Category Archives: Battle of the sexes
Good ol’ Women vs. Men pow-wow
Should gender matter in friendship? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself my whole life. After all, gender is a social set of rules (a construct as some call it). Some people follow the rules more vehemently than others. Rules exist to contain & direct human behaviour and almost always they make life easier for some, at the cost of others. It means our lived experiences are very different because even as we share a planet, we inhabit very different worlds.
Friendship is my favorite bond with other people. I love that it allows for affection, inspiration, companionship, shared ideas, varied experiences & just fun. It’s the relationship with the fewest rules & most flexibility to accomodate individual preferences & personalities. But the rules of being a man also dictate the rules of being a woman. So my very identity is challenged by associations with men.
I’ve seen my male friendships evolve in 15 years & it’s not just because I’ve changed. Men used to vehemently reject me unless I embraced the role of sex object/sexless punching bag. Friendship was treated like an insult, something I couldn’t fathom since men seemed to be such good friends with other men. Feminism helped me identify ‘the friendzone’ as the entitled, misogynist concept it was.
In my 30s, younger men became part of my worldview (as they became adults). They make for more meaningful friendships. We talk about about work that inspires us, love that moves us, art that touches us, experiences that pleasure us. I am an actual person & not just a service role in these associations (though yes, I sometimes fall into being ‘mommy figure/therapy person’ roles). I don’t know how much of it is because they don’t see me as a desire object because of the age difference & how much is evolving masculinity. But it’s different & I like it.
Friendships with men are still different because of their worldview. What’s changed is, friendship is possible now.
I had a bad relationship with food & men. Being female meant being food provider. Social rules turned to acid in my stomach. Eventually they’d pour out of my mouth as bilious words, undigested pressure. I asked shaadi boys if they could cook before their moms could ask me. No answers.
I had a boyfriend I’d meet in hipster coffeeshops that boasted antique furniture & wine lists. He introduced me to rose wine, said he was bisexual, and that it was a test. Clearly I passed. The first time I stayed over, I awoke worried. I could play the part of stylish date but the morning after? Relax, he said, I’ll make breakfast. What would he present? Silver cutlery? Obscure Swedish fish? He brought out toast covered in melted cheese, topped with raw capsicum. I hate capsicum. “Is it ok?” he asked, nervously. I took a bite. It was horrible. “Lovely” I said. There’s more to romance than taste.
A friend & I went to lunch. He placed an order that prompted me to say I was a small eater. Even for a guy with huge muscles it seemed A LOT. I smiled, remembering a college superstition that a man’s appetite is an indicator of his libido. 30min later, I realised I’d eaten all his food. He grinned. He’d heard the superstition too. He’d send me pics of his cooking when we couldn’t meet.
“Spend the day with me at home” said another date. He spent the afternoon cooking as we talked. He let me chop garlic. Come evening, I said I was hungry. The slowcooker would need another hour he said. I settled for leftover beef. When the slowcooked chicken ishtew was ready, I was still eating. It was a quiet pause after the drama of beef. As I chewed, I found the salt. The onions he shooed me out of the kitchen for so he wouldn’t have to see me cry. The garlic I’d chopped. I looked up. The cook must be fed with validation. “Perfect” I said. He’d ensure there was beef each time we met. That act of consideration sweetened the bitter words that passed between us later.
Learning to receive was a gift that opened me up to the joy & generosity of someone cooking for you – traits I never associated with men. Men & food feel more wholesome now.
After I asked women to share instances when men apologized to them, I realised something stood in the way of men and the word SORRY. I want to believe men are as rational & feeling as women and can see the damage done by not taking responsibility for their actions.
So what makes it possible for some men to get past their conditioning, to value a woman’s feelings more than the ego they’ve been taught to nurture & take responsibility for causing hurt? I asked men. The answers brought me much insight into the act of apology.
It’s a learning process for men. As girls, we’re taught to fear many things, which also means to know the price of things. Because boys are brought up without being held accountable, the idea that there are consequences doesn’t occur. By adulthood, the inequality felt by girls has become the rage of women.
The men who do care & feel (which I want to believe is most) feel hit by a ton of emotional debt. A lot of men’s answers to my question were about being apologetic, in general. Not apologising for specific actions. I realised this is a distinction many men have yet to make.
To a woman receiving this, it sounds like shame, not apology. Shame is not useful in remedying a situation. Our own conditioning makes us want to protect men from feeling this uncomfortable emotion. During great upset, it’s awful to feel compelled to take care of someone else when one is wounded, especially by that same person.
When I’m hurt by a man, I want to hear him apologize for that action. Not for existing or for being a man. It’s why I ask “What are you sorry for?” I want him to take responsibility to set things right. I do not want to take responsibility to comfort him, to teach him what his feelings mean. Because that’s not fair on me, already hurt. Because it’s exhausting. And because in most cases, my hurt goes unresolved while he assumes the situation is ‘solved’ because he said sorry.
