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XXFactored Nov15: Polyamory, Menstrual Cups & Vagmoji

I decided to bring back the XXFactored posts chronicling what this blog has been interested in, in the past month. It’s been awhile but we’re still about relationships, urban womanhood, body positivity and feminism.

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*Share a link you like on The XX Factor Facebook Page and you might get featured here. I’m Ramya Pandyan and I’m also on Twitter and Instagram.

#WomenShould: The Things That We Do In Spite Of It

So another Women’s Day that came and passed. I managed to stay away from the hoopla that would try to sell me more cocktails, impractical shoes and unrealistic romance, in the guise of empowering me. I’ve written about my dissatisfaction with the fact that this doesn’t actually empower women, let alone women across different socioeconomic strata. But I’ve had a different thought this year. I went through a similar thought cycle with Valentine’s Day, reacting with excitement, then cynicism, then indifference and finally conscious acceptance. Both days serve as symbolic references, when we remind ourselves to think about important things and how we’re faring on them. My disappointments have not been with the concept of either day itself but with the results of the drive, the stark differences between what should be and what really is.

I live a charmed life, of a sort. Freedom to vote, to love who I will, rights over my body, to my privacy, the power to choose a career, a partner and a lifestyle. But I am not the majority, not even a significant minority. Attitudes still run largely in the direction of dictating how a woman can and should live her life. To be born a woman is to carry the shackles of ‘Women Should’ for the rest of one’s life. Awhile ago, an NGO study showed some insightful things. When you searches online for the phrase ‘women can’ or ‘women should’, the auto-prompts that are thrown up (based on popular search strings) reveal just the kind of attitude women battle every single day. Yes, even women like me, with our hallowed lives.

If this search were to be taken as a key pointer, it would seem like the internet believes that women can or should do very little. Yet, I know this is not true. We’re not all crusaders. But every woman I know, lives beyond the definition imposed on her from birth, in her own unique way. There is the student who negotiates with her family, promising to marry whoever they want her to, if she can pursue the education of her choice. There is the mother who waits patiently, through pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, preschool and primary till her children are old enough, and then goes back to the career she left behind. There’s a daughter-in-law who chooses an education system that will allow her to fulfil her family duties and gathers familial support before she enrols. Womanhood, if it is standing up to hostile elements, it is also about finding a way around the restrictions the fall in one’s path.

Bajaj Allianz is doing an interesting campaign to combat the results of the study I mentioned above. They ask you to type in a search string using the term ‘Women should…’ that involves a positive, empowering message. Let’s take this phrase back and own it, I think.

Here are the searches I did. The women around me inspired these statements.Because they exist. We exist. And it’s time to let the internet know too.

Women should go back to their studies.
Women should be ambitious.
Women should dance for fun.
Women should be engineers.
Women should be daring.
Women should take risks in their careers.
Women should talk back.
Women should wear what they want to.
Women should propose.
Women should earn more than their partners.
Women should travel alone.
Women should rescue people.
Women should be loud enough to be heard.
Women should be seen and heard.
Women should be leaders.
Women should talk about sex.
Women should be famous.

I’m also posting a series of snapshots of some of these women on my Instagram stream using the hashtag #WomenShould.

Add your stories to the #WomenShould movement too.

Down With Women’s Day!

It has been awhile since my last post. I have let myself get caught up in things I must do and not paid enough heed to things I love to do. So here’s me saying, I’m going to make sure to post at least once a week here at XX Factor! It feels wonderfully appropriate to come back with my spewing self at this time. The barrage of communication, that popular media is bombarding at us about March 8th, can’t have escaped anyone’s notice.

Women’s Day is the new Valentine’s Day. I don’t think this day was ever meant to be more than a manufactured marketing opportunity, much like the 14th of February. By 2012, the blatant commercialization of it is hitting me hard enough to swear off the event.

For starters, the premise of a ‘day that celebrates women’ seems ridiculously parodist. The suggestion is that making a big brouhaha about women on one day, cancels out mistreating them the remaining 364. “Obviously not!” I hear the defenders of Women’s Day retort, “It symbolizes the movement and honours the struggles of women”. Fair enough. But the fact that it stops there is what bothers me.

There is a certain kind of woman who celebrates and is celebrated by ‘Women’s Day’. This is the kind that is well-educated, has access to modern media & other creature comforts and receives gifts of jewelery, clothes or a fancy dinner date. But, well, there are other kinds of women, aren’t there? Let’s not get into rural India, even in the cities, women comprise nearly half the population. The maids, the women constables, the bank clerks, the fisherwomen, the conservative housewives, the daughters & wives of sweepers, taxi drivers and watchmen – they’re all women too. Women’s Day (not belying its all-encompassing name) doesn’t include them.

I think Women’s Day in 2012 is an ugly combination of Valentine’s Day and the Gay Pride movement. Let me explain. The former was created to sell more chocolates, greeting cards & jewelery. The latter has been hijacked by a small but very visible group whose joint agenda appears to be self-promotion rather than actual upliftment of those denied basic human rights. (read this thought-provoking diatribe against the ‘Queer Movement‘).

I had a conversation with a cab-driver the other day. We were stuck at a crowded Bandra signal, rush hour made worse by mismanagement by the traffic police. He pointed to one uniform-clad figure and opened his mouth. I settled back for a minute of co-ranting about the inefficiency of the department & the neglect by BMC. Instead, he said,

“Why are they making that woman direct the traffic? Give her some comfortable job in an air-conditioned office. What would she know about a hard job like this, standing in the middle of dust and fumes & noise?”

I had barely registered the fact that the traffic constable was a woman. I was astonished by the fact that the taxi driver truly believed that he was being supportive of women. Perhaps sensing my discomfiture, he assured me that he was putting his daughter through school and that women were usually more hard-working and honest than men. Further astonishment.

You know, I don’t like being thought of as more hard-working on account of my gender. For one, the pressure that lays on you is unimaginable. And further, it turns a complete blind eye to an obvious fact – women can be just as lazy, incompetent and talentless as men. No more, no less. Setting us up on a pedestal is just as bad as grinding us down under boots – it’s still differential treatment. Why do some people equate deification to empowerment?

Which brings me to yet another thought. I think I’m going to cry if I hear or read another thing about Shakti and a woman being able to take the forms of Lakshmi or Durga as she pleases. Personally, I believe that these archetypes represent values, not gender-based prototypes. But that’s a discussion on religion that I don’t want to get into. Suffice to say, if the only powerful women one can think of are religious icons, how powerful a message is this to the common woman? Really, there’s nothing else that this country can think of, to say to empower women?

I know that I am exactly the target audience of the Women’s Day brouhaha. And I reject it for reasons other than altruism or boredom. I feel it actually demeans me. I don’t want to be treated differently (badly for 364 days, splendidly for 1). Celebration suggests a different form of discrimination. I need no special treatment. Behaving differently on one day of the year is hypocrisy, not empowerment.

It also hasn’t escaped my notice that this year Women’s Day falls on the same day as Holi, another occasion that has been debauched into a cover for unbridled sexual harassment. Now, isn’t that ironic?

Why ‘Cougar’ Doesn’t Mean Cool

This is something the boy called me on my second date and laughed when I frowned. Awhile ago, it popped up again in a conversation and sparked off a wave of laughter. I glared. He grinned and said,

“But the cougar is a beautiful animal!”

No, the man just did not get it.

Here are some of the descriptions I found of the word, on Urban Dictionary:

Cougar:

“A 35+ year old female who is on the “hunt” for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.”

“An older woman who is past her prime & who is attracted to younger men, often as an act of desperation or as a last resort.”

“A Cougar is a female, usually between thirty and fifty years-old, who enjoys the sexual company of younger men. Cougars are only usually interested in men under the age of twenty-five. Also, Cougars are non-committal, choosing to move from mate to mate without ever settling down. It is not uncommon for the same Cougar to attack (sleep with) many different men in the same group of friends.”

I struggle with labels and for one single reason – because they rarely evolve as human descriptions should and often stay limited to the associations that they started with. This is also why I’ve never liked most popular descriptions of men for women, notably one that reminds me of a fluffy, yellow-feathered bird.

A cougar describes an older woman and one who it is acceptable to see as a sex object. This much is actually fine and inoffensive. But overlaid on that are perceptions of desperation, of cheap behaviour, of non-committedness and a generally predatory aura. While some of those may seem appealing within an erotic fantasy, no one (man or woman) wants to be described in those terms.

There is an almost tangible movement in popular culture today, pushing the idea of an independent woman acquiring male attention from the always most attractive age group – the 20s. That prototype has existed for years (think Hugh Hefner surrounded by nubile bunny-eared beauties). This is no more than a female version of the same archetype and it’s not pushing sex or freedom, it’s about power.

As a recipient of all the benefits of women’s liberation and empowerment, I enjoy financial independence, the virtue of fabulousness, the heady high of choices and control over my own body. My only problem with this, is that it’s cold when it gets into the realm of relationships. I don’t like the idea of treating human beings, male or female as acquisitions or status symbols. Whether men have been doing it for decades or not doesn’t change things. I can’t see how a relationship that is about exchanging power for money/fame can have anything to do with love, trust or any of those things that make a relationship great.

To come back, that’s why the description of cougar stings. If the original thought be true, it shouldn’t matter what
gender a person is, for them to be appealing to a large number of the opposite sex (younger or otherwise). It’s not an age no-bar situation. Age and experience have after all molded one into a person of confidence, ease, polish and independence. Attraction is flattering when it happens because I’m me, not because I fit the current fashionable norm of appealing. So yes, ask me my age by all means. But don’t call me a cougar.

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