Category Archives: Men, men, men
Navigating A Feminist Identity
Last evening was a series of odd events. It started when I was hosting an open mic. One of the performers ranted about being friendzoned, spewing vitriol on the woman and ended up calling the audience boring because nobody would applaud. While this person was still performing, someone tapped on my shoulder and said, “You’ve got to call this out. This is problematic.”
This was heartening to hear. I’ve soldiered on alone for so long, being called all kinds of evil names, it just felt so good to know someone else found this outrageous and demanded action. When he finished, the silence of the audience was deafening. My god, this is what I touched when I did a silent performance. The whole room voiced their discontent with this problematic piece without making a sound. It was more powerful than anything I could have said or done because the community policed itself.
As a vocal feminist in this very space, I’ve endured hostility & harassment for calling out shit like this. It has also become my calling card, with ‘Have You Met My Feminism?’ getting much more recognition than any of the other pieces I worked harder on. SXonomics was my middle ground, learning to temper my fire to be more sustainable. So I wondered how to handle the problematic performer. I was, after all hosting and it’s my responsibility to hold the space as safe and diverse with minimal silencing or hate.
I decided to let him finish rather than disrupt a performance and then call it out. When I went back on stage, I explained why friendzone was a problematic idea, keeping it as personal attack-free as I could. And then I moved on. But I wondered if I had been too mild about it. It’s hard enough deciding which battles to fight and the decision of how hard to fight is even worse. As I explained it to some of the others who were enraged, later, as a host I sought to encourage anyone performing and helping them navigate their problem areas (including gaps in thought). Many of them thought it was pointless but I figured it was always worth engaging until the other person made it absolutely impossible.
After the event was over, a girlfriend commented on the incident. And then she said another performer had told her she liked performing when I was hosting because I was especially supportive of women performers. But, my friend said, I managed to do it without belittling or neglecting the men. So up my spirits lifted again.
I closed the evening catching up with a male acquaintance. I started to tell him about the incident. “You get why friendzone is problematic, right? No? Okay, let me put it this way. Men are the ones who complain about being friendzoned.”
He interrupted to tell me women got friendzoned too. I said, but the complaining is by men. He agreed and fell quiet….for about 3 sentences before interrupting to mansplain what these guys are like. I asked if he knew who incels were. He didn’t but it didn’t stop him from interrupting me and mansplaining about what men like these were like. I managed to get a word in about the shooters in the US. But not before he started talking about his roommate, yelling about how lots of Delhi guys were nice people. The next 4 minutes (the time it took to walk the road) he kept shutting me down, interrupting, his voice getting louder and his stance getting more aggressive by the minute.
When it got to him shouting (yes shouting) about how everything about me was gender, I just went very quiet and then told him to drop it. You see, this person is not a close friend. He’s someone who contacted me based on my writing (which has all been very strongly feminist and about gender politics). I didn’t even want to bother dealing with this kind of disreputable behaviour anymore.
He didn’t seem to realise I was ending the conversation. I reiterated, “This is over. Go home. It’s late.” He sputtered and said, “You say I’m mansplaining? You…you are woman-shunning!” I walked away before he could say anything more. Angry men are dangerous men. Half an hour later, my phone was beseiged with foaming-at-the-mouth messages from him. I told him if he ever contacted me again, I would report him. And I blocked him.
I’m aware that there will be a lot of people who think I should have patiently heard him out and explained to him. Because after all, I did take that stance with the first problematic man. I even told the others who were angry with that guy, that the only hope we have is in engaging and keeping conversations going. But I also have to draw my boundaries and definitions.
Tolerating men’s bad behaviour till they decide to be better human beings is NOT my job (or any other woman’s). From experience I know such men never will make that decision. Engaging with someone who wants to learn – there’s some merit in that but it is still my prerogative to decide I don’t want to. And I have decided not to engage with anyone who throws tantrums or silences me – I don’t do that and I deserve better than to be treated that way.
And finally, I don’t have to do all of this alone. Maybe the world is changing or maybe I’m moving to parts of it that hold more solidarity with my values. The respect and camaraderie of several women (and some men) who feel the same way versus surviving lots of toxic men – it’s an easy choice when I look at it like that.
Patriarchy is a shutdown, silencing, a one-way order. Feminism is a conversation. And a conversation can only be two-way (or multi-way). It can only be between people willing to listen to the other. Anything else is not my business.
I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few men I’ve dated, echoed also in some of my male friends of similar age. They open with WORK FIRST. They’re managers, they’re artists, they’re performers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re chefs and architects and engineers. They’re all about how what they’re doing is priority, how it’s super important and how it will always justify standing you up, keeping you in limbo and more.
