Category Archives: Battle of the sexes
Good ol’ Women vs. Men pow-wow
I’m finding that there’s something extremely transactional in nature, about the Indian man’s love. Let me explain ‘transactional’. Indian men can be loving and supportive. They can be romantic, soulful, understanding, patient. They’re protective, chivalrous, generous even. They can be all of these as long as it is within a defined universe, to a very specific kind of woman.
As Indians, we live in very tightly defined social structures, even today. It doesn’t actively occur to us in our daily lives but we are governed by a complex maze of social norms, conditioning and rules. I realize this fully only because I question and defy a lot of them. Doing this is a fulltime job, practically a lifetime, an identity by itself.
How do other people react to someone who doesn’t live by their rules? That’s the oldest story in human behaviour, of course. The thing is Indian society is mired in a labyrinth of heavy, conflicting, sometimes obsolete rules. It’s like being caught in a house full of naked wires, broken steps and crumbling ceilings. A single misstep could be fatal and there are so many possible that the living is no more than survival, just barely.
Snapping out of that gristly metaphor, how does this translate in everyday life? People do not treat you well if you do not follow the strict rules. Deviations are seen as aberrations.You get treated badly, not because you have behaved badly (lying, cheating, being mean or rude to, being selfish). You may treat people around you with respect, gentleness and affection. But none of that is considered if you do this while breaking a social rule.
It is considered perfectly acceptable to be mean or rude to someone who has defied a social convention (“What does she think of herself, dressing that way?”). It is fine to treat a woman less than respectfully if she does not dress and behave the way a ‘good Indian woman’ should behave. It’s not that a woman who makes different choices about her life, does not need affection, love, support and yes, protection from unsavory elements. But since she chooses to flout those rules, all of these get increasingly restricted to her. Affections and respect are paid out in direct proportion to the adherence to social norms. That is what I mean by transactional.
This may be as seemingly minor as the major she pursues in college, never mind that she is getting an education, a conventional one at that. It may be as inconsequential as choosing to keep her hair short in a family/community where women usually keep their hair long.
It may be a little more complex such as refusing to sit in a certain seat or room because of her gender. Doesn’t this last one sound ludicrous? After all, the Indian law does not see us as a gender segregated country. But family functions, even wedding banquets appear to be places that you must only socialize with people of your gender. Down to today’s modern-day get-togethers and dinners, notice how the women crowd into the kitchen or into bedrooms while the men sit in the living room and discuss politics, sports, business and work? I’m talking about Mumbai in 2013, not Madurai in the 1800s.
It may be something as personal as her own beliefs, not even as major as the religion she follows but that she chooses to not let religion get in the way of her political views or her friendships. How do you think an agnostic woman who believes that Muslims are being mistreated, is treated in a religious family? Or if she is vocally supportive of gay rights, why does that affect her prospects of being in a (straight) relationship?
Now certainly both sexes are equally guilty of this kind of a rabid reaction to defiance of convention. Female cliques are alive and kicking and the terror mother-in-law remains very much a key character in Indian drama. However, I am thinking about an emotion that goes beyond logical distinctions, defined rules and intellectual discourse. We love people for who they are, for who we become when we are with them, for that unique something that they and they alone bring to the universe. It may be harder to love someone who is different from your notions of what a human being should be, but it’s not impossible. What’s more, those notions being so tightly, suffocatingly defined, are any of us likely to find real love?
In the many patterns I see in the men around me, there is this. I’ve experienced love and loyalty and friendship, all my life. But they’re all contained in these tiny spaces of time when I’m being who they expect me to be. Put one foot out of place and all these things appear to vanish. They are supportive (extremely so) when they see me falter and fail. But they are nowhere around when things are fine and I am not a tender creature that they need to protect. They are there to chastise me when I slip up but almost never to bounce ideas off as equals and hardly ever to applaud me when I’m successful.
There’s the praise that comes my way when it is in a setting that follows convention. An academic achievement in a traditional school/college, a promotion in a steady job – these things are celebrated. But a more unconventional achievement that nevertheless brings joy is not seen as something that deserves acclaim. The new age Indian man may be openly proud of a very educated woman in his life, who has a high-flying corporate job. How often do you catch him boasting about a woman in his life writing a book, going on a car rally or starting up an e-business of her own?
