The men I know, are not likely to murder their unborn babies in the womb for being female. They will probably not set their wives on fire for not bringing in dowry. They won’t insist on their women climbing into the funeral pyre after them when they die. They’ve never actually said anything like ‘Women are inferior’ (which by the way, my grandfather said to me, so please don’t say that nobody says such things). They also have no intention of raping or murdering their female colleagues, friends and neighbours.
I can understand why this kind of man feels victimised by the more aggressive feminism. “But I’m not that guy!”, I hear him protest,
“I’m not a bad person. I admire strong women. I believe women have their rights too. Why then, do you club me in with the rapists, the acid-throwers, the foeticide practitioners and the dowry thugs?”
It’s because doing and being the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, do not preclude one from chauvinism. The fact is that we live in a world that ranges from subtly chauvinistic to brutally hostile to women. Normal life is painted in shades of poor treatment of women; it’s just the degrees that vary by geography and socioeconomic class. So unless one actively goes against the grain, taking a stand for fair treatment of the sexes, one falls into chauvinism, by default.
Let’s meet the aforementioned man again. He is not a bad person. He is a law-abiding citizen, thorough professional and a responsible family man. But he doesn’t actually believe that women have worse lives than he does; even the women in his life. He has little patience or sympathy for the realities of women’s problems. And when forced to confront it, he usually responds with control issues – the sister’s social life to be monitored, the mother to be ‘shielded’ from all manner of reality, the partner’s clothes to be censored. No, he doesn’t even understand why that is a problem. He sees these as solutions to the problem, refusing to acknowledge that he may be a part of the problem.
I often get branded a feminist, almost always by men and never in an objective or factual manner. All manner of male chauvinists hang this label on me. The MCPs are easily spotted with their foaming-at-the-mouth tendencies. But the Bystander Chauvinist, he is the one whose words are accompanied by a rueful tone or a sneering glance. I won’t go so far to call it an insult. But it is meant to be a mild put-down, a slight diminutive.
This incidentally is also the man who proudly proclaims that he will never raise his hand on a woman, assuming that that is the very essence of feminism. He is accordingly judgemental of men who lose their tempers or are violent. When pushed (and only when pushed), he is likely to blurt out an unhappy, impatient, “But why should she be all helpless?”. There it comes – the deep-seated hint of resentment against women being able to claim sympathy for offences that he sees meted out to him as well. These offences look the same to him, so why, he reasons in his mind, does a woman have to get special treatment over a man? Only because he’s a nice guy.
The undertone is one of ‘It’s because I care’. I believe that he does genuinely care. But these actions do not support women, neither abolish the problem nor take a stand against it. And because of that, they undermine the confidence of women and their right to assert themselves. This is why this attitude is an offence.
The thing is, I do not have a personal vendetta against men, this kind or the rabid chauvinists. I only want my rights (respect, privacy, freedom). And I want justice when these rights are denied. It’s not fair to punish the man who has not actively denied me my rights. He just…hasn’t done anything to help me get them. He has been a passive bystander, which even the law understands as party to the crime. What’s most troubling is that I am not angry with this man. He is the best of his sex that is available to me. He does not mean me harm. He is a friend, a lover, a brother, a partner. I care about him too. And this makes it much harder for me to tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable.
I tread an equally uncomfortable, narrow path as this man. I’m the Passive Feminist, the counterpart to the Bystander Chauvinist. Like him, I don’t take a stand unless pushed. And then, like him, I react with misplaced anger and resentment. But perhaps in these uncomfortable exchanges, there is a little bit we teach each other – how to be gentle and firm at the same time, how to stand for ourselves and for each other both in one.
I live in hope. So does he. That’s why it exists.
*Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
There’s a strange character out on the loose. He calls himself the Modern Man. I am not sure that I like him very much. For one thing, he’s really hard to find. He pops up, in a sudden self-reference and then vanishes under questioning. Then he resurfaces during what should have been a good moment, to ruin it with a self-promoting boast. I understand that he’s still trying to find himself. While about it, here’s what I’d like to say to him. So listen up, Mr.Modern Man!
Doing a couple of household chores does not qualify you for a medal. Get to doing 50% of the housework, without being reminded, and as well as I can, and you can have the right to advocate equality of the sexes.
Not dictating what your lady wears, who she speaks to, and what she wears does NOT make you a great guy. It just means that you’re not being a control-freak.