Don’t get me wrong. I like ambition and drive. I enjoy focus. And these are not bad men. I can see they genuinely believe what they’re saying. They also all come with transformation stories of how they used to be XYZ and how they’re trying to be better men.
It’s just that I’ve lived this life more than a decade ago. And even back then, I didn’t have the option of prioritising one over the other. I had to be good at work. I had to fit beauty, grooming and hygiene standards. I had to be a dutiful daughter, niece, granddaughter. I had to be the razor-sharp brain, the fire-in-belly corporate shark. I had to be marriageable material. And I had to be the fun, sexy date and eventually the prize girlfriend who listened and challenged but never competed. I’ve had three major careers and several boyfriends. I couldn’t have done all that without ambition or focus.
I realised yesterday that 20-something men are commitment-phobic for different reasons from 30-something men. Men in their 20s saw women and dating as fun. It was theirs for the taking, they were out of the strictures of college and their targets were being pressured to please men (with a view of landing a husband). They saw women as a buffet. Why settle on just one when there were so many up for the grabs and when they could walk away leaving behind what they didn’t feel like continuing on their plates?
30-something men in contrast, have usually gone through a few relationships, maybe even a marriage or live-in or two. They’ve been called to account to pay bills, to answer to bosses and investors and clients. And more recently feminism has them worrying about #MeToo, about alimony payments, about pregnancy scares. It’s suddenly hit them that relationships are work, that women won’t stay mute objects and that inconvenient things will happen if they just stumble around in the blind pursuit of fun. Work in contrast is single-minded. It’s easier to chase the tangibility of career goals than live in the amorphous, ego-defeating world of human relating. So it is Work First, Fun Later.
They still think they get to pick one thing to do at a time and the world waits patiently till they’ve figured out whether they want to do it and how to do it. And they’re refusing to acknowledge that relationships, sex and dating were always going to involve work, hard work. The work of undoing years of brutish callousness, the work of learning to listen and care about the wishes of another person, the work of remembering that they are not the center of the universe and living with the reality that nobody, absolutely nobody has to care about them.
I can see some of them realise this in flashes and then it’s like the realisation is too big and scary to cope with. So back they go to Work First, not from pure passion but because it feels like a safer refuge than a world that demands a lot and promises nothing.
I’m trying but I’m finding it very hard to feel empathy for this man. After all ‘demands a lot and promises nothing’ has described this very man my entire life. My generation of women, we’ve lived this life for more than a decade and are reaching a point of asking whether men are worth it. We’ve also survived divorces, live-ins. And we’ve done it while juggling bully in-laws, the glass ceiling and the violent face of the male ego. So umm, yawn.
Yes, there is the fact that younger women are turning adults. And the slightly sharp 30-something man realises that all he has to do is turn his sights towards the younger woman. While the younger women today are woke-r and slightly better equipped to question patriarchy, the fact is, it’s still going to take years for them to develop the kind of resilience and strength to challenge exploitation. So on to another decade of today’s 30-something men finding a different base of prey while telling themselves they’re ‘adulting’ with their careers.
None of this has much to do with ambition or focus. And it’s got everything to do with avoiding responsibilities, a trait that isn’t particularly conducive to either ambition or focus. It’s anybody’s guess what kind of work this breed of man turns out while managing to blunder through another decade of women.
January was an interesting experience, as regards matters of the heart. Interesting, I say, as a way of deflecting the bad-taste-in-mouth feelings that came up. In December I found myself catching the feels for someone I’d known casually for awhile and not given that much thought to. That is not so long ago but given that I was coming out of a dry spell, anything in the range of attraction-affection felt big and intense. I’ve spent most of these weeks trying to discern what is, what I’m feeling and where this goes. It’s important for me to correctly understand what I’m feeling and act accordingly rather than vomit it out in a tantrum and hope for the world to make sense of it.
The good parts of these weeks were feeling desired and attractive. That was really, really good. That’s possibly why it took me some time to realise they weren’t real feelings and that I had inadvertently fallen into somebody else’s game, a game that I had no part in.
There’s no easy way to say this. I’ve written four drafts and all of them are rubbish so I’ll just say it. There’s a guy and there’s a girl. The guy calls her a good friend. The girl calls him a variety of things, depending on who is being spoken to and whether or not he is in the room (ranging from ‘jaanoo’ to well, stories about how he farts in her face when he wakes up next to her in the morning). The guy talks about how exclusivity is a patriarchal concept, how he is the constant in the lives of his friends-with-benefits (who purportedly have partners that are not constant for them). The girl says she knows he sleeps with other people but at least he tells her about it which is better than her last guy. The guy strings her along with “Later”, “Not now” while he’s on dates with others. The girl marks her territory by showing up at the restaurants where he’s on dates.
