Category Archives: Being Woman
Women. We are fed a steady diet of messages that other women are the enemy, that women can’t be friends, that women’s relationships with each other can only revolve around a man (Hello Anjali-Tina-Anjali of KKHH). The world looks at us as objects to be exploited and maximised for use. And we’re encouraged to suffer in isolation or succumb. The bonds between women are downplayed, disrupted and even villified.
Identity is a tug of war between a world hellbent on erasing me and one fragile body, one delicately built identity, one sensitive set of senses, one limited brain. I work very hard to keep my sense of self alive. It’s hard, bloody hard work. Every nasty barb, every attack by a rejected man, every thoughtless word by a distracted friend, every malicious act by a stranger who doesn’t care reminds me that the world doesn’t see me as a human being – only a charity box to take from, without thought.
I’m replenished every time @kavanchheda28 sends me a song in voice note, each time @sensorcaine tells me about a great book or building, each time @natashanoel001 says seek the orgasms you deserve, each time @shrinkfemale shines a gentle light in my dark mood.
It’s a toxic (traditionally masculine) idea to see strength as a solo trait. This validation between women doesn’t say anything about how strong we are. When your personhood is under constant attack, even before you have a fully formed body, let alone mind, every bit of reinforcement helps, even if it’s just a phrase we’ve heard before.
You deserve to exist. You are good. You are beautiful. You are love. You are power. You are joy. You are peace. You are all. The universe has a place for you.
We all need reminders. We all need solid golden words to combat the darkness. We all need each other.
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.
Navigating A Feminist Identity
Last evening was a series of odd events. It started when I was hosting an open mic. One of the performers ranted about being friendzoned, spewing vitriol on the woman and ended up calling the audience boring because nobody would applaud. While this person was still performing, someone tapped on my shoulder and said, “You’ve got to call this out. This is problematic.”
This was heartening to hear. I’ve soldiered on alone for so long, being called all kinds of evil names, it just felt so good to know someone else found this outrageous and demanded action. When he finished, the silence of the audience was deafening. My god, this is what I touched when I did a silent performance. The whole room voiced their discontent with this problematic piece without making a sound. It was more powerful than anything I could have said or done because the community policed itself.
As a vocal feminist in this very space, I’ve endured hostility & harassment for calling out shit like this. It has also become my calling card, with ‘Have You Met My Feminism?’ getting much more recognition than any of the other pieces I worked harder on. SXonomics was my middle ground, learning to temper my fire to be more sustainable. So I wondered how to handle the problematic performer. I was, after all hosting and it’s my responsibility to hold the space as safe and diverse with minimal silencing or hate.
I decided to let him finish rather than disrupt a performance and then call it out. When I went back on stage, I explained why friendzone was a problematic idea, keeping it as personal attack-free as I could. And then I moved on. But I wondered if I had been too mild about it. It’s hard enough deciding which battles to fight and the decision of how hard to fight is even worse. As I explained it to some of the others who were enraged, later, as a host I sought to encourage anyone performing and helping them navigate their problem areas (including gaps in thought). Many of them thought it was pointless but I figured it was always worth engaging until the other person made it absolutely impossible.
After the event was over, a girlfriend commented on the incident. And then she said another performer had told her she liked performing when I was hosting because I was especially supportive of women performers. But, my friend said, I managed to do it without belittling or neglecting the men. So up my spirits lifted again.
I closed the evening catching up with a male acquaintance. I started to tell him about the incident. “You get why friendzone is problematic, right? No? Okay, let me put it this way. Men are the ones who complain about being friendzoned.”
He interrupted to tell me women got friendzoned too. I said, but the complaining is by men. He agreed and fell quiet….for about 3 sentences before interrupting to mansplain what these guys are like. I asked if he knew who incels were. He didn’t but it didn’t stop him from interrupting me and mansplaining about what men like these were like. I managed to get a word in about the shooters in the US. But not before he started talking about his roommate, yelling about how lots of Delhi guys were nice people. The next 4 minutes (the time it took to walk the road) he kept shutting me down, interrupting, his voice getting louder and his stance getting more aggressive by the minute.
