It’s been bizarre the last few weeks on the political front where we had misogyny on full display instead of social development.
Take the recent WT% remark by the Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Tirath Singh Rawat, who described a woman he’d seen in a flight.
“Jab unki taraf dekha to neeche gumboot they, jab aur upar dekha to ghutne fatey they, haath dekhe to kai kade they… Bachhey do saath me unke they. Maine kaha behan ji kahan jana hai… Delhi jana hai, husband kahan hai… JNU me professor hain, tum kya karti ho… main ek NGO chalati hun. NGO chalati hain, ghutne fatey dikhte hain, samaj ke beech me jaati ho, bachhey saath me hain, kya sanskar dogi?”
(She was wearing boots, jeans ripped on the knees, and several bracelets. She had two children travelling with her. Her husband is a professor at JNU. You run an NGO, wear jeans ripped at the knees, move about in society, children are with you, what values will you teach?)
CM Saab, with all due respect, what were you doing ogling at women in the flight in the first place? And why are you poking your nose in someone else’s parenting values? Are you a parenting expert? Or are you an expert on all women’s affairs solely because you are born a man?
A few days later, we had Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, who made a condescending below-the-belt remark on the state Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee.
“People don’t want to see her face; that’s why she’s showing her broken leg. She is wearing a saree that covers one leg and shows the other. Never seen someone wear a saree like that. If you want to show your leg, then wear Bermuda.”
After public outrage on his comment, he justified his statement that a woman in a saree flaunting her leg is not a reflection of the Bengali culture.
“Being a woman chief minister, we certainly expect from her some decency that goes well with the culture and tradition of Bengal and with the values of a Bengali woman.”
Shri. Dilip Ghosh! Do you publicly rebuke your peer male politicians for not following Bengali culture as well when they walk around displaying their legs to the world? Or is Bengali culture to be upheld by its women alone?
I don’t think Bengali women would agree with you, including your political opponent Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, who rightly questioned,
“..And these perverted depraved monkeys think they are going to win Bengal?”
But it’s not just women politicians vying for power that are the target of hate and control, but laywomen like us as well—every single day. I’m not even talking about the big life decisions about marriage choices, career moves, or financial issues here. I’m talking about similar salty remarks and inane restrictions on trivial things like wearing ripped jeans.
Here’s sharing some of my lived experiences as a woman in this post.
1. Smile till your cheeks hurt
I remember this backhanded compliment from a relative on a profile picture I’d uploaded a few years back.
“Beta, you have such a pretty smile. Why put a picture where you look sad? Remove it and add a nice picture, which shows off your beautiful smile.”
“But I am not sad. I like the picture, and I’m keeping it.” I replied.
It’s funny how a non-issue becomes an issue. Like a profile picture where you’re not smiling translates to “You’re sad.” Even if I were sad, why hide it from the world?
It’s a deeply problematic expectation for all women to be wallflowers. As if our mere existence and purpose in life are to add beauty to the world around us with our pleasing appearance and personality. Women are not expected to show sorrow, rage, or even a neutral expression on their faces.
Talking about smiling reminds me of the next weird assumption.
2. Selfies? Shame shame!
Posting selfies indicate flirting and vying for male attention.
Who knew? I didn’t until someone advised me not to post selfies as it may give the wrong impression. I’m a respectable married woman and a mother, after all.
Even before smartphones, and the trend of selfies, I’d take pictures of myself on my camera and post them on social media. I hadn’t posted pictures for men earlier, back when I was single and ready to mingle. And no way am I going to stop posting pictures of myself post marriage and motherhood, merely because it may give the wrong impression to someone who I don’t give a damn for in the first place. It’s another thing altogether that I’ve outgrown selfies. But you get the drift, right?
Speaking of selfies giving off the wrong impression post marriage and motherhood brings me to the following stupid assumption.
3. Marriage symbols – For display purposes only
Remember weddings where the bride is expected to pile on gold like she’s a walking-talking Joy Alukkas jewellery shop? Apparently, the display show doesn’t end at the wedding ceremony.
I remember distinctly this incident in the first week I joined work in my mid-thirties after nearly a decade-long corporate sabbatical. A twenty-something male colleague who must have just finished college, and thought of himself as some stud boy came up to my desk. He felt this overpowering need to give me a dress down on how married women should look.
He asked me why I wasn’t wearing toe rings, mangalsutra, and bindi like other married women. I told him we didn’t follow such customs, and besides, I was wearing my wedding ring. The guy wasn’t convinced and somehow wanted to drive home the message that I was misleading the office men with the lack of marriage symbols on my body.
I asked the young man to concentrate on better things in life than on what I should be wearing. A married woman or not! It’s also the next discussion point.
4. Clothes – Here’s the dress down
Similar to the ripped jeans restrictions, I’m sure all of us must have been told what’s appropriate to wear for a decent woman. It can be anything from sleeveless tops to skinny jeans to chiffon sarees and shorts.
This incident happened when I was in the US and in a public park with my daughter. A random Afghani woman came up to me and struck a conversion. I was in a regular casual half-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. At the end of our conversation, this woman gave me unsolicited advice.
“Why don’t you wear full-sleeved shirts?”
I didn’t bother to retort but found it amusing that even my forearms can turn people on and hence must be covered from sight.
Another piece of advice is to wear a dupatta when you go outside. I’ve never understood the logic of a flimsy material like the dupatta to conceal your breasts. On the contrary, it draws attention to it. Is that the perverted logic behind wearing a dupatta in the first place? It’s ridiculous to see women in shapeless nightgowns with a dupatta who attend to the doorbell or venture out in their apartments. Apparently, all these paraphernalia like dupatta are meant to show the world that you’re a decent and respectable woman.
More idiotic advice is not to wear bright lipstick especially, or wear flowers on your head, lest you look like a woman from the red-light district. After a certain age, you are expected to dress sober, and hence, brightly coloured outfits, for example, are out of your league.
5. Conduct – How to be a good woman
So, you’re not just judged on your appearances but also on how you conduct yourself. Good women don’t sit with their legs wide open or cross-legged. Good women don’t talk or laugh loudly. Please feel free to add to the list of what good women should and should not do.
Here’s another actual incident at a family wedding I attended without my husband. But I was there in attendance with my parents, daughter, siblings, et al. There I was, dancing like no one’s watching with my family, when a creepy relative from the bride’s side got all the wrong signals. The man started pestering me to share my number for friendship and meetings later despite repeatedly denying his requests. So, dancing is also an invitation. Phew!
But did that incident stop me from dancing and being myself? No way!
Honestly, the list of being a good woman is never-ending. So, you’re better off not trying to be one in the first place. Do whatever the hell you want. You have one life to live to bother with trivial mentality, issues, and restrictions.
I have the best advice –
How about leaving adult women alone to do whatever they want to do with their lives?