This is an old post so I don’t feel as bad that it’s a few days late. Every word holds as true in 2014 as it did in 2005.
For the men who’ve walked in and out of my life
And trampled all over my heart and demonstrated just how tough it is
For the power struggles and conflicts
And the reshaping of me that came from it
For the betrayals and insults
And the lessons I learnt from them
For the distances and walls
And the strength I saw in myself at those moments
For the apologies and the remorse
And the compassion that I was surprised to feel
For burdens and expectations
And all my victories that were inspired by them
For challenges and opposition
And the direction that they pointed me in
For support and solidarity and belief in me
For the male component of my life
the other side
For love and tears
and smiles and conversations
and struggles and victories
and relationships and emotions
For completing and complementing me
A very happy Valentine’s day.
I understand now. Honestly.
I found myself thinking things that I’ve heard a lot of men voicing, when I watched this video.
“So there are jerks in the world; why do you take it out on me? I’m the one person around who is being nice to you.”
“Why should you tar everyone with the same brush of mistrust?”
“I’ve had a rough day too. How do you think it is for me to come home and put up with your screaming?”
“Don’t dress that way. Don’t be so assertive. Why do you look for trouble and then expect me to come and bail you out every time?”
I get it, I get it now. This video was probably made to make men more aware of a woman’s perspective. But it made this woman aware of a man’s perspective. I’ve written about whether a man can truly be a feminist. Yes, perhaps you can. Just like, if the world were as it were shown in the video, I might have been one of those women who stood for your rights and sounded wounded when you didn’t consider me an equal soldier in the fight for equality. But this video only reinforces something I thought even when I wrote that post. Living a life of oppression, from minute to minute is very different from having conscious ideals and acting on them, whenever possible.
This video made me think of what my life would look like if I were a woman but not the oppressed sex. I’d wake up in the morning as grumpy as always. I’d blame my low blood sugar, my rising acidity on anyone who got in the way before breakfast. Then I’d cheer up and walk out into a bright, new day. If I saw a man being harassed on my way, I’d step up and fight with his oppressors. And if he didn’t smile back at me in gratitude and semi heroine-worship, I’d call him ungrateful in my head.
Then I’d go on to work. I’d probably ogle my male boss and my co-worker. After all, they’d be men of power. If they didn’t like it, they’d tell me. They wouldn’t be the oppressed kind. If one of them had a bruise that showed he was a victim of domestic violence, I’d wonder (perhaps even aloud) why he was being stupid and weak enough to put up with it. I’d be annoyed at his tears but I’d reign myself in saying that he was in a bad place. And I’d feel like a great guy for being so magnanimous and not a douche like the one who hit him.
If my brother mentioned a neighbour who talked down to him, I’d say, “Fuck her, why does her opinion matter to you?” Because I would be able to afford to do that in my own life – everyone would take me seriously of course, so I could always afford to lose a few. And it wouldn’t occur to me that my brother didn’t have the same luxury. I’d get off the phone and shrug to my boss. Sorry, it was the brother, he’s having troubles, I’d say. And I’d imagine the boss man would appreciate what a sensitive woman I always was. He’d give me a tight-lipped smile and I’d tell myself that’s just the way he was – not used to showing emotion. He’d give me my promotion and I’d punch my fist in the air.
Right then my husband would call me from the police station. And I’d run out. Of course. Police station, damn damn damn, what did he do now? To my utter relief, he’d be sitting there in a corner. No handcuffs. Somebody attacked me, he’d tell me. But he’d look okay to me. He just got worked up, I’d tell myself. Those assholes….but thank God nothing happened to him. He’s too intelligent to needle people like that. Yet, he does. Still, being stress-free is about staying calm. That is all it’s about. That’s all it is. I knew life would be this way, if I married an independent man. I’d take a deep breath. I wouldn’t be able to calm him down if I was worked up myself. So, to cheer him up, I’d tell him about my promotion. And he’d smile. We’d walk out.
But outside, he’d stop and burst into tears again. Enough, already. ENOUGH, I’d say and I’d walk away. I married a man, not a child. How much is a woman to take?
I get it. I get it, guys.
- This Woman
What’s that you say? Women don’t get friendzoned? Allow me to introduce you to….
Exhibit A: The Queen of Friendzoned Females
Better known as Betty Cooper.
Hmm…sound familiar? Here’s her desi avatar.
Never mind the fact that both these women landed their guys after they dropped jock/geek attire and went babe. This is fiction, created for people who relate to being friendzoned. Nobody’s going to watch a movie that shows them losing out (just as they presumably do in real life). This, boys and girls (but mostly boys, for the purpose of this post), is what fairytales look like. When the above transitions to this:
(Interesting side note: The other female character in Yeh Jawani Hain Deewani, Kalki Koechlin, also gets friendzoned by her love interest, Kunaal Roy Kapur. This despite her being babe all along. And she never lands the guy.)
So women get friendzoned too. Routinely. I’d say, as often as men. Maybe not as visibly, not as obviously, but put that down to the average interested man being being more open/expansive in his gestures than the average woman. A lot of women still believe that they’re not supposed to give any indication of their interest since it’ll turn the guy off. That doesn’t stop them from feeling the same things that men do – affection, lust, love, the works.
Most women, even the most tradition-bound ones, show their interest in different ways. I mean, you can’t help it. If you like someone, you’re going to want to do nice things for them, you’ll be nervous around them, you’ll try and look good for them – all of this unconsciously even if you’re trying your damnedest to keep from doing so. Ask me. I may be an offbeat woman but I am a woman.
A few years ago, I went on a hike with some friends. One of my friends developed a crush on one of the other hikers and wooed her successfully. In one of our conversations, he mentioned another girl who had also been on the hike.
“I just realised, B has been calling or texting every couple of days since we got back. Once she mentioned a movie, another time, coffee. I mean…I think…”
“You friendzoned her.”
I told him.
“I didn’t even realize. My mind has been so much on A. But I just realised B has been doing the same things that I’ve been doing for A.”
Friendzone Alert! Poor B.
Then there’s another friend who’s had the uncomfortable pleasure of a drunken admission of interest. He doesn’t feel the same way, what to do? But he admits, the attention is very, very, very flattering.
And finally, the friend whose words inspired this post told me earlier this week about a woman he met at a party. They hung out a few times. And then it got to that kiss-or-not moment. He decided to walk away. And as he did, he asked himself,
“Hang on. Did I just friendzone a woman?”
Yes, indeed, I told him. It happened again, with another woman, he said. And both, he moaned, stopped being friends with him. Why, he wanted to know, why ever? After all, he was being a nice guy and not leading them on.
“Welcome to a woman’s life.”
Friendzoning isn’t deliberate. It’s not always an act of manipulation. It’s not a deliberate attempt to destroy someone’s ego and use them before discarding them. And it’s an equal-opportunity tragedy. If you’re a man, the chances are that you’ve friendzoned at least one woman in your life, even if you don’t realise it. It’s not the woman’s fault. It’s not yours either.
There are nearly 7 billion of us on the planet. We’re constantly making choices, dropping some, moving over some, running towards some and forgetting or overlooking the rest. Accepting one person means rejecting everyone else. So every single woman that you have not proposed to, not pursued a relationship with, not married, not attempted to sleep with, is in your potential Friendzone. There have to be dozens of them in your worldview already and if they exist on your radar but are not in focus, they’re in Friendzone.
Don’t believe me? Take a look around. Who told you the difference between a stiletto and a kitten heel? Who do you get ‘a woman’s perspective’ from? Who do you call to ask where you can get stuff to put in the kitchen? Whose advice would you need, to buy your girlfriend a gift? Take that further. Who do you talk shit about your boss or silly buddies to? Who do you bounce off your ideas about a Ladakh trip on? Who do you argue politics, work, books, music, movies or just about anything else with? Any of them women?
There you have it. Your base of friendzoned females.
Friendzoned people aren’t necessarily good-looking or successful or intelligent. The chances are they’re in the Friendzone precisely because you didn’t notice them.
They may be the wrong religion or the wrong age. They aren’t always single or the right sexual orientation for you. Those are valid reasons for friendzoning too.
Don’t strike any of them off just because:
- they’re an ex-girlfriend
- you’re attracted to them
If either of the above is true and you aren’t pursuing them, they’re definitely in Friendzone. Balance your guilt out with the gleeful realisation that maybe your friendzoners feel a little something for you too. They’ve just chosen not to act on it for their own reasons.
- A Woman in Your Friendzone
Motherhood, how do I feel about it? My opinion feels like it’s water. It’s overpowering. It’s cold and uncomfortable sometimes. It has picked off the residue of other people’s being and is heavy with flotsam. It’s a murky, polluted, crowded, many-textured, multi-tempered opinion.
When I was a teenager, a friend picked up the phone and told me that she thought she might be pregnant. Just like that. I had never even met the boyfriend who was responsible. I was not privy to her decision to have sex, unprotected at that. I didn’t even know such things happened to good, middle-class girls in the suburbs of Bombay. Me, I hadn’t even experienced my first kiss.
She sounded panicky, uncharacteristically for her. I had only one question for her.