Aren’t love, support and loyalty 100% things? There’s the support you need when you’re down but there’s another kind of support you want from your people when you’re just fine and when you’re great too. I find that severely lacking in the world around. And I think, my world loves me only when I’m miserable and down and begging for help. It’s transactional, indeed.
It’s a near-universal fact that men avoid the ‘relationship talk’ as much as they can. I also sense a feeling of helplessness in the average man when it comes to the woman he loves. Assertiveness is easy when it comes to rivals, opponents and competition. But men seem unable to bring it to the fore with someone they care about, especially if that someone is a woman.
The social dictats complicate matters. I can’t refute the fact that a lot of women use tears and emotional blackmail to have their way. There’s practically no way out for a man in such a situation. Taking a stand, pushing back and even holding onto what he believes will be seen as harsh, heartless & cold in such times.
Personally, I think anybody who resorts to emotional blackmail deserves only a harsh response. But I am a woman. The same labels may be hung on me but somehow they don’t devalue my social standing as much as they would, a man. Like most women, I’m aware of this fact and much as I hate to admit it, it doesn’t always stop me from using it to my purposes in a relationship conflict.
The battle of the sexes is not new. But it seems to have reached diabolical proportions. As long as each side has an equal win/lose chance, it stays an exciting, entertaining game that comprises much of our adult lives. But when one side starts to gain an upper hand at such a rapid rate, while the other fails to keep up, the game must be lost to an ugly battle and nobody will be the winner.
This is the reality and the man is just going to have to summon up the courage to go against an ancient more, to stand his ground. The changing times lay their pressures on everybody.
Image via Ambro on FreeDigitalPhotos
There’s a strange character out on the loose. He calls himself the Modern Man. I am not sure that I like him very much. For one thing, he’s really hard to find. He pops up, in a sudden self-reference and then vanishes under questioning. Then he resurfaces during what should have been a good moment, to ruin it with a self-promoting boast. I understand that he’s still trying to find himself. While about it, here’s what I’d like to say to him. So listen up, Mr.Modern Man!
Doing a couple of household chores does not qualify you for a medal. Get to doing 50% of the housework, without being reminded, and as well as I can, and you can have the right to advocate equality of the sexes.
Not dictating what your lady wears, who she speaks to, and what she wears does NOT make you a great guy. It just means that you’re not being a control-freak.
Fail in these and your stand of ‘Independent women can take care of themselves’ just seems like a cheap attempt to shrug off even the minimal responsibility that a male chauvinist’s role carries.
What is the meaning of an identity that is defined solely by the evils that one does not practice? A weak one, that’s what. Who are you, Mr.Modern Man? Is there more to you than the fact that you’re not a rapist/control freak/jealous monster? Identity is what you are, not what you are not.
I get how difficult it can be to break free of conditioning and resist archaic social constructs. I do that all the time, myself. But it doesn’t stop there, for me. You go against the grain and you break what exists down, so you can build something new in its place. Try being more than what your erstwhile counterparts were not. Define yourself for your values rather than what you don’t do or how well you meet my expectations. Most of all, get some balls of your own. I don’t recall asking for those to be chopped off when I let go of Neanderthal Man.
You don’t get to be great by default. And if you want to be the equal counterpart to the Modern Woman, you know you’ve got a high standard to match. I’m not saying the Modern Woman is without flaws or even that she knows exactly who is she. But at least, she’s got some sense of identity beyond what you or your brethren want to make of her. And the one thing she won’t stand for is vague, empty words.
Come back to me when you’re a real person, not just a fanciful notion in pop literature. I’ll be delighted to get to know you.
*Image via Idea go on FreeDigitalPhotos.
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I have a friend who looks into every mirror, glass and reflective surface that he passes. The pater is best known to the dhobi as the source of endless lectures on the perfect way to iron a pair of trousers versus a pair of cordruoys. The boy thinks any suggestion towards a health regime is an insult to his body image.
It mayn’t be obvious, but these aren’t so different from what my gender has been accused of, for years. But since the men will have to take umbrage at this, let me give it another name. It’s Manity and it’s worse than vanity because its bearers believe that they possess no such flaw (errr…virtue? Since everything male has to be glorified and paraded around?).
Let the peacocks preen now.
