Category Archives: Media Messages

Is This Feminism? – Negative Space

We are all facing the question of what privilege means, do we have it, how much of it and what this bodes. Race, caste, gender, religion, language. Privilege creates barriers & hierarchies. Because it’s inherently unjust, it’s also subtle & silent.

People with privilege literally cannot see it. Because their whole existence is based on believing in their worth & rightness, being the default setting of humanity and others being abnormal or undesirable or wrong. Privilege conversations are made further complex by intersectionality. A person may have one kind of privilege (race) while lacking another (gender). We focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. So we miss (ERASE) those who have neither.

JK Rowling thinks someone whose lived experience is different from hers is ‘erasing’ her own. But to say trans women are not women is actual erasure. Same for All Lives Matter or Not All Men. Focusing on one group is not discrimination against another.

When a group of people say Stop erasing us, they are saying that they exist, they are not abnormal, not deserving of less. To think this means erasure of others is to assume there is only room for one kind of person to live with safety & respect. When someone asks you for respect, they are not asking to disrespect you. When a group asks you for safety, they are not demanding attack on you. They are saying you run the society they live in and have overlooked their needs as human beings.

The only thing the above threatens is the privileged person’s sense of absolute, unquestionable superiority. If you believe that people should not dare to question the treatment you mete out to them, you are being discriminatory. This is not an attack, it is a fact.

Erasure is bad so let’s use the word with care. The page is big enough to accommodate us all. 

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NEGATIVE SPACE We are all facing the question of what privilege means, do we have it, how much of it and what this bodes. Race, caste, gender, religion, language. Privilege creates barriers & hierarchies. Because it's inherently unjust, it's also subtle & silent. People with privilege literally cannot see it. Because their whole existence is based on believing in their worth & rightness, being the default setting of humanity and others being abnormal or undesirable or wrong. Privilege conversations are made further complex by intersectionality. A person may have one kind of privilege (race) while lacking another (gender). We focus on what we don't have rather than what we do. So we miss (ERASE) those who have neither. JK Rowling thinks someone whose lived experience is different from hers is 'erasing' her own. But to say trans women are not women is actual erasure. Same for All Lives Matter or Not All Men. Focusing on one group is not discrimination against another. When a group of people say Stop erasing us, they are saying that they exist, they are not abnormal, not deserving of less. To think this means erasure of others is to assume there is only room for one kind of person to live with safety & respect. When someone asks you for respect, they are not asking to disrespect you. When a group asks you for safety, they are not demanding attack on you. They are saying you run the society they live in and have overlooked their needs as human beings. The only thing the above threatens is the privileged person's sense of absolute, unquestionable superiority. If you believe that people should not dare to question the treatment you mete out to them, you are being discriminatory. This is not an attack, it is a fact. Erasure is bad so let's use the word with care. The page is big enough to accommodate us all. ——————————————————————————- **#IWear-newsprint saree+magnifying glass makeup for @alphabetsambar #CrimeCapers theme. ——————————————————————————- 🎶: BORN THIS WAY: Lady Gaga #theideasmithy

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A New Solidarity

#BoysLockerRoom presents an idea of solidarit as a quality used to protect wrongdoers from consequences. Everyone is made to participate as a virtue. I want to reclaim this idea of solidarity. It’s not a fortress meant to protect privilege. It’s a context of support that nurtures people’s better values.

Women are told other women are the enemy, that we can’t be friends, that our relationships with each other can only revolve around a man. We’re encouraged to suffer in isolation. The bonds between women are downplayed, disrupted, even villified. This is because female solidarity opposes the idea of protecting privilege.

For a woman, identity is a tug of war between a world hellbent on erasing us and one fragile body, a delicately built identity, a sensitive set of senses, a limited brain. What do women’s issues have to do with identity & solidarity? I’ll tell you.

My sense of self does NOT come from protecting men’s privilege to be monsters. It does not come from competing with other women for validation from that male idea of solidarity.

My existence is constantly challenged by men whose entitlement I reject. Also by women who benefit from patriarchy by compromising their self-respect. Every nasty barb, every attack by a rejected man, every thoughtless word by a distracted friend, every malicious act by a stranger is designed to remind me that the world doesn’t see me as a human.

But I’m healed by female solidarity. Men cannot do this because they do not have our context of struggle. A woman who knows the fight, can see past it really sees me. This validation between women doesn’t say anything about how strong we are. It doesn’t seek to rescue or make excuses for faults. It affirms & heals our best selves.

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. These matter when a woman says them to another.
We hold up each other’s best selves. Women who understand this are challenging the toxic idea of solidarity by making it about support, not protection. 

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A NEW SOLIDARITY #BoysLockerRoom presents an idea of solidarit as a quality used to protect wrongdoers from consequences. Everyone is made to participate as a virtue. I want to reclaim this idea of solidarity. It's not a fortress meant to protect privilege. It's a context of support that nurtures people's better values. Women are told other women are the enemy, that we can't be friends, that our relationships with each other can only revolve around a man. We're encouraged to suffer in isolation. The bonds between women are downplayed, disrupted, even villified. This is because female solidarity opposes the idea of protecting privilege. For a woman, identity is a tug of war between a world hellbent on erasing us and one fragile body, a delicately built identity, a sensitive set of senses, a limited brain. What do women's issues have to do with identity & solidarity? I'll tell you. My sense of self does NOT come from protecting men's privilege to be monsters. It does not come from competing with other women for validation from that male idea of solidarity. My existence is constantly challenged by men whose entitlement I reject. Also by women who benefit from patriarchy by compromising their self-respect. Every nasty barb, every attack by a rejected man, every thoughtless word by a distracted friend, every malicious act by a stranger is designed to remind me that the world doesn't see me as a human. But I'm healed by female solidarity. Men cannot do this because they do not have our context of struggle. A woman who knows the fight, can see past it really sees me. This validation between women doesn't say anything about how strong we are. It doesn't seek to rescue or make excuses for faults. It affirms & heals our best selves. 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. These matter when a woman says them to another. We hold up each other's best selves. Women who understand this are challenging the toxic idea of solidarity by making it about support, not protection. 📸: @shrinkfemale 🎶: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN-CYNDI LAUPER #theideasmithy

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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.

Feminine Strength

The sexes need each other and define each other. Patriarchy rejects this by deeming any form of need or interconnectedness as weak/feminine. But all society and relationships are built on the joint and collaborative strengths of human beings needing and fulfilling each other’s needs in balance.

I’ve been asked why I insist on reading or watching things that could be triggering. Some of these questions are neither pleasant nor objective. They are screaming rants and threats (of the “Don’t you dare talk to me again if you read this now” variety) which sounds to me like people terrified that I’d discover the truth. And the truth is what I’m looking for. I want to know why men treat women badly. I want to understand what was going on in the minds of the men who violated, hit, gaslit, shamed or attacked me. I am aware that these will not erase what was done. But by understanding what was going on, I am better placed to see the signs early (no, “all men are like that” is not a valid sign).

I realised something else. By knowing what about my behavior makes a man behave in a violent/abusive way, makes it possible for me to alter that behaviour or express myself in a way that will make him behave better. This is not demeaning to me. I speak in this language, use this medium because it is the best way for me to get what I want from you – your listening and your thoughts with minimal resistence and hate. That doesn’t diminish me, it makes me more. Adaptability and collaboration are strengths, not weaknesses.

Here’s proof. Reading, talking and thinking about patriarchy & feminism doesn’t make me hate my perpetrators. It actually makes me empathise with them. It makes me want to reject the anger-is-good school of thought that a lot of feminists & other activists follow. It even makes me feel strong enough to walk a path alone without the backing of these more vocal groups right now. I don’t feel stifled, I don’t feel vindictive, I don’t feel deprived, I don’t feel angry, I don’t feel hateful. I feel hopeful & inspired. How is that anything but strength? It’s because the truth really does set me free. All forms of other people’s anger and glorifying it, keep from the truth and walking away from it is a small price to pay for the sheer power of knowing.

I know myself beyond the traumas I’ve experienced. I know myself beyond my mistakes. I even know myself beyond what I have to do to keep other people from wreaking my balance. This knowledge is worth all the tears, all the backlash from the groups demanding total compliance.

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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.

Strong Woman

This label is burden.

I see a look in my eyes, a look I’ve seen on the faces of divorcees, of women who have been beaten up who’ve moved on, in the fleeting expressions of successful women, old women. Because women only achieve success with age. And success necessarily means surviving very bad men. It is the face of a woman that the world likes to call a ‘Strong Woman’. It is a tired look. A jaded look. A bored look. A dismissive look. These are so subtle, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m just being cynical. But I know how this face feels from the inside because I wear it. I know exactly how the frown lines fall, beneath the matte-perfect makeup. I know what grimaces are smoothed away behind liquid lipstick, what acid feelings are tone policed and polished up behind the articulate, confident speech of this Strong Woman.

I heard it in the voice of a yesteryear actress, now married to a business tycoon who it is rumoured, routinely humiliates her publicly. I notice it in the eyes of journalist once partnered with a serial cheater. I see it in faces of at least two celebrities who’ve been publicly beaten up by their partners while their colleagues watched, who’ve sustained injuries and then gone on to marry other people and re-establish that perfect fairytale everyone wants to see – the Strong Woman.

Strength? This is the fetish of a different sort of man from the one that caused the wounds in the first place. Or maybe it’s exactly the same kind of man – the kind who sees a glass edifice to be shattered, who thinks broken women are beautiful, who writes poetry about this pain and expects to receive admiration, love and sex in return.

It is also the desperate need of a certain kind of woman. My age makes me an automatic, if reluctant role model. The trouble is, because I’m also a woman, they think it’s not just my job to inspire but also rescue and protect. Male role models aren’t asked to do more than be distant beacons. I never signed up to be anybody’s knight in shining armour.

All I ever wanted, was to be a person. The Strong Woman in the mirror rolls her eyes. 

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STRONG WOMAN This label is burden. I see a look in my eyes, a look I've seen on the faces of divorcees, of women who have been beaten up who've moved on, in the fleeting expressions of successful women, old women. Because women only achieve success with age. And success necessarily means surviving very bad men. It is the face of a woman that the world likes to call a 'Strong Woman'. It is a tired look. A jaded look. A bored look. A dismissive look. These are so subtle, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'm just being cynical. But I know how this face feels from the inside because I wear it. I know exactly how the frown lines fall, beneath the matte-perfect makeup. I know what grimaces are smoothed away behind liquid lipstick, what acid feelings are tone policed and polished up behind the articulate, confident speech of this Strong Woman. I heard it in the voice of a yesteryear actress, now married to a business tycoon who it is rumoured, routinely humiliates her publicly. I notice it in the eyes of journalist once partnered with a serial cheater. I see it in faces of at least two celebrities who've been publicly beaten up by their partners while their colleagues watched, who've sustained injuries and then gone on to marry other people and re-establish that perfect fairytale everyone wants to see – the Strong Woman. Strength? This is the fetish of a different sort of man from the one that caused the wounds in the first place. Or maybe it's exactly the same kind of man – the kind who sees a glass edifice to be shattered, who thinks broken women are beautiful, who writes poetry about this pain and expects to receive admiration, love and sex in return. It is also the desperate need of a certain kind of woman. My age makes me an automatic, if reluctant role model. The trouble is, because I'm also a woman, they think it's not just my job to inspire but also rescue and protect. Male role models aren't asked to do more than be distant beacons. I never signed up to be anybody's knight in shining armour. All I ever wanted, was to be a person. The Strong Woman in the mirror rolls her eyes. 🎶: THANK YOU – Alanis Morissette #theideasmithy

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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.

Living With The Struggle

The struggle is real.

This is the struggle to see men as worthy of empathy. No, they do not make it easy. And everyone and their brother and misogyny-internalised sister collude to shame me for not feeling more empathy. Who will explain that empathy cannot be forced? That shaming and attacking only create fear and resentment, not love and trust.

I’ve been watching the Netflix series Living With Yourself and all I can think of is, so he got bored and decided to create two of himself? WOW. I’ve been part of some conversations examining my past. I’ve managed to create some objectivity and see that the monster’s actions were results of his own damaged psyche, possibly very real mental health issues. Except, how convenient – when a man is hurt or ill, he gets to violate a woman. And she gets attacked for bleeding. Again, WOW.

The rage of women works very differently from the damn-the-consequences bluster of men. It’s slow and quiet and permanent. I don’t know if I can ever go back to respecting men. I can see the men around trying and failing miserably. I can see how desperately they grasp for validation from me, for help from anybody. And I can’t bring myself to care. And without respect or caring, there can be no empathy.

Much of the time I feel peace and balance because I have a clean, tidy life that needs minimal engagement with men. That which I have to, is codified into rituals and time-bound interactions. It’s convenient and it’s temporary and shallow. What lies beyond that? Irritation, horns-honking, nails-on-chalkboard jarring irritation.

I get a number of DMs from strange men commenting on my lipstick (at posts that are about life and emotions and love) and when I can summon up the energy, all I wish is that their eyes be donated to sightless children. There’s the frequent MRA that attempts to be relevant by telling me women do this too and I can’t even be bothered with telling him he’s wrong.

What an exhausting world. This struggle is real.

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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.

Masters Of Sex: How Do We Do This Without The Men?

I just finished reading Masters of Sex, the book on which this TV show was based. My opinions have shifted, somewhat. There is of course the difference in the two media. With the book, I’ve been able to ponder it over several months without feeling the need to retrace my steps. With the show, I started in 2016, gave up when it got triggering and then restarted twice over. This time round, I had to steel myself to power through it to the end, which may have impacted my opinion. Now that I’ve read the book (and the show, to be fair, follows it quite closely), I feel like I have a better perspective on the story and more clarity on the thoughts that came up.

Unlikeability as Lack of Ability

Bill Masters was not a particularly likeable character. Even a somewhat forgiving (attempting to be neutral) viewpoint like Maier’s shows him to have been focussed to the point of ruthless. It made me reflect on several such men I’ve encountered, mostly in romantic context. In the past year, I’ve been reflecting on the idea that these men may not have been evil, chuckling geniuses out to exploit people (and me). Make no mistake, I don’t believe any of them or Bill Masters for that matter, were/are good people. They lack a fundamental empathy for other human beings, a trait that translates into not completely ‘getting’ social cues but also making it very easy for them to exploit, even abuse other people and move on seemingly with no moral compunctions. I’ve been wondering if this merely means that they are limited human beings with very narrow emotional and thus, mental range.

Emotional IS Intelligent

Yes, I clubbed the emotional and the mental together and there’s a reason this post appears on XX Factor. For centuries, we’ve thought of mental faculties as logic, rational, distanced from emotions which have been thought of as inferior, distracting, unnecessary. The ‘mental’ has been designated the domain of masculine and emotions the domain of hysterical females who need a steady man to keep them on track. But being able to access, understand identify and articulate emotions is a skill, one that most girls are taught since childhood. This training may not look and sound good since it mostly takes the form of prioritising other people’s needs over one’s own. But it also teaches us patience and eventually about delaying gratification. It demonstrates over and over, the value of playing the long game – of picking one’s battles, of factoring other people’s feelings when trying to achieve something. Take a look all around and tell me that doesn’t help women. Whether you look to the scheming saas-bahu narratives or the diplomatic ways that female media stars have climbed, these lessons show themselves as valuable.

So what does that have to do with Bill Masters and the men I’ve known? I think they’re people who lack something vital in their mental makeup. I am not intelligent enough to articulate exactly how they’re losing out because of this. Or maybe I haven’t healed from all the callous exploitation inflicted on me personally by them. But I’m convinced that being emotionally limited is a shortcoming and not a strength as I’ve been taught.

The Tragedy of Masters and Men

In the story of Masters and Johnson, Bill Masters does not come off looking good in any way. From all accounts, he was a very gifted and dedicated physician-surgeon already. And it would take supreme courage to undertake the study that became his lifelong passion. This study spawned a whole industry of sex therapy, foreshadowed medical developments like Viagra, was a forerunner of the sexual liberation and women’s empowerment. Importantly, it dispelled many of the medical community’s notions about sex, women’s bodies, older people’s bodies and dysfunctions. Not all the ideas proved correct (especially that problematic view on conversion therapy, which Maier concedes was probably a result of senility) but Bill Masters vision and work transformed how human beings thought of this most fundamental act of relating to one another.