“Have you eaten anything today?”
She said she hadn’t. I wrote down her address and asked her to hang up, telling her I’d be there in an hour. Then I pulled on my jeans, walked down to a MacDonald’s, packed up her favorite Happy Meal and went to her place. I spent the next hour, waiting outside the bathroom while she peed on yet another stick, looking up the internet for details, writing to an email buddy who was a doctor (he must have thought I was the one who was pregnant) and trying to coax her to eat lunch. Then we went to a pathology lab and handed in her urine sample. We had an hour to kill which we spent walking around the dirty bylanes in the vicinity. And before we went back to collect the report, she squeezed my hand.
“Go”, I told her, “It will be alright.”
The assistant who handed her the envelope smiled as she said,
“Congratulations, you’re pregnant.”
The scene is so clear in my mind even today. What my friend was wearing, where she was standing, the posters in the lobby that I stared at, pretending to read them. In the hours that I had spent with her, I asked her if she had told her best friend, a vivacious girl I’d met a few times. “No”, she replied, “I couldn’t risk her judging me”. What about me, I wanted to say, what about me? As if anticipating the question, she looked back and said,
“I knew you wouldn’t.”
I still don’t know how to feel about that. Proud? Gratified? No. I felt…and I feel slightly resentful. I feel like I was never given a choice, like I was never even given a chance to think about whether I was pro-life or pro-choice. A situation was tossed in my face and all I could do was step up and deal with it. And now that I’ve been a listener, a party at least in some manner to a terminated pregnancy, I don’t have the choice of going back, of becoming pro-life now.
She is married and a mother now. We’ve never talked about it after that. I wonder whether I am the only living person left who remembers, who even thinks of the life that never was. I don’t judge her, I really don’t. I always liked her, admired her, respected her even. And none of those sentiments have subsided. But what happened with her shifted things in my life too and I don’t know how to feel about that, even 14 years later.
Here’s something else. I’ve been close, very close to someone who survived being abused as a child, by a parent. I’ve experienced a polluting touch myself (mercifully not by a family member, but still). It is not a good world to bring a child into. Do I dare bear the responsibility of that? I don’t know, I don’t think so, I don’t think I do.
Then I was almost married to somebody who did not want children. It was a big deal to him. So I decided to forfeit tomorrow’s possible affections for what I had in the present. And I agreed that I would not push to be a parent either. He is no more a part of my life. What happens to my body, my decisions then? This is a major attitudinal shift. Dreams and desires aren’t tangible objects that you can take off the calendar and put back when there’s room for them. I feel like I’ve changed as a person just for having given them up and I don’t know if I can bring them back. How can I ever explain why this is a decision that defines a woman? First to think that being a parent is THE most creative act for any human being, let alone an artist. Then, to come to a point of believing that there is more to me than my body and what it can do. How can I just switch back to how I see myself, how I define me?
I met someone else I liked very much. But it seemed as if having children was very important to him. I do not know where I stand on this anymore. I don’t like the idea of my body becoming a baby-maker or not, purely depending on the man that I’m with. Who am I then, other than what the man in my life wants me to be?
At some point of time, I also thought I might want to adopt. It seemed and still seems like the perfect solution. It poses no health risks to me or to an unborn baby, given I’m over 30. There are 7 billion people on this planet and it gives one of them a chance to have a better life than may have been possible. And it gives me a chance to be a parent even at a later date. But I’m not sure I want to be a single parent. It seems to me like a child deserves two caregivers, if possible at least. I deserve a partner in the tremendous responsibility that bringing up a life is. But at the moment, I don’t even know whether I ever want to be part of a couple again.
How I wish I wasn’t born with a body that had a uterus. Would life have been any simpler, if I had been a man instead?
I’ve done this. Asked a guy out. Expressed my interest in him. Proposed a relationship. Been the one to initiate. I’ve done it several times over, in various iterations, with different men, over the years. I wrote about this a few years ago. But looking through one of my old diaries made me realize that I’ve done this before as well, without consciously thinking of it as something different from what other people did.
I’ll be the first to vouch for the tremendous self-confidence this gives a woman. I asked a friend of mine whether she had ever initiated a romantic contact. She pursed her lips and said,
“I consider it beneath my dignity to ask the man out.”
I wasn’t offended. If anything, I wanted to laugh and tell her what she was missing. She didn’t quite understand when I told her that on the contrary, it was a tremendous ego boost, a huge chunk of empowerment a woman gives herself when she decides to initiate. If any of you feel the way she does, here’s why I feel that way. I never have to sit around waiting for a man to notice me. I am not trapped in an endless loop of self-doubt on how I look and behave in order to attract him. I am not compelled to play down my interest or my intelligence or my achievements. And most of all, I don’t have to play the passive role of audience. I get to be the performer, the prime driver, the leader and this is a role I love.
