I must have missed the memo. Excuse me, but when did an ‘already-married’ status become a dateworthy trait? The internet, pubs, parties and all manner of social occasions are rife with married men partaking of mating rituals – the innuendo-ridden conversations, the excessive compliments, the lingering glances, the offers to buy drinks, the requests for phone numbers, even the unabashed booty calls. I thought these were reserved solely for single people. In fact, didn’t married people used to scoff at us singletons to have to resort to these tactics?
Here’s news. They still do (condescend to single people, that is). But they also participate in these supposedly-only-for-singles rituals. Status symbols-as-reasons-to-be-douchey are not cars, foreign vacations and posh addresses any more. It’s being married and being able to do the flirty thing too. I can’t think of a worse display of arrogance than this. It’s an outright ‘I am having my cake, I’m eating it too and I want it with buttercream icing on top!’. I’ve been at the receiving end of the attention of more than one married man like this. The patni, kids, successful career/money made things being done, flirting-even-though-I’m-married seems to be his latest goal. It’s startling and then when I get over the shock, amusing.
Here are some laughable things I’ve heard:
Women must like the challenge of a man they can’t have because they are married.
I was my wife’s second boyfriend so I’m allowed one more.
And then there is the utterly mystifying,
“I am really unhappy in my marriage. My wife doesn’t understand me.”
Why on earth would that be my problem? My friend calls it the ‘Pati, Patni aur Woh‘ play. He says a lot of women are suckers for such stories. He hastens to assure me that it doesn’t work on ‘intelligent women’ like me but that ‘sympathetic women’ are only too eager to pat the arm, go ‘There, there’ and coo about how sensitive the man is. Yes, thank you. I don’t like the implication that I’m devoid of sympathy but given the kind of male tantrums that have gotten thrown at me, for not being so – I think I’m okay with that. If this is true, I deduce that men who throw a hissy-fit that I’m not sympathetic to them are basically whining that I didn’t fall for their pathetic ploys.
The obvious next step to this is, of course, asking women why they’re dumb enough to fall for this. That’s what the men who use these ploys think of the women who fall for them. But it’s victim-shaming, isn’t it? Why should a girl be shamed because she was trusting and sympathetic? Never mind the fact that she gets shamed if she is not, also.
I think a married man who says or does one thing out of place deserves to be slammed publicly and consistently. It’s only fair, considering he’d get much worse, if he were a woman. Sympathy? Why did he get married in the first place, if it was so burdensome? And if he only discovered it later, why not end the marriage?
“Because it’s not that simple.”
They all say. Sure, then probably, Mr.MarriedFlirt, you ought to be spending that time trying to figure it out instead of preying on the singles scene.
Here’s a new one that’s popped up among this crowd – polyamory. Open relationships, modern thought, ‘that’s love, this is sex’ ideas get tossed about. Ask however, if his partner practises this tolerant attitude to his partner as well, and it falls apart. Polyamory & open relationships are equal rights things but not in these men’s minds.
And finally, there is the ‘Boys will be boys’. Shall I take that to mean douchey, irresponsible, selfish and incapable of consideration and responsibility? Fine then, remember that the privilege of consideration & respect is accorded to those who earn it, not those who feel entitled to it.
Pick-up lines, never the best openers and here I think I’ve stumbled on to the worst possible one ever.
Over a year and half ago, I bought this accessory on a whim. It comprises a red flower made of net and fabric, attached to a thin red headband. Like all things bright and red, it caught my fancy. I wore it several times in the next few days. It made me feel like a queen. After all, a headband is a sort of a crown and this one is in my favourite colour.
The reactions that wearing this provoked, continue to this day. At first there was astonishment. I didn’t pay it heed. There was outright gaping. I ignored it. Then came the laughter, right to my face. It didn’t bother me. When I refused to get angry, the jokes got mean.
People stopped me to ask what manure I applied on my head, so a garden would grow there.
Someone sent me an anonymous note asking what was wrong with me, wearing that red flower on my head.
Two strange men on the road stopped right in front of me and refused to budge. I walked around them. They turned around and returned to walk next to me, pointing at the flower and laughing.
I wore it to coffee with a close friend who kept insisting I take it off and put it away. Two others refused to walk on the same side of the road with me, until I took it off.
