Why LGBT Rights Are Also A Women’s Issue

Today opened with this news coming up on my timeline.

Sec 377 slapped on Infosys techie after wife catches his gay acts on spycam

Now where do I start on this? I can see enough of people going “Look how Section 377 helped this women get justice against her cheating husband!” Is that really true?

A gay person should not have married a straight person. It began a relationship on the premise of a lie. And he continued being involved with other people after he was married, constituting cheating. Real justice would have been if he was punished for his sins of lying and cheating.

But section 377 doesn’t punish lying or cheating. It criminalizes acts of sex that are deemed unnatural. Which means if the husband had been sleeping with other women instead of with men, this case would not have worked. This is about punishing the man for being gay, not for lying and cheating on his wife. Is the latter a lesser crime in the eyes of the law then? Is it even seen as a problem?

The woman says her in-laws blamed her for their ‘perfect’ son not being attracted to her. If the spycam had shown him sleeping with other women, wouldn’t this chauvinistic opinion have continued? ‘He went elsewhere because you weren’t good enough for him’ would have been the refrain. Thus, woman-shaming for the man’s faults.

If the law is inadequately equipped to address an issue, should it erroneously use something else to punish the perpetrator? For one the inadequacy remains. Secondly, it facilitates other wrongful convictions. And finally, in this case, it only sustains the idea that a straight man is perfect and everything else is someone else’s fault. That ‘someone else’ in most cases is usually the woman closest to him.

Discrimination hurts everyone, not just the discriminated against. This story shows how LGBT issues are also women’s issues. If human rights aren’t equal for all, we’re only going to be running around in circles using the wrong laws for the wrong things.

Red Lipstick Is My Superhero Cape

When I was small, lipstick was fascinating. It was a delicious tube that needed to be rotated and a magical colour would rise out of it. It would touch lips that made as if to bite it off (it looked so delicious!) but never did. And discreetly, its power unleashed, it would slide back into its case.

My own mother never wore lipstick and I didn’t have sisters so there was nowhere to experiment. Instead, I improvised and begged for a pack of Phantom cigarettes. I licked the ‘lit’ end of it gently. Then I carefully smeared it over my lips. When my mother saw it, she yelled at me and took me to the bathroom to wash it off. But my love of red lipstick was born that day.

I went through most of the teens hiding under the cover of Intelligent Girl, the one that was too smart for makeup, that was too busy thinking about life and poetry and philosophy and maths to care about dressing up. My standard issue clothing was white/black/grey teeshirts with blue jeans and sturdy boots. There was no room for the frivolity of colour in my life.

It was many, many years before I was allowed to own a lipstick (being that good Tamilian girls don’t wear lipstick, only moodevis do). And when that happened, I had been sufficiently Tamizhed enough to be conservative and prudent. Dark skins, I was advised did not look good with pink. Red was out of the question (refer aforementioned moodevi). Brown wasn’t a colour to wear on one’s lips because it made one look like one smoked. But maroon was suitable. After all, lipstick was only ever for special occasions. And maroon went well with everything.

The following year, I found the courage (or perhaps the stifling boredom) to rebel against conventional career and education choices. And I rebelled in every way I could think. Gloss entered my cupboard, then brown, then I teamed them both up, a la Toni Braxton in Unbreak My Heart. I discovered the delights of matte and the further intricacies of powder matte versus cream matte. I learnt the differences between lip crayon, lip stain, lipstick, liquid lip colour, gloss, base coat and lip pencil.

Around the same time, nail colour also opened up for me. (Moodevis did not have any say over nailpaint but school principals did.) And since experimental colour came back into vogue, I went black, blue, red, pink. Then I tried a different colour on each nail. And finally, all of them on every nail — stripes, polka dots, designs. The 90s were the birth of amateur DIY nail artists.

And finally I reached my third year of college and my last on campus. I had dropped out, signed up for a Fashion Design course, gotten admission, fought with my family, changed my mind and returned to science studies. I was determined to not just conquer that hated world but to vanquish it and lay it to rest, once and for all. And my choice of colour matched it. During the first month, I bought a brand new lipstick. It was a Revlon, my first. And it was innocuously titled ‘Bali Brown’. But a swish of the tube yielded a pair of red lips! RED!