When it got to him shouting (yes shouting) about how everything about me was gender, I just went very quiet and then told him to drop it. You see, this person is not a close friend. He’s someone who contacted me based on my writing (which has all been very strongly feminist and about gender politics). I didn’t even want to bother dealing with this kind of disreputable behaviour anymore.
He didn’t seem to realise I was ending the conversation. I reiterated, “This is over. Go home. It’s late.” He sputtered and said, “You say I’m mansplaining? You…you are woman-shunning!” I walked away before he could say anything more. Angry men are dangerous men. Half an hour later, my phone was beseiged with foaming-at-the-mouth messages from him. I told him if he ever contacted me again, I would report him. And I blocked him.
I’m aware that there will be a lot of people who think I should have patiently heard him out and explained to him. Because after all, I did take that stance with the first problematic man. I even told the others who were angry with that guy, that the only hope we have is in engaging and keeping conversations going. But I also have to draw my boundaries and definitions.
Tolerating men’s bad behaviour till they decide to be better human beings is NOT my job (or any other woman’s). From experience I know such men never will make that decision. Engaging with someone who wants to learn – there’s some merit in that but it is still my prerogative to decide I don’t want to. And I have decided not to engage with anyone who throws tantrums or silences me – I don’t do that and I deserve better than to be treated that way.
And finally, I don’t have to do all of this alone. Maybe the world is changing or maybe I’m moving to parts of it that hold more solidarity with my values. The respect and camaraderie of several women (and some men) who feel the same way versus surviving lots of toxic men – it’s an easy choice when I look at it like that.
Patriarchy is a shutdown, silencing, a one-way order. Feminism is a conversation. And a conversation can only be two-way (or multi-way). It can only be between people willing to listen to the other. Anything else is not my business.
Last week, I was trolled about my looks. Some men friends said they liked how I look. The troll’s attack is based on the idea that a woman’s worth is in her looks and that anyone can boost/undermine it with words. My friends, however well-intentioned, were reinforcing that idea. Strangers like salespeople have felt entitled to comment on my dark skin and suggest ‘cures’. Romantic partners have been able to establish authority over me by calling me ugly, desperate and in need of their validation.
These were possible because my body has been seeded with fields of shame, ripe for whoever wants control over me. My nose shape, my bony frame, my foot size, my rounded tummy, my skin colour – these have been snatched from being my body organs/traits and turned into free access areas for other people to rule me. I say NO. My body, my rules.
My body image & self-esteem are not based on other people’s opinions. My body is mine, the only thing that truly is. It is my home, my vehicle, my canvas. It works in a way that enables me. It is beautiful because I say so. I refuse to let shame be a guest in this body. This is how I get to walk out of my home wearing bold lipsticks, sarees & hoodies, colours deemed too bright, hair considered too stylish, dresses called too slutty or young. My femininity, my beauty, my sexuality, my identity – these are not for anyone else to judge. They are what I say they are. Body Pride because it is my right.
When you feel shame over something that you can’t control (like your body), remember it is external. It’s a festering wound someone else inflicted on you. Wash that wound of foreign bodies like other people’s words. Clean it by distancing yourself from people who would wound you (deliberately or not). Tend it to it by remembering the ways your body serves you well. Heal by honoring all that you are and have, just as they are. Cauterize your vulnerability to other people’s opinions because yours is the only one that matters.
Twenty-six years ago on this date, I had my first period.
It must have been a Sunday or a Thursday (my school weekly holiday) and I had gone swimming with my father in the morning. I came home and changed into my favorite white cotton frock with a gigantic sash at the back that made me look like I actually had some curves, which I totally didn’t. And then my mother called me to the bathroom and held up my panties with streaks of red on them.
