Tag Archives: Svati Shashank

Is Dad Doing The Laundry?

As families celebrated Father’s Day in June, I was reminded that a month ago when moms were being feted, some dads were playing true to type – and not the kosher kind.

On Mother’s Day my WhatsApp group chats were overflowing with fulsome messages from male high-school friends who were paying tributes to motherhood and to schoolmates who were mothers. 

Messages ranged from simple salutations like ‘Happy Mother’s Day to all the lovely moms in this group,’ to warm, fuzzy images of new moms holding babies.   

The very next day, the same Whatsapp chats were overflowing with contradictory comments; ‘Party over, back to the kitchen ladies!’ and clever little jokes about ‘witches going back to their brooms.’  I must confess some were funny and made me laugh.  

But without exception all these comments were offensive to women.

In India I went to a small, progressive high school with a small, somewhat homogenous student body. Many of my schoolmates, though well-intentioned, came from relatively conservative and old-fashioned families. In our class of forty, perhaps just two mothers drove their own cars and maybe three mothers worked outside the home.

Given this context, I put the whole Mother’s Day kerfuffle down to ignorance or lack of exposure and moved on.  Over time, I thought to myself, as the younger generation gets more educated and aware, things will change.

But the COVID crisis revealed some uncomfortable truths.

As families were forced to quarantine and share close quarters as well as household chores, I began to realize how deep and enduring the sex-based biases are.  

My Whatsapp chats closely mirrored the reality of real life between men and women, roles and expectations.

There were the usual jokes about men being imprisoned with their wives and corporate big-wigs being stuck washing dishes.   And yes, they had a comedic element and ought to have been taken with a pinch (or mountain) of salt. But nonetheless, the comments struck a nerve, especially as women have long borne the greater burden of child rearing and housework, even in so-called equitable societies.

Many of my liberal friends who went to college with me have competed head-to-head with women, fully respecting their talents and abilities. They have been nothing but supportive of their wives having an independent career and life and have raised their girls and boys to be equally empowered. 

And yet the same open-minded individuals posted artless comments that left me wondering about unconscious biases.  Several complained about helping with household chores that were now a big part of their daily routine. Arguably, in many of these households, couples are taking on responsibilities that usually are left to their domestic help who are now sheltering at home themselves, and who normally are a luxury taken very much for granted. 

But the underlying assumption was clear – household chores were the wife’s responsibility; the husband was only expected to help when he could (even though both spouses had equally demanding jobs), and they were all uniformly proud about being great husbands.

Closer to home here in New York, my ex-husband was visiting our children at my house and started offering me tips on loading the dishwasher – he said he had picked them up from ‘years of experience’ loading that particular appliance.  I was fully cognizant of his dishwashing skills during the course of our marriage and asked how he came by that expertise.  His response – he had done a lot of thinking about the matter (unlike me), while doing the loading during the lockdown, ‘over five days!’

In another astounding episode, a friend who is a longstanding human rights activist and a self-declared feminist, announced on a webinar about the impact of COVID-19, that while he appreciates the many men who have stepped up to help their wives at home, corporations should do more to support the women in remote working environments, as they are primarily responsible for the household. 

He meant well I suppose, but his assumption left me absolutely shocked.  Even as COVID upends roles and responsibilities at home, why is the basic presumption that domestic work is a woman’s job?

This is a man who looks after his own home and cooks for his family. He is fiercely proud of being married to an independent woman who is a highly placed corporate professional.  Coming from a man who sees himself as sophisticated feminist, I expected differently.

Perhaps deep-seated biases are embedded in our cultural DNA. It made me wonder – will things ever really change?

While society seems to have moved forward when it comes to equality between the sexes in the household, some men who espouse liberal views appear to remain fundamentally sexist when gender roles are disrupted, especially in a crisis like this one.  

But then, something extraordinary happened.  Recently I was helping a male friend ‘G,’ with a home renovation project. The building contractor was dismissive of me and flatly refused to answer my questions unless G asked them. He was extremely responsive and respectful to G.  

I asked G to deal with it.  He looked straight at me and said “why do you need me to talk to him?  You have straightened out dozens of people in your life who have been disrespectful.  Give him a piece of your mind – you are no victim.”  

So I did exactly that.  I told the builder that I liked his ideas and budget but his attitude made me hesitate.  If we were to work together, he had to learn to cooperate with me or he was not getting the project.  It took seconds to assert myself and for the builder to reset his attitude, and after that the project went on smoothly 

In the face of deep rooted sexist biases women need to move the needle by asserting ourselves and being firm and direct. The pandemic has created an imbalance in what may have been a level playing field for some but it’s also presented an opportunity to reset our roles and expectations. 

I am used to asserting my position in professional settings but this casual incident was a revelation. As a woman, had I absorbed the same biases myself? It’s not always easy to combat sexism in one’s inner circle, whether it appears in schoolmates, my contractor, my feminist friend or my ex-husband. But it’s important to command respect in all settings in life.

We must take a stand and stick to our guns – not wait for someone else to do it for us.  


Svati K.S. writes about gender inequities and works in the legal field.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Félix Prado on Unsplash


 

Battery Dance Company Energizes Healthcare Workers

Vivake Khamsingsavath, a dancer and choreographer at the Battery Dance Company is helping frontline healthcare workers take a break from Covid-19 by adding a ‘small dose of tranquility’ into their lives.

“Imagine a wave rising and gently settling back into the calm water,” Vivake tells his Zoom class, as his arms float upward and slowly fall to a soundtrack of lapping water.

On the virtual call, healthcare workers follow his delicate, graceful movements, stretching and swaying to release tension and find a quiet moment before their next stressful shift.

Jonathan Hollander, founder of Battery Dance.

