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Masters Of Sex: How Do We Do This Without The Men?

I just finished reading Masters of Sex, the book on which this TV show was based. My opinions have shifted, somewhat. There is of course the difference in the two media. With the book, I’ve been able to ponder it over several months without feeling the need to retrace my steps. With the show, I started in 2016, gave up when it got triggering and then restarted twice over. This time round, I had to steel myself to power through it to the end, which may have impacted my opinion. Now that I’ve read the book (and the show, to be fair, follows it quite closely), I feel like I have a better perspective on the story and more clarity on the thoughts that came up.

Unlikeability as Lack of Ability

Bill Masters was not a particularly likeable character. Even a somewhat forgiving (attempting to be neutral) viewpoint like Maier’s shows him to have been focussed to the point of ruthless. It made me reflect on several such men I’ve encountered, mostly in romantic context. In the past year, I’ve been reflecting on the idea that these men may not have been evil, chuckling geniuses out to exploit people (and me). Make no mistake, I don’t believe any of them or Bill Masters for that matter, were/are good people. They lack a fundamental empathy for other human beings, a trait that translates into not completely ‘getting’ social cues but also making it very easy for them to exploit, even abuse other people and move on seemingly with no moral compunctions. I’ve been wondering if this merely means that they are limited human beings with very narrow emotional and thus, mental range.

Emotional IS Intelligent

Yes, I clubbed the emotional and the mental together and there’s a reason this post appears on XX Factor. For centuries, we’ve thought of mental faculties as logic, rational, distanced from emotions which have been thought of as inferior, distracting, unnecessary. The ‘mental’ has been designated the domain of masculine and emotions the domain of hysterical females who need a steady man to keep them on track. But being able to access, understand identify and articulate emotions is a skill, one that most girls are taught since childhood. This training may not look and sound good since it mostly takes the form of prioritising other people’s needs over one’s own. But it also teaches us patience and eventually about delaying gratification. It demonstrates over and over, the value of playing the long game – of picking one’s battles, of factoring other people’s feelings when trying to achieve something. Take a look all around and tell me that doesn’t help women. Whether you look to the scheming saas-bahu narratives or the diplomatic ways that female media stars have climbed, these lessons show themselves as valuable.

So what does that have to do with Bill Masters and the men I’ve known? I think they’re people who lack something vital in their mental makeup. I am not intelligent enough to articulate exactly how they’re losing out because of this. Or maybe I haven’t healed from all the callous exploitation inflicted on me personally by them. But I’m convinced that being emotionally limited is a shortcoming and not a strength as I’ve been taught.

The Tragedy of Masters and Men

In the story of Masters and Johnson, Bill Masters does not come off looking good in any way. From all accounts, he was a very gifted and dedicated physician-surgeon already. And it would take supreme courage to undertake the study that became his lifelong passion. This study spawned a whole industry of sex therapy, foreshadowed medical developments like Viagra, was a forerunner of the sexual liberation and women’s empowerment. Importantly, it dispelled many of the medical community’s notions about sex, women’s bodies, older people’s bodies and dysfunctions. Not all the ideas proved correct (especially that problematic view on conversion therapy, which Maier concedes was probably a result of senility) but Bill Masters vision and work transformed how human beings thought of this most fundamental act of relating to one another.

But Bill Masters did not die rich. He was also never acknowledged again, let alone accepted back to the university where he began his project. The few people who tended to him in his last few years – Virginia Johnson herself, his son, his third wife Dody – were/are all seen as deserving of great sympathy and recognition just for tolerating such a terrible man. He certainly did not die loved and the few people who cared enough, probably barely did so.

Considering the need to leave behind a legacy seems more male than female (I suppose it has to do with not really knowing if one’s progeny is one’s own), this seems like a bleak possible future for most emotionally stunted men.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Women Aren’t Winning This Battle Either

This brings me to another thought I’ve been pondering for awhile. I anticipated in my 20s, that the toxic male behaviour I saw around me would have its repercussions on the male gender. I reasoned that the familial structures that supported their Raja Beta brattitude would lose their power as the doting parents got older. But in parallel, the women like me would have collected experiences and lessons in dealing with predatory/exploitative/abusive/cheating men and would reach a point of not needing to carry the burden of them anymore. That is happening. It is happening to me and I see it happening in so many ways around me, even with younger men and women.

The MeToo movement in so many ways was also about women saying that we didn’t HAVE to be exploited any more and if that shocked and destroyed men, why should we have to care?

Where does it leave us all, as a society now? Or as individuals? I know most of the perpetrators named in MeToo seem to have escaped without repercussions. But I know the echoes of this will linger on in every interaction between the genders, every intimate and professional relationship for at least some time to come.

We are a generation of embittered women saying we’ve got a raw deal when it comes to men so we’re not interested. And our counterparts are severely limited men, barely capable of identifying their own emotions right, now dealing with acute fear and no one to tell them how things work. I don’t know that the idea makes me, personally happy.

The last few pages of the book dwell on an ageing Virginia Johnson, after Bill Masters divorced her. A particularly telling section has her reflecting on the fact that she was brought up to be anything a man wanted her to be. How she may or may not have cared for the several men that she encountered (two prior ex husbands, Bill Masters, several other suitors/partners/collaborators).