When I walked into class, two of my classmates took out their sunglasses and put them on. Stupids, I sniffed. The next day I was back with it. And I wore it every day of the term, carefully touching it up between classes. I became Red Lipstick Girl.

I fought my way through the year, battling integration and n-dimensional spaces alongside classroom politics, a scheming Head of Department, MBA entrance exams, my first cigarette, my first relationship and my first breakup. And I slashed every single one off my list with blazing red lipstick.

5660_232648115513_598080513_8499767_2893872_nIn the fifteen years since then, I’ve had many adventures. Love, heartbreak, betrayal, friendship and trust have come intertwined with success, anticipation, disappointment and achievements. I’ve gone from being the rebel, grungy teenager, past the tomboyish intellectual, the strangled Barbie, the frozen career girl, the Corporate Bohemian, the prodigal good-Indian-girl and the early midlife crisis breakaway (complete with each one’s distinct look).

Since 2012, when my world crashed all around me with a failed engagement and no career to speak of, my lips have been bare. Earlier this year, I resumed dressing them again. It started with a chapstick, then a slightly flavoured lip balm, an occasional brown lip colour but mostly nude. Nude. ‘That is not a colour!’ I had thought to myself once. But that has been the shade that has kept my lips protected from dryness and from the cracks of failure. Saadgi has felt safe to me.

Two weeks ago, I told my doctor that I was feeling my age, feeling old and hating that I could barely climb the stairs. I used to be able to swim 20 laps a day, 4 times a week without batting an eyelid, I said.

“So what? You’re not in a condition to do so now. Let it be,”

he said. But I wouldn’t.

He smiled and said,

“You’ve been through something very difficult. Most people don’t get out of it.”

“I did! I’m perfectly fine now.” I declared.

“You are. But your confidence has been shaken since then. You need to regain it. Your health will come back then minute that happens. Just stop worrying and embrace the confidence that makes you.”

That was a cheering thought but not one that did the magic trick of taking me back to my high voltage, boundless energy, nothing-stops-me self.

But this afternoon, shopping with Reema, red lipstick beckoned to me again. Flush in the warmth of friendship and affection and good conversation and peace-making insights, I picked it up and asked the salesgirl to bill it. Later, I shut my room door, uncapped the crayon and held it to the light. Then, deep breath taken, I traced it cautiously across my lips. The colour brought me a memory. That memory gave me strength. I went out to look at myself in the bright light. And I smiled to myself in the bathroom window.

Red Lipstick Girl is back. Well, maybe not a girl anymore. But red nevertheless. Well, what do you know? It’s a Revlon again, a lip crayon this time (my first). And it’s called STANDOUT REMARQUABLE. How apt. I belong in red lipstick, not in saadgi. And it’s time to say goodbye to the nude gloss and embrace that.

Red Lipstick Day tomorrow. The Red Queen is back.

IMAG0866

 (Thank you, my darling Reema for bringing it back to me!)

Speaking Of Why I Don’t Marry

A beloved uncle shared this TOI Blog by with me. (‘Whom Should I Marry?’). This was my response:

Dear uncle,

I liked where the article seemed to be going (this is how the decision/marriage model has worked so far, here’s why those references are not valid anymore) till it got preachy.

Have you heard of the term ‘friendzone’? I think it was originally coined in the popular US show ‘Friends’. It refers to a friendship between a man and a woman, where a man is expecting things to go further and feels betrayed by the woman because she does not. It has gotten quite popular even in India, among the urban connected generations. Recently the concept has been getting some flak because some women (at least the thinking ones) seem to feel that it points to a certain entitlement among men over what they can expect from a woman once they get closer to her. Here is a webcomic strip that got shared around a lot awhile ago (by me as well) that breaks this situation down well.

The second is something you know already since I often talk about it. Access to education, careers, exposure to digital media (hence international living references) and greater freedom has done a lot of things for women. It has also made the proponents of the old order much more fearful and violent (crimes against women, negative social patterns like the above mentioned friendzone etc.).

Plus, for women, we are a ‘newly liberated’ species. We don’t have the same references/mentors/leaders to look to for direction that our male counterparts do. In a lot of ways we are like explorers of a new planet. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to be extra cautious? Factor in the arguably biological instincts of women being more cautious and less testosterone/impulse driven than men and that makes for less ‘Let’s jump in!’ and more ‘Let’s wait, take stock before moving ahead’

Both of these things are factors in my decision to be exactly the kind of woman that the author writes about. I have a lot of close male friends in my life. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with any one of them. If there was, they wouldn’t be my friends. But I don’t see a romantic relationship as an upgrade over friendship. These are two different things. I do not subscribed to the adage that a good friend makes a good spouse. On the contrary, I see enough of good friendships around me destroyed after they became traditional romantic/matrimonial relationships. Jealousy is one of the big reasons that comes up often as does the inability to deal with each other’s vices. We’re never really that jealous when it comes to a good friend and we’ll put up with his incessant gaming, her endless shopping — but it would be hell to be married to someone like that.

And finally I, and a lot of other men and women (yes, both) like me are starting to think marriage is one of the many lifestyle options, not the big prize at the end of a rapid-fire selection. I think the writer may not have considered either this or the point I mentioned in my previous para. It’s a new world, our relationship references are different, that’s all.

:-) I enjoy having these conversations with you.

Your niece.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Connections

I began 2014 fresh from a post-breakup hiatus and feeling ready to go adventuring in matters of the heart again. I don’t have the MARRIAGE agenda looming high over my every interaction and the past is not weighing me down much either. I figured this made for the best possible me to come back into the single playing field.

Now here’s what I find. Like every other aspect of Mumbai life, dating over here is stressful. The big trouble is conflicting agendas. Everyone has one and they are very clear about how they want to achieve it, how to measure its achievement, how much time they want to spend on it and where else they’ll go looking. My result-driven city has made a corporate exercise out of the experience of finding connections!

I identified the model after meeting one particularly focussed specimen (what to do, my professional skills come into play too!). We only met twice. Our first date was at a fancy restaurant, flush with alcohol, good food, uber-cool converations and trading smart retorts. On our second meeting, I suggested doing something non-spectacular, like a walk or just a chat over coffee. He resisted then hung on uncomfortably and finally descended to all the tricks in the book (coaxing, wheedling etc.). And finally, he got nasty when I said NO. Such a pity, he seemed like an intelligent guy that I’d have liked to know better. But his one-mindedness was an instant downer.

From this, I deduce the following popular strategy for date-meetings:

  1. Establish common ground with pop culture references.
  2. Exchange intelligent opinions and cool jokes (internet-dictated).
  3. Meet at a coffeeshop/restaurant/pub in areas like Bandra or South Bombay. (Juhu or Andheri might work for a second date)
  4. SEX.
  5. Do all this while not getting personal, emotional, attached or developing any kind of expectation.

I have no problem with sex, immediate or otherwise. But I’m hard-pressed to find the appeal of this model. I’m not sure which bothers me more — the ritualisation of something that I’d like to be spontaneous or the immediacy with which intimacy is approached and expected.

How about the last item on that agenda? I don’t know how one is to approach the possibility of making a connection while shutting away emotion. And also, if I didn’t have expectations, it would mean that the entire human race was presented to me as one uniform, homogeneous mass. I could pick any one at random, it wouldn’t matter. Which brings me to another person I met.

He alternates between so-good-so-close and we-dont-really-know-each-other. One day, he’s full of witticisms and a ‘you and me against this ridiculous world’ attitude. And then suddenly, he cancels without apology, reacts oddly to being asked if he’d like to hang out or worse, doesn’t even respond.

My friend tells me he’s very likely juggling. I think so too and really, that’s okay. I’m meeting other people myself. But the coldness of these actions makes me feel like I’m one human object of many that’s being shuffled around on his calendar. I have a real problem with this. For one, people do matter to me. From experience I know that being around someone you don’t really connect to, is a hell far worse than being alone. Secondly, you can always sense when the other person does not really feel much for you. And I think I deserve better than to be someone’s ‘random pick from the human race’. I want to be special and I want to treat people special.

