SXonomics in DNA AfterHours: ‘ These Bands Are Giving Out A Strong Message In Music/

I’ve been relatively quiet this month, on the blog. But the words have been hard at work. My collaboration with Dr.Ishmeet Nagpal, SXonomics, has gone on to the next level. We decided to take January to take stock, figure out where we wanted to go next. And maybe as a sign from the universe, we’ve started getting noticed and counted in some very flattering worlds.

DNA reached out to us for a chat about our work. It was so heartening to know that someone somewhere thinks we’re doing something right, and not being foolish to do what we do. They featured us in a story about performing bands using art to further social messages. Do we do that? Yes, yes, we do and not just with music. But sometimes, you need the world to tell you that it sees you, as you are. Thank you, Dhaval Roy, for seeing us for our true work.

The story is ‘These bands are giving out a strong message in music‘ and we’ve been quoted as saying,

“Spoken word feminist party SXonomics use satire, improv, poetry, music and audience-inclusive performance to project feminism as a fun and relevant way of life, while sparring with “patriarchy, toxic gender roles, relationship politics and mental monsters”, like founders Dr Ishmeet Nagpal and Ramya Pandyan tell us. “

“SXonomics, on its part, is alarmed by the things that have been passed off as culture, romance and poetry. “Problematic messages in Bollywood where a woman’s consent is not respected — like, ‘Tu haan kar ya na kar’ and many other such things are a matter of concern. Films are a huge influence on the common man’s way of thinking,” says Ramya.”

For SXonomics, the goal of their caricatures, poetry and collaborations is to prompt people to think about the current state of affairs in the country. “We want to create reference points in our listeners’ heads and make them realise when something wrong happens. Many of them have come up to us and said that our pieces like Shaadi Ka Laddu and Chaar Log (a satire on chaar log kya kahenge?/ what will people say) keep coming up in their daily lives,” says Ishmeet. Ramya adds that many of their listeners (including men and women) have told them how their performance has been an eye-opener to many aspects that existed in their lives but they were unmindful of.

Ishmeet says that when a message is propagated through music or any other art form, it is likelier to stay longer with people and make an impact.

We’ve been quoted alongside bands like Kerala’s black metal caste protest band Willuwandi, Buddhist Dalit rights activist rock band, Dhamma Wings, McLeod Ganj’s JJI Exile Brothers who sing about Tibetan freedom, Imphal Talkies‘ work on North East India’s insurgency and Aisi Taisi Democracy‘s satire. It’s a privilege, an honour even, to be counted among people who are crusading for these causes using art and performance.

Thank you every one of you who has listened to, read, clapped/snapped for, sung along with, commented, liked, talked about or even thought about what each of us has had to say. You make what we all do, possible. You make it a world that can be shaped by artists and love and passion, not just guns and politics. You allow us to believe the world can be made a better place, one song, one poem, one beat at a time. Thank you.

SXonomics is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Press Clipping

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Fairytale Character

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Aziz Ansari And The Missed Cues

Another man joins the ranks of predators and this time it’s a brown, woke man. Here’s a well-written opinion in tweets. And here’s why I don’t agree.

Blindly vilifying the man in a situation is definitely problematic. Justice means every party deserves the benefit of doubt and is innocent unless proven guilty. There’s a reason sexual harassment cases are grey and that’s because they happen behind closed doors. This means nobody knows for sure.

But consent (like assault) is also grey. As a woman I have felt pressured into doing things I didn’t want to, and by ‘nice guys’. I didn’t protest actively because it felt easier to let him go through with it and get away. Disagreeing with men often carries a disproportionately heavy price (slut-shaming, friendzone accusations, acid attacks). It’s exhausting trying to judge the risk in every case and often in such a situation, there isn’t enough time.

Letting someone do something to you that you don’t like, for fear of danger or retribution or punishment magnifies everything. In addition to feeling disgust (at having to do something you didn’t want), one feels violated and imprisoned. Not only did you have to do something unpleasant, you were also not allowed to say you didn’t like it. Imagine being forced to eat a neem cake and being made to smile through it all.

The timing of the allegations feels unfortunate or convenient, depending on how you see this. It’s definitely possible to read it as opportunism, given Aziz Ansari’s success. But also, triggers are a thing. As an abuse survivor, I largely live my life carefully avoiding my gaslighting, abusive ex. But it gets really hard to stay quiet when I see him positing himself as a feminist or decrying violence against women, all while calling me toxic. There is no justice in idolizing a man just for saying he’s feminist while ignoring his history of abuse and violence, especially when every feminist woman is savagely attacked.

