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Mr.Modern Man, Get An Identity!

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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*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 Princess/ Professional Dichotomy

*Image via MicrosoftOffice

The woman who can’t decide if she wants to be the Nice Girl or the Business Skirt

There is a certain kind of woman that I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of, in the past decade. I found her right after I started working. This woman may hold down any job, from adwoman to pilot to salesgirl to journalist. She’s got the degrees, the skill set and even the resume. She’s confident, can speak the right jargon (in business situations) and lingo (in social situations). She may also have the other requisite paraphernalia for being a Superwoman, such as a cool hobby, an offbeat alternate career, a with-it social circle, a quirky love life and the mandatory ‘progressive’ outlook on gender equality.

On my first job, my company hired a bunch of people for a short-term assignment after an interview process. During the actual project, the woman in charge of managing a front desk was found combing her hair (at that very desk). When questioned about the whereabouts of certain materials that she was responsible for, she looked bewildered and said, “I don’t know”. My cutting (and in retrospect, harsh) reply was, “You have two hands, two legs & a head. Hopefully you have a brain too. You were hired to use all of them.”

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

There is the weaseling out of uncomfortable situations such as being pulled up for bad (or incomplete) work, by crying. You would think it’s easy to tell what kind of woman would break down if you pointed out a mistake on her report. But this is not the pretty, dainty princess sort. This is the toughie, ‘I can hold my own’ sort who ambushes you with an emotional response. It’s all the more difficult to handle such a situation because you never saw it coming. We deal with people along the equations that are set in place based on power dynamics & social roles. This particular situation means the woman abruptly changes all those, leaving you weaker to respond.

And finally there’s the kicker of turning to male support. Personally, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about having to ask a guy for help. I admit this may be an ego issue, since I’ve had to take offense so often against sexist remarks. But there’s nothing permissible about a professional who needs ‘rescuing’ on account of her gender.

Recently, I went on a short trip out of the city. The tour was organized by a young lady, who seemed full of bright ideas and budding talent. She’s a musician, who quit a corporate job to start a travel tours company with some friends. She was confident, articulate and enthusiastic. She was also charming, at ease with new people and seemed like she’d be able balance all the varying demands of these jobs well. The trip went completely off because of mismanagement of time and as it turned out, people. Each episode was dismissed with a smiling nonchalance. When things came to a head, she shrugged and said, “What can I do now? Just chill out yaar.” Shortly after, one of the male guests turned up to speak on her behalf. Thereafter, it was up to him to sort out the various glitches that had occurred because she had not done her job properly. Even if he did not have any problem with having to do this, he could not be held accountable for any issues that came up from the mismanagement or the superficial solutions that were offered. The lady in question quite literally shrugged it all off, putting it down to other people being difficult.

A number of situations like this have me saying, “I would never hire her!” which comes across as harsh & judgemental. But I am a certain kind of professional, the kind that thinks commitment to work & earning respect are gender-irrespective. If I demand equality in recruitment processes & in salaries, I don’t feel like I can ask for gender concessions while working. Besides being unfair, how can I expect any sort of respect if I do that?

Women like this weaken my stand, both within the professional setup (if they work with me) and for my gender. It’s hard enough to assess whether a woman is going to turn out this way. What’s even harder is the assumption that because I’m a woman, I should condone anything from another woman. There are the allegations of my sex being the proverbial crabs in a pot, not wanting other women to shine. Then there are accusations of being a bitch, as a boss or as a customer. And finally, there’s the assumption that I don’t truly believe in women’s liberation since supposedly, I don’t ‘support’ women in the workplace.

What I’m wondering is, when did equality end at rights and stop being about responsibility as well? I’m asking does the requirement of professionalism not apply to women, just because they’re women? And why at all should I have any respect for these women who’re just using feminism as a convenient excuse to write off sloppiness, laziness, irresponsibility and bad attitudes?

On the other side, I also have to admit that most women struggle with early-imposed notions of being ‘Nice’. At the most basic level, I think it’s important for every woman who goes out to work, to question what being a professional really means. I want to believe that it has nothing to do with popularity stakes and everything to do with getting the job done right.

The Modern Man

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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.

– IdeaSmith

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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 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.

Reviving Chivalry

Cross-posted on IFSHA here.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

He held the door open for me and stood aside.

“Hmm, chivalry, huh?”

I smiled. He said,

“I thought you said that chivalry died with the 60s?”

“No”

I said,

“Chivalry dies with sex.”

Rude, rude, so very rude of me. But I felt I had to be flippant to cover up my embarrassment at not knowing how to behave in an archaic social ritual like that.

There is a whole new dimension to the social rituals that have been conducted so far. My mother thinks if I demand equality, then I shouldn’t expect a man to be chivalrous and offer me his seat on the bus. Fair enough, if we aren’t ‘delicate flowers’, we don’t need to be treated as such either.

But chivalry is really so ingrained in certain rituals that its difficult to do away with them altogether. And what’s worse, retaining them makes them even more obvious as artifacts of the old order and brings a degree of awkwardness to the situation.

Take for example, dating. Now the old question – who pays? Is it fair to demand equal opportunity, earn equally well and then expect the man to do all the spending? It isn’t fair of course and what’s more, it is slightly degrading to us. Some women try to rationalize it like a friend who said,

“Let him pay. His ego is assuaged and you aren’t burning money on a stupid man who anyway wants only one thing from you.”

Well, that’s an extremely practical, if not cynical point of view. The problem is that it broadens the awkward divide rather than bridge it. It isn’t the solution at all.

It is also a little uncomfortable to be picked up and dropped everywhere, ferried around like someone who needs protection all the time. Well, crimes against women are on the rise, to be sure. I’ve taken to leaving early if it means that I won’t need to depend on someone to drop me home. But that’s not it either, is it?