Lest this feel like a rant against men today, let me hasten to say that I see this in both sexes but mercifully not in everyone. I met someone a couple of months ago, in a very different profession from mine. But I liked him because he was nice. We meet from time to time. We exchange texts, emails, chats. We enjoy each other’s company when there is an opportunity to. The word ‘date’ has even come up and passed without any awkwardness. We connect, it’s great and that’s all there is to it. So I know it’s possible to do this without the pressure or ugliness of agendas.

I guess it’s not magical unless there are monsters and strange creatures in addition to superheroes.

Because Dating Doesn’t Have To Be Drama & Disasters

The last time I spoke about dating, I was cribbing about Indian men, digital platforms and the world in general. But like the times I rarely speak about, I’m regaining my peace-equilibrium with the world I live in, that fails to please me, on occasion. And as with pizza, beer and brinjals (*aubergines*), I’m learning to enjoy it.

This post by 50DatesInDelhi made me very happy. She clearly had fun. I don’t know this for fact but at least as far as the limited view of her that exists in my life via her blog, she seems to not be overthinking it.

Last week, at an Open Mic, someone forgettable performed a piece that held us spellbound. Manisha verbalised what we were all feeling. And then that person came back to explain why they wrote it, what they were feeling etc. Manisha cut them short with,

“Don’t ruin it.”

Someday I will learn to be as brutally profound as that. But both these instances capture the essential wisdom that seems now in my tenuous reach.

Dating is a way to meet people and form connections. It is an unpredictable, no-results-guaranteed activity. But it is also time spent, pinned on a huge, big hope (whatever that may be for you). Why kill it with agendas that you have no way of ensuring are achieved?

I have actually been going out, between the time I wrote that last post and now. I’ve just not been thinking much about it. What have I been doing? Dinner, drinks, lunch, walk, movie, chat, the usual. Who are these people? They’re just, well, people.

This is not to say that I’m running blindly through men. Indeed, I’m not. I’m too snooty/chronically middle class to go out with just about anybody. Plus, time is everlastingly a constraint in this city and in this life of an identity-juggling sometimes entrepreneur. I have been going out now and then, with people I have found likeable, whose company has been enjoyable. And they’ve stayed that, not turned into fictitious hero figures in my head or co-stars in elaborate real world dramas.

I’ve been having great conversations. With men, with women, with friends, with persons-who-may-become-something-else. There has been laughter, boredom, book talk, awkward moments, romance, disgust, attraction, meanness. And the whole jing-bang has been so much fun.

Yesterday, I found myself in possession of a whole bunch of hours that were not promised to a deliverable, a client, a prospect, a meal, an activity or a friend. It felt like a good time for a bad movie. A message that I sent, got a reply much later. I was on my way to the theatre, anyway. We wasted an hour joking about book titles. Then we sniggered and sarcasmed through a movie that must have been made for just this. And then I came home, had dinner and went to bed. Today was a good day, full of work and feeling at peace because I was well-rested, my laughter glands well nourished and not feeling the weight of worrying about what last evening was supposed to have meant.

Date

I don’t know where I am heading with this. Chronic singledom? A string of meandering non-relationships? I have no idea and for a change, I’m not thinking about it. I’ve tried the relationships models on offer and they didn’t work for me. Maybe the people didn’t but either way, I’m not going to find out by brooding about it.

People can be fun. And that’s a new idea for me. I’m just enjoying it.

Feminine Mystique Is Masculine Bullshit

I find it strange when men say things like “Women are complicated. They are difficult to understand.” I am a woman, a rational one. And I know I am no more or less complex than an average human being. Some things about the way I live my life are different from the way men live theirs. This is because while I inhabit the same planet, there are restrictions, offences and dangers posed to me, that they do not face. This does not make me harder to understand.