#MeToo did more than call out Hollywood’s sexual power/exploitation structure. It forced out conversations about abuse and sexual violence by men against women. I don’t think the Aziz Ansari case is unrelated. Sexual power politics are so intricate, this is part of their unraveling.

Men are not taught to listen to women. Even so-called woke men don’t realize respect, consent, equality and feminism have to exist in every minute, not just on Women’s Day and in trending topics. Most of them slip up and often. And being men, socialized to behave badly with zero fear of consequences, they react often in bad ways. Aziz Ansari just reaffirmed the stereotype of the brown man being hypocritical, sleazy and disrespectful of women. Why should I protest it? I’m a victim of this exact kind of human being.

For everyone referencing the fact that he acknowledged it – “Yes, I did it and I’m sorry” does not nullify a wrongdoing. Would you treat a woman equally kindly when she said sorry? Two words. Monica Lewinsky. What happened to Surpanaka from Ramayan (the closest parallel I can draw to consent violation by a woman) when she wooed Lakshman?

Plenty of men are complaining that they worry about every interaction with the opposite sex. Good, I say and welcome to a woman’s life. You are complaining that you can’t be thoughtless, selfish, privileged anymore without facing consequences. Yes, it’s hard to stop being that and learn a new way of being. So what? Get with it.

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Rape Culture, One Accidental Anal Joke At A Time

I saw a tweet being shared (with a fair bit of bragging about how it went viral on 9GAG).

Earlier that day, I chanced upon this article about anal sex:

The Phenomenon of ‘Accidental Anal’

For those of you who cannot be bothered with reading the article, what I took away from it – it may be possible, in the heat of the moment, to superficially  jab at the wrong hole. But the kind of penetration that causes pain definitely isn’t ‘accidental’.

Anal sex has its takers and those who enjoy it, do so with two vital ingredients – lubrication and consent.

Now look at the above ‘joke’ again. If these were sexual situations (as the ‘joke’ implies), would the women’s expressions be ‘Oh oops, how careless’ or “OH MY GOD THAT HURTS SO BAD!!” I am a woman and I can tell you female pleasure does not look like that. I can see pained resignation, agony, horror and grief, respectively on each woman’s face. Are these the reactions you’d expect from consensual sex or the opposite – dare we say it – RAPE?

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I tweeted asking if the above was a rape joke or not. The originator of the ‘joke’ replied with the following.

Let’s ignore the defensiveness and the unwarranted aggression all garbed under ‘I respect your opinion’ and focus on the reactions each of our tweets got. I’m not surprised. Misogyny is so cool that the vast hordes will rush to defend and support it. On the other hand, here’s what happens to a woman who even questions a man and god forbid, challenges his rape culture.

 

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And finally, this is what happened when I asked for help:

  • Mumbai Police ignored it altogether. Gee thanks, we now have a new case for ‘resting on laurels’.
  • Twitter sent me the following message: “We reviewed the account you reported and have locked it because we found some of the reported Tweets to be in violation of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules. Tweets that were not in violation may still be public. Please note that if the account owner completes our instructions to unlock their account, and complies with our stated policies, the account may be restored.” I checked the offender’s account and it was visible and active, albeit with the above death-wish tweets deleted. Wow, slap-on-the-knuckle for saying ‘You should die’. Funnily enough, ‘You should be raped’ gets some attention but this one doesn’t.
  • Woman 1: Ignore it. I face so many such with all my yada yada blah blah super important work and ignoring is the only thing to do.
  • Man 1:
  • Woman 2: This is not a rape joke. This is not a death threat.

Oh well.

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But this morning, others told me that they agreed that it was a rape joke. Several also expressed outrage about those offensive tweets and confirmed that they considered these death threats. A fair few joined me in reporting that account (which I imagine is the only reason Twitter thought to take some fractional-hearted action).

‘Accidental Anal’ is a violation of consent. Rape will never be funny. Wishing death on somebody is not trivial.

I am glad enough of people realise that if you stand with a rapist, you make it possible for them to be so. Being silent about, ignoring, joking about or agreeing with rape culture IS rape culture. Attackers trying to silence anyone who challenges rape culture, are propagating rape culture. If you support these attackers, either openly or by asking the recipient of their attacks to be silent, you are also propagating rape culture. Every word counts, every moment of silence counts too. Try not be a rapist.

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What Is This Dating Thing And Can I Eat It?

I need to take lessons in dating.

