I wore a saree to a poetry event today. Unlike the last time, it was a rushed drape of an unstarched cotton. I look like an amma. But I was on my way to a new poetry event. And I thought it would be nice to do gentle romantic piece. But on the train, there were three women who were travelling with an adult height male being. When I protested his presence in the ladies compartment, they abused me. The last time I tweeted a picture of such a male creature in the ladies compartment, I got abused by women on Twitter. It made me mad enough to bring out my vitriol from last week. Truly, mothers/sisters of men in this country have to be the most irresponsible, self-absorbed, cussed group ever. My deepest derision is saved for you. Here’s Mother’s Day, performed at Kulture Shop.
When I finished, I felt somewhat incensed. This country is what it is. And as a bona fide uterus carrier, I will live the rest of my life with men hanging their insecurities on me and blaming me for it. Where I can, I will shoulder that burden womanfully (yes, what is manfully? that to me, just means in a weak, undependable and entitled manner). So here’s something that I do do well – offer comfort and solace. Lullaby for your listening pleasure.
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Western feminism talks about the infantalisation of women. Childish behaviour is rewarded, glorified and in some cases, forcibly attributed too. I think the Indian counterpart is a bit different – but there is an Indian counterpart. The Indian culture, across states idolizes the Plain Jane.
In general conversations among my extended family, I’ve often heard disparaging references to women who wear make-up. There is a strong implication that a woman who cares about her appearance beyond a very antiseptic ‘clean and tidy’, a woman who actively beautifies herself is wanton, cold and manipulative.
Pop culture is a good barometer of social attitudes. Bollywood & television routinely typify negative female characters as painted, overdressed women. The heroine in contrast, is fresh-faced, virginal (untouched even by make-up brushes) and given to more dutiful pursuits than caring for her beauty. Saadgi is a shining ideal for the Indian woman. ‘Saadgi’‘s verb form is saada which translates to plain.
If you think this is an exaggeration, look at the number of acid-throwing attacks, a crime unique to India. They’re almost always perpetrated by men whose attentions have been scorned and who feel like they have to right the balance by taking away the woman’s power – her beauty. In their defenses one hears statements like, “She thinks she’s so beautiful. She needs to be taken down a peg.”
Beauty is required of an Indian woman, but in an unobtrusive, apologetic way. As a woman who loves dressing and consistently flouts fashion norms in favour of my own personal style, I can testify to the heavy disapproval I have to deal with. This isn’t just restricted to when I wear ‘revealing’ clothes but also colours, accessories or other things that just aren’t ‘what is usually done’. I feel the constant pressure to conform, to be punished with derision and mockery if I don’t. Indian women are not supposed to be individualistic.
Plain Jane is a non-threatening image for a woman. A woman who is not a Plain Jane indicates that she thinks, that she is able to see herself as distinct from the social structure & the role she plays in it. It shows that she is aware of her personal desires, her rights even – most importantly, that she is aware of the concept of ‘personal’ and feels she has a right to it.
This goes completely counter to the patriarchal system that sees women only as the roles that they play – their relationships & their duties. No wonder India loves saadgi and hates a woman who aspires to beauty.
Update: The Restless Quill writes a thought-provoking post on the appeal of Malayam TV personality, Ranjini Haridas and why she’s shaking the system up – What the internet gave to the Kerala man (apart from p0rn)
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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Yesterday I heard a true story straight out of school. A pair of lovebirds coochie-cooing in the back benches of the classroom had everyone else hot and bothered. Eighth standard does seem rather young to be making out. But the hormonal teenage years are different for each of us so different strokes for different folks I guess (pun entirely unintended!).
A bunch of their classmates got together to ‘end this behaviour as it was making them uncomfortable’. The gossip doing the rounds was that guy would french-kiss the girl and slide his hand up to places that other people didn’t feel comfortable talking about. What’s funny is that these obviously took place in secluded places. The classmates had no qualms snooping onto the couple and watching them do things that suddenly, curiously they were uncomfortable discussing.
More curiously, their idea to end this went so far to approach the girl to tell her that her behaviour was not right. Correct me if I’m wrong but it takes two to make out (and several other things), doesn’t it?
It turned out that the girl took a dignified stance that it was no one else’s business (such self-containedness at that age!) but that if bothered people so much, she and her boyfriend would consider toning it down. She was not apologetic but rather proud of the fact that she had something special with another human being. Quite tragically, they broke up a year later when the guy cheated on her.
I wonder what how her classmates must have reacted. Given their self-righteous (not to mention chauvinistic) stance earlier, might they not have thought it served her right? Something else that struck me were the girl’s belief that her heart and her body belonged to the love of her life. Adolescence brings out the worst the dramatic in each of us. Yet, curiously enough, we never really hear a guy say those words, do we?
Our bodies seem like nothing more than property for men to have territory disputes over. And the invasions start pretty damn early.
A during-commercial-break conversation about an irritating chickey-type female of our common acquaintance.
Me: She’s one of those women who just are like that, you know?
Mr.Everyday: All women are like that.
Me: *raising eyebrow*
Mr.Everyday: *in his usual failed save manner* What? Look at it objectively. Don’t just react because you’re a woman! You’re a writer, after all.
Me: I write about women and relationships, babe.
I met a young man last year who was smart, successful, charming and good-looking. He was also single and he explained why, saying,
“There’s such a strong pressure on girls to land a good catch that I can never tell whether they like me for me or just because I’m a good catch. I like meeting women who are independent and confident because then, there’s an equal exchange of interest and affection, without the fear of hidden agendas.”
