In XX Factor news, longtime friend and well-wisher of my blogs, Meetu (also known as WOGMA) joined XX Factor as its newest guest-contributor, giving her own introduction with her first post ‘Mom-me‘.
- ‘Why Marriage Is A Declining Option For Modern Women‘ (via Guardian, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
- ‘Pick A Number‘: A hilarious point-scale of sexuality (via NewYorker)
- A graph on how the sexes name colour – Do men and women really see colours that differently? Or are men just plain lazy? (via Venks)
- ‘The Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English‘: Sex and the City gave us ‘La Douleur Exquise’ but who knew the deliciousness of ‘Retrouvailles’ or the sensuality of ‘Cafuné’? If you’re confounded, the article explains their meanings. (via BigThink, link courtesy Smriti Ravindra)
- ‘The Surprise Spanx Make-out‘: A fun read on the battle between getting help to look good & letting the world see that. (via Salon, link courtesy Lakshmi Jagad)
- A dating site and my new project!: ‘Ten Things Men Should Never Do While Dating‘ (via LoveBeckons)
- ‘Biggest Relationship Trends of 2011‘: The accompanying images are more than half the fun! (via Glo)
- ‘She’s Got Game‘: I’m not the kind of girl gamer she talks about. But I’ve felt the same ‘You’re off your territory’ attitude in the comics section of bookstores. (via Michelle Oraa Ali, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
- A way to get men to stop making those %^$ period jokes! (via RaggedTag)
- A funny cartoon on haircuts, men and women (link courtesy BlogAdda)
You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to the XX Factor Facebook Page.
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
PMS: Three syllables that could rock your world. But what does this word mean? As a man, it is one of those words you never want to use to describe away women’s seemingly irrational behaviour. Unless you want to hear a very loud and shrill rant. Or if you know the women I do, get a prompt kick in the crown jewels. For women, it is the constant irritation of dealing with pop culture and stand-up comedians love affair with PMS jokes.
But is the alternative to making crass oversimplifications, just shutting up? I think not. The fact is, in our increasingly politically correct world, we do not address some things just to pacify, well, the angry women. The women whose eyebrows go up when you mention PMS and tell you “Don’t even think about it!”
Now here’s my problem with that. Society and culture thrives on making certain topics taboo- female sexuality, periods, rape, etc. When you cannot even talk about something openly, it provides a connotation of shame to it. How do you expect women to believe there is no shame in their being women when everything about their bodies is brushed under the carpets as ‘inappropriate’?And it is that culture that tolerates locking up women when they menstruate, treating them as social outcasts and of course dismissing them as professionals. For years, men thought women could not be involved in outdoors activities and professions because of- wait for it- menstruation!
This was fine in the world that was but it cannot be a part of the world the Modern Man seeks to build. In order to deconstruct what he has been raised to believe he needs to understand. So women can continue to be overly sensitive about words like ‘vagina‘ and ‘PMS‘ and god knows what else. But the Modern Man is not a gentleman. He is no knight in shining armour. He has little patience or indulgence for your baggage and who has been oppressing you.
The fact is, the more ‘secretive’ and ‘inappropriate’ any topic is deemed, the more power it has to dominate and repress people. So what we propose is this: rob it of its power by taking away the secretiveness. That is the key to a lot of the issues that come with the conversation on gender. It certainly is the key to this one.
And if you want, I can start. Men don’t hate talking because they think it’s a bore. Men hate talking because most women don’t really want to hear what they have to say. And ignorance breeds bigotry. Or in this case- sexism.
I will end with a quote from South Park by the delightfully offensive Mr. Garrison:
“I’m sorry, Wendy, but I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.”
Sure, you can call him a chauvinist pig. But what then? What then indeed.
A colleague of mine from the Paris office came to visit and stayed in Mumbai for three months. We became friends and I was delighted to meet her again a year later. In conversation about the country she said she had fallen in love with, she suddenly remarked,
There are a lot of gay men in India!
I was surprised. We debated briefly on whether this could be possible. I mean, since human beings are fundamentally the same worldover, barring superficial differences of physical appearances, can something as deep-rooted as sexual orientation vary by region?
The debate petered off when it fell into the abyss of ‘Why does a person turn out to be homosexual? Heredity? Environment? A deviant childhood experience?’ Neither of us had enough information to make a call on that, and true to our analytical roles, we let it drop with a unanimous judgement of ‘Data insufficient’.
But I went back to her original assumption later and discovered that it boiled down to a laughably simple point. She said she kept noticing men all over the place with their arms slung around each other’s shoulders. At my confusion, she clarified,
In Europe, only gay men do that. Straight men never put their arms around each other that way.