And why this is a game is because of what happens after. Girl and guy ride off together, often with the hapless date in tow. Sometimes in place of a date, it’s a damsel-in-distress to assuage the guy’s saviour complex. Only said damsels are just needy enough to be allowed mild PDA but never given the status of an actual object of affection. Once the date/damsel-in-distress/Jealousy Object has been discarded or dropped off, guy and girl ride off into the moonshine they’ve built together. Happily ever after.
I realise why I was so ‘confused’ as I described it all these weeks. I do not like being an object of any kind. I am not a fucking dildo for someone else’s messed up headgames. I’m not a sex toy to make somebody else’s fucked up relationship interesting. I do not like being used. I do not fight territory battles over people because people are not property. I’d like to say I don’t play games in relationships but that would be naive so I’ll just say this is not the game I play. Not the jealousy game, no.
I’ve been Sex Object a lot of times. I’ve buckled under the burdens of Affection Object (wherein man showers all his gawdawful poetry/singing and assumes his role is done with the hard work of building a relationship, managing the in-law people and the emotional labour of the relationship falls to me). And now I’m realising I’ve also occasionally been the Jealousy Object. This is the prop that (usually) men use to make the woman they’re with, feel bad about herself so (presumably) she won’t think to leave them.
This is the behaviour exhibited by numerous ex-boyfriends who’ve never been that nice to me but make sure to tell their current partners about how slim I am (body-shaming is the first play in the book of a Jealousy Game player). I’ve also been the ‘She’s more successful than you’ prop’ and the ‘So much cooler than you’ thing on account of my recent stage career.
I have never liked it. It’s a horrible thing to do a person and no, it doesn’t not feel like a compliment to me. Firstly, it is not a compliment to me to be used to make another woman feel bad. Secondly, there is nothing complimentary about using me as an object to incite some feeling in a relationship with someone else. That’s no better than a picture in Playboy that a man might use mentally to get off, were he not feeling that attracted to his partner.
Not that the girl’s behaviour is anything I want to feel empathy over. The feminist in me shies away from outright shaming but honestly, settling for someone who behaves badly is just a bad idea. What’s more, this willingness to play along and assert territoriality in desperate ways weakens things for all women. And finally and most important to me, it is directly disrespectful to me. I don’t care how badly you’ve been treated before or how weak you are or how much you care about him — none of these will ever be good enough reason for you to use me.
Ugh, I am utterly disgusted by both people’s behaviour, no matter how objectively I try to look at it. As some kind of poor consolation prize, I guess I’m lucky I got out with not too much harm done and at least with a post to boot.
Argh will it ever stop, this discovering of how fucky-ass fuccbois (and their complicit females) can be?
P.S. – Here’s another worthy piece of content that came to be because of the above experience.
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THE DIMMER I thought you were intelligent his tone matches the sudden darkness that falls as I scramble for clarity, fumble to see I'm confused, I say and as the lights come back on, I know I've said something wrong We were building a conversation on vulnerability and feelings, never the easiest building blocks And he has stopped building, ceased contributing Did he ever contribute? But… I thought you were intelligent, he reiterates, His critical look pinpointing my unshed tears and I swallow, tears, feelings, doubts, me This is how we begin orchestrated self harm, cutting away pieces of ourselves that he doesn't deem right editing our emotions like hanging threads on a neckline that must only show soft curves and empathy for his feelings He fiddles with the switches and it's clear again All's right, he's right and the messes don't show I thought you were intelligent But you're not being very intelligent right now I smell the acrid odour of things that char without flames And this is how we allow men to determine our self-worth with their scales of control their measures of self-interest disguised as logic This is how we barter away pieces of our souls for one scrap of validation, a morsel of attention I thought you were intelligent But you're not being very intelligent right now And the darkness is now inside me And the gas vapours don't hurt my eyes any more It's still and it's peaceful As my eyes adjust, so do my breaths Clarity can come in a dark room and battered lungs can still adapt to poisoned air As I watch him fumble in my direction, I hear myself say Dim the gaslights I will burn on. #theideasmithy #blog #relationships #menandwomen #men #women #gaslighting #abuse #emotionalmanipulation #emotions #emotional #genderpolitics #toxic #conversations #toxicrelationships