Fail in these and your stand of ‘Independent women can take care of themselves’ just seems like a cheap attempt to shrug off even the minimal responsibility that a male chauvinist’s role carries.
What is the meaning of an identity that is defined solely by the evils that one does not practice? A weak one, that’s what. Who are you, Mr.Modern Man? Is there more to you than the fact that you’re not a rapist/control freak/jealous monster? Identity is what you are, not what you are not.
I get how difficult it can be to break free of conditioning and resist archaic social constructs. I do that all the time, myself. But it doesn’t stop there, for me. You go against the grain and you break what exists down, so you can build something new in its place. Try being more than what your erstwhile counterparts were not. Define yourself for your values rather than what you don’t do or how well you meet my expectations. Most of all, get some balls of your own. I don’t recall asking for those to be chopped off when I let go of Neanderthal Man.
You don’t get to be great by default. And if you want to be the equal counterpart to the Modern Woman, you know you’ve got a high standard to match. I’m not saying the Modern Woman is without flaws or even that she knows exactly who is she. But at least, she’s got some sense of identity beyond what you or your brethren want to make of her. And the one thing she won’t stand for is vague, empty words.
Come back to me when you’re a real person, not just a fanciful notion in pop literature. I’ll be delighted to get to know you.
*Image via Idea go on FreeDigitalPhotos.
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Here’s welcoming XX Factor‘s second guest-contributor. He’s as smart as the next man but he’s still perplexed by the complicated world of women. He brings his brand of wry musings, politically (in)correct observations and gender role confusion to this blog as the ‘Armchair Philosopher‘. Over to the chair.
Hello everybody. The unicorn’s here. The phoenix, the Bermuda triangle, the Loch Ness monster. The modern equivalent of a mythical creature no one has seen but everyone seems to talk about- “the Modern Man“.
So who is this creature? What does he look like? Is he human? Or has he been sent to Planet Earth by alien feminists? Is it his mission to spread his subversive propaganda about how a man ought to be, in order to ruin it for male chauvinist pigs all over the world?
Can a Modern Man be comfortable with a dominant woman, a woman who has her own life and friends and does not fit any of the gender roles he has been raised to accept as gospel truths? Can he really? Or does he just train himself to make all the appropriate responses? Or worse still, is the only way he can be modern, by assuming indifference?
The Modern Man is a myth because of the sheer relativity of his existence. A Modern Man has no real features of his own. A Modern Man is simply a man who can complement a Modern Woman . His modernity is defined by his responses to the modernity of the Modern Woman.
And therein lies the greatest problem of all. The Modern Man does not know who he is because the very reference point of his existence, the bedrock of his existentialism is the Modern Woman herself. But the Modern Woman does not know who she is either!
Stuck between Superwoman complexes and conflicted between her instincts and her principles, the Modern Woman is a mess. The Modern Man grows up with the naive principle that we are all equal. But when he lives with the Modern Woman, he realizes there is nothing equal about how she is treated. Landlords and electricians address him but ignore her. Waiters at restaurants offer you the bill even when she pays. And let’s not even get started on the great Indian family.
So what do you do when you see that the equality of gender you took for granted was a lie? What do you feel? Guilt and shame for being a man in a world that beats down someone for having a vagina? But when you believe something your whole life, it is never easy to accept it as a lie. So you try and convince the Modern Woman of the ‘equality’ she is blind to. Convince her it’s all in her head. And we all know how well that goes.
This post might seem like a rant of questions but that is the life of a Modern Man. So many questions. And anyone who says they have all the answers is lying. Till then, we shall all chase that elusive unicorn. And till I figure it out, I’ll still open the door for her. I will still carry her bags and buy her chocolates. Because I like how she smiles. That is the only thing I can really be certain about. Everything else is just questions.
The boy and I were sampling the Southern delights of Matunga the other day. I was all aflame with excitement at the opportunity to show off some traditional Tamilian fare to the boy.
After an earlier visit to the famed Madras Cafe, this time we made our way to the other famous eating joint around the corner – Ramakrishna hotel.
The restaurant isn’t even remotely fancy or ‘nice’. It’s grimy & dingy. But the food, I remembered from childhood visits, was good. When the waiter finally came up, I summoned up my best Tamizh (continuing to show off to boy, of course) to order up a storm of special delights that a non-Tamilian would not be expected to know of. To my utter dismay, the waiter practically shrugged and wandered off even as I was talking.
