I have spent the last month-and-a-half in the United States of America visiting friends and family. While museums in every big city and musicals on Broadway took up much of my time (in a great way), I also spent many painful minutes observing conversations among ‘über cool desis’. The comments that were made on heterosexual relationships, especially the conclusions that were drawn about the women in these relationships, make the strongest case for three things: What labels change when applied to men and women, how feminism is misunderstood and misinterpreted, and why we need feminism now more than ever. Here are excerpts from the conversations, not in any particular order.
Setting: Central Park, New York City. Friends are hanging out on the grass slightly tipsy after a long brunch. Two people, male and female, talk about a variety of subjects. They are both informed, opinionated and don’t see eye to eye.
Comment from a man later on: She’s loud mouthed and keep cant keep her mouth shut.
Comment from a woman later on: That was a great conversation. I haven’t enjoyed an argument as good as that in a long time.
Setting: A house in San Francisco shared by two young tech professionals (both women). It’s late in the night, and the biryani cooked by one of them has just been polished off by a set of friends.
Comment: “Oh my! That biryani was so good. The man you’re going to marry is very lucky.”
Observation: They live by themselves, have to eat and cook for themselves. The male friend who cooks was just ‘independent’. The male chef has a ‘cool career choice’. No one said anything about the women in their lives. And isn’t cooking related to eating? What has marriage got to do with it?
Setting: Dinner at an Italian restaurant, New York City. Conversation veers towards a couple that is mutual friends with us.
Comment: I don’t know how he handles her. I mean, she wears the pants in the relationship.
Observation: Men wear the ‘pants in the relationship’ all the time and no one ever talks about it. Also this description for those trying really hard to keep an equal relationship is old and boring. Plus everyone wears pants now, pants are no longer a symbol of masculinity, and didn’t Ranveer Singh rock that skirt recently?
Setting: Art café and bar, New York City. Two men at the table talking about two couples who started dating in high school and went on to get married.
Comment: So many years with the same girl. The guy must be so deprived.
Observation: The girl has spent just the same number of years with this guy. Isn’t she deprived? And what does ‘deprived’ mean in a happy relationship? People who made it to marriage from high school, despite all the pressure, especially from the likes of these commenters are not deprived — they were madly in love and that is usually called relationship goals.
Setting: House in Austin. Relationship talk again. This time about a couple who broke up after several years together.
Comment: She couldn’t even keep this one guy, bro. How is she ever going to find anyone?
Observation: Everyone knows the full story, no one speaks of the man’s commitment issues. The woman is always blamed, shamed or labeled. Plus whats the deal with having to find someone?
I wondered, just like you, why so much time is spent talking about relationships. I also wish we didn’t look at other’s lives at all through our lenses, especially the too-old-to be-used-anymore ones.
I must tell you now that a few of the above comments, not so surprisingly, were made by women. Hence proven that the battle is not only against misogyny but also its internalized form. And if we really need glasses, we need brand new lenses. For that, we need feminism. Humanism doesn’t quite make the cut.
(The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton)