Category Archives: Gender Archetype

A caricature, an archetype, a certain type of man or woman as they relate to the opposite sex.

The Work First, Fun Later 30-Something Guys

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.

Image by 【中文ID】愚木混株 【Instagram】cdd20 from Pixabay

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.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The ‘Only If You’re Sad’ Guy

There’s a certain kind of man who gets off on sad women.

It’s an entire trope – The Depressed/Tortured/Troubled/Damsel-in-distress that the guy ‘rescues’ with minimal emotional investment by clowning around. He is not a Manic Pixie Dream Guy. No, the original in that trope is not a person and only exists to further the male hero. This kind of man, in contrast, is all about himself. He’s a BIG personality. Too big to allow anyone else to exist as anything else but a stage for him to clown around on. Okay, maybe he isn’t always this loud, big flashy star guy. More likely, he’s mousy and awkward. But this setup allows him to act out his big personality fantasies.

This kind of guy passes off very troubling behaviours as kindness or empathy. It is in his interest for the woman to be sad and helpless. He’s very good at mansplaining mental illness. He’s excellent at validating and amplifying what may be normal feelings of being hard done by. If he actually cared about you as the person, he’d be invested in your happiness, your independence. He would not be unnaturally attached to your sad feelings, your low moments and your poor health (mental and physical).

This is the friend/partner who is ‘there JUST when you need them’. If he isn’t interested in talking to you when you are feeling decent and don’t have a pressing need, it means he doesn’t actually like you when you’re content. He cannot relate to a person who is complete on their own. He doesn’t feel needed unless the woman is in desperate distress. And we know what most men do when that happens – they attack the woman for not being dependent enough.

This is the same man who had a problem with a film like Veere di Wedding, which above all was a story about female joy in each other. This is the one who leaves me comments or emails me telling me that he ‘senses a deep well of sadness inside me and how strong I am’. This is also the writer of those dreadful, woebegone songs about the (always male) protagonist helping a woman when she’s down and then she *gasp* dares to go on with her life (presumably with someone else). Can you see how this is the same kind of entitlement that makes men say ‘friendzone‘? Empathy or help should not come with the expectation of sex or emotional dependency.

What’s really troubling is how closely this is linked with popular (and toxic) male icons. The brooding loner is not sexy; he’s socially inept. Jon Snow is not a good leader; he’s emotionally deficient. The sulky ‘deep thinker’ isn’t all that; he’s very limited in his communication skills. These don’t have to be character flaws but they are certainly not traits to romanticise, especially when you consider how poisonous this kind of a human being is to other people and their well-being.

I’ve been there as well. Especially when one is in a difficult place or situation, someone who seems to provide support or listening (especially a man because WHEN DO THEY EVER LISTEN?) seems so attractive. But I’ve also watched what happens when the situation passes, as they usually do. I realise that same man does not have any actual answers. Not even basic ones like how he feels or who he is. He exists only as a brave hero to your inner damsel-in-distress. He has no sense of personhood beyond that.

No wonder he enjoys Batman, angry hiphop, rage politics, shooter games and all other such narratives that are bleak and only require him to survive. He wants to keep you trapped in there with him too. If that’s your thing, well, I can’t speak for how that works because it’s not me. But if it’s not and you want to someday get back to the land of laughter and peace of mind, watch how the hero turns.

I’ve gone around in circles describing the same kind of toxic male that is worshipped by our culture and that a lot of modern men pattern themselves on. We can give it different names. And I can get stymied or shouted down by the NotAllMen and other such MRA crusaders. But the facts don’t change. A guy who’s only happy when you’re sad is never going to be happy or allow you to be happy. You choose.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I’m Calling Bullshit on Quote-Unquote ‘Woke’ Fuckbois

Before I load and fire, let me tell you who I’m aiming at. This is not all polyamorous couples or even all men (yes, yes, MRAs, you’ve been acknowledged, now GTFO my blog).

