Category Archives: Survival Guide

A woman can live in a man’s world. As herself. Here’s how…

Breaking Up With The RomCom

I have been a fan of romcoms since it became possible for me to choose what to watch. I rejoiced when the Romedy Now channel showed up on my set. A 24 x 7 channel dedicated to funny, hopeful stories, YAY! But of course. The romcom is the fairytale of our times. And it is with a heavy heart that I concede that this so-called ‘modern’ fairytale is just as oppressive and problematic as the Snow White/Rapunzel/Dainty Princess-Prince Charming narrative I was fed as a child.

I find myself wincing during rewatches of films that I loved the first time I saw them. How could I not have spotted that stalker-masquerading-as-hero character? How did I think this entitled mansplainer was an ideal man? What on earth did I find funny about that misogynist tirade?

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Topping the list is HITCH, a film that I loved for this sassy dialogue and the utterly droolworthy Will Smith. Not to mention its nonchalant diversity (both lead characters being people of colour without the film making a BIG deal out of it). In hindsight though, isn’t it a story of a pick-up artist actually helping other males prey on women using every manipulative technique he can think of? Oh of course, it’s charming Will who ‘actually likes women’. And yes of course, it’s because his heart was broken when he was younger. Notice how that is ALWAYS used to excuse away men’s misogyny on screen? Right down to our desi misogyny frontrunner — PYAR KA PUNCHNAMA.

There’s WHEN HARRY MET SALLY checking off all the boxes on toxic masculinity and utterly horrible relationship models. “A man and a woman cannot be friends because the sex always gets in the way”?

That was being challenged by Bollywood in the 1980s and by (of all people) Salman Khan. Who lost. Not to mention being copied scene-for-scene in the noughties. Down to excusing the male Im-a-screwup-so-love-me storyline. Boo.

Shall we think about female characters? After all, romcoms did follow the chicklit trend of the 90s/00s with women as protagonists. A hot topic was to address ‘her real problems’. Let’s look at how that turned out. We have 27 DRESSES and BRIDGET JONES DIARY to thank for telling us that being single means we are antiseptic martyr/prudes or alcoholic hot messes. Just until the right man comes our way, of course. And even if he’s a stodgy, dull, boring ‘Good Boy’, he kisses like a dream. Ugh, thanks for setting us back on all the sexual empowerment Sex And The City did (the TV show, not the movies but more on that later).

Oh and thanks, MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING for showing women can be ruthless bitches when it comes to not getting what they want. Feminism definitely is about letting us get off the pedestal of being picture perfect. I just wish Julia Roberts’ character hadn’t ended up being shown as the villain. Reverse the genders and the story of a guy who will do anything at all to land the person of his dreams (including lying, seducing an already attached person, gaslighting their significant other)— does that sound like a villain? No, it sounds like Shah Rukh Khan.

Then there’s HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, an absolutely appalling story even at its time, about two nasty people setting traps for each other. A side character neatly sums up the story in her line, “Sounds needlessly vicious.” A man making a play for a woman to get her to fall for him, so that he can land a client account. A woman torturing a guy with ridiculous behaviour (Apparently this is what women do wrong. Uh no, this is what someone who never learnt how to be a human being does.) so she can write a magazine article about it. What is either funny or romantic about this story? And let’s put that through the gender filter. The story assumes that they’ve each done equal bad to the other. Is that so? Does seducing a person under false pretences compare with interrupting their boys’ night out? Can I get a Hell, #MeToo here?

I won’t bother talking about the Sex And The City movies because I’ve already done so when they each came out. And now here’s a rather disappointing analysis of why romcoms may not be that popular anymore. It’s time for new fairytales. Hey Classic RomCom, you and I are done.

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

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*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

From #PillowTalk To #ItHurts

Every piece of art or performance that I work on, is an emotion-mining experience. December has been an intense one, with SXonomics (my feminist collaboration with Dr.Ishmeet Nagpal).

We started with a visit to Delhi, a place with which I’ve always had a complex relationship. I was born there. All my life I’ve associated it with stifling familial pressures and oppression. My early 20s brought me a horribly abusive boyfriend from this city and taught me that men would use my skin colour and my body to violate my being. What happened to Jyoti Singh wrecked the mind of every woman in the country. Delhi, for me the woman, for me the feminist, for me who breathed my first there, has worn the face of a monster.

But we were invited by the Love Matters India team to participate in a Durex event themed ‘Pleasure is a human right‘. For a band with ‘sex’ in its name, we sure took our time getting to it, in our work. But we scripted and performed a set called #PillowTalk addressing libido, attraction, orgasm, sex positions and the questions we carry into bed with us. It got a fantastic reaction from the audience and we had a blast doing this.

We had barely touched down in Mumbai before our next event had already grabbed us. From sex talk to exploring mating rituals, partner searches, relationship milestones and landmines, SXonomics was onto its next chapter. #RelationshipsRedefined was a 2 hour interactive workshop/performance with BeHiver that addressed the universal quest for love and its speedbreakers. Ten people allowed us to guide their journeys through performance, exercises, improv and discussion. After all, our name comes from ‘The economics of sex’ and we transact in hope, expectations and actions, don’t we?

And now here we are, nearly at the end of December and we find ourselves in a dark place (because love and relating take you there too). Every relationship in the world starts with love or at least, with hope. But what comes after that? What does ‘happily ever after’ look like? I’ll tell you. It looks like a naive hope that often gets dismissed as an unrealistic dream in the rigors of the ordinary here-and-now. In our transacting hope and expectations, we also find ourselves unearthing things like disappointment, inconsideration, negligence, fatigue and selfishness. Somewhere before we know it, from making love, we’ve gone to making war. We war with looks, with sighs, with silences, with words and finally with actions.

Ishmeet and I have spent days thinking about this, reading, writing, talking, watching, listening. I’ve dug deep into my writings across diaries, poetry and blogposts. I discovered how much I’ve buried in my hurry to be okay again. The depth of the lies we tell ourselves is astounding. I imagined the violence I experienced to be a two time occurrence. But in my digging, I found the abuse, the gaslighting, the lies, the control games that I’d been living in and with for nearly the entirety of that relationship. It made me bleed all over again to remember how many of those had felt off or wrong and how much pressure I had been under from supposed friends and family to shut up and play the happy girlfriend/wife. I had been lied to so actively and relentlessly, the lies hitting me like attacks from all corners that I don’t even know when I surrendered and started lying to myself. Love (or whatever it is supposed to be) can do that. That, and fear. Maybe there isn’t a difference. But it is the price to be paid to understand the hard lesson of love. What else are we here for, as artists, as writers and as people?

Today SXonomics brings you a 1 hour session titled #ItHurts. We use performance, poetry readings, music, audience exercises and interaction to trace this journey from love to blood. Our session is part of a larger event #YforViolence, aimed at building awareness around domestic violence. Following our session, there will be a panel discussion on domestic violence. Hari Kotian (Landmark seminar leader), Vandana Patil, Ishmeet and I are on the panel, which will be moderated by Chhavi Sachdev.

In the past few days, @ishmeetnagpal and I have read, listened to stories of, written about and thought through the dark, dark area of domestic violence for the #YforViolence evening. Because this is part of the truth of love and sex too. It has been a difficult journey and we've both been sickened, as we've beholden the ways human beings hurt each other. But we've tried to distill this experience into something that furthers us and the world. Today, we bring you #ItHurts, a one hour @sexonomicsband session involving performance, readings, poetry, audience interactive activity and music. The talented Karthik Rao joins us today with his guitar. And following our session, Ishmeet and I will also be part of a panel with Landmark leader Hari Kotian and Vandana Patil, moderated by @goldenbrownchhavidazzle. This event is free and open to all. Please consider taking a couple of hours to think about this dark issue and the way it impacts us all. #ItHurts #YforViolence #domesticviolence #abuse #IPV #GBV #sexonomics #sexonomicsband #sexonomicstheband #sex #sexuality #lgbtqia #feminism #feminist #feminists #feministperformance #poetry #spokenword #music #improv #workshop #gender #patriarchy #love #relationship #relationships

A post shared by Ramya Pandyan (@ideasmithy) on

#YforViolence – #ItHurts: SXonomics session
This event is free and open to all.
At: 5:30PM-8:30PM,
On: Sat, 23 Dec 2017
In: Bombay Connect, BKC, Mumbai.

I hope I will see you there. I really do.

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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. SEXONOMICS is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.

The Zodiac Signs As Feminist Women

Aries: MARD TEREKO DIKHATI HOON DARD KUTTE KAMINE

Taurus: No, that’s not nice of you. Behave now. Let’s eat, smile and sleep. Discrimination? KILL! zzzzzz

Gemini: Internalised misogyny is problematic but there’s something to the Prince Charming fantasy as long as I can be prince but rescue me..

Cancer: I don’t know, it’s raining and I’m sad and I have to run the company. I hope my boyfriend brings me flowers or I’ll have to take the flower shop over.

Leo: Equality? Yeah sure whatever. Put it next to my prime rib served on a silver platter and maybe I’ll look at it after my nap.

Virgo: The birth ratio is alarming. We also need more funds to set up counselling for battered women. And vaccination drives.

