rage against the machine

If I had to put my finger on the single most unproductive thing I do when I go to work, it has got to be sitting through mind-numbing meetings, frequently nodding (off) and pretending to care. Today was no different.

Until I heard Dudebro say: So, what do you guys think?

 

My mind went from “keep your head down” to “fuck this shit” so friggin fast.

So you don’t care what the women think?

I’m sorry, what?

I asked if you only wanted the opinions of the men in the room.

Of course not. I asked all of you guys.

Well, I’m not a guy. Neither are those two.

He looked mortified, and though I said I was only kidding, I really wasn’t and he knew it. Dudebro knows better. I have a reputation, and he’s fucking scared of me.

I was congratulated later by many people, for having “balls” and taking what is going to be “a giant leap for mankind”. These, btw, are the same people who go around rolling their eyes every time I speak up against their casual misogyny. Well, I understand. I’m that whiny “feminist” who just doesn’t have a sense of humor. I’m constantly complaining about how oppressed women are, when it’s just words.

But are they really just words?

It’s almost like if all this vocabulary just appears out of thin air; as though these things are said by unremarkable people, without any of these words having any meaning and place in any sort of systemic oppression.

But it does, doesn’t it?

Every time you address a mixed group as “guys” you’re erasing the women in it.

Every time you call someone “feminazi”, you’re equating women’s struggle for freedom from patriarchy with fascism.

Every time you jokingly call someone a “pussy”, you’re labeling women as the weaker sex.

You don’t need a degree in either linguistics or gender studies to know this, dudebro. Word have meanings. Use them carefully.

Honk if you agree.

Do you speak up against casual misogyny? Why do you think we treat men as the default human? What changes can we make to our vocabulary to make language less offensive to us “feminazis”?

 

 

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Okay, I’m done with this shit.

Recently, one of my domestic helps took a couple of days off without calling me first, and I instantly knew something was wrong. She showed up at my doorstep the third day, with a blue-black eye and a swollen lip.

Apparently, her drunk husband beat her up because he wanted sex, and she asked him to wear a condom, or fuck off. She took a beating because she took a stand, and he fucked her anyway.

This, coming from a man who was filled with rage when he heard about the Nirbhaya incident. They had no right, he had said to his wife, over and over, shaking his head. And yet, he thought that marriage entitled him to use his wife’s body however he wanted, and therefore he felt entirely justified in hitting her. I am a good husband, I deserve good sex, he told her in the morning.

What bothers me is that this is not an incident that took place in isolation.

I grew up in a household where it was normal for mom to cook and clean even if she was unwell or tired. The children were her responsibility, too – and trust me the three of us didn’t make it easy. Dad would just come home and start making demands – tea had to be ready within five minutes of him asking for it, dinner had to be served at nine, and mom had to run from the kitchen to the bedroom (where he ate) with hot ghee-smeared chapatis on a small plate. Then she would clear his plate, and give him water. Next, she would serve us dinner. She always ate in the end.

Now, it would be unfair to let you assume that dad wanted hot chapatis. He said, hundreds of times, that he’d prefer it if all of us sat together and ate, but she kept doing it anyway out of a sense of duty. I remember him getting so, so angry because he had left some documents on the dining table and then couldn’t find them. Somehow, it was mom’s responsibility too – never mind that he had actually kept them elsewhere!

If mom was traveling for work, I was given clear instructions on what he does and does not eat, how much ghee he likes on his chapatti, and where I should keep his documents should he forget to file them.

See what I’m talking about?

In our culture there is an implicit assumption that men are somehow superior to women and they deserve good sex, hot food, an orderly house, and well-behaved children. Men, just because they are men, deserve female nurturance, whatever the circumstances, throughout their lives.

Think mother, sister, wife, daughter – we’re all just side actors in the story of a man’s life. He has prerogatives and we have obligations within the family structure. We exist only because He needs us.

Enough of this shit. Things change, TODAY. I’m letting my six month old son know as soon as he’s able to understand.

What about you?

of (in)sanity

This was an eventful weekend.

Mister was expected to travel to Singapore for three weeks on Sunday, and in a turn of events best described as filmi in the Serendipity kind of way, the trip got pushed to the 23rd of August at the last minute. No we weren’t at the airport, but all his bags were packed, and he had one foot out of the door when we found out he didn’t have to go yet.

Phew!

And as if that drama was not enough, we ended up watching three movies and having a kick-ass debate with a cousin over the Yakub Memon issue. But that’s a story for another (non-existent) day, going by the sheer number of times I’ve said I’ll-tell-you-later in the past.

Ajay Devgn in a forest. Really?
Ajay Devgn in a forest? Really?

So I watched Drishyam, despite ugly-ass posters that looked like something created by a graphics design intern (or one that was just about to quit). I thought the movie was overall pretty riveting, but the first half was super slow.

The story had a lot of loopholes that I’d be happy to ignore because *drool* Ajay Devgn. (Unnecessary backstory: When I was younger, I used to think he was my soulmate, especially in the hand-eye coordination department. Have you seen this guy dance?)

I’d have been happier if they had portrayed Ajay (Vijay in the movie) as someone who blends in a bit more and stays out of trouble; a series of fake alibis coming from a fourth-class-fail, nondescript guy would’ve been more fun, you know? Maybe they should’ve chosen another actor?

And someone tell me this – why would physical intimidation and bullying, aka interrogation, take place at the IG’s house? What policeman has the gumption to hit an eight year old girl? Anyway. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie, so I will shut up now.

I have nothing to say about this one.
I have nothing to say about this one.

People who had seen Bajrangi Bhaijaan all came back applauding Salman’s acting and the screenplay. This is nothing like the regular Salman Khan movie, they said. You will see none of the usual antics and the monkeydance. Whatever your opinion is about him, you will have changed it by the time the movie ends. Needless to say, I felt compelled to witness this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

Holy moly – they were right! I have changed my opinion about Salman – I used to think he couldn’t act – but I was so wrong! The truth is, Salman is a consummate actor; he just doesn’t get the right roles. If I were to ever make a movie, I’d cast him in the role of a saucepan, and then you’d see how convincing he really is.

Anyway – back to BB and seriousness – what a contrived India-Pakistan-unity plot! And what horrible acting by everyone (including the little girl) – except perhaps Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who completely stole the show even with the stupid-ass script he was given. As for Kareena Kapoor, she may as well not have been in the movie. Enough said.

bahubali
They’re right. The visuals are seriously amazing.

And then, there was Bahubali – beautifully shot and directed, with a lot of scenes that were copied from 300 rather well. The actual war, which was what I went to watch the movie for, lasted long enough for me to scream paisa vasool (Hindi term for a movie that is your money’s worth). The women characters were strong, except for the female lead, whose portrayal was really disappointing. She is, when the movie begins, a fierce warrior who can defeat a group of soldiers with her physical strength and wit; she has a purpose. And then the hero spots her. He is in “love”, so that justifies the stalking and the forcible undressing, and the relentless pursuing (though she has made is abundantly clear that she is not interested in romance) until she has an epiphany – that she is a woman and must, therefore, dress well and look pretty.

The “man” wins, they have sex, and the warrior turns into – lo and behold – a “woman” who needs a man to look after her. The “man” takes on her mission as his own, because he’s, well, the “man”. The poor girl just recedes into the shadows only to emerge at the closing scene to watch him do impossible things and clap from the sidelines. That broke my heart. Good thing Mister could stay back to nurse me back to sanity.

So that’s how I spent my weekend. How did you spend yours? Have you seen any of these movies? To my non-Indian friends – have you ever watched Bollywood films? What do you think about them?

of feminism and checklists

You’d remember that I wrote about an IPS officer’s friendly checklist for women who want to stay safe.

Someone left the following comment for me there, and my response was so long-winded, I thought it might just be better to write a new post.

And then there was the fact that this way you can actively engage in the conversation and tell me what you think.