This is the ‘Woke’ man and please note the quote signs to indicate the derision with which I approach this species. ‘Woke’ men are simply men who are collecting accolades for keeping up with current trends and mouthing the most perfunctory of statements towards feminism/ equality/ intersectionality. Now that we’ve established my disdain at the superficiality and unfair advantage of this species, let’s talk about those specimens that have adopted the buzzword called polyamory.

It’s not sex-positive if your girlfriend doesn’t know you’re on Tinder, asshole. It’s not polyamory if your wife didn’t agree but you still sleep around, creep. It’s not woke if your partner doesn’t like it but can’t do a thing about it so you do anyway, scumbag. This is exploitation, it’s cheating, it’s abuse.

You probably think you’re really woke for telling her (in a superior tone, no doubt) about this thing called polyamory which challenges patriarchy. I suppose you believe your own bullshit when you extoll the virtues of love and make her feel small for being jealous. You’re still patting yourself on the back for labelling her reactions as territorial and most damning of all – immature. And you’re still collecting accolades from spouting feminism jargon (here’s something for you, ‘Woke’ Fuckboy). The cherry on that cake, is when you tell a woman, “I thought you were intelligent. You’re not being very intelligent right now.” Say that to any woman in any relationship/emotional/sexual context and you’ve exposed your truth.

Lock and load. That cherry is my bull’s eye. And I’m gunning for you, my smooth operating piece of male scum. You’re a scam artist. You’re an insult to any man wanting to be an ally, a good lover or even a friend to women. What’s more, you’re really not that intelligent yourself. You probably still think you’re a good person. But you’re not even really a person; you’re a nasty trope.

Any man needing to mistreat so many women but also desperately wanting to be seen as the good/woke/honest guy is well….a lie.

Poof. You didn’t even need a bullet to take down. You’re just hot air.

Stand down.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

SXonomics On The Reproductive Justice Happy Hour Podcast

SXonomics was featured on The Reproductive Justice Happy Hour podcast. Just like SXonomics, TRJHH is also a collaboration between two women, this time cross-continental. The podcast takes on feminist issues as they pertain to desi audiences, in India and the diaspora.

I’d already had a chance to talk to Surabhi a few months earlier and it was a real pleasure. When you live in a world where most people tell you that you are wrong for existing, where your ideas are shouted down and deemed ‘manhater’ (whatever that is, since it is not a real word), conversations like this one come as tremendous relief. It’s a lot like being an allergy sufferer in Mumbai. I don’t even realise how much I struggle to breathe until I visit a place that is cleaner and less polluted. Similarly, these rare conversations make me realise what an effort it is, even to exist in my world. And I am still one of the privileged with an education and living in a city. It’s an uphill task, this fight and I often consider giving up.

But just when I do, a conversation like this comes along. Surabhi got us talking about how SXonomics came to be, our creative process and the work we’ve been doing. But she also got us thinking about female solidarity, about what makes collaborations really work. The last such conversation I had that really grew me, was also related to SXonomics and was with Damini, the first person to interview us and take our story out to the world. Damini pointed out that even our combination-performance weaving music, poetry, comedy and drama together was a feminist statement of a sort.

So I guess I’m having an interesting year, all things considered – a lot of grit but also many, many adventures and unexpected treasures. To listen to SXonomics on The Reproductive Justice Happy Hour, click here: https://soundcloud.com/rjhappyhour/opinionated-women-in-the-house-say-hello-to-sxonomics

“All human interactions are transactional in nature. They may not be currency-based but they are transactions of power, of respect.”

SXonomics is a feminist content producer and a collaboration between Ramya Pandyan and Ishmeet Nagpal. SXonomics is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and SoundCloud. Drop us a note at SXnomics [at] Gmail [dot] com to chat about feminism, patriarchy, LGBTQIA issues, sex and love positivity!

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram

CHOOSE

Follow my writings on https://www.yourquote.in/ideasmithy 

Boyzoned! (No, Not Those Guys)

No, I’m not referencing my generation’s equivalent of Justin Bieber (times 5). I’m speaking of a very specific phenomenon that happens between men and women.

