Category Archives: Media Messages

SEXONOMICS: Making Feminism Fun

I haven’t written about SEXONOMICS all these months, have I? If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram or Youtube, you may have spotted a mention or two. Back in the month of love and Valentines, I got attacked at my favorite performance venue. That incident triggered off a polarising among my community with a handful of men victim-shaming me or rushing in to prove their machismo. Many more of them ignored my requests for help. And I realised that I was standing alone for ideas that would get me attacked into submission. I lost all my friends, my treasured relationships.

I also came onto stage, braving crippling stage fright and carrying the wounds of abusive, gaslighting, confidence-shattering relationships. And with this incident, I was being vanquished and systematically bled out.

I found an ally right then, a slight acquaintance that I’d laughed with in the past. She spoke with me and for me. And she asked if I’d like to collaborate on stage. We joined hands with the only man in our space who agreed with our thinking. Drawing strength from each other, we collaborated on a performance piece titled ‘The Parenting Economy‘. We performed it at NCPA during the South Asia Laadli Media Awards. Within a month, we were featured at two other events, one a creative space and one a nightclub. Two months later, another feminist performer invited us to collaborate on a ticketed show.

This is how SEXONOMICS was born.  Dramatic, is that? I’ve barely been able to catch my breath in this journey from solitary feminist struggling for a chance to speak to co-founder of SEXONOMICS.

Each performance has been reshaped in its writing, its delivery but most importantly, in the thought it espouses. We’ve addressed bad parenting, toxic gender roles, troublesome dating rituals, sexist language, the burden of social approval, revenge porn, common fears around sex, gender privilege, feminism and more. We’ve made use of poetry, rap, spoken word, drama, satire and role play. Every single performance has been an apprehensive step fearing retribution like in the past. And every single one has yielded much joy, learning and possibility.

One major milestone this month was Scroll.in carrying the following story about us –

‘With humour and sass, SEXONOMICS  the Band aims to make feminism fun for Indian women’

I am very glad for all the wonderful conversations that SEXONOMICS has made possible for me, with my collaborator but also with others. If you’ve enjoyed my writings so far, I think you’ll like this next stage in my words also. SEXONOMICS is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“People are so comfortable in their minds with misogynistic references,” Pandyan said. “I just want feminism to also be something that is welcome on the furniture of your mind. It ought to be sitting on the same plush sofa that has been the prerogative of Salman Khan or Honey Singh so far.”

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

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Lipstick Under My Burkha: Not Feminism But A Revenge Saga Against Men

I watched the much talked about ‘Lipstick Under My Burqa’ earlier this week, the first movie I’ve paid a ticket to go watch in the theatre all year. I’m not so sure it was a good decision. All week I’ve been pondering the discomfort I feel with the film. Wasn’t it supposed to make me, the Vocal Feminist, very happy? Well, it didn’t. I found some clarity in my thinking after reading this article (‘Lipstick Under My Burkha Is Bold But Not Feminist).

The story told me that women had problems. I knew that already. So? Does it lay them out in a nuanced way? Let’s see – marital rape, slut-shaming, moral policing. Okay, complex issues, further complicated by the tangle that is gender politics. The bedroom, women’s bodies, our relationships with each other are fraught with so much power play, so many sensitivities that there’s room for a really nuanced story.

Okay, we need to talk about the men in the movie. Why, you ask? Because neither patriarchy nor feminism exist in an isolated world of only women or only men. Both are upheld by people of all genders. Everyone is impacted in some manner by the conflicts inherent in these systems.

Four stories with a woman at the center of each. Let’s meet the men in each one’s world.

Usha buaji/Rosy is surrounded by male tenants/nephews that she keeps in check with stern looks and words. How do these men deal with an older woman who wields financial power over them? Add further nuance with one of them being a Muslim burkha shop owner – how does he deal with his home and livelihood hanging on the decisions of an older, uppercaste Hindu woman? There’s also the key male character in this story – a young lifeguard. He’s nice looking, he’s Haryanvi and he responds to phone calls from an unknown woman propositioning him. Uh, that’s it.

