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Happy Tokenism Day, Rejoice And Prepare To Hate Us For The Rest Of The Year

 

Sorry I Didn’t Wait Till 8 March To Speak

We’re leading up to the grand tamasha called Women’s Day where you can expect to see the world pat itself on the back for giving half its population one day. You’ll also find a lot of men applauding each other for being so considerate of women. And congratulating one another on what good men they are for allowing women a special day. And finally, refraining from PMS jokes for that one day. Well done, men.

Here is a piece that I performed this Monday. Before I went up on stage, I was announced as

‘That poet who the women will love and the men better beware because the poetry is going to slap them’.

Once I finished, I was asked why I disliked men so much. Then a young man I barely knew parked himself next to me and in the semi-darkness during the subsequent performances, proceeded to harass me on my social adjustment issues, my hatred of men and my problematic past. Of note, said young man is also a poet who is infrequent on the scene. He also has a bad stammer and earlier in the evening, I had applauded his performance because I know how much courage it takes to go up on stage. He did not however, feel equally kindly towards me. He also felt perfectly able to attack me in a place where I’m a regular and when I was surrounded by friends. This is not the first time men have behaved in such a manner on the performance/poetry scene and every single time I protested, I’ve been told that I was taking things too seriously or that ‘he’s just young’.

Here’s the piece I performed. Dare I point out that it doesn’t mention men anywhere?

After all, feminism is only feminism when a man speaks about it. A male feminist is a hero and a female feminist is nothing more than an angry, man-hating bitch. Thank you for putting me in my place, fellow poets.

It looks like the stage does not permit me to speak my mind so let me hide on my blog for as long as it takes for the trolls to find me. Tonight a lot of you stay up celebrating a god whose legacy includes blurring gender roles, assimilating the masculine and the feminine and indeed, expressing an open need of his equal half – his female partner and side. That’s it. Think about it. You can wish me on 8th March on the one day in the year I don’t have to apologise for not being male and then congratulate yourselves for doing so. Thank you.

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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.

#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?

Quoted In Sunday Mid-Day Story – ‘Why Men Won’t Let Women Speak’

Yesterday’s Sunday Mid-Day (20 November 2011) carried a story titled ‘Why Men Won’t Let Women Speak‘ by Soumya Rajaram. It was a 2-page feature on the phenomenon of women being unfairly (and harshly) targetted online for verbal assaults. The Twitter tag #Mencallmethings was referenced as was #LadiesWeWantAnswers issue (which I’d blogged about here).

I was quoted and the other recognizable names in the story were Kiran Manral, Harini Calamur, Janaki Ghatpande and The Mad Momma.

Here’s an excerpt of what I said,

“Pandyan finds that it’s the issues she discusses, often those that have no easy answers, that attract offensive responses. “There are rabid ones that blame women’s liberation, working women and women in general for the downfall of society, the breakdown of marriage and even the increase in rapes. Expressing such sentiments in the real world would provoke severe reactions. Online, they are just shrugged off as ‘creepy characters on the Internet’,” she says.”

Read the full article on the Mid-Day site. Here’s the epaper clipping:

Usually my media mentions go on The Idea-smithy. But the bulk of my experiences that were referred to in this story, happen right here at XX Factor. I’d really like to hear what you, my dear readers (friends, commiserators, guest-bloggers, detractors, trolls) think.

How I celebrated Women’s day

It was just another day. Of course it was….was I expecting a red carpet and garlands? Yes, I know every day should be a celebration like Sushmita Sen says. A day like this is only symbolic. But well, what wrong with symbols? Symbols are reminders. And I remembered yesterday that the world is changing. Some women somewhere demanded a vote and years later they got it. Somewhere someone decided that education should be made available to everyone, irrespective of gender. We got that too. I am living the benefits of their struggles. I don’t claim to be driving the cause today. But by making use of the voice that I have today, maybe by making somebody think, it just is possible, I have helped move something. Didn’t someone say…”If one robin should be saved from dying, my life would not have been in vain”. Ah, well big thoughts. Suffice to say I’m so grateful, so very thankful to be alive in the world as it is today, where I can demand and reasonably expect that my voice will be heard.