* Image via Unsplash/Lea Dubedout

Say you’re a single woman who is friendly and lives in a place that affords plenty of interaction with both sexes. Most men’s first interaction with you tends to be at least a little flirtatious. You learn not to take it too seriously. After all, you don’t want to be one of those girls — the ones that imagine wedding bells ringing whenever a guy smiles at them. So, no, whatever, really, you thought I was going to go soppy on you, no dude, we are splitting the bill equally. You know you’ve had a close shave when the guys bitch and snark about those girls. You’re a Cool Girl.

It happens so suddenly you never see it coming. A burp here, a torn/food-stained teeshirt there. It’s okay, he’s human. Oh never mind that you NEVER do any of that around him.

Then he keeps you waiting for an hour and when he shows up, he says he got caught. Fine, you fume a bit but you get late sometimes too. Then he starts telling you about what a horrible week he’s had and how his job sucks. Well, you listen. I mean what else can you do? And he leaves before you get a chance to tell him you’ve been working 14 hour days straight. But well, okay, maybe next time. You’re We’re-Close Girl.

It’s all cool for awhile except he’s really busy. Then when you meet and you’re aching for some nice company, he’s distracted. He shows up on time but he’s constantly whipping out his phone. You go silent. He doesn’t even notice. Then he looks around (never at you) and says this place isn’t that great, how about leaving? You realise he is just not that into you. You thank your stars you didn’t fall in love. You eat some chocolate, drink some wine, talk a little too long to a girlfriend and then it’s okay. You’ve got a couple of other people calling and asking you out anyway. You’re Independent Girl.

Two weeks later he calls when you’re in a meeting. You can’t take his call and when you’re finished with work, you just want to go home and get to sleep. He calls again the next day and you can’t take the call just then, your head hurts because your period is due and you don’t really feel much like talking. Then your Whatsapp starts pinging like crazy so you have to look at it. He wants to know why you haven’t been responding and what’s wrong and are you feeling okay? You smile at the phone and think that’s sweet and tell him you’re not feeling too well so taking a day off. You have a pretty nice conversation on Whatsapp, which you don’t ask to take to a phone call. It is your day to yourself after all. You hang up after an hour feeling proud of your independence and your willpower, feeling good about the world. Even the period cramps don’t hurt so much.

The next day you call him. He doesn’t answer. Two days later you call him again. He answers with a curt, whispered “Hellocan’ttalkrightnowI’llcallyouback”. There is a phone call a day later which you don’t want to think about who initiated. There’s only this much willpower a girl can have right after her period. It’s been a crazy time he tells you. Same here, you say loudly, determined that this time you get to talk about your work woes too. You spend ten minutes mutual bitching and you decide to ‘do that event’ that evening. There are plenty of your common friends around so you barely have a full conversation. But it’s nice to see him. Your back is still aching so you leave early. He doesn’t offer to drop you home and if he did, you’d scoff. Pffff, are you mad, it’s only 8 o’clock, stay, have fun, I’m alright, just want to get to bed early. You’re No Fuss Girl.

A couple of more weeks pass. You had a couple of Tinder dates. All of them wanted instant sex. None of them even wanted a conversation. You didn’t want any of them. You are in touch. On Whatsapp. A joke, an emoji, a photo of his new Kindle, more emoji, a random sentence that you can’t decipher followed by “Sry ignire plz”. You shrug. You won’t be GrammarNazi Girl.

One time you call to tell him about this music event you’re going to and will you hang together? He says no, he’s working really hard. You go back to being Solo Date Girl.

It’s over a month before you hear from him. It’s a phone call and you tell your Independence to shut up lecturing you for feeling good about seeing his name flash across your screen. He’s calling to ask what was the name of that restaurant you went to once where you had to leave early because you didn’t like it? No, it wasn’t me you insist, he’s the one who had itchy pants that evening. He laughs at that and challenges you to a drink-off at that very place and you’ll see who has itchy pants.

You meet him three days later for the drink-off. It’s a Sunday afternoon but you might want to go home to your teddy bear after one Cosmopolitan he says. You give him a LOOK and order your usual rum-and-coke. You’ve always been A Girl Who Can Hold Her Drink. You finish before him and wait for him to catch up (sniggering, pointing out his half-full glass). He gets a call. You’re made to give directions, cafe suggestions, accompanied by elaborate indecipherable facial expressions from him. When he hangs up, he chugs his drink and calls for the bill. What, you start to ask. He tells you he has to go, he doesn’t want to keep her waiting and will it take longer to get there by road or should he take the train? Chuck it, he says, he doesn’t want to get smelly in the train. He grabs the first cab that comes along. You get a text from him ten minutes later saying “Sry babe, hope u dint mind.” You’re starting to get a sense of what Girl he sees you as and it’s not any kind of girl. Boys treat other boys this way.

He calls a week later and this time you’re out with a new guy, your first date in ages and ages (well maybe it is, but you’re not going to be the first one to call it that). You mute the call, resolving to call him back the next day. But Whatsapp starts ringing and you have to unlock your phone to mute it. And now he’s calling again. If you don’t answer it, you’ll have to tell your not-date why not. So you answer meaning to say you’re busy and can you call back. Before you can even say hello, there’s a barrage of words flooding through the phone in his voice. You look up at the guy sitting in front of you. You listen to the guy talking to you. Which one of them is likely to stick around longer in your life? You take a deep breath. You are an independent woman and you don’t have to let a new guy dictate your life. Your friend needs you. You get up and take your phone outside. He’s ranting about the shitty restaurant and can he come over right now? Not now, you manage to tell him, you’re outside. But you’ll meet him over the week. When you return, the bill has arrived. Your not-date is not a date anymore.

Rinse and repeat, Boyzoned Girl.

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* If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Was A Manic Pixie Dream Girl

freshly-pressed-circle*This post was featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed picks on March 27, 2015.

Remember when I wrote that I felt like a character in someone else’s coming-of-age story? I was only scratching the surface with that. I’ve been long intrigued by a stock character in popular fiction – the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For the non-literary of mind, this is a female character that is quirky, bubbly and helps the male protagonist grow from his limited state to a more liberated, mature place. She is immensely likeable and for awhile, it’s easy to confuse her for independent. It’s just that she is such a PERSONALITY, you tend to think of it as a strong one.

MPDG

*Image via Reluctant Femme

It turns out I’ve been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in many of my relationships with men in the past 10-odd years. No man who has been around me in this time would accuse me of being boring. Even the most hostile of them will admit that things tend to be exciting, in flux and unpredictable when I’m around. I’ve challenged their beliefs, railed against their ways of being and blurred more boundaries than most people do in their turbulent teen years. The nicer ones among them will admit to being charmed and even changed for the better because of my presence in their lives. The others would probably roll their eyes and thank their stars its over. I don’t tend to get moderate reactions. Collage Who I am draws from and defines who I draw to me. I thought I was breaking a pattern by moving to younger men, these past four years. But it turns out, I’ve stayed true to the pattern. Twenty-something men have had enough experiences to know the worries of the world. They are also not wise enough to have made their peace with them or found ways to address them in a way that doesn’t disrupt other things in their lives (health, family, society etc). That’s the exact target audience for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She intrigues them because she is quirky (and not just pretty in that shiny object way) and unpredictable. Plus she is flawed enough to not intimidate their still fragile sense of masculinity. I suppose the other choice I had among the pop culture/fiction archetype pantheon was the Child-Woman. MPDG seems like a more nuanced character with only a few flecks of the immature, broken child-woman. So it was Manic Pixie Dream Girl then. I still like how colourful and vibrant that title sounds (not to mention verbose). So what’s the problem? I thought I was a boring kid and if there was a way to send a message back to that depressed little girl I was, I’d say,

“Mission accomplished! Boringness slayed. Achievement unlocked!”

