Thursday, May 17, 2012

On Objectification - by K

First, meet K. She writes over at Bitch Slap Barbie. I've known her since 2006, when we met at Madras University. [fondly referred to by the alum as Mad Uni.] We then worked together for two years at TOI. We are also great friends and pact-holders. Sometimes, I think I might marry her, because she's so amazing! :) She's someone I trust completely and someone who I run to in times of needing objectivity. An amazing writer and a super brain and an even better journo. Yeah, I know, I'm gushing. But she deserves every vowel and consonant in this introduction.

On that happy note, I would like you to read further, on her response to the comments section of this post.


When I was young(er) and in school and generally being more angsty than I am now, some friends had a name for me. She-woman/ man-hater. I really have no idea where they got this from and this was in school mind you, when I was not displaying, overtly, my tendency to also appreciate the f. of the s. And I have for long lived with this label of ‘feminist-type’ woman.

But then there is a fundamental problem. What kind of feminist would I be? The kind who embraces her femininity and says different does not mean unequal or the kind who goes on about how I can do anything a man can? Would I be the, I will not shave or wax or do my eyebrows/ grow a beard type or would I wear lip-gloss to go with my kolhapuris and wooden bangles? Would I shun little black dresses and high heels on a particularly lovely Friday evening and not go dancing with my girlfriends or would I sit alone in a coffee shop, drinking black tea, reading Jamaica Kincaid?

Honestly, I have done it all. I have shaved. Some days I have not. I get my eyebrows done and some days I let them turn into caterpillars. I wax when I feel like it. And I also never miss out on a chance to wear a Bengal cotton. I have an appreciation for beauty, particularly of the feminine kind. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with men, and continue to do so with one such person of the charming kind from the opposite sex (despite evidence pointing to other direction, at this point in life I must say I am straight and monogamous). I am not the best driver around, but I am happy to drive men around and buy them dinner. I open doors for other women and think chivalry deserves to stay alive – as a sort of a beautiful song and dance that people do around each other, a hangover of the past that reminds us that a bit of formality, a little bit of distance is a mark of respect, a sort of ‘I promise to not take you for granted’ statement.

So what am I? To spew a cliché, I am a product of my generation – socialized into believing that I have the right to be anything I deem right, at any given point and that I control my life. (Zigmunt Bauman writes famously in his Individually, Together about establishing a de jure automony in his foreword to Ulrich Beck’s book, Individualiazation, on how sociology as an institutionalized rejection of individualism is no longer possible and that individualization itself is institutionalized in the modern era. I would advice anyone with an interest in modernism to read it).

So coming to the question at hand, why do I not mind ‘accessorizing’ if objectification (of the sexual kind) hurts my intelligence? Well I could write an anthropological/ sociological explanation – talking about gender and roles and beauty and self. Or I could ask how does representation of a gender in its traditional sense a. qualify as non-feminist b. qualify as ‘up for objectification’?

If my grandmother wore a beautiful nose ring with seven stones that sparkled every time she turned her face towards the light, and I grew up watching her, considering her to be the very definition of what beauty in its most raw sense must seem like, and decided to go ahead and order myself a similar nose ring and wore it, does that make me up for a marriage at 13, or does that signal an organic continuity that has accommodated enough change to go with the times?

Here’s the bottom line. I am not here to defend my gender. I am hardly the mean, median and mode. But I am here to say, I am not ‘only’ my gender. Yes, it rankles that ‘we’ have been historically oppressed, shortchanged economically and handed a raw deal most times, are a sort of a walking time bomb, reminded constantly that the clock is ticking if our uteruses haven’t been suitably institutionalized, and thought of as failures until we manage to snag a man, but we have learned to brush it all off and say, ‘Oh, what are you gonna do? Life’s not fair. Let’s get on with our jobs, listen to Beyonce sing, Who run this mother or All the single ladies, read Jane Austen and watch Tina Fey, listen to Oprah and wonder why oh why did Jayalalitha let Sasikala back into Poes Garden?’

As you can see, one has a million things to worry about. Add keeping track of your menstrual cycle, pedi-mani / waxing appointments, work, meetings, girlfriends, men – in general, male friends, psychotic exes, heart aches, rejection, acceptance, love, lust, drama, drama, more drama, tears, rum, choosing what to wear when – appropriately, finding sleep, waking up on time, making it to work on time, mother, mother’s banter, what mother will think of this man, what mother will think of your clothes, what mother’s reaction will be to this late night rendezvous, etc, etc, etc. In the middle of all this, really, do you really think we must make time to wonder if we have fallen prey to our own clichés or must we embrace the charmingly, sometimes frustrating idiosyncrasies that come as a package deal when we are old enough realise who we are and what we must be like?

For the record, what I do consider an insult to my intelligence is someone, anyone (particularly if the said someone isn’t even from my gender) telling me I must read some text book somewhere written by some somewhat frustrated (aren’t we all?) lady giving us her version of what I, by virtue of being an independent individual must renounce – erm is that not tautological and self-defeating?

What I mean to say is, my MAC make-up, body shop’s body butter, Himalya’s lip gloss, wooden, glass and pearl bangles, hundreds of beads, chunky necklaces, picked up from gypsies after a lot of bargaining, diamond nose ring… They are all staying. And I am planning on using them for a very, very long time, while I continue to hold high standards and you better watch your step or you may fall into the MCP category even as I expect you to offer to pick up the check and open doors and drop me home, not because you are a man but because I do that too, regularly, even as I call myself a feminist, just as proud of being able to make rasam the way my mother makes as I have been with any academic and or professional achievements.


  1. Pady, if you ask, I will say yes :P - to marriage.

  2. Baby! I'm telling you, we will go to anokhi, buy skirts, eat potato platters and be happy campers! :D

  3. I love this. I also love the fact that both of you ladies are from India and write more eloquently in English than even many published writers in the West. Granted, you went to school in Chennai? That must explain some of it :P I swear South Indians just have better English on the whole. Even if they, too, are sometimes guilty of "my hairs are so soft". Best wishes <3

    1. Hi Isfahaan!

      Thank you for your lovely lovely comment. And yes, both K and I are from Chennai and I can definitely speak for her when I gush over that South Indians have better English.

      We're guilty of "cannot able to", which is a fun sort of linguistic abomination! :D

      thanks and many <3 back to you.