This continued for the better part of 10 minutes and the only way our order went through was when the boy placed it (in Hindi). To add insult to injury, when my plate finally arrived, the waiter put it down in front of the boy, even though I’d clearly shouted at least five times about wanting that dish and even asked the waiter about its various accompaniments.
We finished up what was put on the table in record time, most of our appetite drained by this gross inhospitality. When the bill arrived (placed in front of the boy, of course), I meaningfully extracted the money from my wallet and dropped it on the table & sauntered out. Cheap thrill but a small victory, that. I think he got the significance of that and perhaps he’ll be nice to the next woman who places an order, if he thinks she’ll be the one tipping him. That woman, though, won’t be me.
No daily service provider seems to think that a woman’s job needs to be taken seriously. Ergo, random reschedules, blatant lies & the worst of all – gentle dismissal of any complaints. This includes maidservants, fridge repair technicians, electricians, gas mechanics and anyone else you might be able to think of. I’ve been jerked around by an electrician with a genteel,
“I’m at a friend’s place now. Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you.”
This man’s turned up 2 days later, then claimed that ‘the lady just got confused and didn’t understand what it was all about.’
As with every other facet of chauvinism, this one is fully supported by the ladies too. The maid turns up half an hour late, then laughs it off saying that she thought I didn’t have anywhere to go, despite being categorically told that I had a meeting that morning. Oddly, enough the same woman speaks with pride of her children going to a good school and what careers they’re going to have. The senior citizen neighbors want to know what I’ve cooked and where I’m going. Funny, these questions really wouldn’t be asked if I were a guy. And why assume that I’m going to cook, just because I’m female?
This is the passive-aggressive side of the male chauvinism of this country. The words don’t say ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’ but the actions try to nudge you right back into that role. The men in all these cases will not meet my eyes and in most cases, don’t appear to even hear what I’m saying. It’s like because they don’t like the fact that I exist (with my obvious ‘modern woman‘ outlook), they pretend I don’t.
There is a growing sentiment among the educated men in this country, against what they think of as ‘rabid feminism’. Sure, I want to be moderate too and believe that the genders are equal and that it all comes down to individual attitudes & values. But pray tell me, how am I supposed to be be dignified when the world doesn’t even want to acknowledge that I exist? This passive-aggressive stance more than anything else is what pushes a normal, sane woman towards excessive aggression, anger & angst.
The next service provider to give me attitude is going to have it coming to him, right between his legs and sucks to anybody who thinks that it’s hitting below the belt.
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Time for another XXFactored post already! So much has been happening this woman’s own life that I’m afraid I’ve been lagging behind in the spectator stakes. Maybe what I’m reading mirrors what I’ve been thinking. Here’s what was up with March 2011:
- A basket of goodies from the queen of confessions who lists the different kinds of sex (via TheCompulsiveConfessor)
- Daughterly guilt and who’s fighting it – Google, Infosys! (via EconomicTimes)
- A personal account of bust enhancement surgery and its aftermath. Forget sniggering, this really makes me want to say “No judgement” (via DailyMail)
- Is this the truth behind all those annoying ‘happily ever after’ couples? Meet a woman who wants Facebook to know that she’s married and ‘It’s complicated’! (via YourTango)
- Do some of the phrases that gain popularity, make you cringe? Dating terminology that we need to ditch (via YourTango)
- Couples fight more than 300 times a year! I don’t know about you but that certainly makes me feel better! (via Glamour)
- How ironic that we talk about the emotional/moral/social aspects of virginity and totally neglect the physical? 7 things you didn’t know about the hymen (via YourTango)
- Lalita Iyer of HT Cafe’s Chickwit column presents her take on a chauvinistic comedian’s act (via Chickwit)
- And finally a bit of a self-plug (I think I’ve earned it!): Do check out some of my top-of-the-line posts at Yahoo! Real Beauty. A few of them are sparking off a storm in the teacup there!
The Knife comes up against a different kind of gender stereotype and defies it in his own way.
One opinion voiced in the article was that men cook by rules, follow recipes to the step… wouldn’t know that you can dilute coconut milk powder in water if there is no coconut milk and so on. The argument stated that women are more instinctive when it comes to cooking.
Come again? I think that is a sweeping generalisation. I hate following elaborate recipes. Most of the stuff I cook up are by instinct, visualisation and a sense of balance of spices. And I know that I am not the only one.
