I am not ashamed to admit that Aitraaz is one of my Bollywood guilty pleasures. I watch the film every time it’s on television-Not only do I find it highly amusing but I also find it interesting because it touches upon the fact that males can also face sexual violence.  Anyway, as I watched it today after a very long time, a particular line struck me for the first time.

Anu Kapoor is Akshay Kumar’s lawyer, and is defending him against the the “attempt to rape” charges filed against him by Priyanka Chopra-who I think plays the part of the evil temptress to perfection, leaving aside some very comical dialogues.
Anu Kapoor stands up in court and says, “Aurat nadi ke samaan hoti hai … yadi apne kinaron ki maryada mein rahe, toh lati hai khushali … aur yadi apne kinaron ki maryada todh de, toh lati hai vinash“. (A woman is like a river. As long it stays within its boundaries, it brings happiness, but if it crosses them, it brings destruction.)

I laughed. Out loud. Then again, in trying to defend Akshay Kumar, he was merely echoing what we women have been taught since the time we’ve been old enough to walk and talk. “Don’t sit like that, keep your legs together”, “Act like a lady”, “Don’t make a scene”. Moreover, once we’re old enough for “the talk”, kids in general are told that “sex is something very beautiful that happens between two people who love each other” (really?). But the difference is, that girls are taught to grow inwards, while boys are taught to grow outwards. That adds to a culture where women are ashamed of their bodies and of their sexualities, which in turn leads to slut shaming of any woman who desires any kind of a casual relationship. And I’ve seen this happen multiple times.

My sister is the most intelligent and driven person I know. She’s living the life she dreamed of and is travelling the world and having experiences that I can only hope to have.Yet on a few occassions, I’ve received calls and messages from her, expressing worry that people will judge her for not wanting to “settle down” (What does “settling down” even mean anyway? Just the presence of a husband? Two kids by the time you’re 35?), and for wanting to date casually and have a good time. She worries sometimes that maybe its “time” she got married, even though she doesn’t really feel like it.

Sometimes I have a hard time believing that someone like her would harbour such insecurities, and I tell her “You’re living it up in London for god’s sake, just have fun!” but it took me time to understand that this is exactly the kind of pressure society puts on us. You can be ambitious, but not so much that it scares a potential husband away, you can be sexy, but not too much, you can be outspoken, but not too much. This kind of pressure is what leads a woman who has a great job, a life in one of the most exciting cities in the world, to worry that people may think she’s “too slutty”.

Funnily enough, no man I know has ever had to go through such a thing. Men can date women who are  young enough to be their daughters (and sometimes granddaughters), and they will be hailed as sliver haired foxes who still have wild oats to sow  (Hugh Hefner, George Clooney anyone?).On the other hand, any woman who is close to 30 and isn’t living in domestic bliss with a husband is doomed to be a sad spinster with only cats for company. If you think I am exaggerating, know that I was once told by a relative that “girls these days” are so career driven, that they are getting married very late-“26-27 koi age hoti hai?” (oh, the horror. Let me go drag the next man I find to a bonfire so that I can walk around it seven times before its too late for me! Is 22 an alright age?).

I am not trying to imply that I have a problem with women wanting to get married and have kids at any age. We should do whatever it is that makes us happy, and if you’ve found the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with, be it at 21, 40 or 60, then that’s great! What I do have a problem with is when women rush into marriage just because society thinks “its time”.

Please let’s try and unlearn these suffocating lessons we’ve been taught since we were little girls- from family, friends, acquaintances. There’s no need to “be ladylike”, in fact, be as unladylike as possible, sit in whatever way you like, walk in whatever way you like, talk in whatever way you like, have all the sex you want with as many people as you like, get married whenever you like, or not at all- and don’t let anyone talk you into something you don’t want.

“Settling down” means different things to different people. Don’t let Renee Zelwegger and rom coms in general fool you into thinking you need someone to complete you ( I am finally trying to give up the hope that Colin Firth is going to fall in love with me and kiss me on a snowy London street). You are whole on your own. You are happy on your own. Your worth comes from within you-so no, we are not rivers that need to be contained. We are whatever the hell we want to be.