Men talk

*Image via SparkNotes

But I’m not a little girl anymore desperately needing to prove something. And there is something terribly limiting about a stock character, especially a supporting one. Because Manic Pixie Dream Girl, make no mistake, is a supporting character in a man’s story. She is boxed and she has no real story of her own. She exists in a permanent state of desperate chaos, which draws men like flies to her but doesn’t do her many favours in the form of stability or happiness. Men eventually tire of her or grow away from her (Here’s a man who tells his tale using the MPDG lexicon: ‘Uh honey, that’s not your line‘). Even the creator of this title, Nathan Rabin, has tired of her (here’s his apology to the world for coining the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl). It occurred to me over a sandwich today (yes, how random, how MPDG of me) that perhaps the reason I was drawing exclusively younger men these days was not only because they were the only single ones around. Perhaps it was because I was being exactly one kind of girl that twenty-something men found themselves drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with twenty-something men, of course. The MPDG character draws a very specific kind of man and story. The men can think but they’re yet to gain mastery over emotion. They are also at a peculiarly specific kind of self-centered place in their lives, having gotten ahead of themselves and tasting responsibility for the first time. They do not have the ability to deal with a complex human being over a length of time, especially what MPDG would be, if she was a real person (which I am). The story that plays out – inevitably – is the same one. The sudden struck-by-lightening style attraction, the broad gestures and lavish promises, the unimaginably magical conversations, the sudden crashes, the melodramatic outbursts and the inevitable sugar crashes. Been there, so much done that. I so hope I’m over it.

rating_chart-600x450

*Image via TheFrisky

Before you go all people-don’t-change on me, let me tell you, yes, they do. We are constantly evolving creatures and this is extremely superficial, social behaviour that I’m talking about. That doesn’t determine me anymore than the colour of the pyjamas I wear to bed. I do have control over the kind of character I project. I can modify this without curbing any of my  natural spontaneity. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to express who I am fully, without limiting it to bite-sized quirk pieces that equally limited men can digest. I just have to figure out how to do this, especially considering the men and I are both so used to the familiar storyline, we fall into it by default.

405c755d77769392dcf26175446040c3

*Image via HVNG

I am not terribly alarmed at discovering that I’ve been unconsciously mirroring a fiction character type. After all, I am woefully short of role models. Besides, I’d rather follow ideas than real people with their limitations and flaws. Ideas can be modified or discarded more easily. Sigh, yes, that’s another very Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing to say. But MPDG is as limiting in real life as it is in fiction. I don’t want to be only seen that way. And I’d like to be seen by more people than the ones that this character was created to make happy. I have very little idea who I am going to be beyond my MPDG persona but identifying the box should be the first way out of it. Besides 2015 is a bare few days away. What better new year resolution than to be a different, new ME? Me I found several other pieces by women about throwing off Manic Pixie Dream Girldom:

ELIZABETHTOWN

*Image via Salon

Note: If you are intrigued by how stock characters can mirror our ways of being, go to TV Tropes to find others. If you find yourself relating to one of them, post a comment here telling me which one. It’ll make for a fun conversation!

Update: A reader took this thought and drew a more comprehensive parallel between her life and other TV Tropes. Here’s Rae M.Meadows’ post.

Update 2: Here’s an excellent spoken word piece on Manic Pixie Dream Girl

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

A Professional Woman

A fortnight ago, a friend and I parted ways. He came to me, looking for comforting, for sympathy. I gave him instead, honesty. Words were exchanged and the friendship is now a thing of the past. The thing is, I never offered comfort or sympathy, only outright, unvarnished honesty. We’ve spoken of it. He’s pointed it out as my character trait; I haven’t denied it. Yet, he expected it of me. Because I’m a woman.

Last week another friend and I had an argument, one that’s been brewing like dark clouds for awhile. The storm finally broke when he said,

“Women are more considerate than men.”

I replied.

“No, they are not.”

He insisted. It made me as angry as if he had told me my place was in the kitchen. I argued that he wasn’t a woman, I was. He replied with that perfect blend of dismissive condescension and polite acid,

“You…are a different specimen.”