Rehana Abidi is an impish teenager who works at her father’s burkha shop and moonlights as a Led Zepplin humming, boots-wearing, beer-chugging activist collegegoer. How does her father rationalise letting his only child study in a co-ed college while swathed in a burkha? How does he feel about the scantily clad Miley Cyrus poster on his daughter’s wall (flimsily hidden under a towel)? What do the classmates who undoubtedly see Rehana’s daily burkha/ripped jeans metamorphosis make of her spurty activism? Why does the cool stud, Dhruv, find her interesting (apart from her being the only girl in Bhopal to know ‘Stairway to Heaven’)? Do they talk about anything other than music, drinking and making out?

Shireen Aslam appears to work in a world of only women. Her colleagues are all women, her customers are women and she’s not shown sharing a scene with any man other than her husband and her three sons. Somehow with all this, she manages to be the ‘top salesgirl’. That’s a sales job and I don’t care what you’re selling, you can’t NEVER meet or see men. What is her husband like? How is he coping with losing his job? Does he appear defeated and indifferent to whatever else goes on (which explains why he doesn’t seem to be looking for another job)? Is he charged up, angry and driven (with enough energy to openly date a mistress and appear to enjoy it)? How can he be both? That’s not character nuance, that’s Jekyll-and-Hyde.

And finally, the story of our enfant terrible Leela a.k.a The Bad Girl who is sleeping with a photographer while trying to kickstart a business and also survive an engagement with a good Indian boy. Who’s this fiance? He’s going to keep her in a tiny room overlooking the train tracks, in a house bursting with people. But he’s also buying her mother a house. How does he feel about the financial comittment he’s undertaking? And wouldn’t he feel a lot more entitled to his fiance’s time, attention and worshipful devotion? Hey, that’s how human beings think. Alright, never mind him. How about the photographer boyfriend? Does he love our girl, does he not care? Is he using her, is he feeling used? Does he contribute to the business set-up and if he doesn’t believe it, is mere sex enough motivation for him to follow her around? And if that’s so, why does he refuse to sleep with her later?

Once more, let’s list out the men of Lipstick Under My Burkha:

  1. Irrationally hot-headed dependent (tenant/nephew)
  2. Boyfriend photographer prone to irrational rage, jealousy, ego trips and indifference
  3. Slow-witted, corrupt government officials
  4. Brainless hunk lifeguard who scatters words and smiles without abandon
  5. Socially awkward virgin fiance who assumes his fiance is one too
  6. Featureless colleague of husband who blabs to the wife about her husband losing his job
  7. Distant, oppressive father who frowns menacingly more than he speaks
  8. Abusive, cheating, absent father-husband
  9. College cad who dumps his pregnant girlfriend, seduces an underage girl and dumps her at the first hint of uncoolness

The first two are caricatures of irrational men whom the women constantly bully. 3-5 seem incapable of functioning as intelligent adults. 6 & 7 are not really people but blank walls with vague faces. The last two are versions of the all-dark MONSTER. Do any of these men sound like actual human beings?

I’ve heard the cry of ‘But this is a story about women!’.

This story is not set inside a women’s bathroom so why is anyone not female such shit?

That’s no more an accurate depiction of women than it is of their worlds or the men. Feminism is not about villifying men. It’s not about deifying women as long-suffering and showing the metaphorical middle finger to the world (only under the burkha and behind closed doors). It’s about respect and rights for every human being, regardless of gender or other qualifiers.

Slotting men so narrowly amounts to discrimination and what kind of feminism is it, which discriminates? As a woman, I am personally offended. I live in a world that treats me in problematic ways, yes. But I am not so weak that I need to believe that every man is a monster/imbecile. I’m offended by a narrative that tries every storyteller’s trick to define me as a victim. It turns the fight for equality into a revenge saga against men and that is offensive.

What’s worse, having adequately established the ‘See, women’s lives are HARD. Men are so horrible.’, the story closes. Like the article points out – in a cramped room, the women huddled together sharing a surreptitious cigarette and pointing a middle finger. Behind closed doors. What’s the point? Feminism was never about glorying in woe-is-me, any more than it was about hating men. Feminism above all, through its changing definitions, has always been about hope for a better world. Lipstick Under My Burkha offers none of that and sits back to have a smug, self-satisfied smoke at having put down the men. Note: Victory over men, not over patriarchy and what kind of victory is this?

Does this movie show us a single man that is not a cardboard stereotype? Any human characterizations of over half the world’s population? Any realistic depictions of the perpetrators-parallel victims of patriarchy? Any conflicted human beings troubled by the gender double standards while struggling to keep up with the changes wrought by feminism? Any angst at all in any of the men who seem to drive the women’s lives? Even a hint, a flicker of support, compassion, consideration for anyone? Any guilt, regret, confusion over how to express it? Huh?