But Bill Masters did not die rich. He was also never acknowledged again, let alone accepted back to the university where he began his project. The few people who tended to him in his last few years – Virginia Johnson herself, his son, his third wife Dody – were/are all seen as deserving of great sympathy and recognition just for tolerating such a terrible man. He certainly did not die loved and the few people who cared enough, probably barely did so.

Considering the need to leave behind a legacy seems more male than female (I suppose it has to do with not really knowing if one’s progeny is one’s own), this seems like a bleak possible future for most emotionally stunted men.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Women Aren’t Winning This Battle Either

This brings me to another thought I’ve been pondering for awhile. I anticipated in my 20s, that the toxic male behaviour I saw around me would have its repercussions on the male gender. I reasoned that the familial structures that supported their Raja Beta brattitude would lose their power as the doting parents got older. But in parallel, the women like me would have collected experiences and lessons in dealing with predatory/exploitative/abusive/cheating men and would reach a point of not needing to carry the burden of them anymore. That is happening. It is happening to me and I see it happening in so many ways around me, even with younger men and women.

The MeToo movement in so many ways was also about women saying that we didn’t HAVE to be exploited any more and if that shocked and destroyed men, why should we have to care?

Where does it leave us all, as a society now? Or as individuals? I know most of the perpetrators named in MeToo seem to have escaped without repercussions. But I know the echoes of this will linger on in every interaction between the genders, every intimate and professional relationship for at least some time to come.

We are a generation of embittered women saying we’ve got a raw deal when it comes to men so we’re not interested. And our counterparts are severely limited men, barely capable of identifying their own emotions right, now dealing with acute fear and no one to tell them how things work. I don’t know that the idea makes me, personally happy.

The last few pages of the book dwell on an ageing Virginia Johnson, after Bill Masters divorced her. A particularly telling section has her reflecting on the fact that she was brought up to be anything a man wanted her to be. How she may or may not have cared for the several men that she encountered (two prior ex husbands, Bill Masters, several other suitors/partners/collaborators).

Virginia Johnson was not a weak or needy woman by any stretch of imagination. Both the show and the book show her to be resourceful, practical, able to set aside her personal ambivalence to focus on what she wanted. One even wonders if she was a victim or an opportunist. But of course, you’d never wonder that about a man primarily because a man would not have had to make such choices but would be welcomed into achievement and exploiting other people readily. She makes for a most interesting character. I’m just not sure that she was a happy person.

It may be the men’s fault but it does mean nobody gets loved or laid.

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Masters Of Sex: Wake Me Up When You Realise Sex Isn’t About The Man

I’m currently watching the TV series, Masters of Sex. It was the first show I began on Netflix when I first subscribed. I had to stop and move to other things that were easier. I’ve tried to come back several times and I think this time I’ll manage to finish it. I’m also reading the book that it’s based on, both versions being about the relationship between the two sex researchers Virginia Johnson and Bill Masters. The last time a show brought up so many thoughts was when I was being initiated into Cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks.

I think Masters of Sex in addition to taking on a very difficult subject also fell into the Season 2 trap of fizzling out after the first climax. The attempts at addressing racial discrimination, people of science against the might of money – none of these plotlines really worked. Having survived the subsequent season I have an idea why this happened.

Do we really need to know about yet another man’s daddy issues and how these are the reason (not gravity) that his organ doesn’t stand right up? Where’s the fun in labouring through yet another ponderous man trying to blame his infidelities, mansplaining, emotional stuntedness and instant gratification chasing on the people around? Bill Masters is not a likeable character and Season 2 rides on his cliched, boring, limited inner life.

This is especially striking because in the same frame is a character and storyline that’s solid gold waiting to be mined. Who is Virginia Johnson? She’s multiorgasmic, a divorcee, a single parent. Is she a gold-digger or a victim of sexual harassment? Is she brilliant or just great at faking it (and presumably convincing a qualified doctor to do so)? Is she that good in bed and if so, how? What paths led her to this place (inside her head, not just the superficial backstory she’s given)? What is her relationship with motherhood, her own reproductive system? We know her thoughts about sex and vaginas – or maybe not. Is she playing an elaborate game of agree-then-contradict to keep the interest of the one man who is her way out of a humdrum life? And why are these politics not explored better in a show that is literally about the politics of sex between two people who are studying, recording and analysing it?

The first season touched on some of these. It was also the first time since Sex & The City that I’ve seen a popular show acknowledge the

politics of the bedroom. What’s happening between Virginia and Bill is not an exception; it’s not ‘two fucked up people’ (that easy phrase that wrote off stories like Gone Girl). It is the truth of regular sex between regular people. People who are married. People who don’t love each other. People who use sex as an escape. Violent people. Traumatised people. Escapists. Survivors. People who don’t fit a box. People who can’t articulate their sexuality in a label. People who don’t know how to express love. People who are alien to the concept of human relating. People who are addicted to the endorphins. People who crave intimacy. Needy people. Distant people. Single people. Queer people. Cheating people. Religious people. People.

The third season attempted to steer us back into some of that but took the laborious route of nasty teenagers, whiny children, bored/cheating spouses and some casual lip service to current causes (race relations, queer representation). Still a whole lot of hullaballoo over a very boring, very self-obsessed, very dysfunctional barely human man. But the fourth season sees us back on the cutting edge stuff of fetishes, infidelity, traumas, ego clashes, gender politics and most importantly, how these play out in the bedroom.

I’m curious to know if my reactions are based on my gender and whether any male viewers agree with me. It’s not that men are not interesting in the context of sex. But this point of view, even this character is not new. There is nothing about this storyline that I haven’t already seen a thousand times over in popular music (both desi and international), Hollywood, gaming, poetry, books and theatre. We know the penis needs a lot of pandering and support and encouraging to function sexually. We know male dysfunctions are often psychological. We know of terms like emasculation and performance anxiety. What we don’t know is what’s going on in the female body? The vagina from whence we all came, she of the self-cleaning repute and multi-orgasmic ability – what’s up with her?

I was hoping Masters of Sex would answer questions like why are so many straight men fascinated by lesbian sex? The reverse doesn’t appear to be true with straight women salivating for gay sex. How about the overdone conversation around positions? Is there really a physiological reason that certain positions feel more powerful than others or it is just what we’ve been fed by the media and the big villain – patriarchy?

The researcher in me really, really wants to know and so does the woman.

Update: I’ve finished Season 4 and I unhappily report that it is a shameless pandering to current day political correctness. There’s a ghastly focus on gay/lesbian people and I call it ghastly because the portrayal feels so token and the ‘no conversion therapy’ message like they replaced scriptwriters with PR people.

I still do want to call out two things that really stood out for me in this show.

I loved that Season 3 addressed Margaret’s profound sense of betrayal while still feeling the need to be loyal to Barton. She even takes on the onus of the divorce by telling her daughter she was unfaithful, resulting in the daughter cutting ties with her. She takes on another unsatisfactory, demeaning relationship. And still, still Barton refuses to speak up. Which one is worse? – Outing someone or forcing someone else to suffer the punishment that would have been meted out to you? It’s not a question that the queer-friendly world I live in, likes to acknowledge. This is what I believe now. Outing a person is deplorable, an act of profound betrayal. But throwing someone else under a bus is also an act of profound betrayal. Being gay doesn’t make it okay to betray somebody. I’ve been facing this issue in a different cause (mental illness) and my stand is the same – nothing excuses a person from a basic code of respect and conduct towards other people. Your sexuality, your gender identification, your religion, your disability, your mental illnesses – none of these make it permissible to violate, abuse or harm another human being. This show was the first in recent times that appeared to at least imply this.

