Category Archives: Gender bender

>Did my blog get stereotyped?

Very recently, I realised that I was reading barely a couple of blogs by men! And then I realised, that there are hardly any men reading my blog. Or at least commenting here. Except for a very few. How is that? Do men not feel welcome here?

The answer could be in the question – why don’t I read any men’s blogs? I used to, till they all became very irregular. Like UsP’s. And the Quirky Indian’s, and Rambunctious WhipperSnapper among a couple of others. But obviously, I can’t start reading blogs to correct the gender imbalance in my blog roll.

On the other hand, while I know I bring a feminist point of view to a lot of things, do I write essentialy feminine stuff that men can’t relate to?  I talk about myself a great deal here, but that shouldn’t make men wary of this blog now. And if it does, that thought is so offensive to the woman in me! I also talk a great deal about society, and other vague stuff that’s not necessarily classified into masculine/feminine categories. So why is it that men don’t make their presence felt too often around here?

However, I do see quite a few of the male species on the Followers’ list. So, will the men out there, please stand up?

To the women, I’d like to ask – is blogging something women take to more than men? If yes, then what is it about blogging that appeals more to a woman’s sensibilities?

Advertisements

>Is there enough leg room on the court?

>

By now, all of you must’ve heard about the Badminton World Federation’s new rule for women players making skirts compulsory on the court to popularise the sport. Now, in India there’ve been reactions from the badminton players supporting and showing dissent against the new rule. While Saina Nehwal doesn’t think her wearing shorts or skirts on court will affect the number of people watching her, Aparna Bopanna and Jwala Gutta have no problem with the new directive. The latest is that due to stiff resistance from Indian players, the BWF has pushed back the date of implementing the rule.

But the resistance is not so much to the spirit of the rule as to wearing skirts, and I think that’s just missing the point. Why is no one questioning the BWF’s rationale that a woman’s sport must be glamorous in order for it to be popular? Why is no one asking how the Federation plans to popularise men’s badminton? Surely, not by having them play shirtless! So why then should a woman’s sport be subjected to such a ridiculous assumption?

At the end of the day, what we’re doing is objectifying women who’re in a sport because they can play the sport, not because they can look a certain way. If more people watch badminton because there’s more skin at display on the court, what’s being popularised is not the sport but the notion that women are objects on display.

I’m ready to convert to another point of view – one that convinces me that there is nothing sexist about this move and that if they had to make a men’s sport also popular they would glam it up. I agree, glamour attracts a lot of eyeballs, a lot. But that’s no justification for us to ask women with a certain skill set to pander to such demands. What happens next? Do we ask women wrestlers to look more feminine because that would attract more fans, and do we ask women basketball players to wear body-hugging racer-back tees? And the men can continue to be sloppy, muscular and just good at their game?

If a sport has to be popularised, there must be other ways to do it. If cricket is so hugely popular in countries like India, it’s because we’ve had players who can win us matches. There’s glamour in the game, but that’s come because of the sport’s popularity. And even then, Sachin is by no stretch of imagination what you call glamorous. Neither was Kapil Dev. So what’s the connection?

>Li’l things you do for me and nobody else…

>Are you enjoying the latest Vodafone commercials as much as I am? The one with the school girls?

It takes me back instantly to my school days – those years spent in powder blue skirts and blouses (and bloomers too, on days you followed the rules), plaited hair with matching ribbons to tie on the ends. Or hairbands and knee-length socks, shiny black shoes. Or white canvas keds for PT days, whitened using the school chalk generously. The years spent with girl friends.

Yes, I studied all my life in an all-girls school, and however uncool it may sound, they were so much fun. So there’s always this comparison about how all-girls or all-boys schools are so boring, so stereotyped. And that the kids studying there come out all wide-eyed about being in the company of the opposite sex. Not true, I say.

I spent 14 years in all-girls schools and three more in an all-girls college and I never missed the boys! It wasn’t a conscious decision, you know, to maintain a distance from the boys, but that’s how things panned out for me. And out of the school and college campuses, it wasn’t as if I didn’t not know how to handle male attention when it came my way. And I did not end up doing things to attract it. I have friends who’ve studied in co-educations schools, and I don’t think they’re any different than me. We’re only as different as two individuals can be. So I don’t understand this differentiation between co-ed and all-girls schools. I understand the differentiation between a good and bad school.

For the record, I am not againt co-education. I think it’s very healthy, etc. But I also don’t think that studying with girls decapacitated me in any way. On the contrary, I think being in a gender neutral environment helped, at least me, to look at myself for the person I was, and not the girl that a boy would see in me. And there are so many things I remember fondly about being in the environment that I was. There’s such comfort in not dying in embarrassment if you have a stain on your skirt in school, or you haven’t waxed your legs to roll down your socks, or having a cat fight without any gender stereotyping! And then there’s no shame in being a bright student, of being labelled a ‘padakhu’, of being a straight-As student. Those rather ‘uncool’ things are considered aspirational in an all-girls school.

No, I’m not oblivious to the joys of studying with boys. The Guy studied in a co-education school and I can rattle off all his school memories as well as him, because I’ve heard ’em discussed a zillion times between friends. And I know, they had a ball! They were fun and flirty years. And I’d be lying if I said I feel just a tad jealous. But in all fairness, my school years may not have been high on those same parameters, but they still had a sweetness. Like the sweetness of pine trees in the woods – subtle but unforgettable.

>Wanted: A working homemaker

>It’s been more than 8 years of non-stop work for me, and I still don’t know how a teenager who wanted to grow up to do nothing turned into semi-workaholic me. My biggest high in life, for now, is work. And the three years when I was still working but had it easier, I fretted over how I was frittering away my time when I could do so much more. I put a lot of my other life on hold to carry on with work, but it gives me joy.

Having said that, I sometimes grudge the fact that my absence from home for most part of the day makes me less part of the family than the domestic helpers who spend the entire day at my place. I often have the feeling that they’re part of the family life I’m missing out on because I’m at work. For those who don’t know, I live in a joint family, with my in-laws. And I worry, lesser now than I used to in the initial years of my marriage, that by being away from home for such long hours I am making myself totally dispensable to the ‘family’. Everything can happen without me, ‘can’ being the keyword here. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it does.

I know a lot of full time working women – women who don’t just have jobs but careers. And I know they also have this underlying insecurity, like I do. More so if they are mothers. So I know I’m not the odd one out. But I guess it is one of those things I have to make my peace with. And to a great extent I already have. It’s the remainder that still bothers me occasionally.

It’s sad that whenever a woman chooses to step out of the house to work, she’s leaving behind a part of her life she would like to take along with her. What is it – our conditioning or our emotional constitution – that makes us want to inhabit two worlds at the same time? Sometimes I wonder if it really wouldn’t have been better if women had continued to play the role of dedicated homemakers, living to every stereotype of wife, mum, daughter, whatever instead of straddling two worlds and spending their lives trying to bridge the divide between the two. I know I would be a more relaxed person if I didn’t have in my head the idea of working. Or if I did, it would be better if I didn’t also have the idea of being a homemaker while away at work. Then I could just put my head and heart into one thing. Where did this idea of ‘woman of substance’ come from, of this woman who can manage both the worlds efficiently? What kind of superwomen set such high-stress precedents for the rest to follow?

At no point am I suggesting that I’d like to retire from my work and take up the stay-at-home role, simply because I cannot. It’s not me. I do wish though I could get rid of compunctions to be a ‘complete’ woman. Is there such a thing as a complete woman, as the Raymond ad would like to sell to us the idea of a complete man?

>Too Strong a Woman for a Man to Want

>If breaking stereotypes is a sin, I must be Devil’s child. So when Goofy tagged me to enumerate all My Sins against Gender Stereotypes, I thought I’d fill reams and reams of pages. However, when I did get down to writing them out, I realised there was something I had already written that made perfect sense to re-post now, with a little tweaking. Here goes:

Too strong a woman for a man to want,
The woman, they say, who wears the pants at home.
I ain’t coy and I ain’t shy,
And I won’t wait for life to pass me by.
I love my work and would rather be
In my office, than at home counting the laundry.
I can think faster than the man next to me,
Won’t ask him for some silly little pocket money.
And because I’m married and don’t have children yet
Must mean my that husband is henpecked?
And because I have an opinion on things
I’m not the kind of wife a man must bring.
Since I am only pretty and not naive,
I’m far from the “perfect” wife!
I can stand up for myself, speak my mind
Won’t take his surname and give up mine.
I’m sorry if I don’t fit your stereotype:
I flirt a little and get drunk on wine.
I don’t have a mangalsutra,
And don’t wear the vermilion.
If I live away from home,
Because I have an ambition,
I must be too strong for a man to want.

>And some days, I wish I was a man

>I love being a woman. On most days. Other times, I feel frustrated, angry and very helpless. Because I am a woman.

A few days ago, I got free early from work and decided to take an auto to the closest decent eating place. I learnt a long time ago that trying to make friends at office is futile – and anyway, that’s not what I am there for. So there I was, all alone in an auto, happy at the thought of digging into a plateful of pasta and chicken. I got the auto right oustide the office, and we were speeding off to my place of choice. At the first red light, an SUV stopped a little away from my auto – black tinted glasses, blaring music – the vulgar signs of money, brazenness and danger in a city like Delhi. I didn’t pay much attention to it, till the guy in the passenger seat opened the door and signalled at me. The door shut when I averted my face. I glanced back. This time the guy in the rear seat had opened the door and was jeering at me. I ignored, because in that situation it was the best I could do. And prayed the light would turn green and the monster SUV would zip away and not chase me.

And that’s what happened – they drove away, after rolling down the windows, staring some more at me from their moving cars and laughing, as if it had been some kind of cruel joke. Those guys in the SUV, perverts obviously, were probably just enjoying the stricken look on my face when they opened and shut their car doors menacingly. They probably were getting their kick by just scaring a girl. And I’m supposed to thank my lucky stars they didn’t intend any worse than that!

A little way ahead, about half a kilometre, another car slowed down next to the auto. A sedan, this time. There was no one but the guy in the driver’s seat. By the looks of him, you’d call him decent, almost suave. But he peered inside the auto several times, giving away the truth behind that face. Unlike the men in the SUV, who seemed physically threatening, this guy was just checking me out. Not just checking out the way a guy would harmlessly check out a girl, but probably, trying his luck. You know, if I would give him the cue to stop the car, haggle a price (or maybe not) and get in with him. And he probably thought he could think that because I was alone in the auto at, what, 8.45 pm? I’ve never been looked at like that. And some part of me felt shamed for having given such notions to a man. Some part of me felt absolutely disgusted. And all of me felt miserable.

There’s no justification for a man to treat a woman like that, to make her feel so vulnerable, so frighteningly unsafe, so helpess in just a glance and a gesture. I felt stupid thinking I had plans of enjoying a meal! I felt stupid for being a woman! And I felt frightened at the thought of coming back t’he 2.5 km stretch – yes, that’s all the distance there was between my office and the market – in an auto.

I wept. Scared to call up anyone, because either they would scold me for venturing out alone or they’d be too scared for me – as women, even though we can’t shield ourselves, we always try to shield the people around us. And that minute, I hated being a woman, hated being so powerless to defend myself. What precaution could I have taken to make myself invulnerable to those men on the street? On a crowded street where everyone’s too busy with their lives to stop and stand up for you? On a busy road in the country capital? Is safety really a luxury for women?

>What’s a man’s job?

>Or a woman’s, for that matter? And who decides?

Sometimes important questions are raised in seemingly unimportant conversations. Yesterday, one of our banker friends came over for some work. His parents – his mother, more specifically – are running a school in the city for some 700 children. And I candidly asked him if he also helps them out. “I think it’s more of a woman’s job,” he replied without taking a minute to pause and think. The Guy and I reacted with just an amused expression on our faces because The Guy does run a kindergarten school and is designated as Principal there, though he is involved in a lot of managerial level work and teaching per se.

I wasn’t just amused by that reply, I was also slightly taken aback. I know of quite a few men who’ve been excellent teachers, famous and popular as well in their profession. And yet, teaching is a job we usually associate with women. So when I commented on a blog recently about how The Guy gave up his job in the corporate sector to do something of his own – start a playschool – it raised a few eyebrows, appreciative yet surprised. A man taking care of pre-schoolers is seen as unconventional because in her role as a mother and nurturer, a woman is expected to perfectly fit into the shoes of a teacher while a man is expected to be awkward and inept.

But women like me were never made to fit that cast. And men like The Guy do such a good job of it. Why the stereotyping then? Do people forget that the reason we celebrate September 5 as Teacher’s Day in India is to commemorate the birthday of a teacher who was not a woman but a man?

There are other reasons why the teaching profession is highly recommended for women – you go to work at the same time as your children go to school and come back with them. So you can perfect the balancing act between work and home with ease. Because managing home is also such a woman’s job, right? The rationale does not take into account the woman’s aptitude or her ability to be a good teacher. It’s a job that allows our patriarchal society to feel good about letting its women work without compromising on her role at home.

A teacher is such an important part of anyone’s growing up years that it’s unsettling to know that the profession is often deemed as an arrangement of convenience for women – a half-hearted attempt at allowing them to have a career.

It’s quite okay for a man to be a college prof or lecturer, but as a school teacher, he’s not seen as fulfilling his duties as the breadwinner of the family. It’s true that teachers in schools are usually underpaid. However, it’s also true that the education industry in our country is now booming. And a good teacher is much in demand even after school hours, for private tuitions and coachings that have become quite a norm with school-going children these days. Not too hard to figure out that the take-home package for teachers is more than decent now.

The boundaries between what a man can do and what a woman must do are blurring in most professions and there are stories aplenty of women who’ve broken into male bastions: army, stock brokering, real estate and what have you. It’s time now to let the men in to women strongholds.