Category Archives: The Sisterhood
The sisterhood of women: How we behave with each other
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the pattern of my relationships, the kind of men I attract and so on. All my associations with men, the minor flirtations and the serious relationships alike follow a pattern. They’re drawn to my quirkiness, my ‘oh my God, did she just say that?’ boldness. It’s fascination with the hitherto unmet, packaged in a visually-pleasing non-threatening form of a woman.
But it doesn’t last. The same things that drew them, intrigued them, seem to bother them shortly after. In my early twenties, this would be the time they’d start trying to control me, direct my behavior to be more conventional, my thinking more acceptable. And in the ensuing outcry, break-ups would happen. Later, as I grew, so did they and their reactions became subtler and crueler. I believe that’s where the lying, the cheating and the sudden about-faces began.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the Novelty Girl. Men are drawn to me because I’m different from what they’re used to, a curiosity object. And since curiosity is a kind of interest, they confuse that with attraction. As the novelty wears off, so does the curiosity, ergo the attraction.
Now where does that leave me? Never mind the ‘just be yourself’ attitudes. I have to be myself, who else can I be? But I’ve realized, adulthood is about playing a role in other people’s stories on the condition that they play a role in yours. This is the basis of all the successful relationships I’ve seen (including the non-romantic ones). I am me but the question is who should I be to you?
Novelty Girl was a great role to play in my early adulthood. It was fun, got me a lot of attention and that’s all was needed. But now, I’m finding myself tired and dissatisfied with the results it gets me. I’d rather have two people who like me okay for the rest of our lives, than the awe and admiration of a roomful of people, that lasts about an hour.
Now what kind of person gets that? And more importantly, how does one stop being Novelty Girl? I don’t seem to remember how to be equable.
I have come to dread running into a certain person – The Longlost Married Friend. An email or phone call from this species provokes the same, albeit delayed reaction. That’s to say, the email has already loaded, her over-cheery voice is trilling down the phone into my ear by the time dread starts to sink over me.
Because I know just as I start to relax and express my joy at the reunion, she’s going to swoop in with a zinger. It might be about my values or my love life or my health or my dress sense or my relationships. But it will be condescending, disapproving and worst of all – accompanied by an air of ‘there, there, nobody’s perfect darling, I’m sure you try.’
What is it about women who have been only wives & mothers to the exclusion of all else, for awhile that makes them so awful? This is Stepford wives going the Victoria Beckham way. Hard, sleek, perpetually perfect and absolutely detestable. Festival season brings out the worst of them. After all, this is their dominion, where they get to be Queen Bee and sniff disapprovingly at their single counterparts who aren’t spending their entire day decorating home, husband, kids and themselves. A single woman at Karwa Chauth is like an anorexic at OverEaters Anonymous – most of the time, you know you’re in a better place than them (independent, self-sufficient, own identity etc) but you’re going to be made to feel insufficient, inferior and worst of all – guilty – anyway.
The beauty/grooming issue is a touchy one as well. I’ve come to detest kurtis, especially with zari because I associate them so much with this species. Western wear is not taboo, it just suits Mrs.Judgemental to let you think it is because between her post-marriage-prosperity plumpness, post-pregnancy fat and disapproving in-laws, she hasn’t got a chance of wearing that gorgeous skirt you’re wearing. And if she’s going dressy-dressy for a casual occasion like shopping, it can only mean she’s got too much time on her hands, not that she’s a natural style diva. The last time I had the misfortune to run into one of these, she engulfed me in a tide of polite “Hello darling”s before moving onto a sneering glance at my rumpled linen drawstring pants and loose tee-shirt and smirking,
“You still look the same. Exactly the same.”
And my successful career, professional accolades and grace-under-pressure moments fell away as I whined in my head that it was only a movie and I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone. But Madame Perfect had already gone back to adjusting her ‘husband-bought-from-Spain’ necklace into further perfection.
I realize though, that a number of my other close girlfriends also fit this demographic. They’re married, mothers and have been away from the workplace post maternity. Maybe it is just that these women are special, really special so they haven’t let their stereotypical roles get in the way of our friendship. They give me a little sneak peek into what makes Mrs.Judgemental behave as she does.
One friend tells me the pressure to be an overachiever mum is almost worse than the stresses laid on you at work. At least, she says, you can leave your work woes behind when you leave office. But the larger social circle *never* shuts up about the best way to raise a kid and be a wife. I imagine it’s like meeting a group of Mrs.Judgementals only several degrees worse.
The Best Friend has been something of an overachiever all her life. Top marks in engineering and business management, plum placement, successful career. She’s also been a beauty queen and the heart-throb of the batch. I love her for the effort she’s making to stay that same person and not get lost in being a Stepford wife and mother. Curiously, I think becoming a wife and mother has made her a little less ‘perfect’ and relax more, enjoy life a lot more. Now, why can’t all women be like that? Because balancing the roles of a woman in a workplace and a woman in a traditional Indian family is not for the faint of heart.