Of course, I knew what a period was by that time. My mother had given me the facts because as she put it, she had been terrified she was going to die when she had her first period and didn’t want me to go through that. My education had comprised this diagram and an instruction to keep one eye on the calendar every month for ‘those days’.
At the start of the year, my school had devoted a whole week to Sex Education. Unfortunately, I missed it because I was in Chennai attending my grandmother’s death anniversary function. I returned to one of my close friends yelling at me from across the class that I’d missed Sex. I sniffed and pretended that such things were beneath me.
My mother was extra worried about my not getting my periods. I was already in tenth standard. I think she forgot that I was a year younger than everyone else in class and that girls getting their periods as young as 9, were still considered aberrations and not the norm. I’d already seen a number of specialists, my picky eating habits, my early onset of allergies and my skinny frame discussed at length by the adults.
One of my mother’s friends believed that wearing black when I got my first period would be inauspicious (a belief system that would also later keep me out of temples, the kitchen and touching new clothes during my periods). So I didn’t own a single garment in black for three years. My paternal grandmother had advised that the clothes I was wearing when I got my first period would have to be discarded and never worn again by another person.
All these conversations stacked up in my head as I stood in the bathroom with my mother, looking at my period-streaked panties. They were not black, so the red showed up clearly. My swimming costume was a fiery orange, a colour I really liked. There were no streaks on the it but that went into the never-to-be-worn-again list. And just to be safe, the cotton dress I was wearing, my favorite one was listed in that too. I really wish I hadn’t had to give up that pretty dress.
I was made to sit in the bathroom and have oil dripped on my head with some kind of a religious ritual, presided over by my maternal grandmother who happened to be visiting. My father booked a trunk call to my extended family and after exchanging a few pleasantries said,
“One good news. Ramya became a big girl today.”
In the evening, we went out shopping. I was bought not one but two new dresses, one by my parents and one by my grandmother. Later in the night, my father told me I didn’t have to go to school the next day. I didn’t want to miss school. I couldn’t wait to tell my girlfriends that I had finally joined their ranks after the years of talking about what a period felt like. I said no, I’ll be okay tomorrow. I know a period is not sickness. But dad said, you’ll still feel tired. Take tomorrow off. And so I did.
I heard about how ‘in smaller villages’, girls were stopped from going to school after they got their periods. I was told about distant aunts and even cousins who had had elaborate functions on their first period. My father scoffed and called it ‘parading the fresh baby-making machine that’s just become available so put in your bids’ ritual. I felt relieved I hadn’t been subjected to that public spectacle. And in hindsight, I guess I’m glad I didn’t have to go to school the next day. Schoolgirls have their own hierarchy of cruelty and it hadn’t gone unnoticed that I was the last girl in class to not shuffle awkwardly or be found in the toilets crying over a stained uniform.
So many things have happened since that day, on my menstrual journey. I went from belted sanitary napkins (the latest menstrual technology at that time) to stick-ons and period panties to the slim Whisper generation. I briefly dallied with tampons but I just didn’t like the idea of shoving a dry cotton wad into my insides. And finally, the menstrual cup a few years ago and my creative work on menstrual health awareness.
I’ve now been a menstruating human longer than a non-menstruating one. I’m also closer to menopause than the start of my periods. I know getting your period is only one point in the journey of being a woman. But so many thoughts, cultural, religious and social are associated with this milestone. This day wasn’t the first time I felt the weight of my gender label nor the distance from my male peers. But it became a reference point.
I guess it would be fair to say my journey as a woman started on this day, twenty-six years ago. So, today is the one day it’s alright to wish me a Happy Period Day.
I’ve returned to thinking about men and romantic relationships after a nearly two year hiatus. There was just so much going on with other things, health, work and family that my inclinations had all but dried up.
To date, a woman needs one very important thing – the willingness to see herself as incomplete – not less or diminished, just incomplete in one area. This makes it possible for her to seek completion in that area – pondering what her needs are, looking for ways to complete it. When I’m facing a crisis of a kind, I go into survival mode. It’s similar to the phone’s Battery Saver mode where all but the most fundamental needs are ignored.
Around my 40th birthday I realised I’d hit a two year mark of feeling this way, a fact only revealed by my lack of love life. The last time I had this realisation was at 30 when I realised I had nothing in my life but my career (no health, no time for family or friends, no hobbies that made me happy). It felt like a good time to revive myself.
I’ve been on the dating apps for a couple of months now. It is dreadful, the levels of inarticulation and entitlement presented by the male species present there. It’s very frustrating to be the minority gender (so, in-demand and powerful, right? wrong) and have to wade through oodles of emotionally stunted, verbally deficient, waste of cells and digital bytes posing as human beings, hoping for a connection. I keep going off them and returning when my hope and soul feel renewed.
But I’ve met a few people, especially recently. And I’ve chatted with more of them. I may even have felt something. It is promising. Stay tuned, maybe it’s not men-o-pause for me yet.
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’ve been swimming pretty regularly of late. I love swimming. It’s my favorite physical activity of them all. Yes, ALL.
There is the fitness angle, of course. But I’ve tried yoga, cycling, aerobics, running, gymming and none of them quite fit me as well as swimming does (though yoga and cycling could tie for second place). With my shape and size, I have a body made for swimming. But also swimming made my body. I was diagnosed somewhat late with severe allergies that I was probably born with. The first decade of my life I spent struggling through undetected health issues that would flare up into more serious things. Injections, medicines and absentee notes were a common occurance for me. I started swimming a little after I had my tonsils removed (which may have been the bigger factor in my health improvement). Swimming taught me how to regulate my breathing, how not to panic when I couldn’t feel the oxygen pouring into my lungs after what felt like forever. If you’ve never had respiratory problems, you will never understand how terrifying this is and how every breath is a blessing. Swimming rescued my body from constantly feel sick.
But also, swimming taught me that my body was not defective. It was the first time I was good at something physical. Up until then, I had been the smart kid, the brainy bookworm that was good at maths and science and languages, who also did well with drawing and when I wasn’t sick, singing. But the playground, the track, the football field — these were places where I was the rejected one, the one everyone wished would have been absent that day so they didn’t have to put me on their teams. I was young for the class so everyone else was bigger (which to a kid, means better), more talented at sports, cooler and prettier (thanks to really bad teeth). But swimming let me be actually good at something that involved racing, length, speed and grace. Swimming did and still does make me feel beautiful and right in my own skin.
Now, as an adult how does it factor in with the beauty/body messaging I’ve picked up (and inculcated)? I deal with my share of opposition from the beauty/body-shaming industry. It starts with everything about how swimming makes one’s skin black (not true), goes on to the evils of dried out hair (yes true but I’m lucky), continues to the ill-effects of cholorine/ ‘chemicals’ on skin (debatable especially on the chemicals bit since all cosmetics are also, scientifically speaking, chemical) and ends with the classism of how disgusting it is to share body fluids with strangers. Maybe you believe all this. Maybe it is even true. But when breathing has been a struggle (one you’ll never forget), these things fall away in the face of that one activity that has given you reprieve.
It didn’t take me too long to kit up. I now have my swimbag that contains my gear (suit, goggles, cap), towel, hair-and-body wash, aloe vera gel, comb and lip balm. My peripheral going-swimming outfit has its own mini-wardrobe with sporty shorts, athleisure teeshirts and my own brand of quirk with headbands or socks. These have me in the mood to strip down and feel water-on-skin in the way that feels more normal than land and air, to me.
