Category Archives: Feminist on Stage
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.
I grew up feeling like my life would follow the same path as other people – work and you shall achieve, be and you shall receive. It baffled me when I was attacked or called entitled for this, when the boys I knew, weren’t.
I wrote about this often. I created a comic about a little girl in a green dress, throwing barbs and smiles at a world trying to put her in a gender box (The Idea-toons). Humour became an easy way to deflect the always present horror about the idea that people have tried to impose on me all my life – that I don’t deserve what I am/do/have.
I resisted the label of feminist for too long because I didn’t think I deserved to be categorised with people who ensured that I had a vote, an education, the right to a job, to not be an object of ownership. I didn’t feel that important. It would be years before I realised living that belief is far more important than a label.
I wrote this piece on a whim, sitting in a coffeeshop waiting for a friend. It had easy witticisms and sharp edges because it was only for fun, not craft like my other pieces (Paper Plane, Goddess, Flamingos). I would perform it on my first time at a stage that would go on to be my favourite. The creators of that space would notice me and friendships would be born, bringing me support for my work. I would also get marked as a target, by other people’s misogyny hidden under camaraderie. I didn’t know it then.
In 2017, Simar Singh would tell me about his idea to promote poets and poetry and ask if I’d open his first event for Women’s Day, with this piece. Sure, I’d say, without much thought. Later, they’d find technical glitches in the footage, teething problems for a first-time team and decide not to use it. I’d shrug. There were other battles I was fighting.
Two weeks ago, UnErase Poetry put up the first ever video they shot at their launch show – mine. It crossed 75k views in a week. 😄 I still don’t know – which battles I can win without even realising I’m in a fight and which ones I’m doomed to perish in. But I am a feminist.
Watch the video on YouTube or Facebook on the UnErase Poetry channels. Have you met my feminism?
Here’s something that came to me in the middle of a shower, turning up almost fully formed and demanding to be set free from my brain. I spilt the words onto my computer, edited it on the run and read it right off my screen on stage. The last time this happened, it turned into a piece that has become my calling card.
This thought has been in my head for years now. I’ve already written it as a blogpost before. Misogynist whining masquerades as desi poetry. But this piece showed up in my head just last week, whatever be its backstory and I had fun giving it life.
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I read an article in the Mumbai Mirror today titled “Find the missing comic”. It listed all the finalists of ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ and surprise, surprise…they were all male! The article went on to ask people whether women had a sense of humour or not.
Of course we have a sense of humour. It’s a human trait…I do believe the ability to laugh and see the funny side must be located somewhere between one’s ears, not in the plumbing region of the body…which rules out the idea of humour being a gender-driven trait.
I, for one, am one of those who loves laughing and making people laugh. My sense of humour swings between ridiculous slapstick and sophisticated satire and quite often tiptoes into the raunchy. One of my favorite declarations goes thus:
The trouble with men is that they always think with the wrong head
HAHAHAHA! Very few people seem to find that statement funny. The men are too busy snarling and mumbling about feminists while the women are busy being ladylike and turning up their noses at such ‘offensive behavior’ or playing sweet-n-dumb.
My best friend is a cool, dignified lady who rarely smiles. Of course in all these years of friendship, I’ve discovered what tickles her funny bone but I also know that the poker-face mask hardly ever goes down in public. She’s the kind who can freeze you with a glance, with the atmospheric temperature dipping to record lows with the degree of raunchiness. I envy her. In all the good advice that she’s given me, the one thing I just can’t seem to take is this lesson of ‘not being funny’. Her belief is that jokes apart, men really don’t respect a girl who kids around a lot.
I hate to admit it but I think she’s right. I’ve been ‘the buddy’ for so long, I almost forgot I was female. My male friends, those amazingly wonderful specimens of humanity….while they’ve taught me so much about life, the universe and everything, conveniently forgot to mention that…oh, laughter increases your fun quotient and dips your general sex appeal. I think laughter is a great ice-breaker and I’ve used it freely in all these years as a conversation starter. Is it a coincidence then, that people like conversations with me, but not dates?
Then again, the men I am usually drawn to are humourous, whacky, intelligent and aggressive. They’re loads of fun to be with (like me!), full of energy and ideas (ditto here) and they hate to share the spotlight (*sighh*….yeah that too). A sense of humour is a great people-magnet and its possible that they don’t like being upstaged or even competing with me. Does that sound arrogant?
When I was in college, I participated in a JAM session. It was the first (and only) time I’ve ever been in a talk-a-thon. The predominantly male panel (and audience) looked at me curiously as I signed up. Rather indulgently they explained the rules of the game to me and told me not to worry, just relax and enjoy the game. I did. As I picked up the prize at the end of the game, my jam-master said “Pretty good…for a girl”. I said, “Really? I wouldn’t have stood a chance if this panel was all female.” I wonder if he did get the point. When I got home and proudly showed off the prize, my dad didn’t bat an eyelid, when he said, “Why is it so great? You’ve been practicing ever since you started to talk.” Leave it to a man to have the last word on the funnies….
I am full of awe for people who are funny. Okay, okay Mr.Nandy…coming from me, read that as a compliment! I totally admire people who write witty posts. I have tried but somehow I can’t quite match the standards set by Sagnik, Apoorva , Rumpelstilskin, Bird (and several others!) Notice please, there aren’t any women on this list. This post is so much me, me, me….I honestly couldn’t find another woman to write about (blogger or otherwise) Sighh…..alright, alright, I concede. Humour is gender-specific. I still won’t buy the notion that we’re born with a lesser sense of humour than men but it is the conditioning that makes us less able to express the funny side.
In the meantime I’ll continue my solitary crusade for the Female Funnies.