I was angry then, but I am not, now. Both these men have been raised to believe that men are bad people and women and kind, gentle, long-suffering victims. They’ve each tried, very hard, to not be that personification of their gender. They are polite, courteous and nice – to women who are gentle, kind and nice. They play a part and they play it well, especially around women who play their parts in the same play. How are they to react to a woman who refuses to say her lines on cue?

A Professional Woman

*Image (without text) via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being a woman is a job, it would seem. It requires conformity to certain customs, delivery of some expected things and a certain kind of etiquette. It is not enough to have a uterus that bleeds every month. That’s only the graduate degree. To truly be a woman, one must perform in relationships, outward presentation and inside one’s head. I’m quite terrible at it and I get told so, often. I’m too flashy (modesty befits a lady), too opinionated (women are supposed to be peacemakers, not troublemakers), too outspoken (yes, this is a thing, haven’t you heard of diplomacy? Learn some.)

D minus on the job of being a woman.

I’ve grown up hearing versions of this my whole life. I was a tomboy through school and college, a fact that people who know me now find hard to believe. My style and my vanity are recent acquisitions, like grown-up shoes that I started wearing well into my 20s. Life has just been easier for me, that way. But these, like apparel, are superficial and come off easily. Who I am under that, hasn’t changed. I don’t want to be treated a certain way, because I am a woman. Because, the price to be paid is that I have to behave a certain way for being a woman. What’s wrong, I’ve been asked, in being nice or considerate? Nothing at all. Except, I’d like to do it because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And by the same token, I would like people to be nice or considerate to me, because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And I would like to reserve the right to sympathy for those I believe deserve it, rather than having to distribute it for free ‘because I’m a woman‘.

Men like the two I’ve spoken of, come back with the refrain of not being nice or considerate to women like me, because as I lay it out, ‘they don’t want to be’. Fair enough, I say. Except, is their consideration and their politeness subject to a cold formula of adherence to a certain behaviour? If you are only nice to people who follow rules that you uphold, then you’re not really being nice, you’re being transactional. People pay you with their conformity for your good treatment of them. How is that different from a bribe or protection money?

I would like to be respected for my actions and my ideas, not for my body plumbing. As commonsensical as this thought sounds to me, it comes across as rebellious, disrespectful and needlessly selfish (all names I’ve been called). And because there is more of people who think this than there is me (I’m only one), I find myself having to compromise. I don a pretty outfit, I smile at my camera and post the picture online and I dimple my thanks when people show me how much they Like me, for that smile. I’m learning to be a Professional Woman.

The Bystander Chauvinist And Me

The men I know, are not likely to murder their unborn babies in the womb for being female. They will probably not set their wives on fire for not bringing in dowry. They won’t insist on their women climbing into the funeral pyre after them when they die. They’ve never actually said anything like ‘Women are inferior’ (which by the way, my grandfather said to me, so please don’t say that nobody says such things). They also have no intention of raping or murdering their female colleagues, friends and neighbours.

I can understand why this kind of man feels victimised by the more aggressive feminism. “But I’m not that guy!”, I hear him protest,

“I’m not a bad person. I admire strong women. I believe women have their rights too. Why then, do you club me in with the rapists, the acid-throwers, the foeticide practitioners and the dowry thugs?”

Bystander Chauvinist

It’s because doing and being the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, do not preclude one from chauvinism. The fact is that we live in a world that ranges from subtly chauvinistic to brutally hostile to women. Normal life is painted in shades of poor treatment of women; it’s just the degrees that vary by geography and socioeconomic class. So unless one actively goes against the grain, taking a stand for fair treatment of the sexes, one falls into chauvinism, by default.

Let’s meet the aforementioned man again. He is not a bad person. He is a law-abiding citizen, thorough professional and a responsible family man. But he doesn’t actually believe that women have worse lives than he does; even the women in his life. He has little patience or sympathy for the realities of women’s problems. And when forced to confront it, he usually responds with control issues –  the sister’s social life to be monitored, the mother to be ‘shielded’ from all manner of reality, the partner’s clothes to be censored. No, he doesn’t even understand why that is a problem. He sees these as solutions to the problem, refusing to acknowledge that he may be a part of the problem.

