Category Archives: Media Messages

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.

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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.

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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.

The Game – Neil Strauss: Negging & Begging

I first heard about ‘The Game’ by Neil Strauss on one of the American sitcoms (5:30–5:59). And then in another. Always the mocking tone, always in the context of battle-of-the-sexes jokes. It piqued my curiosity and ignoring the raging negative feedback online, I bought the book. I told myself that it would be good research into the psyche of the kind of man I need to avoid.

51S6+Vw3yGLThe Game is written in an autobiographical style by Neil Strauss who claims to have stumbled onto an underground society of pick-up artists, while researching a story. He then goes undercover and becomes one of them, seemingly to explore the world from within. Very quickly, he (now called ‘Style’) rises to one of the ‘top guys’ in the community and began conducting workshops and mentoring other aspiring pick-up artists. The book does not actually provide a logical how-to for men but rambles on like a travellers’ journal in a foreign world. This was my first clue. What does it say about the author if he’s claims to be a star in a world that he’s constantly trying to detach himself from?

Very quickly the book’s protagonist is identified and formed, one Mystery, self-styled pick-up guru. In truth, this character is needy, diffident, emotionally stunted and unable to function without constant mollycoddling either by a girlfriend or Strauss/Style himself. There is neither any evidence within the plotline, of Mystery’s abilities nor any explanation for his supposed successes with women. He dresses like a buffoon, opens conversations with inanities and spends much of the book throwing tantrums, being depressed or making a fool of himself in public. This was my second clue. Is Mystery based on a real person or is an alter ego of Strauss himself? Fight Club flashback, anybody? Nah, Strauss does not have Palahniuk’s flair.

Just as the mutual male whining begins to get to the reader, an occasional female pops up, having been waylaid with a whole gamut of performing monkey style tricks and ridiculous lines. A couple of these tricks seem intelligent enough, from the most manipulative point of view. ‘Negging’ or paying a woman a backhanded compliment/insult to throw her off and have her seek validation from you, is probably the most famous of these and the one that made it into pop culture references. But for most part, the pick-up artists’ so-called art appears to be nothing but a series of actions that scream “Please, please, please pay attention to me. If you don’t, the other boys will make fun of me!” They may as well have called the book ‘A little negging, a lot of begging’

And just as abruptly the story swings into a ridiculous fantasy called Project Hollywood, a mansion whose sole function appears to be to host parties overrun by beautiful women and alcohol. How they manage to set this up and realise this is not very well explained but its descent into seediness is well-chronicled. Magically, Strauss/Style himself meets the Perfect Woman (intelligent, beautiful, smart, vulnerable etc.). Her perfectness only comes from the fact that she changes character every couple of pages to suit whatever revelations he is having. There, clue three. Who here believes that this woman is real?

The book ends with the ‘bad guys’ getting their comeuppance from the tax collectors, other competitors being vanquished by their women leaving them, Mystery himself narrowly escaping his doomed fate and Strauss/Style jetting off into the sunset with the Perfect Woman. Hoo boy, if this is what male fantasies are like, no wonder so many of them are so angry all the time.

Read The Game if you:
– enjoy female fantasies of vampires & werewolves and have read all the available books around them
– want to to throw in ‘The Game’ references to sneer at men who trying negging
– are concerned the pick-up artists are intelligent, powerful men who may take over the world (you’ll sleep better after reading ‘The Game’)

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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.

Buzzfeed’s Imaan Sheikh & Rape Culture

A few years ago, I dated someone who got a lot of attention for his loud views on women’s rights, gay rights and child abuse. He also frequently said things like ‘faggotty shit’ and ‘Don’t be such a vagina’ and ‘stop PMSing all over the place’. When I pointed out these fallacies, he called me uncool because I didn’t get it. And when I pressed on, he insisted that joking about something reduced its sting.

This afternoon, Imaan Sheikh (Buzzfeed’s current darling) got into a conversation on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of her take on popular Bollywood. But this screenshot of her tweets from 2012 stopped me dead in my tracks. It made me want to throw up.

I tweeted about this tagging her and she replied. Here is the conversation we had.