My logic so far has been that if a man finds my initiative unappealing, he’s definitely not right for me in any way. This way, he knows what’s on offer right at the start and there will be no ‘But I thought you were…’s afterwards. No regrets, no lies, no manipulation. In theory.
Here’s what I find actually happens. Men rarely, if ever, say no. I have only really had one no, which came from a friend when I told him how I felt about him. He shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t feel that way about you.” And that was that. Disappointing but not difficult to handle.
Being asked out by a woman happens infrequently and to very few guys. This has two fallouts. One, a lot of them don’t realise that they have the option of saying no. The injunction to ‘treat women right’ often gets interpreted as being polite, accommodating and shielding women from the truth. Notice the number of men who admit that they are helpless if a woman seems displeased or worse still – cries. The message they carry is that they cannot, absolutely must not say ‘No’ to a woman. This rule of course, can only be sustainable when the women follow the rules of not asking for much. Asking a guy out breaks that rule so what is to be done when the counter-responsive party insists on following the old rule? What a gargantuan problem this becomes, when you consider that you might end up going out with, in a relationship with, possibly even married to a man who has been too polite to say no to you! I know I for one, would rather take the disappointment and humiliation of rejection than live in that farce.
The second problem is choices. Imagine you’ve had only 10 ice-creams in your entire life and somebody holds out a strawberry cone to you. Even if your favorite flavour is chocoate, even if you’re allergic to strawberries, aren’t you likely to accept it anyway? That kind of childlike greed is exactly what I see and fear in men today. In this case and also a more recent one, the men weren’t necessarily ‘bad’ people. But I think the temptation to accept what was on offer – receiving attention from the opposite sex, unsolicited, is a major ego massage, after all – was too much to resist. One guy went out with me even though he was already with somebody else. The other went along because he wasn’t sure about how the person he actually liked, felt. Both were degrading and humiliating experiences for me. In both cases, the men have been sorry that things turned out that way.
‘Because that is how it has always been done’ didn’t deter me from breaking the first rule that the man always takes the initiative. But I’m hitting a roadblock when it comes to this. You can’t tell if a guy is going to be too polite too thrilled with the novelty of it, to say no. I know women are going to have to learn to deal with the ‘No’ in a mature and dignified manner. I also realize that men are only going to start learning to say no when there are enough such instances happening to and around them. Who wants to be part of the first wave that braves the learning curve, then?
* Image courtesy stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.
I was at a seminar last month discussing the world of erotica, pornography and the internet as it pertained to women. There were exactly three men in the twenty-five odd gathering. One was the cameraperson (silent throughout), another lurked in the far corner of the room and I never heard a word from him. The third was sitting right next to me and as vociferous as the women. It was from him that I had this question.
Put that way, it seemed rhetorical. Feminism is a movement, an attitude, a perspective on the world. Since sex is determined by your body plumbing, a mind activity such as this can’t be a gender restricted one (See this for distinctions of sex and gender). On the other hand, I believe women and men experience inequality, injustice and disparity differently. Their motives to come to this movement are different. And an overpowering life attitude such as this, is a combination of rationale as well as emotion.
I do have several men in my life who are supportive of equality, who even call themselves feminists. This is not meant to disparage their efforts and even their struggles. In some ways, I think it’s even harder to be a male feminist than a female feminist. For one, it requires going against automatic conditioning, peer pressure and media messaging. Then there’s the constant deriding from both sexes (what, you think women are always nice to someone who stands for their rights?). My father (probably the first feminist in my life, male or female) sometimes tells me that women are probably the worst male chauvinists in this country. After all, he points out, it is a mother who makes a mama’s boy. It is a mother-in-law who drives the daughter-in-law harassment. I have to agree with him.
I know my own ‘strength’ and independence are constantly being held to account by the men in my life, not the women. When I bought a new computer recently, dad accompanied me and so did a close (male) friend. This plus two conversations with other men who advised me. One of them asked,
“Just how many men do you need to help you buy a computer?”
Hmm, indeed. My independent woman self is kept in place by the men in my life – now is that ironic or pathetic?
How and why we come to the feminism philosophy is utterly different. These men are feminists/equalism supporters because they believe it is the right thing to do. I support equalism because it gives me access to a better life. When we go into a debate on this, I am fighting for my survival as an independent human being with rights. They’re debating something that may not impact them at such a profound level as it does me. I must also make mention of privilege guilt. There are several men who are struck by advantages they enjoy that are not extended to the women in their lives. They don’t all become feminists but they struggle with the inequality anyway. I think this actually describes the angst of most ‘modern men’ I know today.