There’s the problem. It’s not feminism if it’s looks, sounds and tastes like a revenge saga against men.

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

The Ugly Male Face Of ‘Cannot Cope’

I always thought India hates its daughters. But now I believe it hates its sons even more.

One of the biggest advantages that I have is that I was given a realistic view of the world’s indifference and even hostility to my existence. Yes, this is an advantage because growing up aware that you need to work hard and fight for every good thing possible lets you develop this skillset. It teaches you that if the world does not accept you, you don’t shatter; you just try harder. It lets you not take anything or anyone for granted. True, it gives you trust issues. But in our world today, I think I’d rather have trust issues than survival issues.

I predicted this years ago, when my twenties were full of boy-men treating me and other women callously, thoughtlessly, cruelly even. The tables would turn and they are. It’s not that women are getting a better deal. No, we’ve learnt to cope. After all, we were trained to deal with betrayal and unpredictability, in a near-Spartan manner since we were little girls taught to flinch under the male gaze, tiptoe around fathers and brothers and work for their approval. We’ve survived and continue to do so.

But the men? Look at the male half of most break-ups, divorces, broken friendships and even layoffs. Do you see more calories? Greyer hair? Lesser hair and more paunches? More missed calls but also fewer Tinder matches? Higher debts on accrued credit card bills? More rumpled clothes? More dripping venom against life in hate-speech on the internet, stage performances, watercooler conversations? Fewer friendships? More bad behaviour at parties?

This is the ugly male face of Cannot Cope, Cannot Deal With Adult Life.

*Image via Pixabay

These are cracks appearing in the Raja Beta syndrome, as its foundation stones of the manipulative, infantalising family, ages. What happens to a full-grown adult who has been handicapped of social skills and deprived of the freedom/ability to take responsibility for his life, when the crutches falter? That is a damaged human being. Meet The Indian Man.

This one is struggling through a divorce, still bewildered that such a thing could happen. That one is dealing (very badly) with palpitations, diabetes, blood pressure, liver troubles and hating the medical system for it. This one feels inadequate at work, can’t find a way to rise and decides his women classmates must be sleeping their way up. That one can’t stand to see his wife spend so much time on Whatsapp and Facebook, can’t stand the TV they watch and can’t stand it when the electricity is off either. This one hates his colleagues, hates his fellow commuters, hates the spouses of his wife’s friends, hates his neighbors, hates the service staff and thinks it’s just that the world is wrong. That one thought he did everything right, degrees, labels etc. and yet everyone else looks happier than him. This one thought he was the cool one so where did it all go wrong? That one has no idea what to do when his spouse doesn’t get along with his family, is clueless when a job or a relationship ends and has no idea how to take care of his parents. Or himself.

This system is harsh on me but it has actively betrayed the Indian man. I’m truly sorry for all of you. I will not take care of you because that’s just allying with the system. I know many of you will not see that. I also know this the reason you turn your nameless rage against the system onto me and other women. But I’m still sorry. It’s the system, people who were supposed to love you that let you down, not me. All I can say is, it can get better and hatred is not the way.

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

Happy Tokenism Day, Rejoice And Prepare To Hate Us For The Rest Of The Year

 

Happy Bhaag Jayegi Makes A Surprising Escape From Patriarchy

I caught Happy Bhaag Jayegi earlier this week (heh). It was full of the requisite hammy performances and stereotypical Punjabi loudness. But something stood out for me – an easter egg called feminism hidden inside what looks like a typical Bollywood film.

Diana-Penty-In-Happy-Bhaag-JayegiHappy is a high-spirited Amritsari girl with equal measures of determination and naivete. She is part Geet from Jab We Met, part Pooja from Dil Hain Ki Manta Nahin. She has a (rather nondescript) unemployed, dimwitted boyfriend who can’t summon up the energy to take their relationship further. So Happy proceeds to get engaged to a local contractor, Bagga. An elopment plan is made (masterminded no doubt by Happy since the boyfriend is so somnolent) which goes wrong and Happy finds herself over the border, alone, in full wedding regalia.

