Component Exploration 2

Green kitchen weigh scaleComponent Exploration 2: Jane Doe

Timing: 30 Minutes
Mode: In-Class; Online

Kiran Shoker is a young South Asian Canadian woman. The first component presented is her poem “Jane Doe,”  is about the South Asian female body as a colonialized entity. The second component is an excerpted set of Shoker’s thoughts on her poem taken from interviews and and a focus group.

Work through this powerful material by reading and considering Shoker’s poem alongside a careful study of her interview excepts.

CONTENT WARNING: this poem and interview excerpts include explicit descriptions of mental distress.

JANE DOE by Kiran Shoker

PDF Version

During her first project interview, Kiran set out creative intentions for her contribution to Learning Ensemble.

Kiran (she/her): I want to really like delve into the anxiety that a woman’s body holds, so I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet. so that’s one that I really want to do so, just like using different parts of the woman’s body and like releasing different tensions and as I release different tensions I’m going to explore like different experiences that created that tension because, like, I feel it I feel like when I’m walking on the street or when I’m at night or even when I’m laying in bed when I can’t sleep, like all of the all of these tensions all the things I’ve been I’ve inherited from them my experiences, so I would love to explore that tension in the body, like the body is like a metaphor or symbols and then exploring that poetically.

So what I intend doing is like exploring this anxiety through the symbol of the body and poetry, and then having the inside of the House poem, so the pressures of like, because that’s how I always perceived, it is like there’s the inner community, which is you and your family and Punjabi community. And then there’s the outer community, which is like the white people and how they perceive you.

In the same interview Kiran described the connection she finds between writing poetry, emotional healing, and amplifying women’s voice to challenge racism along with all forms of patriarchy.

Kiran (she/her): I stopped writing because I was in an abusive an emotionally abusive relationship… And then, once we broke up, I accessed poetry again in order to heal myself and to empower myself. So that has been about three years since then and I’ve been growing a lot as a poet since then.

Participation in this project is meaningful to me because there is a huge gap in addressing mental health of racialized women, both within the Canadian Punjabi community, and Western society. Like most patriarchal societies, Punjabi women’s mental health is often dismissed and diminished as hysteria, including my own. This is further exacerbated by my experiences as a racialized individual being dismissed by the larger white community

Many of my experiences are a result of the strenuous societal and environmental factors that I have endured, and I seek to give voice and lend weight to these shared experiences. In doing so, in articulating these experiences, I am also giving hope to other women like me, that they too may be heard and their experiences validated. I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in a project that centres the intersectionality between race, gender, and mental health.

During her second interview Kiran returned to the topic of her poetry as a public articulation of her feminist voice speaking out against her understanding of  patricarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. As is the case in patriarchal and capitalist societies across time and place, Kiran has received pushback for expressing her feminist convictions taking this position. 

Kiran (she/her): So the double colonized is that we receive two layers of oppression, the first layer is that’s kind of how I shaped my thing was inside outside home because the first layer of oppression is because we are women.  Right, so we are subjected to misogynistic and patriarchal practices and cultures so within the home, within Punjabi Community, I’m colonized as a woman, right? My space, my body, is all colonized. Somebody projecting power their power on to me and that could be capital. It could be… mainly its capital monster time and because there’s a lack of capital, there might also be a lack of skill and the ability to actually build yourself outside of the home. So it can be yeah, capital. It can be emotional sort of things like, where we won’t support you, as a family. If you do these things, so our bodies are sort of colonized and controlled by the men around us, both men within our community and men outside of our community.  And then the second way that we are also colonized is also through our racialized body as well, so we’re colonized basically two times, by white men and by brown men, in different ways.

Kiran (she/her): My mom, when I started doing poetry pulled me aside, and was like, I don’t want you to do this, and I was like, why and she’s like, because there are going to be men who don’t like what you have to say they’re going to people who don’t like what you have to say and they’re going to try and harm you for saying that. And she was right, you know people definitely have made their attacks, over time, nothing physical has happened, but you know I’ve been in verbal altercations with people, I’ve received messages you know for speaking up because there’s a really shitty thing that exists within women of color and women of color who are feminists because we are often calling on our own community to be better and the men in our community are like, no, we should be in solidarity about racism. 

When she was interviewed, Kiran described the stigma of mental health in her community and the problematic process of accessing mainstream, white-centric mental health services as a racialized youth.  

Kiran (she/her): in the Punjabi community mental health is seen as like you’re either batshit crazy pulling out your hair, you know they have a word for it… like somebody who went crazy and like that that’s their image of mental health and so.  But really, what mental health is in the community, is so much more present – alcoholism is huge. Anxiety is huge. Pressure is huge. But people in our community won’t acknowledge that that exists.

Growing up in this small, racialized community like part of it was like in my own home I couldn’t talk about it. And then society in general, just didn’t have those conversations either, and like I remember trying to access a counselor to like talk about things that I was experiencing and not being able to talk to them, because I was afraid that, like my parents would physically discipline me but like it wasn’t a bad place to be, but I wanted to talk about like oh my parents are so strict and, like, I want to talk about those things were like the social anxieties. And I was afraid to talk to a white counselor because I thought they were going to call like you know CPS on my family and stuff.

[W]So, I guess I’m rambling a bit, but what I would say, like is within my own home mental health was never a discussion, even though we all experienced to mental health in some form and then outside of my home, there was nothing and like accessing white counselors was not appropriate for me, because those people didn’t understand where I was coming from.

And even now like, I do have a counsellor that I work with and she’s Punjabi or she’s South Asian because, like if I tried to explain to somebody out like you have to explain a whole culture to get somebody to understand where you are, and I found that was really difficult. And also, on top of that, like just the regular things that young women face, and especially young women of color is like, if I was if I’m going through pain, my pain was never really taken seriously. So, like, I was upset about something it was like she’s just a girl she’s just a teenage girl, you know they mean?