The Changing Role of Dads

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a homemaker (when my kids were little), I was in this playgroup of 5 kids and their parents. 4 of them were moms and there was one dad. It was my first time meeting a full time stay-at-home dad. He was completely capable and handled tantrums, diaper leaks, eating disasters, and slushy mud puddles with ease and a great sense of humor. This was about 10 years ago.

Now I meet stay-at-home dads everywhere – in my neighborhood, at work, at my kids’ school, in my support group. Some of them work from home. Some of them run businesses from home.  Others take care of their little kids and the house full time.

In the last post, Chaiwallah brought up the point about a man being discriminated for being a homemaker. I do not see this discrimination as something separate (men’s suffering versus women’s suffering in patriarchy) but as connected. The more we encourage gentleness and caring in boys, the more nurturing and helpful they will be at home when they become parents. Dads doing their fair share at home supports moms’ empowerment. If men are free of stereotypes, then women are free to make more choices. If men can choose to stay at home more, then women can choose to be more career focused (in families that prefer to have this division of labor). If both parents choose to work outside the home, then both can share the housework and childcare fairly without attaching gender labels to these duties.

Here’s a sampling of some recent ads about dads. Of course, for every one of these ads, there are a 1000 others that show women in traditional roles.  In reality, (if we look at stats worldwide) men have a long way to go in terms of doing their fair share at home. But, look around you. Things are changing, little by little. The fact that businesses want to spend millions of dollars positioning their products around this cultural shift means that the shift is happening. It means we are beginning to lean toward the following notions:

  • gentleness, warmth, and caring don’t make a man any less of a human being
  • the ability to demonstrate emotions makes a human being stronger, not weaker
  • dads are not clueless at home, they can be relied on to do their part at home and keep the family running smoothly, and they can multi-task as well as moms
  • housework, cooking, and cleaning are not “inferior” jobs assigned to “less capable” people (read women), they are simply – jobs that need to get done -and every person (man or woman) has to learn to do them.

Swiffer Ad – dads cleaning the house, watching kids jumping in puddles. Dad complains, “no such thing as deep couch sitting” 🙂

Dove Ad –Dads kissing, hugging, playing with their children. Dads helping kids out of stuck shirts, cleaning them after toilet use, ready to help when they’re stuck on a road, when they’re afraid of water, when they have a bad dream, when they’re distressed.

Tide – Child napping with dad.

Cheerios – A funny ad about a capable, confident dad – it’s called “How to dad” 🙂

Extra gum Origami – Dad is there with daughter through all the stages of growing.

Johnson’s – Dads comfortable conveying their love through touch, caring for their babies, being delighted in them.

And here’s a dad who’s better at cleaning than mom – because cleaning is just like any other skill – it isn’t gender specific – some people are great at it, others not so great 🙂 Some people enjoy it, others don’t.

 

Watching these ads, I am reminded of my childhood. My father would practice volleyball with me to help me win the matches at school. The ball would keep going over the fence and he would quickly scale the fence and get it back in a jiffy. Bonus points for teaching me as well how to scale the fence 🙂 He was also a great cook and could make the best eggplant bhajjis. He would slice them so thinly and dip them in such light batter that they would just melt in the mouth.

Please share if you had fun experiences with your dads at home doing things that break stereotypes. Also, if you have seen other nice dad ads, please share.

Do you agree that things are changing in this regard? Or do you feel they are predominantly the same?  What has been your experience with your father/husband/siblings/friends/coworkers?  If you’re a guy, please add how you feel about all this.  Do you want to change things?  Do you want to be a different kind of dad from your own (assuming your own played a traditional father’s role)?

Related Posts:

I Want To Be A Dad. – Radhika Vaz

“My problem is my wife doesn’t like me hanging out with friends.”

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s body and Willow Smith’s hair.

An email from an Indian father: I want to place on record my own story as a warning to anyone…

Workplace Equality requires Equality at Home

The Men in Our Lives

Why are these dads such a threat to patriarchal social structures?

Dad wears short shorts to teach daughter what she wears is everybody’s business and everybody’s approval proves her great worth.

“My dad tells me not to wear skimpy outfit when he is around”

“I know my dad is short tempered but he was never this aggressive until my relatives started making him over think about my marriage.”

Dad knifes girl for speaking to lover

Why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice.

“Freedom can wait, I’m staying put for Dad”

Abhishek Bachchan as a Working Dad in the new Idea ad.

“My husband says he can’t go against his family. My father says study but not without your FIL’s permission.”

“Ask your father if he has never beaten your mother!” Please adjust.

Response to “Koi Baap Apni Beti Ko Kab Jaane Se Rok Paya Hai”

Haryana killing : Here is a father A P Singh might want to defend.

“This dad is openly threatening his daughter and is instigating others to burn alive their daughters.”

The father threw the baby on the ground and tried to strangle her with his legs: No case registered.

Father wants the world to know her real name.

Feminism Is Good For Society

Where do they go away?

 

 

Imagine

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

 

Imagine a world where you are judged

Not by your skin color or what you’re wearing

But by your human strengths

For your wit, compassion, and caring

 

Imagine living on a street

Where your opinions can be bared

Without fear of being silenced

By casual denial or malicious stares

 

Imagine having friends

Who listen, validate, make you strong

With whom there are no feelings

That are shameful, taboo, or wrong

 

Imagine living in a community

Where other’s stories shed light

and learning happens unintentionally

Transforming you, in plain sight

 

Imagine a world where sharing

Is welcomed with knowing, accepting hearts

Where expression lends clarity

Piecing together your jagged, hurting parts

 

Does this sound too Utopian?

