women

Daily doses of sexism

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There have been way too many times that well meaning male friends, co-workers etc. have given me the “not all men” logic when talking about sexism. One in particular, I remember giggling at the mention of the term believing that too much education has damaged my brain. Typical, right?

This morning and evening, I experienced the typical on road sexism of women can’t drive in very unique ways. This came about when I read the following quote by an early Japanese feminist this morning:

“In the primordial age, woman was once the sun.” – R. Hiratsuka

As this further goes on, she says that woman has been the moon for too long, the moon that takes its light from the other and has an ashen pallor. Reading this made me question and hunt parts or instances of my life where I might be the moon? It was a strange exercise ’cause after a lot of work, I did believe that I have overcome all conditioning of patriarchy meant for my sex and I could start afresh.

One example of being this moon is in making way for others before the self – be it entering a room, be it exiting or even driving on the road. Now, I have known a few men also like that but, they are not totally perceived as masculine in the society and that becomes a bane for them too, bringing in a strange sense of denial of everything masculine. As far as I can remember instances in my life, even while getting out of a rickshaw, I would apologise to the rickshaw driver for taking a little longer to whip out the money but, be angry at the car behind to honk. A couple of times, I got a warm, “don’t worry” from them. My reason? I dont want to be an inconvenience for anyone and wouldn’t entertain another person be one either. I felt it was balanced that way until I was told by a friend that I tend to wait way too long to cross the road and that the other cars can manage their own business. Sigh. Didn’t know this is where my moon shone.

Anyway, so today, I brought the Sun out in almost full blazes. It started first with a man at the petrol pump. As I got ready to turn the key and scoot off from there and the gentleman waited in the queue behind two others, I hear him loudly ask me to move ahead, when in my moving ahead and him immediately gurgling the fuel down his throat tank were totally not related. I know one could say it was a sign of impatience and it very well is but, my question is what made him believe so naturally that he has every right to ask me to do anything and not any of the five others (all male).

On a lighter note, let me self doubt like a ‘woman’, why did he think he could ask me to move as if I was planning to set up camp there? Did I seem to have set up camp there? Oh no.

Anyway, after this, I encountered the silent ‘women can’t drive’ attitude. As I was driving, I could hear a strange whirring sound. Since I could not see anything up until the end of the road in the rear view mirror, I presumed that my engine was a little wonky and must be checked. As I turn some 200 m away after having given the signal, I am suddenly faced with this wiry chap and a lady on a bike. THAT was the whirring source! Taking a recap, I was turning right, had the indicator on and was in the middle of the two way road leaving the entire road on my left free for anyone to go straight (where Mr Wires was going) and the dude decides to overtake me from the right just when I turn. While I know idiots abound on the road, what was the highlight of this incident was the man’s attempt at scaring me by giving me a murderous glare while the woman in fear and panic continued to apologise eventually whacking him on the shoulder as he tried to go ahead while bike brushed against my foot. While I was in full control, I could not stop being angry at his stupidity nor could I say much for the sake of the panicking woman behind him. At the end of it my head buzzes only with questions – what is it with men like these? Classic examples of “women can’t drive” road sexism? Classic examples of cowardice and egosim to simply not admit to one’s stupidity and move on? Where does this conditioning for idiocy and childishness begin?

Sigh, men. You make me wonder how old the child within you is.

PS – Dont want responses of “not all men”. I know, I know!

Take it easy bra(h)!

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Women have a funny relationship with bras. From the myths of bra burning, to listicles showing what relief being braless once home brings to everyone who chooses to wear a bra daily. There are conversations about understanding all sorts of bras, some preferring one type to another and many, not wanting to wear one at all. I have always hated this piece of cloth since I can remember. As a youngster rebelling against anything that pleased others when the question of appearance arose, especially, demanding dorky teenagers to look all girly and feminine, I assumed that the bra was be worn to make a girl’s breasts look presentable. I remember cringing at the thought and deciding not to comply.

I can’t blame my childish self for presuming that. Back then, media selling lingerie danced to another tune as opposed to the current tune of making bras desirable for women for their own likes (hell, make them cheaper?!). Shreds of memories of men selling lingerie at counters and once that of watching a man pick out bras by testing out the strength of the cups while accompanying mother to the store left some very strong marks on my desires to wear one when the time came. I pushed the inaugural date by a whole year and I remember my friends all stare with widened eyes every time I would proudly say that “I am bra-free”. I can still picture the look of immense pride on my face, almost as if I had conquered the Kumbhalgarh fort and the judging eyes of my friends.

I would definitely say that I have had the most forward thinking mother, in a geography like Rajasthan, who had always set the example for me. She would talk about bright colours and rather nudge the deliberately prudish daughter of hers to buy the nicer colours. As I learnt more and evolved more, I did accept that these pieces of cloth weren’t that bad at all and that, at certain times, they are much needed as well. It is just a manner of choice and whatever is comfortable one must choose. Like your favourite cocktail, the best fit for you will always be different and no advert, model, film star or the salesgirl at the lingerie store should dictate to you what you would like best.

Why am I talking about bras here?

I was reminded of my entire bra journey recently when walking towards the gate of a reputed gated colony in Mumbai. Let me recount – as I was walking, I saw a lady in a yellow and red t-shirt and pink track pants sitting and staring into space, presumably taking a break from her morning walk. I only glanced at her from afar and continued on my way. As I passed her, I heard a loud yet attempted hushed up “listen!”. I looked at her and  responding by way of raised eyebrows asked her if was the one she wanted to talk to. Happy that I had heard her, she promptly whisper-screamed “its transparent, your top…its transparent, I can see it.. (you know what)”, all of it with a look of urgent secrecy and a mission oriented glaze in her eyes that my modesty, centred around the bra I was wearing was almost saved since my hero sat right there in pink tracks.

In response, all I could do was stop myself from bursting out in (actual and not mirthful) laughter and just nod and say “okay!” as I hastened to run and laugh as she gave me a look of utter annoyance at my not getting the point of bra hiding sisterhood.

I am not saying that I was always like this. When on my personal adolescent mission to not wear pretty bras to dress up for the world that looks at desirable breasts in one way, shape and size; I was a hater of halter neck bras. I did not see the point of those and I still don’t like them, primarily because of my bad neck. But, the point is that I had always presumed the possibility of this to be in a smaller city / town and not in Mumbai where school kids grow up way faster than women my age have. I still don’t appreciate school kids imitating pop idols or models and wanting to wear hot pants or anything to ‘fit in’. If it’s out of own choice and comfort, of course no one must say anything. However, it sure felt funny to be called out by a resident around for an allegedly transparent shirt (was not wearing cellophane or any NSFW shirt) while living in a locality with quite a few of those grown up school kids.

This brings me to my point again that feminism clearly isn’t anti men. Here, it was a woman telling me and requiring me to cover up something which was already covered up and she had no business doing that! It is against such mindsets that are rooted deep in our culture to surface in this top notch cosmopolitan city of mine. I realise today that I could have probably had a dialogue with her trying to communicate to her why the bra is not something to be so scared of, that a suggestion to the world that women have breasts under the cloth is not to be fearful of, that patriarchy controls the female sexuality precisely in this manner and hyper-sexualisation of the female body on media is just an economic gimmick. But then, I shall leave it for another time when I am more well prepared and not as taken aback, even humorously so.

Men like ants

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Wasn’t what happened in Bangalore assumed to be only limited to the new pussy grabbing America?

Or wait, maybe these men were just following the world order of aping the West? 

But, aren’t we very simple and cultured Indians?

So? They still can. 

Why? 

Duh! Because they are men and they can.

Ummm, okay but, not all men behave like that I think. These were some stupid ones I think. They were just drunk… But, then doesn’t Abu Azmi say that ALL women like sugar and ALL men like ants? If he is in power, then he must be speaking the gospel truth right? ‘Cause it is ONLY honesty that makes you a cop or a politician? Only the regular people are dishonest aren’t they? Oh sorry, it is the women’s fault. They got too liberated because of these stupid liberals. Those women should have known their place. Where is that, you ask? Inside the walls of patriarchy but, of course!

Till today it is difficult for me to believe that the city where I spent two of the most wonderful years of my life witnessed such an atrocity. It was that city that had sent me back to my home state with a set of very uncomfortable questions. It was that city that was safe to be traveled in buses as opposed to Delhi. Only once in 2 years did I witness lecherous behaviour there and heard of a few. I brushed it off assuming that where we were was, after all suburban Bangalore, where a serial rapist and murdered had escaped from the state jail. Such things were okay to be heard of or read about in suburban or rural areas or as many spell out the names of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan – the last one, especially, with a strange smile that asked too many intrusive questions without uttering a single word. But, now it has happened in a very central part of a growing cosmopolitan city. When a photo journalist was raped in a mill compound in Mumbai, it was again forgotten quickly since she was alone and they were ‘illiterate, north Indian men’ who do such things often. But, now Bangalore and the numerous protectors of women’s modesty, the owners of open spaces in the society did something unimaginable.

I can only imagine by a little ounce of what those women must have felt as 2017 dawned and they found many, many city dwellers, maybe quite a few ‘educated ones’, act as if these women were nothing but, stupid toys that could be flung here and there or maybe lab rats that could be poked here and there and just observed.

I am not saying that the northern part of the country is heaven or is even in some twisted competition against the south / east / west in its sex ratio or data of (ill)treatment of women. Living in Bombay, I have seen an amazing number of cases of harassment, stalking, sexism at workplaces than what was combined in Jaipur, Delhi and Bangalore. I will also say that I had the fortune of being told that I am a girl and need to behave accordingly very few times in my life. Even when I was, thankfully, I knew better. However, that is not the case for so so many of my friends who told me that feminism or belief of total gender equality are things to be read in books but, compromised with when out in the real world. What do I say of the the vast majority of unknown female Indians.

Why I did not pay as much attention to the media, nor did I get passionately angry like I know myself to get at the hands of injustice of any kind is because somewhere deep down, I have been conditioned to accept that such things happen and we can only fight our own petty battles, that even when some people are caught, people are going to go back home and still make this world entitled to the male sex. What is needed is a cultural shift and a consciousness of thought, speech and action. It is each human’s responsibility and I believe that the ‘change’ or the equality of gender can be brought in only through attitudinal shifts in understanding that the one with a vagina is a human being at the end of the day. Formal education does not guarantee any change. I have been dealt sexism at the hands of the smartest (well educated) men and women – even those who shout out for creating an equal world.

What does this say to you? What kind of world are we living in? Grabbing them by the pussy or by the breasts or even dragging them by the hair. Haven’t we learnt better?

If it is religion you follow, seeking the principled Ram and his conduct with his wife, also remember Durga. Religion, philosophy is what we choose to believe in at that crucial moment when all we have to behave as is a human being.

To the men who read this and cringe saying not all men think like this, I would just say that its quite good on you if you dont but, every time you see a woman pass by, I hope you dont eye her as if she is grilled meat no matter what she wears. I hope you dont cut through what a woman might be saying at work in a meeting to just repeat what she said a minute back. I hope you dont judge a woman based on her relationship status or sex life and her position of power in the workplace. I hope you don’t feel slightly crestfallen when someday your first born is a daughter. I hope you dont tell her that some things are not meant for her. I hope you share such ideals of yours with other men around you and raise a son who follows all of this and treats a person simply as a human being without being biased with whats between their legs.

Thank you, 2016!

