Monthly Archives: October 2011

XXFactored Oct2011: Gender Stereotypes, Rape & What Women Mean

XX Factor welcomed its second guest contributor, The Armchair Philosopher, this October. Here’s his first post, laying out the dilemma of being a Modern Man. I am looking at bringing in even more guest contributors so leave a comment telling me what you think about this. Onto the link-love:

  • Do You Think There Are More Women Bloggers Than Men?‘ (a discussion by BlogAdda)
    Portrait of a Woman Blogger, after Frederick C...

    Image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

  • ‘The speed in which a woman says ‘nothing’..’A titbit of wisdom on women (on Twitter by DeveshMistry)
  • The Official Trailer of ‘Miss Representation’ (via Youtube, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
  • Why Feminists Have Better Sex‘ (via TheGlobeAndMail, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
  • If being able to have sex (forced) is all that defines you as a man, what does that say about manhood?: ‘Horror Of South Africa’s Corrective Rape’ (via CNN, link courtesy ManojKewalramani)
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Getting Divorced in India

* Image via Wikipedia

is this a self help group, or a legal practice...

Image via Wikipedia

So a couple of weeks back we had our first hearing at the court.

If you want to get divorced in India – make sure its mutual. If its not – then my lawyer says,

“The only party who benefits is the lawyers.”

Sooner or later – and egos ensure it is later – you will realise it is not worth the trouble and wish it was mutual.

It was around 7 months ago that we realised that our decade long marriage couldn’t be salvaged. It had been on the rocks for four years and while there was no cheating or extra-marital affair – there were the little things that were actually the big things. The value differences. The expectations. Whoever says that love conquers all hasn’t really tried marriage to a person with a very different value system.

Back to the subject of the post. A friend referred me to a lawyer and we both met him. He was pretty cool. Said that he’d have to say  that we had been living apart for a year at least – and then we’d have two hearings in front of the judge – 6 months apart. And that was something he couldn’t influence. The Supreme Court has that as an order. Yes, the law can be an ass.

So we went to the judge one Saturday morning. Surrounded by other couples – not all of them going through a “mutual separation” – heard accusations of domestic cruelty and of one spouse turning up and no word from the other.

When our turn came – the judge only spoke to our lawyer (for the purpose of the hearing we needed to have separate lawyers – and our lawyer had got an additional lawyer before the hearing – and got him to prepare what is called a “vakalatnama”) and then much anti-climatically he looked at the papers then enquired about the address proof and then passed it to the clerk to give us the next date after six months.

That’s it.

I discovered that unlike Hindi movies lawyers don’t call Judges “Mi Lord” – in NCR they call them “Janaab” 🙂

So that was it. I was semi-divorced (or semi-married) as I signed the court papers – and will be until the next hearing.

The Economics Of Modern Relationships

There’s a wealth of information available on how to engineer a romance. There’s more than enough paraphernalia on spicing up, sorting out, energizing, smoothing, creating and sustaining sex lives. But how about that one major thing that apparently a lot of couples struggle over? Money, money, money is the big elephant in every relationship room.

We know human behavior and societal attitudes take time to change. As it were, we’re caught in that transitory place, between ‘woman’s-place-in-kitchen’ structures and equal opportunity thinking. The impact of this on us as individuals, as familial units and as couples, is for another debate. But money is here and now. The strain of unresolved issues, of conflicting value systems and of confused roles is being borne by us every minute.

Let’s start with the most obvious. In a modern-day, equally independent dating scenario, who should pay? There seems to be an awkward, uneasy impasse with some women offering to share, unsure of whether this will be interpreted as ungraciousness or its opposite. Even men who’re otherwise liberal-minded stop at saying they like it when a woman offers but eventually they feel they need to pay. It is expected. And no minus points when the woman doesn’t even offer.

Zoom out a bit to look at the other logistics of a date. At the end of the date, the return journey home prioritizes the woman. Sure, the streets are slightly safer for a man going about alone than a woman. But how about the start, that usually happens earlier in the evening or day? How many dates see a woman picking a man up from his place or a select destination? Isn’t it almost always the man coming to pick her up? If you think that’s got nothing to do with money, consider the fact that the man may be traveling right across the city (and twice, counting the return). That’s his money and time (which equates to money, right?)

Gift-giving, that’s another thing. I love giving gifts to people I like. Not birthday gifts or wedding anniversary ones but the I-thought-of-you-when-I-saw-this variety. Most men I’ve given gifts to, have received them with pleasure. But this is often followed by an uneasy, feet-shuffling sense that they need to reciprocate. This in itself, is the nature of gift giving between human beings. But in a man-woman situation, it seems like the man feels compelled to reciprocate with gifts of at least equal value, if not more. When money comes into the picture is when the spirit of gifting goes well and truly out of the window.

And finally, once you’re in a relationship, what then? There are now two wallets at the table but it is almost always the man who signs the credit card slip. That is an odd sort of hat-tip to an archaic notion of the man always paying. I think I’m more acutely aware of this because of how I grew up. My mother balances the books and manages the family accounts. Thus, on outings, almost always, she’s the one who hands out the payment. She’s also the one who lists out the table order. In all these years though, I’ve never once seen hand the bill to anybody by my father. This same system follows me uncannily when I go out with the boy. Despite the fact that I’m the only audible voice at the table, perusing the menu, advising on dishes and placing the order, the bill is never given to me!

There seem to be an alarming number of what I call Farcical Modern Couples. I know of one where the wife is older and runs an unconventional but successful business. Her husband has a regular, if not nondescript job with a multinational company. Post marriage, the business continues to run with one difference. She works hard at it, he runs the accounts with a tight fist. She needs his permission to buy even the smallest trinket for herself. They live in one of the poshest parts of the city and speak the ‘cool’ lingo. It just gets disturbing to see that the branded purse that the lady carries, is monitored by her husband.

Then there was another couple on a cross-Europe tour that included an 8-hour flight layover. One of the foreign banks offered the services of a luxury lobby for their customers. Despite this couple being in possession of an account, they sat it out in the main waiting room. All because the name on the credit card was the wife’s and not the husband’s. In many respects, they are a high-flying couple that has an expansive enough lifestyle to warrant preferred bank relationships, international flights and luxury lobbies. But in thought (only glimpsed in this action), they’re no different from their counterparts of about a 100 years ago.

These misnomers aside, most modern couples must figure out some system of expense division. One couple I know, splits all their outgoing down in half and pays back dues at the end of the month. Another couple has allocated different expenses to each person and pays them off accordingly. Nobody actually talks about these things. I have a feeling that even couples who practice some sort of fair-expense-division, feel like they’re imposing an artificial, over-logical construct on something that should be above such petty matters. Personally, I don’t understand the embarrassment over talking money in a relationship. Isn’t it a universal truth that you can’t live on love & thin air alone? How about we contemporize that to ‘You can’t live on romcom dates & self-help conversations alone.’ If you’re sharing a meal, you gotta split the bill too.

The Princess/ Professional Dichotomy

*Image via MicrosoftOffice

The woman who can’t decide if she wants to be the Nice Girl or the Business Skirt

There is a certain kind of woman that I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of, in the past decade. I found her right after I started working. This woman may hold down any job, from adwoman to pilot to salesgirl to journalist. She’s got the degrees, the skill set and even the resume. She’s confident, can speak the right jargon (in business situations) and lingo (in social situations). She may also have the other requisite paraphernalia for being a Superwoman, such as a cool hobby, an offbeat alternate career, a with-it social circle, a quirky love life and the mandatory ‘progressive’ outlook on gender equality.

On my first job, my company hired a bunch of people for a short-term assignment after an interview process. During the actual project, the woman in charge of managing a front desk was found combing her hair (at that very desk). When questioned about the whereabouts of certain materials that she was responsible for, she looked bewildered and said, “I don’t know”. My cutting (and in retrospect, harsh) reply was, “You have two hands, two legs & a head. Hopefully you have a brain too. You were hired to use all of them.”

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

There is the weaseling out of uncomfortable situations such as being pulled up for bad (or incomplete) work, by crying. You would think it’s easy to tell what kind of woman would break down if you pointed out a mistake on her report. But this is not the pretty, dainty princess sort. This is the toughie, ‘I can hold my own’ sort who ambushes you with an emotional response. It’s all the more difficult to handle such a situation because you never saw it coming. We deal with people along the equations that are set in place based on power dynamics & social roles. This particular situation means the woman abruptly changes all those, leaving you weaker to respond.

And finally there’s the kicker of turning to male support. Personally, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about having to ask a guy for help. I admit this may be an ego issue, since I’ve had to take offense so often against sexist remarks. But there’s nothing permissible about a professional who needs ‘rescuing’ on account of her gender.

Recently, I went on a short trip out of the city. The tour was organized by a young lady, who seemed full of bright ideas and budding talent. She’s a musician, who quit a corporate job to start a travel tours company with some friends. She was confident, articulate and enthusiastic. She was also charming, at ease with new people and seemed like she’d be able balance all the varying demands of these jobs well. The trip went completely off because of mismanagement of time and as it turned out, people. Each episode was dismissed with a smiling nonchalance. When things came to a head, she shrugged and said, “What can I do now? Just chill out yaar.” Shortly after, one of the male guests turned up to speak on her behalf. Thereafter, it was up to him to sort out the various glitches that had occurred because she had not done her job properly. Even if he did not have any problem with having to do this, he could not be held accountable for any issues that came up from the mismanagement or the superficial solutions that were offered. The lady in question quite literally shrugged it all off, putting it down to other people being difficult.

A number of situations like this have me saying, “I would never hire her!” which comes across as harsh & judgemental. But I am a certain kind of professional, the kind that thinks commitment to work & earning respect are gender-irrespective. If I demand equality in recruitment processes & in salaries, I don’t feel like I can ask for gender concessions while working. Besides being unfair, how can I expect any sort of respect if I do that?

Women like this weaken my stand, both within the professional setup (if they work with me) and for my gender. It’s hard enough to assess whether a woman is going to turn out this way. What’s even harder is the assumption that because I’m a woman, I should condone anything from another woman. There are the allegations of my sex being the proverbial crabs in a pot, not wanting other women to shine. Then there are accusations of being a bitch, as a boss or as a customer. And finally, there’s the assumption that I don’t truly believe in women’s liberation since supposedly, I don’t ‘support’ women in the workplace.

What I’m wondering is, when did equality end at rights and stop being about responsibility as well? I’m asking does the requirement of professionalism not apply to women, just because they’re women? And why at all should I have any respect for these women who’re just using feminism as a convenient excuse to write off sloppiness, laziness, irresponsibility and bad attitudes?

On the other side, I also have to admit that most women struggle with early-imposed notions of being ‘Nice’. At the most basic level, I think it’s important for every woman who goes out to work, to question what being a professional really means. I want to believe that it has nothing to do with popularity stakes and everything to do with getting the job done right.

Goddess

Image by xwelhamite via Flickr

From the idea-archives. Seven years and the world still has still me up on a pedestal. This isn’t what womanpower is about. No, I’m not Durga, I’m not Kali (even when I’m angry), I’m not Lakshmi, I’m not Saraswati (I’m just smart), I’m not Shakti. I’m just me.

“I drag reluctant feet through a day that seems too long
I trudge through the slime of bad moods and depression to the little islands of intelligence and coherent thought
I fidget uncomfortably in the chair and remember too late that I’m wearing white
I dodge nausea, hot flashes and giddiness with the armour of a painted face and a perfect coiffure
And I suppress the impulse to show the jeering crowd in the truck just what I think of their admiration.

I am bewildered by the sudden surge of joy
I surrender to a wave of hysterical laughter
Then I cover it up with a sarcastic remark
And frown to pull back the sheet of dignity over my exposed lunacy
After all, womanhood is in celebration this week.

I listen with a compassion I know I don’t normally feel….or allow myself to.
I ignore the nagging voice of “I’m tired” and clamp down on the “I hate the world”
I throw out the dinner and then sneak back at 2 a.m. for a bar of chocolate and a banana
And as I lie down, I feel a thousand flame-tipped arrows pricking my skin
Outside my window, the drums are beating out an ode to the glory of womanhood

I close my eyes and sigh
Hello to my monthly visitor
Damn the pedestals…
If this is what being a goddess is, the world can keep its glory.”

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