Monthly Archives: November 2011
I wonder if, at some point in the relationship, a woman feels more like a single mother than a girlfriend/wife. I know I certainly do. And I have one of the good ones. He’s not abusive, he doesn’t cheat, he’s not a male chauvinist. And yet, here I am.
I’ve refrained from talking about my relationship, except in very general terms on this blog. It is after all, a source (and showcase) of my work. It doesn’t feel very professional to do that. But then, my profession as a blogger/writer, is to talk about my personal life and what I draw from the events in it.
Here’s me saying, I’m exhausted. I wasn’t prepared for this. I went through my childhood being groomed to be a good wife and even an adarsh daughter-in-law some day. Along the way, education & exposure added their double-edged knives of modern thought and also high expectations of the opposite sex. I signed up to be a modern girlfriend, an equal partner. Nothing was said about the duties of a babysitter/complaint register/personal secretary/housekeeper/nurse.
There is the kind of pressure that’s obvious, that rams at you like a megaton truck, flattening you in its sheer force. That’s what we ‘modern’ types speak out against, the social stigma attached to a woman’s deviation from the norm, the enforced stereotypes and the over harsh punishment to those who stand out.
Then there’s the kind of pressure that the West has labelled passive-aggressiveness. There are only two people in a relationship. If one shies away from issues, it automatically falls to the other person to handle them. If one partner refuses to acknowledge that there is an issue, it still means that the other person has to deal with it, on top of carrying the elephant in the room.
There is more to life and indeed, a relationship, than having a good time. And when it comes to those routine, mundane realities, a relationship is supposed to feel like a team. Chores are nobody’s idea of fun. But lapses in performing them signify a bigger problem than is obvious. There’s the chore itself that has to be performed by the other person, in addition to their own. There’s constantly having to look over one’s shoulder, the niggling back-of-mind concern over whether it gets done. And more often than not, when things are not done when they’re supposed to, they get harder. How is all of this not a problem??
If I have to hear, “I’ve had a hard day at work!” one more time, I swear I’m going to scream. Because my day begins the minute I wake up and doesn’t end till I’m ready to drop dead. Most days, even with that, there are things left undone. I don’t get weekends off from managing the house, monitoring the service staff. There are no sick days off from being the subject of everyone’s scrutiny on my dressing, my life choices, my career, my looks and anything else possible. My family and friends don’t recognize ‘I am tired’ as a valid excuse for not being a daughter & friend. Hell, I can barely get away with that even when I’m flowing blood & the hormones are having a party in my head. I’m a woman and that’s my job. It comes with no perks, no respite, no bonuses and no accolades from anybody at all.
The temptation to chuck career, dreams and everything else that it’s possible to, simply to let up the pressure, is overwhelming. But that’s a lose-lose situation. Quit all these things and I lose the right to a strong opinion, the voice of a ‘Modern Woman’.
There are days when I feel like the only way I can stay sane is to assume that I’m with someone who is less than me. That’s the only way I can justify having to take more responsibility, worry more and do more and still care about someone who is neither touched by the same sense of responsibility nor emphatic to my stress. It’s easiest to believe that I’m dealing with a child.
Imagine that. I’m a single mom without ever having been pregnant.
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I did write this poem. But that was years ago. Even if it is still true (and dare I think, relevant), it doesn’t end there. Let’s look at the Modern Woman again, shall we?
Is she a bitch? Is she a leader? Is she a feminist? Is she a better friend? Is she an equal in bed? Is she the hot new consumer segment? Is she the bread-winner? Is she an Earth Mother? Is she a slut? Is she the new Man? Perhaps she is all of these. Maybe she’s the opposite and more. All of those are stereotypes of gender and other things. But the Modern Woman isn’t a certain ‘type’ of woman. She is the rejection of typecasting. She’s every kind of woman that it is possible to be. She’s the freedom of being able to be whoever she wants.
The Modern Woman is a work in progress. She’s what’s here, after resisting archaic social structures. She’s the unlearning of old ways of being and formulating new responses. She’s the creation of new situations after scrubbing every old practice to retain what’s still valuable and adding some new stuff on it. That’s not confusion, that’s just evolution.
No doubt, it can seem confusing that there are as many definition of what constitutes a Modern Woman as there are women. But why not? One of the most oppressive social artefacts was that womanhood had to sit neatly in one (or more) set constructs. I should be free to define womanhood in my own way and live by that. Every woman should be able to do that.
