Monthly Archives: September 2011
Here’s welcoming XX Factor‘s second guest-contributor. He’s as smart as the next man but he’s still perplexed by the complicated world of women. He brings his brand of wry musings, politically (in)correct observations and gender role confusion to this blog as the ‘Armchair Philosopher‘. Over to the chair.
Hello everybody. The unicorn’s here. The phoenix, the Bermuda triangle, the Loch Ness monster. The modern equivalent of a mythical creature no one has seen but everyone seems to talk about- “the Modern Man“.
So who is this creature? What does he look like? Is he human? Or has he been sent to Planet Earth by alien feminists? Is it his mission to spread his subversive propaganda about how a man ought to be, in order to ruin it for male chauvinist pigs all over the world?
Can a Modern Man be comfortable with a dominant woman, a woman who has her own life and friends and does not fit any of the gender roles he has been raised to accept as gospel truths? Can he really? Or does he just train himself to make all the appropriate responses? Or worse still, is the only way he can be modern, by assuming indifference?
The Modern Man is a myth because of the sheer relativity of his existence. A Modern Man has no real features of his own. A Modern Man is simply a man who can complement a Modern Woman . His modernity is defined by his responses to the modernity of the Modern Woman.
And therein lies the greatest problem of all. The Modern Man does not know who he is because the very reference point of his existence, the bedrock of his existentialism is the Modern Woman herself. But the Modern Woman does not know who she is either!
Stuck between Superwoman complexes and conflicted between her instincts and her principles, the Modern Woman is a mess. The Modern Man grows up with the naive principle that we are all equal. But when he lives with the Modern Woman, he realizes there is nothing equal about how she is treated. Landlords and electricians address him but ignore her. Waiters at restaurants offer you the bill even when she pays. And let’s not even get started on the great Indian family.
So what do you do when you see that the equality of gender you took for granted was a lie? What do you feel? Guilt and shame for being a man in a world that beats down someone for having a vagina? But when you believe something your whole life, it is never easy to accept it as a lie. So you try and convince the Modern Woman of the ‘equality’ she is blind to. Convince her it’s all in her head. And we all know how well that goes.
This post might seem like a rant of questions but that is the life of a Modern Man. So many questions. And anyone who says they have all the answers is lying. Till then, we shall all chase that elusive unicorn. And till I figure it out, I’ll still open the door for her. I will still carry her bags and buy her chocolates. Because I like how she smiles. That is the only thing I can really be certain about. Everything else is just questions.
* Image via Wikipedia
Getting married, let’s talk about that, shall we? Not the relationship itself or the state of being of its practitioners. That’s right, practitioners. Just because everyone does it, doesn’t detract from the fact that marriage is indeed, an artificial human construct, a social order and a belief system. Because it is all these things simultaneously, we find ourselves at the complex crossroads of ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and ‘What can I live with?’. I am talking about the WEDDING.
The fact is that human beings have evolved, and with them, the societal constructs. Why, then, are we stuck with the same template for matrimony that our ancestors seven generations prior, used? Let’s consider some of the better known rituals.
Dowry has now gained the status of a social taboo. Its premise of bartering human beings has been rejected as unethical and demeaning. Why are we then still holding onto ‘kanyadaan’ (which literally translates to ‘donating the girl’)? Doesn’t that jar on the ears just as much as a certain other word that has to do with a man who peddles women?
Then there’s jewelery, without which no self-respecting Indian wedding would be complete, the larger, blingier and more expensive, the better. Traditionally, gold was investment, supposedly the wealth given to a woman to assure her financial security. Now, first of all, gold is not an investment anymore. Jewellery that is bought, essentially becomes a sunk cost since the emotional upheaval associated with having to sell it is an impenetrable exit barrier. Associating too much status value & sentimental attachment with gold has thus devalued it as an investment commodity.
Secondly, it is not the only source of financial security available anymore. Wouldn’t property or bonds or even money in a bank account be wiser than a physical piece of gold that can easily be stolen, damaged or mislaid?
Thirdly, (and need I even say this?) the origins of this archaic practice of covering a woman with gold stem from the same root as concessions made to the ‘weaker sex’. Admittedly, there are any number of women willing to be waited on hand-to-foot so they don’t need to do any work. Propagating regressive attitudes isn’t solely a male thing. Add to this, the massive marketing machinery, that ironically enough, contorts jewelery into a symbol of women’s empowerment rather than its exact opposite. Being a woman (and a vain one, at that) myself, I’m adequately appointed with enough baubles & trinkets to look shamefaced about it. I live with myself with the (albeit weak) stand to limit these to non-precious ‘artificial’ jewelery. I also baulk at the idea of expensive jewelery as a gift. (I mean, would you expect me to be grateful if I were gifted a ball-and-chain?).
Finally, let’s talk about the elaborate rituals that vary by caste, community and geography. Who even knows what they mean anymore? Even among those who believe and insist on their practice – typically senior family members – how many actually understand what is being recited, the significance of a ceremonial fire, the value of that thread or the meaning of the rice-throwing, the turmeric/vermillion application? My bet is that this question will be met by one of the following:
- Stony silence
- Declarations of solidarity with faith, religion or country (mystifying, this last one)
- Accusations of being ‘too logical’ (mysteriously a character flaw at such a moment)
- Tears, angry words, threats or insults
- All of the above
And yet, none of them answers the question. Why are so many of us willing to embark on what might be the most poignant adventure of our lives, with practices that we do not know, understand, identify with or believe in? What bodes it for the future of a relationship that begins by buckling under pressure to appease a third party altogether? What does it say about a couple who make the commitment of a lifetime by pandering to other people, regardless of their own beliefs?
A ritual without meaning is just a farce. And out of context, it borders on hilarious. I’ve never seen a bridegroom on a white horse that didn’t look horribly uncomfortable and somewhat sheepish. Every single married friend I have testifies to the wedding album creation as an ardous, unpleasant process of photographers barking orders and plastic smiles pasted on for hour. Nothing strikes me as more artificial than the queue of people lining up for a couple of minutes on a stage to hand over a gift, shake hands with the couple (standing in front of the ubiquitous gilt chairs with red upholstery), pose for a photograph and then make a beeline for the food. Most ironical of all, food, that one surefire indicator of the ‘success’ of a wedding usually ends up being something that the bridal couple itself ends up having no time for.
What’s with the ‘success’ tag of a wedding anyhow? Since when did beginning a personal relationship get associated with providing mass-level entertainment, social pandering and budget overflows? I don’t see anything holy about this state of matrimony.
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)
I saw a tweet by UnfairAndLovely recently (don’t you just love that handle, btw?)
“Here’s my question to women. And only real answers please. If you had to choose between breathtaking beauty and Einstein-like brains…?”
In my teens, I’d have picked brains. Yes, I was that girl. The one with an annoyingly unconcerned attitude about things of grave importance to other teenagers, such as acne, skin colour, waist size and hair length. If anyone wants to debate that, just take a look at the latest Nokia ad which tells us that, being young is not as easy as it looks. (Life’s epic drama being a teenage girl torn between red shoes or green and finally, after polling all her friends, picks purple).
I always held a superior attitude above such frippery. For after all, wouldn’t my brains (read angsty poetry, weird art and heavy books) establish me in a far more solid, fulfiling life than the Barbie dolls around me? Not only would I have a better education & a more secure future, I’d also be an independent, respect-earning, awe-inspiring, equal citizen in the world.
Ah, how have the mighty fallen!
Over a decade later, I’ve flipped over to the other side. Breath-taking beauty (if one had a choice in such matter) seems to me the sensible choice for a woman. The world does treat you differently if you are fairer, slimmer, taller and in any other way better on the current norms of beauty. Service staff is a little extra genuinely ‘happy to serve you’ (especially if you don’t carry an attitude along with that face). Studies have shown that it affects your employment prospects positively too. And the men, need I even go there?
On the other hand, let’s look at what happens to a woman who is an absolute brain and euphemistically speaking, not much elsewhere. In her younger days, she’s put into such choice social roles like ‘the beautiful girl’s ugly best friend’, ‘fallback option’, ‘just one of the guys’ (notes-taker, proxy-giver, ego-booster, shoulder to cry on). There’s also the delightful ‘stooge to be played as part of Grand Master Plan to snag another girl’. No amount of Einsteinian grey is going to keep the average girl from falling into at least one of these pits. Unless of course, she’s one of pop culture’s horrorshow geek girls that is sexless, emotionless and robotic in every way.
Things really ought to get better as adulthood approaches, right? I mean this is the path of delayed gratification reaping big results later. But no, wait! What is the true measure of a woman’s worth, socially speaking? Is it how successful she is? How accomplished or talented or successful?All of that is nice, of course and hey, it could even add to the girl’s matrimonial prospects! Has it occurred to anyone that ‘single’, ‘unmarried’ and ‘unattached’ are labels more commonly hung on women? Not that there aren’t men who are these things but does a man’s relationship status really form as big a part of his identity and how society sees him, as it does for a woman?
Who are the biggest female icons around? Are they scientists, entrepreneurs & writers? Or are they supermodels, socialites, filmstars and manufactured pop sensations? A nice-looking photograph gets more social value (attention, compliments, awe, nice behaviour) than a well-written story. The new hairstyle is of more interest than a book deal.
We were told that it would be an equal world for us to grow up into but honey, it’s not. I speak as someone who has ventured at least a bit into each side. I’m not Einstein and neither am I a supermodel. But between ‘Smart Girl’ and ‘Babe’, I’ve laid my claim to both labels. And I know which one works better.
Pass me my compact please.
As I wait for the divorce to come through (maybe I’ll do a post on the complications of divorce in India someday) friends have started asking,
“So have you started dating again?”
The question used to make me recoil with horror. Because while I am attracted to confident and beautiful women, I don’t feel ready for a relationship. And I really don’t know if I ever will be. A divorced man (and woman) is seen as flawed by members of the opposite sex and society as a a whole.
So I don’t really know what they mean when they ask me if I will start dating again. Do they mean I should start dating other separated and divorced women or women who are spinsters over 35 and are desperate enough to marry a divorced man paying money to his ex-wife for child support?
Uncannily, thanks to Facebook, I have connected with two old female friends (who I have never considered in a romantic way) and discovered that they are separated/divorced – a fact that changed the way I thought of them. Would they be interested? I think not… but my reaction to their relationship status intrigued me.
Then there are single women who want to chat with you – but knowing that they are 12 yrs younger than you makes you cringe as you wonder
“Are they closer in age to my kids than to me?”
“Come on! 38 is not old! Why are you making yourself older than you are?”
Then there are the older women – 33 to 40 yr olds who, after knowing your status, want to meet for a coffee. My previous marriage was a decision based on a month of dating.. and I am now really scared of people in a hurry in relationships (even myself)
As I focus again on a single life – I hope to figure out the changed rules of dating… and will keep you updated
The boy and I were sampling the Southern delights of Matunga the other day. I was all aflame with excitement at the opportunity to show off some traditional Tamilian fare to the boy.
After an earlier visit to the famed Madras Cafe, this time we made our way to the other famous eating joint around the corner – Ramakrishna hotel.
The restaurant isn’t even remotely fancy or ‘nice’. It’s grimy & dingy. But the food, I remembered from childhood visits, was good. When the waiter finally came up, I summoned up my best Tamizh (continuing to show off to boy, of course) to order up a storm of special delights that a non-Tamilian would not be expected to know of. To my utter dismay, the waiter practically shrugged and wandered off even as I was talking.
This continued for the better part of 10 minutes and the only way our order went through was when the boy placed it (in Hindi). To add insult to injury, when my plate finally arrived, the waiter put it down in front of the boy, even though I’d clearly shouted at least five times about wanting that dish and even asked the waiter about its various accompaniments.
We finished up what was put on the table in record time, most of our appetite drained by this gross inhospitality. When the bill arrived (placed in front of the boy, of course), I meaningfully extracted the money from my wallet and dropped it on the table & sauntered out. Cheap thrill but a small victory, that. I think he got the significance of that and perhaps he’ll be nice to the next woman who places an order, if he thinks she’ll be the one tipping him. That woman, though, won’t be me.
No daily service provider seems to think that a woman’s job needs to be taken seriously. Ergo, random reschedules, blatant lies & the worst of all – gentle dismissal of any complaints. This includes maidservants, fridge repair technicians, electricians, gas mechanics and anyone else you might be able to think of. I’ve been jerked around by an electrician with a genteel,
“I’m at a friend’s place now. Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you.”
This man’s turned up 2 days later, then claimed that ‘the lady just got confused and didn’t understand what it was all about.’
As with every other facet of chauvinism, this one is fully supported by the ladies too. The maid turns up half an hour late, then laughs it off saying that she thought I didn’t have anywhere to go, despite being categorically told that I had a meeting that morning. Oddly, enough the same woman speaks with pride of her children going to a good school and what careers they’re going to have. The senior citizen neighbors want to know what I’ve cooked and where I’m going. Funny, these questions really wouldn’t be asked if I were a guy. And why assume that I’m going to cook, just because I’m female?
This is the passive-aggressive side of the male chauvinism of this country. The words don’t say ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’ but the actions try to nudge you right back into that role. The men in all these cases will not meet my eyes and in most cases, don’t appear to even hear what I’m saying. It’s like because they don’t like the fact that I exist (with my obvious ‘modern woman‘ outlook), they pretend I don’t.
There is a growing sentiment among the educated men in this country, against what they think of as ‘rabid feminism’. Sure, I want to be moderate too and believe that the genders are equal and that it all comes down to individual attitudes & values. But pray tell me, how am I supposed to be be dignified when the world doesn’t even want to acknowledge that I exist? This passive-aggressive stance more than anything else is what pushes a normal, sane woman towards excessive aggression, anger & angst.
The next service provider to give me attitude is going to have it coming to him, right between his legs and sucks to anybody who thinks that it’s hitting below the belt.
August saw XX Factor introducing its very first guest-writer, TheSingleMarriedMan. I’ve been asking him to write a guest post for ages but he only recently consented. He’s newly single (after a longterm relationship) and is bringing his own brand of humour, cynicism & wisdom to XX Factor. I’ve also been on the lookout for alternate voices, male or female for this space. The battle of the sexes, relationships, dating & love are too big for just one person to talk about, don’t you think? If you or someone you know is interested in being one of the voices of XX Factor, do write in to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com. And until then, here’s what we were looking at in August:
- ‘Indian Relationships: A State Of Anarchy‘: In this age of limitless social interaction, are we also setting ourselves up to relationship predators? (via Yahoo!RealBeauty)
- Tips for women on dealing with a male friend in the throes of divorce (via TheSingleMarriedMan)
- You’re never too old for a crush! (via Yahoo!RealBeauty)
- ‘Socially Obliged‘: A passionate viewpoint on being single & the way society may be heading (via Facebook)
- ‘Would you want women-only subway cars to stop sexual harassment?‘: An angle on street harassment – should women have to be segregated on public transport for protection? The question is raised by a US citizen for the US but the discussion holds valid everywhere, even ‘safe’ Mumbai with its ladies’ compartment. (via TheFrisky)