At the surface of it, it’s a loud, raucuous comedy making light of the Indian stereotypes of a bullying father, an overpowerful fiance and a hapless lover with the damsel in distress at the center of it. But Happy isn’t a helpless waif and neither is she a victim of her circumstances. Compared to her, all the men come across as silly, weak and clueless. She doesn’t appear bogged down when she’s being bethrothed to one man, even while her lover mourns at the gates of the party. She’s not defeated when she finds herself in Pakistan, minus passport, money, contacts or even a mobilephone. She isn’t even abashed when she’s arrested by the Pakistani police.

Yes, a lot of these could just come from arrogant naivete. And her situations are saved from becoming tragic by the presence of good (though weak/clueless) men. But that is the reality of life and feminism. A strong woman is not a superwoman who doesn’t need anyone else. And men are not all villains in the fight against patriarchy and repressive gender roles.

I first noticed it in Abhay Deol’s character but I thought it might just be nuance added by this (admittedly intelligent) actor alone. But there’s a recurring pattern in all the male characters. None of them are supervillains and all of them (in varying degrees) treat Happy as a human being, not an object.

Happy’s father cuts a sorry sight as he stumbles through Lahore streets, begging passers-by to tell him about his lost daughter. The overbearing patriarch has come a long way and he’s just a father devasted by the loss of his child. He is the only man to cling to an outdated sense of gender roles and he is suitably chastised by circumstance.

Bagga, the would-be fiance, is a local thug. Possibly due to the comedic nature of the movie, his response to Happy running away doesn’t become violent. He stays focussed on wanting to marry Happy. He even manages to turn potential humiliation into a sympathy vote for himself. No victims there either (I think he’d have made a good spouse for Happy) and he does it without slandering or punishing Happy. His chest-thumping machismo is cuckolded by intelligence and there is a sense of his having grown and moved on because of it.

The puppy-faced boyfriend gets to Pakistan, with a lot of help from everyone else. Yet, the night before the wedding, he is able to rouse himself out of his stupor to think beyond himself. He summons up the courage to ask Happy’s benefactor if he is not in love with her too. What a contrast from the usual depiction of the Indian lover as an entitled, jealous stalker!

Bilal, the benefactor, is mostly a privileged Pakistani counterpart of the boyfriend, ineffectual due to parental pressure (what’s Guddu’s excuse?). But he acknowledges that Happy’s influence makes him bestir himself and take action. I loved the complexity in his relationship with his own fiance. His fiance Zoya is truly his partner in crime through the film, rather than a helpless all-sacrificing woman. Bilal doesn’t turn into superman overnight but he fumbles, he yearns, he broods and he reaches a decision about his own life. And of women, he says,

“Madhubala to Dilip Kumar ko bhi nahin mili thi. Par yeh zaroori nahin ki Madhubala ko kitne chahate they. Yeh zaroori hain ki Madhubala kisko chahati thi.”

I haven’t seen a Bollywood love story in a long time, that acknowledges a woman’s consent. Bilal’s statement makes this a story about what the girl wants and her right to have it, rather than making her a trophy to be won by the best man. This makes me very happy and I’m quite willing to forgive the flaws in the movie for this one dialogue alone. Maybe the world is changing, even if not as quickly as I’d like it to.

19th-August-2016-Bollywood-Movie-Releasing-on-This-Week

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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.

 

Thinking Pink: Fashion As A Feminist Statement

I was at the India Culture Lab last weekend for an event called ‘Feminism & Fashion’. It was a fabulous evening (as evenings spent at the ICL usually are). Among all the wonderous sights and conversations, I had a chance to meet my longtime girl-crush Sharanya Manivannan in person and discovered that she knew me. She wore a bindi with a lacy dress and teamed heavy gold jhumkas with high heels. AND she’s a dark girl with a soft voice that speaks a lot of hard truths. Any surprises that I like her? 😊

There is a myth that dressing well and the intellect do not go hand-in-hand. As women we struggle with labels and we succumb to whichever label we dislike the least. I grew up choosing the label of Intelligent Girl over Babe, Diva or Princess. How far does that extend?

As a teenager, I hid inside grunge – unkempt long hair, oversized teeshirts, cotton pyjamas, very old jeans, boots and no makeup. It was the 90s and Alanis Morisette was all the rage. But my dressing had a lot to do with not wanting to be mistaken for ‘those’ airheaded girls who wore makeup and dressed to please men.