To come back, I see that the other side isn’t having a great time of it. But it’s not making it any easier for me to be patient. Who’s got the time to be patient to someone who can have an afternoon siesta if she likes while I struggle through the client’s presentation? Why would I be sympathetic to someone who can get away with being in a bad mood while I have to watch everything I say or be branded ‘the bitch boss’ or endure PMS jokes? And finally, who gives a damn about how she looks when she’s had 3 effing hours to do it while I had just five minutes? She can get her ego-strokes elsewhere and grow some self-respect. After all, I did.
“Don’t worry darling, I’m sure you will, someday.”
I’m reclaiming my right to write.
There’s much I’ve felt and been and heard and wanted to say but didn’t. A relationship, an engagement, a bitter breakup…aren’t all of these fodder for a feeling writer? And yet I’ve been quiet.
I’ve been under a self-imposed gag order that no one speaks of. That’s beautiful and ironic and perfect and ugly all at once.
A friend told me that I get lost in words, the beauty of my own words, that I hide behind them and now I can’t find my way back. Yes, maybe true. But I’m refusing to see my words as my jailors. They’ve been after all, firm and steady friends in a life of already wonderful friendships (even if love hasn’t been quite as, shall we say, gracious?). So I’m bringing them back.
Ever notice how everyone agrees and Facebook Likes generic statements on dowry? How half the nation sits glued to the screen, silently identifying with evil in-law stories? But not a single one of them ever comes out and says, “This is happening to me and dammit I don’t like it!”. Nobody ever admits to hating their partner’s families. No progressive woman ever goes beyond declaiming the horrid turdiness of Indian men in general. Not one of them ever says that the man she’s married to or in love with is one of those shitheels in question too. Why should I be the first to break that omerta?
Why do even the smartest, most accomplished and confident of us willingly put our personal power into the hands of men? Because falling in love at some level, is giving the person power over you. Trust, that foundation of a relationship, is about letting a person see that they can hurt you. And no matter how shackled our pasts have been, how cruel our social captors were, the only real living and the progress there is to be had is by going back and hoping. Hoping this boy will grow up to be a man, hoping ‘responsibility’ and ‘comittment’ aren’t banned words in this one’s dictionary and hoping that a relationship can be more than a stone around the neck, could be as much fun and comfort for a woman as it is for a man. Hope is hard but hard experiences are what brought me to a place of being able to stay I’m hurting but I’m standing. And I am.
But these are missions for a different time. For now, I’m just taking back my power to say what I will and what I feel in this space that’s truly mine. I’m reclaiming my voice and by God, it’s got a lot to say. I’m not even sure how to end this post since I’m only just beginning and the end is nowhere in sight.
Welcome back, old friends and beloved strangers. It’s unimaginably wonderful to meet me again.
If pop culture reflects the mood of the people, this generation is quite high on an oestrogen-and-botox laced cocktail. SATCmania is a phenomenon. I know I said I didn’t like the book much. The first movie was quite bad. Even the TV series that spawned the wave of hysteria petered out in a rather disappointing way (Alexsander Pietr what?!). I know it’s not smart, it’s not politically correct and yet I stay true.
The second movie is out and hits Indian screens in a few days. I’m queueing up for tickets as soon as they’re available. And this time, I’ve even actively looking for wonderful, fabulous, fashionable friends to go with. We’ll all deck up, wear insensible (and gorgeous) shoes, touch up our make-up every few minutes and scream and oooh in the theatre.
The last time round, there was a collective shriek from urban women worldover while the men struggled for cover. Well, you guys better shield your ears this time round. You’ve been warned. And in case you’re interested, here’s making sense of the phenomenon that has men baffled - Sex And The City!
5. The crazy costumes. SATC proves the premise that fashion is entertainment; humour, drama (even melodrama) and horror! From Miranda’s funny hair to Samantha’s bling skirts to the mother of all fashion screenplays…Carrie Bradshaw herself!
4. Priveleged whining – For the same reasons that a KJo movie is fun, for the same reason hundreds of Indian women tune in to the ‘K’ franchise on TV each day. Credit card overdrafts, catfights, relationship angst. The problems are magnified, too grand to ever happen to such mundane mortals as us and it makes us feel better that even Fabulous has problems.
3. The Old Girls Club. Yes, it’s bitchy, it’s sluttish, it’s venemously anti-male. Okay, modern female bonding rituals are still works in progress. They feel good anyhow.
2. Samantha Jones. She’s the ultimate fantasy. She’s bold, brazen, cares not a whit about what men think, is a great friend and dresses on whim. None of us could actually be her. Most of us have too much of Charlotte (prude) or Miranda (pragmatist) or Carrie (chicken) in us. But that wicked, whimsical streak in us all responds to Sam’s flash. Hooo girl!
