Monthly Archives: January 2007

Reviving chivalry

Cross-posted on IFSHA here.

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He held the door open for me and stood aside.

“Hmm, chivalry, huh?”

I smiled. He said,

“I thought you said that chivalry died with the 60s?”

“No”

I said,

“Chivalry dies with sex.”

Rude, rude, so very rude of me. But I felt I had to be flippant to cover up my embarrassment at not knowing how to behave in an archaic social ritual like that.

There is a whole new dimension to the social rituals that have been conducted so far. My mother thinks if I demand equality, then I shouldn’t expect a man to be chivalrous and offer me his seat on the bus. Fair enough, if we aren’t ‘delicate flowers’, we don’t need to be treated as such either.

But chivalry is really so ingrained in certain rituals that its difficult to do away with them altogether. And what’s worse, retaining them makes them even more obvious as artifacts of the old order and brings a degree of awkwardness to the situation.

Take for example, dating. Now the old question – who pays? Is it fair to demand equal opportunity, earn equally well and then expect the man to do all the spending? It isn’t fair of course and what’s more, it is slightly degrading to us. Some women try to rationalize it like a friend who said,

“Let him pay. His ego is assuaged and you aren’t burning money on a stupid man who anyway wants only one thing from you.”

Well, that’s an extremely practical, if not cynical point of view. The problem is that it broadens the awkward divide rather than bridge it. It isn’t the solution at all.

It is also a little uncomfortable to be picked up and dropped everywhere, ferried around like someone who needs protection all the time. Well, crimes against women are on the rise, to be sure. I’ve taken to leaving early if it means that I won’t need to depend on someone to drop me home. But that’s not it either, is it?

From the male perspective, I hear a lot of men saying things like,

“I am totally open to the idea of my wife earning more than I do.”

I don’t know whether to believe that or not. Personally I think my generation is still steeped in the premise of the man being more successful to be able to accept that easily.

My perception isn’t entirely rooted in cynicism. I notice a lot of these men are the very same ones who are rude and boorish, especially to women. And they defend themselves by saying that they are treating women the way they treat men. Ah, but that isn’t what we ask for. Equality in opportunity but not in behaviour. We are different after all and not just physically.

And whatever happened to respect? I am not anybody to draw the rules on chivalry but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the root of true chivalry lies in respect. In being courteous and even accommodating, without making it seem like a favour. The reason these rituals seem awkward now is that we don’t need the favour anymore.

But what if it wasn’t a favour?

Hmm…I think women could be chivalrous too. It isn’t nice to keep someone waiting. And it is extremely bad form to be late and worse still to use one’s sexuality to get one’s way. More of us do it than we want to admit. I’d think its perfectly awful to treat half the world’s population with unrelenting, vigilant skepticism. We all play mind games and it looks like we’ll just be rooted in them, mired with archaic, awkward practices till we learn to be respectful of each other.

Its time we learnt to be ladies and gentlemen, not just ‘equal’ women and men.

Superwomen

Another IFSHA post (cross-posted here). This one was an extension of this poem I wrote so very long ago.

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What is the biggest problem our generation of women faces? What is it that we haven’t yet overcome? What is it that we’re barely seeing just yet until it pops up right in our faces?

Female infanticide, child abuse, rapes, sexual discrimination….we have these and we are working on them. We already have a vote and even equal opportunity (….well, we’re talking about it at least). What then is our problem?

One of my friends was a gold medalist in her final year in architecture college. Then she got married and is a mother now. She still has a job but it isn’t exactly a career. At least not the one she originally set out for. She’s a professional home-maker/mom.

Another friend quit a promising job in a multinational company to settle down in the U.S. where she couldn’t work for over a year. So she went back to college to get another degree. No, they don’t have kids because she says, there’s too much else happening now.

I have a career I feel quite good about. Also an active social life, hobbies and a good family. I don’t have a husband (and I don’t think I need one) or kids (but I’d love to).

Three people, the same age, nearly identical backgrounds and how our lives have diversified! And yet, they are alike. All three of us are part of the privileged class of women who have had access to education, financial stability and independent thinking. All three of us are living life by choices we have made.

Choice…that’s a good word. The key word for my generation of women. What sets us apart from the women who fought for a vote, the ones who burnt their bras or threw off their aprons and went to work? The fact that we have a choice. We are the ones who are enjoying the fruits of their labors, their sacrifices. As much as I crib about the state of things and how we are still backward in our stereotyping attitudes, I know I’m exceptionally lucky.