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Its been a month since I have posted (and published) something on here. I have tried writing different things but, chose to keep them private for the sake of better understanding and soaking in of those ideas before putting them on here. Out of the many things that I have wanted to write, one was the hopelessness of the times and the horrifying sense of disbelief and disillusionment that my generation is burdened by as a result of incident occurring in the matter of a few hours.

Now, I am not the most cynical person I know and I am the last to crib about things, however bad the situation might be but, I too have vented out my anger in the past month on a certain national decision. So, when I thought of writing about disillusionment, youth (these two words sound very literally paradoxical when placed side by side) and the times that lie ahead; I could not write much beyond a rant that sums up the unfair business that is the global machine. But, I also believe that mere ranting does not change anything. What would be best, I believe, is a balanced view on everything – one can at least try even if it seems difficult.

The best thing that happened to me this past year was a sort of awakening to feminism as a belief system. This year has taught me what feminism means to me and how essential it is for each human being to understand what the word means. I have, like most people I know, always known the literal meaning of the word, understood what the theoretical aspects of the beliefs were but, it is another ball game to look at the world through the eyes of a seeker of gender equality, where even the smallest of ignorance or bias is not brushed off as something that always happens. Until this year, I had been conditioned beautifully to conveniently (and maybe organically?) sweep small traces of sexism under the proverbial carpet. But, suddenly I found the dust bunny under the same carpet to have swollen in size well enough to trip me. It was therefore, time to clean out the dirt. I do believe that I am privileged when it comes to my access to good education, lots of internet and literature etc. but, this year, I truly understood and actively applied the difference between theory and practice. However, the process that happened over this years was quite organic. I, honestly never realised how I had become the person that I am today.

This realisation happened when I decided to work out in my head the reasons I disliked certain people around me or even the American TV show FRIENDS and now, Bollywood and film personalities.

This thought process started off when I turned to look at the latest posters stuck on a BEST bus when it passed by me and found a very gaudy looking poster of Indian Idol. Now, I did enjoy it when watching it with my mother when younger. I remember laughing at those auditions, cringing at Anu Malik and finding Farah Khan a strong-ish figure. Right now, I am unsure who all feature on this recent season but, I remember cringing at the tonnes of smoothened Photoshop and make up on the faces. While I did judge the industry for being superficial etc. but, then I stopped that realising that it is, at the end of the day, a business and no audience accepts grey haired singers and women who don’t make them laugh if they are not slim. I was saddened by the hypocrisy of our society and momentarily felt a little bit of sympathy for them.

Not too long after that, I decided to watch a show called ‘Koffee with Karan’. Yes, I did. Why? Because I wanted to go back to that space of ignorant appreciation momentarily, that time as a child when nothing mattered beyond the screen but, the more time ticked on that episode, the more I found myself upset and agitated. Something had changed, I had changed but, was I being snooty like many of those here, in choosing to cringe upon Bollywood while looking at Hollywood like a lovestruck pet.

Watching two episodes of KWK told me that it was the process of evolution as a feminist that had made me “intolerant” of crass entertainment. Why feminism? That’s because someone like Karan Johar who advocates himself as a very liberal, tolerant persona (by writing an open letter to the haters who comment on his Instagram account that he is gay and that he should not pout), still chooses to ask female actors questions of a very private nature digging more so on the personal lives, their personalities, their appearances while the male actors are spoken to off money, homes, girls, ambition etc. No, they do not say things blatantly like “women need to be pretty etc.” and “men need to be blah blah”. No, that doesn’t happen but, there’s something eerie about the way the host’s persona changes when talking to 3 men who came together and then 2 women who came on a later episode. (If you’re on it, I think you should watch the two episodes back to back to understand what I am saying.) Why that is a problem because, like a female actor put it, the Indian audiences look at the show as the place where celebrities speak “the gospel truth”. When that happens, then in the minds of the audiences as well, the personalities of the female actors shrinks to their bodies, their make up, their hatred for other women and their relationships. The men are bracketed into larger beings who are all accommodating, decision makers and practical thinkers who don’t get emotional! What? For a man who pouts on Instagram, this is how he reinforces his liberal belief systems about gender and sex? In this season in particular, the two female actors seemed to gel a lot and are actually new generation people who think a lot and rationalise everything as human beings and not as bodies with breasts and oestrogen. However, the more they spoke their minds, the more they were mocked (lightly, of course!) as being boring and tiring to talk to. So, basically, reinstate the fact that women ought to not have thought and opinions while men can rant and joke about their ex-wives? Hmm.

Why I thank 2016 is because the year has given me bagfuls of opportunities to deal with sexism in all possible forms – blatant misogyny, subtle remarks of the inabilities of women to do this and that and then the slyest one where the perpetrator of sexism comes in the shape of smart, well informed and well spoken people who always speak of working to bring about gender equality in their own ways.

To sum it up, my distaste for Bollywood comes from the simple inaction on the behalf of the most influential people in the country to change their own attitudes and speak of them then. While the industry is making films like Parched (that receives little mention, little theatre running time and little business), it is also making films like Sultan that crossed 100 crores revenue marker in the first weekend. Even someone like Amir Khan who was earning huge respect from the slightly more informed section of the Indian audience, ends up praising Salman Khan’s Sultan that basically has a man wanting to become a wrestler to woo his crush and then the said girl giving up on her ambition for him. While yes, some women can choose that but, to glorify that sacrifice of a woman’s ambition in a country like ours that already expects it to be the case is outright irresponsible and stupid. And then, Amir Khan too fell in the bin with the likes of the others for me. True, Satyamev Jayate did feel like another publicity gimmick.

I would end this with just one thought – the struggle that humanity faces is because we all choose to and are conditioned to believe that certain things and situations in the world are fixed and that in front of those things and situations, we are powerless. Probably thats the case with Bollywood as well where they believe that they will run into losses if they only produced films like Parched. However, the US elections and demonetisation and the Middle Eastern situation are enough proofs that no thing or situation is permanent and as individuals we have the power to change things. I could do it at my sexist workplace and so can anyone on the face of this planet.

PS: I will write later on my dislike for FRIENDS and why no one must watch it. In the end, would again thank all those exemplars of sexism and patriarchy for making me grow. I hope you do to.

Elixir

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I have taken up the Inktober challenge this year. It is a first for me and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Today’s theme or prompt was wet and this is what I came up with. I call this, ‘The elixir of life’.

It was a mere bud, closed shut against the light,
As I walked past on that warm summer‘s evening.

Rain arrived.
She poured it’s entirety into each crevice
Transforming every nook of the #landscape.

But, I couldn’t see all that.
I grumbled at the dampness that the rain left in my clothes
Then the splash of water from the puddle, 
As I walked #home one evening, did not help my #spirits either.
I could not bear the #sight and #sounds of the downpour now.

And then, 
I saw her. 
The closed little bud had blossomed.
The incessant raindrops didn’t seem to disturb me now 
‘Cause the beauty of the bloom enraptured me.

The same water drops that drove me mad were the same 
Drops that had made the flower wet and transformed her.
The same drops of water now seemed like, the elixir of life

Now trending: Feminism

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It is indeed a mystic thing that around the time that the movie Pink came out, I got to experience what is called the inability to comprehend the meaning of consent, body space and respect when it comes to sex even in the minds of those who seem well educated and believers in equal rights for all sexes.

I’ve known someone (male) who has been very vocal about respect and body rights of women and also those who from the sexual minorities – sometimes voicing a hatred for men. This particular dynamic of social development is of interest to me as well. However, I haven’t been as vocal or as expressive about knowing stuff as him. I assumed that’s just difference in personality.

Now, being a woman, one easy thing that comes due to our social conditioning which eventually gets passed on genetically as well, is the sixth sense; the gut feeling of knowing when someone can be a potential sexual threat.

I do not say I thought he was coming on to women or being lecherous. For most women who know him – and a lot of the people that surround him are women – he’s a gentle and nice guy who has his head on his shoulders when talking about gender politics. However, there was always this gnawing feeling I had – which I articulate today – that something wasn’t right about him. Somewhere his alleged beliefs weren’t what they were projected as. I let go of this feeling since we have two very good common friends.

Time went by, we all grew up and went our separate ways. He met someone and got into a relationship and constantly asked about my story or why do I not find someone. Then, I took it as a friendly concern and didn’t feel that it was totally against his ‘women are awesome and equal and don’t need anyone to be happy’ claims.

We have spoken twice in 6 months with him asking about who I am with as the central part of the conversation each time; more focused on my virginity. Now, virginity for me isn’t a coconut to be cracked before something new has to be begun nor is it a gold coin (biscuit, if you may please) that should never be lost. Virginity is just a secondary part of me. It is not something I think about day in day out, nor do I plan any milestones around it. It is simply something which isn’t a consideration in my mind in the daily life. So when he first asked me this, I assumed that this was again a friendly question, that he was just trying to be ‘Gossip Girl’.

Six months later, the poor soul is still battling with this existential question.  I again did not mind ’cause it’s not a hush hush conversation for me. However, what came next told me that putting a foot in my mouth and a slap on his face were the two best things to do.

He asked me if I needed his help to loose my virginity, in case I am still one. Now, I don’t want to call him a predator since he did voice his apprehension that he didn’t know whether this was a bad question or a friendly question but, just thought that loosing my virginity was of utmost importance and he would sacrifice himself to help me do that, even if it involved lying on top of me.

Anyway, me being me, I gave him the benefit of doubt still and explained to him how his girlfriend’s female friends who sought their male friends’ help to loose that “ugly” and questionable piece of skin in between their legs is not something that has to apply to every woman. Each woman is different like each leaf of the same plant or each cookie from the same tin. Just because we have a vagina, we aren’t identical. However, this effort was in vain since he felt that his benevolence was met with unnecessary aggression. I couldn’t help but, laugh at this. Women who voice discomfort and an opinion on any sort of sexual advance are always brash and aggressive. Even if, one talks only about one’s own choice when it comes to one’s own body. Typical.

When this happened, I was saddened and angered both by the fact that this guy was plain stupid pretending to be sly and more so, that feminism is becoming a fad now. I remember a filmmaker called Stalin coming to university and stating that he was a feminist but, was told by someone who has been fighting for women’s rights in Gujarat that he cannot be feminist. Why? Because he was a man.

This makes me question what makes a feminist? Whether the lady was right that a man can never be a feminist? Isn’t feminism equal to humanism since all it demands is to look at women as equal humans since they have always been treated as second class citizens? Dalit movements are called so because of a reason as well. Men shouldn’t cry here though – yes, patriarchy has been a bitch to them too but, they have had better advantage plus, feminism is against the system and not their sex so, calm down there.

Coming back to my point, my worry has been the lack of serious brain usage today when feminism is becoming a fad, a Facebook or Twitter hashtag. People don’t know what they’re talking about but, will use #saveourgirls frequently. It’s the same as Taylor’s factory view – herd mentality.

This experience has however, given me hope in retrospect. I think there’s still hope ’cause I called him out on this. I believe that’s what’s needed – one needs to call out an abuser when it happens without fearing the consequences. It might not even be sexual bias – it can be sexism of any kind, in any setting. It might boil down badly at first but, the next time they do it, your words will come back to them. Slowly but steadily they might learn. This much is enough for you to do your bit and speak out. I have learnt. You can too.

This is exactly where the crass and pop way the film portrays the different issues of consent, patriarchy, regional biases etc. movie comes in. I hated the way the stereotype has been put together and also the PR way that so many different topics have been dealt with but, in a society like ours such blatant street play type conversations are needed for people to wake up and understand, for people to not forget Nirbhaya and countless others who have been victims and / or survivors of this societal mental ailment of pride, honour and fear of sex. More on the film in another post then.