I don’t need a thousand apologies. So what does a woman need when a man hurts her? That’s the stuff of another post. Leave your thoughts in the comments because I’m still pondering this.
I asked women to tell me about a time a man apologised to them. Genuinely, taking responsibility for his actions/words, acknowledging damage done.
I received one story about an apology followed by remedying the situation. Another spoke about apologies becoming excuses to turn the blame onto her. One spoke of a true apology that nevertheless saw a repeat of the bad behaviour later, followed by more apologies. One said she couldn’t remember but she was sure she knew some men. If it’s so hard to think of a case, doesn’t it mean it’s too few and too little?
I received a lot of responses from women saying they had NEVER received an apology from a man and did not believe them capable of it. Which is what I want to focus on because that is the majority.
When I watched the film Thappad, I kept thinking “He didn’t apologise.” Not once. Yes, he’s a nice guy. Yes, he doesn’t do this all the time. But he did it that once and he never apologized. Everybody around colludes in ensuring he never has to. So the victim has no choice but to resort to the extreme of divorce.
Was it too much? Perhaps. Who is to blame? The person taking the action? Everyone who left them no choice? Or the person who created the issue in the first place who has still not taken action?
You cannot grant forgiveness to someone who isn’t sorry. And when forgiveness is demanded, it makes it hard to feel even empathy. An insult becomes exploitation.
Ever heard “Angrez chale gaye, sorry chod gaye”? Notice how it’s only used when uppercaste, wealthy men are called to account? Sorry is just a word in one language. But taking responsibility for oneself is universal to the act of being human.
We need to normalise men saying sorry. So many women lace their speech with “Sorry but…” apologising for existing, that it is a trope now. And so few men have apologised in their lives that most women can’t even remember a single instance. How is love, trust or respect to happen without it?
The test of a man is his willingness to take responsibility especially in a world that tells him he doesn’t have to.
I used to think of myself as ‘one of the boys‘, because I didn’t identify with how femininity was practised around me. I wanted to own my intelligence, my independence and strength the way I saw only boys do. I walked, talked and dressed in a close approximation of my male peers – dirty jeans, chunky boots and a loud voice steeling myself to incorporate crude speech. I didn’t get a lot of acceptance because gender roles are too deeply embedded in people’s minds. Other girls still saw me as competition for their boyfriends and the boys treated me like I was a defective female.
Once I started working, I was able to experience my personal power without having to dress it up so much. People took me seriously and held me as accountable. Through my 20s, I was able to embrace my softer side – sitting with my legs crossed, caring for my appearance, smiling over snarling, compliments instead of sarcasm. I had discovered I could be/do these without giving away my power.
Now I meet more women who practise my kind of femininity. Not the coy, simpering, bitchy-to-other-girls, defining oneself by one’s boyfriend/husband kind. But smart, independent women who don’t feel the need to hide it or tear me down. They’re also emotionally aware, not just apeing ‘maleness’. This kind of femininity is more acceptable now.
Occasionally a woman expects me to be her knight in shining armour – this is the old toxic femininity, acting helpless + expecting women to do all the work. It’s not perfect.
But I have more fulfilling conversations with other women now than I did before 30. Careers, health, poetry, architecture, sexuality and yes, men too – we talk like two humans would, not like scripts mouthed by strictly controlled prisoners.
Men, in comparison are rarely this interesting. There are exceptions but they’re a scant few. Conversations wth men often have to be ’emotionally dumbed down’. It’s tiring and not worth it when there are other more evolved humans called women.
I’ve come a long way from ‘one of the boys’. Right now I’m every bit a women’s woman. Or maybe, I’m my own person.
Play a game with me. Ready? Pick any one answer:
QUESTION: What do you call a guy who makes a call at 1:30AM stoned and drunk to a girl who said she was having a bad day at 11:30PM?
A. A thoughtful, considerate, caring person who is taking time off partying to help someone in need.
B. A booty call.
If you picked A, you’re either a) a guy or b) a girl who has been told by a lot of men that you’re a princess who will be looked after so long as you’re patient because all men are brave, thoughtful and here to serve you.
If you picked B, you’re a woman. You may have once been the princess detailed in A but you’ve been disappointed too many times.
There is a fundamental difference in how men and women construct a story based on the same sequence of events. The thing is the women who pick B are doing so based on undeniable patterns they’ve lived through. While the men who pick B are doing so, wilfully ignoring patterns they’ve themselves contributed to because it’s inconvenient. Well, maybe I’m just biased and that’s not a good thing for a game designer or a quiz maker.
I’ve had a few conversations this week with men I’m close to – articulate, thoughtful, intelligent men. One of them insists on tailoring our interactions to contract-level precision, complete with ‘Clause B states this’ style references. This is how he understands boundary-setting. He’d be appalled if I called it a loaded term like ‘tone policing’ but that’s how it feels to me. Another apologises every time he doesn’t have a solution for something I share. He thinks this is how he should be a feminist ally. I don’t know how to explain the distinction between empathy and blind agreement, between taking a stand and playing hero.
All of them say “I didn’t realise you’re waiting for me to do this.” about while also asking me to trust them. How to do this without opening myself to accusations of being controlling and mistrustful? I thought we’d agreed on this, now I’m supposed to deal with their disbelief that I’d actually expect them to follow through?
When I talk to one of them about the communication breakdown I’m having with another man, thinks that man is immature, emotionally limited and other such things. It wasn’t till I heard this denigration of the same behaviour in other men that I realised these statements were being made only to please me.
How do you talk to someone who is eager to please you but can’t hear a word of what you say? Me? I’ve screamed and yelled and raged. It is frustrating, especially when it feels deliberate. How is it possible for intelligent humans to completely miss what you’re saying? It seems like that can only happen if they’re not listening.
And yet, why does my validation and pleasing me matter so much? Please don’t comment telling me that these men want to sleep with me and will say what they have to for that. For a fact, that’s not true of some of them and I don’t care to explain how I know. Oh and also, that’s what one of them says about every other man exhibiting the exact same behaviour as himself.
All I know at the end of this frustrating set of interactions is that men and women don’t understand each other at all. It’s like we’re speaking two different languages that just happen to have the same alphabet. We’re coming away with entirely different conversations in our head. How then, can understanding happen?
Anybody? I’ll wait.
I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few men I’ve dated, echoed also in some of my male friends of similar age. They open with WORK FIRST. They’re managers, they’re artists, they’re performers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re chefs and architects and engineers. They’re all about how what they’re doing is priority, how it’s super important and how it will always justify standing you up, keeping you in limbo and more.
Don’t get me wrong. I like ambition and drive. I enjoy focus. And these are not bad men. I can see they genuinely believe what they’re saying. They also all come with transformation stories of how they used to be XYZ and how they’re trying to be better men.
It’s just that I’ve lived this life more than a decade ago. And even back then, I didn’t have the option of prioritising one over the other. I had to be good at work. I had to fit beauty, grooming and hygiene standards. I had to be a dutiful daughter, niece, granddaughter. I had to be the razor-sharp brain, the fire-in-belly corporate shark. I had to be marriageable material. And I had to be the fun, sexy date and eventually the prize girlfriend who listened and challenged but never competed. I’ve had three major careers and several boyfriends. I couldn’t have done all that without ambition or focus.
I realised yesterday that 20-something men are commitment-phobic for different reasons from 30-something men. Men in their 20s saw women and dating as fun. It was theirs for the taking, they were out of the strictures of college and their targets were being pressured to please men (with a view of landing a husband). They saw women as a buffet. Why settle on just one when there were so many up for the grabs and when they could walk away leaving behind what they didn’t feel like continuing on their plates?
30-something men in contrast, have usually gone through a few relationships, maybe even a marriage or live-in or two. They’ve been called to account to pay bills, to answer to bosses and investors and clients. And more recently feminism has them worrying about #MeToo, about alimony payments, about pregnancy scares. It’s suddenly hit them that relationships are work, that women won’t stay mute objects and that inconvenient things will happen if they just stumble around in the blind pursuit of fun. Work in contrast is single-minded. It’s easier to chase the tangibility of career goals than live in the amorphous, ego-defeating world of human relating. So it is Work First, Fun Later.
They still think they get to pick one thing to do at a time and the world waits patiently till they’ve figured out whether they want to do it and how to do it. And they’re refusing to acknowledge that relationships, sex and dating were always going to involve work, hard work. The work of undoing years of brutish callousness, the work of learning to listen and care about the wishes of another person, the work of remembering that they are not the center of the universe and living with the reality that nobody, absolutely nobody has to care about them.
I can see some of them realise this in flashes and then it’s like the realisation is too big and scary to cope with. So back they go to Work First, not from pure passion but because it feels like a safer refuge than a world that demands a lot and promises nothing.
I’m trying but I’m finding it very hard to feel empathy for this man. After all ‘demands a lot and promises nothing’ has described this very man my entire life. My generation of women, we’ve lived this life for more than a decade and are reaching a point of asking whether men are worth it. We’ve also survived divorces, live-ins. And we’ve done it while juggling bully in-laws, the glass ceiling and the violent face of the male ego. So umm, yawn.
Yes, there is the fact that younger women are turning adults. And the slightly sharp 30-something man realises that all he has to do is turn his sights towards the younger woman. While the younger women today are woke-r and slightly better equipped to question patriarchy, the fact is, it’s still going to take years for them to develop the kind of resilience and strength to challenge exploitation. So on to another decade of today’s 30-something men finding a different base of prey while telling themselves they’re ‘adulting’ with their careers.
None of this has much to do with ambition or focus. And it’s got everything to do with avoiding responsibilities, a trait that isn’t particularly conducive to either ambition or focus. It’s anybody’s guess what kind of work this breed of man turns out while managing to blunder through another decade of women.