It has been with much bemusement that I watched the travails of India’s cricketing duo of Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul. The furor over their deservedly misogynistic statements set me thinking about a time almost two years ago when a guy I had never met stalked my social profiles and incessantly harassed me for a day using a phone number found on our Trippin Traveller website.
That guy’s actions were motivated ostensibly to get back at his girlfriend. He never apologized for his actions, but more revealingly, when my friend called out his actions as being ‘psychotic,’ the woman in question called it unfair, blocked us, and shut the door down on both of us. It’s only in India that a victim can feel punished. What’s more, in a carefully worded email last year, the same woman wrote that she doesn’t feel ‘sufficient regret or remorse’ for those actions. You smile at that because there is nothing else you can say to that. But instances such as these also bring me to this rather startling observation: A woman’s worst enemy in India is often the woman.
While social movements like the #MeToo movement might have brought to light some of the deep-rooted maladies in Indian culture, what I haven’t seen is a real transformation in attitude. Not from the Indian man – he is an evolving mess. But from the Indian woman. We are still brought up in pink, swaddling our selves in the opinions of others, and drowning our thoughts in living out the thoughts of others. We think that marriage is everything, motherhood is bliss, and that our lives are to be defined by the presence or absence of a man. This is how we propagate the Indian woman misogynist:
“He cooks also!”
Probably, one of the most deeply entrenched attitudes is the question of having a partner who cooks! Over time, and across generations, it’s considered a matter of pride if you have a father/brother/husband who cooks. The people who feel the most pride are inevitably the mothers/daughters/wives/sisters who think it’s the God-given birthright of the woman to spend hours in the kitchen. And the people who most feel pleased about the man who cooks? The woman. Of course!
Every time you make it an exception and call out a man for his cooking, you are feeding into the belief that a man who helps out in the kitchen is being a wonderful man. No. He isn’t. There is nothing wonderful about taking your share of the work. Take pride in your cooking, but let it not be an achievement if a man does so.
Being in the kitchen is not your womanly duty. And stop praising the men who do!
Giving up your career to follow the man
This is the most common thing I have seen. The minute you get married, for reasons I still can’t fathom, a woman feels that it’s her duty to give up her career/job. Now, this will ruffle a few feathers – my intention is not to ruffle those feathers. If you are happy giving up your job to take care of the house and the kids, be so. This is not a judgment, but a reflection on the decisions we make, not out of choice, but because it’s the done thing. I am questioning the norm, not personal choices.
I have never quite been able to forgive my friend for going over to Dublin, Ireland when we were just starting our company in 2014 to follow her husband. Our start-up never recovered from that mess. (Don’t worry! My friend is still one of the greatest blessings in my life, my rock, and support, and our conflict in 2015 has only made us stronger with a more profound commitment to each other than ever before. We are more married to each other in our friendship than we can be in our love for our boyfriends/husbands. Divorce is not an option in this friend-marriage). Yet, my friend’s move showed that we remain subservient to the idea of making ‘sacrifices.’
We give all sorts of reasons to justify these kinds of moves. “His salary is more, or his position is better than mine.” “The marriage is more important than my career.” Fine reasons, all of the above. But we are holding that pink bubble again – that bubble that tells you that, you, as the Indian woman, has not much value. Not as much as the Indian man.
And we look down upon women who also choose to pursue careers. We call them, “career-loving women,” with a hint of derision. Somehow, we don’t call men that. It’s natural for a man to love his job. Unnatural for a woman to also choose to make her mark in the professional world! And it’s almost always the woman who perpetuates this belief the most.
Now, how about being mothers? We are told to believe there is something wrong if we don’t have kids! “Maternal instinct,” lacking, perhaps?
Most men I have met respect my choices in life. The only ones who keep telling me to think of marriage? Women.
Defining yourself by the clothes you wear
Short hair is not womanly! Wearing trousers is not womanly! Who propagates these? Our dear Indian woman misogynist! Please throw those ideas into the bin of your mind.
Wear clothes that you are most comfortable with, for God’s beautiful sake, but let not the clothes define your sense of femininity and womanhood. You don’t become a woman because you wear a sari or a kurta! You are no less a woman if you wear jeans! Nor are you a woman if you wear skirts! Why do we allow ourselves into thinking that these kind of clothes are somehow more ‘feminine?’
I have had short hair for quite a while now. But I don’t think of myself as a boy. Nor do I care if that short hair is appealing or not appealing to a man. On the contrary, if I come across a man who dictates his attraction to me based on the type of clothes I wear, I would run a mile from such a man. Yet, woman after woman succumbs to appearing good for someone else. We workout not because we want to feel good in our bodies, but because we are obsessed about reaching a certain figure. We are our own body shamers – every time you look in the mirror and don’t feel proud and wonderstruck at that beautiful body you have, you are propagating the idea of a body based on someone else’s concept of it!
I don’t care if you have curves or midriffs. I don’t care if your thighs can swaddle a cow. Are you healthy? Are you working on mental and physical health? That’s all that matters. Love every cell and allow us to breathe freer in our bodies.
How to be less of an Indian woman misogynist?
- Wear the clothes you want. Don’t call them manly or feminine. They are clothes. Meant to cover your so-called ‘shame.’
- Always have financial independence. I am yet to come across a reasonable woman who loves to swipe her husband’s credit cards without a twinge. Getting married is no reason to give up your financial independence. I know that some people tell me that “There is no such thing as your money and my money in a marriage. That is not a true marriage.” Well, truth is a paradox, and no one has the handle on marriage. Life is uncertain – divorces happen, infidelities mar us, spouses can die. Living off someone else is not useful in such instances.
- Don’t celebrate marriage. Don’t celebrate singledom. There is nothing glorious about getting married. And nothing demeaning or glorious about being single. Don’t think of marriage as an achievement or a goal in your life. Don’t make the man the focus of your life. No one can be everything. Only you can be that for yourself. Our rotting insides can house no one at death but us.
- And please don’t become parents without thinking. I have seen tired parents who don’t know why they have kids. They just run around the whole day with the kids, leading a life of immense busyness, and don’t have an answer if I ask them if they are happy. Let’s stop the glorification of busyness. Most of the time, I have observed, once the marriage has reached a particular stage, the next focus is on the children. Your life has meaning then, you think. No. We don’t add meaning to our lives at different stages. We realize that there is no meaning. Like the Buddha wrote: Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.
Here’s what I think are alternate goals:
- My goal is to be healthier in mind and body
- My goal is to form a loving network of warm relationships
- My goal is to introspect and reflect at every step
- My goal is to stretch myself out of my comfort blankets
- My goal is laugh, love, run, and help where I can
- My goal is to spread compassion and kindness
- My goal is to be financially independent
See the difference?
- Don’t believe social media. No one is happy. No one. Trust me. I am not either. We have moments of happiness. That odd rose-tinged sunset. That kiss from a lover. That hug from a friend. That touch of a flower. The smile of the moon. But we are not and can’t be happy all the time. Don’t be swayed by the deceptive, Instagrammed-lives of polished perfection and try to imitate that in every way. Happiness is not a state of being. It’s a state of choice. And that choice is something that only you can exercise.
- Don’t watch silly Indian movies that propagate the idea of the macho-Indian man. I rarely watch Indian movies that glorify the pursuit of the woman against her wishes. Many Tamil, Telugu, and other South Indian movies are notorious for glorifying the man with the woman as his vassal. Don’t spend your money watching the objectification of women. There are so many offbeat treasures of Indian cinema that are now available on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Movies that cater to the masses – well, leave them for the masses.
- Don’t cover up bad behavior and call it ‘men will be men.’ Let us not cover our bruises and say we ‘got hit by the door.’ Let us not condone lousy behavior that glorifies stalking as passion. Don’t be the other woman in an affair.
Let us take the shattered, bruised, shallow, miserable self that we are. Let us take all of it. Let us breathe into the pain. Let us not give out that pain. Let us celebrate the light that is part of every tunnel of darkness. Let us move the sapphire rubies of hurt away. Let us be there. For one another. Wear the clothes you want. Take the job you like. Make choices because they are yours to make and not society’s. Be that woman of love.