A female friend would not stop telling me how inappropriate I was being, by wearing this. We were at a play and most of the time before the play and the interval after was spent in her trying to get me to remove it.
Recently, a friend who hasn’t seen me in over a year, forwarded a fashion pundit’s claim that ‘flower crowns are a major fashion faux pas’.
I want to know what about this innocuous red headband provokes such violent sentiments from people. Why do friends and colleagues think it is okay to badger me about a minor aspect of my appearance? These are intelligent people who consider themselves forward thinking. Do they realise the meaning of their actions?
I am not breaking a law by dressing indecently. I am not wearing anything that could offend anybody’s religious sentiments. Beyond that, why should what I wear be anybody’s concern? I realise that most people do not like the way it looks. They have a right to their opinions just as much as I have the right to wear it. Why are they allowed to get away with statements like ‘it offends my eyes’? I find men peeing in public far more offensive. And I find the attitude that other people dictate what I wear, most offensive of all.
And finally about the fashion faux pas bit. I refuse to conform to what a fashion pundit or a style magazine says. Why does that give everyone the right to deride me?
It also reminds me of another occurrence over ten years ago. When I started working in 2000, I began wearing scarves draped/knotted around my neck, with formal shirts and trousers. I had seen the style in a few international magazines and movies. Nobody I had seen in real life wore them and I had to go to some trouble to find those scarves. Later, I went back to college to get an MBA degree. I continued the same style of dressing. The teachers and students uniformly believed that sarees were the only appropriate wear for presentations. I was the first female student to wear trousers to a class presentation. The scarf around my neck had become my signature style. One of my male classmates said I looked like a ‘rowdy’. Another said it looked ‘raapchik’. The adjective got appended to my name. Then two of them asked me what my rate for a night was.
This incident may sound extreme now. You’ll probably think my friends and classmates were country bumpkins from back of beyond. But this was at a time when Indian women did not wear scarves to work. The only reason I stopped wearing them was because all the hospitality services (retail, restaurants, airlines) adopted the style for their uniforms. Today, the scarf-around-neck style is synonymous with a service person in one of these industries. Hence it is ‘normal’. But because I wore it when it was not, harassment came my way. It feels like history repeating itself.
I realise this seems like a trivial thing. Most people would ask me why I don’t just stop wearing it. But that is precisely the point. Would any man be hassled this much over a minor article of clothing? I posted a Facebook update about this. And while I was typing up this post, a friend responded to the update asking why people had lost their joy and whimsy. She nailed it. That is why I wear it. It makes me feel good. It cheers me up.
Her comment made me realise a broader issue. The only men I know who may have faced something similar are a few brave gay men. Earlier in the month, a man was hauled over by the cops in Chennai and beaten up, because they didn’t like what he was wearing (Read his account on Gaysi). I want it to say, it is the same thing. We are all supposed to follow rigid rules on how we appear and any deviation is considered punishment-worthy (even if the law does not explicitly say so). There is so much difference-shaming that is considered normal and anybody who refuses to be perturbed by it, is the troublemaker.
Here is a picture of the now famous headband. It’s unwittingly become a crown of thorns for me but I refuse to hide it away.
*Image (without text) via audfriday13 on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I love him. I love her. He loves her. She loves him. They both adore me. We’re not a threesome or anything as radical as that. We’re three people who know each other from different times and places. There’s love and loyalty and warmth and sparks, some romantic, some platonic.
She’s the newest entrant into this nexus, new to him as well as to me. But oddly, I think she actually balances us. Not balances each of us individually (that’s so ‘You complete me’) but balances the entire structure. We’re like a three-legged stool in that sense, teetering uncertainly with the first two but perfectly solid and steady as three.
It’s not because we have that much in common, I think. Well, there is stuff but it’s what started our conversations, not what’s keeping them going. He and I are more similar than it appears. And we drive each other nuts when things are imperfect as they usually are. Something about her presence has a way of running our respective electrifying natures to ground and earthing them. And there’s light instead of short circuiting.
Of course it’s more complex than our current natures, being that human nature is constantly shifting. He and I have a history, a long, long time ago, a complex one where attraction charred into hurt, froze into loyalty and solidified into friendship. We also have a history of anger, of heated words, of dramatic declarations and of intense closeness. She’s not part of that history. Maybe because of that, she clears the space of its high voltage intensity and makes it possible for him and me to be regular human beings again.
It hasn’t always been that way. It only got this way after the two of them became a couple. I would never do anything to hurt her. He wouldn’t either. And because inflicting wounds on each other would mean bloodying the space that she is now a part of, we sheath our poisonous words and put away our tears. Then we all go out to dinner together and laugh about mundane things, like regular people do.
Three is company indeed.
In my first year in college, one of my classmates laughed loudly and said,
“I am only here to do two years of time pass before getting married. I don’t want to get so serious and all.”
She was pretty, girly and fluttery. She was also the topper from a reputed engineering college. I rounded on her in fury and gave her a tongue-lashing which included phrases like ‘giving women a bad name’ and ‘wasting a seat’. I wasn’t winning any popularity contests in college anyway but this incident stands out in my mind because it split the factions for good.
*Image (without text) via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
During the first week, a professor had walked up to me, seated all eager-beaver at the first bench and said,
“Why are you here? You should be at home learning to cook.”
I flushed, all 21 year old awkwardness, belligerence, peer pressure and need for approval rolled into one. The class laughed. The incidents built, one by one. The snide remarks of ‘anyone with boobs gets marks’, the ‘Topper kisko banana hain, I just want to pass’, ‘Main apni biwi ko kaam nahin karne doonga. Bachchon ko kaun dekhega?’ and the ‘Why do you want to work after this?’. Whether I wanted to or not, I was suddenly crusading for a cause I hadn’t even realised needed championing. And here I’d thought all you needed to become a management professional was to study hard and work smart. At the college interview, the dean had asked me why I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I said,
“Because it’s largely Marketing or Finance people who go on to become CEOs of companies.”
He had knitted his eyebrows together and asked,
“You want to be a CEO?”
The question surprised me and I was on the verge of blurting out “Doesn’t everyone here?” but instead I said,
“I’d like to have the option.”
He pursed his lips and told me that not everyone thought that way. It really should have prepared me. Later in the year, we had to declare our majors. The girl who said the above, picked Human Resources. At the time, I was only thankful that I wouldn’t have to endure her attitude on group projects after that. I was going into Marketing. Naively I assumed everyone else was making their choices the way I had. It wasn’t till I heard a conversation among the soon-to-be HR class (all of them in the girls’ bathroom – that should have been another clue). One brushed her hair and said,
“Finance needs too much brains. Marketing is so much travel. HR is best. It’ll be easy.”
Unsurprisingly, when third semester began, the HR class was also occasionally referred to as ‘the kitty party’. What bothered me most was that it didn’t bother the girls in the class in the least bit. Maybe not every woman is a feminist but I did think that women professionals who had worked hard to be there, would want to take some pride in themselves.
To my utter horror, I keep meeting versions of this girl all through my career. She’s the one the men ogle at, say things like ‘She’s so distracting. They shouldn’t expect us to do work when she’s sitting in that seat.’ about. She is supposed to be approached with flattery and wheedling (depending on your gender) instead of approvals and processes like the rest of us professionals. Misplaced documents, incomplete work, rude behaviour to internal and external people – these things, not normally tolerated in others are glossed over when one of these girls commits the folly. Some of them have worked in their organisations for several years. This ineptness seems to be especially tolerated in functions like HR, recruitment and administration.
There is a certain type of woman we all know from the workplace. I am not saying Human Resources is unnecessary. On the contrary, I believe that most business situations require not just the ‘hard’ skills but also the ability to handle human issues. There’s a vicious cycle at work here. Pay little heed to the function, hire the wrong people who are in it for the wrong reasons, do not hold them to professional standards that the other functions require. What’s the end result? A bitchy girl who gets candidates names wrong, delays payments except for the young men who ‘charm’ her and is a part of cliques & factions rather than helping manage them.
I don’t believe that I’m being sexist. In fact, at a workplace, shouldn’t gender be of little to no importance? Why then, should I have to make allowances for a woman being a woman, when she is in this role? I’ve never had allowances made for me and I’ve never asked for them either. The responses I’ve had, usually hint that I’m slightly jealous of ‘the HR babe’ for the attention she gets from men. My father, also a management professional, vigorously protests my observation. He points out that he has hired female HR professionals and directs my attention to one that I know who has done a great job. He also tells me about how most companies don’t value their HR function or enable them to do the job that they can do, well.