Virginia Johnson was not a weak or needy woman by any stretch of imagination. Both the show and the book show her to be resourceful, practical, able to set aside her personal ambivalence to focus on what she wanted. One even wonders if she was a victim or an opportunist. But of course, you’d never wonder that about a man primarily because a man would not have had to make such choices but would be welcomed into achievement and exploiting other people readily. She makes for a most interesting character. I’m just not sure that she was a happy person.

It may be the men’s fault but it does mean nobody gets loved or laid.

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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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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.

Can A Man Be a Feminist?

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?

The Modern Woman

The modern woman is realizing why men have been workaholics and absent parents all these years.
The modern woman is grappling with the Catch-22 of being equal and wanting to look up to someone.

The modern woman is torn between the age-old power of her sexuality and the new-found one accorded to her gender.
The modern woman loves the idea of a credit card in her name but hates the bill that is also in her name..

The modern woman would want it all if only she could find place for it in her handbag.
The modern woman wonders, if she has the best of all worlds, what’s left to want?

The modern woman is proud of her moodiness, her ruthlessness, her ambition, her aggressiveness in bed, but not of her independence (though she’d like to think so).
The modern woman could challenge your masculinity; she could also rule with her femininity.
She does both alternatively and tires of both games.

The modern woman can rationalize, intellectualize, visualize but secretly wonders what happened to plain old thinking and feeling.
The modern woman is privileged and tough and frustrated and bored and high on a combination of vodka, estrogen and aspirin.

The modern woman thinks someone should write new fairy tales.
The modern woman will start to write one, only it will turn out as a journal of her life which will become a management bestseller (whose royalties she’ll collect and hate the fame for its apt hypocrisy)

The modern woman sympathizes with her male peers and pities her colleagues and ex-boyfriends, ALMOST. She’s a woman still.
The modern woman fights for woman power as a concept and hates her clan – she hasn’t changed all that much.

The modern woman hates being vulnerable but she also wonders what’s left of her femininity after even that goes.
The modern woman is taken for a ride by the new-age sensitive man and ponders the phrase ‘role reversal’.

The modern woman wears sneakers, unisex perfumes, toned biceps and her hair short, simply because there isn’t a damn thing the men can do about it.
The modern woman occasionally wears sandals and scarves and both hates and revels in the grateful, obsequious compliments that they get.

The modern woman is either a ruthless bitch or an overwhelming earth-mother or both…even she doesn’t know.
The modern woman is driving the world forward and its driving her crazy.

The modern woman made the above rangoli to personify all that she yearns to be but will never aspire to be – innocence, subservience.
The modern woman will still proudly display her confusion as a sign of her boldness as this one has done.

The modern woman is going down the road to insanity and dragging the world with her.

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An earlier version of this is posted here.

The Modern Woman


My diwali rangoli – inspired by the cover on diwali malar

The modern woman is realizing why men have been workaholics and absent parents all these years.
The modern woman is grappling with the Catch-22 of being equal and wanting to look up to someone.

The modern woman is torn between the age-old power of her sexuality and the new-found one accorded to her gender.
The modern woman loves the idea of a credit card in her name but hates the bill that is also in her name..

The modern woman would want it all if only she could find place for it in her handbag.
The modern woman wonders, if she has the best of all worlds, what’s left to want?

The modern woman is proud of her moodiness, her ruthlessness, her ambition, her aggressiveness in bed, but not of her independence (though she’d like to think so).
The modern woman could challenge your masculinity; she could also rule with her femininity
She does both alternatively and tires of both games.

The modern woman can rationalize, intellectualize, visualize but secretly wonders what happened to plain old thinking and feeling.
The modern woman is privileged and tough and frustrated and bored and high on a combination of vodka, estrogen and aspirin.

The modern woman thinks someone should write new fairy tales.
The modern woman will start to write one, only it will turn out as a journal of her life which will become a management bestseller (whose royalties she’ll collect and hate the fame for its apt hypocrisy)

The modern woman sympathizes with her male peers and pities her colleagues and ex-boyfriends, ALMOST. She’s a woman still.
The modern woman fights for woman power as a concept and hates her clan – she hasn’t changed all that much.

The modern woman hates being vulnerable but she also wonders what’s left of her femininity after even that goes.
The modern woman is taken for a ride by the new-age sensitive man and ponders the phrase ‘role reversal’.

The modern woman wears sneakers, unisex perfumes, toned biceps and her hair short, simply because there isn’t a damn thing the men can do about it.
The modern woman occasionally wears sandals and scarves and both hates and revels in the grateful, obsequious compliments that they get.

The modern woman is either a ruthless bitch or an overwhelming earth-mother or both…even she doesn’t know.
The modern woman is driving the world forward and its driving her crazy.

The modern woman made the above rangoli to personify all that she yearns to be but will never aspire to be – innocence, subservience.
The modern woman will still proudly display her confusion as a sign of her boldness as this one has done.

The modern woman is going down the road to insanity and dragging the world with her.

—————————————————————————————————

A later version is posted here.

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