Here’s what TheKomentor had to say:

Though I can sympathize with the fact that you were injured in an accident, I really don’t find anything wrong with that police list. Those are just common sense instructions that every woman can follow to have a better chance of staying safe in public places. And it isn’t like the police are shirking their responsibilities; they are just saying you can stay safe even without them if you do those things. Of course everyone of us wants the freedom to dress and behave and live our lives the way we want to, but the fact of the matter is that freedom is oftentimes just a word — we, both men and women, are living under limitations, and we are safer when we stay within those limitations. It is like saying I should have the freedom to touch fire, and then blaming others when I get burned.

Let’s talk about her perspective, point-by-point.

I really don’t find anything wrong with that police list.

Take a closer look.

Police

  1. What does he mean by ‘dress decently’? What is less provocative? A saree that leaves my midriff exposed or jeans and a t-shirt? Who is to say rapists will have exactly the same sense of fashion and modesty that I do?
  2. About being well-behaved – should I be greeting potential rapists with my hands folded? Or is he implying that women walk around “inviting” men through provocative gestures?
  3. If I can’t travel in crowded buses/trains, should I be boarding nearly empty buses/trains? Isn’t that what Nirbhaya did? I’m confused. Are you?

Those are just common sense instructions that every woman can follow to have a better chance of staying safe in public places.

Yes. I agree. I proactively do most of the things on that list. These things are not necessarily making us safe, because we do get “eve-teased” in broad daylight and in groups, but I’m with you on this one.

Most Indian women would agree that we’ve been forced to become street smart. We know, just by means of a quick glance, who is looking at us and how. We don’t go to ‘wine shops’, we don’t step out in the dark without male escorts, and we wear shrugs and leggings with dresses when we step out even if at the cost of looking like buffoons. We’re already doing all that.

But we don’t need a police officer to tell us these things. Unless, of course, they are talking to a specific woman who likes to walk around naked and dances provocatively in a crowded bus full of lusty men in the middle of the night, and then asks why she got raped. That woman, my friend, should be the poster girl for this checklist. Do you know her?

And it isn’t like the police are shirking their responsibilities; they are just saying you can stay safe even without them if you do those things.

Ummm… nope. What they are saying is: boys will be boys, and women just have to work around that.

They are making it our responsibility to stay safe. If something untoward happens, the same guy will first ask the victim where she was, what she was doing there at that time of the day/night, whom she was with, whether her family knows she hangs around with boys, etc. More questions will follow, centered around this checklist – ‘what were you wearing’ will be something that will finally make it the victim’s fault.

Of course everyone of us wants the freedom to dress and behave and live our lives the way we want to, but the fact of the matter is that freedom is oftentimes just a word — we, both men and women, are living under limitations, and we are safer when we stay within those limitations.

I disagree. Vehemently.

Just because it’s a bad world does not mean we have to live with it. Things will only get better if we take a stand, and I don’t mean just women.

We ALL have to stop saying these checklists make sense. Because they don’t make any sense because when they come from other people, they’re coming from someone who believes in victim blaming and slut shaming.

I’m not ok with that. I will do what I need to do to stay safe. I don’t need the police to tell me what I should do to not be raped. What I do need them to tell me is what they are doing to keep me safe. See what I mean?

My freedom is just a word until I believe it’s just a word.

It is like saying I should have the freedom to touch fire, and then blaming others when I get burned.

I don’t even feel like dignifying this with a response.


I know, I know, I have got to stop the sermonizing. But I can’t help it. There’s so much going on in our world these days, I can’t be an ostrich anymore. I think it’s time we stopped and thought about how little ‘friendly suggestions’ like this are adding to the gender issues we already have.

What do you think?

Please play nice. Just because you disagree with someone’s views does not mean you have to be disrespectful.

of why I married again

We were having a discussion at work last week about feminism and marriage and relationships. You should’ve seen how animated I got! I talked for twenty minutes about how marriage is a failed institution.

Mostly, all I said was that women are far more burdened than men. They are pressured to be obedient daughters, desirable (in terms of being fair and tall and curvy but with flat abs) yet subservient wives, dutiful daughters-in-law, exemplary mothers. Then there’s the pressure of having to get a full-time job if they don’t want to be seen as too gharelu (Indian slang for unemployed and homely – and not in a good way).

And if a woman goes out and works all day, she’s expected to come home at night and cook dinner. Oh, and there’s usually no such thing as ‘tired’. The husband comes home at the same time, tired, and the wife’s duty is to serve him a hot meal. If he helps in the kitchen, he’s a generous husband who not only allows his wife to pursue her dream (of slaving all day at work) and helps in the house.

My point being: men have it easy, but marriage makes no sense for women.

People mostly agreed with me on that point, except that they were curiously asking questions about why I married Mister if I’m such a non-believer. I wanted to tell them but it would mean giving up details of my personal life, which I am not ready to do.

But I can write about them here.

Mister asked me to move in with him a long time ago, and I thought it made perfect sense. No more risking being attacked by naked men as I carried packed food from his house to mine, no more fear of stalkers, no more pick me up at 8,  no more your place or mine, no more rent and no more questions from a bitchy landlady, and better yet – no more landlords stealing my lingerie.

We were both really excited about this.

But a few nights before the moving van arrived, panic set in at the thought of leaving my pristine white walls and blue-green curtains and my cushions and my Voltas fridge and my house with just about enough air in the summer and sunlight in the winter. The thought of not keeping my bookshelf exactly where I wanted, the dimness of the lights and the aloneness.

Everything I had invested in this house – my time, my money, my hopes – were going to be taken away. I felt like my independence and my substance was being drained out through a hole in the pit of my stomach and I was going to fade away and become once again the phantom that I had been for so many years before I moved into the house I lived in and got a life of my own.

I was wrong.

I moved in with him a few days later and that place finally became my home – I learned that could live with other people without surrendering any part of myself. I could just be who I was and people actually liked me for who I really was. There were no questions, no complaints. I was truly happy.

But then one day, Mister proposed. I was really freaked out for a while because he knew I didn’t believe in marriage as it exists today.

But then I thought about it.

In a typical marriage, I’d be waking up early to get breakfast and lunch out of the way before I left for work. Then I’d slog all day in office, say no to late night calls and meeting and pass up opportunities for promotions so I could get in time for dinner at home. I’d bring home the money, and also be expected to be available for more wifely duties. I’d have no time for myself – because in my country, women are not allowed that luxury – they are daughters, wives, and daughters-in-law more than they are people.

And here I was, already living with Mister and his mom as part of their family. This is unheard of, at least in India.

And in this house, I woke up two hours before I had to leave for work. I’d laze around, reading the newspaper and sipping chai as mom hobbled about taking care of the house. I felt no guilt.

We had shared responsibilities and unlike other households, these responsibilities had nothing to do with typical gender roles. Mom was retired, so she would be responsible for managing the household, which basically meant overseeing the domestic helps (we had three – two for dusting and cleaning, one for the cooking) and making sure we didn’t run out of supplies. When we did run out of supplies, whoever was near the market would buy them. Mister and I only brought home the money.

If one of the maids were on leave, we’d take up odd jobs so the house wouldn’t look too shabby if someone were to drop in unannounced. Mister would do the dishes happily, but had to be bribed by a cup of chai first.

If the cook didn’t show up, either mom or I would cook – and not because we were women – only because Mister’s cooking is unbelievably bad. (He thinks Pasta in Vodka sauce is a simple recipe where you simply pour a 30ml shot on Maggi pasta. It’s NOT that simple!) If we were feeling particularly lazy, we’d all just order in or go out and eat.

I would come home to a mother – not a mother in law. A friend – not a husband.

I married him.

Because I realized that I would not have to carry the double burden of being a corporate slave and self-sacrificing wife/daughter in law.

Because I knew I wouldn’t have to feel thankful for ‘help’ if Mister worked in the kitchen when I was working on my laptop.

Because my sense of self-worth or how my family felt about me would not have to depend upon whether I’m cooking/cleaning/washing/shopping for them.

Because this was my last, only chance at being in a truly equal marriage.