One of my good friends is a former HR professional too and I’m sure he’d be able to point out female peers who’ve done great work. Yet, the numbers seem to speak and I must wonder whether those women are the exceptions rather than the norm. Is the average HR woman like my classmate who just wanted an easy ride or is she an independent, equal business professional to me? This feels like a terribly important question to me.
A long time ago, much before b-school, I considered being a Human Resources professional. I only began preparing for MBA entrances when I discovered the HR function. Looking back, I’m glad that Marketing’s glamour distracted me and I didn’t go the HR way. I may or may not have been a good fit. But it would have been heart-breaking to work so hard only to be around people who didn’t even take themselves (let alone me) seriously.
- This is not an HR-bashing post. I do not subscribe to the notion that Human Resources is an accessorial function. On the contrary, I think it is a very important role, one that involves being able to look beyond short-range tactics or numbers, working with ambiguous references and managing non-templatized situations. So I think it is even more startling that the job is represented by so many disinterested and clearly inept people.
- In addition, as a woman professional, I feel the constant pressure to prove that my gender deserves equal standing in the workplace (and everywhere else). Instances like the ones I’ve detailed in the post, enable our detractors. They make it easier for people to be chauvinistic to women and to the HR function.
- And finally, I didn’t mention this but since this post seems to have touched a raw nerve, I should clarify. I studied Marketing but I was never a specialised Marketing person. My jobs have all been in more generalist/other areas like business processes, consulting, research and content. I have no reason to pick a side in the Marketing/Finance versus HR debate. I think it’s just silly. The qualifications conferred by the program are in Business, not one of the specialisations and each function operates in tandem with the others.
I went out with an older man, recently.
The last time there was an older man was way back when. He didn’t add much to my life, except some invaluable professional wisdom (I was a new manager and in agony over it. He told me it wasn’t a popularity contest and that I needed my team to respect me, not like me. It was solid advice.). Then he dumped me over Facebook, proving the male stereotype that men never really grow up. But that was a long time ago, when I was still in my mid-twenties. Post thirty, the men I’ve gone out with, have almost all been a few years younger than me. It’s been an interesting experience of all sorts.
Now, an older man again, about 7-8 years ahead. He’s tasted 40. Professional disillusionment, social impositions – these aren’t new to him. Breaking free of forced labels, struggling with diverse identities – he has experienced all these grand adventures of life that I have, as well. He’s rather nice looking, especially for his age, well-groomed and fit. It’s nice, no, who am I kidding, it’s wonderful to know that there are men like that too. Age, steadily creeping up on me, doesn’t seem as scary if it looks the way he does a few years from now.
*Image (without text) via Victor Habbick on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Then again, there’s the uncertainty, the drifting which is still there and THAT is an incredibly scary thought. You always think that you’ll have figured it out by such-and-such age (and that age keeps shifting as you get to it). You vaguely imagine that people older than you are ahead of you on the life learning and making-sense road. It is always disconcerting, unpleasant even, to remember that’s not true.
I’m not going to say that it was nice to be able to have a real conversation for a change because that would be doing a grave disservice to the younger men I’ve gone out with in the past. Every person I’ve dated has been intelligent and articulate, age regardless and their lives, whatever point they’re at, have been of immense interest to me. For the same reasons I mentioned above, a 28-year-old may have figured out things that I still haven’t. And the pressures of closing in on 25 are different now than they were for me. It’s not that.
I wish I could pretend that it was comforting to talk to someone who had experienced what I have. But that was minor. Does commiseration matter less to me now than it did, in 2008? Yes, perhaps. He was kind, helpful even, but respectfully. I guess he has lived long enough to be generous without needing a payback in the form of control. This, I liked very, very much. I didn’t take his proffered offer (something professional) but I appreciated it greatly, anyway.
What surprised me was how thankful he was, for my time and attention. Younger men are not that. They’re in awe, sometimes surprise, even fear but rarely thankful. Appreciation without obsequiousness is learnt over time, I guess. At that moment, I felt disheartened. It made me think that men and their relationship with me would always be that way – awestruck at that beginning, gradually cooling off to indifference and then, bad behaviour. But a little later, I realised it was different. It was ‘I’m very happy you agreed to come out with me and now we can both have a nice day.’ rather than ‘OhmigodohmigodOMG you said yes can we do this now can we do that wait I’m awesome tell me I’m wonderful no you can’t say that no I don’t like what you’re saying no no no you’re horrible go away I don’t like you anymore’. It was graciousness and it was graceful. I liked it.
