I was watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (HIMYM) yesterday (and may I add what a tremendous improvement it is on the clichéd, hackneyed ‘Friends’?). Barney, (commitment-phobic bad boy) convinces Marshal (married, nice guy) to ‘stand up for his manhood’, which translates to refusing to help in the house and make sexist cracks at his wife’s expense. As expected, a fight ensues between the couple, peppered with the sort of humour that makes this show very relatable and watchable.
What struck me was the thought that otherwise normal, decent, nice guys are probably going along in with their blameless lives, when they suddenly get distracted by a misnomer like Barney. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, evolved, caring or thoughtful the guys are, an idiotic jerk-boy can suddenly bring out similar behavior in them, just like that. Does that mean that every man has a jerk-boy in him but some just hide it really effectively until it answers to that primal call from the more ‘out’ jerk-boy?
I thought about the boy (like that was a surprise). He’s the one who got me hooked onto this show in the first place. He likes the character of Barney and thinks Ted Mosby (the ‘normal’ one) is a whiny wuss. He loves Shrek and Homer Simpson. He cheers very loudly at exactly the kind of jokes as the one I detailed above, on HIMYM. And last night we watched ‘The Green Hornet’ where he hooted through every sexist crack, every ‘I’m-a-brat-and-proud-of-it’ dialogue spewed by the lead character.
Hmm. In each of those cases, I glare at him, which only spurs him on to even greater hooting, laughing and applause. On occasion, I narrow my eyes, start to breathe fire and then, launch the offensive. Women’s rights, male chauvinism, the faults of the Indian man, herd mentality, cowardice, foetal survival rates, tolerance to pain and emotional fortitude are some of the weapons in my arsenal. No sireee, I don’t play clean, not when I’m challenged.
Yesterday since he wasn’t around during HIMYM, I had to substitute his laughter in my head and argue with an imaginary him. Of course, I won. Well, I do, even otherwise. But then I got to thinking about why he continues to uphold that gutterslime philosophy. He isn’t a male chauvinist. He’s actually not a spoilt mama’s boy. He actively stands for the independence and emancipation of women. And this I have to say honestly, he is proud of, rather than resentful of, his girlfriend’s successes. Then where is the source of Mr.Neanderthal in my Mr.Everyday?
Then it hit me:
Neanderthalism is to men, what shopaholism is to women.
It isn’t true of the majority of the gender. Most people see the idiocy of it and avoid such behavior, without excessive effort. But one practitioner comes along and makes it seem oh-so-cool and the rest of us ‘normal’ sorts feel like losers. The practitioner in question has to be in an innately weak state of mind to succumb to such behavior. And hence of course, he/she seeks to convert others to feel better about that fact that he/she isn’t alone. They’re obviously so convincing in it that the rest of us feel compelled to drop our otherwise intelligent/normal thought and face a momentary lapse of reason.
I am not a shopaholic, never have been. I know an excessive hoarding of possessions has to be an unhealthy symptom of something else going wrong. And of course, I’ve indulged in it more than once. Hey, everyone slips up sometime! It’s sort of like…falling sick. But I recover with time. I’m not a chronic spender, just a prudent women subject to occasional bouts of mad shopping.
And similarly, my Mr. Everyday and hundreds of other such ‘normal’ men are just regular guys, who’re occasionally seized with the desire to be Neanderthals. I could live with that. Even Neanderthals are scared of fire-breathing females.
It’s hard being a woman. The whole multi-tasking thing is starting to fire on us in a beeg way and I have a sneaky suspicion that men are sniggering at us from behind their hands (or err, gadgets).
For starters there is the image of the modern, intelligent woman. Some slogging, plodding and hard work bring us the degrees and promotions. That ought to be enough to cement the image, right? Wrong! One must be a good conversationalist as well.
Now this being a good conversationalist business is tricky. What does it mean anyway? Be an entertainer? A good listener? A confident talker? A jocular being dropping witticisms with every eyelash flutter? And all of this while ensuring said eyelashes don’t drop into the food, lipstick doesn’t get onto teeth during self-induced laughing bouts and ‘statement jewellery’ doesn’t get entangled in the tablecloth, the waiter’s tie or the door. Flashes of skin must be accidental and with a large majority of us regular women are; only with us they take the form of embarassing wardrobe malfunctions and not the fantastical literary ‘accidental flash of skin’. Difficult indeed, being a woman.