My favorite time to swim is in the late evening, after sunset. For one, the sun isn’t beating down on my back or in my eyes when I surface. Secondly, there aren’t thousands (okay, exaggeration) of squealing kids spreading out across lanes. Thirdly, the water is the right temperature. Fourthly, everyone in the pool is in a more sombre, adult mood, sticking to their own lanes, willing to match a dive or a lap occasionally without getting clingy or competitive. I could go on but suffice to say, I like it because I love it (just like swimming).
This puts it at just before a potential date, which makes it….interesting. I’m my best self right after swimming. There’s a happy kind of tired because it is the end of the day (not exhausted and dying to hit bed). I’m hungry in the most healthy way possible which is for food rather than an escape. The water has a way of washing away and settling stray thoughts and errant emotions so I’m a brand new person right afterwards. Ideal date material.
What makes it a bit complicated is none of my swim-peripheral wear is datewear, at least not in my book. While I love the #swimlife, I also love the aesthetic and style I’ve developed over years. I like feeling badass and quirky and beautiful in my look. But it does take some doing and I don’t want to be one of those awful women hogging the shower for half an hour while I preen. I’m still figuring it out.
I’ve been on two dates post swim. One was with a fellow swimmer who seemed very perturbed by his having to blow his nose often. I shrugged and told him not to worry, it was just a #swimlife thing and after all, I had gotten out of the exact same pool as him. I think it bothered him a lot. Thankfully, I was in a peaceful enough mindspace to not let it affect me too much (his issues being his own). The other was with a friend who I know is sensitive to smell and to a lesser extent, colour and style. On the first, I just wore a denim miniskirt with my sporty top, instead of shorts. The second time, I had an on-the-go dress to pull on and pass off as ‘dressy’. Both times, I carried a whole load of bath products.
Today I decided to cut back on bath products. I don’t need a shampoo and conditioner and face wash and soap. I just need something to clean the pool off me. And I need something to cover up any lingering chlorine smell. One product can do that. After that, it’s like I’m dressing while travelling — still nicely made up but with fast makeup/minimal effort. I’ve got my eye pencil and a tinted gloss. A pair of hoops or a statement earring and I’m ready! Wish me fun this evening!
View this post on Instagram
Alone time doesn't always look like this. More often than not, it's faded, crumpled, tattered even. And not in artful, Instagram-worthy ways. But it's important. We need tough love and the people who give it to us, especially if you, like me, find it hard to keep your head on straight in the throes of powerful emotion. People like us, we also need the gentle balm of those who tell us, it's okay to grieve, that it's fine to be sad even if it's not logical, to ache even if we were forewarned, even if we should have known better. And finally we need to meet ourselves, in our rawest forms. It doesn't have to happen immediately. Me, I have an inbuilt safety valve that lets me tuck away my messiest self deep down till I reach a time and place that I can take it out and face it, safely. And that must happen. A time when no other commitment or duty or person must intrude. Nothing else allowed to be more important than your own feelings which must be faced with no voices of the world interfering. And that is the time when you'll realise the ugliness is not you or in you. All you are, is a witness to the world and occasionally, a reflection of it. Reflections pass. You will, too. Watch it alone. ———————————————————————————– 📸: @unstable_elemnt 🎶: TAKE IT EASY – The Eagles #beach #alonequotes #alonetime #solo #solitude #introspection #healing #selfcare #selfhealing #theideasmithy #mood #sunset #sunsetbeach #beachsunset #beachsunsets #ａｌｏｎｅ #meditation #emotion #emotional
I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom.
I’ve struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies.
Warriors don’t wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty.
But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I’ve struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage?
How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war.
I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don’t speak in red lipstick.
My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I’m going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won’t want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I’ll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn’t wear me.
View this post on Instagram
ANGRY GIRL OF THE INDIE ROCK PERSUASION I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom. I've struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies. Warriors don't wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty. But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I've struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage? How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war. I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don't speak in red lipstick. My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I'm going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won't want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I'll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn't wear me. ———————————————————————————– 🎶: BITCH – Meredith Brooks #theideasmithy