Then in my early twenties, I stumbled into an abusive relationship, where (among other things), he chose what I wore, basically dollface/sexpot – pastel shades, puffy sleeeves, heels, tiny handbags, clinging clothes. When I came out of that relationship, I realised that the world treated me better when I conformed to the beauty ideal and everything was a lot easier. So I embraced the warpaint.

Make no mistakes, my sojourn into dressing up was a militant move. Warpaint I call it and that is what I was. Through my twenties and even today, the clothes and makeup I wear were my armour. I am not ashamed of this because this does not rise from self-loathing. My dressing does not hide my flaws; it hides my strengths. I have faced too much for too long to believe that my womanhood will have any relationship to fairness and truth. The world (mostly men) will not let me be in peace if they see me as I see myself – an intelligent, determined, independent human being. My fashion is a statement, a ‘zor ka jhatka dheere se lagao‘ veneer over the hardness (and hardiness) of my being.

My look has evolved over the years, along with my personality and my feminism. I have started to realise that I can dress for the world’s comfort while also incorporating my own individuality into it. The I Wear series that I have been doing for years, has been an attempt to showcase just this. What I wear is an integral part of who I am and how I relate to the world.

To come back to Friday’s event, I had an sudden hankering to wear pink. Pink was a colour I gravitated to a lot as a child. But very early on, I knew that the world saw pink as a colour symbolizing ‘girliness’. This represented sugariness, princessy tantrums, weakness, dimwittedness and a general inferiority to boys/men. So I gave up pink. I went through black, blue and white before I embraced red. Red is still a very important part of my identity and will always be a symbol of strength and independence for me.

But what of pink, my abandoned desire? I think I only realised on Friday that I had begun incorporating pink into my wardrobe years ago by tricking myself. I always ‘butch’ up or turn up the volume on my dressing when I wear pink. It’s usually screaming shades of the colour such as fuchsia or majenta. If the gentleness of salmon or baby pink appear, I keep them to a minimum and contrast them with boots and dark colours or vivid prints. Well, that is quite a realisation to have.

Fashion is expression and full of powerful symbology. It affects the way we relate to each other and to ourselves. In its truest sense, it is also a celebration of the individual. By dressing up and dressing well by my own standards, I challenge gender stereotypes, oppressive attitudes towards sexuality and the moral police. So fashion is definitely a feminist statement.

Reema has had something to do with my shifting perspective towards feminism, womanhood, vanity and dressing up, in the past few years. She has been another woman who owns her wardrobe choices as well as her intelligence and it’s always comforting to have company. Neha and Sharanya were striking instances of the same. Friday evening was the first time in years that I did not feel like I had to defend my dressing or apologize for my intelligence. Without realising it, I’ve also been deeply lonely in my dressing and being around other women who carried the same attitude was encouraging.

Maybe it’s time for me to let some pink into my life and this time without needing to hide it away with noise and saturation. After all, my feminism is not all hard. My strength can also be soft.

This.

A post shared by Ramya Pandyan (@ideasmithy) on

If you’d like to see what I wore to the event, run along to the I Wear post on The Idea-smithy. Also check out what another independent, intelligent and fashionable woman wore to the same event.

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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.

Girls Who May One Day Be Gone

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll want to hold back reading this post until after you have. This is not a review but you will need to know the story. Truly, I mean it. Go away, watch the movie. It’s worth it.

gone-girl-2014-06

I just finished reading Gone Girl. I saw the movie with Reema when it first came out. It was an important milestone in our friendship. When you watch a movie with another person, you get to know each other a little better. Are you talkers, shusshers or silent seethers? Do you respond with laughs, gasps, moving forwards in your seat or do you stay still and quiet? And most importantly, what do you think of the film?

A story like Gone Girl can be a make-or-break point between people, the kind that reaches deep into your recesses and dredges up fear and horror. This one was particularly interesting because it also teases out where one stands on the politics between men and women.

I had been told that the book was even better and I won’t entirely disagree. It’s a great read, well-crafted and delivered. But that said, it laid out the issues clearly – almost too clearly – and the matter of who the real villain in the story was. The movie, in contrast, still leaves me feeling something quite else.

When Reema and I first saw the movie, we both cheered at Desi’s death. We actually laughed when we watched her stab him right in the middle of sex. It silenced the whispering, giggling bunch of teenage girls behind us (since that scene appears roughly midway through the movie, we spent one half grimacing at the things they giggled about and the other half gleeful about their subdued silence). A few seconds after the stab scene, three men in front of us stood up and walked out of the theater and they didn’t return. It’s a story we both like to tell now.