But you know what I liked best about going out with him? That fact that I did not fall in love with him or feel the need to. I didn’t do the female equivalent of that desperate emotion diarrhoea either (yes, I realise I’ve done that too in my past). I liked him, he liked me. We laughed, we pontificated, we both talked and we both listened. And I didn’t feel the need to put a deadline on caring. I didn’t assign any metrics in my head to the various components of each date. And I didn’t run complex equations with these to figure out ‘Will he love me or not?’ I didn’t do any of those things and it was a good date. I actually spent the whole day with him on the 14th of February and it was fun untainted by the pressure to make it more than it was. That’s not just a memorable Valentine’s Day, it’s a personal milestone for me.
Where does it go from here? Oh, nowhere, I think. He has moved to another country, following a different destiny. And I’m going my way. Hail good person and well met. I’m pretty sure this is all part of why life only gets better post 30. Older men may be just as interesting as younger men. And they don’t necessarily have more to teach you than anybody else. After all, the only real lessons are the ones you learn about yourself.
…only in that I have a smartphone app called ‘PhoneBooth’ that lets me change clothes at lightning speed.
No, this is serious. I am friend, businesswoman, creative thinker, socially aware voice, family woman, hot single girl, gal pal and a host of other things. Each of these come with their own dress code. I exercise my individuality adequately in each uniform. And I exercise the rare privilege afforded to few Indian women, in just being able to be so many things.
In addition, I’ve come around to accepting and then even embracing vanity. I am a woman and impressions about me are formed and sustained by my physicality a lot. How I look determines a large part of the response I get. I’ve been a marketing professional in another lifetime. It would be silly to forget the lessons from then. When packaging plays such a large part of reactions and hence relationships, I would be a fool to disregard them. Also, it’s not worth the effort of dealing with the backlash of wearing something that people don’t deem appropriate for an occasion.
I’ve found a comfortable zone now, where I know what to wear that is the right blend of appropriate, individualistic, practical and eye-catching. To almost any situation that I find myself in. I’m also a compulsive organiser and juggle several engagements as efficiently as I can.
Where it gets tricky is when different uniforms jostle for consecutive time-space on my calendar. Time planning now involves not only figuring out optimal routes of travel, energy level/mindframe required for that particular engagement and location feasibility, but also what I can wear that will cover everything adequately.
Take last week for instance. I had a semi-casual meeting with a friend who I’m helping out, professionally. Lunch was on the cards with some old colleagues. After that, I was to have a conversation with a prospective client. Then, I had to proceed to cultural event with a networking session among artsy/business people. All of this on a scorching day in Mumbai, at locations clean across the city. What could I wear that wouldn’t crumple or drench me in perspiration, look formal but not severe, would be casual enough to be friendly, seem cool and also arty? I thanked my stars that I’d begun wearing sarees last year and picked out a Kalamkari cotton. Sarees work like Superwoman costumes (complete with capes). Nobody in India questions a saree. It’s considered dignified for any occasion. I was counting on my personality and general rarity of women in sarees to pull off the individualist vibe. It did surprise my colleagues a bit but overall I think it worked.
My last two jobs had little to no dress restrictions, which allowed me to practise, even perfect this perfect-for-every-occasion look. I managed to go seamlessly from train travel to client meeting to afternoon-behind-computer-screen to partygoer a few times. Accessorising helped, as did layering with such delightful things like scarves, dupattas, shawls and shrugs. Summer brings its own challenges though.
Next week, I have a casual date, a feminist play and a kids birthday party to attend. It’s not for a few days but I’m going to need that time to figure out what I can wear that will work for everything. Sarees are out (I could work a draped length of cloth anytime with safety pins but NOT around toddlers). So are jeans (what, are you crazy in this weather?). What does that leave? Dresses or skirts? Hmm, mostly okay but these might bring in more undue attention than required, while travelling back. I still have some time though.
*Sigh* That’s why I wish I had a phone app, that allowed me to dart in and out in a matter of seconds, rocking a new look each time. Tech-entrepreneurs, are you listening?