Then there is pressure to be a good date. Yes, make no mistakes, women suffer performance anxiety too. Yes, I know there are enough of men who will turn somersaults on the tops of the incomplete Mumbai metroworks if they think they can ‘win’ the attention of a girl they find hot. But what after that? Even the most aesthetically sensitive man will tire of looking at a showpiece. Therein begins the pressure to be good-looking, well-groomed and smart.
This is particularly difficult for women like me who very reluctantly don the garb of chickdom. Dressing up nicely is about as far as we’re able to go. But after that, the same forceful opinions and loud declarations backfire. Well, they never really get us brownie points and in this case we go from being branded ‘rabid feminists’ to ‘arrogant bitches’. Whatever.
Okay, okay, time out. So how does one set aside all the high drama and clashes and conflicts? Dating must be fun too, right? Let’s see, what are the common points of interest?
Books are out for a large number of people, at least in this city. The ones who do claim to read are mostly doing it for the impression, but that’s for another rant. I set my cynicism aside and dived into a genre I thought sounded promising. Graphic Novels!
“Comics.” I am told curtly, a steely look coming into the hitherto worshipful eyes. From there it only goes downhill as I blab on a bit about Fables and Sandman before being run over by a barrage of Superman, Batman and other superhero trivia. I’m relieved I didn’t mention Spiderman (actually Spiderman Loves Mary Jane); he might have thrown something at me!
How about movies? We already know how that turns out. Television seems to offer a safer ground. Reality TV is what everyone claims to hate but secretly watches, one finger always on the remote, when they’re alone. Chicks lurrve Sex & The City, guys are maniacal about Star Wars (and sometimes FTV, or if they’ll admit it, regional channels after midnight). I am about to throw up my hands on yet another possibility when I quite inadvertently hit upon an answer.
“Sheldon Cooper. Amazing. Hmm.” I say, a dreamy look coming into my eyes. Of course that’s my weakness for condescending geekboys (cue Jupiter Jones).
“Sheldon Cooper. Indeed.” He agrees.
We look at each other over the glasses of rum (another thing we have in common..but more on that another time) and grin. And suddenly I know I’ve accidentally stumbled onto the common ground.
Why is this show so popular? Let’s see. It’s four superbrainy (and nerdy) geekboys who live next door to a dumb blonde. Well, not exactly. Only two of them actually live there, the others just keep lounging around. They sit around tossing phrases like ‘Doppler Effect’ and ‘Vector co-ordinates’ to each other, playing one-upmanship games of job importance and prowess with the ladies and slobber over the girl next door in her tiny shorts, who does *wonder of wonders* smile at them and even joins them for dinner sometimes. I can see why this appeals to the boys.
On the other hand, I don’t think Penny is actually dumb. She isn’t a brainiac like any of the boys but she’s sensible, funny, friendly and nice. Yes, she’s easy on the eyes (tele-symbolised by tiny clothes). But she doesn’t carry a diva attitude even with the salivating boys next door. What’s more, their boasting and intellectual showing-off rarely bothers her and more often than not, she’s the one who really gets what’s going on. A la ‘Boys. Will So Be Boys. Hmph‘. Heh, she’s already got our sympathies. But hang on, she doesn’t need that. That’s one girl surrounded by four guys, all smart, interested in her and willing to do everything from fix up her creaky door hinges to be guinea pigs for her cocktail waitressing. They hit on her (gently, geekboys are nice that way) but they’re nice to her. They even let themselves get roughoused by the bulldog boyfriend who hurt her. Okay, who’s the smart one now? That’s the girl we all want to be!
For all that it could seem to be about a semi sci-fi, fantasy geekboy story, The Big Bang Theory is the battle of the sexes at its finest. Four men and one woman and guess who is winning? That’s enough of ego massage for even the most rabid feminist side of me.
On that note, I’d like to thank the makers for bringing out a spectacular show and also facilitating enough of gender-common conversation for dates and more. It certainly started with a big bang!
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.