Category Archives: Being Woman
It’s housekeeping time in the relationships corner of my life. I find myself going through this periodically. I unfriend people on Facebook that I don’t even remember ever interacting with. I withdraw from groups and communities that I do not find myself engaged with. And hardest but most important of all, I draw boundaries with people who have drifted into my life.
I live a very porous life most of the time. For the past seven years, I’ve been sharing so much of life online. My work is inextricably linked to the other things in my life. And I’m an active part of the large creative-intellectual tribe both online and offline. All of these mean that boundaries are constantly being dissolved and frequently, new ground is broken where no structures exist. I hate labels, after all.
But the downside of this is that I find myself frequently sapped by the world around me. People presume too much. People give too little back. Situations spiral out of control. And everything crashes as I scream ENOUGH! I bounce back from these pretty quickly and usually back to a life that has very few of its original inhabitants still standing, the rest swept away in the outburst or shellshocked. I’ve done it enough of times and now I know this is not something I need to be ashamed of. It still is tiring, though. The alternative is to live the kind of cloistered, rigid life that would suffocate me before anyone else.
In the past week, I have exploded at this completely awful person. And that is the only way I am able to think of him. If he had shown just a bit more spine, things would have been different. But maybe I also only got as much as I believed I could get. I was glad he didn’t hit me or abuse me. Those are really low standards to hold a human relationship to and I know better now. I ask more from relationships and people now. If a person needs so much game-playing to acknowledge that they like me, maybe that’s not going to turn out great and I deserve better. Equals do not play games; they have conversations.
We know that men are socialised to take and take and take and never give back. And as women, we have been socialised to give, give, give and never question. We are now learning to identify this earlier, call it out and hopefully start teaching the next generation of men to not be so parasitic in nature. But what makes us think men are the only parasites? There is a new breed of Alpha women who think they have to be like men to succeed and that includes being self-centered, manipulative and toxic. They give their admiration quickly and voluminously. They shout it out from the tops of buildings. And they crash spectacularly. Then they lash out. Viciously.
One of them (who in the past, has woken me up at 2 in the morning to discuss her relationship, in whose support I have judged and turned my back on people who didn’t do a thing to me) told me,
“Oh I didn’t notice what was happening to you (right before her eyes). I have problems. I’m selfish. And I didn’t know we were ghosting each other’s exes.”
Her words sliced through me. Was I being selfish? Was I being needy? Was my problem (getting attacked) that trivial? I realised she was doing exactly what my abusive ex did – gaslighting me.
Another one’s callousness cost me a paying project for no fault of mine. She did not apologise. She sounded annoyed when I called her out on it. She said I should ‘understand’ because I run Alphabet Sambar. When I told her no one had ever lost work because of me, she threw out,
“You’re just so perfect, aren’t you?”
She did the other thing my abusive ex did. Reeked resentment and rage at my successes and tried to make me apologise for her shortcomings. It wasn’t even the first time she had done so and I had forgiven her for it.
I had a sudden realisation. Both these women remind me of this other person I cut out last year. I felt the same vague unease each time they announced to the world that they were ‘such good friends’ with me. I winced each time they parrotted out speeches about my strength, my style, my personality and my writing/poetry. I know now what this is.
I was not their friend. I was a trophy. There is an insidious kind of label that I’ve been unable to avoid because I didn’t recognise it as a label. That’s the ‘I WANT TO BE HER’ label. This label marks me off as a benchmark or trophy but not a human being. This is not normal appreciation I’m talking about. It’s an onslaught of starry-eyed compliments that are being heaped in the hope that I will like the giver. It’s trading flattery for validation. And worst of all, it absolves the other person from the responsibility of being an equal – a friend.
I know this now because of two things. One, I do have actual friends who express their appreciation of me but also treat me as an equal. They call me out when I’m being stupid or weak. They joke with me. They step up when I need them. They do not resent my needs. They do not react violently at my imperfections. And finally, they never throw my achievements back at me. And two, if these women remind me of the abusive men in my life, then what they’re doing is not friendship any more than what those men had for me was love.
I finally realised I enable all of these. I allow people to seep in. I allow people to call me friend (what a hateful term it has become, to cover all manner of sins) without thinking about whether our bond is that strong or that equal. I have not yet learnt how to gently put deflect such forced labels. I do not want to hurt the people who attempt to hang it on me; they do it from a deep hungry need and a misguided sense that I can satiate that need. But I cannot allow myself to be preyed on by the endless, one-sided neediness. I want to be able to give boundlessly but only to people who do the same back. I want fulfiling two-way relationships, not a fan club. Maybe I can learn how to deal with these women the way I learnt to deal with those men.