“Vivake is the child of Laotian refugees who came to America during those terrible times,” says Jonathan Hollander, the founder of Battery Dance. “He has this calm voice and soothing way which has a kind of Buddhist mentality and experience behind it.”

As he takes his class through a brief set to relax and release tension, Vivake focuses on mindful movement related to breathing, inhaling, and exhaling.

“It’s something about a yogic kind of opening up and feeling the extremities, that helps take the mind off all of the horror people are seeing and experiencing all day long,” explains Hollander.

The series ‘Giving Back to Healthcare Workers’, was inspired by Giving Tuesday Now, a national day of giving to support those responding to the pandemic.

“Instead of asking for money on Giving Tuesday Now,” says Hollander, “we thought of this as an opportunity for us to turn it around and give back to the community that supports us.”

Battery Dance created a series of free, 15 minute, virtual classes for any frontline health care worker during May and June.

But participants don’t need prior dance experience, adds Hollander.

“When people see dance and they’re not dancers, they think they have two left feet – that’s not for me. But it is!”

He reminded his trainers not to include anything complicated. “We don’t need to put any more complication into any one’s lives.”

Vivake Khamsingsavath leading a virtual session on Zoom.

Vivake and Mira who lead the classes, designed the courses with movements that reflect simplicity and clarity.

“It’s for anybody. It has nothing to do with dance per se,” explains Hollander. “It’s just a wonderful way to release tension!”

The classes are proving popular with healthcare workers not just in New York, but also on the west coast and abroad.

“Right now, we have 8 sessions a week,” says Hollander, “but we will expand that because people in hospitals in Dallas and in San Diego are interested in joining this, and we’ve actually had people in India and Sri Lanka getting online.”

Located on the border of Chinatown in New York, Battery Dance is a multicultural dance company that Hollander describes as “a snapshot of New York…which is why people relate to us.”

March 13 was the last time his team met before Covid-19 sent them home.

“But,” Hollander smiles, “we’ve been together everyday building this presence online since March 27. We created Battery Dance TV and have  broadcast over 300 programs which include a fitness class in the morning, a ballet fusion, a jazz fusion class, and different ballroom classes every single night at 6 o clock.”

“The silver lining in a catastrophe like this is that it’s bringing us together with a community of healthcare and service workers we really didn’t have a connection with before,” says Hollander.

And, from his Brooklyn home, Vivake takes his online class through the graceful movements he’s created, telling them to send positive, golden energy out into the universe.

All healthcare workers and service providers can join the virtual mindful movement sessions for FREE!

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.


Image Credit: Battery Dance Company

Legal Tips to Protect Your Kids If You Get Sick

As the COVID-19 pandemic brings the world to a standstill, many families are dealing with a great deal of anxiety, according to several news reports.

There are parents who have both become infected and face major challenges taking care of their children. There are stories of single parents who have died from the virus, leaving their children helpless.

Even as we disinfect our groceries and venture out with gloves and masks, exposure to the coronavirus remains a threat for some families, putting dependents, especially vulnerable children at risk.

There are, however, some legal steps one can take to put protections in place for children and make life a little simpler.

Here are some questions to consider.

Should I ensure that another person can access funds on my behalf?

In the event that you get quite sick or hospitalized, someone needs to continue taking care of your dependents, and also, of your financial affairs if you are not able to do so yourself.

At the very least, your rent/mortgage, utilities, etc., would need to be paid, your house would need at least some degree of looking after and your children would need to be provided for.

There are multiple ways to do this.

  • One option is to ensure that there are multiple signatories on your bank accounts, investments accounts, safety deposit boxes etc., who can sign individually (not jointly). You need not do this with every account, but should try and ensure that somebody has access to enough money to take care of your affairs for a period of a month or two as needed.
  • Another option is to provide a power of attorney to someone you trust. This could be a wide-ranging power of attorney or could be limited to certain transactions that would allow the person to conduct some of your financial affairs.


Should I ensure that someone can look after my children?

If possible, it would be worth talking to someone to ensure that they take care of your children’s or other dependents’ needs if you are unable to do so.  It may even be possible to formally appoint guardians who can function as the children’s legal guardians (standby guardianship), in the event that you are incapacitated. This could empower them to make medical and legal decisions on behalf of your children if needed.

Should I appoint a Medical Proxy?

A medical proxy specifies who is in charge of medical care and decision making should the patient be incapable of making decision and also provides guidance on the patient’s care preferences, such as the extent to which life support can be used.  This enables you to have some degree of control over your medical care, in case you are incapacitated.  It also allows the person who is the medical proxy access to your health care information, allowing them to ask questions and choose between various treatment options.

Should I get insurance?

It’s a good idea to ensure that your life insurance, AD&D insurance, short-term disability insurance and long-term disability insurance are all active and fully paid for.  Should something go wrong, these would ensure that you and your family have some financial support.

Should I prepare a will?

A will would provide for a division of assets upon passing. If you have minor children, it is critical to appoint guardians who would take care of the children in your absence, should something go terribly wrong.  Similarly, a will would allow you to appoint a trustee to manage your children’s assets.  Guardianship is separate from taking care of the children’s assets.  Both functions can be performed by the same person or by different people.  Ideally, both parents should appoint the same guardians, although they can appoint separate custodians for managing the children’s assets.

Although it is possible to find templates for all of these documents online, I strongly recommend consulting a lawyer who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning. Lawyers are by and large able to work remotely, and several states have enacted laws that allow for video-based notarization – making it relatively easy to respect social distancing requirements while taking care of your legal needs.

This article is intended for informational purposes only.   I strongly recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning, who would be able to assist with specific advice specifically suited to your circumstances.

Svati Kania Shashank is a lawyer practicing in New York for over 20 years. 

Edited by India Currents Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash