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Feminism vs. Cultural Identity

August 31, 2015

Decisions, decisions – do I or do I not get my baby girl’s ears pierced? My understanding of feminism dictates that I not impose beauty standards to alter the body of a child with no agency – with no medical requirement, this would be an act purely for vanity of her parents. I do not own her body but she has no say in this. It is the same reason I was not comfortable dressing her up ridiculously for cute photoshoots, although I do love well-done themed baby photos of my friends 🙂

On the other hand, I am notoriously bad in terms of maintaining links with my Indian heritage – I am not good at being part of ‘desi’ networks overseas, I speak to her in English and worry about what identity my child will adopt as she grows up. Ear piercings are very much an Indian girl thing, and while I am averse doing something purely for the sake of tradition (FGM is also part of some traditions, after all!), I would rather she inherit the piercings as part of her Indian identity, than adopt it in a few years’ time due to brainwashing by media on how girls must appear. And at what age is a person deemed to have a proper sense of agency anyway? Five? Fifteen? Eighteen? The logic most older Indians will offer for getting the piercing done early – the child will not remember the pain, it gets harder once they’re older and have phobias of needles and such.

Furthermore, I love my earrings and cannot fathom giving them up to be a role model to her, should I choose not to get her ears pierced. I am aware of the ongoing discussion in the UK on banning ear piercings for babies, but I also do not like getting overly caught up in symbols. Not getting her ears pierced today and having her obsess over it and go crazy over them tomorrow (what I call the ‘forbidden fruit effect’) – not ideal. Getting her ears pierced but having her achieve whatever she wants in life, irrespective of her sex – excellent!

An example of such an outcome would be my favourite image in recent times – the awesomeness of Indian women, in all their traditional garb, celebrating their success in the mission to Mars. This certainly beats a politically-correct image of a woman locked out of typically ‘male domains’ such as science, tech or finance.

Dilemma. Feminists and/or Indian women (not that they are mutually exclusive!), please discuss.

Note to non-Indian readers: Beware of pooh-poohing this as a non-issue. I would consider circumcision an act of violence to my baby boy, if I had one, because I do not place any cultural weight on the act, like people of other faiths do. But I do not judge other people who consider it important for their sense of identity. So please do not reduce this to simply an act of violence. Also, I am aware of the medical risks of piercing at jewellers with “gunshot” (cannot be sterilised), so I am looking into medical facilities offering this with use of topical anaesthetic.

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