Once again, equals do not play games; they have conversations. Whether those games start with trading insults or excessive compliments, I guess they’re still games.
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We’re leading up to the grand tamasha called Women’s Day where you can expect to see the world pat itself on the back for giving half its population one day. You’ll also find a lot of men applauding each other for being so considerate of women. And congratulating one another on what good men they are for allowing women a special day. And finally, refraining from PMS jokes for that one day. Well done, men.
Here is a piece that I performed this Monday. Before I went up on stage, I was announced as
‘That poet who the women will love and the men better beware because the poetry is going to slap them’.
Once I finished, I was asked why I disliked men so much. Then a young man I barely knew parked himself next to me and in the semi-darkness during the subsequent performances, proceeded to harass me on my social adjustment issues, my hatred of men and my problematic past. Of note, said young man is also a poet who is infrequent on the scene. He also has a bad stammer and earlier in the evening, I had applauded his performance because I know how much courage it takes to go up on stage. He did not however, feel equally kindly towards me. He also felt perfectly able to attack me in a place where I’m a regular and when I was surrounded by friends. This is not the first time men have behaved in such a manner on the performance/poetry scene and every single time I protested, I’ve been told that I was taking things too seriously or that ‘he’s just young’.
Here’s the piece I performed. Dare I point out that it doesn’t mention men anywhere?
After all, feminism is only feminism when a man speaks about it. A male feminist is a hero and a female feminist is nothing more than an angry, man-hating bitch. Thank you for putting me in my place, fellow poets.
It looks like the stage does not permit me to speak my mind so let me hide on my blog for as long as it takes for the trolls to find me. Tonight a lot of you stay up celebrating a god whose legacy includes blurring gender roles, assimilating the masculine and the feminine and indeed, expressing an open need of his equal half – his female partner and side. That’s it. Think about it. You can wish me on 8th March on the one day in the year I don’t have to apologise for not being male and then congratulate yourselves for doing so. Thank you.
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I am in heartbreak.
It’s a crack down an old wound and it hasn’t festered so that’s good. But it still hurts.
It’s a lesson, I tell myself. I’m struggling to learn it, though. I started this year resolving to learn gentleness, be gentleness and already I have broken that twice. I have lashed out, I have let my words, my worst, most potent allies run ahead of me. And then I smashed it.
But I’m realising I’m Scarlett O’Hara pining for the virtues of Melanie Wilkes. Well, I’m not a character in a book set in whatever script has been laid out for me (please don’t talk to me about the frightful sequel). But for now, the way to gentleness seems to lead me further into my own raw, animalistic, volatile nature. I must embrace it, I must accept it. I must stop suppressing it or it will burst out again as it has these two times. And I cannot have that. Fire must be tempered.
There was goodness. I got to do things that I have been too cautious, too fearful to do for years. One notable thing was writing for him. The first time I ever wrote for another person was over a decade and a half ago, for the person who first told me my writing was special. He hurt me and then he turned my writing into a trophy Both hurt me in ways I could not articulate then, the second must worse. I never wrote for another person after that (or at least I’ve never let them know). But that’s limiting, isn’t it? Love, affection, pain, anger, rage, jealousy – each of these are colours to be expressed and my palette is screaming oil paint. I wrote something I really like. And I think the person it was written for, liked it too. Pretty sure he did. 🙂
Now, I realised most men cannot handle this. I think I burn most men out emotionally. At least the kind of men I’m drawn to, the brooding introverts, the shy thinkers, I imagine they have depth but even they don’t seem to have enough. Well, they are mostly paper and straw; they go so easily. Still, there is hope. Maybe this man was not meant to be the one hearing my words. If there are words created and a mind to build them then there must be the ears and heart to receive them too, somewhere in the world. Someday, I’ll meet someone who is warmed by my fire instead of being burnt by it.
Till then, bright red words will drop from my fingers and my lips for everyone and everything in this world. Because that is how I am.
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The Crush has given me a book. The question is to read or not to read?
What if it turns out to be like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’? What if it’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hain? I crushed but I still found it problematic even back in the 90s. Oh, what a grave falling there will be! Men, please note. If you’re calling yourselves modern and telling us you like ‘smart women’, you’ve got to be careful about twice as many things. Keep your shoes (and teeth and other vital body parts) clean. Smell good. Even intelligent women have noses. AND please, for god’s sake, have good taste! There is nothing worse than a snob-slob unless it’s a well-dressed guy who says he enjoyed Amish Tripathi.
Let’s come to the book. Goodreads and Amazon reviews offer some solace but I am a skeptic. Too many smooth-talking boys and too many well-written reviews of bad books, have me running to my Comfort reading shelf. I’ll take a well-thumbed copy of Harry Potter over all the fad ‘Best of 2016’ listicle books any day. At my age you cannot risk having your heart broken by yet another well-marketed book.
