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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I am not in dil-toot anymore. It was dil-toot, a phrase I’ve coined to denote a less-than-heartbreak, more like a heart-pinch, just painful enough for me to feel something and think about it but not so shattering that I can’t piece together a coherent thought or sentence. Did I ever mention how or why it ended?
It ended when he said,
” I don’t know what to say.”
It ended because he assumed it was all about what he thought and what he had to say. It didn’t even occur to him that a conversation is between two people and that the other person might have something to say. It ended either because he assumed that or because he did not want to face what I might have had to say.
I’ve weathered the deep sadness, the now-familiar disappointment. I’ve even been able to see how this was a life experience that bothered me just enough to learn from it and also feel very good about the good parts. Being in love really is a wonderful feeling. I have remembered something I keep forgetting when my heart shatters – that love is that undefinable experience that goes beyond attraction, logic, compatibility and shared interests. It falls in the realm of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink moment and everything that follows is an attempt to explain it. I don’t have to, anymore. And that frees me up to look at the future with the hope of more love and other adventures.
I am tickled, even charmed by the surprised wonder in a boy/man’s eyes when it first occurs to him that I’m paying attention to him. I’m not even the most beautiful or desirable woman around but just the fact that I am listening to him and could it be – I like him? What’s worrying is that a lot of men never seem to get past that. That wonder takes on the quality of suspicion, fear even. And that’s part of what turns into slut-shaming, into cheating, into harassment or treating women badly. It’s the inability to handle any reaction from a woman but her derision or fear. Men who cannot deal with a woman’s appreciation or interest – is that not a poisonous problem?
I remember the deadend expression on his face, the frantic tone of his voice in the last moments as my dil-toot‘ed. I have seen it before on many men’s faces. I’ve assumed that it’s coldness, cruelty, selfishness and many other such things. But I’ve come to realise, this is something else. It is the outer limit of a man’s ability to feel, identify and express emotion.
Last week I watched Bramhan Naman, a disturbing movie by any account. It left me deeply sad because among other things, it exposes how woefully ill-equipped the Indian man is when it comes to dealing with the world of myriad emotions that make up the framework of relationships and adult life. In the movie (and echoed in real life) the verbose protagonist yearns for an intangible fantasy but can barely speak to the woman who spawns it. He treats professed, open affection with viciousness and is paralysed by his guilt and fear. When he encounters a woman with the right mix of attractiveness and vulnerability, he cannot bring himself to even respond, let alone initiate interest. So he settles for gestures like getting her food (the last), showing off his family business (the second) and stalking her (the first). These are the actions of a socially inept child, not a completely functioning adult. That adults with their freedom and power do this, is what makes it dangerous.
I complain long and hard about how Indian men (men in general but particularly, brutally Indian men) are infantilised and stunted in their emotional growth. This is what it looks like. They are barely functioning adults who are unable to deal with normal human emotions. Unable, not unwilling.
This outer-limit expression comes after bewilderment and panic. It’s not even resignation since that requires an ability to see that something is bigger than oneself and experience giving up. It’s literally like a very small baby who has not developed sight yet, running into a wall and being stunned, unable to figure out whatwherewhyhowohisthispainshouldicryuhwhatwait. Most men live in that place the whole time they are in love or a relationship. Boy, that’s scary. Add to it such nuanced, problematic ideas such as guilt over sex, Madonna/whore syndromes, mama’s boy dependency and toxic masculinity. No wonder Indian men are such a mess.
I cannot help but feel deep pity for them. And then great sadness for us women and the kind of futile relationships we have to endure as a result. Is there any hope for us all?
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I decided to bring back the XXFactored posts chronicling what this blog has been interested in, in the past month. It’s been awhile but we’re still about relationships, urban womanhood, body positivity and feminism.
- Toxic lies on gender and why both men and women suffer for it. “4 Lies ‘Nice Guys,’ Pickup Artists, and Everyday Misogynists Tell You About Women — And Why They Hurt Us All” (via Everyday Feminism)
- To conform for validation, that’s the worst thing I could do. But then the life of an independent woman has never been easy.
