On city girls…

Earlier today, @wavehit tweeted me asking me to join the protest against the content of the Tamil talk show Neeya Naana that aired on Pongal Day. I had watch a part of the show until the constant and extra-long ads breaks finally got to me and I switched off the television about 40 minutes into the programme. With wavehit’s tweet, I decided to watch the show on You Tube and then get down to the onerous task of registering my protest without getting angry.

Now, this discussion features a motely group of men dressed smartly, some in veshti and other in more Western clothing. Sitting on the other end, are women, dressed in jeans and tees, some in skirts and all sorts of Western clothing, ostensibly representing city-bred women. As it is, the difference in clothing i’s stark and sets the tone for what is to follow. Gopinath, the anchor puts a loaded question to the men. “What have you studied and how do you want your future wife to be?” The combination of questions is telling, because the rest of the show just goes on to prove that education doesn’t get you anywhere.

All men wanted to get married to good village girls, the reasons being wide-ranging. Without going into intricate details, I noticed that some of the points raised by the men ranged from the ridiculous to the outrageous.

“My wife should wear only sari, or salwar kameez. She should wear the dupatta in V-shape. She is not permitted to wear jeans or any other such western clothing. She can dress in skimpy (read western) clothing inside the four walls of my bedroom and only for my eyes.”

This attitude of curtailing women’s clothing seems rather widely-prevalent irrespective of social, educational and economic status. The general impression seems to be that a woman who dresses unconventionally is: a) easy, b) difficult to control and c) unfit for family life. Also, the permission ostensibly granted to the wife to dress in similarly unconventional clothing inside the bedroom reeks of commodification of the woman in question. Enough said.

“My wife should be a good cook. She should be capable of multi-tasking, of cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids, and then going to work and still coming back on time to make a hot, fresh dinner for me. City-bred girls are incapable of it all.”

Ok. So basically, these men want an unpaid cook, a maid, an ayah and a wage-slave (rolled into one) who will bring home the paycheck every month to keep up the lifestyle they are used to. Right! And I was thinking marriage is about partnership, caring and sharing. Maybe we are a bunch of fools here.

“City-bred girls lack respect. They call their husbands by name. We do not want such disrespectful wives.”

Uh oh. We have a problem here! If I am not supposed to call my husband by name, what else am I supposed to call him? Prananatha? Aryaputra? Come on guys! Let’s get real!

“My wife should be sweet-tempered and friendly with my relatives and hers. But it is not acceptable that she be equally sweet-tempered and friendly with her friends.”

Apparently, friendliness should be the exclusive right of in-laws and the rest of the world does not deserve the same. A reflection of possessiveness, lack of trust and respect perhaps?

“Chennai girls have a lot of boyfriends (read pre-marital sex). Village girls will be sweet and virginal. My wife should be from the village.”

Apparently, they have never taken a look at abortion statistics in the city and elsewhere, as the good doctor and psychologist Shalini later points out. Also, the general attitude seems to be that they can sleep around all they want but still want virginal wives. What’s sauce for the goose is obviously not sauce for the gander.

Apart from these obviously chauvinistic comments, one thing seems certain: none of these men seems secure in his own skin. As they finally admit, they seem extremely scared of a woman’s (obviously superior) intelligence and social skills. They seem to truly believe that a woman who is smart, intelligent, independent and outspoken will not stay in the marriage.

Now that I have made these observations, on to rebutting each of them.

  1. No man has any business dictating terms to his wife on her choice of clothing. We don’t tell you to walk around in veshti-chattai all the time do we? Neither should you. We will dress in what is comfortable for us. If you have a problem with it, live with it. Or handle it!
  2. If we are married to you, it means we expect you to treat us as equal partners in that relationship. We are not competing with you for supremacy and neither should you. If you can’t do that, maybe you need to rethink getting married at all.
  3. We can be pretty to you within the four walls of your bedroom, but that does not mean we are sex objects. In case you did not realize, we are human being with real feelings and emotions.
  4. Some of us truly love cooking and make it our life’s mission to keep you well-fed and happy. But some of us detest cooking and the thought of the kitchen makes us cry. We come in different hues and shades, just like you. If you want a cook, get one. Don’t marry her.
  5. Some of us may work at home and outside, managing multiple tasks, deadlines, client meeting, personal commitments and kids perfectly well. But some other are less-adept at doing all that. We admit we have our limitations. Maybe you can help by getting your butt off that couch and putting the clothes into the dryer or mopping the floor for us.
  6. We call you by name because we believe that is why you were named so. In case you wish us to call you mama or athaan or even prananatha like I mentioned earlier, kindly return the favour by calling us bharye.
  7. If you want a friendly wife, please acknowledge that she will have friends. We cannot turn on and turn off friendliness. We do not have an inbuilt “friendliness switch”.
  8. As for pre-marital sex, we are human too. If we have had relationships before and are honest enough to tell you about it, you should appreciate that we are willing to let go if the past and make a new life with you. And it’s not as if you are pure and virginal anyway. So get over it!

I could probably go on, but I think 1000 words for a post is a bit much. Have your two bits to add? Please go ahead. That’s what the comments section is for.

This Size Zero tamasha…

Have you ever been tempted by the VLCC’s “before” and “after” photos? Or by Sugar Free’s promise that you will acquire a Bipasha-like figure if you stopped eating natural sugars and started loading your system with aspartame? Have you ever wondered having a healthy appetite or being larger than normal is considered bad? If you identify with any of the above, or have even felt bad for a second ever in your life, you are not alone. You probably belong to the vast majority of middle-class Indian women who do not fulfill the traditional criteria for beauty. Me too!

It has taken me very long to get the feeling of guilt and even inferiority out of my system. Even today, I sometimes wish I were shorter and slimmer. I know who I am and what I deserve. But, I am still intimidated by seemingly perfect women with petite and perfect figures. I do not show it. I ignore, or even pretend all is well, but there are times I cannot shake off this feeling of imperfectness and inferiority. There are times when I truly wish I had a different body. While I am happy to be me in the overall scheme of things, beauty and brain inclusive, I do feel threatened by the constant harping on acquiring a better (read slimmer) figure, losing 20 pounds in one month and generally tending to Size Zero. The latest trend of writing books on weight loss that everyone talks of (like Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha) really don’t help my cause.

Frankly, it upsets me when people offer unsolicited advice about how to lose weight and how to watch the food I eat. In such instances, people generally approach on a rather apologetic note saying, “You are fine as you are. For your height, your weight is ok. But you would be truly gorgeous if you managed to reduce your waistline by one size.” To such people, I usually say I don’t care. But unfortunately, I do. I care about how I look. I care about being called fat. I have fought all my life against this perception of being “fatty” and it rankles to be called fat or plump even today.

Beyond these personal issues of body image, there is a larger issue at hand. There can be no argument that being obese is unhealthy. But the trend of perfectly normal women obsessing with exercise and weight loss and diet is disturbing. If I must be perfectly honest with myself, I love food. And most of the time, I really don’t care how many calories I am consuming. Like everyone else, I like some foods better than others. And I very rarely say no to food that I like simply because it is fattening. I enjoy my chocolates and ice-creams as much as any other woman, sans the guilt.

I suppose we have come a long way from the time heroines needed to be buxom and well-endowed to be successful. Today, size zero is hip. Is this really here to stay? I sure hope not! I don’t think I can take too many more years of listening to size zero bullshit!