I don’t have to have a career. I could just as well be an liberal-minded daughter-in-law and then a modern mum. Or I could be an independent businesswoman. I could be a professional, a social worker, a writer, a travel correspondent….anything at all. I could be any combination of all of them.

I think of our generation of women as having the Superwoman syndrome. This does not mean we are more capable or better than our earlier counterparts (or indeed, than men). It only means that we are so spoiled for choices that we want it all and we want it now. We need to be the best. Its platinum all the way and we know how to earn it. Is that a good thing?

Last month I was at a conference and got to talking to a group of my women colleagues from around the world. All of them were in their late 20s, early 30s, reasonably successful in their jobs, smart, attractive and well-spoken. Every single one of them…us…was in the exact same place in life. Of balancing our families’ desires to see us ‘settle down’ in matrimony, following our own dreams of success and also considering marriage, kids and ‘everything a woman dreams of’.

If it makes any sense, the biggest problem we have is that we have too much. And we want more. We want to be the best in our careers, not just better than men but better than anyone else. We also want to be good daughters, perfect wives and girlfriends and wonderful moms. We want to play both ‘careerwoman’ and ‘home-maker’ with equal aplomb. What’s more, we are our own harshest critics. Hence we don’t allow ourselves any weakness, any vulnerability. Where does the phrase ‘cold-hearted bitch’ come from? From deep within us.

I can’t cry…Its not professional.
I can’t let PMS show on my face and ruin the perfect setting.
I can’t behave like losing a family member or breaking up will affect my work.
I can’t let my in-laws see how tired I am since they’ll want me to quit my job then.
Under no circumstances, can I ever admit that I was wrong.
I can’t be. I’m perfect after all.

I can do everything except admit that I can’t do it all. I am part of the Superwoman generation after all. And that is my biggest problem.

Single by choice

Last year, I wrote (though very little) with IFSHA’s blog. I’m recyclying those posts here before I start for 2007.

See cross-posted here.

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These days, one word that appears to dominate life at every step, hanging over like a noose and watching like a big eye in the sky is…..MARRIAGE. Nearly all my close friends are enjoying matrimonial bliss. “So why not you?” I hear my mother’s plaintive cry.

“Because…” and I stumble right there. Well…I don’t have a justification for my singlehood. Come to think of it, it isn’t a crime that I need to justify, is it? I am not married because I am single. That’s that.

I’m not single because I can’t get a man
I’m not single because I have something against marriage
I’m not single because I’m too busy

I’m single by choice. Yes, it is an option.

Matrimony is a thriving market and in a ritual-ridden culture like ours, the stakes are pretty high. Think wedding halls, think jewelers, think fashion designers, think interior decorators, wedding planners, temples and churches and what-nots, priests and singers and garland makers….to be specific there is one particular road in Chennai that is hailed by the locals as being the place to go when you get married since it provides every possible thing that you could need for a wedding. I assume that comes with a fine-print caveat that says

“Brides and grooms not included with package”.

Now it seems to me like the whole world is plotting to pull me into this set-up. After all, seen from the above point of view, I must be another valuable piece of raw material that they just can’t wait to get their hands on to polish and package and present as a finished product with the tagline of “New Bride”.

I’m not cynical about the process. I’m not even against the instituation of marriage. After all, my parents (among other couples I know) have been happily married for 28 years. As I see it, I have a good life. A caring family, lots of good friends, a good job, interests and hobbies, a social life and no major problems. A spouse will do one of two things to this. He will either take away some part of it…..with inevitable loss of freedom, additional responsibilities, financial worries and adjustments major and minor to attitudes, religious beliefs and behavior. Or perhaps it will be an ideal situation and he will be someone who won’t feel the need to control or change any aspect of my life. That’s the best case.

People tell me that there could be a man who actually makes my life better. Personally I can’t see that happening, but in the far chance that it does….that’s a lottery ticket. I’ve never been lucky that way and I’m not about to start hoping now.

In the words of the then bad girl Rizzo from Grease,

There are worse things I could do
I could stay home every night
Wait around for Mr.Right
Take cold showers everyday
And throw my life away
For a dream that won’t come true

Well….maybe it will. But a woman can have lots of dreams. A good husband could be just the icing on the cake of a perfect life. I’ll work on getting my cake ready. Plain sponge cake tastes just as good as gooey chocolate cake.

Its going to be a long way to when people can accept singledom as a perfectly natural state of being rather than an aberration to society.

A little faith

🙂 I was reading through some of my back posts recently and I realised I’ve been pretty harsh on men. Yes, well, as a certain old acquaintance-turned friend pointed out,

Your opinions are coloured by the pain you have felt. But that’s no reason to tar all men with the same brush.

Heard and understood…and its time to issue public apology to all those men who do not fit the stereotypes I’ve been bashing. And now for a nice sweet real life example to illustrate…

SNC (oh phone): No, that’s impossible. Work is work, you know that. Yes, maybe Saturday too. What can I do about it? No choice.

5 minutes later….

SNC: I’m the world’s best actor!!!! I’ve successfully convinced Mrs.SNC that I am working late tomorrow and on Saturday too. She wanted to do something on this long weekend that’s coming up.

Me: Why, you evil man! Why are you lying to your wife? Hmph….men can be such…%$#@

SNC: You are totally alien to the concept of romantic surprises, aren’t you?

Me: Eh?

SNC: I’ve been planning this for a month. Tomorrow I’ll start out ‘for a short drive’ and then head towards Mahabaleshwar. Its a long weekend and I have plans. 🙂

Me: Ha! What if she believes you and goes to work on the weekend too?

SNC: *smirk smirk* I’ve enlisted her family’s help. Her sister has spoken to her and convinced her that she needs help with a project tomorrow so she has to be at home. And her parents have announced that they are visiting on Saturday so she’s got to be there to see them.

Me: ….

Well, what’s left for me to say?

A close friend is getting married this weekend on a sudden impulsive desicion and I’ve been playing devil’s advocate since she announced it to me. Hmm…I guess I could do with a little faith.

The downside of this revelation is that I probably won’t have too much of masaaledaar, argument-inducing posts up here. Well…then again, people will continue to err and men…uh, some men will continue to be jerks. So I don’t worry too much.

Confusing advice

The most unemotional person I ever knew said

Being emotional may be the most practical thing that you can do.

I never figured that out. Then again, he also said

You shouldn’t believe a single thing I say. Always assume I’m not serious.

How about that statement? Does it count or is it an axiom?

The Calvin syndrome

Some men, when attracted to a woman, will tease her mercilessly, poke fun of her at every opportunity and make life as miserable for her as possible. It’s their way of drawing her attention to themselves without making it appear that they want her to notice. The more terrible they make her feel, the more attracted they are.

And I suppose there is a certain romance in the love/hate relationship thing.

Makes sense and I should have seen it earlier. How come I didn’t? Because I was too busy reacting. Or perhaps because I thought they grow out of it after the teens.

Signature style

I read an email forward about the difference between a man and a woman. One of the points said that a man who walked into a party and saw another man wearing the same tee-shirt wouldn’t give him the cold shoulder but instead greet him like a longlost friend and they’d share a beer together.

This Friday I wore an old favorite tee in bright red (my favorite colour!) and dark blue jeans. I was appalled to find SNC wearing a tee in the exact same colour and dark blue jeans!!! And worse still, another colleague wearing the same colour combination. When I gasped and said “Oh noooo!!!!”, they both looked at me stupefyied (damn, how DO you spell that word??).

Okay, its a female thing I admit. So I want to look different. I’ve always had this thing, even when I was a tomboy. I hate the thought of looking like gadzillion others. I hate the idea of blending in. Okay, I am a vain peacock. There’s a reason I love bright colours and strange combinations. Few other people dare wear them and those that do….there’s not much chance they’ll come up with the exact same get-up as I. So I stand out.

The best way to ensure that no one else looks like you is to wear stuff that most people wouldn’t wear. So I’m bizarre sometimes but honestly I really do love that fake leapord print bag with red trim. And the maroon beret. And the knee high boots. All of them together. What are the chances someone’s going to copy that???? In fact I think what I love most about them is the fact that they are so OTT different that no one I know is going to have the gall to buy them and wear them. No one but me, that is.

The not-so-artful dodger has written a good post about saris. Now that’s style. But umm…its style I find very inconvenient in day-to-day Mumbai commuting. Still, for occasions, its top class. If one can suffer in stilettos, then one can very well learn to handle a sari gracefully. No smart lehengas, no fashionable shararas, no designer salwar-kameezes for me please…..its always an antique Kanjeevaram. I mean, who wears that except for women from our parents’ generation? I’m certainly not going to be mistaken for them….certainly not with my tattoo and red-streaked cropped hair! For moi, if it means I’ll be one of my kind, I’d gladly do it…..ah, my sometimes impractical-female-vanity surfaces!

However Dodger pooh-poohs my suggestion of FabIndia with the reply that there’d be several others wearing the same thing. I disagree. I’ve never had one of those embarassing situations. And that’s because I buy stuff like spaghettis with bandhini prints or formal shirts with wooden buttons. I know there’d still be a few other weirdos like me who buy the same thing. But there are such things as accessories that make a dress quite different from what you started off with. Highly unlikely that someone will match it down to that detail.

A friend of mine says that I remind her of a cat….the preening female cat from Tom n’ Jerry cartoons. That makes me 🙂 . Sure I’m vain. I love dressing up. My body is my canvas…and it carries my signature style every day!

A crush

He passes her; she flashes an almost-not-there glance

Like she’s thinking deeply, unaware of staring

He watches her surreptitiously….hoping she won’t notice. Hoping she will.

She does. That’s why she doesn’t turn around and smile. Perhaps she will.

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She doesn’t ponder over how silly she’s being.

Crushes are to be enjoyed, not agonized over.

Fallen Eve

To ‘the one special woman’,

You are the stuff of memories that never fade, rust or get forgotten. You are the overriding factor above everything hormonal, practical, emotional, logical and fair. Indeed, you must be special.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot. Do you know who I am? I am the one who he leaves to chase you. Or the one who battles with the unsurmountable statue of you up on the pedestal. I am the real-world girlfriend. I spend the boring, traffic-laden, polluted days with him while he reminisces about the special candlit dinner-violin serenaded moments with you.

Actually we’ve met a few times. Once you were a good friend who toyed with the idea of him while I stood around waiting and then handed him back to me, slightly soiled, a few months later. The thing is you gave back to me his bruised ego to heal but not the fragments of his heart. That you kept for yourself and I’ll never be able to touch them.

Some other times you’re a stranger, nice and pleasant. You are never off-balance, never irrational, you never scream like a banshee. No, I do that….after all, security brings a level of peace and calm and I wouldn’t know what that looked like.

A lot of other times we haven’t actually met or even spoken. I’ve looked at photographs of you, heard about you from friends (and from him) and wondered a great deal about what you must have that I don’t. You aren’t prettier. Or smarter. Or nicer. Or more loving. But in his memories, you are incomparable.

I’ve thrown in the towel a while ago. I can’t compete with a memory. Or perceived perfection. I am real. Flawed, inconsistent, imperfect. I have acne, PMS, extra inches around my tummy, doubtful taste. I’m the real thing. Well…that can never compare with the poetry of a fantasy, can it?

Your position isn’t exactly a complete one either. For you do know what will happen the minute you succumb? You’ll turn into me. I guess you know. Which is why you let this state exist as it is. I guess it is better to be adored from a distance than ignored right to your face.

Do I sound bitter? Yes, I am. Very. I wanted someone to want to settle down with me, not settle for me. No one wants to feel like a consolation prize.

My Best Friend’s wedding‘ was about me. But I am not always like that. my-best-friend.JPGThe platitude talks about wanting happiness for someone you love, even if its not with you. I aspire to do that, even if I don’t always succeed. Believe me, if you think its difficult being friends with me, you have no clue what its like for me to battle envy and resentment and like you for who you are. Well, you are likeable. Which makes it even more difficult.

I won’t ever tell you this to your face. Why, I wouldn’t even admit to him that he’s important enough to me to colour my thoughts of another person. But I feel it. I guess all I have left is the thought that….

Eve’s greatest enemy isn’t Adam
But another Eve

Oh well, even if you are a better woman than I am, I think I love him more than you ever will. Now if only, he’d understand that. But that probably doesn’t matter.

Signed,
The ordinary woman

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A later version of this is posted here. This is also posted to Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Noo yurr resolutions on XXFactor

1. No more male-bashing. This year, I will turn my image of man-hating-feminist.

2. Not too much whining. Not too much cribbing. A balanced, objective viewpoint of things as I see them. (Can I help it if the world is getting screwed?????)

3. I have a sense of humour. Everyone who knows me, knows it. Wonder why it doesn’t show on my blog. Time to stop wondering and make it happen. Bringing on the funnies….

1, 2, 3….that’s enough no? Well….maybe a few more…

4. No more referring to ex-boyfriends as ‘ALL MEN’. Have a little faith, the movie says.

5. Enough of gossip and catharsis. XX Factor will attempt to be a voice of the modern woman, grappling with serious issues

…and umm….oh fuggetit.

Heppy noo yurr!!! Life is about hope after all.

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