Personally, I think being a woman is just a matter of body plumbing. And, okay, a Modern Woman is being able to be a real person, despite the social pressure to fit oppressive stereotypes. To me, that translates to not needing to hide my intelligence, ambition, ruthlessness and practicality. Equally, it’s also not having to hide my vulnerability, my softness and my emotions. Being a Modern Woman, for me, is so much about being honest and not ashamed of it. But that’s my definition and it need not, should not have to, apply to any other woman on the planet, unless she chooses.
After all, what makes a real man? There are still some who’d think that has to do with controlling women. And there are those who think it’s the exact opposite. And there are yet others who believe it’s got nothing to do with either. I want the freedom to make that choice about my gender, too.
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If you liked this post, also read:
“To all girls who die for a ‘ZERO FIGURE’, Sweetie remember real men go for curves, only dogs go for bones.”
I looked it up and found a Facebook page even dedicated to this ’cause’. I don’t have a problem with the statement itself. I just think that it misses the point.
Size zero is the fashion-friendly euphemism for anorexia (or dangerous inclination to it). Certainly there are more women falling prey it to. What’s really alarming is that it’s going down the age ladder as well, with younger and younger girls grappling with body image issues at an age when their worries shouldn’t extend beyond crushes and marksheets.
Let’s examine this at its root. The impossible notion of beauty is being foisted on us by popular media, fashion gurus and the beauty industry. This includes fair skin, light-coloured hair and the bizarre size notions of barely-there waists, hips and thighs. It’s the cause for unhealthy diets, starving and purging (inducing vomitting after eating).
But you know something? It’s not physical. In order for a human being who is normally curvaceous to get to the hallowed size zero, the ideal has to have penetrated to a frenzied level, which takes it into the realm of the mind. The size zero issue is an issue of self-esteem, not one of body measurements. Victims of anorexia are known to have distorted perceptions of their bodies.
Now let’s look at that statement, in context. It may be true that men prefer curves to angles. First of all, that’s a fact that’s been parotted out for decades now and it still hasn’t stopped women from wanting thin bodies by dieting, exercising, surgery, drugs, smoking or purging. Secondly, even if it does have immediate impact on a size zero-obsessed woman, I fear that this is a superficial, if not foolhardy solution.
If a woman is starving herself to achieve an impossible notion of beauty, it is because she values what someone else tells her about her body over her own self. To tell her that a man actually likes her body another way is simply diverting that desperate need for outside validation from one source to another. Now, whether she gets her cues from Cosmopolitan or from the men in her life, isn’t it just as unhealthy?
Here’s another dimension to that above ’cause’. I’m a thin woman and fat doesn’t stick to me. I come from a lineage of lean people, male and female. I am a small eater but I’m medically fit and normal in my food habits. Does this mean that I should feel less than beautiful because I don’t have the curvaceous ideal that men desire? Should I feel like a second-class citizen because I’m a skinny woman in a land of well-endowed women? Any look can be disparaged and I’m sure the phrase, “She looks like a thirteen-year-old boy” isn’t unfamiliar.
I respect my body because it functions in every respect. I value my body because it is mine. I feel beautiful regardless of whether popular media or the men in my life think so. And you know something? When I believe it, the world does too. I know this because I’ve experienced body image issues too and I’ve come out of it on the other side – feeling beautiful and happy. That had nothing to do with measurements or validation and everything to do with looking into my mirror, thinking,
“Hey gorgeous, aren’t you lucky to be you?”
One of my golden relationship dictats is to never mix one’s professional and personal lives. I’m going to add one to that –
‘Don’t confuse your partner’s friends for your own.’
This is not a cynical, angry statement (along the lines of “You don’t make friends in b-school, only future colleagues & competitors”). Indeed, I’ve written about the joys of getting along with the partner’s friend. I’ve also detailed the curious picture of a ‘best friend couple’. I stand by those two, based as they are, on real people and situations in my life.
However, I am coming to believe that in order to keep things clean and simpler for everyone in the long run, perhaps some lines (albeit artificial) need to be drawn. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the heartache of a relationship with a friend and one of the most devastating things about it, was the quandary into which it plunged our common friends. Custody battles for friendship are no less ugly than those for children & possessions of an estranged couple.