It took me awhile to get over my surprise at that to tell her that it was common practice in India among men, straight or not and no one thought twice about it.
It was a telling point. Cultures vary and etiquettes differ. On one hand, the West is a lot opener about displays of affection between opposite sexes. So kissing, hugging and dancing are all regarded as normal where these would raise a few stares in most parts of this country. On the other hand, behavior between people of the same sex is rigidly demarcated in a way that it doesn’t even occur to Indians to think about.
After the above conversation, I’ve been studying how we behave with people of the same sex. There is a fair degree of physical contact between men, with the arm-around-shoulders being the most common one. A man riding pillion on a bike and scooter is at ease holding the rider by his waist or shoulders. Older brothers, fathers and authority figures express their role of ‘benevolent benefactor’ by the arm on the middle back of their protege. Friends will massage each others backs in a gesture that would seem quite erotic if they had been from opposite sexes.
Women with women are even freer. There is plenty of hugging and kissing in the more Westernized factions. And in the others, there is a lot of touching, of holding hands, of squeezing up next to, of putting heads on the other’s shoulder or lap. I’ve done it myself without thinking about it, for years on the end.
In fact the one interesting thing that came to light recently was when I realized that two women would not mind sharing a bed but a lot of men would be uncomfortable doing so. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this since the same two men would be perfectly fine with sharing their personal effects and talking about deeply intimate things that women would shy away from.
Body language is as nuanced and subjective as any of the verbal ones; possibly more since it is the one language that speaks only the absolute truth. This may be why the loose-limbed gesture that popular media often patronizes comes across as juvenile to real gay people. It could be why we occasionally blunder on the gay/straight perception divide and why ‘gaydar’ isn’t down to a precise science. And it may also point to the fact that sexuality isn’t a binary defined world (one or the other) but as fluid as our moods and passions.
That’s like asking if a guy and girl can have a platonic friendship, isn’t it? The question is given the possibility of a sexual/romantic connection, can a relationship exist even without it?
Okay, let me get out of the pseudo-intellectualising and go real-life. I do know some lesbians. One of them is a friend. She hasn’t actually ‘come out’ as they call it or even ‘confessed’ to me, if such a revelation can be labelled a confession (as if it were a crime and one should look shamefaced about it!). Yet, I know. Don’t ask me how. I’d be a terrible friend if I didn’t realise it. As it is, I’m probably not as great a friend as I ought to be if she hasn’t felt comfortable sharing the truth with me. Or perhaps it is just too personal, too precious to her to speak about it. Either way, I’m fine with it. After all, I don’t consider friendship as a permission to sit in judgement and I also don’t think that one’s orientation bears judgement by others.
So that’s as far as it goes regarding our conversations (or the lack of them) about her sexuality. However there are other things…undercurrents, emotions and grey areas. For example, how far do I go with my displays of affection? I’m a natural born hugger, I love hugging my family, friends and people I feel close to. Thus far the only complication has been with men, particularly the ones in my age bracket with whom there is/could be a a certain attraction. Like most other women, I’ve tried and tested the waters and reached a certain comfortable balance of physical promiximity with the various men in my life. Now we arrive at the new complication of having to consider the same thing with another woman as well.
Personally I believe that sexuality isn’t binary with a person being either homosexual or heterosexual (and how does that account for bisexualilty?) ; it is more like a range of shades and all of us fall somewhere along the scale. Oh perhaps we even move up and down the scale at various points in our lifetime. Note now I’m talking about orientation not actual action so for the more conservative-minded, I’m not accusing you of doing anything that could shock you. And if you follow my belief it means that each of us is capable of feeling attraction for any other human being, male or female at any point of time in our life. I’ve written about my own bi-curiosity (as Desiblogging termed it) before. I’m quite unabashed in my admiration of other women. But I find it stops right there and I have no desire (physical, hormonal or otherwise) to go any furthur than that. That in my mind is what determines my orientation and keeps me in the dating pool of male partners.
How do you distinguish the affinity and closeness that like-minded women share from sexual attraction? How far do you go with someone you think there could be a spark of attraction with? How close do you get to someone you suspect might be attracted to you?
And therein I find I’m back on the same territory as I was a few years back when I discovered the opposite sex, attraction and love. Friendship is so wonderfully simple but the hormones just come and complicate them all, don’t they?
To come back to the case in point, my lovely lady friend appears to be in a relationship as well. How do I know? No, she hasn’t mentioned that either but it is clearly visible to anyone who knows her well. I wish I could speak up and tell her how happy I am that she has found someone special. When her eyes light up at the mention of her girlfriend, I wish I could tease her and hug her in sheer glee. But I don’t.
I also wonder sometimes what her girlfriend thinks of me. Just as I wonder what the wives and girlfriends of my guy friends think of me and I walk around on eggshells until I’m totally, completely 120% sure that they have no qualms about my closeness – I wonder in this case too whether her girlfriend ever resents me or even, well, frowns a bit at our closeness. Oh well, I think not. She seems a good sort in herself and I’m guessing if I had known her before I’d have been friends with her as well.
So to answer my own question of whether it is possible for a straight and a lesbian woman to be friends. Yes, yes, I think so. After all, sexuality is physical and perhaps mental but friendship, love and loyalty come straight from the heart.
I went out this weekend with friends in an age group ranging from 22 to 30. It was an evening well spent in the company of people who could be variously described as intelligent, witty, cute, silly and fun. And I was one of the only two women in the bunch.
Was I then ‘one of the boys’? No, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to that. Relationships, romance, love, flirtation and sex just make you view the opposite sex in a way that never quite leaves you.
Was I then flirting and being flirted with? Well, not exactly. I believe that there’s an underlying current of sex lacing every male/female conversation, irrespective of age, geography or relationship. It is after all an awareness of how the other person is different from you, in a complementary or an opposing manner (depending on a lot of other factors). But the conversation flowed easily around the table and across it jumping from movies to technology to other topics of common interest. It’s been so long that I’ve done this that I didn’t realize just how much fun it could be.
On a date or in a relationship…anytime where the situation is charged heavily by sexual electricity, I think it’s difficult to really see all aspects of a person. The attraction and all the rituals that we perform to sustain it and build it, seems to leave very little room for other things. Even in groups of people, you can tell the atmosphere is nearly crackling sparks, if its members are expressing their sexuality overtly or otherwise. All kinds of by-plays happen that overlap and occasionally conflict with each other. Emotions ride high in all directions and it’s a potentially explosive situation. Not that I’m saying that it’s a bad thing. I’ve enjoyed being a part of these for long enough and there’s much to be said for the mating dance in terms of its sheer entertainment value.
However, a different situation stands out simply because it is so different. There’s no heavy flirtation happening, no competition for attention, no charades. That’s probably true of the first few encounters of any group of people – at work, at school and college and even in social settings. However those first meetings are alternately charged with an acute curiosity about each other as well as a need to fit in or ‘impress’ the others.
This weekend party was one that had neither which is probably why I found it relaxing even in a noisy, smoky environment. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to be myself, not having to impress anyone. And alternately it was good to not have to keep judging various contenders for my attention, juggling them and playing them against each. Does that surprise anyone? Yes, I do it just as much as the next woman..or man for that matter. The party was great for not having to do any of those things.
All I was, was myself. A blogger, a twenty-something professional, an amusing conversationalist, a woman in the company of men.
Another step in being comfortable with your own sexuality is realizing that you need not use it all the time.
While on a nostalgia trip about this bunch, here’s another nugget.
It was the happiest of times and the whackiest of times. My birthday at an age when there were still ‘landmark year’ birthdays. The rowdy bunch, quite uncharacteristically nice, decided to throw me a party and do everything themselves. So here I was at 11 in the morning, sitting around in a vacant flat that belonged to someone’s uncle with a disused fax machine for company. It was a ‘come as you are since the birthday girl won’t bother dressing up’ thing.
What are we waiting for?
I demanded and was told that,
X, Y and Z are bringing the birthday cake.
X, Y and Z being my best guy friend/lurrve, best girlfriend and her boyfriend. So we twiddled thumbs awhile longer and wondered WTF are they doing, hatching eggs for the cake?
They finally put up an appearance two hours later, laden down with parcels. Gifts I hoped and I was dismayed to see plastic bags and old newspapers instead. Till they proceeded to demonstrate.
First, X dipped his hand into the plastic mess and came out with…a big carrot
Great, I murmured…what’s this….diet cake?
Just something for those long, lonely nights!!!!
replied Y with an evil grin. I sat up.
The next thing to emerge from the bag was a big cucumber with those tiny light-green spore-y things on it.
For dotted pleasure…!
said Z with a flourish.
So it continued for a few minutes. The plastic bag was dipped into and each time a new vegetable came up for inspection with a lascivious comment following. The last thing to emerge was a vile looking karela (bitter gourd) and the presentation was concluded with…
For extra friction!
And if that wasn’t enough, my birthday cake was chocolate slathered all over with vanilla icing and the words,
Happy b-day gal…beware of the white stuff!
I went off veggies for awhile after that. 🙂
A good conversation is one that leads to several more. And I had the benefit of one such conversation with the queen of desi blogdom. Do check out her starting post on what we were talking about, ending with a promise to take it furthur. I’ll put up my thoughts on this as well, shortly.