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The ‘Only If You’re Sad’ Guy

There’s a certain kind of man who gets off on sad women.

It’s an entire trope – The Depressed/Tortured/Troubled/Damsel-in-distress that the guy ‘rescues’ with minimal emotional investment by clowning around. He is not a Manic Pixie Dream Guy. No, the original in that trope is not a person and only exists to further the male hero. This kind of man, in contrast, is all about himself. He’s a BIG personality. Too big to allow anyone else to exist as anything else but a stage for him to clown around on. Okay, maybe he isn’t always this loud, big flashy star guy. More likely, he’s mousy and awkward. But this setup allows him to act out his big personality fantasies.

This kind of guy passes off very troubling behaviours as kindness or empathy. It is in his interest for the woman to be sad and helpless. He’s very good at mansplaining mental illness. He’s excellent at validating and amplifying what may be normal feelings of being hard done by. If he actually cared about you as the person, he’d be invested in your happiness, your independence. He would not be unnaturally attached to your sad feelings, your low moments and your poor health (mental and physical).

This is the friend/partner who is ‘there JUST when you need them’. If he isn’t interested in talking to you when you are feeling decent and don’t have a pressing need, it means he doesn’t actually like you when you’re content. He cannot relate to a person who is complete on their own. He doesn’t feel needed unless the woman is in desperate distress. And we know what most men do when that happens – they attack the woman for not being dependent enough.

This is the same man who had a problem with a film like Veere di Wedding, which above all was a story about female joy in each other. This is the one who leaves me comments or emails me telling me that he ‘senses a deep well of sadness inside me and how strong I am’. This is also the writer of those dreadful, woebegone songs about the (always male) protagonist helping a woman when she’s down and then she *gasp* dares to go on with her life (presumably with someone else). Can you see how this is the same kind of entitlement that makes men say ‘friendzone‘? Empathy or help should not come with the expectation of sex or emotional dependency.

What’s really troubling is how closely this is linked with popular (and toxic) male icons. The brooding loner is not sexy; he’s socially inept. Jon Snow is not a good leader; he’s emotionally deficient. The sulky ‘deep thinker’ isn’t all that; he’s very limited in his communication skills. These don’t have to be character flaws but they are certainly not traits to romanticise, especially when you consider how poisonous this kind of a human being is to other people and their well-being.

I’ve been there as well. Especially when one is in a difficult place or situation, someone who seems to provide support or listening (especially a man because WHEN DO THEY EVER LISTEN?) seems so attractive. But I’ve also watched what happens when the situation passes, as they usually do. I realise that same man does not have any actual answers. Not even basic ones like how he feels or who he is. He exists only as a brave hero to your inner damsel-in-distress. He has no sense of personhood beyond that.

No wonder he enjoys Batman, angry hiphop, rage politics, shooter games and all other such narratives that are bleak and only require him to survive. He wants to keep you trapped in there with him too. If that’s your thing, well, I can’t speak for how that works because it’s not me. But if it’s not and you want to someday get back to the land of laughter and peace of mind, watch how the hero turns.

I’ve gone around in circles describing the same kind of toxic male that is worshipped by our culture and that a lot of modern men pattern themselves on. We can give it different names. And I can get stymied or shouted down by the NotAllMen and other such MRA crusaders. But the facts don’t change. A guy who’s only happy when you’re sad is never going to be happy or allow you to be happy. You choose.

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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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The Politics Of Smile

You should smile more, women are told, it makes you look good. This is said as a compliment but is erasure of the person & her emotions. What if she doesn’t feel like smiling? If you’re not a woman, try smiling at someone you don’t like or in a situation that causes you distress. Smiles must blossom on their own, not be demanded.

I grew up with dental issues – protruding, misaligned front teeth, overlapping canines, horizontal molars. I knew I was ugly. Nobody had to tell me, it was in how people responded to my smile (pity, disdain, awkward looking away, mean nicknames). By age 11, I knew I needed dental intervention if I wanted any hope of a better life. “It’ll change the way your face looks”, the orthodontist warned me. “Exactly”, I said and traded all the foods a child loves for years of painful metal braces, rubber bands, mouth plates, retainers. What a world we live in where a 11 year old believes that her worth is only in her smile and is willing to endure pain & sacrifice for it.

I know my good angles now & how to make others interesting. I have mastered the range of things a smile can convey – polite, charming, gracious, shy, confident, welcoming, impersonal. I am a woman in a culture of “Hasee to phasee”. This is why it is unwelcome intrusion when a man decides to advise me on a smile. I have a Ph.D. in the politics of smiles.

In my InstaStories conversation on #PeopleWeDontKnow, 2 men mentioned being complimented on their smiles.  We overburden girls with an identity-price tag on smiles. We never let boys/men know that their smiles matter. We give them role models that are angry, brooding & unsmiling. Look at any film poster featuring a macho hero. We suggest that smiling is only aesthetic and the domain of the female, as if to smile is to not be male.

But a smile is a universal expression of all’s-okay. It’s one of the earliest forms of communication we learn. It transcends the politics of gender, age and geography. Finally it expresses joy and creates more joy. So, when was the last time you smiled just because you felt like it?

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THE POLITICS OF SMILE You should smile more, women are told, it makes you look good. This is said as a compliment but is erasure of the person & her emotions. What if she doesn't feel like smiling? If you're not a woman, try smiling at someone you don't like or in a situation that causes you distress. Smiles must blossom on their own, not be demanded. I grew up with dental issues – protruding, misaligned front teeth, overlapping canines, horizontal molars. I knew I was ugly. Nobody had to tell me, it was in how people responded to my smile (pity, disdain, awkward looking away, mean nicknames). By age 11, I knew I needed dental intervention if I wanted any hope of a better life. "It'll change the way your face looks", the orthodontist warned me. "Exactly", I said and traded all the foods a child loves for years of painful metal braces, rubber bands, mouth plates, retainers. What a world we live in where a 11 year old believes that her worth is only in her smile and is willing to endure pain & sacrifice for it. I know my good angles now & how to make others interesting. I have mastered the range of things a smile can convey – polite, charming, gracious, shy, confident, welcoming, impersonal. I am a woman in a culture of "Hasee to phasee". This is why it is unwelcome intrusion when a man decides to advise me on a smile. I have a Ph.D. in the politics of smiles. In my InstaStories conversation on #PeopleWeDontKnow, 2 men mentioned being complimented on their smiles.  We overburden girls with an identity-price tag on smiles. We never let boys/men know that their smiles matter. We give them role models that are angry, brooding & unsmiling. Look at any film poster featuring a macho hero. We suggest that smiling is only aesthetic and the domain of the female, as if to smile is to not be male. But a smile is a universal expression of all's-okay. It's one of the earliest forms of communication we learn. It transcends the politics of gender, age and geography. Finally it expresses joy and creates more joy. So, when was the last time you smiled just because you felt like it? PC: @lumographer07 #theideasmithy

A post shared by Ramya 🏊🏽‍♀️🌱📚 (@ideasmithy) on

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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.

The Lowest Priority Box

Last week, I drew a line and said,

“I’m done. No more. Goodbye.”

I have lived through the dreadfulness of limbo, the sheer callousness of men who will not spend a minute reflecting on their feelings. And you know what? It is just not that important any more. 2017 wrecked such a heavy toll on me that I gave up (the last time I did this was in 2000). In my resigned surrender, something happened. I gave up the faith that the world of men has anything good for me.

I have not stopped feeling. But this feeling, this unresolved mess sits in an Odds & Ends box that is lowest priority in my life. Like most women, I have always prioritised the romantic relationship over everything else – my health, my career, my dreams, my ambitions, my family and friendships. I am done.

The person I’ve drawn that line for has made feeble attempts to get me to revoke it. Too little, too late – do men really not understand that this can become a thing? No, I guess they don’t. How could they, when their entire lives are taken up by their immediate demands? There is no room for anybody else or situational realities.

I say this with no hatred and all the resignation in the world. There is no point prioritising anything over a relationship with a man. That’s too big a gamble and guess what? The house of patriarchy always wins. I’m declaring a truce with male commitment-phobia, fuccboiness, mama’s boy syndrome, Madonna/Whore complexes and all other things male. I can’t eliminate you from this world. I can’t even keep you from entering my life. But I can relegate you to the lowest priority in my universe. Stay in the outhouse with your shit.

I cannot wait to stop wanting altogether. Maybe menopause will bring a pause in men too.

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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.

Lipstick Under My Burkha: Not Feminism But A Revenge Saga Against Men

I watched the much talked about ‘Lipstick Under My Burqa’ earlier this week, the first movie I’ve paid a ticket to go watch in the theatre all year. I’m not so sure it was a good decision. All week I’ve been pondering the discomfort I feel with the film. Wasn’t it supposed to make me, the Vocal Feminist, very happy? Well, it didn’t. I found some clarity in my thinking after reading this article (‘Lipstick Under My Burkha Is Bold But Not Feminist).

The story told me that women had problems. I knew that already. So? Does it lay them out in a nuanced way? Let’s see – marital rape, slut-shaming, moral policing. Okay, complex issues, further complicated by the tangle that is gender politics. The bedroom, women’s bodies, our relationships with each other are fraught with so much power play, so many sensitivities that there’s room for a really nuanced story.