From the male perspective, I hear a lot of men saying things like,

“I am totally open to the idea of my wife earning more than I do.”

I don’t know whether to believe that or not. Personally I think my generation is still steeped in the premise of the man being more successful to be able to accept that easily.

My perception isn’t entirely rooted in cynicism. I notice a lot of these men are the very same ones who are rude and boorish, especially to women. And they defend themselves by saying that they are treating women the way they treat men. Ah, but that isn’t what we ask for. Equality in opportunity but not in behaviour. We are different after all and not just physically.

And whatever happened to respect? I am not anybody to draw the rules on chivalry but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the root of true chivalry lies in respect. In being courteous and even accommodating, without making it seem like a favour. The reason these rituals seem awkward now is that we don’t need the favour anymore.

But what if it wasn’t a favour?

Hmm…I think women could be chivalrous too. It isn’t nice to keep someone waiting. And it is extremely bad form to be late and worse still to use one’s sexuality to get one’s way. More of us do it than we want to admit. I’d think its perfectly awful to treat half the world’s population with unrelenting, vigilant skepticism. We all play mind games and it looks like we’ll just be rooted in them, mired with archaic, awkward practices till we learn to be respectful of each other.

Its time we learnt to be ladies and gentlemen, not just ‘equal’ women and men.

Equality In Relationships?

I finally got around to reading a classic, whole and unabridged. This was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (not to be confused with Gurinder Chadda’s almost-namesake horror show with Ashen-faced Rai in the lead).

Books I like are usually ones that I remember some pearls of wisdom from. Here’s something from this book that will stay with me a long, long time. I quote Mr.Benett, the father of the soon-to-be-wed female protagonist, Elizabeth.

“I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Wise words of a father, those. A father who encourages independent thought in a daughter even in a time and age that accords them the status of showpieces. Small wonder then, that the daughter is just as ahead of her times as her father is. She’s wilful, headstrong, sarcastic and brash. Also quick-witted, ruthlessly logical and deeply loyal to people who have earned her caring. Thats not so far from the Modern Woman, is it?

Another portrayal of a woman with a strong identity…Scarlett O’ Hara. The pampered, beautiful heroine of Gone with the Wind who displays confusing and contradictory traits of loyalty, selfishness, warmth, cold-blooded ambition, ruthlessness, tenderness, optimism as well as pragmatism. Once again, how far from today’s reality, this one?

There’s a line in this book that says that a woman should never lose her fear. A woman without fears has nothing to hope for….something to that effect. The book is about Scarlett battling her fears, emerging an easy victor and life beyond that. Which doesn’t turn out a bed of roses. She is the society belle toying with the affections of all the men who adore her (and whom she has no respect for) The one man who wins her respect (and her heart) is the one who sees her for what she is and treats her accordingly. With indulgence but not subservience. With firmness but not cruelty.

Where is the connection? Both are women who know their own strenghts and in some manner look down on men who aren’t their equals. While Elizabeth Bennett treats them a dose of her wicked wit, Scarlett toys with them and discards them like waste papers. Each of them finds a man who is an equal in some way, someone they just have to respect. The similarity is in the fact that each of them refuses to or is unable to settle down in relationships with people they do not respect.

Do I identify with them? Yes I do. I think they typify the character I’ve termed Modern Woman (for lack of a better name). Yes, we are all doomed since we lose our fears so early. We will only find happiness in something greater and love with someone better. Or at least equal. Which is getting to be a sticky situation all things considered. The better we get, the more we expect. And the less those expectations are fulfiled, the more dissatisfied and jaded we are. While the pressures continue to mount, stemming from the disillusionment and frustration of the opposite sex.

No surprise then, that the changing gender equations are hitting modern relationships right in the centre. My father asked me once why it was so important to me that a man be my equal at least for me to consider having a relationship with him. Was it, he reasoned, necessarily an indicator of a good relationship? Yes, I told him. Lets leave aside all those biases about the male ego (though that is a major deciding factor, I’d think). A relationship is about understanding, connecting, supporting and growing. It isn’t a one-way street. And I’d think an unequal relationship would be imbalanced…slightly unhealthy.

Men seem to have a better grasp of how to live with someone who is not equal to them. There was certain solidity to the structure of the stronger-smarter-better male and the weaker sex to be protected and cared for. It isn’t working, it just isn’t working any more. Or at least, the ‘little woman’ is growing too big for that tiny shell she’s in. And if the structure is to be maintained, the man will just have to provide a far bigger shell. Or be devoured alive by the female piranha. Don’t tell me about role reversal. Women have started to earn the title of ‘stronger sex’. We just haven’t gotten around to wearing it with grace as yet.

Maybe it is an ego thing. An attitude of “I am this plus this plus this. Why should I care for someone who is not at least this much?” We treat even relationships as status symbols. I can’t resolve this….I do it unwittingly myself. The only way is to seek equality. A relationship without equality just is not stable or long-lasting. I know hundreds of couples do settle down comfortably with people who are less intelligent, healthy, sucessful, attractive or strong. I know no two people are alike. But I’m saying the equality has to be at an overall level. In totality, what one person can do well and contributes to the relationship needs to balance with his/her weakness and that which he/she seeks in the relationship.

You can know an association between equals from the respect they have for each other. Such relationships always work. I’d say they are the only ones that work. In business, in friendship, in sex, in love, in family. You can even see it in people who seemingly can’t stand each other. If they still respect each other, they can live with each other, all other differences overcome. And that respect rises from recognition of the other as an equal.

Is this an unrealistic ideal, then?

Do not lead me, I may not follow.

Do not follow me, I may not be your best guide.

Just walk by me and be my friend.

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