Sunday, November 27, 2005

Insecurity thy name is woman

I thought men bashing was passé. What real purpose can it serve when even the bashers admit that the one being bashed has thickest skin amongst species? I mean I understand where the flogging a dead horse idiom comes from, at least indulging in that serves a cathartic purpose. But male bashing is like flogging a live rhino who smiles wider every time you hit him. This male bashing post made me wonder why such simple logic is lost on women. Oh! Horrors of horrors, was that gender insensitive, politically incorrect, Oh-my-gosh-you-didn’t-say-that, kind of a comment?

Pardonez moi oh wise reader I was merely… what did she call it? Hmm… generalising. Trust me, given the post I am responding to, generalisation should be the least of my worries. The author herself has said, “And by men I’m talking about the entire male population - from uncles to fathers to boyfriends to brothers. Don’t give me that shit about generalization, because I’m not buying it.”

And what does this nouveau belan-morcha-party candidate have to say about our poor uncles, fathers boyfriends and brothers? According to her men are responsible for women wanting to change something about themselves.

And why do we do this? Why do we give in to these insecurities? Why do we constantly fret about the look of our bodies? Why do we subject our bodies to damaging diets? Why is our appearance an unconscious and perpetual concern? Because society places value on our looks. And by society, I mean men.
And what is the evidence provided. The prosecution is accusing men of the nastiest of crimes such as the following: 1) Being their honest selves – “They all drool over the good-looking babes.” 2) Fantasizing – “They have intricately detailed porn-movie-style fantasies about sexy bombshells (even if they have no real chance in hell of getting that woman!)” and the worst of all 3) Gossiping – “At some point in their lives, they’ve gotten together with their buddies and discussed who they’ve slept with or who they’d like to(real or imagined).”

What a world we live in? Truly there is no place for such ghastly crimes. Therefore the author offers a solution. Before I reveal the elegant solution, here is a pop quiz. What do you do when robberies increase in your neighbourhood? You might think of locking your house, increasing policing and punishing the culprits. I too thought that. But you know what, we were wrong. The solution to fight robbery is to go out and rob others just like the robbers are doing. "But then don't you lose the moral right to criticise?," you may question. But such concerns are irrelevant in the author's if-they-can-do-it-so-can-we kind of utopia. At least that’s what one concludes after reading the author’s solution. She exhorts her female compatriots to do exactly what the men are doing. “My idea? Let’s treat them the same damn way.” She wants women to hoot and whistle and check out and admire men’s cute(???) behinds so that men feel insecure.

In men’s defense I will say this. Yes men do all those things they are accused of and more, but that doesn’t make them the sole cross bearers of women’s insecurities. Equally, if not more, other women are responsible for making women feel that way.

Consider this. Ask a man what he thinks of a particular girl. In most cases the answer may be: She was beautiful, an absolute pataka, cute smile, she had huge boobs, or she had a fantastic figure. Now pose the same question to a woman. “Her nose was too sharp,” “She needs to trim her eyebrows,” “She had applied grey mascara, can you believe that? What sort of a tramp does that?” “She has long neck?” Etc.

Now tell me whom amongst the two would you call obsessed with beauty and therefore responsible for making women feel insecure? Aah! Do I hear someone say that even though women do that, they do it only because men have set those impossible standards? Now wait a minute. Men don’t even notice those things! Men don’t know the difference between mascara and eyeliner. They don’t realize when a woman’s hair is flat or shiny or dull or frizzy or whichever other states women lament about their hair. Ask a man about a woman's hair and his answer has to be amongst the following. Either short of long. And as far as the author's comment about being conscious of 'hollow cheeks and knobbly knees'… I was amongst the ones who have been with most of the groups who drooled in Pune’s colleges and haven’t once heard a fellow drooler commenting on knees and cheeks. C’mon we have better things to notice! At least give us that. I am not saying that what men do is laudable or that they can be completely absolved of the blame. I am arguing that despite their flaws they concentrate on the basics of beauty and hence aren’t the culprits in making women feel insecure. That medal belongs to women themselves for making others of their kin feel miserable.

The common conversation in an Indian household when a man buys a gift for his wife goes like this.

Wife: It’s so beautiful. I really like it. That was so thoughtful of you darling to remember.
Husband: (Blushing, trying to get closer for a hug.)
Wife: But couldn’t you find something in Raani colour? I already have three green dresses.
Husband: (scratches his head trying to figure out what Raani colour looks like.)
Wife: What am I going to do with another green dress? Humph. It's equivalent of not having one.
Husband: (trying to salvage the situation and the evening which seems to be slowly moving downhill) But darling don't you think there is also a shade of blue in there. I think. Besides you look gorgeous in green.
Wife: Do you mean I don’t look good in Raani colour? I have told you so many times not to repeat colours. You never listen.
Husband: (His neck is slowly getting buried in his shoulders.)
Wife: And look at this embroidery. Even that is not done properly. That shopkeeper swindled you, and you being you bought this for a fortune. Plus this dupatta wont even go with any other dress.
Husband: (By now has given up all hope and has settled on the sofa and is busy reading the newspaper)
Wife: I think I will gift it to Lata. Her wedding is coming up soon. I am sure she will like it. You men never have any eye for beauty.
Now assuming something similar happens in 70% of the households, one thing is clear -- men really don’t care about such things. Yes they notice the dress but they don’t link it to the other dresses of women or for that matter the colour, texture, design embroidery and other details that women are on a lookout for. They don’t notice all of the other things women spend 2 hours ‘making-up’ for. They did rather the woman miss the make up session and they reach the function on time. So if men don’t notice whom do the women do it for? Obviously for themselves and other women. So there you go. Set your house in order first before you go about calling names to others.

This attempt at pinning the blame on men fails on another front. Yes, men do drool and swoon and do all sorts of other nasty stuff but only to girls of age. What then can explain 3-8 year-old little girls’ fascination with lipstick and beads and pins, dressing up her dolls etc. There is no pressure on them. They don’t do it to impress guys or because they feel insecure. One has to admit that we inherit some unique gender qualities as part of our evolutionary make-up. And part of them involves a woman’s fascination with beauty. What’s wrong with celebrating our differences? If you look at it there is nothing really objectionable about it. After all what’s wrong with indulging oneself by pampering your body and wanting to look good? The problem comes when you start feeling insecure. Now that is entirely your problem and you should learn to deal with it. If a beautiful woman passes by and a man admires her it doesn’t mean he loves her more than his wife/girlfriend or that he feels his wife should be like her. He very well knows that he is never going to get a woman like that. But that’s what fantasies are for. That’s why they are called fantasies. They serve a very healthy psychological purpose for both men and women. Yes women may have much more politically correct fantasies, but they do fantasize about things that come naturally to them owning to various genetic, hormonal and sociological reasons. The author's suggestion to women about fantasizing the same way men do is absurd. How can anyone enjoy a forced fantasy? It's like asking men to fantasize about women's nature instead of their bodies. A welcome suggestion, but unfortunately never gonna happen!

When men admire a beautiful woman walking down the street; they aren’t trying to make a statement about their wife/girlfriend’s beauty. The point to remember is the man despite his admiration still loves his wife/girlfriend many times over than the other woman. That woman’s beauty is a matter of fact and he is simply stating it.
A wonderful quote on this subject is by one of the first famous women writers Madame de Staël -- "The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man." This need not be so. His wife/girlfriend can hear him and agree or disagree with him about his conception of beauty but she doesn’t have to feel inadequate because of it.

And regarding being slim and conscious of their weight, who has perpetuated that standard? For every man who loves a slim femme fatale you are likely to find a man who loves a voluptuous figure. There are many who love ‘aunties,’ (however despicable that may be, its the truth)who are nowhere near the hourglass standard. I agree that those sexy models in porn movies fascinate men. What makes the woman in porn so erotic is not her red lips and her fake breasts, but the fact that she's "crazy." She's ever ready, always willing to do anything to please a man. Ask a man whether he would want that sort of a woman as his wife/girlfriend. The answer is no. Men don't have much trouble distinguishing between reality and the weird world of commercial raunch. So why should a woman feel pressurised to change her looks? Generally in the long run a man prefers a decent, intelligent woman as his wife. Another example would be the cosmetic industry. Women, not men, populate the cosmetic industry. Fair and Lovely ads are created for women by women and not men. It’s women not men who buy women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan and Femina. Those are the worst offenders with their anorexic photographs and stupid articles about '10 ways to please your man.' Look at the mainstream print media. When men commentators and op-ed writers weigh in on political issues and women political personalities, they never refer to a woman’s looks/dress etc. But read Shobhaa De and Maureen Dowd’s columns and you will find detailed information about Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Botox and Condi’s shoes and Uma Bharti’s shocking orange to Sonia’s sarees. Now who is setting the standards here? Men admire Madeline Albright and Condi Rice's of the world regardless of their beauty quotient.

Also, women have set worse standards when it comes to men. Yet how many men do you find blogging about……. “Oh I have to study so hard…… I can’t find time to read a book or enjoy my youth since I have to land a good job…. I have to leave my favourite field and find a well-paying job because it takes longer to settle in the field I love and one doesn’t find a wife after one is past 30…. I had children and now I can’t take a promotion because it involves shifting the family etc.” They don’t say that because they are confident in themselves. Their locus of control is within them. They know that life is tough and this is the way the game is played. They do the above-mentioned things for themselves as much as for the women in their life. Despite the harsh standards, they take it on their chin and move on rather than blame women.

Despite this, men are vulnerable and touchy about things. But these aren’t the things our belan-morcha-party wishes to target. For instance, men would care two hoots if women went about admiring other men. Look at the responses to the post. Majority of them are from women who have praised the endeavour. Men didn’t even care enough to respond. It’s not something that bothers them. I mean I would have applauded it if the author had said something to the effect of “Let’s make men feel insecure about the things that matter to them.” Then it would have been an intelligent move. Because one is exploiting the innate differences between the sexes rather than a blind copy-cat game. An intelligent punishment for men would be women appreciating other men’s wit, intelligence, sense of humour, wealth, job, status etc. and then stand back and just watch the man in their lives squirm. Then watch a man’s reaction as he defends his bruised fragile ego. It’s juvenile to assume that men would feel the same way if women drooled over other men.

And before I sign off…

I know a few smart girls who’ll toss their head, and say bah! I don’t care if I look like a frump! But I will stick by what I said. I think deep inside, the desire to look beautiful exists, but their intelligence finds the desire ridiculous and tries to squash it by doing the very opposite.

Now that’s a queer statement. It’s condescending towards all women because it implies that apart from the few smart girls, all other women don’t use their intelligence. Just imagine a man insinuating this and daggers would have been drawn pointing out his chauvinism.


Aniket said...

Not sure I agree, but good post all the same.

Chetan said...

My apologies to those of you who tried to post a comment Monday evening. I was testing a code and it had a bug and the comments section was affected. I have fixed the problem. So Sudip you can post your comment now.

Anirudh said...

Interesting post, this. I enjoyed Ash's post too but the points you make are correct.

Chetan said...

I am glad you liked it Anirudh. Thanks.

Shruthi said...

I enjoyed reading your post, Chetan. I will not say I agree with all the points, but many of your points are really valid.

Here's what I have to say -

In the animal kingdom, the male of the species does all it can to attract the female. Here the female usually looks dowdy and unimpressive, but the male goes all out to impress. I don't claim to be knowledgeable on this, but in humans, the female does the dressing up to attract males. Now this is a basic fact since time immemorial. Have you heard of Antony or Caesar bathing in milk? That's what I mean.

But when women start dressing up, perfectionists that we are, we need everything just so. We need to have perfectly shaped nails, pedicured feet, and the oh-so-perfectly arched eyebrows. For us, being beautiful is to have all this and more. So we go all out to dress up and look beautiful. So though we want to look beautiful for the male, the maddening need to concentrate on the finer details is for ourselves.

Your example - ask a man about a woman's hair - he will just say if it is long or short - is very very true! :)
In one of Dave Barry's columns (Miami Herald) - he says, in his typical exaggerated style, something like " A woman spends about 1000 hours a year worrying about her nails. But have you ever heard a man say 'Oh, she has a wonderful set of fingernails'?"
That about sums it up :)

And yes, when a woman is obsessed with details of her own self, she will naturally notice and comment on those details in other women! So when dressing up, we keep other women in mind. But remember - why did we want to dress up in the first place?? To attract men!
Do you agree?

Rashmi said...


hi ! you got a big wide smile on my face ! thanks


Alka said...

Your write up about 3-8 years old girls caught my fancy. I think, they try to copy their mothers, aunts or whomever they are closer to. I have never seen my mother applying make-up or wearing jewellary. And the truth is, I never was/is an owner of lipstick. Make-up kit is quite alien to us, sisters. :-)

Ajit said...

A good post, I agree with pretty much everything you said. You put my thoughts into words!