speak out.
I, having been raised in a (relatively) progressive family in the U.S. have at times found myself self-censoring, self-constrainting, and overall feeling unable or ashamed even of speaking out about things like this with many in my communities- for fear of the sorts of “loose morals” that they will think that I have, how they will treat me in so many other areas of my life if they know where I stand on issues like this, the daily alienation that I might suffer from them knowing that I just think this way, and their assumption that I only think this way because I have let certain “impure” Western values corrupt me and cannot relate at all to Indian/South Asian values, etc. Many cannot imagine that I may have grown up living between two worlds, and even been a grown-up who has chosen to continue living between the two, and thought deeply about these issues and arrived at my own conclusions.
Regardless of any of her other views or ideological standings, how Kavita Krishnan, as a woman raised in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, finds the courage, to publicly speak out, is astounding to me – and quite inspiring. Seeing this makes me see just how much more one can do, and how much more one can aspire to say. I only wish that one didn’t have to necessarily be labeled as an “activist” to speak out. Why shouldn’t all women be able to? Certainly one could expect it for those of us who are “free” (as one is, presumably, in the U.S. and India)?
In a related matter (the freedom of women to decide what to do with their bodies), worth listening to this This American Life podcast – Act One is about a woman who was born in Karachi in a particular sect, some of whom practice female genital mutilation (for the sake of limiting a woman’s desire), then moved to the U.S. and started asking and studying more about what had been done to her as a 7-year-old. She delved into what the social, religious, and familial forces behind it were (and continue to be); independently of her, her brother became one of the most vocal and public from their community about ending the practice, and her mother had unsuccessfully struggled against the norm in their own family. The resulting discussion about the reactions and views around this issue through generations in their family and the society (religious and social) that the family is embedded in are particularly telling and familiar. Note: she only started confronting these issues once she was in a college environment, rather than the Texan community that she grew up in, where sex was, similarly to her experience in Karachi, a pretty taboo and under-discussed issue. Many of the places we think are free are, perhaps, less than we think.
Secrecy, and lack of discussion, around these “controversial” issues (about women’s bodies) among even best friends and family members is a chilling parallel that I see in so many societies where social norms around limited freedoms (even when de jure freedoms may exist) continue on.
The success of a society is to be evaluated primarily by the freedoms that members of the society enjoy. -Amartya Sen

Links (and podcasts) I liked

1. A collection of thoughts on company policies for mitigating gender/institutional biases and encouraging diversity in hiring, workforce and HR practices –

2. Annnnd Google finds that the key to good teamwork is… *gasp* being nice!

Google’s data-driven approach ended up highlighting what leaders in the business world have known for a while; the best teams respect one another’s emotions and are mindful that all members should contribute to the conversation equally. It has less to do with who is in a team, and more with how a team’s members interact with one another.[…]At the heart of Sakaguchi’s strategy, and Google’s findings, is the concept of “psychological safety,” a model of teamwork in which members have a shared belief that it is safe to take risks and share a range of ideas without the fear of being humiliated. “

3. CV of failures – A behavioral economics assistant prof at Princeton (founder of Busara, co-author of paper looking at the impacts of UCTs from the GiveDirectly experiment) says:

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.”

4. When did it become okay in the U.S. to delve into the personal lives of politicians?: “I don’t have to answer that” on Radiolab

5. “When waiting for the data is a death sentence”, Ankita Rao, Medium

For some really interesting investigative journalism on the reporting of malaria deaths in India, also see: “Revealed: The malaria crisis India doesn’t want to see”, Vivek Nemana and Ankita Rao

6. “Beyond tolerance” – TED Radio Hour

Super cool Telangana initiative – first (and only) state in India to mandate a course on gender sensitization at the undergraduate level (at any level)

Super cool Telangana initiative – first (and only) state in India to mandate a course on gender sensitization at the undergraduate level (at any level)

A new course on gender equality has been commissioned and mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Government of Telangana for undergraduates. This is the first of its kind mandated by any state in India. The textbook, “Towards a World of Equals: A Bilingual Textbook on Gender” , is written and edited by various teachers and researchers from univerisities around Hyderabad and the Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies. The course and textbook come into fruition after a 2012 Task Force on Gender Sensitization, set up by the UGC, wrote a report titled SAKSHAM

“The Task Force noted that ‘one of the weakest aspects of our institutions at higher education level is the lack of gender sensitivity’. It also observed that ‘gender sensitization is not a matter for students alone, but it is required in all Colleges and Universities and for all sections of the community – students, faculty in all disciplines, support staff and in administration. The report has made several recommendations to enhance gender equality in higher education. Introduction to courses on gender sensitization is first and foremost thing. It has also noted that such courses should address citizenship and rights, the nature and power, the problem of violence, countering sexual harassment and issues related to equality and freedom, as well as knowledge in matter of the law and rights.”

So far, pharmacy and engineering colleges have started mandating the course (teachers were trained in December 2015-Jan 2016), and other universities/colleges may also take it up. 

Recently, I attended an event where one of the co-editors (from Anveshi) came to present a bit on their intentions and motivations when writing the book and its supplements. It was written to try to get young people to engage with the material and find it “fun”, and to incite open discussion (rather than for rote learning for examination) about topics that are almost never discussed in the open seriously. There is a supplementary website with a lot of material – videos, anecdotes, chapters from vernacular literature, short documentaries, (and even metaphors from Kolaveri, haha) are used to initiate and further delve into discussion points and themes in the book. 

Some of the topics that came up in the Q&A were around how they can try to address issues that are often mixed in with gender inequality – caste, and class based inequalities, and how and when such an initiative would ever come into place for children of younger ages. There has only been one round of training so far, and a full semester of the course has not yet been completed – so not much data on how the teachers are taking having to teach the course, or how the course is actually going yet. However, there was some amount of sensitization, anecdotally reported at the session I went to, that needed to be done with the male teachers to explain why such a course was needed.

So far, while reading the book, it has been really interesting to see what kinds of pop references – local, national, and international – have been used and adapted for the content and course. Quite interesting to see what the writers think the status quo is (for example, how important nationalism is to everyone), and therefore what “ins” they find within this status quo to bring up discussions around gender equality. 

It is also heartening that even though there are some topics which the co-editor said they had to self-censor, such as sexual orientation and homosexuality (they were afraid that RSS members of the committee that had to finally approve the content would not let it go through, and sadly, also didn’t even know how to address the topic of homosexuality fully because they could not find examples in vernacular literature or other “acceptable” pop culture references), they hope to write a revised version to include more of; they also want to try to include more about male socialization in the next version.

Some excerpts below

Table of Contents

The deep metaphors of Kolaveri di (see 4th paragraph)

Including equality in the definition of nationalism (interesting) 

Male-dominated cultures….they had to adapt this particular cartoon to “sexy sari” vs “conservative sari” instead of the original cartoon – they thought the other would would be considered “too scandalous” by board members of the committee that would approve the course content!

(FYI: the original cartoon. Which they thought would be too “politically charged” in include in this format.)

Gender spectrums

Up for discussion: masculine, feminine, and neutral qualities in society

Our bodies, our health 



“A transformation, especially one that is deliberately sought, is often perceived as something disloyal, threatening. I am the daughter of a mother who would never change. In the United States, she continued, as far as possible, to dress, behave, eat, think, live as if she had never left India, Calcutta. The refusal to modify her aspect, her habits, her attitudes was her strategy for resisting American culture, for fighting it, for maintaining her identity. Becoming or even resembling an American would have meant total defeat. When my mother returns to Calcutta, she is proud of the fact that, in spite of almost fifty years away from India, she seems like a woman who never left.

I am the opposite. While the refusal to change was my mother’s rebellion, the insistence on transforming myself is mine.”

– Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words (In altre parole), translated from the Italian to English by Ann Goldstein.

March madness

March madness

Offices are starting a pool – and I remembered the first (and last) time that I tried this!

Favorite part was picking code names and getting my boss’s updates on rankings:

“In a Flash, the Skylark was silenced and the Abbot sang a Te Deum for his and their chances, as Gonzaga was Shockered right out of the tournament”

I still know nothing about men’s basketball. Hmmm..how should I pick this time…