Besides 2017 has just begun and I’m still basking in the afterglow of ‘The Help’ (which I took 4 years to decide to buy, after enjoying the very excellent movie version). I don’t give my affections easily. Not to a man and certainly not to a book (and you know which one can break my heart worse).
On the other hand, there’s the supreme Male Ego and how pandering to it becomes directly proportion to said male’s interest in one. How can I say I don’t want to read this book because what if it’s really horrible or worse still it sucks and I can’t deal with omghowdoessuchalovelylikesuchahorrid and then I have to block you and scrub my crush-organs with bleach to obliterate any memory of you? No, it’s a lot easier to say, “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee.”
Better to lose a man than the fantasy of him. I’ll have a (potentially bad) book to keep me company. But what if it turns out to be really, really good OMiGawdIKnewItWeShouldBeBookSoulmates and he’s gone? Sigh.
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Of the many wars a woman fights, body image issues are some of the hardest to tackle. Because they’re always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of one’s mind.
I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don’t fit. Do I believe it’s harder because of this? After all, I’m not large, I’m not small, I’m not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don’t we?
I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. Add a layer of shame and another of silence to deep-seated complexes. Imagine a perfect well-shaped pot with a tiny hole in one side. That’s what body image is like. All the compliments, all the validation leaks out of that one part of one’s body that doesn’t fit. And that one part of you that feels imperfect becomes a clogged drain, lined with shame, resentment, fear and sadness. In my case, that place is right in the centre of me, in my stomach.
I have never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It has stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. I’ve been advised to give up eating rice, cold water, dairy products after sunset, fried foods. Nothing works.
I do want to say that nobody has ever shamed me for my stomach. Among all the insults and attacks that came my way, the stomach never featured. If anything a boy long ago called it ‘cute’, another one said it could make a guy feel better about himself knowing that I wasn’t a perfect marble statue and recently a friend called it ‘Madhuri Dixit chic’. While these compliments made me laugh and glow with pleasure, at some level I did not really buy into them. I just shrugged them off as affection for me/crab mentality/funny kink. My relationship with my body is tightly locked away inside my cells. It’s hard to see yourself the way others see you.
11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego.
Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to ‘hide my flaws’. I experiment a lot more with clothes now but I instinctively gravitate to looks that emphasize the things about my appearance, that are permitted to be called beautiful. Most days now, I don’t even remember my dragon tattoo.
But this Monday, I took out this top that’s been lying unused for nearly three years. It’s short and because it ties at the back, it (in my head) emphasises how rounded my stomach is. The words that form in my mind when I usually see myself this way are PODGY, UNHEALTHY, CHUBBY, FLABBY and that dreaded euphemism – MUFFIN TOP. Truly, I do understand what body image issues sound like inside one’s head.
I draped on a trenchcoat over as a security blanket and travelled, my head held high, the body language I assume when I’m faking it till I make it. Then I met Neha and we stopped for a bathroom detour before proceeding. I ruefully and reluctantly stared at my stomach in the mirror in the ladies’ toilet and said,
“It’s not umm….flat.”
Neha didn’t laugh at me (like people often do when I admit to feeling uncomfortable). She didn’t tell me I didn’t have the right to feel diffident about my looks (again, like a LOT of people like to tell me). She just said,
“You know, most women don’t have flat stomachs.”
We spoke briefly about adolescent fears and things that we battled growing up. I mean really briefly, because it was just the time it took to climb one staircase. Maybe it was because it came from a woman as glamorous as she is. Maybe because she didn’t look at me any differently for having an unflat stomach. Maybe because she didn’t judge me for worrying about something as stupid as that. Maybe it was just because she was kind. But I felt a surge of courage go through me. Sometimes you need people to believe that it’s okay for you to be scared, to stop being scared. My dragon awoke again.
And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach.
Of the many wars I fight, body image issues are among the hardest to tackle. Because they're always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of my mind. I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don't fit. Do I believe it's harder because of this? After all, I'm not large, I'm not small, I'm not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don't we? I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. I've never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It's stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. Eventually, I gave up. 11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego. Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to 'hide my flaws'. Most days now, I don't even remember my dragon tattoo. But this Monday, I took out this top that's been lying unused for nearly three years. I draped on a coat over it for a security blanket. But @pwneha said something that gave me courage. And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach. So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete. Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the picture! #body #selfesteem #bodyimage #bodyissues #bodylove
So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.
Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.
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Earlier this month, I tweeted the following:
“More and more it becomes obvious that testosterone and machismo are the biggest problems this world faces. Can we just ban men?”