What happens when you don’t have common friends? There is a normal process of getting to know each other’s circles and finding a place within them. Here’s where my newfound pearl of wisdom comes in. Friction is an integral part of any relationship and the possibility of parting ways is never exactly zero. In addition, the complex process of building a life with another person, doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially those of us in the uber-individual, nuclear-family society of today. At such a time, the urban family of friends and trusted confidantes serve to provide perspective and even wisdom in handling each situation.
All of this just gets complicated beyond control, if the same people (or person) must be called upon to provide perspective to both parties in a relationship. I think, at some level, anyone in this situation would feel that they need to take one side over the other and the choice is almost always (and should) the person they’ve known longer.
What happens when you’ve become friends with your partner’s friends (or think you have) and then discover that they choose your partner over you? Any fair-minded person would agree that this is natural and above reproach. On the other hand, when you trust someone and they take the other person’s side, it feels like they’ve chosen to stand against you; like they reject you. Another mess that only accentuates any natural conflict you may have with your partner.
Let me turn that around. I am always happy when a close friend of mine gets along well with my partner. However, I must admit, I also need to know that when it comes down to it, they have my back. This is irrespective of what situation I face, and tomorrow (or whenever) that situation may be against my partner. I do need to know that my friends are on my side, firmly and without doubt.
I am going to conclude that this is one of the many aspects of the space that is crucial to any relationship. There are things that it is necessary to retain at an individual level, to not share, for the very good of the relationship. Perhaps close friendship is one of them.
You know what I find most burdensome, about being a woman? It’s the black-and-white nature of options available to me. It’s true that women’s liberation has brought reprieve to all my gender. We are not anymore constricted to the stifling role of a ‘little woman’. But this doesn’t mean that we’ve been liberated. We’ve just been given a choice of cages to live in, not all of them golden.
I attended the launch of ‘A Bad Boy’s Guide To The Good Indian Girl‘ by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra recently. I finished the book in one night and it served to crystallize what I’ve felt for many years. There is the most common box of ‘Good Girl’ that every Indian girl is typecast in, at birth, with family & society doing their darndest to keep her there for the rest of her life.
But here’s what. Even if she does break out of that restricting definition, she simply falls headlong into another one. I’ve broken a few of the ‘Good Girl’ rules myself, opting to not mask my natural assertiveness and my ambition. Thus I’ve gotten slotted in another mold of ‘Career Woman’ (or occasionally ‘Pushy Bitch’). Now I find I’m constantly battling notions that I:
- should be an overachiever, in a meaningful job that pays well
- always be 100% sure, confident and in control
- be intelligent, sparkling, entertaining and ‘with it’
- do not like or care about family
- do not like kids or feel maternal
- do not feel sentimental or feel ashamed when I do
Would one attribute such notions to a man who was gregarious and ambitious? It is possible to see a man who throws himself into life as it comes along and loves hard, works hard, isn’t it? Why is it so hard to do that with me, then? Then, has women empowerment actually given us wings or has it just substituted one cage for another?
There is a certain attitude I sense in people when they learn about my relationship, a certain, ‘You are so lucky!’ followed by the assumption that I must be thrilled since my life’s ambition has been fulfilled. It is not I don’t feel lucky or happy; both of us do. But I resent the implicit assumption that my life is about bagging the right guy and feeling triumphant for having landed one. That’s insulting both to me and to my relationship.
How about the automatic understanding that comes the way of men when they feel ‘not ready for a marriage right now’? These are laughed off with a wink and even a subtle impression that it’s the normal man thing to feel. But I say it’s not. Apprehension before a major step is a human thing, not a male thing. It’s our bodies’ internal signals alerting us to the possibility of a situation that we need to be prepared for. Why then, does everyone assume that always know my mind and that my life proceeds smoothly without glitch? Why is my confusion always attributed to my ‘just being difficult’?
I don’t feel like I’m treated equal to men when I’m given no room for mistakes, no leeway for confusion, no space for undefinable emotions, ideas and actions. I struggle with many roles, even the ones that fit me well such as the CareerWoman or the EarthMother. I struggle when they conflict. I struggle when they all come together. But most of all, I struggle with the fact that they exist, these neat little boxes into which I’m supposed to package my personality, my dreams, my emotions, my identity and indeed, my life. When did life ever let itself be organized so neatly?
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