I often get branded a feminist, almost always by men and never in an objective or factual manner. All manner of male chauvinists hang this label on me. The MCPs are easily spotted with their foaming-at-the-mouth tendencies. But the Bystander Chauvinist, he is the one whose words are accompanied by a rueful tone or a sneering glance. I won’t go so far to call it an insult. But it is meant to be a mild put-down, a slight diminutive.

This incidentally is also the man who proudly proclaims that he will never raise his hand on a woman, assuming that that is the very essence of feminism. He is accordingly judgemental of men who lose their tempers or are violent. When pushed (and only when pushed), he is likely to blurt out an unhappy, impatient, “But why should she be all helpless?”. There it comes – the deep-seated hint of resentment against women being able to claim sympathy for offences that he sees meted out to him as well. These offences look the same to him, so why, he reasons in his mind, does a woman have to get special treatment over a man? Only because he’s a nice guy.

The undertone is one of ‘It’s because I care’. I believe that he does genuinely care. But these actions do not support women, neither abolish the problem nor take a stand against it. And because of that, they undermine the confidence of women and their right to assert themselves. This is why this attitude is an offence.

The thing is, I do not have a personal vendetta against men, this kind or the rabid chauvinists. I only want my rights (respect, privacy, freedom). And I want justice when these rights are denied. It’s not fair to punish the man who has not actively denied me my rights. He just…hasn’t done anything to help me get them. He has been a passive bystander, which even the law understands as party to the crime. What’s most troubling is that I am not angry with this man. He is the best of his sex that is available to me. He does not mean me harm. He is a friend, a lover, a brother, a partner. I care about him too. And this makes it much harder for me to tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable.

I tread an equally uncomfortable, narrow path as this man. I’m the Passive Feminist, the counterpart to the Bystander Chauvinist. Like him, I don’t take a stand unless pushed. And then, like him, I react with misplaced anger and resentment. But perhaps in these uncomfortable exchanges, there is a little bit we teach each other – how to be gentle and firm at the same time, how to stand for ourselves and for each other both in one.

I live in hope. So does he. That’s why it exists.

*Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The Novelty Girl

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the pattern of my relationships, the kind of men I attract and so on. All my associations with men, the minor flirtations and the serious relationships alike follow a pattern. They’re drawn to my quirkiness, my ‘oh my God, did she just say that?’ boldness. It’s fascination with the hitherto unmet, packaged in a visually-pleasing non-threatening form of a woman.

But it doesn’t last. The same things that drew them, intrigued them, seem to bother them shortly after. In my early twenties, this would be the time they’d start trying to control me, direct my behavior to be more conventional, my thinking more acceptable. And in the ensuing outcry, break-ups would happen. Later, as I grew, so did they and their reactions became subtler and crueler. I believe that’s where the lying, the cheating and the sudden about-faces began.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the Novelty Girl. Men are drawn to me because I’m different from what they’re used to, a curiosity object. And since curiosity is a kind of interest, they confuse that with attraction. As the novelty wears off, so does the curiosity, ergo the attraction.

Novelty Shop

Novelty Shop (Photo credit: UW Digital Collections)

Now where does that leave me? Never mind the ‘just be yourself’ attitudes. I have to be myself, who else can I be? But I’ve realized, adulthood is about playing a role in other people’s stories on the condition that they play a role in yours. This is the basis of all the successful relationships I’ve seen (including the non-romantic ones). I am me but the question is who should I be to you?

Novelty Girl was a great role to play in my early adulthood. It was fun, got me a lot of attention and that’s all was needed. But now, I’m finding myself tired and dissatisfied with the results it gets me. I’d rather have two people who like me okay for the rest of our lives, than the awe and admiration of a roomful of people, that lasts about an hour.

Now what kind of person gets that? And more importantly, how does one stop being Novelty Girl? I don’t seem to remember how to be equable.

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