But such a world isn’t far away

It’s the world of blogging

Where you and I meet everyday

 

Let them not sideline or suppress

Your inner battles, your outer skirmishes

Speak, question, think, and express

Your unruly thoughts, your untamed wishes

 

Let not your voice and mine

Be drowned out in doubt and fear

And lay buried in an obscure shrine

Forgotten in a tomb of despair

 

Let them not lock your thoughts

Take the key and set yourself free

Keep reading, writing, thinking, speaking

For you are the queen of your destiny

Being Single in India

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

My niece has often shared with me the troubles of being single in India. A couple of her friends are now almost turning 30 and pressure from their families is mounting. This they’ve chosen to ignore, but everyday life is not easy. The way neighbors and random strangers seem to treat them is reprehensible.

What are some challenges single Indians (both men and women) face?

Based on my niece’s experiences, and the comments from My Era, Neha, Cosettez, Simta, and Fem on the recent post on ‘women and friendship’, here are some –

Practical/Everyday Challenges

  • renting a place to stay
  • going out in one’s neighborhood (attracting uncalled for attention, especially single women from ogling men )
  • living in an apartment complex where everyone makes it their person business to worry about your future
  • for women, mild to moderate to severe harassment from some men in the building (staring, lewd remarks or worse)
  • getting mistrustful looks from some married women (being viewed as a potential ‘threat’) and not getting invited to family gatherings, pujas, festivals celebrated in the building
  • advice from family, relatives, neighbors and random strangers to get married and settle down and obsessive matchmaking that sometimes borders on abuse
  • Questions like, “Why are you not living with your parents?” (or at least with an aunt’s family)
  • being judged for dating or being in a relationship or pretending to be married when you are in a live in relationship
  • for women, being constantly reminded of your biological clock ticking
  • finding your name appearing mysteriously on matrimonial websites, without your permission, with the description, “highly educated, yet traditional, fair, beautiful, makes X amount.”
  • difficulty finding and keeping friends as most people get married by 30
  • patronizing attitudes from co-workers with families
  • workplace discrimination (“if you are single and over 35, there must be something wrong with you”)
  • questions on the person’s orientation, which is now everyone’s business
  • friends of the opposite gender forbidden from visiting apartment (because God forbid, they may have consensual sex. And we’re okay with marital rape, of course, that’s the poor woman’s problem, but consensual sex is everyone’s problem)
  • If you are divorced, you either did something wrong or you are unlucky. You no longer make the cut in terms of group membership.
  • Single women wanting to adopt a child face bureaucratic and societal challenges
  • Real threat to safety (when I go for my morning run wearing shorts in India, I feel safer if my hubby, brother or older son goes along with me. I’ve tried running alone but felt intimidated by the hostile stares and the lecherous grins. How is this different from the Taliban mindset? The man in your life may not be The Hulk but having one next to you seems to discourage unwanted attention.)

Emotional Impact

  • Feeling of being more visible – being singled out, more negative attention, every behavior/action attributed to one’s single status
  • A sense of being more invisible – ignored at or not invited to social gatherings/outings if more people in the group are married
  • Displacement from family – younger cousins, married with children are quoted as examples by sad parents, parents don’t understand how someone can want to be single, a feeling of collective rejection from family and extended family – being blamed/made to feel guilty for not making marriage work
  • Self-doubt and confusion – rejection and isolation leading to feelings of uncertainty, disorientation, and demoralization.

Some possible ideas to deal with this

  • Find other singles to network with. If you are divorced, find other divorcees. Start a support group. Sometimes these groups lead to friendships, sometimes they don’t. Even if this doesn’t lead to friendship, a group can be helpful for advocacy reasons – it is easier to fight for the right to rent without being discriminated against, if many people are involved.
  • Remain committed to the few people who are supportive. Keep in touch, make time to keep the friendship going without withering.
  • Join online groups and forums to get help/ideas for specific problems as well as to feel connected.
  • Start a blog on the topic as a meeting point for ideas and support. If there is a blog that focuses on the issues of single people living in India, please share.
  • Divorce needs to be made as un-intimidating as possible, otherwise marriages become prisons.  Many women stay in unhappy marriages because there is insufficient legal information and emotional support for taking this simple step – of walking out of an unhappy situation.  Therefore, please share resources/websites for divorcees, especially legal resources that explain your rights, procedures, property and custody issues.

Are we better off?

In the past, the only people who remained single were women who “failed to get married”.  They remained in their brother’s or uncle’s or male cousin’s house (after parents were gone) and served the families that extracted work and threw scraps at them in return.  They were ostracized within the family and held as an example of what happens when we don’t pray, fast, or train for a good husband.

Now, most single people I know (who are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s) got there because they made a choice. They chose to stay single.  They chose to walk out of unhappy marriages.  They chose to be in a relationship with someone without marrying them.  Boy, haven’t we ( a minority perhaps) come a long, long way?  Even if their % is small, there are probably now more single men and women in their 30s and 40s than there were a generation ago.  What does it mean – the fact that this is the first generation that we have more single people than ever?

  • this indicates that a few more people are putting off marriage to a later age (in my generation, many women got married in their early 20s and men by their late 20s).
  • this could also mean that a few more people are choosing not to marry
  • more people are opting for divorce when faced with unhappy marriages
  • at least a few women are no longer worrying about their biological clocks – they can choose to adopt (if they want children later) or choose to be child free
  • more women are able to work and hold jobs that allow them to make a living, so being married is no longer the only way to survival
  • being single longer and marrying later makes marriages more level playing fields – women who have lived alone and managed finances are less likely to be enslaved, men who’ve lived independently are not mamma’s boys, can take care of themselves and are not looking for someone to cook and clean for them, both women and men know what they want in a relationship)

The fact that a few people are making the decision to remain single or get divorced despite the challenges listed above means that our mindset is changing – that freedom and choices are now more valued – that they are pursued at the cost of society’s approval, acceptance, and the need to belong.

If you are single, please share your experiences and challenges with being single/in a live in relationship/divorced in India, and how you cope with both the practical and emotional aspects, and especially what has helped. It would be great to hear from both women and men on this.

If you are married, would you be comfortable renting out your apartment to a single/divorced person, male or female, if they appear to be honest, reliable people and have proper paperwork?  Would you rent to an unmarried couple?  Do you have unmarried friends who are over 30 or do you make friends only with married people?  Do you invite single/divorced people to gatherings/celebrations in your building?  Why or why not? If the answer to any of these questions is no, please elaborate why you are uncomfortable or what’s getting in the way of your friendship/trust.

Women and Friendship – Building a Support System

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post brings home a striking point. Lack of a support system allows abuse to thrive. And even in non-abusive situations, lack of supports direly impacts women’s happiness quotient.

Recently I was talking to my mother on the phone. She mentioned that Kalyani, her long time friend had visited after many years. I was excited and happy for my mother and asked her if they had a good time together. I was reminded of the times when my mother would visit her when we were very young.

When we were kids, a mother having a friend was a rarity. The fact that they were college buddies was even more amazing. Whenever my mother would visit her friend, we were so awed by this simple fact – that my mother is going out, and it is not to work and it is not to buy groceries, nor is it a visit to relatives’ houses for pujas and other obligations. She was going out to see her friend! How cool is that!

Even though she worked outside the home (which was rare for her generation), my mother’s role at home was pretty traditional. There were meals to be cooked, maids to be managed, unannounced guests, unreasonable in-laws and relatives to be attended to. There were many frustrating and stressful interactions with in-laws and the extended family. So, whom did she talk to, to find some relief? Who did she go to for support and answers?

Most of the time, support, once again, came in the form of relatives. HER side of the family – her sister, her cousins, her aunts provided some support. Because the visits to her only friend were a rare and special treat.

And when she did get together with her side of the family, I noticed a strange vibe. My grandmother, who had little patience for relatives, usually left the room. The women shared their problems and concerns. There were hugs and wiping of tears. But no solutions were ever offered. There was relief in knowing one was not alone. There was certainly a sense of belonging. But it came more from a sense of “we are all women, therefore we are meant to suffer”. My mother usually went home feeling as confused and hurt as she did before the visit.

Another thing I noticed is the one aunt who tended to be more assertive and less obedient was considered a “shrew” and “lucky to have a meek husband who would put up with her”. So much for support and inspiration. This is why relatives (in the Indian setting) cannot really be one’s support system. They are subject to the same conditioning that the rest of us are. They have nothing new to offer.

My grandmother, a free thinker, was the only one who gave my mother sensible advice, still, she was older, of another generation. My mother did not really have anyone her own age to see her point of view. An occasional visit to her only friend’s house doesn’t really count. In many ways, my mother was friendless.

This is probably the story of many women of that generation.

The Current Generation

So, what about us, those in our 30s, 40s, and 50s? I’ve noticed that in our generation, a lot of us tend to have had great friends and friendships in college. But once we got married or moved away, those friendships seldom lasted. Or even if they did, they did not offer daily and genuine support and involvement. To some extent, this is understandable. Many of us outgrow our college friends. We grow up, acquire different ideas, we change to some extent. We crave friends on the same intellectual level, rather than settling for people who happen to be in the same place at the same time.

But how many of us, after we got married, made a serious attempt to develop strong friendships? How many of us are truly committed to friendship – because friendship takes time and effort and interest. Here I’m not referring to “family friends”. Family friends are just that – they are usually friends because our kids are friends at school. Or because some of us work at the same company.   These are simply another version of our college friends – people in the same place at the same time. They are fine for sharing a meal or having tea together or discussing school/college options or the job/commute/elections situation.

But these are not the kind of friends I’m referring to, although they do have their place in our lives.

I’m talking about the kind of friends who share a passion with you. Who remind you of who you are as an individual. Who challenge you to explore your fears, open you to novel experiences, who help you grow. Friends who truly KNOW who you are. So they can remind you of what you are capable of, when you doubt yourself.

(I’m referring to married women here because that is the norm in India and they are the ones who tend to neglect their friendships. Single women are perhaps more likely to take their friendships seriously. They are better at building a support network of friends because the negative attitudes of their families and society have made such a system imperative, even urgent. Perhaps, they even feel frustrated with married women for not being committed to their friendship.)

Factors that Deter Support Systems for Women

So, why do several married Indian women go without real, strong, long lasting friendships? A few factors come to mind (there could be more) –

Parenting – in conservative cultures, friendships for young girls are limited in terms of where they go and how long they stay out and what activities they engage in. They may not be allowed to travel, hike, swim, partake in sports, go for a bike ride – simple things that friends do. These friendship-inducing activities are allowed for sons but not daughters. Early on, they are trained to put family first, and their own needs must be worked around the family’s rules, schedules, and convenience, if at all. Thus, daughters never learn the meaning of strong friendships. They never learn the methods. They haven’t experienced the highs of going camping with friends and gazing at the stars in the night sky. They haven’t experienced being lost in an unfamiliar town and helping each other navigate. They haven’t gone for a long drive with no destination in mind. They do not know what they’re missing, thus they do not seek it in later life either.

The unwritten rules of friendship after marriage – Friendships for married women are discouraged, seen as frivolous and selfish. Indian married men, on the other hand, continue to keep in touch with their buddies, even invite them over and have their wives cook for them. Many Indian women need permission to visit their friends, or need to ensure that they’ve cooked, cleaned, bathed their children, and anticipated every possible need in the next 48 hours before stepping out for an hour. Thus having a family strengthens men’s friendships while the very same weakens women’s friendships.

Complacence and the Illusion of Support – We are surrounded by family in India. We have our parents and extended family constantly in our faces. When we get married, we have even more relatives. Surrounded by all these people gives us the illusion that we are not alone. However, the truth is you can be lonely with a hundred people around you if none of them empathize with you, make you stronger, or help you find yourself.

Too late, we find out that when we really need help and support, we don’t have it. Women spend a good part of their lives helping strengthen their husband’s families. While their own supports are continually discouraged, ridiculed, and eroded.

Our Stories – Mythology, legends, and literature are replete with admirable friendships between men. While Lakshmana walked by Rama’s side until the very end, Sita stood alone. The Mahabharata brims with male bonding. There is the interesting friendship between Karna and Duryodhana. Even the friendship between Lord Krishna and Arjuna the warrior is telling. God bestows his friendship on certain worthy men, but not women.

In English literature, we are all familiar with Horatio and Hamlet, Tom and Huck, Frodo and Samwise, Gandalph and Bilbo. While we admire the friendships between these beloved characters, they do make us wish the world instead revolved around female bonding. This is why books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women are so precious.

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, says, “Princesses may confide in a sympathetic mouse or teacup, but they do not have girlfriends. God forbid Snow White should give Sleeping Beauty a little support. Princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married, and be taken care of the rest of their lives.”

Let’s not be that lonely princess. We can make each other strong. Let’s not give up on each other.

Finding Real Friendship

Friendship and bonding among women offers so many positives that no woman should have to go without it. A good friend –

  • respects you for your strengths and talents
  • supports you during challenges
  • doesn’t ennoble silent suffering and sacrifice
  • inspires you to be strong, to grow, to become who you want to be
  • listens to you when she can’t do anything other than offer her heart
  • gives you a hug
  • loves you for who you are
  • is happy to see you engage in other positive relationships
  • wants you to succeed
  • is proud of your accomplishments
  • reminds you of who you are, when you are in doubt
  • opens you up to new ideas and different perspectives
  • doesn’t judge you for your career and relationship choices
  • is overall happy for you because she is happy with who she is
  • is committed to you, spends time with you, and is there for you
  • doesn’t take your friendship for granted, understands that friendship is a like a plant, it needs watering, otherwise it can’t sustain itself
  • communicates through differences with honesty
  • recognizes her own need for friends and friendship time
  • keeps her interests and passions alive and doesn’t lose her identity after marriage
  • makes it clear to her family that she will need and engage in her friendships
  • can be a lifeline in cases of emotional or physical abuse

I did not realize this until a few years ago, when I hit my late 30s. My kids’ friends’ mothers were my friends. My husband’s co-workers’ families were my friends. I realized something was missing in these friendships. I forgot who I was. Conversations with our friends were always about our families, about our children’s or husbands’ needs, interests, and phases. And what did I do when I did meet interesting, intelligent, warm, humorous,  and independent women now and then? I did not treasure them.

I realized I had missed some valuable opportunities.  And if I wanted something, I needed to work toward it. I began to look for and find women who shared my passions – walking/hiking/running/nature, reading/writing. Women who took their hobbies seriously, who believed in preserving their identities and not be defined by their relationships alone. Although these common interests acted as a catalyst to start and sustain the friendship, we did not limit our friendships to these interests. One of my friends crafts jewelry and it’s fascinating to watch her work. Another friend, an engineer by training, loves to bake. After years of debating, she finally turned her passion into her living. I like spending time in her kitchen while she makes breads, pastries, and pies. I realized I needed to laugh like a girl, get silly, do different things, surprise myself.

I realized I needed friendship time without my husband and kids. I learnt to ask for it, advocate for it, and maintain it as an essential part of my life. I gave it a name – ‘health goals’ (as in emotional health) to make it tangible. I put my friend time on the calendar and committed to it rigorously. My family slowly, reluctantly, began to accept and work around it. If my older son needed help with a project or my younger one wanted to go to the park, it would need to be scheduled AFTER my Sunday morning walk with my friends. Same thing with my husband. In the past, I had worked around everyone’s schedules. Now, my activities were up there on the family calendar, for everyone to see, and my needs were prioritized, like everyone else’s.

I hope every one of us has or works on finding strong friendships and can make the effort to be a rock solid friend to other women. It is not as difficult as we think. It doesn’t require some esoteric skills. It is simply about knowing what real friendship looks like. It’s knowing what to look for. And understanding that friendship is a basic human need, necessary for us to thrive. This blog is a small example of the power of women supporting one another. Imagine what is possible with people we can meet and talk to and confide in and bond with in our daily lives.

And friendship with other women and having a good support system is the best defense against patriarchy. For feminism to thrive, friendships between women must thrive.

Please do share some of your great friendships. Or please share your challenges in finding and sustaining meaningful friendships.

Does vengeance equal feminism?

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Warning – spoilers on ‘Gone Girl’ – book/movie review

Has anyone read the book, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn?  A NY Times bestseller that was made into a movie starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, the book/movie is disturbing on many fronts.

It is meant to be dark humor when intelligent, manipulative, psychopathic Amy gets revenge on her mediocre, selfish, entitled husband Nick, through an intricately planned out and meticulously executed series of chilling crimes.

On the surface, it seems like we’re finally seeing a complex woman character, a rarity in bestsellers and Hollywood.  Amy isn’t sweet, warm and compassionate.  She IS the bad guy.  And there are reasons given for the warping of her mind as well – the emotional manipulation of her parents.

However, as you progress through the novel, Amy goes on to concoct a false murder charge against her husband (using compellingly manufactured evidence), and when that begins to fail, uses her innocent ex boyfriend in her schemes, then murders him, then accuses him of rape and abuse, returns to her husband but continues to manipulate him with threats of turning the media and law enforcement against him.

I found the plot severely undermining the very real abuse that countless women face and it almost seems to match the thinking of men’s rights activists who constantly talk about “false rape charges” and “false abuse charges” as their reason for opposition to rape and abuse laws. In reality, the law enforcement in many countries shames and silences rape victims rather than taking their reports seriously; yet, what we have here is a twilight zone of a woman victimizing several men who slighted her as well as ensnaring the entire media and law enforcement.

Gillian Flynn considers herself a feminist and claims that her book is also feminist because of its “non-conformity to the traditional perception of women as innately good characters“. Somehow, her argument doesn’t quite fly.  So, Amy is not good and sweet and boring.  However, Amy’s character feels like a comic book evil temptress, complete with the perfect sexy body and dark, destructive mind.  She’s completely stereotypical in that she brings to life the worst nightmares of misogynists.

The book is bursting at the seams with other male/female stereotypes.  Nick is clumsy, reticent, somewhat clueless, a little selfish, a “little” unfaithful, but essentially good-hearted.  Amy is classy, privileged, articulate, intelligent, and if a woman is privileged/intelligent, then of course it follows that she must also be manipulative and evil.  Nick’s mediocrity makes him “innocent” and his selfishness is “mostly unconscious” and his unfaithfulness is overshadowed (and forgiven?) by Amy’s incredible capacity for vengeance.  The “evil media” takes advantage of his male inability to pretend grief, when what he’s actually feeling is relief. (makes you want to give him a hug, doesn’t it?) Amy’s intelligence however is used for a destructive purpose. Maybe another argument for men’s preference for “simple women”?   When asked to describe his wife, Nick actually says in frustration, “She’s complicated!”  (Sorry, Nick, a woman is a human and humans are complicated, what you should’ve got yourself is a toy if you wanted something simpler.)

Other charming women characters in the book include Amy’s emotionally manipulative mother who has used her daughter for her personal fame and riches, a media siren who is bent upon making Nick’s life hell, a 20 something voluptuous student who throws herself at Nick (home wrecker?) and crime groupies who want to use Nick and take selfies of themselves with him. The only real woman in the book is Nick’s rough-around-the-edges twin sister, Margo, who also co-owns the bar with her brother. She tries to help her immature brother despite her frustration with his mistakes. She tries to remain fair to Amy even though she dislikes her. But even Margo lets us down when she says “complicated (woman) means b***h”.

Here’s a quote from the book, which has been used to illustrate the underlying feminist tone of the book –

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and jams hot dogs into her mouth …. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined manner and let their men do whatever they want. …. Men actually think this girl exists. ….. And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. …… Maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics.”

In the above sense, the book does hint at the irony of it all – the real progress that women have made in the social and emotional realm of relationships is still minuscule.  We are leading nations, heading successful companies, but who are we at home, really?  A Nooyi who is ordered to go pick up the milk?  A Sandberg who suffers mommy guilt?

Here, I began to have hope.  I thought the author was portraying how women are forced into certain roles by society and in the process, let their whole lives revolve around selfish, uncaring men who want to see a sugar coated, simplified, corseted version of them.  And I hoped that Amy would eventually refuse to be straight jacketed, that she would emerge free from the selfish expectations of society.

However what does Amy DO ABOUT THIS?  What does she do to fight this cool girl burden and set herself free?  She becomes one!!!  How un-empowering is that!  She becomes this cool girl that Nick wants her to be. And Nick predictably falls head over heels for her.  But she’s mad at him for making her do this, so she takes revenge.  There is absolutely NOTHING feminist about this.

Another argument that Flynn put forth for feminism is that women are sick of being used and brushed aside, and when Amy finally begins to take back control in the relationship, when she starts calling the shots, it’s a win for the women’s cause. On some level, is Amy’s viciousness deeply satisfying to all of us women, who are familiar with some form of oppression or the other?  I thought about this but could not find a shred of fulfillment in the self-destructive nature of vengeance.  The argument that getting even feels good is faced with one problem – relationships are not held together with a gun to someone’s head. Freeing oneself from abuse doesn’t mean abusing the abuser.  You are no longer free when you inflict pain on someone, because you are taking on a burden. Taking back control of her own life is what Amy should’ve done, not taking control of Nick’s life. Ever heard of a thing called divorce, Amy? So, much more simpler that revenge.

Feminism is not about being a martyr, nor is it about taking revenge on men for the lost opportunities, but to demand equality in all spheres of life.  And this is what makes the book extremely disturbing – because it taps into the age-old fears of men – that women are irrational, nasty, manipulative creatures, sexually controlling and bordering on insanity, who if given the power (equality misconstrued as power), can easily destroy men to bits.  This mindset of fear is at the root of misogyny and the book does a great job of amplifying it.

Gone Girl is oddly reminiscent of the film noir movies of the 1940s, which possibly reflected men’s fears about women’s newly emerging post-war independence.  A series of films had at the center of the plot, a troubled, brooding male (Robert Mitchum, Fred MacMurray, or Humphrey Bogart) who succumbed to the evil charms of an intelligent, seductive woman.  The outcome of this interaction would be destructive for both of them. The men invariably were lead astray on to a twisted path of deception, murder, and mayhem under the influence of these femme fatales.

With this book/movie (Gone Girl), the virgin-whore dichotomy is still firmly in place.  Men continue to feel torn about choosing between the “simple, good, non-threatening, but boring woman” and the “interesting, sexy, intelligent but ultimately destructive woman”.  Neither kind of woman exists in reality.  The only place they exist is in the fear-ridden minds of misogynists, and the books and movies that flow from them.

If you read the book or watched the movie, please share your thoughts on it. If you didn’t, please share your thoughts on the concept of vengeance, getting even, and feminism, or on the distorted/appropriate portrayal of strong women characters in books and movies.

A Woman Who Doesn’t Have to Fit In

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Khoobsoorat – Movie Review

(Warning – Spoilers, lots of them)

When my niece recommended I watch this film, I was skeptical. It sounded like a predictable Bollywood romance, replete with beautiful sets, fine costumes and jewelry, one dimensional characters with very little subtlety, and situations that are too easily resolved, usually through the use of lectures and bit of melodrama.

It turned out to be some of the above. But despite these predictable traits, the movie surprised me.

The Protagonist

What I liked about the film is of course the protagonist Mili (Sonam Kapoor). Or rather, I came to like her. Cautiously. Gradually.

Mili is silly, irritating, and clumsy. She puts up her feet on the dashboard, drinks from the wine bottle, and eats messy food with her hands. She takes selfies of herself everywhere. I thought, “And THIS is what they call ‘spontaneous/bubbly’?” I rolled my eyes.

But over the course of the film, Mili emerges as a woman who likes herself and is not excessively concerned whether others approve of her or not.

She is very good at what she does (physiotherapy) and she does it unconventionally and with lots of heart thrown in.

Mili has had 3 breakups so far (shown funnily in a little flashback) and even though she’s just had it with men for a while, she hasn’t had it with life. In fact, she’s enjoying life more than usual, with the complications of a relationship removed.

Mili dares to dream. She isn’t overly awed by Prince Vikram’s wealth or class. At first she’s attracted to him, and then she begins to like him when she sees his human side. As she finds herself becoming closer to him, her only worry is that he is engaged. Never once does she feel he is “unreachable”. It’s as if she’s always seen him as an equal, as another human being. She conveys an easy, natural sense of self-worth here.

Supporting Characters

Another pleasant surprise – there are two other strong female characters in the film – the Maharani, Vikram’s mother, played by Rathna Pathak, and Manju (played by Kirron Kher), Mili’s kick-ass, Punjabi mom. Both characters were portrayed reasonably well. Power does not make the Maharani evil and being middle class does not make Mili’s mom servile.

The Maharani, although strict and rule bound, never raises her voice or gets abusive as befitting her classy background. Her bossiness is restrained, her dismissals aloof, her rebuttals are often polite, and her language is impeccably clean. And there are layers to her. You can understand that she needs to be authoritarian in order to run such a large estate, several businesses, and keep an army of staff running smoothly. You also sense she is protective of the wheelchair-bound Maharaja. She will not let anyone cross the wall he has built around himself. She fears that it could be devastating to him. Gradually, their previous relationship is revealed. How they played polo and tennis together. How the Maharani had love and friendship and playfulness from her husband before one tragic incident brought their lives to a screeching halt. Theirs was (and is) an equal marriage, a rarity among older (or even younger?) Bollywood characters.

As a foil to the Maharani’s character is Manju, Mili’s mom – loud, bull dozer like, and calls a spade a spade. You can tell where Mili gets her guts and a bit of craziness from. Manju often advises her daughter to “go get “em” if she needs to and to “not take any crap from the guy’s family”. That really made me laugh with happiness!:)

And now, coming to the male lead – Prince Vikram played by Fawad Khan. The actor is smoky handsome and sexy (I can see why my niece was so hooked on this movie now:). When I say sexy, I don’t just mean his physical attributes. I think people who are good looking in an empty sort of way are seldom sexy. He has what attractive men and women have – an air of mystery, a certain aloofness, quiet confidence that doesn’t require loudness or aggression, a reluctance to easily reveal himself and yet he does so in vulnerable moments. And when he does reveal himself here and there unintentionally, you like what you see.

When Mili accuses him of not joining the party with the servants because he has to maintain his distance/status, he replies, “Yeah …. something like that.” He doesn’t deny that the class gap exists and he doesn’t have all the answers. And then adds, “or perhaps, they (servants) would prefer it that way (him not joining their fun).”

He is puzzled by Mili’s craziness. He is befuddled by her impulsiveness. He is wary of her inclination to say things without a filter. He is jolted by her tendency to act on whim, without the slightest though to consequences.

But when he watches his mother’s reaction to Mili’s wackiness, he is secretly amused. All of his emotions were subtly conveyed – a raised eyebrow, a shrug, a warning look, a little hesitation, a tensing of the shoulders, a bit of subtle sarcasm, or some delicate rephrasing of an otherwise crass situation.

There is great chemistry between the two characters. In both the kissing/hugging scenes, they are BOTH drawn to each other, the feeling is mutual, and Mili as the woman is a willing partner, and once she is also the initiator.

Vikram finds himself reluctantly but helplessly drawn to Mili, despite his rational understanding of the volcano he’s walking into. Mili, on the other hand, true to her character, courts fire, and gives no thought to the consequences.

Humor

There are several funny moments – some everyday situations, some contrived. When Mili asks people from the royal family to join her skype call with mom, her mother puts on a sweet smile, but once they leave, blasts Mili for doing this to her when “she’s cutting onions and sweating in the kitchen”.

When the kidnappers tell Mili they’re just getting started with their ransom “business” and she’s their first victim, Mili who is now high on something, says, “I get it. I remember being excited too – when I got my first client.”

Mili’s breakups are funny – one is with a clueless guy who has found his soul mate in another clueless girl. Another guy is just someone who couldn’t handle Mili’s feet on his dashboard anymore.

And Vikram’s use of “hum” (we) to refer to himself are greeted by irreverent Mili (and her mom) with a “Who the heck is We?? Hello?? I see only one person here!”

I chuckled when the Maharani (upon being confronted in the middle of the night by Manju) says with lovely poise, “I’m sorry but I need my 8 hours of sleep. Can we discuss these “interesting” theories of yours in the morning?”

Room for Improvement

I thought they could’ve balanced out Mili’s character a bit – she doesn’t ALWAYS have to be smiling or ALWAYS have to drop things – we get it – she’s a fun gal and a tad clumsy. But when Vikram tells her they cannot share a future because they are so different, Mili hardens and softens at the same time. She looks at him both angrily and sadly and says, “I agree.” This is where her character looks more complete, more multi-dimensional. I wish there were a few more of these contemplative moments for Mili.

The confrontation between the moms was unnecessary and Manju’s pettiness and arguing to the bitter end dragged down the last part of the movie a bit.

I also thought the Maharaja’s situation was resolved a bit too simplistically. While I appreciate Mili’s determination to do her job as a therapist and her efforts to bring fun back into his life because she believes it will help him recover, I wish she never explicitly TOLD him he is stuck at the time of the accident, and needs to start living again. I wish she had trusted his capacity for self-direction. And I wish he had taken that first step forward himself, with her support.

The Ending

Loved the ending though! It is the royal family that learns to relax and adapt to Mili’s crazy ways rather than Mili changing herself to fit into the clan’s honored traditions. This is not shown explicitly but implied through the Maharani’s humorous acceptance of Mili and the last credits song.

The movie is based on an older film of the same name starring Rekha. And it does have shades of the Sound of Music. I’m not sure if it passes the Bechdel test but overall, I confess I enjoyed this movie. Charming characters, three strong women, one dashing prince, a hauntingly beautiful palace, and lots of heart make this a warm, pleasant ride. Did you like it? Let me know what you think!

‘Maayka Chavi Ka’… sequel to ‘Sasural Simar Ka’ ;)

In the last post we saw Simar’s future will be decided by her parents and extended family, and to some extent by her neighbours’ gossip opinions. Her happiness will also depend on her pati parmeshwar and her saasu ma – if she is fortunate they will treat her well. That’s her life. Get Married. Stay Married.

And then there is Chhavi.

Chhavi Rajawat, an MBA and the Sarpanch of  the village that is her ‘maayka‘ 


Indian girls do have choices, if the society and the parents open their eyes and notice them. Chhavi, 30 chose to make a difference.

I loved the first few words in this video below 🙂

🙂

This village Sarpanch knows no stereotypes. 

She does not become like the villagers to help them, they want to be like her.

Her responsibilities include making clean drinking water available to the villagers, water conservation, water harvesting, tree planting, road works and bringing electricity to rural households. A project that’s close to her heart is the revamp of the local schools.

That’s her team of eleven, four men and seven women 🙂

“I hope my small contribution to society will encourage more girls to work towards rural development. Take the plunge and you will realise that it is worth it,” she says.‘  [Click to read more]

.

Read Sandhya’s post for more on Chhavi Rajawat.

Related posts:

Sarpanch Ashuba Khan and her all women Panchayat, Neemkheda village, Haryana.
I do not like Reservation.
Biology versus Culture DEATHMATCH Part I (Nandini’s Niche)

India leads in sexual violence, worst on gender equality: Study

I hope the comment section of ‘Indian men lead in sexual violence, worst on gender equality: Study’ is not a reflection of how some (a majority of?) Indians think. Many commenters seem to see the study as a personal attack.

(Thanks for the link RenKiss.)

Some commenters claimed this study (about violence against women in India, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Mexico and Rwanda.) was a ‘western conspiracy against Indian culture’, but they also felt it was okay for the male partner to  ‘discipline’ the female partner if required.

Did these commenters see marital rape as sexual violence? Since some saw marriage as ‘sex in return of being provided for’, I doubt it.

Some commenters felt ‘western influence’ on Indian values leads to social problems.

So did they think Western Influences are the cause for dowry, sex selection, domestic violence, marital rape, female infanticide, bride burning and eve teasing?

No. In fact, they didn’t seem to see these as social problems.

One commenter said female-foeticide was ‘not a gender issue’ but caused by a need for more hands to work. Is this denial or ignorance?  So, some Indian parents go to Thailand to ensure they have more working hands? And girls are not working hands? And it’s okay to kill them if they aren’t?

Some commenters seem to think women were lucky they were provided for, for free. Dowry was also seen as a requirement for a couple to settle down.

But at the mention of dowry harassment or bride burning, they claimed the Domestic Violence Act was misused. Sounds contradictory?

Many of these commenters saw Divorce, Single women and Unmarried mothers  as serious social problems – caused by western influences on the Indian women.

——-

“The three-year study looks at gender attitudes among men and boys in six developing countries. It is based on interviews with more than 8,000 men and 3,500 women.

“This is the first survey of its size ..,” said Gary Barker. “These initial results really just scratch the surface…”

India and Rwanda were the only two countries in which the study found that men do not want more equitable partners.

More than two-thirds of Indian men reportedly believe women should tolerate domestic violence in a bid to protect the unity of the family and that women sometimes deserve such violence.

“Indian men are far more traditional… men are not changing as rapidly as women. They are still living in the old ages,” Ravi Verma, director of ICRW’s Asia regional office in Delhi was quoted as saying.

If one went by the comments that follow the article, one would believe the survey results were being too kind.

These reactions are sad, because I feel the survey results should have been seen as a starting point “to help inform practitioners’ work with men as allies in women’s empowerment and gender equality.”

 

The interference of parents in the married life of their daughters…

Pallavi shared this link.

‘The interference of parents in the married life of their daughters has become a major cause for playing havoc with the lives of young couples post marriage, the Delhi high court has said.

Daughter are supposed to become paraya dhan once they are given away in kanyadan, and any Indian man and his family would be justified in wanting a divorce if a woman’s  parents forget that.

Why I’d worry about any such biased and generalized statements. Because they encourage Indian parents to continue to disown their married daughters. Happily-Married-Daughters bring approval of the neighbours’ uncle’s nephew’s third cousin’s grandfather, so even if a married daughter is unhappy, she is advised to please adjust, or die trying. Having no one to turn to, makes her less equal and exposes her to abuse, exploitation and harassment.

Also, even if the parents were interfering in the case mentioned, it does not mean that this is becoming a trend. The idea that a woman’s parents have no right to support her once she is married, and an adult male needs to be mothered all his life, is changing and this change should be welcomed.

I wonder why there was no mention of ‘parental interference’ in these cases.

1.

Allegations that the mother-in-law kicked the daughter-in-law with her leg, told her that her mother was a liar, poisoned the ears of her son against the daughter in law, had been giving perpetual sermons and threatened her with divorce. [link]

2.

Bombay HC held that in-laws’ insistence on sari can’t amount to cruelty under the Hindu Marriage Act. [My response here.]

Deciding what an adult son’s adult spouse wears is not interference?

3.

Another mother “filed an affidavit that the daughter in law works 8 am to 8 30 pm, but does ‘no additional work’ at home.

Was this seen as interference?

*

And just how much do an Indian daughter’s parents interfere for it to have ‘become a major cause for playing havoc’ with their daughter’s marriages?

In Haryana a son beat his wife in the presence of her parents, for wearing jeans when she went shopping with them.

‘…the police promptly dispatched the battered woman … to her in-laws house, terming it as a “family matter”. No case was filed.

Promptly dispatched to her in-laws house, a paraya dhan‘s rightful home once she is married.

*

Bollywood went out of it’s way to show loving a married daughter could lead to breaking her marriage.

How would you see this scene from ‘Phagun’ (1973)  if Waheeda Rehman was the husband’s mother and not Jaya Bhaduri’s?


Related posts:

No Jeans for Indian Daughters in law.

Can’t end marriage over sari.

Loving sons who devote their days and night to maintain peace in the family.

(and many , many more)

What would you have done…?

Around 10 30 pm my sister in law and I finished our walk and sat on a bench outside my building, to relax for sometime before each went home. A car stopped, a woman, around 55, in a yellow sari, a younger woman and a young man stepped out. R was saying ‘makhane‘ as snacks are a great source of calcium.

Suddenly we heard the woman shouting at the watchman. “Insaniyat bhi hoti hai…” (something about human values). She said he had better not dare to refuse to carry their luggage to the lift, because he had no idea who she was and who she knew. (This reminded me of ‘Nobody Killed Jessica‘.) The watchman said he was not allowed to do this. She yelled, it was not as if she was asking him to pick ‘potty’ (she used this word) and yet he was being rude. The watchman repeated he was not permitted to carry residents’ luggage. She asked him how long had he been employed here, and what kind of ‘inhuman behaviour’ was his, refusing to provide free porter service to residents while on duty as watchman. She assured him she was going to watch him now onwards, he had no idea who he had offended (again), dare he move from his duty for a moment, and she was going to get him fired. In the next sentence she promised him she was going to get him fired anyway and make sure he was never seen inside this complex, because (once again) he had no idea who she was and who she knew.

My sister in law wondered if we should intervene. They had not said anything about being in anyway physically incapable of moving their own luggage. And no matter what, we agreed, that the watchman did have the right to refuse to do something which was not a part of his job.

Between the three of them they started moving their luggage to the lift. Then they called out to the watchman in the next building, and asked (more like commanded) him to pick their things, and told the first watchman, “In front of your eyes he is picking our luggage this is insaniyat (human values), now I want to see you seated inside the foyer, instead of loitering outside.

They all went inside. The young man looked so angry, we feared he might hit the watchman, so I walked closer to the lifts and lingered there, checking our mail-box, found something and asked the watchman if he knew who the mail was for, since it wasn’t for us. He looked like he was about to burst into tears.

They went up after making some phone calls to complain against him.

Had we not been sitting there, he would have had no way to prove to the Supervisor who reached there, that he did not use abusive language, or that he was not asleep on duty. They could have got away with being violent too.

I know many of us in India take respectful treatment and running errands, from watchmen, domestic helpers, plumbers, drivers, gardeners and anybody else, who we think owes us obedience, respect, servility etc, as our right – but isn’t everybody in a Democracy supposed to be equal?

And what about dignity of labour?