Friday, 8 March 2013

International Women's Day Post: On 'Choice' and 'Luck'

I want to celebrate strong women today. I also want to remember the pain I have gone through to better appreciate the strength I have today. And finally, I want to disarm anyone who claims that I, or other women like me just got lucky.

Sure, good fortune and serendipity play a role in the life of every person who is an achiever of some sort. But, in women's case, to attribute this simply and unequivocally to their singledom, their elegance, their expressive eyes, their way with words, or any manner of 'soft skills' is often erroneous and not entirely complimentary.

Of late, I have found myself getting a tad edgy and defensive when explaining why I entered academic life at 'such a young age'. Surely, she must be a careerist, one on those who will step on anyone's shoes to become a professor before the age of  40 - these are the undertones I feel I have to address even though they are never openly uttered.

Even as I am enormously grateful to all my mentors, peers, and the opportunities that I have been given, I know that I have made many personal sacrifices, and that I never set out to be a career academic. I also know that while it remains an important and meaningful part of my life (with some ups and downs), I don't worship my career and wonder if I would need all these disclaimers if I were a man?

In the summer of 2004-2005, I ploughed my way through a part-time job at Coles, an internship at a university publication, and a research assistantship on an African diaspora project. This was shortly followed by a difficult house move, a laptop theft, and being diagnosed with RSI in my right wrist and a slipped disc around the time of my 21st birthday. I am aware it sounds dramatic now, but at the time, it felt as though the Reuters cadetship application I had been drafting, and the foreign correspondent gig I had been dreaming about were nothing but cruel jokes. Consciously or sub-consciously, I moved towards a research pathway (with short stints in media monitoring and all manner of part-time jobs to pay the rent) and also made peace with being 'stuck' in Adelaide.

Almost eight years later, I have none of those health constraints, and have been craving to live the life I never lived at 21. I am not referring here to drunken nights and/or backpacker's hostels, but just that youthful spirit that lets one experiment with leisure activities, hobbies, and generally living more in the moment. My mapping skills work perfectly at work, but I am using my freedom in other parts of my life to create, re-create and be a cartographer without a compass. Frightening, yes, but I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway!

Friends joke that this is almost a Benjamin Button story, albeit a female one. Need I add that it has its perils, not to mention the biological clock warnings from all and sundry. There are also those who cannot undo the categories they put you into, no matter how much you try to show them the 'other' side. So this women's day, I promise to stop showing and apologising, and start doing and celebrating!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Ethnography over a Candle-lit Dinner

You speak to the dainty blonde waitress
And let me pick the wine
I show off my knowledge
Say 'tis the season for whites
You still opt for a red
I notice it is organic
You make a joke about compost
And pass me the mains menu
Both of us order pizzas
Yours gleams with pink prawns
I forget the taste of mine
But recall the pine nuts
You and I walk through the rain
And settle on a hot chocolate
Yours is spicy too
I explain my hot food aversion
You nod and gaze at your cup
And walk me to my car
I rev up the engine and the heating
And picture the exotic tea leaves
Patiently awaiting my return.