A fortnight ago, a friend and I parted ways. He came to me, looking for comforting, for sympathy. I gave him instead, honesty. Words were exchanged and the friendship is now a thing of the past. The thing is, I never offered comfort or sympathy, only outright, unvarnished honesty. We’ve spoken of it. He’s pointed it out as my character trait; I haven’t denied it. Yet, he expected it of me. Because I’m a woman.
Last week another friend and I had an argument, one that’s been brewing like dark clouds for awhile. The storm finally broke when he said,
“Women are more considerate than men.”
“No, they are not.”
He insisted. It made me as angry as if he had told me my place was in the kitchen. I argued that he wasn’t a woman, I was. He replied with that perfect blend of dismissive condescension and polite acid,
“You…are a different specimen.”
I was angry then, but I am not, now. Both these men have been raised to believe that men are bad people and women and kind, gentle, long-suffering victims. They’ve each tried, very hard, to not be that personification of their gender. They are polite, courteous and nice – to women who are gentle, kind and nice. They play a part and they play it well, especially around women who play their parts in the same play. How are they to react to a woman who refuses to say her lines on cue?
*Image (without text) via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Being a woman is a job, it would seem. It requires conformity to certain customs, delivery of some expected things and a certain kind of etiquette. It is not enough to have a uterus that bleeds every month. That’s only the graduate degree. To truly be a woman, one must perform in relationships, outward presentation and inside one’s head. I’m quite terrible at it and I get told so, often. I’m too flashy (modesty befits a lady), too opinionated (women are supposed to be peacemakers, not troublemakers), too outspoken (yes, this is a thing, haven’t you heard of diplomacy? Learn some.)
D minus on the job of being a woman.
I’ve grown up hearing versions of this my whole life. I was a tomboy through school and college, a fact that people who know me now find hard to believe. My style and my vanity are recent acquisitions, like grown-up shoes that I started wearing well into my 20s. Life has just been easier for me, that way. But these, like apparel, are superficial and come off easily. Who I am under that, hasn’t changed. I don’t want to be treated a certain way, because I am a woman. Because, the price to be paid is that I have to behave a certain way for being a woman. What’s wrong, I’ve been asked, in being nice or considerate? Nothing at all. Except, I’d like to do it because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And by the same token, I would like people to be nice or considerate to me, because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And I would like to reserve the right to sympathy for those I believe deserve it, rather than having to distribute it for free ‘because I’m a woman‘.
Men like the two I’ve spoken of, come back with the refrain of not being nice or considerate to women like me, because as I lay it out, ‘they don’t want to be’. Fair enough, I say. Except, is their consideration and their politeness subject to a cold formula of adherence to a certain behaviour? If you are only nice to people who follow rules that you uphold, then you’re not really being nice, you’re being transactional. People pay you with their conformity for your good treatment of them. How is that different from a bribe or protection money?
I would like to be respected for my actions and my ideas, not for my body plumbing. As commonsensical as this thought sounds to me, it comes across as rebellious, disrespectful and needlessly selfish (all names I’ve been called). And because there is more of people who think this than there is me (I’m only one), I find myself having to compromise. I don a pretty outfit, I smile at my camera and post the picture online and I dimple my thanks when people show me how much they Like me, for that smile. I’m learning to be a Professional Woman.
Once a guy broke my heart. Several years later, I learnt that he had had a daughter. And I thought it served him right. Divine justice, I called it. I’ll be the last person to say it’s a bad thing to have a daughter. But I can’t think of a more fitting serving of justice to a man who has not treated women well.
Men who don’t treat women well, their empathy is an impenetrable fortress for large part. It’s absolutely impossible to get them to see the impact of their actions, to make them own up and take responsibility, much less empathise with women. This even if they have other women in their lives. After all, for most men like this, mother is a divine force above all human considerations, sisters are property to be protected, bartered and girlfriends are pleasure toys. Even a wife may be a socially sanctioned personal attendant. But a daughter, now that’s different.
Note of course, that I’m not talking about the extreme segments that brutalize women (female infanticide, honour killing, dowry burning etc). I’m talking about the more moderate man, the Bystander Chauvinist, if you will. What happens when such a man, having ‘sown his wild oats’ (ah, what quaint expressions we use to write off men’s bad behaviour) settles down to matrimony and fatherhood?
Some of these men go to become, what we call ‘good fathers’. Meaning they proudly carry their babies in slings, post photographs of them on their social networks and drive them to school, when they are older. Yes, they probably are loving, caring dads. I had an interesting conversation with a former classmate, a perfect example of this type. He was the quintessential flirt, the bad boy that most girls were warned away from. He broke rules and hearts with equal abandon. That was nearly two decades ago. Now he’s a respectable banker, married with two kids, both girls. And he sports a teeshirt that says,
“Guns don’t kill people. Dads of daughters do.”