The reactions I received proved my point and make me firmly NOT apologetic for it. Personal attacks. Rape threats. Attack threats. Abuses. Trolling. It went on for over four days.
One woman badgered me about the sexism (tweets deleted now) and said I was as bad as the men I had complained about earlier, who indulged in casual sexism. When I tweeted later about the attacks coming my way, she called it ‘convenient victimisation‘.
Men who did not attack me badgered me to ‘prove’ that these were rape threats. I was asked how I felt about women drivers. They demanded that I prove these were attacks.
Two male friends got involved and how? By talking down to me, by mansplaining and by telling me not to attack all men. One of them unfollowed me when I retailiated. Another one posted a sly complaining tweet and has not bothered to have a conversation even after I’ve reached out. Why really should I care about men and what they feel? Because if I don’t, I’ll be punished over and over again.
Four people reached out, on the phone. That’s it.Not one of the causes and people I’ve supported over the years said a word. Everyone else continued tweeting as per usual, outraging about the fashionable causes and intellectualising about movie censorship, women’s rights and comedy.
I felt an immense sense of betrayal and shame for days. Why do I want to stand up for the cause of women when they won’t support me but actively take part in attacking me? Why should I support gay rights, transgender rights, environmental activists, social change drivers when not a single one of them gives a f&*( about my safety? I’m just a number to add to their support figures.
I am so disappointed in the world. And every time I express this, I get versions of ‘But why are you so hard on men?’ and ‘Not all men are like that’ and ‘Arre, you are just unlucky. Ignore the trolls, na.’
I don’t have a way to end this post because I don’t want to spew curses on the world I’m superstitious enough to believe that all of it will only rebound on me and well, do I really need any more problems? I’m already a prisoner of a lifetime sentence of being a woman with a voice. No further punishment, please. I’ll learn to STFU eventually.
Update: The trolls have followed me to this blog. What kind of a farce allows people to call themselves feminists while also harassing a woman who said something that men didn’t like?
Update 2: Over a month since the original incident happened, I am still getting slammed for that tweet (see some of the comments to this post itself). It just makes men SO angry doesn’t it, that a woman refuses to apologize for saying something they don’t like? To be clear, I’m not denying that the tweet was sexist. But reverse the genders in my tweet and you have the kind of things that get said often but rarely called out. How is men’s needless aggression any superior to women’s (so-called) hysteric reactions?
Today is World Menstrual Health Day. I wonder if they chose the 28th of this month because of the 28 days that are a cycle average. Well, there is certainly a lot to be said about menstrual health and I think I do a lot of talking (and writing) about it already. But it appears to fall to the few of us to keep it going. So, if you are a woman or if you truly care about at least one woman in your life, think about what this means and contribute to the conversations.
There are a lot of myths around menstrual health. My favorite ones (to poke holes into, that is) are:
1. Menstrual blood is dirty! Heh, Adhyayan Suman anyone? Witchcraft and evil galore. Well, no. Menstrual blood is not shit or urine. It’s not ‘dirty’ in that way. If anything, menstrual blood is the raw material that makes up a human being. It’s what would have been left of you, had your daddy’s sperm not fertilized your mummy’s egg. It’s no more dirty than you are.
2. Menstrual health is about getting your period on time. How cute. That’s like saying a movie is about the two hours that you see it on screen. The female reproductive system is intricately organised (entirely internally). It is also self-regulating and self-cleaning. And it involves a lot of hormones, their production and their dispensation. Hormones are chemical and anything chemical is complex and involves hundreds of things that could potentially have concern areas. Honour the most important system in your body, ladies and know it.
3. Gynacologists are to be visited when you’re pregnant or when you’re about to get married. Really. And you should probably see an eye specialist when you’ve completely lost your eyesight. Look at point 2 and think about whether it makes sense to assume that everything is okay until something is drastically different?
I don’t want to talk about any further myths because most of them have to do with social beliefs rather than scientific facts. I’ve also created two videos that may be of interest, while on this.
The first is the unboxing of a new menstrual cup. Reema has decided to try a different brand, given they all come in varying sizes and shapes. I’m considering a new one myself, after the somewhat decent experience I’ve had with SilkyCup. This is the She Cup and the video shows what it looks like and what else the package contains.
The second is the unboxing of a parcel from CossetBox. They’re a new service catering to women on their period days. Take a look at the magnificent box they sent me to try out. It contains a lot more than the usual suspects of sanitary napkins and chocolate.
All these are commercial products but they cater to women’s health and it is in all our interest to talk about them. It’ll be a fine day when we can discuss menstrual cups, vaginal wipes (not ‘intimate wipes’) and female condoms with the same unblinking confidence with which we speak of shoes and lipstick. Happy World Menstrual Health Day, ladies!
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