- ‘Women empowerment’ is just another fad that a lot of brands are cashing into. The agenda is always to exploit the consumer’s psyche and sell more. Let’s not kid ourselves that a soap brand or a diamond manufacturer actually cares about women’s (or any other group’s) issues. “John St.’s Latest Merciless Satire Just Destroys the Dove Style of Marketing to Women ‘If she’s crying, she’s buying’ By Tim Nudd” (via Adweek)
- There are as many different ways to be a human being as there are human beings. Why do we assume that there is only one kind of relationship?: “I was in a committed relationship with two people—and then I got pregnant.” (via HelloGiggles)
- A modern relationship on Fast Forward predict mode.
- A hilarious and true story about a menstrual cup virgin: “Misadventures with my menstrual cup” (via Menstrupedia)
- This is for all of you who have ever said “But I’m not a feminist.” You’re entitled to your politics, and make no mistake, it is political. But know what you’re saying. “RainbowMan: I’m a Feminist and It’s Not a Bad Thing” (via The Quint link courtesy Harrish Iyer)
- Being friendly’ versus being friends: “What I learned when my ex asked if we could be friends” (via HelloGiggles)
- Flirtmoji combines technology and body positive messaging with their ‘vagmojis’: “Hooray! Vagina emojis are here.” (via Alternet)
A fortnight ago, a friend and I parted ways. He came to me, looking for comforting, for sympathy. I gave him instead, honesty. Words were exchanged and the friendship is now a thing of the past. The thing is, I never offered comfort or sympathy, only outright, unvarnished honesty. We’ve spoken of it. He’s pointed it out as my character trait; I haven’t denied it. Yet, he expected it of me. Because I’m a woman.
Last week another friend and I had an argument, one that’s been brewing like dark clouds for awhile. The storm finally broke when he said,
“Women are more considerate than men.”
“No, they are not.”
He insisted. It made me as angry as if he had told me my place was in the kitchen. I argued that he wasn’t a woman, I was. He replied with that perfect blend of dismissive condescension and polite acid,
“You…are a different specimen.”
I was angry then, but I am not, now. Both these men have been raised to believe that men are bad people and women and kind, gentle, long-suffering victims. They’ve each tried, very hard, to not be that personification of their gender. They are polite, courteous and nice – to women who are gentle, kind and nice. They play a part and they play it well, especially around women who play their parts in the same play. How are they to react to a woman who refuses to say her lines on cue?
*Image (without text) via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Being a woman is a job, it would seem. It requires conformity to certain customs, delivery of some expected things and a certain kind of etiquette. It is not enough to have a uterus that bleeds every month. That’s only the graduate degree. To truly be a woman, one must perform in relationships, outward presentation and inside one’s head. I’m quite terrible at it and I get told so, often. I’m too flashy (modesty befits a lady), too opinionated (women are supposed to be peacemakers, not troublemakers), too outspoken (yes, this is a thing, haven’t you heard of diplomacy? Learn some.)
D minus on the job of being a woman.
I’ve grown up hearing versions of this my whole life. I was a tomboy through school and college, a fact that people who know me now find hard to believe. My style and my vanity are recent acquisitions, like grown-up shoes that I started wearing well into my 20s. Life has just been easier for me, that way. But these, like apparel, are superficial and come off easily. Who I am under that, hasn’t changed. I don’t want to be treated a certain way, because I am a woman. Because, the price to be paid is that I have to behave a certain way for being a woman. What’s wrong, I’ve been asked, in being nice or considerate? Nothing at all. Except, I’d like to do it because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And by the same token, I would like people to be nice or considerate to me, because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And I would like to reserve the right to sympathy for those I believe deserve it, rather than having to distribute it for free ‘because I’m a woman‘.
Men like the two I’ve spoken of, come back with the refrain of not being nice or considerate to women like me, because as I lay it out, ‘they don’t want to be’. Fair enough, I say. Except, is their consideration and their politeness subject to a cold formula of adherence to a certain behaviour? If you are only nice to people who follow rules that you uphold, then you’re not really being nice, you’re being transactional. People pay you with their conformity for your good treatment of them. How is that different from a bribe or protection money?