The other part that caught my eye was a scene with Virginia and a new male character. She rolls her eyes and says, “There it comes, the legendary XYZ charm”. It’s quite unlike her, the girl who seems oblivious to the unfairness meted out to her gender. She apologises shortly after, when said man helps her. But we also watch her crumble, bit by bit. She’s constantly being proven right and she’s constantly being attacked for it. I could so relate. All in all, for me Masters of Sex has been exactly like sex itself – so many insights, so much reflection but I’m not sure it has been worth all that.

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Go, Selfie!

I don’t understand what the problem with selfies is. I remember a time when people would keep handing their camera over to others and asking them to shoot their pictures. THAT was really annoying. Selfies put people in charge of their own vanity.

Also, vanity. It’s defined as ‘Excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements etc.’ The vilification of this probably came from people who were insecure about their own worth and wanted to tear down people who showed belief in themselves. Take away a person’s right to feel good about himself/herself and you’ve gotten someone under your control. I see selfies as breaking that horrid thing human beings do to each other.

What is the problem with vanity, really? There is a stereotype (and perhaps a valid one) that selfie-takers are predominantly female. The people who thought women should not be vain, also believed women should be seen not heard, that they should be long-suffering, never complaining martyrs. Vanity says that the person believes they are worthy of regard. Considering how much body policing the average woman endures, I’d say anything that puts self-pride back into her hands is good. Selfies do that by encouraging vanity.

So angle your camera, strike a pose and Go, Selfie!

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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.

Ocean’s 8 — Feminist Or Not?

The Ocean franchise is what I like to think of as Smooth Masculine (but still very masculine) — a format popularized by the early James Bonds. They’re stylish and suave. They actually talk, even intimidate, with words rather than their fists. In itself, this digresses from the usual toxic masculine image of an overmuscled, underarticulate (only they call it ‘brooding’) male. Hey, they even show the main leads crying. The Ocean series is also about male bonding, another digression from the antisocial guy, his social ineptitude glamorized as ‘lone wolf’.

Now we have an all-woman spin on the Smooth Masculine. Is that enough to make it feminist?

Let’s start with the plot. The Ocean’s trilogy was respectively about robbing a supersafe, racing to steal a Faberge egg and breaking a casino. Admittedly the first is also about Danny Ocean showing up his rival in love in a schoolboyish fashion but that is a joke underlining the slickness of the operation. All three movies are about cracking a joke at the expense of some guy who eventually lands on his butt. Every plot is a game with an emphasis on fun and some snazzy lines thrown in. The Ocean trilogy isbuilt on the foundation of Danny Ocean and Rusty’s read-your-mind camaraderie and infused with inside joke humour.

And now let’s take a look at what the girls get. There are just 8 women which made me hope there was going to be a line about 8 women being able to do the job of 11 men or about the wage difference. Nope.

Are they having fun? I’m a woman and I’d be hard-pressed to call what they’re doing fun. Shopping, wearing pretty clothes and ogling a shiny necklace — nope, assuming that’s what women bond over is pretty sexist. Which brings us to the object of the plot. Danny’s boys took on casinos and museums, the money and objects themselves of scant interest. It was the thrill of adventure that drove those plotlines. In comparison Debbie’s girls string along listlessly with motivations as flimsy as money, to chase the most clichéd object in the history of women’s desires — jewelry. So far Ocean’s 8 is already lagging behind than the three male dominated movies on story.

Speaking of listless, the movie boasts a starcast even glitzier than the original Ocean trilogy. But only Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchette have any kind of meat in their roles (and even then, I’d call this a low-fat chicken broth compared to the prime ribs that George Clooney and Brad Pitt got). We know the women were partners earlier and that they team up on this. But beyond that, the two characters are pretty much interchangeable as pissed-off (and entitled) white women through the story. Ocean’s 8’s female characters also have worse roles than their male counterparts in the preceding trilogy.

Speaking of white women, much has been made about Anne Hathaway’s self-referential humour but no, it wasn’t that interesting. Neither was her abrupt about-face at the end of the movie. A hot filmstar joins a bunch of crooks because she wants friends? Sounds flimsy. Helena Bonham Carter is (yet another) wasted talent in the film. It takes no mean talent to act like you’re a bad actor and that’s the extent of her prowess on display in the film.

Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter in Ocean’s 8

Rihanna, the queen of inclusivity and the MET ball, shows up in a grungy avatar as the genius geek. But her tech wizardry extends to making the apartment’s lights flicker on and off and hacking into the museum’s security cameras. This does not impress anyone who grew up among teenagers hacking into government systems. What’s more, her ‘wizardry’ has to be supplemented by lame things like angling cameras to blind spots. This is accomplished by tricking a sad-faced old man with a bogus site about puppies (culled from his Facebook feed). Women and technology = Facebook stalking + clueless old people? Compare this to with the hologram of Ocean’s Twelve and the magnetron of Ocean’s Thirteen. This feels like a comment on women’s supposed ineptitude with technology. Or maybe, just lazy writing. Count one for Ocean’s 8’s misogynist subtext.

Mindy Kaling in Ocean’s 8

Mindy Kaling, another POC star is introduced inside a shop that looks like a parody of Bollywood — flimsy fabrics, garish designs and an atrocious Hindi accent, arguing with a similarly parodic mother (slightly less atrocious accent). Her only contribution to the heist is to blend in with the kitchen wash staff and then break the necklace up, in the toilet. I imagine she’s supposed to be the girls’ version of Virgil-and-Turk but she doesn’t have any of the lines or even the situations to add comedic timing. As an Indian, I can’t help feeling she’s this movie’s version of Anil Kapoor in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol — The token brown fool. Add whitewashing & racism to Ocean’s 8‘s troublesome nature.

There is another token Asian who is a pickpocket but as with Rihanna, her part in the heist has to do with a lot of convenient coincidences and other people acting in stupid ways. I thought she might have been a replacement for The Amazing Yen but no, he shows up in a throwback to every dance-through-laser-beams sequence ever (including Toulour in Ocean’s Twelve). Could the makers really not find a female acrobat/contortionist? Even the snazzy action sequences of Ocean’s Eleven’s lift climb are missing.

Rihanna in Ocean’s 8

Okay, so may be the last three points are more about racial inequality than feminism. Maybe not. Feminism like any ideology, is evolving. This movie may have been impressive in the 90s when a film with no brand-name male stars would have been inconceivable. But 2018’s feminism is intersectional. These glaring instances of tokenism run alongside casual racism — in one scene, Cate Blanchette tells a full-mouth chewing Sandra Bullock (when did Debbie Ocean become Gracie Hart?) “I don’t speak Ukaranian”.

Sarah Paulson, arguably a smaller star than Rihanna, still gets a bigger role showcasing the soccer mom/illegal goods fence. This is probably the least cardboard character but is exploited for very little nuance or humour.

No one in this movie is suave or smooth. Perhaps that’s a feminist statement about women not needing to be these things (but I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel for salvation here). I won’t bother going into the utterly unnecessary nasty ex subplot. Then, I want to know, where’s the movie?

I didn’t get the great lines that made the Ocean’s trilogy such a delight to watch. I didn’t see any fantastic female bonding. I missed the cool gadget wizardry and tech tricks. I didn’t spot any fun action scenes. And I sure as well didn’t enjoy watching talented women grimacing their way through such hackneyed, restricting roles. Even the necklace wasn’t that pretty.

So let’s do a feminism round-up.

Intersectional? Not. If this movie were based on an actual story, it would probably involve whitewashing.

Aspirational female characters? Nope. Every character is replaceable, barely propping the other up or surviving because men slipped up. Add incorrect messages about ‘feminism = male-bashing’.

Breaking stereotypes? Uh, no. I’m looking at you, jewelry chasers, Indian-with-marriage-obsessed-mom, vindictive exes, dumb bimbette who ‘just wants friends’, splashing about on luxury & beauty goods regardless of logic or danger.

Entertaining? No and since this is a film, that is the prime purpose. A story that gives talented actors so little room to entertain, does them (and the audience) grave disservice.

All in all, I think it’s clear that Ocean’s 8 is not only a bad movie, it’s also actively anti-feminist. What else would you call setting up so many talented women in a film that shows women and these actors so poorly?

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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.

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