Blog Archives

A Bleeding Goddess

Has it occurred to anybody that we are debating a woman’s right to worship in the same month that this religion worships womanhood? Navratri, Durga Puja or Pujo, whatever name you know this festival by, honours Shakti, the divine female force that manifests in abundance (Lakshmi), wisdom (Saraswati), loving relationship (Parvati) – just a few of the avatars that Hinduism revers. Durga specifically, represents the female force against evil. And what is more evil than discrimination, than treating human beings as less than human? It is especially ironical that the very thing that is considered prime about the female energy — the ability to bear life — is also used as a reason to discriminate against everyday women.

View this post on Instagram

This body is function. This body is strength. This body is beauty. This body is sex. This body is purpose. This body is life. Don't objectify me. Don't deify me. My poem on menstruation taboos and a religious celebration of womanhood. Thank you to @karthik.rao99 for the music and @kalart.ists, @me_shayar_to_nhii & @ujjain_nalini for bringing this performance to the world. Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jhe25h9WVU4 Link also in bio. #performance #performer #poetry #poet #poetsofindia #poetryofindia #feminism #menstruation #menstruationmatters #menstruationmatters #menstrualhealth #kalart #periodtalk #periodtaboos #menstrualhygiene #spokenword #durgapuja #pujo #navratri #indianfestival #hindufestival #hindusim #sabarimalaverdict #sabarimala

A post shared by Ramya Pandyan (@ideasmithy) on

Let’s examine menstruation taboos. What makes a woman unclean during her period days? I’ve heard people tell me that this was used as a way to give the woman rest from her hard labour and to keep her husband from imposing sex on her. Even if this were true and the only way to give a woman rest at one point of time, is this the world we want to live in? What does it say about us as a society if the only way we can allow a woman rest and reprieve from forced sexual demands is by making her taboo? Are men and society at large that indifferent to a woman’s personhood — her health, her wellbeing and her consent? And if that is the case, what kind of hypocrisy is it to worship this same aspect of the women that they discriminate against?

Menstrual blood is not unclean and is not an excuse to treat menstruating humans as untouchable. A period is not an illness, not a reason to quarantine menstruating people. Women are human beings, not objects to be put out of harm’s way or intoxicants to be locked away.

This is my poem about the dichotomy of being an object of worship/discrimination in my culture. The background score was composed by the talented Karthik Rao and the animation and video production were by KalArt/Bramha Media. Thank you Kunal Jhawar and Nalini Ujjain for bringing my message to the world.

=========================================================================

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.

Advertisements

Why Digital Dating Means Nothing New For Indian Women

Tinder. OkCupid. Secret. Anonyfish. Even Couchsurfing. India is on the digital map and we of the brown-skinned, spicy-food-eating ilk are exploring digital dating too. Here’s what I found though.

On one end of the spectrum, we find the matrimonial sites. They were the original Indian dating sites, pre-dating the recent apps by a good ten years at least. What, you don’t count those? Matrimonial sites are parentally-sanctioned ways to meet members of the opposite sex, with a view to forming a sexual/romantic relationship with them. Aside from the parental sanction, how do these differ from the average dating service?

All services

At the other end of the spectrum are these dating services that have everyone commenting on the new India. Here is what is actually happening. There aren’t that many women on them, which won’t surprise anybody. There are fewer women in the country and less of us are connected/digitally savvy. Most women don’t enjoy the kind of independence/freedom that dating requires. Women are also less open to these services. I found they have good reason to be.

Tinder, the hot app of the season, picks up from your Facebook profile and lets you see who you have in common with the other person. You can’t imagine the number of married men I found there. A male friend tells me he is equally astounded by the number of married women he finds too (wedding photos as profile pictures!). I can’t tell whether it’s dumbness (“Maybe they thought it’s a chat service,” he thinks) or sheer arrogance (“People will hit on me anyway.”) that makes married people sign up for a dating service. Not all of them are that easy to catch though. I imagine knowing how to navigate the net and mine information from the social media is a skill that helps. At least four conversations proceeded with interesting men before a stalking session revealed their marital status – a Facebook picture tagged here, a forgotten social network profile with their status as married, a photograph carrying a baby followed by comments like ‘Congratulations on becoming a father!’. Really, why are these people here?

We come up against a different issue on OkCupid. This service has been around for ages and it shows, in the dated design and early millennial interface, even on the app. You’re required to fill in an entire profile and there are no privacy settings, no filters on who gets to approach you. The minute I began the lengthy sign up process, my inbox was flooded with messages. This before I had written a single word or even uploaded a photograph. All these people had to go by, was the fact that I was female. I decided to brave it and weed through the crowds for an interesting connection. It has proved to be an arduous exercise. Indian men do not like hearing no. They believe persistence to the point of stalking, is a virtue. Rape culture is alive and well as long as the Indian man exists. Yes, I said that. I was stalked from different profiles (same photograph) and abused for saying no or even for not responding.

Now let’s come to Secret, the uber-hot-hot app that only us digital hipsters have caught on to. Secret lets you post messages anonymously. You can see secrets posted by Friends (anyone on your contacts lists – phone and email) and Friends of Friends but no one can tell who has posted what. I actually uninstalled it in three days because I couldn’t bear how depressed it made me feel. The conversations and a lot of threads about known women. The secrets were usually about one person ‘having the hots for’ or ‘being really turned on by’ such a woman, while the comments would include various versions of catcall responses such as tearing the woman down (“Are you crazy? Total thunder thighs, man. Everyone gets to see them.”) or lascivious jeers of agreement.

I signed into Secret again two weeks later and I find there is a little more variety. Now people also confess to cheating and being proud of it. Comments calling them out result in abuses and versions of ‘You must be such an ugly bitch, nobody wants to fuck you’. There’s also an occasional secret that may be posted by a woman. All of these, plus comments get others begging for a contact with them. This, even to comments that are outright nasty towards men. I know Indian men in large numbers may be like this, but it’s disheartening to see so many people that I know, behave this way too.

Digital Dating2*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Now, let’s step back from the obvious problems. There must be some worthwhile men, right? Right. There are men who are articulate, intelligent and educated. They quote pop culture, read good literature and work for respectable MNCs. These are the same men who refer to the dating apps as pick-up services. One of them asked me what kind of a woman clicked on such apps. Another told me he respected me because I said no to his booty call (after one conversation). Welcome to the modern Indian man. He believes that women’s liberation means booty calls and dutch dates with women who wear short dresses.

Now, for the hookup culture, that scary thing that’s got everyone above the average digital citizen age in a flutter. Where does that fit into India? I’ll tell you. It’s married people using the fact that they were forced to marry, as an excuse to explain cheating. It’s people who are too ‘respectable’ to buy sex, seeing an easy unpaid option. It’s ‘modern men’ who treat the woman in a hookup as a hooker who won’t charge them. I thought hookups were just about having sex with a person you barely knew and both parties not thinking too much about it later. When did gender-biased judgment and bad behavior come into it?

All in all, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the dating/mating services. The trouble is the people and the attitudes that populate these services. Dating in India is only highlighting the fallacies in the Indian culture. As an Indian woman, my options are to be packaged like a doll, on a matrimonial service or objectified and discarded on a dating service. We haven’t changed in decades. The only difference is it’s all digital now. No wonder women don’t seem that interested.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — —— — —

*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.

 

Save

Motherhood – The Great Indian Relationship & The Only One

I was watching ‘Wake Up Sid’ yesterday (ah, the joys of being master of your own time…a Monday afternoon movie with a friend!) when this thought occurred to me. I’ve complained long and hard about the Indian man being a perpetual mama’s boy. I also believe that this ingrained emasculated dependency comes from scores and scores of mothers who bring their boys up in the Mera Raja Beta (my son, the little lord) tradition. And hence I concluded that women have a lot of blame to carry for the inherent insufficiency of men in this society.

But yesterday I suddenly realised something else. The Indian woman is also brought up in a particular way, no matter what kind of family or social strata she comes from. She is groomed, trained and refined to be a mother. Motherhood is the one relationship that we are tutored in, right from an early age and educated by theory and by example. We are taught to mother our siblings, our friends and even our fathers and uncles.