I would like to be respected for my actions and my ideas, not for my body plumbing. As commonsensical as this thought sounds to me, it comes across as rebellious, disrespectful and needlessly selfish (all names I’ve been called). And because there is more of people who think this than there is me (I’m only one), I find myself having to compromise. I don a pretty outfit, I smile at my camera and post the picture online and I dimple my thanks when people show me how much they Like me, for that smile. I’m learning to be a Professional Woman.
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.
I understand now. Honestly.
I found myself thinking things that I’ve heard a lot of men voicing, when I watched this video.
“So there are jerks in the world; why do you take it out on me? I’m the one person around who is being nice to you.”
“Why should you tar everyone with the same brush of mistrust?”
“I’ve had a rough day too. How do you think it is for me to come home and put up with your screaming?”
“Don’t dress that way. Don’t be so assertive. Why do you look for trouble and then expect me to come and bail you out every time?”
I get it, I get it now. This video was probably made to make men more aware of a woman’s perspective. But it made this woman aware of a man’s perspective. I’ve written about whether a man can truly be a feminist. Yes, perhaps you can. Just like, if the world were as it were shown in the video, I might have been one of those women who stood for your rights and sounded wounded when you didn’t consider me an equal soldier in the fight for equality. But this video only reinforces something I thought even when I wrote that post. Living a life of oppression, from minute to minute is very different from having conscious ideals and acting on them, whenever possible.
This video made me think of what my life would look like if I were a woman but not the oppressed sex. I’d wake up in the morning as grumpy as always. I’d blame my low blood sugar, my rising acidity on anyone who got in the way before breakfast. Then I’d cheer up and walk out into a bright, new day. If I saw a man being harassed on my way, I’d step up and fight with his oppressors. And if he didn’t smile back at me in gratitude and semi heroine-worship, I’d call him ungrateful in my head.
Then I’d go on to work. I’d probably ogle my male boss and my co-worker. After all, they’d be men of power. If they didn’t like it, they’d tell me. They wouldn’t be the oppressed kind. If one of them had a bruise that showed he was a victim of domestic violence, I’d wonder (perhaps even aloud) why he was being stupid and weak enough to put up with it. I’d be annoyed at his tears but I’d reign myself in saying that he was in a bad place. And I’d feel like a great guy for being so magnanimous and not a douche like the one who hit him.
If my brother mentioned a neighbour who talked down to him, I’d say, “Fuck her, why does her opinion matter to you?” Because I would be able to afford to do that in my own life – everyone would take me seriously of course, so I could always afford to lose a few. And it wouldn’t occur to me that my brother didn’t have the same luxury. I’d get off the phone and shrug to my boss. Sorry, it was the brother, he’s having troubles, I’d say. And I’d imagine the boss man would appreciate what a sensitive woman I always was. He’d give me a tight-lipped smile and I’d tell myself that’s just the way he was – not used to showing emotion. He’d give me my promotion and I’d punch my fist in the air.
Right then my husband would call me from the police station. And I’d run out. Of course. Police station, damn damn damn, what did he do now? To my utter relief, he’d be sitting there in a corner. No handcuffs. Somebody attacked me, he’d tell me. But he’d look okay to me. He just got worked up, I’d tell myself. Those assholes….but thank God nothing happened to him. He’s too intelligent to needle people like that. Yet, he does. Still, being stress-free is about staying calm. That is all it’s about. That’s all it is. I knew life would be this way, if I married an independent man. I’d take a deep breath. I wouldn’t be able to calm him down if I was worked up myself. So, to cheer him up, I’d tell him about my promotion. And he’d smile. We’d walk out.
But outside, he’d stop and burst into tears again. Enough, already. ENOUGH, I’d say and I’d walk away. I married a man, not a child. How much is a woman to take?
I get it. I get it, guys.
– This Woman
I was at a seminar last month discussing the world of erotica, pornography and the internet as it pertained to women. There were exactly three men in the twenty-five odd gathering. One was the cameraperson (silent throughout), another lurked in the far corner of the room and I never heard a word from him. The third was sitting right next to me and as vociferous as the women. It was from him that I had this question.
