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Fighting like a girl

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Smashing The Patriarchy

Thank you, Women’s Studies.

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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.

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.

‘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.

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You Are Not A “Male” Feminist. You Are A Feminist.

“Men who want to be feminists need not be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist”.

-Kelley Temple

For some reason, this year began with a number of my male friends accusing my writing of being “alienating” and “scary”. I was told (by a man), that I’ve got feminism all wrong, and apparently, male bashing is a hobby of mine. I found myself holding back on my immediate expletive-laced response, instead convincing them that feminism is for everyone. That I don’t hate men. That of course, not all men are misogynists.

It did get me thinking about this post. I realized that yes, my writing is confrontational. It is angry. It is hostile. I also realized that I really don’t care.

I don’t care that men feel alienated. I don’t care that they think I hate men. I don’t care that they don’t feel included. I don’t care if it was “just a joke”. I don’t care that it was “just a compliment”. And I definitely don’t care that “not all men” are “that bad”.

I was told that I need to “be nicer”-so that feminist men– men who respect women (“I would never hit a woman!”), who believe in equality, can be given a real space within feminism. Obviously, my tone needs to be more amiable, so that men can be convinced that feminism isn’t just “reverse sexism”, and can be sure that they have “nothing to be scared of” (I am seriously not making this up).

So I just want to tell the men reading this (if any), that if you find an article on the internet scary/ intimidating- you wouldn’t survive a second as a woman in India-where your mere existence puts you in a state of danger. Where someone can walk into your home and molest you. Where you take it for granted that you will be leched at, or worse, every time you step out of your house. Where you always have one hand in your pocket holding on to your pepper spray on your way home from work. Where you can get raped and murdered on the way back from a movie. Where you can be killed, just for being female, even before you are born.

Yes I am livid, because you and I inhabit two very different worlds- one where I am asked why I am “so easy” and advised to “play hard to get”, while you are slapped on the back for being such a “stud”. I live in a world where my friends come back from a walk at 7 pm, telling me how they were stopped by a policeman and asked why they were walking outside at “such an hour”. I live in a world where I am called a bitch for voicing an opinion and you are lauded for your outspokenness.

It is therefore not my job to make space for you, and it is not my job to make you feel welcome. You are not a male feminist, you are a feminist, plain and simple, and it is your job to empathise ( and never start a sentence with “not all men….”), and understand that you lead a highly privileged existence as a straight, cis gendered upper caste man-and you do play a part in the systems of oppression you are challenging. This is what feminism needs from men.

So it’s great that you are “not like other men”. It’s great that you respect women and believe in equality- but that shouldn’t be something special. It should be the norm- so no; you don’t get a cookie for being a decent human being.

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No, I Won’t Stop “Sounding Angry”

When a friend of mine asked me to review Angry Indian Goddesses, I was quite apprehensive. I don’t have what is generally considered “good taste” in films. I’m a little ashamed to admit that my films of choice are cheesy chick flicks that end with confessions of love and kisses in the snow. However, I was instantly intrigued by the trailer of AIG- I loved the soundtrack, and being Women’s Studies students, my friends and I HAD to watch this movie that called itself “India’s first female buddy film”.

I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it wasn’t going to be without problems-and there were a few- slightly clichéd characters, a rather dramatic second half and a somewhat utopian conclusion.  Either way, I’m not in a position to review the film because I launched into a full on sob-fest ten minutes in. I’m not sure what it was. I saw myself in some of the characters- laughing, sipping cocktails, and talking about boys-and each going through her own existential crisis- something I have on a pretty much daily basis. What am I doing with my life? Do I love what I do? What if my career goes nowhere…it’s constant and relentless.

I think my tears were those of sadness, confusion, and in part, a strange kind of happiness-it felt personally liberating to see women being so unabashedly themselves. So unapologetically brash. Checking out that hot shirtless neighbour washing the Ambassador (a scene I particularly enjoyed). Getting sloshed and talking about men, sex and love. Shedding inhibitions and just, dancing. Barging into the “men’s restroom”- because when you really, really need to pee, gender doesn’t matter (as it shouldn’t in most situations). I loved how these women didn’t have to be “masculine” (Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani, anyone?) in order to be strong. Whether it was the typical upper class Delhi housewife, the struggling musician with feathers in her hair, or the aspiring actress- each was tough in her unique way.

While I was reading up a little on the movie for this post, I stumbled upon some predictable reactions- MRAs .i.e Men’s Rights Activists (yes, apparently that’s a thing now) going on about how the film advocates “reverse sexism” (LOL), how the definition of equality doesn’t imply women going into men’s restrooms, how the solution to men harassing women isn’t women leching at hot shirtless men.

I don’t want to get into a detailed rant with regard to this but can we please stop acting like women checking out men are the same as men harassing women? I’d like any man reading this to think back to the last time a woman on the street made you uncomfortable- when was the last time a woman on the street flashed you? Touched you without your consent? Or maybe touched herself while sitting next to you in an auto? Called you a pataka/ phuljhari/ asked you to perform sexual acts on her while you were walking down the street? Yep. Didn’t think so. However, for a lot of women, our first introduction (?) to male genitalia was not in our biology books- it was that creepy man at the bus stop, outside our schools, outside our homes who decided we had to watch him unzip whether we liked it or not.

I read somewhere that director Pan Nalin is receiving death threats for the “objectionable content” in this movie. I’m sadly not surprised. The problem, or rather the “objectionable content” in this film isn’t those women going into male restrooms- it’s what that action represents- that these women are behaving in a way that is not expected of them, in a way that defies our conditioning. Conditioning that tells us we need to apologize for taking up space, for speaking loudly, for dancing uninhibitedly, for being angry, for being ourselves. Well, enough of that. It’s time for women to be absolutely enraged- so maybe skip Tamasha and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo this week, and catch a show of Angry Indian Goddesses- you won’t regret it.aig

“Aurat nadi ke samaan hoti hai”….no. Not really.

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.

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Hello world!

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a while now-there have been so many things I’ve wanted to write about, but I’ve been too scared. Taking the first step in doing anything at all is always frightening, but once that’s done, the next steps seem so much easier- and that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now. So many things have happened in the last few weeks that I’ve wanted to express opinions on, and now I’m just going to dive right into the latest incident (?) that’s made me question the kind of society we live in.

I woke up yesterday thanks to some really loud screaming on TV.  Mom was watching the news, and anchors were yelling themselves hoarse on the verdict in Salman Khan’s hit and run case. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. I don’t know anything on the law and I can’t comment on whether the quantum of punishment was justified. I heard a lot of arguments on the news about how sentences in the Alistair Pereira case and the Sanjeev Nanda case were much lighter, given the fact that they had killed a larger number of people, and Salman had “only” killed one. I understand that “the law is reason free from passion” (no, I’m not an avid follower of Aristotle, I know the quote thanks to Legally Blonde), but this kind of utilitarian approach to human life did manage to shock me.

I obviously don’t know Salman personally, and I’m sure he is a lovely person who has done a lot for charity, but he did kill a man and has been duly punished. Of course I saw a lot of status updates expressing solidarity with “Bhai” (also I have a major problem with this infantilizing of grown men like Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt by calling them names like “Bhai” and “Baba”, as if it in any way absolves them of the crimes they have committed) , but I do understand it can be traumatic to see someone you love and idolize go to prison. But once again, not only did he kill a man, he also fled the scene, denied all charges, and last month, tried to get his driver to take the fall.

Now,  the point I wanted to come to- we as a society tend to idolize sports persons and film stars, and so on to a point where we are blind to their flaws completely. Salman Khan has been breaking all kinds of laws for a while now, and PLEASE can we not forget that he serially abuses women-Somy Ali and Aishwarya Rai being two cases in point. I’ve read somewhere that Aishwarya Rai’s parents had to file a police complaint because Salman had been stalking her. Of course, he also abused her regularly. I hope you aren’t thinking, “Why didn’t they just leave”, because that discussion is going to require another post altogether. Let’s ask instead, why do we love and look up to this man who obviously has some serious anger issues? Why has Bollywood been rallying around him knowing he physically and emotionally abused one of “their own”?

Worldwide, men who regularly abuse women or have been accused of doing so in the past continue to be admired, continue to be cherished, continue to earn accolades, and continue to earn obscene amounts of money- Roman Polanksi, Eminem, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen, Bill Cosby, and most recently, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the two contenders in a multi-million dollar boxing bout that was broadcast worldwide.

I could go on and on but can we as a society please stop worshipping these men who are regularly violent against women? Can we please realize that women’s experiences count?  Before we go looking for answers, we need to look into ourselves and start asking the right questions.

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