Growing up in 90s middle class India meant that my early years of blossoming romance were spent furtively trying to hide every sign of it. This was not talked about, to friends. Members of the opposite sex who made one’s heart flutter were carefully avoided. It wasn’t that difficult since that was the prescribed social more. Even for me studying in a mixed-sex environment and growing up in a newly developed housing colony full of young families.

It was made further confusing by the Catholic customs of my neighbourhood. Dances and dates and ‘getting friendly to’ were as acceptable as aunties wearing dresses and uncles drinking wine – for them but not for me. I could be friends with ‘them’, visit ‘their’ homes, follow their prayers (Catholic school staple hymns, Hail Marys, grace and in-the-name-of-the-father). I could even eat non-vegetarian food so long as it was kept outside the house. But this cheek-kissing business, let alone the ‘getting friendly to’ stuff was sin.

By the 2000s, I moved into the more Punjabi (read Delhi) dominated part of Mumbai that shapes and is shaped by Bollywood. Short dresses on Hindu girls were suddenly okay but along with these came much more rigid gender roles. North Indian Hindu men have a laughable sense of machismo, or so it seemed to my more easygoing Goan/Mangalorean references. Throw in a few years of Gujarati college with the complicated hypocrisy of together-only-till-its-time-to-marry and yeh college ka aur woh ghar wala attitudes. I’m sure at least some of this mess contributed the confusion that led me to date this seemingly woke person.

I worked the agency life for a good few years and I’ll admit it. I’ve never gotten used to the casual cool of the old agencyhand – booze at work, smoking like chimneys, sometimes things beyond tobacco and the sex. Always the sex. It looked, smelt and was cheap and accessible. But not appealing.

And now all the way down to digitally enhanced, emoji-studded Tinder era romance. Where it’s acceptable to double- or triple- book dates. Where the most embarrassing thing is matching with someone one has unmatched before because meh, so boring. Where it’s supposed to be a hookup app, what are you, a prude? And on the other end, horoscope-matched, family-approved ‘we are so modern and we have the kundlis to prove it’ digitally arranged coupledom.

I don’t know. I still don’t know.

There are things I like about now, that I feel I’ve earned through painful experiences – like who pays for the dates and other such artefacts of ‘chivalry‘. It’s not as fraught with toxic gender roles and horrible awkwardness. Either people have changed or I’ve gotten better at picking dates who align with my thinking.

I’ve learnt to be a decent-ish first date – appearance, body language, stories, manners and even awkwardness carefully steered into comfortable jokes. And, I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’ve learnt to detect early on in the date whether the other person is going to appeal to me and if not, to go to that secret, quiet place in my head all while appearing fully present, till the end of the date.

But what happens after the first date? Call? Message? Meet again? Friend on Facebook? Invite to a group activity?

Is it appropriate or even wise to have a first date happen at an event where one is likely to know other people? And if not, where and how in this crowded city does one have a first meeting?

The mobile phone poses a tangible problem. I used to think people who kept looking at their phones during meetings, during dates, during meals were rude, uncouth and immature. But most people I meet, including close friends, respected mentors, business acquaintances display this behaviour. I find myself constantly competing with a glass screen. If they’re Tindering or Grindring or the like, I’ve begun calling them out and requesting that they do their cruising on their own time. But what does one do when one has to compete with Facebook or Twitter? How about when one is a digital professional and these could very well qualify as ‘work’? Nobody has heard of work-life balance in this city.

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*Image via geralt|Pixabay

How do people start ‘dating’ anyway? Me, I’ve always slithered (or more accurately, been dragged into) relationships from seemingly innocuous, often coincidental and always casual meetings. ‘Just friends catching up’ is a phrase that has described the better part of my love life. It has been comfortable, this looseness of definition. It has allowed me to swim away from situations where I do not reciprocate without too much backlash from injured male egos. It has also allowed me to save face when the situation is the reverse.

But I’m a bit bored by this. And it occurs to me that maybe my model has outlived its purpose. It worked for the fresh-out-of-90s Marol girl suddenly living the big city life, cautiously stepping into adventure. But the world has changed and so have I. So tell me. How do I learn this dating thing?

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Fresh

What can I say about love and sex and womanhood and gender and relationships and feminism that I haven’t said before? Hope. That is all.

All bets are off the table. It’s a new year. Anything could happen.

I want to leave you with this lovely poem that brings me hope often.

Because love and identity and life should be as fresh and wide-eyed as you once were.

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What Women Want

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The Dark Things

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Watching Sunsets

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram