Women Empowerment


Women are supposed to be easier to market to than men. Why? Because women are apparently more susceptible to suggestions. We tend to take things at their face value. If an ad says “use this shampoo and you’ll have awesome hair”, we will go try it out. Is it because we’re trying to constantly aspire for a better body image or we are just fools? I think it is the former.

Because women aren’t fools always. They know how to take advantage of a situation.

Recently, a friend of mine got into a spot of trouble on the road. She was backing out for a legit parking spot, and someone coming in the wrong direction banged her car. She started fighting with the guy and demanded he pay to fix the damages. A crowd collected, and they were pretty supportive of her. But as usual, there were some who were supporting the guy and telling her to let it go.

A plump old aunty came to my rescue, my friend said. She started arguing with the guy much more loudly, and finally threatened him in Hindi “If you don’t back off, she’ll put a molestation and rape case on you. We’re tear her clothes a bit and then we’ll see how you won’t pay damages.”

The statement shut up most people and apparently the crowd dispersed quietly. My friend was too shocked to do anything more than take the now-subdued guy’s number and move.

This isn’t the first time such a thing has come in conversation. Another lady advised a friend to complain about someone who was troubling her (in a absolutely non-sexual way). “Tell the cops he attempted to rape you,” the lady said. The disturbing part was she actually meant it.

How does this India co-exist with an India where women who have been subject to this atrocity kill themselves?

We thought that women being raped as a form of punishment was abhorring enough. Now, we find out that women are filing fake rape complaints to get their way. What makes it worse is that a woman is ready to destroy a person’s reputation and life for something as trivial as a fender bender. Or because someone complained about the dogs in your apartment.

On one hand, we are facing serious issues regarding women empowerment. We are facing issues in getting the cops to take molestation and rape seriously. We want them to be educated and be sensitive towards people who’ve suffered – men or women. And on the other, we have women who are misusing these laws to further to their own agenda.

Cases of sexual harassment have become the norm. And today, I find it hard to believe anything that I read. A comment on a nail polish colour could be construed as sexual harassment.  A opinion about how someone has become fat is considered as sexual harassment.

Is this what women empowerment is?

Pants vs Skirts

You know why pants were made? For horseback riding. Because people needed something comfortable, and to protect their legs. And there are some who say that the first trouser was invented by a Queen – a woman.

But if you are a woman wearing pants today, at some point you are asked the question ‘why do you dress like a guy’?

Our dresses have evolved over centuries, wherein certain garments became popular with men and some for women. Trousers veered to the men’s side mainly because they were out working, doing tasks that required horse riding, and jumping on fences and other things that did not need a garment getting in the way. And women continued with the airy (and then not so airy) garments of skirts and dresses.

Now that women are back out on the streets again doing things, why not go back to that simple garment of pants? It is comfortable. It gives you pockets to shove your keys, cellphone and money into. It means you can sit with your legs up without worrying about your dignity. It means you do not have to worry about a strong wind and flying dresses. It means you stay warmer.

Luckily for women, we’ve had the freedom to take back certain items of clothing. For men, not so lucky. Wouldn’t a guy want to wear something loose and comfortable to work in this heat? Except for Americans, and some parts of Europe, there are forms of a ‘skirt’ still popular, if not in the workplace. A mundu / lungi / sarong is quite popular in Asian countries. Romans wore long tunics, ensuring they survived the hot summers.The Greeks wore some version of it. So why not bring it back? If men will (and that’s the tough part) why shouldn’t they be allowed to wear skirts to work?

Women’s Women

Kalki Koechlin. Nandita Das.

You rarely hear about men liking these women. They don’t find them hot. They don’t find them interesting. But women… women love them. Not quite the same way they admire actresses like Priyanka Chopra or Katrina Kaif, but they have a different sort of affection for such women.

Why? To some of us, the answer to this is easy. Because these women are simply themselves. They do not set unrealistic standards for the regular women to achieve. They are almost regular women, with some fame and nicer clothes thrown in.

They have bad hair days, fat days, pimples, tanned skin and more. And more importantly, they are comfortable in their skin. kalkikoechlin-sexualabuse

In the world of unrealistic body sizes and fashion sense, the regular woman feels pushed towards these ideals and it takes a tough fight to remain true to yourself.

Your body image is not entirely of your creation. We aspire to be slender. Not thin. Not fat. Slender. Sleek. With the right size of boobs and ass, and great shiny hair. And if we could have managed it in some ways, the right length of leg as well.

But the right size of boobs, ass and shiny hair actually takes a whole lot of maintenance. It takes money on products, it takes working out regularly, eating healthy and weekly trips to the salon, where you spend more time and money. And honestly, the average working women just does not have the time. Do you think we’d rather go to the parlor and suffer unspeakable tortures after a crazy week or get into our PJs, pour some cheap wine and pig out in front of the TV?

Personally, what I like about Kalki is she is not the bra-burning feminazi that’s become so common today. She is almost just a women, trying to live in this world. Of course, the pedigree helps… but there are some things that’ll never change no matter how rich or poor you are.

We’ve been conditioned to standards of beauty and fashion over centuries. With more media being thrown at us, these ideals are being reinforced quicker and stronger. Young girls are flooded with images on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, news sites, pop idols wherein people are a particular way.

If your genes bless you with a great body, you might have a little less teenage angst. But what if you are NOT the right size? What if you are just a teeny bit fatter? Thinner? Your hair is frizzier? You are shorter. You have a lot of hair and your parents don’t allow you to wax till you are 16.

Guys have their set of problems too… I’m pretty sure I do not know about most of it, but there are pressures to be and behave a particular way. Which is perhaps why guys like Rahul Bose make an impression. Many guys are not really keen on saying that they ‘like’ him… because masculinity demands that you do not subscribe to such notions.

We need more public figures who stop reinforcing stupid, unachievable aspirational images. No, I’d never want to be a Katrina Kaif or a Bipasha Basu. What I’d like is to be quietly graceful (and that’s as unachievable as the moon!). So I’d rather be myself… uncoordinated, sometimes graceful, and wacky.

What makes you a Powerful Woman?

There is just so much hooha about ‘feminism’. You are doomed if you will and you are doomed if you won’t. But then, what’s new in that? Women have always walked that tightrope… and have always gotten slammed no matter which side they picked. And the people doing the slamming are generally other women.

One of the latest things is about naked photographs of women celebrities online. Happened a while ago… photos are perhaps still circulating. But there were a bunch of articles today that were like sitting on a seesaw. They talked about naked women’s photos, women’s depiction in the media and of course, the everyday woman who is apparently beaten up by her drunken husband.

It got me wondering – who is really the ‘powerful’ woman?

Hillary Clinton on the cover of Time? Aishwarya Rai on the cover of Vogue. Kim Kardashian with her own reality show?

What defines them as successful? Nigella Lawson would be called successful by some, till photographs of her being manhandled by her husband showed up and then she became ‘oh that poor woman’.

I’ve often struggled with being nice to women who have chosen to be housewives. I felt it was an insult to all mankind and womankind because here were are, trying to say that we can do things too and be all strong and independent and then you go and become a housewife because you are too damn lazy to get off your fat ass and actually do something.

Actually, I still do have a problem with these women… because this isn’t about women empowerment shit. This is about the fact that you are taking advantage of someone else.

The reason there is so much of fuss about ‘feminism’ is because of people like this. Feminism is not a bra-burning, men-hating movement. It was a movement that was born to remove some of the oppression. Sure, we might not see this sitting with our really cool, evolved friends who have more than two working brain cells. But after several decades of being a second-class citizen, where you did not have the right to study, vote, own property or work – which basically meant you were a burden on the rest of the family – people decided that they wanted to do stuff too.