1. Habit. The story has been done to death. Big-Aidan-Big-Aidan-Big-Aidan yet again. Gay men are either adorable or bitchy. Friendship lasts forever. Bad ex-es get their dues. Good ex-es come back when you’re getting bored with the current. Yes, yes, yes I know. But think of it this way. You already know the ways a ballgame can end. One side wins or the other or occasionally there’s a tie. And yet you watch each one with rapt attention. It’s sort of like that. It’s a chicklit saga on steroids. We’re hooked and we’re going along till the ride ends.
A conversation with a wise girlfriend you’re seeing after awhile can be food for thought. As you exchange titbits of information about news and the then and the now, there’s realization and growing up that happens in those very moments.
I mentioned a name, quite unconsciously with reference to something else. She picked it up and probed. So I told her some. And she told me what she knew, coming from a different source, a different angle. As we put the two together, her story and mine, we created an idea, based on the framework of the person we discussed.
There are of course the men who never got used to the fact that women got a vote, the right to their own bodies, education and careers as well. But there’s a different sort of man around now. This one has had ample time to get used to it. Maybe he had a strong mother. Perhaps he grew up with an ambitious sister. Or maybe he was just sharp that way and found himself the company of women like that.
That means he’s had the time to not just understand and appreciate their motives but also see their Achilles heel, hidden as it may be. The women of today are just as human as the ones that came before them. And hence, we have our own brand of insecurities and fears.
The thing is, my wise friend said,
A guy who sees that insecurity and tries to exploit it to his advantage.
Don’t we know him? We all do, we’ve encountered him at various points of time. In the case we discussed, there was a girl who my friend described as ‘not conventionally good-looking’. The guy in question knows this and seems to be using this over her as a control game. The reason this clicked was that I know when he tried a similar strategy but with a different tactic. He used age instead of looks.
Now the guy in question is of barely any, if at all, consequence to me. The reason this stayed with me is because it brought me back to my own experience of an abusive relationship all those years ago. It’s been very difficult for me to answer questions like why I stayed with him and what hold he had over me.
The answer is of course that he knew my fears and took advantage of them. No one is so strong that they have no fears. And nobody is so guarded in a relationship that keep all their secrets. But those secrets can turn into ammunition in the wrong hands.
Strangely enough our conversation earlier in the evening revolved around fairness creams. I was trying to explain why the idea of having worked with them at some point of time in my career is something I carry with heavy guilt. She admitted that she had used fairness creams for a good while herself. Then she said,
Strange as it may sound, my moment of reckoning came when I read about the Aishwarya Rai-Salman Khan relationship. To know that a woman like could get battered was to realize that it had nothing to do with looks whatsoever. And that’s when I stopped needing those creams.
Hmm, interesting. So we have our fearful secrets and we have even more furtive ways of getting over them. Those close to us can turn traitor. While those on a completely different world from us, can be our salvation.
I love this song. Unabashedly. I wish I could dance outside in the rain singing this very song. In fact, maybe I will.
I was talking to a friend about (what else?) a guy we both knew. Nothing much to tell except that he was cute and thought I was too. Attraction is a good thing, even more so when unencumbered by the social mores of committment.
I particularly loved her for saying,
As I see it, it was just a human thing.
Absolutely. It was one of those delightful things that makes you feel good to be human. Then for thought, she added,
Isn’t it interesting how we never got to wondering what he would think?
I gave it some thought and I realised it didn’t matter. Not that he didn’t matter at all to me, but just that it wouldn’t have made much difference to me either way. Is that modern promiscuity or liberalisation? Who gives a damn anyway?
Really, truly a man’s attention is a lovely thing. Several men’s attention is mind-blowing. Perhaps it is the effect of turning 30 and shutting my ‘planned life’ down but I find I just don’t have the bandwidth to worry about approval anymore.
There have been a number of times in my life that I’ve had the pleasure to think at least to myself,
Hey, it’s raining men!
Aren’t I lucky? We all are. From experience, it is just a matter of attitude. Every single time I stopped worrying about whether ‘the one’ was out there, I found myself surrounded and drowning in a thunderstorm of potentials, prospects, just-flings, men, men, men.
It always made me glow within. All that changes is that I’m grinning real wide now.
God bless Mother Nature
She’s a single woman too
She took over heaven
And she did what she had to do
Ever since I’ve put up this slightly controversial (and I’ll admit biased and brash) post…actually even before that, I’ve been hit with the question of why I do want committment at all then if it’s such a terrible thing. My reasons may not be all deeply soulful or romantic or even honorable. As I see it, committment (read marriage) is a solution to a number of niggling, nuisance-ey problems.
