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.
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?
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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I was at dinner with three male friends yesterday. We were at a tiny, local restaurant known more for its cheap, tasty food than its ambience or refinement. All around us were people in groups talking, laughing and eating. The proprieter sat at one of the tables counting money while the waiters buzzed in and out of the kitchen door, mingling their words with the diners’ conversations. The place was so tiny, that we could practically hear the rumbling of stomachs from nearby tables. Yes, that kind of place.
I only became conscious of it about half an hour into the meal. The friend who was wedged in next to me would keep going,
“Shh! Shh! Softer! Don’t talk so loudly!”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I have a loud voice and a personality to match and when I’m excited, it tends to rise. In addition, I live in a very noisy part of a very crowded city. Most of my conversations have to be conducted at a high volume just to cut across whatever cacaphony the restaurant/cafe deems is ambience music, the bandwidth my phone service provider is able to give me at peak hours and horns blaring on roads where one’s importance is expressed by how loud and often you can honk. Wait. I don’t need to explain. I’m loud. Period.
His relentless shushing had its effect and I fell silent for a bit. It is like being slapped hard on the face everytime someone turns to you and tells you (politely) to SHUT UP. And the noise around me immediately crowded in to cover any possible space that had opened up by my falling silent. That’s when I realised it. The others at the table were talking just as loudly. The people at other tables were talking loudly too. We could even hear the horns from outside. But I was the only one being made to shut up.
It took me back to many, many years ago. I had a boyfriend/friend who was a lot like me — gregarious, popular, enjoying attention and revelling in it. He was fun to be around. He said I was fun too. But when we started dating, something new came up in our conversations. It was the word SHHHH, alternated only by SHUT UP. It even led to some truly terrible fights.
Fast forward memory. A friend telling me that I should wear more muted colours, and oh, lower your voice please, it is considered very ill-bred to speak so loudly.
And finally back to present where I realised that the man who had asked me to SHHH had gone silent. I realised he didn’t have a lot to say. But he wouldn’t let me speak either. I tried again, this time a bit more watchful. Entering conversations, starting one with the person sitting across. And there, as I had anticipated, it came again.
“SHHH!!!! Everyone is looking at us!!”
“Where?” I asked him, “Who is looking at us? Who can hear us in this bedlam?”
He fumbled at that, obviously taken aback as he realised we weren’t sitting in the Queen’s court. Before he could come up with an answer, one of the other men added,
“THE OTHERS ARE LOUDER THAN WE ARE!”
Our man nodded but offered up a feeble,
“But…if someone complains…?”
Now here is the thing. I don’t like being apologetic for my existance. I find it hard to respect people who are apologetic for theirs. And it’s infuriating for someone to be apologetic on my behalf. It is obnoxious and degrading.
I don’t think this man any more than the boy I dated all those years ago, realises he is doing this. I chalk it down to yet another one of those sins men commit against women, while talking loudly about how much they respect women — mansplaining, interrupting, gaslighting and just not taking us seriously. Shutting women down is yet another of those things that men seem to do instinctively in our culture, without realising they’re doing it. This man is a nice guy and my friend. But he did not dare to or care to shut down any of the others at our table or at the other tables. The guy I dated had no qualms being the OTT foghorn himself but he had a big problem with his girlfriend being the same.
I am not arguing for obnoxious behaviour. I am displeased when a stranger complains or asks me to be quiet because I’m disturbing them in a public place. But I apologize and comply with their request. Because that’s a stranger and in a place like a library, bookshop or a movie, I have no call disturbing them. But shutting me down in a raucous environment, especially when the same muffling isn’t happening on the men around, is not acceptable.
I am a woman with an opinion and a loud voice. I don’t feel the need to apologize for that. And if it embarasses a man, he probably has no business hanging around me.
*Image courtesy Simon Howden on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I was in college, a guy leaned in and asked me,
“Why was there blood on the dance floor?”
These were the late 90s, Micheal Jackson was still alive, already white and not yet branded a pedophile. I shrugged. I had not understood the song anyway.
“Because Susie had her period!”
he guffawed as the boys around him erupted laughing. I frowned. I still don’t get it. The song and the joke.
If the idiot had any sense, he’d know that Susie would know to wear a tampon or a sanitary pad during her period. Even if by some miracle, she forgot to wear panties (no woman does that outside of porn films), the blood would not gush out of her and land on the floor in a puddle. It would cake around her groin, with a trickle or two lining the insides of her thighs. I very much doubt it would even get as far as her knee before it congealed and dried up. It’s menstrual blood after all, not red wine. But how would he know? He was a man. What did he know about menstruation, after all?
I once had an argument with a friend over this. He thought joking about things made it possible for people to not take them so seriously. I see where that might make sense in some things. But not here. Most men are terribly uncomfortable with the notion of menstruation. This discomfort is indulged by a society that makes it okay to not talk about it and silences girls and women about a natural, bodily process. Making a joke of it, especially in an information-deprived environment actually propagates wrong notions. It also increases the shame factor that keeps the silent zone in place.
I think the heavy silence that lies around menstruation is dangerous. It gives men (and women) all kinds of wrong notions. I know men who think that having sex with a menstruating woman will kill her. I know women who use iPill as a regular contraceptive and I fear that one day they will bleed to death. (iPill is an emergency contraceptive that basically induces the period. Having a period more often than normal is not normal or good for the body.) I know men and women who think that painkillers can ‘solve’ the period. And I know men and women who think that contraceptives will ruin a woman’s child-bearing capacity.
Periods suck. They’re awful. I hate having them. Why should I not be allowed to rant about them? Why must I not be able to expect sympathy for strong nausea, blinding headaches, backache, stomach cramps and aching joints (on account of weakness due to blood loss, the doctor says)? Everyone gets sympathy when they face any one of these, don’t they? Why, when I have to have all of these together am I not accorded the same, just because it’s on account of my period? Never mind getting a day off to rest. The only people who will grant me that will also treat me as an untouchable, not allow me to pass by places of worship and create a huge hullabaloo if I reach for a bottle of pickles. Yes, this happens, even in 2014 Mumbai. It happens to me.
You know what talking about the above gets me? PMS jokes (which are period jokes in douchebag clothing, pun entirely unintended). I think PMS jokes are even more offensive. They don’t just spread ignorance like period jokes do. They also actively propogate demeaning women for natural body functions. They reaffirm the idea of women as shrieking banshees incapable of logic, sense or responsibility.
I have no problem with humour. But humour is only really funny when everyone (and not just the the person who makes the joke) gets that it is not serious. In the Susie joke, I think a lot of my classmates actually believed that a woman dancing during her period might leave puddles of blood behind on the floor. Think about what their attitudes would be towards the women in their life undertaking physical exertion during their periods?
So yes, we need to be able to talk about periods. What about period jokes? I’ll say they are okay the day it is permissible to sit around talking about menstruation as normally as we discuss Arnab Goswami and the next Salman Khan movie.
Update: I challenge every man reading this post, to go through this list. It’s creatively designed as a humour/horror quiz but is closer to the truth than most factual articles I’ve read. Go on, I dare you to read it through to the end.