I know a lot of women who say things like this too. I believe every single one of them has been conditioned to allow herself to be subjugated. Being deified or mystiqued (yes, I made that word up. Consider it the opposite of ‘demystified’) is just as disrespectful to women as abuse and chauvinism. Saying ‘You are special’ is saying ‘You are not normal like me’. There is even a term for this. It’s called Androcentricism. I think of it as ‘Male-normative’ or ‘Being male is normal; all else is special cases’

Every human being tries to navigate their way through life, living it as close to what they want as possible. Women’s lives have numerous disruptions and barriers, because society does not allow us control over our lives. So a lot of women don’t believe they have any way to get what they want other than under the garb of mystery. And some of them are just comfortable enough with doing this because it doesn’t require them to apply themselves further and be direct. Women are just as selfish, lazy or petty as men are. It’s a human thing and I don’t see why it should be denied to women on account of their being women.

I think for most men, it’s easiest to slot women into narrow definitions — the whore, the homebody, the airhead, the vamp, wife material. And anything that doesn’t fit into these structures gets written off as the feminine mystique. It’s easier to do that than take the effort to understand why they behave the way they do. Perhaps it is also avoiding the fact that acknowleging a woman as an equal, nuanced human being will have mean recognising the unfair world that she lives in.

What’s interesting is the kind of men who say women are complicated are the same ones to deride me for how unlike a woman I am, how I’m ‘too direct’ or ‘too aggressive’ or ‘think I can just say anything’. Ever heard anybody tell a man that?

It’s not that women are difficult to understand. It’s that some men don’t want to acknowledge their gender privilege.

Ladies Compartment

The myth about Mumbai’s gender-seggregated spaces

Mumbai is considered India’s safest city for women. All public transport facilities include spaces allocated for women only. Mumbai trains have 2 coaches reserved for women only. Buses have a two-seater bench for women only. And the recent addition to public infrastructure, the Mumbai metro has recently announced a separate coach for women only.

 

Less than a month since its introduction, the resentful murmuring has already begun. I heard a friend complain about women who were travelling in what he called the ‘men’s coaches’ since there were designated spaces for them, already. This is something every female train traveller hears often.

Today, I took the metro and spotted this message emblazoned across the seperating tape.

“We know you are special, so an exclusive zone for you. Ladies Only.”

 

Mumbai Metro — Ladies section

I’d like to say thank you to the Mumbai Metro for putting this up. It highlights the problem and makes it easier for me to explain.

The point is not that women are special. We do not believe we are. How can we, when the whole world, starting from family, to classmates, to fellow commuters, to strangers on the road, to colleagues let us know that we are not? Being subjected to 24×7 scrutiny and moral judgement does not make us ‘special’, it makes us prisoners. Ajmal Kasab’s every move was scrutinised and you know who he was.

What is worse is that this differentiated treatment is neither our fault nor under our control. I have refused the ‘ladies’ seat’ on buses several times. I have waived ‘special rights’ offered to women in lines. Only to be told every single time that I am imposing and intruding into men’s territory. Whether it is a physical boundary or a mental one, gender seggregation does not come from women. It is a restriction imposed on us, under threat of moral censure and physical danger, if violated.

The common myth is that trains are divided into ‘ladies compartments’ and ‘gents compartments’. No, they are not. Mumbai trains have a ladies compartment among several other ‘general compartments’. Buses have ‘ladies seats’ among general seating.

To come back to the accusations of life being easier for women because of these gender-seggregated spaces, and that hated label of ‘special for women’ — why should I feel bad about an inelegant solution offered by society to my sex because of the crimes of your sex?

I would also like to point out that the city is not really safer because of these gender seggregated spaces. Women have been attacked and pushed off these very trains. Every single woman who travels by buses has a story of being rubbed up against and even groped by bus conductors and fellow passangers. Anyone who has travelled regularly by the ladies compartment in trains will know not to stand next to the separating grill, since intrusive hands and fingers come groping through them. Last year’s gangrape at Raghuvanshi Mills and the almost daily reportage of horrific rapes, acid attacks and crimes against women in this city should dispel any notions of how ‘safe’ Mumbai is for women.

Gender-seggregated spaces do not exist because women are special or consider ourselves so. They exist because certain MALE miscreants consider themselves special and deny us access to a safe, respectful space. Can we please stop acting as if it is a privilege extended to women and see it for what it is — a consolation prize for the actual human right to safety?