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PMS: Three syllables that could rock your world. But what does this word mean? As a man, it is one of those words you never want to use to describe away women’s seemingly irrational behaviour. Unless you want to hear a very loud and shrill rant. Or if you know the women I do, get a prompt kick in the crown jewels. For women, it is the constant irritation of dealing with pop culture and stand-up comedians love affair with PMS jokes.
But is the alternative to making crass oversimplifications, just shutting up? I think not. The fact is, in our increasingly politically correct world, we do not address some things just to pacify, well, the angry women. The women whose eyebrows go up when you mention PMS and tell you “Don’t even think about it!”
Now here’s my problem with that. Society and culture thrives on making certain topics taboo- female sexuality, periods, rape, etc. When you cannot even talk about something openly, it provides a connotation of shame to it. How do you expect women to believe there is no shame in their being women when everything about their bodies is brushed under the carpets as ‘inappropriate’?And it is that culture that tolerates locking up women when they menstruate, treating them as social outcasts and of course dismissing them as professionals. For years, men thought women could not be involved in outdoors activities and professions because of- wait for it- menstruation!
This was fine in the world that was but it cannot be a part of the world the Modern Man seeks to build. In order to deconstruct what he has been raised to believe he needs to understand. So women can continue to be overly sensitive about words like ‘vagina‘ and ‘PMS‘ and god knows what else. But the Modern Man is not a gentleman. He is no knight in shining armour. He has little patience or indulgence for your baggage and who has been oppressing you.
The fact is, the more ‘secretive’ and ‘inappropriate’ any topic is deemed, the more power it has to dominate and repress people. So what we propose is this: rob it of its power by taking away the secretiveness. That is the key to a lot of the issues that come with the conversation on gender. It certainly is the key to this one.
And if you want, I can start. Men don’t hate talking because they think it’s a bore. Men hate talking because most women don’t really want to hear what they have to say. And ignorance breeds bigotry. Or in this case- sexism.
I will end with a quote from South Park by the delightfully offensive Mr. Garrison:
“I’m sorry, Wendy, but I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.”
Sure, you can call him a chauvinist pig. But what then? What then indeed.
XX Factor welcomed its second guest contributor, The Armchair Philosopher, this October. Here’s his first post, laying out the dilemma of being a Modern Man. I am looking at bringing in even more guest contributors so leave a comment telling me what you think about this. Onto the link-love:
- ‘Do You Think There Are More Women Bloggers Than Men?‘ (a discussion by BlogAdda)
- ‘The speed in which a woman says ‘nothing’..’A titbit of wisdom on women (on Twitter by DeveshMistry)
- The Official Trailer of ‘Miss Representation’ (via Youtube, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
- ‘Why Feminists Have Better Sex‘ (via TheGlobeAndMail, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
- If being able to have sex (forced) is all that defines you as a man, what does that say about manhood?: ‘Horror Of South Africa’s Corrective Rape’ (via CNN, link courtesy ManojKewalramani)
- XXFactored Sep11: Geek Girls & Romance In Current Times (xxfactor.wordpress.com)
- XXFactored Aug2011: Relationship Anarchy, Divorced Friends, Crushes & Glorious Singledom (xxfactor.wordpress.com)
- XXFactored Jul2011: Dating, Male Behaviour & A Woman’s Point Of View (xxfactor.wordpress.com)
So another month draws to a close and we’re nearly at a year of link-love on my blogs. Do drop me a line and tell me what you think of it!
XX Factor‘s first guest-contributor, The Single Married Man has been bringing this blog a whiff of freshness with his own brand of relationship musings. This month he talks about getting back into dating. There’s more to come from him and in the meantime, you can also catch him on Twitter.
There’s another guest-contributor coming up sometime this month but I won’t tell you anymore for the time being. Any suggestions on the kind of perspective you’d like to see here at XX Factor are welcome!
And here’s the month’s features:
- Yes, I’d imagine this would be ridiculously funny…except that I can’t imagine a man actually going all the way to this. ‘A Post Gender Normative Man Tries To Pick Up A Woman At A Bar‘ (via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
- LOL @ Personal strength no.2!!’Romance Resume‘ (via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
- ‘A Guide To Geek Girls‘ (via OldBoysNetwork, linked to by GautamGhosh)
- I was ROFLing all through and then I saw the last one and I pretty much fell out of the window! ‘21 Things We Secretly Suspect About The Opposite Sex‘ (via Cracked)