It made me think, aren’t men objectified just as much as women? A man has his own individuality, personality and unique traits that set him apart, over and above his qualifications and income. Just like a woman is more than a good daughter, sister, friend, lover, wife and mother.
Now, ‘good provider’ seems as outdated and offensive as ‘homely girl’.
A version is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.
I actually wrote this post five months ago. But instead I published this one, in its place. I guess this post felt too raw, too out-there and (fine, I admit!) I was a tad superstitious about sounding too smug-happy. I feel a lot more confident about bringing this out so here it is for your (repetitive) reading pleasure!
Okay, I’m back. Call off the search team, please. The flashlights are making me see spots in the darkness. And meh, I wanted to slink back in without anyone noticing.
A combination of sulkiness, bad moods and blogger’s block assailed me. Of course, this blog has seen its share of my blogicidal tendencies. This time, I thought I really and truly had said everything I could possibly say. After all, beyond gender stereotypes, feminism, male-bashing, dating advice, battle of the sexes and single girl rants, what else can I possibly XX Factor?
A relationship, that’s what, came the answer. To my chagrin, I found I never wrote when I was truly, bursting-with-it happy and when was the last time I felt that way? Angst has fueled much of my creative output and in the absence of it, I feel no words knocking about in my head, bumping into my eyelids, threatening to go pouring out of my mouth and my fingers.
So fine, I’ve gone from being single gal to coupled-up, I’ve moved on from angsty-angry to wholesome-happy. But I’m still a woman. There has got to be more to it than explaining the paucity of the opposite sex.
*Sigh* It’s been so long since I’ve done this, I’ve forgotten. There are things that you never really forget, like cycling and swimming and turning your eyelids inside out and being grossed out when other people do this. Let me tell you, being in a relationship is not one of those things.
I think dating should be discarded as a means to and a predecessor to relationships, seeing how it seems to have no connection whatsoever with the latter. How many people that you dated did you actually end up having a solid relationship with? I mean the kind where you genuinely care what they feel, their opinion matters to you, you stand by them (and they by you)? What’s all that to do with people with whom you share entertainment and fancy meals with, people who add to your social quotient and you to theirs by being seen in public together? Anyway, I anticipate that the next question will be “How else do you find someone to be with then?” and I have no answer to that so I’ll drop this thread of thought.
It seemed so easy, so effortless. A conversation between two people ending in ‘Yes’. But in the days to come, that one word has loomed bigger and larger and infiltrated into every aspect of life.
Suddenly I’m spending way longer with and in his absence, thinking about one person. I still adore my friends and the vast social circle I’ve collected in all these years. But days and weeks have mysteriously slipped by and I’ve come back to a bunch of mystified people who’re out with flashlights and search dogs with a warrant for my kidnapper’s arrest. But this is okay. My wonderfully understanding friends assure me that they’re happy for me and wave away my apologies for never understanding when they did the same thing.
I spent an hour trying on and changing various outfits last evening, all in preparation of a mid-week date. Not that he notices and strangely enough that doesn’t bother me as much. I’ve dressed well for a good while now but it’s always been what I feel like wearing, colour, fabric, design, cut etc. But this time I’m thinking….we might take a walk on the beach, better not to wear the nice sandals. My favorite Batman-patterened-WonderWoman style bracelet is still much loved but its sharp edges will probably dig into his wrist when we hold hands.
In the morning, I was looking through some Facebook albums and chanced upon the picture of someone I had gone out with, awhile ago. I immediately tweeted,
“Cute & friendly exes are like delicious street food. Always tempting but then you think of your last encounter & thats the end of it.”
I managed to be late for the date in the evening and after a slightly stiff reception, the ice was broken with a reference to my tweet. I started, having completely forgotten about that. Then that telling glint of mischief crept into his eyes and I knew he was having a good laugh at how I was squirming. I knew he wasn’t going to go Jealous Guy on me and yet, I squirmed. It was odd.
We have great conversations and greater ones, too. Of course we were friends before we decided to be a couple. And the conversations continue. Now and then, I let slip one of my characteristic male-bashing or OTT funny-shocking statements (“In the year 2050, men will be illegally bred as pets for connoisseurs, the bulk of them being grown in laboratories for fertilization purposes.”). It used to be my thing. Drama, shock-value, yes I’m inadvertently (well, not entirely) funny. But I say these now and suddenly I stop and think, “Ohmigosh, I’m supposed to be a girlfriend now. Are girlfriends supposed to say these things to their boyfriends?” Squirm again.
And then there’s the whole awkwardness about the past. This has been strangely enlightening and also I discovered, goes both ways. It’s not the fact that I have a past that embarrasses me, it’s the amount of drama in it. Think how that would sound to Mr.Understated Silent, Solid Type. But then I mention a song of his that I came across and he says uneasily, “Yeah….I was….going through a phase back then.” Heh, there’s some consolation in that.
The friends have yet to be met, his and mine and I know from experience (zzzzing, I did it again!), that is another major bridge to be crossed. The urban family is just as much of a big deal as the joint family, never mind what he says about everyone doing their own thing. Well, one learns, one lives. Love is a complicated thing but at least you get to go at it with a partner.
There’ll be more on this. Single or otherwise, I’m still me and I have a feeling I’ve just stepped into an alternate universe. I’ll keep y’all posted on the sights.