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Fighting like a girl

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shamolieoberoi

Me too.

 

 

 

 

 

me too

Image credit:  Hindustan Times

 

Me too. Me too. Me too. No matter how many times I say it, it won’t be anywhere near enough.

Strangers on the street, boyfriends, acquaintances at parties, “friendly” uncles, neighbours- the reality that our bodies belong to everyone but ourselves is one that women realize rather early into their lives.

The first time I got an inkling of this was when I was about 10. Walking into my housing complex after school became a nightmare, thanks to a guard who insisted on grinning at me in a way that made my skin crawl and following me to my building.

I was 14 when a stranger walked into a space that I considered home and groped me- it was then I knew that as a woman, there is no such thing as a “safe space”.

I was 16 when a stranger groped me outside school, and smiled at me while he walked away and I stood there stunned.

At 21, I left home for the first time. At one of my initial internships, I was warned of certain men in the office. “Don’t get too friendly”, I was told. When I asked why these men still worked here, I was told they were “too senior” and “well respected”.

At 21, I knew that a man I thought I was in love with, who I had trusted could call me a whore for putting on makeup, for having the audacity to make friends, for simply having an opinion. “When did you become such a f****** b***?” he screamed in public, when I asked him why he was an hour and a half late for a lunch date.

At 24, I knew that men didn’t think your “no” really meant “no”, because you’re a cool girl who isn’t looking for anything serious, right? But hey, they’re in good company, since  our judiciary too thinks a “feeble no” may mean “yes”.

At 25, I am tired. But I take comfort in the fact that over 12 million women worldwide have opened up about what they’ve been through. I take comfort in the fact that men are finally, hopefully, feeling profoundly uncomfortable- because it’s about damn time.

 

Musings of a Newbie in Mumbai

 

Photo Credit: National Geographic

 

“Job Offer” read the subject of an email I had been waiting to receive for over two months. I finally had a job in Bombay- a city I’d wanted to move to for two years. I was ecstatic, and then of course, terrified. You see, I have a special knack for always finding the bad in the good, but never vice versa. How would I ever pay rent AND afford to eat on my salary? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I’m terrible at my job?

A month into my stay in Bombay, I don’t think I’m too bad at my job, but I continue to worry- about money, the future, relationships…to name a few. Though I have to admit, the city is slowly wearing my cynicism down.

Every evening after work, I take a short walk by the sea (yup, I live close to the sea- thanks to some VERY good luck and an extremely kind landlady). It’s the favourite part of my evening- the rest of which is spent Netflixing.

I look forward to the walk every day. I’ve learnt to appreciate sunsets (!), and it’s also a great time to people-watch and play with some dogs. The best part, however, are all the couples. Young and old, I get to see a lot of hand holding and hugging (and sometimes quite a bit more…).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound creepy, but there’s something so refreshing about seeing two people in love, in public, and unafraid to show it. In a country that’s in denial about anything to do with sex and sexuality, where there are “squads” specially formed to humiliate consenting couples in public, public displays of affection become profoundly political acts. It makes me so happy to see couples find their own space, out in the open, to just be in love- a little act of resistance.

Often I still find myself wondering if I did the right thing by moving to Bombay. Should I have held out for better opportunities, moved to a less expensive city (I walked into a juice store the other day and it cost 200 bucks a glass…guess I’ll just stick to drinking water)? The doubts come and go. But, at times like these I remind myself of the good things (a principle I’m trying very hard to follow in my life in general).

I remind myself, of the many auto wallahs who didn’t lose their patience with me whenever I lost my way. I remind myself of the popcorn vendor next to my house who was willing to give me a free bag just because I didn’t have any change. I remind myself of the many times I got home in the middle of the night, unafraid, of the times I walked down the street in summer dresses, unafraid.

Or, I just take a walk by the sea, and that’s all it takes to remind me that in Bombay, love truly is all around.

“Living Responsibly”: Only for Women?

“Live Responsibly or Anticipate Death and Destruction” reads the title of an article on the death of model Sonika Chauhan.

“We want ‘equal rights’ – we want to be able to go out late at night as men do, bar-hop, drink and relax, have several rounds of drinks. It’s our ‘right’. We too need to relax. Do that, but why not do it in the safe confines of your friends or your home? Why do parents abdicate on their responsibility – do you feel if your unmarried daughter is earning in lakhs or whatever, she can do what she pleases as it’s her life, she has earned the right to do with it as she pleases and you should not interfere?”

This is just one of the many obnoxious excerpts from this article where the author blames everything from Bon Jovi (?!) to Feminism for her death. Could Sonika have said no to getting into the car knowing her friend was drunk? Of course, she could have. But does bad judgment imply she deserved to die? I don’t think so.

We’ve all been in situations that could have gone either way. A lot of us have let friends and boyfriends drive us home after a few drinks. This could have been any one of us. Sonika just got unlucky. It wasn’t her fault.

However, apparently women (and women alone), do not have the right to “go out late at night, bar hop, drink and relax”. The author even brings up the murder of Saumya Viswanathan, the Delhi journalist who was shot dead in the middle of the night as she drove home from work. So, I guess women don’t have the right to work either.
We should stay at home, never touch alcohol, never relax (?), because those are things only men are allowed to do. However, if we get raped, assaulted or murdered at home (as many women do), that’d be on us too. There’s no winning.

Seriously, fuck you. Fuck you for using a tragedy like this as yet another justification in restricting our right to public space.

She didn’t deserve this. No one does.

sonika

Thank you, Women’s Studies.

butler

Two years ago, the decision to take up Women’s Studies was one I made after a fair bit of struggle and trepidation, and I’d be lying if I said it’s something I always wanted to study.

But life never quite turns out the way one would expect, and now, sitting on a flight home, having nearly completed my MA, I’m struggling to find the words to convey what the last two years have meant to me.

Sure, there have been a lot (and I mean A LOT) of the usual questions (credit for most of these goes to my several encounters on Tinder and some to ‘well-meaning’ relatives).

“So you basically study about…women?” (Wow, wonder what gave that away…)

“So what do you do after this?” (…realize that the world is a shit place for women- and pretty much anyone who isn’t an upper caste, middle class, heterosexual male- and try and do something to change that.)

“What if you never find another boyfriend?” (Well, I was worried about that initially, but for reasons which had nothing to do with my subject…)

And,

“Aren’t you worried you’ll turn into one of those angry feminists?”

Well, immense rage is an inevitable consequence of studying gender, and I realized quickly into my MA that I had spent too much time not being angry- at the men who harassed me on the streets, at the boyfriends who treated me like shit, and the dudebros who felt entitled to comment on everything from my makeup to what time I should be home every day.

And the newfound consciousness wasn’t mine alone-I witnessed a classroom full of women (and a few men) go from soft spoken and reserved, to talking unabashedly about their bodies, sexualities and their desires, questioning the denial of their rights- to pleasure, to public spaces, to make unconstrained choices.

At the same time, I watched as all of us grappled with the uncomfortable truth that we had been implicit in the systems of oppression we were seeking to challenge. As naive first years, most of us were slapped in the face by the realization that just because something isn’t a problem for you personally, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem at all- it was time to take the rose tinted glasses of privilege off.

Do I sometimes wish I had taken up another subject? Yes, of course. Women’s Studies isn’t easy- you’re not just taking up complex coursework (classes on Butler left me feeling like I needed to learn the English language all over again),  but you’re also bracing yourself for endless asinine comments, even from some seemingly “woke” feminist friends- “it must be really easy right? Do you even need to work too hard for your grades?”

Sigh.

Nevertheless, I leave with no regrets.

Women’s Studies has been so much more than just an academic course- it’s given me more questions than answers, it’s left me confused and pissed off (I cannot enjoy a movie unquestioningly ever again), and  most of all, it’s given me the courage to not take shit any longer.

So yes, Tinder Guy, if you’re reading this, I am an angry feminist- and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Breakups Nobody Talks About

friendship

Photo Credit: Sayantoni Palchoudhuri

 

“How to Survive a Breakup”

“Getting Over an Ex in 5 Simple Steps”

“10 Things You Should NEVER Do After A Breakup”

Over the last few years, I’ve read more issues of Cosmopolitan than I can count, and I’ve read more self help books than I care to admit – “He’s Just Not That Into You” got me through some pretty tough times. So I know those 5 steps, and I know, hopefully, what not to do after getting dumped (hovering around your ex boyfriend’s house after school being the #1 thing to avoid, in my opinion).

7 years of dating is bound to make one a bit cynical, and I’ve always approached my romantic relationships with a sense of foreboding- I mean, what are the chances you “end up” with the first, second or even third guy you date? Pretty slim, I’d say from personal experience. But that’s okay- because each time shit hit the fan with a boyfriend, I had friends to pick up the pieces, with the help of some greasy Chinese food and Gloria Gaynor.

What happens though, when the one who breaks up with you is one of those very few people who knew how to put your pieces back together in just the right way? What do you do when the person who dumps you is the one who held your hand through all the heartbreaks, real or imagined? Who do you turn to when that friend you thought you’d grow old with decides she’s just not that into you?

When you lose a boyfriend, there are books you can read, movies you can watch and songs you can listen to that seem to know exactly what you’re going through.  You’ll find the one in the end.  You’ll feel better eventually; all you need is a rebound and a makeover (?). It wasn’t really ‘love’ to begin with, they all say.

Unfortunately though, in this case, it seems rom coms and Adele don’t have the answers. Losing a friend is like a punch to the stomach and the pain never really goes away. Losing a friend and not knowing why hurts even more. You can’t convince yourself it wasn’t true love, because of course it was. You’ve seen each other through so many of your firsts, you’ve seen boyfriends come and go, you’ve shared conversations about your future- the kind of conversations you can only have with your best friend, punctuated with that naive optimism you only possess in high school and you feel like you have so long to go before you “grow up”. It was love.

And then, before you know it, you actually do grow up- you’re working, studying, moving out of home- it’s okay though, because you took it for granted you’d be there for each other through all these big changes- the ones you’d talked about during all those after school sleepovers with endless bottles of fizzy drinks and packets of chips.

But no matter how hard you try, sometimes life gets in the way- and a year later you’re unexpectedly making polite, yet awkward small talk with that same friend who is now a complete stranger. You’re then forced to accept lovers aren’t the only ones who leave- friends do too, and it hurts just as much, if not more- but just like you eventually got over that guy you thought was the one, you’ll get over this too.

You will survive.

Dear Dudes- We Don’t Care if You “Don’t Like Too Much Makeup”.

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In my first year of college, a questionable decision I made (read: boyfriend) said the following to me:

“You’re not as hot as the girls I usually date, but you’re really sweet, know what I mean?”

As an 18 year old with major self esteem issues and social anxiety, no, I didn’t know what he meant. Worry not, though, because he was more than willing to explain.

Apparently I didn’t party as much as his ex girlfriends, or put as much effort into my appearance. But hey, at least I was really sweet.

Now, five years later, if I had a penny for every time a guy told me how much better he likes me without make up I’d be able to afford every shade of lipstick MAC ever produced.

Yaar, your lipstick is too loud. You don’t need all this makeup.”
“What have you done to your hair? Why can’t you just let it be?”
“You looked so much better in college- so natural! Maybe you should tone down the lipstick.”

And my favourite:

“I love that you’re not like other girls.”

Aah, those mysterious “other girls”. After hearing this for about the hundredth time, I finally asked a guy what was so wrong with these “other girls” and how I was not like them.

“You know those girls who keep putting up selfies on Facebook…the kinds who can only talk about clothes and make up. You aren’t like that. You’re chill.”

Phew, I guess the number of selfies I post is just enough- maybe one more and I’d turn into one of those “other girls”. Also I didn’t realize there was a limit to how much a woman could talk about things that make her happy- is one hour of talking about make up okay? How about another half an hour for clothes and shoes?

It’s not like young girls grow up in a culture that places utmost value on their appearance rather than their talents. It’s not like there’s a 300 billion dollar beauty industry that constantly bombards women with products they obviously need because they’re too fat, too thin, too dark (never too fair, of course), because their skin isn’t clear enough, because what kind of woman doesn’t care about the way she looks?

But of course the minute you start paying attention to your appearance, you suddenly become too vain, too superficial, and not “chill” enough. There’s just no winning.

Here’s a useful tip- stop telling women they’re “not like other girls” (and FYI, a 24 year old female is a woman, not a girl). There’s nothing wrong with “other girls”. There’s nothing wrong with loving clothes and mascara. You don’t get to put down women as a whole just because you think it’ll help you get laid.

This may be surprising, but women don’t exist solely for your pleasure. We don’t care if you “prefer the natural look”.

So listen up, dudebros – if you don’t like lipstick, don’t use it. It’s really that simple.

An Ode to The Love(s) and Losses of My Life

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A few nights ago, I was counselling a friend of mine who was grieving the end of a 2 year relationship. My advice to her was to put herself out there. Embrace singlehood, get on Tinder and meet some good looking (?) men.

Her expression told me she didn’t take me seriously, but she then remarked: “I love how you’re still so positive about love in spite of your past experiences with men”.

“Past experiences with men”: 7 years of dating, the good, the bad, and the ugly, summed up in a neat phrase that sounded so very mature.

My love life has been a source of endless amusement (and sometimes concern) to my friends, my family, my parents’ friends, relatives and pretty much anyone else you can think of.

7 years is quite a while, and it’s been marked by my choices in men that I can only politely describe as…diverse.

I was a fairly awkward teenager (and I’ve carried that social anxiety with me through to my twenties), and my interactions with men were limited. Suffice to say, I wasn’t the epitome of grace and poise those days, waiting outside school so that I’d catch a glimpse of that guy I had a massive (still an understatement) crush on, only to stutter and make an ass of myself in front of him. Young love…sigh.

My first relationship (if you can call it that) was with perhaps one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. He was a drummer in a well known band, smelled amazing (!) and was lovely to me. I guess my 17 year old self didn’t know how to cope with the affection and I eventually had to admit to myself that unfortunately good cologne couldn’t be the basis of a strong relationship.

Soon enough, I met the (first) love of my life- again, such a good guy, The Bengali Intellectual, and I, the Rajma Eating Punjabi. We had a good run, only to figure out that no matter how much you tried, Rabindra Sangeet and Daler Mehndi would just not go together (I feel like I need to apologize for the metaphor, but you get the drift…).

Little did I know that my next heartbreak was just around the corner- the (second) love of my life, a man of few words (and I mean, REALLY few) with a fascination for guns and cars (yup, I told you it’s pretty diverse). I absolutely adored him, and perhaps my adoration spiralled into obsession and the few words he said to me quickly turned into zero.

That one took me a while, and some questionable decisions to move on from: the stoner with delusions of grandeur, the so-called ‘relationship ‘with a guy who had shockingly dismal knowledge of American Presidents (Kennedy? Who’s that?)… It’s an eclectic list.

A college internship led to the start of my longest relationship- I was (still) young and impressionable, he was older, smarter and charming. For the first time I felt like a real “grown up”, I felt like this could be it- but of course, it wasn’t. It was the first time I realized I couldn’t be with someone whose politics differed so vastly from mine. That ended rather badly but I remain thankful to him for some valuable life lessons (and for numerous plates of momos that were consumed in the many, many evenings I spent in his house)

A close friend then tried to set me up with The Doctor: my first blind date and for a change, I felt confident. My palms weren’t cold and sweaty and I walked into the restaurant and knew I’d have a great time. Several cocktails later, I knew I’d see him again, and I did. However, that fizzled out due to my own stupidity, because why be with a perfectly nice guy who you have a good time with, when you can pine over men who treat you like shit?

And then I moved to a new city: I was struck by the severe lack of men on campus and beyond, and decided to download Tinder (as detailed in an earlier post). I met someone, went on a few fun dates, (Netflixed and chilled?), but that met with a rather unfortunate and quick end.

The past year has been peppered with rather brief and disappointing encounters (except one or two :D) , yet I remain, like my friend said, positive.

If there’s anything I’ve gathered from my myriad experiences, it’s that every relationship has something to teach you. Honestly, there are a range of lessons to be learnt: from don’t date a guy when you can’t tell the difference between when he’s sober and when he’s high, to never date a man who belittles your achievements and makes you feel like you aren’t enough.

So yes, I continue to look forward to meeting new people, forming relationships (no matter how short lived), because I love the feeling of liking somebody, of being with someone. But I also now know that I am enough. There’s no such thing as a “better half”. We are all enough, by ourselves, just as we are.

Picture Courtesy: Dead Poets Society

‘Unrequited Love’ Didn’t Kill Swathi, Misogyny Did

Being accustomed to receiving information about the outside world through the NDTV app on my phone and articles on Facebook, it’d been a while since I read an actual newspaper.

However, paranoia emerging out of rumours of the city I live in being on “high alert” led me to pick up a copy of the Deccan Chronicle two days ago.

As I flipped through pages after pages on terror attacks and threats of further attacks, there it was: an inconspicuous article ominously titled “Dangers of a Liberated Age”.

I then began reading what was one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever encountered.

The writer enumerated the ‘lessons to be learnt’ from the murder of Swathi, a young woman killed in broad daylight while waiting for a train in the heart of Chennai, in what the writer calls a case of “unrequited love”.

I should’ve stopped reading right there but I continued, hoping this was some kind of a joke.

Unrequited love. We’ve all been there. Yet I don’t remember the last time I obsessively stalked a man (at least in real life), no matter how much I thought I loved him. I’m pretty sure I haven’t hacked men to death each time they failed to reciprocate my romantic feelings. I don’t remember the last time I threw acid on a man for breaking up with me.

The writer goes on to give us ‘liberated’, modern women some advice: accepting a friend request “on a whim”, can be dangerous. You know, women need to be careful since we’ve become “emboldened” by the “freedom” and “choice” this liberated age offers.

Yup, treating women like human beings can be dangerous- what if we start believing we have the right to our own bodies and lives? Imagine the chaos!

Modern women should do more to protect their privacy, he (I assume it’s a man), says. No shit. Not like we’ve grown up being taught how to make ourselves and our bodies smaller just to protect ourselves from violence.

So once again, the cause of her murder wasn’t “unrequited love”- it was a man, who like many other men, was raised with a false sense of entitlement and a twisted notion of masculinity which led him to believe women owed him something. It was a culture that tells men that women are objects to be won, to be acquired, while denying women the right to say ‘no’.

I don’t care if Swathi called this man ugly. I don’t care if she didn’t “love him back”. It doesn’t matter if they were in a relationship and she broke up with him. It doesn’t even matter if she left him at the goddamn altar. It wasn’t her fault. It doesn’t justify murder.

misogyny 2

Men, Please Don’t Preach

I’m often asked why there is such a long gap between my articles. My response is always the same: that I need something to make me really mad, an experience that agitates me enough to write about it. Usually, it takes a while, but I don’t worry much- I know that sooner or later I will have an experience, a conversation that will make me want to tear my hair out.

A couple of days ago, against my better judgment, I got into an argument on Facebook with someone who shared an article on the women’s compartment in the Delhi metro being a “symbol of patriarchy” (*facepalm*).

I found myself explaining why safe spaces for women are necessary, why travelling harassment-free is not a privilege, and how separate compartments are an effective (yet flawed) solution.

What followed was a barrage of mansplaining: separating the “victim” and the “oppressor” isn’t a solution; women need to speak up against harassment. You need to defend yourself.

Wow, really? My little feminine brain would’ve never thought of that.

I was asked why I was getting so angry, after all, it was just meant to be a healthy discussion.

What was just a healthy discussion to him was something I experience every day of my life.

Speaking up isn’t easy when at the age of 16, a random man gropes you outside school, looks you in the eye and walks away like it was nothing.

Speaking up isn’t easy when you’re standing on the footpath dumbfounded after a man old enough to be your father asks you for a blowjob while you’re on your way to the bus stand after college.

Speaking up isn’t easy at the age of 14, when a stranger walks in while you’re alone at your grandma’s house, gropes you and leaves (and yes, this happened in “fully literate” Kerala).

I am angry because every woman I know and spoke to about this article had similar experiences.

I am angry because my sister was sexually harassed in a temple when she was 10 years old.

I am angry because my best friend called me one night, about ten years ago, sounding frantic because a man was masturbating beneath her window.

I’m angry because many of you will read this and go “Not All Men” instead of thinking “Yes, All Women”.

The simple solution of women “speaking up” against unwanted sexual advances gets complicated by the fact that men who violate women probably haven’t been taught how to handle rejection very well.

Women would definitely speak up against harassment more often, if only there were no possibility of them being shot to death, being burnt alive, or doused in acid.

So I am angry because every time I step out in public, I have to make myself smaller, inconspicuous, just so that I can get to my destination without having my body and space violated.

And that is something that cis gendered heterosexual men will never understand. So no, you don’t get to tell me what to do when I’m harassed. And you definitely don’t get to decide what’s best for women.

 

mansplain

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