Does that sound familiar? Why is it that men like these usually grow up to become dads like these? The only answer I ever get is,
“Because they know what boys are like.”
Yeah, right, I say. Well, they know what the kind of boys they were and suddenly, they fear the consequences of those actions because it could impact their beloved daughters. I think men like these suffer agonies worse than their counterparts who have been more sensitive towards women. These men usually believe every man is like them. And it must be a scary thought to feel responsible for someone who will bear the consequences of actions like theirs.
As the girls grow out of pigtails and dolls into scary adolescence, the ‘fab dad’ title starts to wear a bit. These are the men who become controlling fathers. Daughters rebel (like all kids do) and a daughter who has been used to pampering from her papa, isn’t likely to take kindly to authoritarian behaviour from the same man. This girl knows how to twist her dad around her finger and it’s going to be a mighty uncomfortable position for him, the older he is.
All that noise and gunfire and the sound of a grown man weeping? That’s just the sound of someone getting his just desserts.
*Image from Roadkill Teeshirts.
The men I know, are not likely to murder their unborn babies in the womb for being female. They will probably not set their wives on fire for not bringing in dowry. They won’t insist on their women climbing into the funeral pyre after them when they die. They’ve never actually said anything like ‘Women are inferior’ (which by the way, my grandfather said to me, so please don’t say that nobody says such things). They also have no intention of raping or murdering their female colleagues, friends and neighbours.
I can understand why this kind of man feels victimised by the more aggressive feminism. “But I’m not that guy!”, I hear him protest,
“I’m not a bad person. I admire strong women. I believe women have their rights too. Why then, do you club me in with the rapists, the acid-throwers, the foeticide practitioners and the dowry thugs?”
It’s because doing and being the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, do not preclude one from chauvinism. The fact is that we live in a world that ranges from subtly chauvinistic to brutally hostile to women. Normal life is painted in shades of poor treatment of women; it’s just the degrees that vary by geography and socioeconomic class. So unless one actively goes against the grain, taking a stand for fair treatment of the sexes, one falls into chauvinism, by default.
Let’s meet the aforementioned man again. He is not a bad person. He is a law-abiding citizen, thorough professional and a responsible family man. But he doesn’t actually believe that women have worse lives than he does; even the women in his life. He has little patience or sympathy for the realities of women’s problems. And when forced to confront it, he usually responds with control issues – the sister’s social life to be monitored, the mother to be ‘shielded’ from all manner of reality, the partner’s clothes to be censored. No, he doesn’t even understand why that is a problem. He sees these as solutions to the problem, refusing to acknowledge that he may be a part of the problem.
I often get branded a feminist, almost always by men and never in an objective or factual manner. All manner of male chauvinists hang this label on me. The MCPs are easily spotted with their foaming-at-the-mouth tendencies. But the Bystander Chauvinist, he is the one whose words are accompanied by a rueful tone or a sneering glance. I won’t go so far to call it an insult. But it is meant to be a mild put-down, a slight diminutive.
This incidentally is also the man who proudly proclaims that he will never raise his hand on a woman, assuming that that is the very essence of feminism. He is accordingly judgemental of men who lose their tempers or are violent. When pushed (and only when pushed), he is likely to blurt out an unhappy, impatient, “But why should she be all helpless?”. There it comes – the deep-seated hint of resentment against women being able to claim sympathy for offences that he sees meted out to him as well. These offences look the same to him, so why, he reasons in his mind, does a woman have to get special treatment over a man? Only because he’s a nice guy.
The undertone is one of ‘It’s because I care’. I believe that he does genuinely care. But these actions do not support women, neither abolish the problem nor take a stand against it. And because of that, they undermine the confidence of women and their right to assert themselves. This is why this attitude is an offence.
The thing is, I do not have a personal vendetta against men, this kind or the rabid chauvinists. I only want my rights (respect, privacy, freedom). And I want justice when these rights are denied. It’s not fair to punish the man who has not actively denied me my rights. He just…hasn’t done anything to help me get them. He has been a passive bystander, which even the law understands as party to the crime. What’s most troubling is that I am not angry with this man. He is the best of his sex that is available to me. He does not mean me harm. He is a friend, a lover, a brother, a partner. I care about him too. And this makes it much harder for me to tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable.
