Fighting like a girl



“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.


The Breakups Nobody Talks About


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”.


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.

BIBA- Same Old Samosas With a New Chutney

Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman



Here I am with the third instalment of the “Conditioning is for hair, Not Minds” – a series challenging gender stereotypes in media – in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, and the ad I’m taking on today is actually one that’s being hailed as progressive and gender inclusive by many on social media. That’s right; I’m talking about BIBA’s new “Change is Beautiful” ad. However, I’m disappointed to report that it’s not as ground breaking and stereotype changing as the makers would have you believe. Here’s a link to the video for those of you who haven’t already seen this.

The ad starts with a woman sitting at her dressing table, putting on a pair of ornate earrings. Her father enters her room, scolding her for not being ready yet. “Everyone is waiting downstairs”, he says. Without making eye contact for the most part, she asks meekly, how she is supposed to choose a husband over a plate of samosas. The father has no response, and only tells her to hurry up with a definitive and conversation ending “Jaldi karo!”.

The meeting goes well, and Aunty ji is impressed with Payal. “Toh main yeh rishta pakka samjhu?” she asks, and I’m left wondering what qualities of Payal she assessed to deem her the perfect bride for her son. Was it her academic and professional success, or her impeccable conversational and social skills? Was it the immense contribution she was making to the society through her work, or the widespread critical acclaim which the books authored by her had received? I’d never know, because while Payal could have any one or more of these things to her claim, she is neither asked, nor does she get to speak a single word about herself. So I’ll assume she based it solely on how Payal looks and her culinary skills (?) because that’s what the  conversation that follows is largely based around. Meanwhile, none of this has bothered Payal’s father who responds with “Of course! BUT..” and here comes the supposed ‘conversation changing’ plot twist. The father announces that he wants to visit the prospective groom’s house as well to check whether the he knows how to cook! Oh the drama!

Aunty Ji laughingly says that her darling son can’t even boil water, and can only make noodles in the microwave (at this point I’m thinking it’s really strange that the two people who are supposed to get married haven’t said a word to each other…also, I had no idea noodles could be cooked in a microwave). The father is unimpressed, saying his Payal can’t live on just noodles. Seriously uncle, let HER say that! Let her say SOMETHING! By this point, I’m channelling my inner Ross and thinking / begging “ANY words would do!” But wait, here comes the apparent double twist (cue ominous music) -– someone else FINALLY speaks up! Alas! It’s not Payal, who by this time could be mistaken for Narendra Modi during the intolerance debate. Instead, it is the groom-in-waiting, who asks uncle ji – not Payal – to come over to his house after ten days, promising he’d have learnt to cook something by then!

So let me get this straight, the girl is by default expected to cook and spend a major portion of her life first learning and then doing it, but if the guy promises to spend ten days watching Masterchef Australia to throw together a half decent plate of food, it is revolutionary?

Here is my problem, I couldn’t really tell what’s the real change.. What is different? The woman still had absolutely no say in whom she marries, and her doubts are nonchalantly dismissed by her father. The entire conversation is conducted and controlled by the father, the woman in question doesn’t say a word and I barely even see her mother. The prospective mother-in-law seems rather proud that her son doesn’t possess the basic life skills required to sustain himself, and the entire discussion takes place as though the woman whom he is hoping to marry isn’t even in the room. So much so, that Payal isn’t even acknowledged by the boy at the very last second of the film.

So basically, the “change” is represented through the man who asks if his future son-in-law can cook and the man who says he will learn how to cook -– TO PLEASE HIS FUTURE FATHER IN LAW! That’s great, really.

Except it’s not.

Know why? Because women and men should both know how to cook. The ability to feed oneself shouldn’t depend on one’s gender. So are we really expected to be thrilled about the fact that a grown man decided to figure his way around a kitchen and cook something other than instant noodles?

I’m sorry to find that the “inspiring” ad film doesn’t question what really needs to be questioned- a woman’s complete lack of autonomy over her life, her decisions, her body. Payal could have done so much more- maybe had a conversation with her father and her mother (!) about her doubts. Or maybe had an actual conversation with the man she was supposed to marry. Maybe she could have said no altogether. Perhaps that is too drastic a change for Indian advertising to consider – but you know what, it’s 2016 and instant noodles are probably on their way out anyway.


Everest Masalas- Don’t Serve Us Gender Roles with Dinner, Please

 Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman




Here is the second installment under the “Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds” series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman.

I am so thankful that the first post received a great response, as well as suggestions for the next advertisement to be reviewed- as a result, the ad I am reviewing today is by Everest Masalas, and was suggested by one of the readers on the SMIW page-Richa Agarwal.
The commercial starts with a woman in her office, thinking of, or rather vividly picturing her daughter asking her “Aaj kya banega?” (What will you make today?). She goes home, looking mildly frustrated and asks her two kids and husband, “roz roz kya banaun?”(What am I supposed to cook every day?) Her husband and kids shrug, but worry not; Everest has 41 different types of masalas to make her job easier! The wife then effortlessly cooks up an array of dishes, no gender roles are questioned, and all is well.
I am used to Indian commercials’ one dimensional portrayal of women. No matter what the product is, washing powder, cornflakes, milk, electronics-a woman is almost always shown to be at home, waiting for her husband to get back from work, getting her kids ready for school/ waiting for them to come home from school..It goes on and on. I will concede that things are changing, though not nearly fast enough.

Here, a woman was shown at work, in a public space- still fretting about what to cook for her family. However, what really got to me about this particular commercial were the nonchalant shrugs of her kids and husband. I mean, your wife just got home after a long day at work- it wouldn’t kill you to get off the couch and cook something- or maybe to have had a hot meal waiting for her at home!

The commercial ends with the wife serving an elaborate meal to her family, and all of them look unnaturally happy-and the male (obviously) voiceover tells us that, “Taste Mein Best, Mummy aur Everest”-because no matter what a woman pursues and achieves outside her home, her ultimate worth lies in cooking the perfect idlis on one day and rajma-chawal the next.

Commercials don’t just sell us products- they sell us ideas, aspirations and lifestyles. So generic, heteronormative, Hindu, well-to-do families sell us everything from instant noodles to life insurance- and women in particular are shown to find ultimate joy in serving their kids hot meals, washing their clothes, packing their tiffins.. even when they have hobbies and careers of their own.
Taking care of kids and a home is a tough and undervalued job- and whether it be “working” women or homemakers- women have a lot more to them than their cooking and cleaning skills. So come up with an ad where a wife is reading the newspaper, and the husband is preparing breakfast. Where a husband cleans the house while the wife is at her language class. Or maybe where a wife is pursuing a PhD while the husband takes care of the kids!

It’s time Indian advertising started pushing the envelope- upper caste, heterosexual Hindus aren’t the only community that exist in this country, but maybe it’s too radical to expect any sort of diversity in that regard just yet. However, the last time I checked, sabzi masala didn’t come with a “to be used by women only” label- and mummy doesn’t always have to be, or even care about being “taste mein best”- because there are a lot of other things we’d rather be better at.


Not So Funny, Mrs. Funnybones

I’ve been suffering from a serious case of writer’s block for the last few weeks- every time I sat down to write a new post I’d give up after a few minutes because I didn’t feel like I had anything specific to say- nothing had agitated me enough, nothing  had made me angry enough.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long. I’d almost zoned out while scrolling down my Facebook homepage last night when a post caught my eye- someone on my list had “liked” an article- “Why I Am Not a Feminist” by Twinkle Khanna aka Mrs. Funnybones

Now I have read and enjoyed a few of her pieces, especially the one on myths about menstruation, but I had a sneaking suspicion I wouldn’t particularly like this one- I still tried to keep an open mind, took a deep breath and clicked on the link.

Very predictably it began with how Mrs. Khanna isn’t a bra burning feminist, because at her age she needs all the Victoria’s Secret uplifting support she can get- sigh. Firstly, feminists actually never did burn their bras, and secondly, I consider myself a pretty outspoken feminist- and anyone who knows me at all can tell you that if my house were on fire, I’d risk my life only to save my dog and my lingerie.

On a more serious note though, her simplistic explanation for not being a feminist made me want to pull my hair out. Apparently pre term boys have a much lower survival rate and baby girls are much more likely to survive- all scientifically true, I’m sure, she just forgot to mention the minor fact that female foeticide in India has reached genocide proportions (UNICEF’s words, not mine). So yes, maybe pre term baby girls have a higher chance of survival, but the fact is that most of them don’t even live to see the light of day.

She goes on to talk about how it has been scientifically proven that girls are more intelligent than boys. Also true, I’m sure. Every year newspaper headlines tell us that “Girls beat boys in the board exams”-but is Mrs. Funnybones seriously implying we don’t need feminism because girls score 98% and boys score 96? Way to erase all the complex hurdles women face all their lives that hinder their professional growth, Mrs. Funnybones. Girls are more intelligent than boys, yes, but I’d really love for her to explain why the number of female students steadily decreases from the Bachelor’s to the Doctoral level, why only 3% of over 400 universities in India have female Vice Chancellors, and why women form only about 11% of the Indian Parliament.

Finally she says that women have healthier hearts and we outlive men by at least ten years- this made me laugh. I do not doubt the validity of this statement- we women could go through life without any heart related complications and outlive men by ten, maybe twenty years- this rosy picture however gets complicated by the fact that one woman is killed over dowry every hour  in this country, and close to 900 women are raped, harassed and killed by men daily.

It’s so very easy for us who have the privileges of caste, class and wealth to dismiss a movement and an ideology like feminism, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt in the last few months, it’s that privilege tends to blind- so take those blinkers off and take a look around, Mrs. Funnybones. There’s a world beyond the bubble that you’re living in and it’s one where feminism is as relevant as ever.


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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