Put that way, it seemed rhetorical. Feminism is a movement, an attitude, a perspective on the world. Since sex is determined by your body plumbing, a mind activity such as this can’t be a gender restricted one (See this for distinctions of sex and gender). On the other hand, I believe women and men experience inequality, injustice and disparity differently. Their motives to come to this movement are different. And an overpowering life attitude such as this, is a combination of rationale as well as emotion.
I do have several men in my life who are supportive of equality, who even call themselves feminists. This is not meant to disparage their efforts and even their struggles. In some ways, I think it’s even harder to be a male feminist than a female feminist. For one, it requires going against automatic conditioning, peer pressure and media messaging. Then there’s the constant deriding from both sexes (what, you think women are always nice to someone who stands for their rights?). My father (probably the first feminist in my life, male or female) sometimes tells me that women are probably the worst male chauvinists in this country. After all, he points out, it is a mother who makes a mama’s boy. It is a mother-in-law who drives the daughter-in-law harassment. I have to agree with him.
I know my own ‘strength’ and independence are constantly being held to account by the men in my life, not the women. When I bought a new computer recently, dad accompanied me and so did a close (male) friend. This plus two conversations with other men who advised me. One of them asked,
“Just how many men do you need to help you buy a computer?”
Hmm, indeed. My independent woman self is kept in place by the men in my life – now is that ironic or pathetic?
How and why we come to the feminism philosophy is utterly different. These men are feminists/equalism supporters because they believe it is the right thing to do. I support equalism because it gives me access to a better life. When we go into a debate on this, I am fighting for my survival as an independent human being with rights. They’re debating something that may not impact them at such a profound level as it does me. I must also make mention of privilege guilt. There are several men who are struck by advantages they enjoy that are not extended to the women in their lives. They don’t all become feminists but they struggle with the inequality anyway. I think this actually describes the angst of most ‘modern men’ I know today.
Let’s set aside the fervour and commitment for a second. I want to question whether a man can truly understand what it is to be a marginalized gender.
In my first semester at b-school, the Production Management professor, an M.Tech from I.I.T. Bombay spotted me sitting in the first row. He walked up to me, sneered and asked, “Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home learning to make rotis?” The whole class laughed. Through the year, he routinely made fun of my questions and was dismissive of my presence. He was just one professor in the 40-odd faculty members we saw in two years. But his words have never left me. I worked very hard to get into the program, studying on the bus on the way home, reading my texts during lunch breaks at work. I was at the top of my class. Yet, my efforts and my very presence was taken as insignificant. Can a man fathom the utter humiliation and frustration of that?
During the placement week, a very prestigious company came to the campuses across the city. My seniors advised me to not even bother applying as the company had a reputation of being gender-biased. I ignored them and applied anyway. The guy I was dating then didn’t even make it through the entrance exam. I was one of three women in the twenty that got through. And the only woman shortlisted for an interview. And in that closed room, the four men seated around the table told me that while I had made it that far, they couldn’t see the company actually hiring a woman. My classmates and the (then) boyfriend who hadn’t even gotten through this entrance exam – every one of them got jobs before I did. I finally landed a prestigious job, a better paying one than them. Will a man ever understand just why I still feel vindicated by that?
Last year, I was to get married and after a very public engagement, the relationship ended. Friends have behaved as if nothing happened (which I know now is the best I can hope for). And several of them have egged me ‘to get over it’. I can see how uncomfortable they are with having to be okay with something like this. I have also had a few people stop talking to me, some parental units ask their kids to not invite me over any more. I know the ex has not had to face anything of this nature. He is a self-acknowledged feminist but he won’t acknowledge that this is happening. How, I want to know, can he rightfully be a feminist, if the world treats him differently from me, in the same situation and he does not see that difference?
I am not at such a place of anger any more. I am able to engage in conversations (rather than arguments) with men about attitudes to women. I find myself thinking that the man before me has not had a chance to experience what I have. I’m willing to make allowances for their limited experience range and be grateful for their extra effort. But don’t these considerations negate the equalist philosophy? And if so, how can a man be a true feminist?