Libra: I’ll talk to you after you’ve dressed up in designer threads and played some Mozart. By then I’ll probably have taken over the world so goodbye.

Scorpio: You dare? Hmm… *darkness falls* *toofani raat sex tere saath* Everyone found dead.

Sagittarius: Equal rights is obvious, why are you such an idiot? Sorry, I didn’t mean to idiot-shame you. Chal, let’s go drink.

Capricorn: Here’s my contract. We already agreed on equality. Thank you for confirmation. I’ll send you the bill at the end of the month.

Aquarius: Feminism? Oh right, the 70s thing. Sorry I haven’t kept up since I got on that Mars mission.

Pisces: Here’s water for Gemini to drink, Aries to wipe the blood, Scorpio to wipe other things, Sagittarius to hydrate, Cancer stop crying.

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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.

Fuckboys & The Support Fuckboys Brigade

I saw the fuckboi yesterday. He is part of the same circles and I refuse to acknowledge him anymore so his presence in isolation is not such a bother. But I am surrounded by his manipulative behaviour, in the form of other women who look as starry-eyed as I *cringe* probably did back in December. (Notice how I feel ashamed of myself for a positive emotion and a pretty good performance; thank you, fuckboi.)

Some of them are women I know and I’m caught in a quandary. Should I warn them, risk the heavy ugliness that society and men thrust on a woman who dares speak (including from these very same women themselves)? Or should I stay silent and let other women fall prey to the same fuckboishness that makes them doubt themselves and cripples them in male-dominated spaces? I need more women like me in the spaces I frequent and I can see how behaviour like this costs our kind dearly. What a catch-22.

Maybe it’s highlighted by the fact that I’m watching Mad Men right now. But doesn’t “Oh, he suffers social anxiety” just feel like a modern, fashionable version of, “He’s deep and brooding” (Mr.Darcy), “His parents didn’t give him enough attention as a child.” (romcoms featuring white males and Manic Pixie Dream Girls) and other such excuses? A fuckboi is a fuckboi. There is absolutely no excuse for treating another human being badly and making them question their self-worth. Women have problems too (rape culture, online harassment, salary disparity, biological clock ticking, unsafe spaces) and most of us don’t get to use that to tread all over men and get applauded for it. No, fuckbois, I don’t care if this is politically incorrect but I’m not buying it.

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*Image via sarcasmlol

I am thinking about whether this particular fuckboi and my strong reaction to him is just a symbol of my deeper feelings for my ex, the longest running fuckboi in my life. That one issued a vague apology last year on Twitter that could have been aimed at anyone but that I suspect was about getting in on the ‘I’m a reformed man, applaud me’ trend. I wish my friends had not bothered sharing it with me. I was going along in my life, having put that particular nightmare behind me. But with that screenshot fed into my inbox, I was forced to think about him again.

His apology was public and got him a lot of positive attention. He never once said sorry to me, in person or in any form of private communication. He did not even acknowledge my existence. I concluded that he was no different from who he was in 2011-12 when he isolated me from my family and friends, stopped me performing or working, hit me, gaslighted me, abused me, allowed his family to subject mine to dowry demands, ended the engagement when I called it out, said “It’s not my problem” when my period was delayed and then “So what? Breakups are difficult.” If that apology was aimed at me, I say

“Not good enough. Too little, too late. Wait, was that an apology or your version or Being Human?”

But no one cares, do they? The truth has not changed but I’m forcibly pulled into this Fuckboi’s drama every time he feels the need for attention. And everyone who knows either or both of us even slightly, is looking at me expecting me to hand out the bouquets like the gracious woman I am supposed to be. I lose every way I look at it. Is there any escape from the land ruled by Fuckboidom?

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The current fuckboi of course, didn’t get to do a fraction of what that one did. He vanished, then when I stopped, he reappeared with gifts and love poetry. When I relented and agreed to have a conversation, he pointed out that “You come across as having very strong anti-male sentiments”. When I refused to take note of it and him beyond that chat, he took care to message me and remind me that “I listened to your work. No, you are not anti-male.” Back-and-forth, back-and-forth till the unpredictable approval could be distracting enough to be all I would think of. So familiar. He’s just another in a long line of fuckbois who don’t care or even really see the women around them. Not  in any way other than breasts, butts, vaginas to grope, ears and arms to receive their existence and words only to validate them. I am still grappling with how to deal with so many men being this way. The challenge grows exponentially considering that they’re surrounded by women who fall prey to them and enable their fuckboi behaviour, even to the point of hurting other women.

I asked a friend yesterday why I was attracting such nastiness when I tried to steer clear of people and focus on my own writing only. He said,

“You know what you want. Not many do. That creates a dichotomy between you and such people. My advice, if you want it? Not worth engaging. It will tire you and they will not understand what you are saying.”