Ritualised Relationships

I heard someone describe three other people’s interaction as ‘ritualised’. It made me think of the forced inanities that people thrust on each other, the scripts that we impose on each other and that we find ourselves following. The delighted welcomes, the whine exchanges, the mutual enabling of vices – aren’t these the traits of many long-running relationships? Some of us find security in it; some find it oppressive. Either way, there is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, and performed according to set order, which Wikipedia tells me is the very definition of ‘ritual’.

Do some of us exist in RITUALISED RELATIONSHIPS then?

Men Are Just As Misinformed About Their Rights As Women

I know most women are unaware or misinformed about their rights. The right to say no, the right to birth control, the right to a woman cop’s presence. Then I just came up against a conversation started by a woman who talked about her right to have her bra strap peek out without having to be harassed. And a man asked “So you can show but we can’t look? Just asking.” And it made me realise that men are just as misinformed about their rights.

So here is my attempt to dispel some misinformation for men:

  • You do NOT have the right to harass a woman, no matter what she is wearing.
  • You do NOT have the right to stare at her in a way that she considers offensive.
  • You do NOT have the right to insinuate that it is her fault.
  • You have the ‘freedom of speech’ right that we all have. But ‘freedom of speech’ means that you have the right to speak your piece as long as it does not hurt anybody. Insinuations like these do hurt women.
  • Women have the same right to that freedom of speech as you do. If you feel you have the right to tell me I’m blowing things out of proportion, I have the right to tell you that you’re wrong and a misogynist.
  • The statement “Just asking” does NOT automatically waive the ‘does not hurt anybody’ clause in ‘freedom of speech. 

*I apologise for this not being a comprehensive list. There is much misinformation and I’m doing my part to dispel it.

I Have A Bloody Relationship With My Pad

This is a Facebook post on the Bodyform wall (am the only one who thought ‘uterine wall’ just now?), written by a man asking why sanitary napkin makers have lied to him for years.

FB

Bodyform responded with the following video by Caroline Williams, the CEO of Bodyform (played by an actress), apologising and explaining in the same tongue-in-cheek manner why they did what they did.

I’ve had a complex relationship with Whisper, the Indian version of the same brand. What else would you expect between a woman and her sanitary pad? Through the 80s, I was dimly aware of ads depicting rectangular white pads onto which blue liquid was poured and women spoke in hushed tag lines about ‘un dinnon ke liye‘. Then Whisper broke the silence (yes, yes, pun) with an ad that had a young woman demanding

“What’s this un dinnon business? I have my period, yaar.”

That ad was one of the first influences that built my feminist ideology. Score one for blatant commerce making social impact! It coincided with the start of my periods. I entered puberty listening to horror stories about wash-and-resuse-home-made pads, ‘embarrassing’ leaks, panty-on-panty tips for heavy days, thigh rash, plastic shields and other monsters. But I entered the bloodied world of womanhood armed with a slim/non-bump-showing, leakproof, disposable pad. And it came with a big dose of rebellious daring to speak up/refusing to be embarrassed.

This is why I was so disappointed with the ‘Have a Happy Period’ campaign. Happy Period? HAPPYPERIOD???!!!!! Nausea, giddiness, headaches, backaches, cramps, endless hunger PLUS depression, the urge to laugh at insane moments, mad horniness combined with utter disgust – how on earth does HAPPY even figure in this? I dismissed it as having been conceptualised by a stupid man who had probably never even seen a bloodied sanitary napkin. After that, my relationship with the brand changed. I needed it, it needed me (as a consumer, that is) but we didn’t like each other anymore. Talk about a toxic marriage!

Then, with this turn of events, I felt better able to accept that c’est la vie (sometimes PMS makes me pretentious). A male friend from the media industry told me that sanitary napkins use blue liquid in their ads because they are not allowed to show red. Yes India, yes censorship, we have one of the biggest populations in the world but we don’t want to acknowledge the most basic fact that makes this possible. (Speaking of which, there must be a huge population of men that doesn’t even know there’s a connection between the period and population). You want honesty, no game-playing, men? You’ve got it. There will be no whispering behind closed doors anymore. No secrets unless you want.

I will end, both triumphant and saddened (these period moods, man) with this scene from Game of Thrones.

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