I’m the mirror image of The Knife in that I’m a woman who struggles under the assumption that I’m a good cook while he opposes the idea that as a man, he necessarily isn’t. The kitchen, in my mind, is reminiscent of the dungeons of Harry Potter’s Potions class – warm, dark and full of alien smells and eerie bubbling noises.
My earliest lessons were of learning to turn the pressure cooker off and on and landing the weight right at the top. I was petrified of fire but my parents weren’t too sympathetic with my fears and learn I did. Tea and coffee and rice came next, followed by sambhar and dal. I must add that to this day, I consider Indian cooking extremely indulgent and wasteful. I mean, patriotic sentiment aside, we just don’t have the time and effort to put into soaking spices, boiling the dal, frying the tadka, chopping and stewing the vegetables and then bringing them all together for the grande finale. It just is too laborious and all for something that disappears in about ten minutes.
I carry over that attitude into the rest of cooking as well. I’m a Mumbaiker after all, I’m always looking for the shortest, fastest way to get things done. Three hours of preparation for a ten-minute result and a subsequent clean-up ritual of another hour is just not sensible, no matter what anyone says. Of course, there is the fact that I’m not exactly a foodie and consider food, simply fuel for the human body to be able to do other, more meaningful things.
I can tell you this attitude of mine has not been well-received at all. My otherwise liberal father showed his disappointment in my lack of interest and talent in this field over many years with what he thought were funny lines like…
My daughter can burn water very well!
I don’t think he even realized that there was a fundamental chauvinism in that statement till I stood up to him and pointed out that I cooked every time my mother was not around. Not just sandwiches and Maggi but full Tamilian meals complete with sambhar, curry, salad, rice and home-set curd. I even managed to pack lunches for both of us. Admittedly I did not enjoy it and I was nowhere near my mother’s expert cuisine but my food never sent anybody to the hospital. I dramatically concluded with,
If you don’t think that being a girl entitles me to special treatment, then why do you assume that I should possess any special talents in the kitchen just because of my gender?
He didn’t like it but he didn’t reprimand me for backtalk. He taught me to think for myself after all. Needless to say, the jokes have stopped and each time my mum has been unavailable, dad and I both share the cooking.
Other men, however, are not so accomodating (which brings me back to the premise that there just is no one like Dad!). I remember an ad a few years ago showing two girls on a moped, meant to show off the ‘modern-girl’ attitude where one of them asked the other,
What if we start asking the boys questions like “Do you know how to sew? Can you cook?”
It struck me as a brilliant thought and I actually did do that. The first man I asked that to, gulped and goggled at me like I was an alien from outer space. And then – would you believe – he had the temerity to say,
But why do I need to know?
That date didn’t go very far but my confidence in the question increased as did my patience with men’s answers. I realized that most of them had never been exposed to the idea of being truly independent. A career was all very fine but they had always had doting mamas, subservient sisters and later, girlfriends and wives to pick up for them. Well, that’s a little bit of another story but to come back to the point.
All of us eat, don’t we? It’s a human need, non-specific of gender. Isn’t it just as important that a man be able to fend for himself as a woman? Women are learning to take care of themselves in the physical rigours of the outside world. And really, truly, it isn’t because we’re trying to take away something from the men. I think all of us really see it as taking responsibility for ourselves and burden off the men’s shoulders. In turn, should the men also not start shouldering responsibility for their own upkeep and needs? And hence, why should a man not know how to cook too?
Of note, when I raise this question, I’m often hit with the argument that most of the world’s best cooks are men. That is so not the point. I am not talking about finesse in an art, I am talking about possessing a basic survival skill. It does not matter if all the best cooking in the world is done by men. At an individual level, are you able to manage your own needs without depending upon another person, whether you are a man or a woman? I’ve just admitted freely that I am not a great cook. I do not possess talent but I have sufficient skill that I can take care of myself. And that in my mind, is true independence.
And finally, the Knife has my sympathies for facing such blatantly ignorant stereotyping. I have great regard for people who can do things that I can’t and what’s more a man who cooks well, is someone who has overcome both the fears I have as well as social norms. Men in the kitchen, bravo!
They wonder why I have such a poor opinion of men
And then they go and prove me right.
Thanks, Neanderthal man, feel free to call me the Abusive Woman. You may never have abused a woman in your life but with this post you’ve given the opposite sex a good chance to call you and your kind,