My friend is right, in part. The tricky thing is identifying the handful that are willing to let me live, from the vast hordes that want to pull me into fuckboiness-and-support-fuckboidom.

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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.

Don’t Flinch: Love In A Clickbaitey World

Love. It got so much harder with age. The finding of it, the keeping of it. But mostly, the being okay with it.

We are the generation that’s living life in flinch-decision mode. Swipe Right, Unsubscribe, Alt-Tab, Mute, Disconnect. No wonder our biggest addition to the world of relationships is “It’s complicated” and “ghosting”. Do we give up too easily? An entire generation of us cannot be uniformly more cowardly, weaker or superficial than the generations of humans before us.

No, I think the world is changing faster than it ever has. It’s already a universe different from the ones we were being groomed to enter. Nothing makes sense. And no one taught us how to deal with getting hurt. We don’t even allow each other (or ourselves) time and room to heal. Get over it, snap out, set his letters on fire, flush her pictures away, we say. Quick, quick, instant heal, instant burn, instant crash. It’s exhausting.

I decided not to react but live instead. I decided to hold off on flinch reactions for as long as I could. So I did not write reams of hate posts or heartbreak poetry about the diltoot (well, not too much). I briefly lashed out but I set it right. And before I knew it, we’re already three months into 2017, taxes are being computed and the world is making plans for the future.

In between all that, this nightmare happened. I got rescued, which is a novel experience for me. Nobody was around to even offer a kind word when an asshole was abusing me in college or when a ‘feminist’ fiance was beating me up and collecting accolades for singing about it. I got used to not being rescued, then I got used to being suspicious of anyone offering refuge and finally, I forgot what rescuing or even kindness looked like. This only happened because well, too much happened and I crashed. I would never have set foot on stage again, if it hadn’t been for this rescue. And instead, because of it, I went back onto that same stage and I led the orchestra. (Metaphorically speaking, that is – I opened an event that’s gone viral and then curated and hosted the follow-up event that got such a response that the venue got mobbed). I’m very tired.

I like my rescuer. It doesn’t go anywhere. Should it? Should I? What else? Have I lined up options? Have I protected myself? Am I looking at the big picture? Am I missing any details? Who’s SuperLiking me on Tinder? Is my Snapchat account still alive?

I don’t have to make a decision. I guess I don’t have to do anything. I have to remind myself of that often. I just have to take a deep breath and live through whatever happens. At 37 and single, I’m not really as raw as I was at 22 and abused or 31 and gaslit/dumped. But my reactions come from a place of habit. These habits don’t serve well. I’ve always prided myself on being able to acquire and drop habits easily. But how do you drop your flinch reactions without flinching?

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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.

Sorry I Didn’t Wait Till 8 March To Speak

We’re leading up to the grand tamasha called Women’s Day where you can expect to see the world pat itself on the back for giving half its population one day. You’ll also find a lot of men applauding each other for being so considerate of women. And congratulating one another on what good men they are for allowing women a special day. And finally, refraining from PMS jokes for that one day. Well done, men.

Here is a piece that I performed this Monday. Before I went up on stage, I was announced as

‘That poet who the women will love and the men better beware because the poetry is going to slap them’.

Once I finished, I was asked why I disliked men so much. Then a young man I barely knew parked himself next to me and in the semi-darkness during the subsequent performances, proceeded to harass me on my social adjustment issues, my hatred of men and my problematic past. Of note, said young man is also a poet who is infrequent on the scene. He also has a bad stammer and earlier in the evening, I had applauded his performance because I know how much courage it takes to go up on stage. He did not however, feel equally kindly towards me. He also felt perfectly able to attack me in a place where I’m a regular and when I was surrounded by friends. This is not the first time men have behaved in such a manner on the performance/poetry scene and every single time I protested, I’ve been told that I was taking things too seriously or that ‘he’s just young’.

Here’s the piece I performed. Dare I point out that it doesn’t mention men anywhere?

After all, feminism is only feminism when a man speaks about it. A male feminist is a hero and a female feminist is nothing more than an angry, man-hating bitch. Thank you for putting me in my place, fellow poets.

It looks like the stage does not permit me to speak my mind so let me hide on my blog for as long as it takes for the trolls to find me. Tonight a lot of you stay up celebrating a god whose legacy includes blurring gender roles, assimilating the masculine and the feminine and indeed, expressing an open need of his equal half – his female partner and side. That’s it. Think about it. You can wish me on 8th March on the one day in the year I don’t have to apologise for not being male and then congratulate yourselves for doing so. Thank you.

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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.

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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