On another note, Blank Noise Project has been a sucess. The organizers inform us that participants are flooding in. My mailbox has been flooded for the past two days with other participants sending in their links and their thoughts on this. I’ve never participated in anything like this, in the blogsphere or the real world…it was a thrilling experience. I’m still reading the posts that have been put up. Here’s my favorite one so far…because it goes beyond talking about the problem and offers some suggestions.

I put up my posts on the weekend since I knew it was going to be a killer week. Yesterday was so busy I almost forgot what day it was. Morning began with an unscheduled yoga class where my instructor made me laugh. Apparantly her 17-year old son has joined a gym, much to the astonishment of the instructor who knows that his mother is a proficient yoga teacher. According to the young man “I don’t like to sit in one place and say ‘Breathe in-breathe out!!” Ah well, kids today! Later during the day, his mother gets a call and Mr.Dude coolly announces that he is “in the hospital and the doctor is going to start surgery”. Turned out to be a painful corn on the foot which Dude didn’t bother informing family about. Independence is good. And it made me smile.

Only in the train when my cell flashed a missed call from my best friend did I realise it was Women’s day. Ah…what would I do without my lady Friday, my island of rest, my best friend? I don’t tell her how much she means to me but she understands. Just like I understand what she’s telling me from one missed call alert.

The best moment in my day came from the first lady in my life. A message said “Happy women’s day to the young lady who elevated me to motherhood:-)” Ma, anyplace you are, feels like home.

Just another day. But a very nice one.

How I celebrated Women's day

It was just another day. Of course it was….was I expecting a red carpet and garlands? Yes, I know every day should be a celebration like Sushmita Sen says. A day like this is only symbolic. But well, what wrong with symbols? Symbols are reminders. And I remembered yesterday that the world is changing. Some women somewhere demanded a vote and years later they got it. Somewhere someone decided that education should be made available to everyone, irrespective of gender. We got that too. I am living the benefits of their struggles. I don’t claim to be driving the cause today. But by making use of the voice that I have today, maybe by making somebody think, it just is possible, I have helped move something. Didn’t someone say…”If one robin should be saved from dying, my life would not have been in vain”. Ah, well big thoughts. Suffice to say I’m so grateful, so very thankful to be alive in the world as it is today, where I can demand and reasonably expect that my voice will be heard.

On another note, Blank Noise Project has been a sucess. The organizers inform us that participants are flooding in. My mailbox has been flooded for the past two days with other participants sending in their links and their thoughts on this. I’ve never participated in anything like this, in the blogsphere or the real world…it was a thrilling experience. I’m still reading the posts that have been put up. Here’s my favorite one so far…because it goes beyond talking about the problem and offers some suggestions.

I put up my posts on the weekend since I knew it was going to be a killer week. Yesterday was so busy I almost forgot what day it was. Morning began with an unscheduled yoga class where my instructor made me laugh. Apparantly her 17-year old son has joined a gym, much to the astonishment of the instructor who knows that his mother is a proficient yoga teacher. According to the young man “I don’t like to sit in one place and say ‘Breathe in-breathe out!!” Ah well, kids today! Later during the day, his mother gets a call and Mr.Dude coolly announces that he is “in the hospital and the doctor is going to start surgery”. Turned out to be a painful corn on the foot which Dude didn’t bother informing family about. Independence is good. And it made me smile.

Only in the train when my cell flashed a missed call from my best friend did I realise it was Women’s day. Ah…what would I do without my lady Friday, my island of rest, my best friend? I don’t tell her how much she means to me but she understands. Just like I understand what she’s telling me from one missed call alert.

The best moment in my day came from the first lady in my life. A message said “Happy women’s day to the young lady who elevated me to motherhood:-)” Ma, anyplace you are, feels like home.

Just another day. But a very nice one.

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