Let’s talk about rape humour. Rape is an act of extreme brutality and violence carried on women in systematic and fully-supported ways, in every part of the world. It is aimed at and usually succeeds in leaving a woman stripped of health, self-esteem, dignity, emotional stability and security. Rape culture is all the conversations, rituals and social practices that simultaneously encourages the propagators and demonises the victims. Joking about rape makes it exactly that — a joke. It trivialises the victim’s trauma, minimises all the work being done to overturn it and permits propagators & supporters to go along in the notion that their actions are ‘cool’ or okay.

Now let’s look at Imaan Sheikh. I got the distinct impression that I was being indulged the way a troublesome but not quite trolley minion would be, on Twitter. Imaan’s attitude to the whole thing seemed to be “What that again? Aren’t you guys over it? How uncool of you. Still, I will deign to respond because you know, you guys do read my stuff.”

All of us have things in our past we aren’t thrilled about. But aren’t there degrees to even what parts of that can be brushed away as ‘I was young and stupid’? I cannot imagine rape humour ever being okay, especially when propagated by an educated, savvy woman.

This last because, the onus of standing for women’s rights falls to us even more than it does to other factions of society. Women on the internet, especially highly influential ones, enjoy the kind of freedom that is a privilege, not a basic right for most women. These women also inevitably become role models for younger women and prototypes for the image of strong women. What does it say about strong, influential women when one of them supports rape culture?

I’m afraid Imaan, this is one of those massive blunders that you are going to have to keep apologising for, for the rest of your life. I hope this happens because if it doesn’t, it means our world continues to believe that rape is a minor infraction. And that is not going to be a good world for either you or I to live in, Imaan.

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

Ladies Compartment

The myth about Mumbai’s gender-seggregated spaces

Mumbai is considered India’s safest city for women. All public transport facilities include spaces allocated for women only. Mumbai trains have 2 coaches reserved for women only. Buses have a two-seater bench for women only. And the recent addition to public infrastructure, the Mumbai metro has recently announced a separate coach for women only.

 

Less than a month since its introduction, the resentful murmuring has already begun. I heard a friend complain about women who were travelling in what he called the ‘men’s coaches’ since there were designated spaces for them, already. This is something every female train traveller hears often.

Today, I took the metro and spotted this message emblazoned across the seperating tape.

“We know you are special, so an exclusive zone for you. Ladies Only.”

 

Mumbai Metro — Ladies section

I’d like to say thank you to the Mumbai Metro for putting this up. It highlights the problem and makes it easier for me to explain.

The point is not that women are special. We do not believe we are. How can we, when the whole world, starting from family, to classmates, to fellow commuters, to strangers on the road, to colleagues let us know that we are not? Being subjected to 24×7 scrutiny and moral judgement does not make us ‘special’, it makes us prisoners. Ajmal Kasab’s every move was scrutinised and you know who he was.

What is worse is that this differentiated treatment is neither our fault nor under our control. I have refused the ‘ladies’ seat’ on buses several times. I have waived ‘special rights’ offered to women in lines. Only to be told every single time that I am imposing and intruding into men’s territory. Whether it is a physical boundary or a mental one, gender seggregation does not come from women. It is a restriction imposed on us, under threat of moral censure and physical danger, if violated.

The common myth is that trains are divided into ‘ladies compartments’ and ‘gents compartments’. No, they are not. Mumbai trains have a ladies compartment among several other ‘general compartments’. Buses have ‘ladies seats’ among general seating.

To come back to the accusations of life being easier for women because of these gender-seggregated spaces, and that hated label of ‘special for women’ — why should I feel bad about an inelegant solution offered by society to my sex because of the crimes of your sex?

I would also like to point out that the city is not really safer because of these gender seggregated spaces. Women have been attacked and pushed off these very trains. Every single woman who travels by buses has a story of being rubbed up against and even groped by bus conductors and fellow passangers. Anyone who has travelled regularly by the ladies compartment in trains will know not to stand next to the separating grill, since intrusive hands and fingers come groping through them. Last year’s gangrape at Raghuvanshi Mills and the almost daily reportage of horrific rapes, acid attacks and crimes against women in this city should dispel any notions of how ‘safe’ Mumbai is for women.

Gender-seggregated spaces do not exist because women are special or consider ourselves so. They exist because certain MALE miscreants consider themselves special and deny us access to a safe, respectful space. Can we please stop acting as if it is a privilege extended to women and see it for what it is — a consolation prize for the actual human right to safety?

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