Sure I enjoy the liberatedness of being liberated, the freedom to decide my own social life, the no-responsibilities carefree lifestyle that my committed friends seem to envy me for. I have written about the virtues of being single.
But there are plenty of things that I don’t like about being single. Being single means a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people (many of whom in my esteemed two-bit opinion shouldn’t poke their nose into my life at all). Here are some reasons I would like to be in a committed relationship.
- Wives of guy friends do not view you with immediate suspicion assuming that you’re just scheming to steal their man away, never mind that fact that you’ve probably had a chance to do that if you wished much before they even set foot in the man’s life.
- You are not required to be a last-minute escort (if you’re female) or chauffeur (if you’re male) for out-of-town single friends of friends/family.
- You don’t get mysteriously dropped out of movie/dinner plans with friends who are all now part of twosomes each.
- Other women (even your friends) don’t make direct or indirect references to your supposedly exciting, fast-moving sex/dating life.
- Eyebrows don’t shoot up when you pick up a baby or coo to a child. Who says single women can’t be maternal?
- You are not automatically put into one of two buckets – repulsive/sick/defective or flightly/fast/sluttish .
- You aren’t the target of unwanted and embarassing attention from married men of the neighbors/schoolmates/husbands of colleagues/ex-boyfriends variety.
- You are allowed to have problems too and no one shuts you up with “What do you know? You don’t have to run a household/adjust to a man/kids to look after.”
- You don’t have to leave parties and social engagements early so as to avoid imposing on friends to drop you home.
- Your family is willing to let you live your own life.
- Your personal life and social calendar doesn’t become everyone’s personal property for value judgement - relatives, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, co-passangers.
Obviously these are not ALL the reasons to get into a relationship. If anything these are the ‘fringe benefits’ of a relationship that have started to become so important that I’m inclined to think a good number of women would want to commit just so they can enjoy all of these. I’m really tired of having to fight a battle each time I want to do something, simply because I’m single. The same thing seems to move so much faster for women who have an ‘attached’ tag on. Granted social engagements and lifestyle options aren’t the most important things in the world. But that’s precisely why it seems like such a waste to have to go to so much effort for something so minor – or go without.
A relationship has its uses and I’m unabashed in saying that I intend to enjoy all of them fully when I get into one.
I’m reading a book called Rubbish Boyfriends. But hang on, that’s not all that’s responsible for this mood o’ mine. I’ve been talking (and talking and talking) to the following women:
A has been steadily (as opposed to happily) married to a ‘Who says we get it right the first time?’ pedigree-carrier.
B is married to the man described by Barmaid as the ‘Good On Paper Indian Guy’ a.k.a. GOPIG (also M.C.Pig). She’s also momma to a 3-year-old and a useless daughter-in-law in the eyes of the matriarch who stays with them.
C has been hitched for four years and has to show for it the following:
- 3-year-old adorable coochie-boo
- 4 home addresses
- Career chart resembling a diagram of the universe (spotty) rather than a straight graph.
A says she stops short of being murderous at the sight of her husband, especially on certain days of the month. So she’s gotten herself a dog. Dog answers to ‘Gabbar’ (despite fancy names conceived by A, on account of pesky husband getting there first) but Gabbar loves her every day of the month, PMS regardless. Arre O Sambha, ek hi aadmi tha par chodo…they’re all the same!
B, juggling phone on neck-shoulder, scrambling about for change and yelling at the taxiwalla, bemoans being called a bad mother for working till 2 am. Then she adds that papa dearest sleeps in late right through baby’s sports day preparations. Her tired tirade ends with,
So long as he isn’t alcoholic, abusive or cheating on you, assume he’s Mr.Perfect. That’s as good as it is ever going to get.
I want to wail about committment-phobias, male insensitivity and thoughtlessness. I want to talk about my non-conversations about my non-relationship with my non-boyfriend. But I can see she’s not quite in the state for it so I take my woes elsewhere.
C, straight-faced as always listens to me and offers this sage advice,
Remember I used to say I’d never leave Mumbai. Do you know all the places I’ve lived in in the past four years? Do you know where I’m going to be six months from now? I don’t, either.
That makes me pause and think. So I watch SATC, drink a bottle of wine, laugh with a friend, read Chick Lit, go shopping and write XX Factor instead. Settle for if you want to settle down seems to be the order of the day. While there’s love (for the uncynical ones), sex, children and stability, no one told them about shrinking expectations (and fading dreams), comfort meshed into indifference, dreams replaced by ‘the best way to end the argument once and for all’. They change, they modify, they sigh a bit, wash their faces and carry on. All of them seem to be echoing that men will be men, at the end of it and there’s just this much you can make them care about things outside themselves.
Resignation appears to be every committed woman’s uniform emotion. And inter-twined with the single girl’s need to find someone special is a sense of relief at not having done so yet.