Okay, we need to talk about the men in the movie. Why, you ask? Because neither patriarchy nor feminism exist in an isolated world of only women or only men. Both are upheld by people of all genders. Everyone is impacted in some manner by the conflicts inherent in these systems.

Four stories with a woman at the center of each. Let’s meet the men in each one’s world.

Usha buaji/Rosy is surrounded by male tenants/nephews that she keeps in check with stern looks and words. How do these men deal with an older woman who wields financial power over them? Add further nuance with one of them being a Muslim burkha shop owner – how does he deal with his home and livelihood hanging on the decisions of an older, uppercaste Hindu woman? There’s also the key male character in this story – a young lifeguard. He’s nice looking, he’s Haryanvi and he responds to phone calls from an unknown woman propositioning him. Uh, that’s it.

Rehana Abidi is an impish teenager who works at her father’s burkha shop and moonlights as a Led Zepplin humming, boots-wearing, beer-chugging activist collegegoer. How does her father rationalise letting his only child study in a co-ed college while swathed in a burkha? How does he feel about the scantily clad Miley Cyrus poster on his daughter’s wall (flimsily hidden under a towel)? What do the classmates who undoubtedly see Rehana’s daily burkha/ripped jeans metamorphosis make of her spurty activism? Why does the cool stud, Dhruv, find her interesting (apart from her being the only girl in Bhopal to know ‘Stairway to Heaven’)? Do they talk about anything other than music, drinking and making out?

Shireen Aslam appears to work in a world of only women. Her colleagues are all women, her customers are women and she’s not shown sharing a scene with any man other than her husband and her three sons. Somehow with all this, she manages to be the ‘top salesgirl’. That’s a sales job and I don’t care what you’re selling, you can’t NEVER meet or see men. What is her husband like? How is he coping with losing his job? Does he appear defeated and indifferent to whatever else goes on (which explains why he doesn’t seem to be looking for another job)? Is he charged up, angry and driven (with enough energy to openly date a mistress and appear to enjoy it)? How can he be both? That’s not character nuance, that’s Jekyll-and-Hyde.

And finally, the story of our enfant terrible Leela a.k.a The Bad Girl who is sleeping with a photographer while trying to kickstart a business and also survive an engagement with a good Indian boy. Who’s this fiance? He’s going to keep her in a tiny room overlooking the train tracks, in a house bursting with people. But he’s also buying her mother a house. How does he feel about the financial comittment he’s undertaking? And wouldn’t he feel a lot more entitled to his fiance’s time, attention and worshipful devotion? Hey, that’s how human beings think. Alright, never mind him. How about the photographer boyfriend? Does he love our girl, does he not care? Is he using her, is he feeling used? Does he contribute to the business set-up and if he doesn’t believe it, is mere sex enough motivation for him to follow her around? And if that’s so, why does he refuse to sleep with her later?

Once more, let’s list out the men of Lipstick Under My Burkha:

  1. Irrationally hot-headed dependent (tenant/nephew)
  2. Boyfriend photographer prone to irrational rage, jealousy, ego trips and indifference
  3. Slow-witted, corrupt government officials
  4. Brainless hunk lifeguard who scatters words and smiles without abandon
  5. Socially awkward virgin fiance who assumes his fiance is one too
  6. Featureless colleague of husband who blabs to the wife about her husband losing his job
  7. Distant, oppressive father who frowns menacingly more than he speaks
  8. Abusive, cheating, absent father-husband
  9. College cad who dumps his pregnant girlfriend, seduces an underage girl and dumps her at the first hint of uncoolness

The first two are caricatures of irrational men whom the women constantly bully. 3-5 seem incapable of functioning as intelligent adults. 6 & 7 are not really people but blank walls with vague faces. The last two are versions of the all-dark MONSTER. Do any of these men sound like actual human beings?

I’ve heard the cry of ‘But this is a story about women!’.

This story is not set inside a women’s bathroom so why is anyone not female such shit?

That’s no more an accurate depiction of women than it is of their worlds or the men. Feminism is not about villifying men. It’s not about deifying women as long-suffering and showing the metaphorical middle finger to the world (only under the burkha and behind closed doors). It’s about respect and rights for every human being, regardless of gender or other qualifiers.

Slotting men so narrowly amounts to discrimination and what kind of feminism is it, which discriminates? As a woman, I am personally offended. I live in a world that treats me in problematic ways, yes. But I am not so weak that I need to believe that every man is a monster/imbecile. I’m offended by a narrative that tries every storyteller’s trick to define me as a victim. It turns the fight for equality into a revenge saga against men and that is offensive.

What’s worse, having adequately established the ‘See, women’s lives are HARD. Men are so horrible.’, the story closes. Like the article points out – in a cramped room, the women huddled together sharing a surreptitious cigarette and pointing a middle finger. Behind closed doors. What’s the point? Feminism was never about glorying in woe-is-me, any more than it was about hating men. Feminism above all, through its changing definitions, has always been about hope for a better world. Lipstick Under My Burkha offers none of that and sits back to have a smug, self-satisfied smoke at having put down the men. Note: Victory over men, not over patriarchy and what kind of victory is this?

Does this movie show us a single man that is not a cardboard stereotype? Any human characterizations of over half the world’s population? Any realistic depictions of the perpetrators-parallel victims of patriarchy? Any conflicted human beings troubled by the gender double standards while struggling to keep up with the changes wrought by feminism? Any angst at all in any of the men who seem to drive the women’s lives? Even a hint, a flicker of support, compassion, consideration for anyone? Any guilt, regret, confusion over how to express it? Huh?

There’s the problem. It’s not feminism if it looks, sounds and tastes like a revenge saga against men.

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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 Doomed Relationships of India

I am not in dil-toot anymore. It was dil-toot, a phrase I’ve coined to denote a less-than-heartbreak, more like a heart-pinch, just painful enough for me to feel something and think about it but not so shattering that I can’t piece together a coherent thought or sentence. Did I ever mention how or why it ended?

It ended when he said,

” I don’t know what to say.”

It ended because he assumed it was all about what he thought and what he had to say. It didn’t even occur to him that a conversation is between two people and that the other person might have something to say. It ended either because he assumed that or because he did not want to face what I might have had to say.

I’ve weathered the deep sadness, the now-familiar disappointment. I’ve even been able to see how this was a life experience that bothered me just enough to learn from it and also feel very good about the good parts. Being in love really is a wonderful feeling. I have remembered something I keep forgetting when my heart shatters – that love is that undefinable experience that goes beyond attraction, logic, compatibility and shared interests. It falls in the realm of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink moment and everything that follows is an attempt to explain it. I don’t have to, anymore. And that frees me up to look at the future with the hope of more love and other adventures.

I am tickled, even charmed by the surprised wonder in a boy/man’s eyes when it first occurs to him that I’m paying attention to him. I’m not even the most beautiful or desirable woman around but just the fact that I am listening to him and could it be – I like him? What’s worrying is that a lot of men never seem to get past that. That wonder takes on the quality of suspicion, fear even. And that’s part of what turns into slut-shaming, into cheating, into harassment or treating women badly. It’s the inability to handle any reaction from a woman but her derision or fear. Men who cannot deal with a woman’s appreciation or interest – is that not a poisonous problem?

I remember the deadend expression on his face, the frantic tone of his voice in the last moments as my dil-toot‘ed. I have seen it before on many men’s faces. I’ve assumed that it’s coldness, cruelty, selfishness and many other such things. But I’ve come to realise, this is something else. It is the outer limit of a man’s ability to feel, identify and express emotion.

Last week I watched Bramhan Naman, a disturbing movie by any account. It left me deeply sad because among other things, it exposes how woefully ill-equipped the Indian man is when it comes to dealing with the world of myriad emotions that make up the framework of relationships and adult life. In the movie (and echoed in real life) the verbose protagonist yearns for an intangible fantasy but can barely speak to the woman who spawns it. He treats professed, open affection with viciousness and is paralysed by his guilt and fear. When he encounters a woman with the right mix of attractiveness and vulnerability, he cannot bring himself to even respond, let alone initiate interest. So he settles for gestures like getting her food (the last), showing off his family business (the second) and stalking her (the first). These are the actions of a socially inept child, not a completely functioning adult. That adults with their freedom and power do this, is what makes it dangerous.

I complain long and hard about how Indian men (men in general but particularly, brutally Indian men) are infantilised and stunted in their emotional growth. This is what it looks like. They are barely functioning adults who are unable to deal with normal human emotions. Unable, not unwilling.

19brahman-naman

This outer-limit expression comes after bewilderment and panic. It’s not even resignation since that requires an ability to see that something is bigger than oneself and experience giving up. It’s literally like a very small baby who has not developed sight yet, running into a wall and being stunned, unable to figure out whatwherewhyhowohisthispainshouldicryuhwhatwait. Most men live in that place the whole time they are in love or a relationship. Boy, that’s scary. Add to it such nuanced, problematic ideas such as guilt over sex, Madonna/whore syndromes, mama’s boy dependency and toxic masculinity. No wonder Indian men are such a mess.

I cannot help but feel deep pity for them. And then great sadness for us women and the kind of futile relationships we have to endure as a result. Is there any hope for us all?

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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.

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