Is that a bit horrifying or more? I may stand accused of drastic opinions by the men I’ve intimidated over the years. But I’ve never been okay with violence or automatically slotting man as monster and woman as victim. And Reema is known to be a peaceful, diplomatic person who is happily married. How did we come to take such relish in the story of a murdering psychopath?

I first put it down to the collective female angst triggered off by the Nirbhaya case. India was screaming and women were cheering on angry female avengers. It’s what made the movie NH10 such a success. The movie’s protagonist kills several men in much bloodier detail and yet never gets called an anti-hero. Why? Because her rage is thought to be justified. She has witnessed injustice and horror and instead of staying dumb and numb, she takes action. GO GIRL!

On the other hand, Gone Girl shows a woman who lies, manipulates and kills. Why? Oh, because her husband loses interest and cheats on her. That doesn’t justify murder, does it?

Wait, does anybody remember a movie called Unfaithful? Released a decade before Gone Girl, it showed a bored housewife indulging in an affair with a younger man. My favorite scene in the film is when the cops come calling on their home to talk about the murder of the by-then-former lover. Husband and wife sit through the interview and after the cops leave, they look at each other. Each look is full of accusation and anger. And then, guilt and understanding. Whose was the larger sin? Cheating or murder?

Let’s come back to Gone Girl. The same question is raised here, this time with the genders reversed. Why is it automatically assumed that hers is the bigger crime because it is murder? The same standard ought to apply to Unfaithful but it doesn’t, because there it’s seen as a crime of passion, of jealous rage. And because – there’s no way around it – Gone Girl’s murderer is a murderess. Amy fakes her own death and wait, she turns up not dead! That has to really rattle the kind of self-righteous male who thinks respecting women is the same thing as playing knight in shining armour. No, how dare she be able to take care of herself?!

You can talk about the different levels of premeditation on each character’s part and argue that the full year that Gone Girl‘s Amy takes to prepare for the whole thing outweighs the few seconds in which Unfaithful‘s Edward throws the snow globe at his wife’s lover’s head. Let’s talk about that snow globe. It represents the mutual affection and memories of the married couple. Edward flies into a rage when he realises that she has given his gift to her lover.

Now let’s think about Amy. Her husband has uprooted her from her home in New York, buried her in a tiny town where she doesn’t fit, sunk all her money in a bar. He has also spent five years ignoring her the minute she stops being his Manic Pixie Dream Girl and takes on the real humanness that marriage brings. And finally, he goes the most obvious way and has an affair with his student – such a damning cliche for a writer. He also kisses this student in the open and takes her to several of the places that were supposed to be special to himself and Amy. Does the sound of cracking up start to sound right now?

NH10 at least punishes its angry girl protagonist. She loses her husband in the bargain. It seems to balance out her uncharacteristic (for a woman) violence. She has been chastised and will have to live with that. I think a lot of men’s biggest problem with Gone Girl was that she gets away with it.

The book lays out Amy’s manipulation and her deceptions in far greater detail than the movie does, right from feigning a fear of blood to conveying subliminal messages to Nick’s Alzheimer-ridden father. It even paints her obsessive personality more clearly than the movie does. But it also brings out her pain better – her deep betrayal by her husband and parents, emotionally and financially. In every way, they bankrupt her, over and over again. She just refuses to stay victim.

Gone-girl-EW

If in a story, a man may be excused for murder solely on the basis of emotional betrayal, why is a woman still vilified for avenging both emotional and financial betrayal? The financial part is important especially today because it signifies the utter loss of independence and the ability to retain one’s personal power. Yes, there is such a thing as alimony but that’s mere money. There’s seething resentment against women who claim alimony, in addition to the relentless social censure they face for having less than perfect marriages. Shame, the world is saying, shame on you for making the man pay. You have his money but it’s something you don’t deserve, you’re not supposed to feel okay about having it. Amid all this, Amy was protecting herself and her interests in a world that would only continue exploiting her.

Just in case you’re wondering how fair it is for Desi to die because of someone else’s marital troubles, the book makes that clearer too. Desi was not helping her, he was keeping her captive. You don’t help an abused woman by coaxing her into being your personal love-toy. Especially when she has no money and no way to transport herself out. True, this points to questionable ethics rather than malicious crime and murder cannot be condoned. Still, how easy it is for audiences to tidy up a character’s actions when he’s male and how much easier to tar when she’s female.