Think about it. We watch our mums manage the entire gamut of activities concering something as basic as clothing for the men. Shopping, washing, drying, ironing, darning, sewing, discarding and replenishment. They even construct the ‘look’ for the men in the family.

Growing up in a liberal family as I did, I was still taught to make beds and clean when I was about 9 and cook when I was 13. I was also taught to watch for the moods of daddy (and grandfather on those native vacations) and be mindful of them. I wasn’t discriminated against or restricted in any way. But in addition to my education in maths, science, social etiquette and life skills, I was also taught to accommodate and take care of men. This was also down to the fact that I may not always be appreciated for my good work, since ‘it didn’t occur to them’ or ‘he’s busy right now’ and such other things. I was resentful of this for awhile but in hindsight I realize it was a sturdy survival kit for the hard knocks of disappointment and indifference that would inevitably come in life.

Contrast that with a boy who is praised for every achievement, fawned over for doing things as per normal and most importantly soothed and pacified when faced with disappointment or difficulty. No wonder he ends up a la Sid in the movie, bewildered and clueless when faced with rejection or failure.

I was particularly struck by one scene in the movie where Sid goes to live with his slightly older friend Aisha for awhile after walking out of his house in a huff. At the end of the first day, she comes home from work to find the neat little flat that she works hard to maintain, all in a mess. With no little irritation, she nevertheless gets to cleaning it herself. And then on learning that Sid hasn’t eaten all day because he doesn’t know cooking, she cooks for him as well.

I understand that doing nice things for each other and being supportive are an integral part of every relationship. But it just seems to me like as Indian women, we are brainwashed into doing too much. The movie may have intended to be about the coming of age of a young man, the maturity of a different relationship. But I found myself thinking, that all Sid did was to substitute one mother figure for another. As for Aisha, even while she worked hard to establish herself as a modern, independent woman, all she ended up doing was being a surrogate wife/mother character to yet another man. Her independence and value as a human being was finally expressed only by her satisfactory fulfilment of one task – taking care of a little boy.

I’m coming to think that we don’t really know any other way to treat men. Motherhood is the only relationship we understand. So beyond the frivolity of socialising, we end up being surrogate mothers for our men, even ones that we are not romantically involved with.

I don’t mean to sound condescending to men; indeed I find myself guilty of this kind of behaviour. When I was in a relationship with a Delhi guy who was in Mumbai to study, I remember being astonished at how little he knew, how handicapped he was by his lack of basic survival skills or even social etiquette. I’d organise meals for him, manage the maid (in conjunction with the girlfriends of the other guys who shared his flat), wake him up for interviews and lectures, figure out his clothes and even pack for him on his visits home.

I also remember an official trip I took to another country, with a colleague. He sat next to me at work and we were pretty pally. As we checked in and waited for the departure announcement, he handed over an assortment of papers and said,

You take care of these. You know how to. I’ll just make a mess of it!

I grumbled of course but I realised he’d just end up misplacing his passport or converting his money into wrong currency. So I arranged his papers by the dates he’d need them, filed the rest away carefully and put them away. Then I organised his money into different sets, told him how much to convert, how much to retain and in the end took over some part of it so he wouldn’t misplace it. At the end of the week, I also had a detailed account of what he had spent and what he would need to convert back. Considering he was an MBA, who had lived away from home for over 6 years, I really think he should have learnt to do all this. But by his own admission, girlfriends had always taken care of such things for him. In retrospect I wonder what would have happened if I had just left him to flounder.

I’ve spent enough of time raving about the inadequacy of men but I wonder now whether I’m part of the other half that actually facilitates this. We’re both mass products of a great social machinery that churns out only one relationship between a man and a woman – motherhood. We seem to be unable to treat men as equal human beings with their own minds so we end up either mollycoddling them or being fearful of them; either way it is a relationship of bullying or resentful servitude. Instead of kicking men for not being able to do things that they weren’t anyway trained for anyway, I’m wondering how do we break out of this behaviour? Is it possible for women to learn new ways to treat a man? And do so without being disgusted of men or giving up on them?

%d bloggers like this: