Sunday, March 20, 2011

Aspects of Colonialism

Throughout our course on Post-colonialism in North Africa we've discussed a large variety of topics; everything ranging from the use of religion as a way to hold onto the culture of the colonized (value refuge) to the affect the colonizer had on infrastructure. Several topics were things that I have personal experience with. Traveling to Morocco last year with my Francophone Literature class I came face to face with such aspects of post-colonialism as the continued use of French, the colonizer's language, and the role it plays in so many parts of society (government, schooling, tourism, etc).There were two topics though which really struck a cord with me, and at first I was baffled as to why: third gender and rock-star syndrome.

First, let's breakdown the meanings of these two things. In the context of colonialism, third gender occurs when a certain gender (almost exclusively females) of a foreign nationality (colonizer) are able to practice more flexible, liberal social movement than the same gender of the country in question (colonized). Using an example from Assia Djebar's book Fantasia we see how the French girls were not made to be cloistered like their Algerian counterparts. Instead they are able to move about the streets as they please; something only Algerian men are able to do. Although they are still seen as women, they are allowed privileges closer to those enjoyed by men. The situation seems to create this sort of 'third gender' which the French women make up. As for rock-star syndrome, I find it a bit harder to put into words. To start off with, it is essential to realize that rock-star syndrome is completely racially based. It has to do with the attention you receive from one group of people, or race, because you yourself fall into the category of a certain other group of people, or race. I think there are many causes for this phenomenon. Maybe that group has not had the opportunity to meet many people of your group. Maybe they have certain stereotypes in their heads and expect you to act in a certain way and are intrigued by that. An example of rock-star syndrome would be when an American visits a rural part of Morocco. That person is showered with attention. Children follow them, adults talk about them, questions are asked. That person becomes a novelty item almost solely because they are white.

But how do these two things pertain at all to my experiences? I have not traveled extensively in any foreign country where third gender and rock-star syndrome are common occurrences (other than a brief visit to Morocco). In fact, I experienced these two things here in the United States. For three years I dated an Indian man. During that time a completely immersed myself in the Indian community living in our area. I went to Hindu & Sikh temple on Sundays, I attended Indian parties, learned how to dance Bhangra, studied Hindi and Punjabi, learned how to cook Indian food from my boyfriend's mother. The list goes on and on. In the community it was common knowledge that I was Punit's girlfriend. This is quite different from my Indian girl friends. If they dated anyone, it was kept under-wraps. Their parent's, and the community alike, practically forbid them to date. It's not part of their traditional culture. Also, there's a fine line between the intermingling of the sexes on any occassion. When you walk into a party, you can generally find the women grouped together on one side of the room with the men on the other. Even when dancing (a favorite activity of Indians) the women dance with each other while the men dance with other men. There are all sorts of cultural guidelines which the Indian women in the community followed, guidelines which I, for the most part, was not required nor expected to. I enjoy an incredible amount of social freedoms comparatively. I fluttered around the room at parties talking to all my friends, dancing with whom I wanted and none of the elder Indians thought any different of me. Had I been Indian, I would have been bringing shame upon myself and my family. I had become a part of this third gender. Like I said, the Indian community did not expect of me the same they expected of their own. So when I did do things the Indian way, they were flabbergasted. I became a sort of rock-star. Although, I was 'gori' (a white girl) I was able to recite prayers on Sundays in Sanskrit, Hindi and Punjabi. I could sing along with all the popular songs played at parties. I could make a mean chai tea. And what surprised people most of all was that amidst a conversation in Hindi, I would interject when I pleased with my own opinions, in Hindi. No one had ever met a 'gori' like me. I became at times sort of a circus side-show, all the attention in the room on me while they would take turns asking me to say different things in Hindi or sing a Bollywood song. This is a slightly different form of rock-star syndrome than previously described, but it is nonetheless rock-star syndrome. The attention was based solely on the fact that I was white. Had I been Indian, I would have been just like the rest.

It is neat to study different topics in this course and see how each pertains to something we may have experienced in our own lives. I find it very beneficial that I myself have experienced third gender and rock-star syndrome because it helps me better understand the two topics in the context of what we are studying in the Post-colonialism in North Africa class.


Blogger JSmith said...

Your discussion of third gender and rock star syndrome is very interesting. I never considered these terms applying while interacting with individuals within the US. Was your boyfriend in a similar situation? Since you immersed yourself in his culture and this was most likely different from what your friends and family were accustomed to it seems that it might have given him a type of rock star status as well.

March 26, 2011 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger said...

You bring up a very interesting point, and one which I've never given much thought to. In retrospect, he did receive a lot of attention from my family and friends, but in a different way than the rockstar syndrome I experienced. If I had to describe it with a word from class, it would probably be akin to "othering". Although my family and friends did show interest in learning some about his culture, for the most part they simply viewed him as the "Indian". He was "different" than us and many of the people I knew thought it odd, or at least funny, that I was dating an Indian. I don't think this phased Punit much though. He had quite the ego, which on many occasions prevented him from taking a look at other people's opinions. But that's another story entirely... :)

March 27, 2011 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger OneHumanFamily said...

Awesome story and example of third gender!! You're super cool, and I now really want some chai

March 27, 2011 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger Meghan O'Donoghue said...

I really enjoyed reading about your unique experiences with rock star status and third gender! Did you ever find your rock star status fade the longer you dated your boyfriend, or was it something permanent?

April 3, 2011 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger said...

Actually, it never really faded. Kinda hung around all three years. I don't quite understand why, because everybody knew who I was and most people became close friends, but there was always the attention, no matter what.

April 6, 2011 at 4:16 PM  

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