Feminism is about equality. And I really do mean equality. Because when you put one side of the seesaw down, the other one goes up. If one person in a family is not working, that means the other one needs to work doubly as hard. If one person does not have the opportunity to follow their dreams, it means the other one does not either. This is not about putting men down… it is returning a part of what was lost to them in the trial of machismo – an opportunity to be themselves.

Which brings me back to the question – who is the powerful woman? Is she the waitress who turned into a politician? Is she the small-town girl who is plastered as a semi-naked poster in a teenage boy’s room? Is she the social worker who turned into a politician? Is she the everyday woman who does what she has to because she has a family to maintain? Is she the woman who chooses to sit at home and not work because someone else can?

A powerful woman is not really the one who is out there and being seen. To me, she could be the little village girl making her own way in a patriarchal society. Because when we have the liberty to make our own choices, we sometimes forget about the millions of others who do not have that liberty. Who cannot even wish of it.

We cannot stand for those people every single day. We have our lives to get on with. But maybe, once in a while, before berating a woman for a making a choice that is not socially acceptable, perhaps we should stop to think that mere decades ago, you would not even be allowed to have an opinion. That is not about being powerful. It is about just being.

The Indian Definition of “Us” and “Our”

2013-14 has been a momentous year in Indian politics. Perhaps I have grown old enough to appreciate the nuances of politics, or the situation has gotten more interesting. We have had new faces come to the forefront, after decades of jaded, stern old men. 

Rahul Gandhi on one side – the favorite icon of cartoonists. His comments gave cartoonists and columnists months worth of fun material. 

Narendra Modi on the other hand – the controversial, progressive leader. He at least had some achievements to his name, albeit on the dicier side of how much was true. 

But for those who did not find either of these options acceptable, it was a tough path. 

And so came AAP – the aam aadmi party. The mango people party. The everyday man’s party. And hopes were rekindled. But in the short few months the party has been in power in Delhi, cartoonists have found a new love. 

But this post isn’t about AAP or any of these political parties in general. 

It is something that I just caught onto… the use of the word “Us” and “Our”. 

While one would believe that these words in a secular country like India would be all encompassing, they truly are not. They mean different things when speaking to different sections of the voters. 

For example, AAP’s reiterated stand they wanted to protect ‘hamari aurat’ and ‘aam aurat’. These statements were made after heinous violations of the rights of some African women, who unfortunately do not see any sign of justice currently. AAP went on to release the names and addresses of these women, who were accused of prostitution. Never mind that there is not a shred of proof of prostitution or drugs. 

Reading through tons of speeches made by people after this incident, I wondered if it was only me who was noticing the distinct ‘hamara’. 

While we claim to be a diverse nation and even celebrate the same, we are expected to be monotonous. Indians, by large, are expected to be Hindus, non-meat eating, non-drinking, traditional, temple-going crowd of people. 

Even as we claim that the discrimination against Dalits is a thing of the past, when I read through these speeches, I wonder if that is really true. Conversations of with some people in the past have left me wondering about their definition of Hindus. There have been people who have stated that Hindus are the “non-meat eating, thread-wearing section of people who actually are not even supposed to drink beer”. This was said with a beer in hand. And it restricted Hindus to the Bramhin and perhaps the Vaishya sect of the population. They would include the Kshatriyas but the Shudras were no where in this equation. 

I’m not going to talk about how these castes came along (we have a beautiful article on Wikipedia for that). But the mass definition of Indians refuses to consider even basic food preferences and restrict it to the smallest section of the population.

Likewise, AAP’s definition of our ‘hamari aurat’ coolly ignores the working woman, women from other cultures who have settled here for generations and are as Indian as you and me. The Chinese-Delhi woman, the African-Gujarati women. Yes, these people do exist and they worship the same gods that we do, if that is a point of contention. But in the worst case of racism seen in a while, all these people become outsiders with one stroke and hence, evil. 

Dizzy Disney Princess

Oh there are so many posts and blogs and articles about Disney Princesses and how these are weak, stupid females setting wrong examples to children. For a long time, I didn’t particularly think of these obviously-fiction characters as role models. They were bed time stories and that was it. 

I received a book of feminist stories when I was perhaps 14. The books had an interesting twist on the common stories that we read. Little Red Riding Hood did not wait for someone to come and cut her out of the Wolf’s stomach. She chopped the wolf to pieces herself. Cindrella did not end up marrying the prince – the guy who was so blinded by the lights that he couldn’t really recognize the woman he claimed he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

15 Terrible Love Lessons We Learned From Disney Princesses

Some of these stories were very clearly written for older women. But even if I had heard them as a kid, would it have made an difference to me as a woman? 

I don’t think hearing the traditional (non-Grimm Brothers) versions of these stories scarred me in any way or made me sit and wait for my Prince Charming to rescue me. Perhaps that is also because of other role models I had. 

I know several kids in today’s generation who fawn over the Disney Princess. They have Disney Princess lunchboxes, CDs, backpacks, pencil cases, t-shirts and their rooms are painted in the candiest pink you can find. It is disturbing. Because with all that pink, the girls also seem to be having a definition of what being a ‘girl’ means, even at the tender age of 7 or 8 years old. They wants a ‘girl-specific’ bike, they want a barbie and not a remote-controlled car.

15 Terrible Love Lessons We Learned From Disney Princesses

It makes me wonder – was I one of the exceptions to be influenced by these stories? Do these stories seep into our psyche in manners that are seen only later? 

Do children really believe that if they are trapped in a glass box, a prince will come and break them out of that box? Do they believe that waiting is a virtue? That singing songs in the rain will really be heard by a passing stranger, who then will be nice enough to help you?

I’d like to believe that these fairy tales are just that – fantasy. I probably dreamed more about being in The Hobbit and fighting dragons more than being in a Princess trapped in a boring life of song and high ceilings. But perhaps when these stories are being made into movies, it is more dangerous than letting your own imagination fly.

The Fall Of Tarun Tejpal

I was perhaps 18 when I first met Mr. Tarun Tejpal. He was an icon to us in those days, just after the infamous “Operation West End” and the match fixing scandal in cricket. 

He was the standard to match for the journalists of our generation, and for once, the auditorium was packed willingly with student journalists keen to hear him talk. He walked in, wearing his trademark kurta, an imposing figure and charismatic. 

Strangely, I do not remember much of what he said. He spoke about the integrity of journalism and why it was important for the government to have good ‘watchdogs’. Those were the terms we used on a daily basis on those days. “The media is the watchdog of the government.” “A journalist must be unbiased and give all sides of the story.”

Tejpal and his magazine Tehelka faded into the student days, and we became jaded with the reality of journalism. We realised we were mere tools for propaganda and our ideas of being the watchdog were edited out. 

But a small part of hope was finally extinguished with the recent scandal surrounding Tejpal. More importantly, his response and reaction to the entire situation.

For someone who has supposedly constantly fought against injustice and corruption, his arrogance in the face of the accusation strips away some of the glory of his past accomplishments. 

It is disheartening to see a magazine like Tehelka, which has long positioned itself as the ‘true’ spokesperson of the people, to say that “what happens in our office is none of your business.” For Tejpal to assume that his standing excuses him from any actual punishment.

In that one statement, he became yet another power-drunk businessman / politician who believes that he is above society’s laws. That his actions do not deserve the same reaction as the rest of the commoner. 

What is the difference between Tarun Tejpal and Salman Khan, who was accused to running over and killing several people sleeping on the pavement? It is said that Salman Khan has made ‘retribution’ and is taking care of all the families of people he killed. It is said that he is taking care of their jobs and education. Yet, we demand for justice.

What is the difference between Tejpal and countless politicians whose actions have been brought to the forefront by the very same man who now claims a ‘6-month absence as the editor’ is punishment enough for his actions. 

Perhaps he never was the man that we all admired. Perhaps he has fallen from the heights he achieved, dizzy on his own power. 

But his fall marks an end of the purity of journalism in a manner that perhaps can never be restored.