I tread an equally uncomfortable, narrow path as this man. I’m the Passive Feminist, the counterpart to the Bystander Chauvinist. Like him, I don’t take a stand unless pushed. And then, like him, I react with misplaced anger and resentment. But perhaps in these uncomfortable exchanges, there is a little bit we teach each other – how to be gentle and firm at the same time, how to stand for ourselves and for each other both in one.
I live in hope. So does he. That’s why it exists.
*Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
*Image courtesy Simon Howden on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I was in college, a guy leaned in and asked me,
“Why was there blood on the dance floor?”
These were the late 90s, Micheal Jackson was still alive, already white and not yet branded a pedophile. I shrugged. I had not understood the song anyway.
“Because Susie had her period!”
he guffawed as the boys around him erupted laughing. I frowned. I still don’t get it. The song and the joke.
If the idiot had any sense, he’d know that Susie would know to wear a tampon or a sanitary pad during her period. Even if by some miracle, she forgot to wear panties (no woman does that outside of porn films), the blood would not gush out of her and land on the floor in a puddle. It would cake around her groin, with a trickle or two lining the insides of her thighs. I very much doubt it would even get as far as her knee before it congealed and dried up. It’s menstrual blood after all, not red wine. But how would he know? He was a man. What did he know about menstruation, after all?
I once had an argument with a friend over this. He thought joking about things made it possible for people to not take them so seriously. I see where that might make sense in some things. But not here. Most men are terribly uncomfortable with the notion of menstruation. This discomfort is indulged by a society that makes it okay to not talk about it and silences girls and women about a natural, bodily process. Making a joke of it, especially in an information-deprived environment actually propagates wrong notions. It also increases the shame factor that keeps the silent zone in place.
I think the heavy silence that lies around menstruation is dangerous. It gives men (and women) all kinds of wrong notions. I know men who think that having sex with a menstruating woman will kill her. I know women who use iPill as a regular contraceptive and I fear that one day they will bleed to death. (iPill is an emergency contraceptive that basically induces the period. Having a period more often than normal is not normal or good for the body.) I know men and women who think that painkillers can ‘solve’ the period. And I know men and women who think that contraceptives will ruin a woman’s child-bearing capacity.
Periods suck. They’re awful. I hate having them. Why should I not be allowed to rant about them? Why must I not be able to expect sympathy for strong nausea, blinding headaches, backache, stomach cramps and aching joints (on account of weakness due to blood loss, the doctor says)? Everyone gets sympathy when they face any one of these, don’t they? Why, when I have to have all of these together am I not accorded the same, just because it’s on account of my period? Never mind getting a day off to rest. The only people who will grant me that will also treat me as an untouchable, not allow me to pass by places of worship and create a huge hullabaloo if I reach for a bottle of pickles. Yes, this happens, even in 2014 Mumbai. It happens to me.
You know what talking about the above gets me? PMS jokes (which are period jokes in douchebag clothing, pun entirely unintended). I think PMS jokes are even more offensive. They don’t just spread ignorance like period jokes do. They also actively propogate demeaning women for natural body functions. They reaffirm the idea of women as shrieking banshees incapable of logic, sense or responsibility.
I have no problem with humour. But humour is only really funny when everyone (and not just the the person who makes the joke) gets that it is not serious. In the Susie joke, I think a lot of my classmates actually believed that a woman dancing during her period might leave puddles of blood behind on the floor. Think about what their attitudes would be towards the women in their life undertaking physical exertion during their periods?
So yes, we need to be able to talk about periods. What about period jokes? I’ll say they are okay the day it is permissible to sit around talking about menstruation as normally as we discuss Arnab Goswami and the next Salman Khan movie.
Update: I challenge every man reading this post, to go through this list. It’s creatively designed as a humour/horror quiz but is closer to the truth than most factual articles I’ve read. Go on, I dare you to read it through to the end.
You know that feeling? I’ve heard it in your voice, I’ve seen it flit across your face.
You look at them and you can see everything. The ugliness you discovered only when it was too late, bordered by your own shame and guilt. The poison that you created together, that became you, first individually, then collectively and then each burnt, broken half again. The alternate choices you could have made, polka-dotted with what-ifs and coloured with deep regret. And also, in thin strands and lines everywhere, glimmers, mere glimpses but definite visions of who they were and what made you fall in love with them.
And you know you’ll never really be over them.
But that’s fine. Admit it. Allow your shame to crumple you up from within. Crumble. Let grief weigh you down and splinter your insides. It hurts terribly, I know. But it’s actually the easier thing to do in the long run. Accept it. Embrace it. And let it move through you and drain out of you through the very holes it created in your fibre. You will never be the same again but you will not be enchained by the experience either.
You’ll be okay.
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