Let’s set aside the fervour and commitment for a second. I want to question whether a man can truly understand what it is to be a marginalized gender.
In my first semester at b-school, the Production Management professor, an M.Tech from I.I.T. Bombay spotted me sitting in the first row. He walked up to me, sneered and asked, “Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home learning to make rotis?” The whole class laughed. Through the year, he routinely made fun of my questions and was dismissive of my presence. He was just one professor in the 40-odd faculty members we saw in two years. But his words have never left me. I worked very hard to get into the program, studying on the bus on the way home, reading my texts during lunch breaks at work. I was at the top of my class. Yet, my efforts and my very presence was taken as insignificant. Can a man fathom the utter humiliation and frustration of that?
During the placement week, a very prestigious company came to the campuses across the city. My seniors advised me to not even bother applying as the company had a reputation of being gender-biased. I ignored them and applied anyway. The guy I was dating then didn’t even make it through the entrance exam. I was one of three women in the twenty that got through. And the only woman shortlisted for an interview. And in that closed room, the four men seated around the table told me that while I had made it that far, they couldn’t see the company actually hiring a woman. My classmates and the (then) boyfriend who hadn’t even gotten through this entrance exam – every one of them got jobs before I did. I finally landed a prestigious job, a better paying one than them. Will a man ever understand just why I still feel vindicated by that?
Last year, I was to get married and after a very public engagement, the relationship ended. Friends have behaved as if nothing happened (which I know now is the best I can hope for). And several of them have egged me ‘to get over it’. I can see how uncomfortable they are with having to be okay with something like this. I have also had a few people stop talking to me, some parental units ask their kids to not invite me over any more. I know the ex has not had to face anything of this nature. He is a self-acknowledged feminist but he won’t acknowledge that this is happening. How, I want to know, can he rightfully be a feminist, if the world treats him differently from me, in the same situation and he does not see that difference?
I am not at such a place of anger any more. I am able to engage in conversations (rather than arguments) with men about attitudes to women. I find myself thinking that the man before me has not had a chance to experience what I have. I’m willing to make allowances for their limited experience range and be grateful for their extra effort. But don’t these considerations negate the equalist philosophy? And if so, how can a man be a true feminist?
It’s not love. At least, not yet. It could be, though. It’s a possibility. A probability? No idea.
It’s more than just friendship. In fact, in all likelihood, you haven’t known each other long enough or well enough to call each other good friends.
But there’s something that’s like closeness. And yet it’s not. It’s the joyful discovery of how much you have in common with them, when such discoveries are commonplace to the point of mundane with your actual friends.
There’s what just stops short of flirtation. The politeness and interest that you never experience with people who are close to you. But also the chilled-outness and relaxed vibe that you don’t usually enjoy with someone you’re flirting with. You look at the their face in a photograph that has other people in it and you say,
“This one’s nice. You..umm….look good.”
If you have common friends, you carefully fall silent with their name gets mentioned and feign nonchalance or indifference. When pushed, you say (quite truthfully) that you really don’t know that much about them.
Is it one-sided, you wonder. Is it even a thing, you start to think. And I’m here to say that it is. Hormones are responsible for the heightened moods you feel when you’re around them. That and if you, like me, enjoy conversations, the highs of shared ideas (and lows of boredom with other people, when they aren’t around). It’s the fascination of newness, the sheer entertainment of discovering the unknown. I wouldn’t call it lust, just yet. But it’s a glimmer of interest, a flicker of attraction, that could become more if fanned and nurtured just right. Chemistry and physics working out to make biology interesting.
It’s fun. It is the best thing about meeting new people, the possibility that you could fall in like with them. Enjoy it. The dangers of lust and the fearfulness of love come later.
I’m writing a story about something I’ve been interested in for over a decade now – urban relationships. I’m especially intrigued by the online matrimonial process, seeing as how it seems to be bridging the traditional (arranged marriage) with the modern (online dating format).
I’ve been through it myself a few years ago. But I imagine things have evolved since then. Is it easier to articulate what you want? Is it harder to ward off unsuitors (unsuitable suitors!)? Has the comedy of errors gotten better or worse?
I’d love to hear some stories, your real-life incidents. Given that this is research for my story, I’m interested in the funny anecdotes, the bizarre misadventures, the things that made you go, “Oh my God, really??!!?”
Do tell me your whacky stories from online matrimonial searches. Go on, I’m listening.