By the end of the story, you get the feeling Amy doesn’t care either way what the people who do know think about her. I understand that feeling well. Scarlett O’Hara would have understood it too. As women we live lives that are given less justice, harsher punishments, many more pressures and far less empathy than our male counterparts. It’s an individual matter, at what point we break and decide we really don’t need to allow this flawed system to determine our inner moral compass anymore.

And I guess that’s why women loved the film and a lot of men didn’t. There’s a possible Amazing Amy in every single one of us.

Dark Girls Have All The Fun

Last week I was at a Body Shop outlet. Two women were waiting at the counter. I walked up to join the queue and smiled at them. Both of them looked me over — my short hair, the lipstick swatches on my left wrist, my minidress and they turned their faces away. I might not have noticed it. But my attention was momentarily captured by a gloss on the shelf on the side. I bent down to examine it, then changed my mind and straightened up immediately. I turned just in time to catch them both eyeing me curiously. They turned their eyes away immediately.

Fifteen minutes later, I was at a coffeeshop and the same two women came up behind me at the counter. Their reactions were exactly the same. Looking away or right through me as if I were invisible. But at least twice I caught them staring at me with a curious expression of disbelief and what? Awe? Resentment? Anger? Wonder? I know I’m not imagining it because I had a friend with me who wondered why they were behaving so oddly. They behaved differently with her — the vague half-smile one gives strangers in shops followed by casual indifference, only stopping to make way for other people but with no eye contact.

It struck me when I watched ‘Queen’ — the character of Vijaylakshmi (played by Lisa Haydon) in her glorious rejection of the Indian stereotype of womanhood. I only caught the obvious things in the first viewing — her smoking, drinking, open sex life and single parenthood. The second time though, I caught something so obvious, I was stunned that I had missed it. How could I have missed the fact that Vijaylakshmi is a dark-skinned diva? It’s the ultimate rejection of everything India believes about women — that we should aspire to be attractive sex objects and that there is only one definition of attractiveness.

Rani’s shock, fear, then awe and finally respect for Vijaylakshmi was a richer story when I realised this. Rani is the kind of girl who has grown up being awarded brownie (sorry, pun-haters) points for fitting that stereotype. It would be inconceivable for her that a woman like Vijayalakshmi exists, is not just unperturbed by it but actually proud and happy about the way she is.

If you think that might be taking things a bit far, look at another role where Lisa Haydon does pretty much the same thing to the protagonist (except the princess there doesn’t have Rani’s strength to grow). Aisha’s pampered princess is jarred by the presence of Arati, who owns her caramel skin even better than the rest of Delhi high society wears their Prada and Gucci.

What stands out about both Vijaylakshmi and Arati’s characters? It’s not just the fact that they are dark-skinned girls. It’s the fact that they wear their skin with pride, not defensiveness or fear. Neither character acts as if she needs to apologise for having extra melanin. They don’t hide behind the dull browns and maroons that get assigned to dark skins as ‘best suited for this complexion’.

How many dark skinned women do you see wearing shorts, singlets or backless dresses? How many of them have short cropped hair? How many wear colours like neon pink, bright orange or parrot green? In short, how many dark skinned women do we see in India who are comfortable enough to wear their skin and not hide it behind cloth, hair or drab colours?

I don’t have any facts and figures for that but I am a dark skinned woman. I do all of the above and I get noticed more because of it than because I’m striking in any other way. Fair skinned women often react to me in one of the two above ways — either with secret admiration growing to respect or with undisguised resentment. In the instance that I mentioned at the start of the post, both those women were milky white. My friend is what we call ‘fair skinned’ too. I was wearing a pair of bright yellow shoes, maroon shorts and a singlet. I also had on my trademark blazing lipstick and short, cropped hair. None of these speak of a woman who feels like she has to hide her physicality. I imagine that comes as a big suprise to most people.

I didn’t grow up being told I was nice-looking. I often got told how my dark skin was a liability. It still gets told to me, by beauticians, by fashion bloggers, by Bollywood songs that deify the ‘gori’, by fairness cream advertisements, by distant family members, by an ex-boyfriend, by well-meaning friends who suggest that I quit swimming. At some point of time, I realised nobody was every going to think of me as beautiful. But I had to live with my own body  and see my face in the mirror every damn day. I couldn’t live with hating that for the rest of my life so I decided that I’d learn to see myself as beautiful. And I did. Now I find I’m past the outrage of being discriminated against for my skin colour. I know I look good. I feel it in my head. I just know with utmost certainty that something looks good on me because it looks good to me. Everyone else’s opinion is just that. But I realise that this self-knowledge scares a lot of other people. Their cruel words and angry gestures come from a place of fear and that’s something I have to pity. It can’t be easy living your life inside an constricting view, then discovering that someone who doesn’t do that but looks happier than you feel.

I’ve discovered a secret and there’s no going back on knowledge. Instead of fewer colours ‘suiting me’ as the beauty magazines say, I think a lot more of them do. Colours that usually get called ‘outrageous’ don’t jump off my skin like they are plastic/amoeboid life forms. My unfashionable skin colour carries vivid violet, bubblegum pink and Fanta orange in exactly the same way as it does muted browns and maroons. This is great for someone who enjoys colour the way I do — like the company of a close friend. And finally, this knowledge gives me the confidence to wear what I like, which I believe is the only real ingredient there is to looking good. I think this knowledge was for me, a breaking free of one of the invisible boundaries society places on women’s bodies & minds. There’s nothing but freedom beyond that.

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Me and my love of colour

If you’re a dark skinned woman, lock away your browns, maroons and greys and pick up a tomato red, a sunshine yellow, a tangerine or a neon green. I dare you. You’ll thank me when you join the party of dark divas laughing at everyone else who is conforming. I think I’m beginning to understand Arati’s cool composure and Vijayalakshmi’s laughing nonchalence. Dark girls really do have all the fun.

Why I’m Not Protesting The #IndiasDaughter Ban

I woke up to find Twitter screaming about a new ban. This has been a week of outraging about bans, the last one being the ban on the production & possession of calf, cow and bullock meat, better know as #BeefBan. Today’s outrage was over the Indian government banning the BBC India documentary about the 2012 Nirbhaya rape. Much had been getting made over the fact that it included an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the rapists.

My first instinct might have been to cry ‘Down with the ban!’ given we’re rapidly becoming a country that bans things for reasons that seem unjust, biased and regressive. But something held me back, possibly a couple of conversations I had earlier this week. So this is what I posted to Facebook this morning. I’ve spent the day defending this stance, trawling through the sewage of male bullying online (#NAMALT, regionalist abuse, patriarchal statements etc). I’ve had heated conversations with people, mostly outside this country whose stance sounds convenient and armchair philosopher style apathetic. I’ve debated with friends and peers within this country who hold other viewpoints. And I’m so worn down by this.

Three hours after I stopped watching the Twitter streams, I still can’t stop the ringing in my ears that says WE FAILED HER. WE FAIL WOMEN. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN ME. THIS COULD BE ME. I’m going to say no more. Here goes –

I don’t think the ‘India’s Daughter’ film should be available for viewing. True, this is censorship and as a writer, I should oppose that.

But this is a country where politicians say women should not be given mobile phones, where godmen decree that eating chowmein leads to rape, where girls who were raped & hung, are accused of enticing the perpetrators. We prove time and again, that we are a culture that hates women with a passion that surpasses all logic and justice.

We are also the same country where hundreds of young men drew lit matchsticks across their tongues, in blind imitation of a fictitious character in a Bollywood movie.

Rape culture & misogyny are deeply embedded in our psyche. I think this documentary will be seen for what it is, by a few who already think that way, so it’s just preaching to the converted. For the rest, I think it will only humanize a monster and glorify his actions. I fear to think of what a world of me-toos will look like.

Can’t you just see the average boy on the road thinking, “Usne to saaf bola, girls deserve this for going out after 9”? I can.

Edit: I found the actual documentary as well as number of excerpts & analysis about it on Youtube. Take a look down the comments there to see how India responds. It’s sickening.

Edit 2: Watched the whole documentary. Utterly sickened. First by reliving the incident and then realising that the entire video is just one long ‪#‎PovertyPorn‬ saga. It doesn’t present any new facts, needlessly highlights tear-jerker sequences around the rapists and offers no real value except repeating the dysfunctional mindset of this country. Watch it if you enjoy real life tragedies being exploited for a privileged audience’s entertainment.

You’ll find plenty of material about why the ban should be lifted. Here’s just one more voice that matches what I had to say and this time, it comes from a man: A Short Rant On The Longest Known Evil.

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