Move over Miss Nice...

long strides forward

Move over Miss Nice...

The years have taken their toll on the image of the ideal woman. In the beginning was the Paragon Of All Virtues, though it has to be admitted that the sacrifices, sobs and self-negation did offer her a comfort zone. Plus, strides in global feminism did not easily percolate, separated as countries are at birth in the matter of wealth and weather. The Indian woman had a uniquely Indian battle on her hands, identifiable only by her place of birth. All was sepia, and then, bang, the bubbly bahu with the balm detonated against somebody-ban-me Savita bhabhi. Forward! Brazen! Bold! — how delicious these words sound decades after they were uttered the first time to denounce women who broke the mold.

Women used to be called the second sex, the fairer sex, the weaker sex. This, despite the fact that they ploughed the land, fought off sati, lopsided inheritance laws and dowry demands. In a system fraught with injustice against her at every turn, in a society where she runs the risk of being choked deliberately to death at the very moment of her birth, the Indian woman dares to raise her voice and live a life her ancestresses could not even dream of — one with more choices and chances.

The upward mobility of women has its rungs in society and its inventions. Weddings are now definitely post-pubertal, remarriages routine, and divorce, no stigma. Benefits of bigamy and uncontrolled breeding are suspect. Tweaking penile quantities is under the scanner and mothers of sons-only are more pitied than envied. Family courts are well-versed with all that’s stacked against women.

Giant leap

The placing of his foot out of the joint-family home was a short step for man but a giant leap for womankind. “To keep my ageing in-laws company,” his wife murmured, “do I have to walk out on my own parents?” Also, on the level playing ground of a nuclear family, the basic bonding between a couple decides the weight of their union, the radius of their familial warmth. The order is reversed: at the core is the building of a marriage, not a geriatrics ward. Without that smile between the spouses, nothing is possible except at a spurious, over-saintly, on-show level.

Women are no longer applying with CVs en masse to marry him; he has to go out there and woo a better half, make the first move. While early man only had to provide financially for the family, he is now expected to be emotionally accessible and occasionally available for an evening out. Women, it would seem, have the hormonal advantage.
Also, child-rearing has undergone a sea change. With mono-kid units multiplying, traditional disciplining methods slipped out and more began to spare the rod. Between working moms and daycare centres, dads discovered that children do as you do and not as you say.

The same women who produced baby after baby with a deadpan expression for their legally wedded husbands now peddle wombs to total strangers as surrogate moms. Single women are bouncing babies — adopted or from sperm off the supermarket — on their laps. It is only in one-odd ad that a woman gets overtly ecstatic about soaping dirty collars.

Lasses have the right to vote, to education, to earn a livelihood, to property, to pick matrimonial partners. Lotus-eaters, rampant everywhere and in every strata, are among them too, the enemy within, but women have decided to take them in their stride, the stereotypical trading-on-gender types who bat eyelids, lisp and cry wolf at the slightest pretext. Real power does not lie in the bounce of a saucy ponytail but with the bare bones of being.

It took a huge price to arrive at this consensus, to say we are okay, that things could be better but that they are way finer than they were. To not play martyr and take charge, to learn from the past mistakes of grandmothers and somebody’s aunt, to make marriage a by the way and not the be all and end all of one’s life.

Men, women learnt to their surprise, are malleable. Which makes the business of being a woman even more scary. To avoid entrapments with innate feminity — the ability to shed tears in a photogenic fashion or discreetly flash body parts, to be taken seriously around anywhere, to compete with the male of the species for promotions and paychecks and parental duties. All this takes considerable cunning. The idea is to overthrow, not take over. To speak up, not talk down. Though en route things may have gotten shrill and strident, womankind is genetically programmed to articulate.

Ideologically speaking, equality between genders is a given, but in no way is it an easy way of life in a nation where illiterate fathers decide the future of educated daughters, ill-paid husbands tow away wives on transfers, where men fondle women they are not yet introduced to — on streets, in crowded buses, in queues, at will.

Liberalisation took care of the new woman’s external needs. Make-up, MNCs, fast-food counters, instant pasta, the internet, technological knowhow at her doorstep in easy-to-pay installments... But, at the heart of her transformation is her latest understanding of herself and the world around her. If a man’s time is precious, so is hers. Hence, the pill. In the click of a high heel, she was planning family size and snipping away at her hitherto regressive role.

No more buying into the superwoman claptrap. She was not going to juggle the fields and the babies. Of course, there were angry murmurs, mostly guilt-driven ones from within. There were unwashed dishes and tragic-faced infants, maids with flu and furious mothers-in-law. There was even an occasional well-wisher who told you what you must do ‘for the family’. This well-wisher is surprisingly up to date and vocal on the exact degree of martyrdom required from a female. That he is still alive is a tribute to your hectic schedule which disallows you to tarry too long at lipstick counters or dismember morons. Better to smile and get on.

Yes, she is capable of getting it all wrong, of going it alone even when unnecessary, of going into tailspins about the body beautiful, of flattening stomach, so much that there’s just about enough space for a uterus and two fallopian tubes. But mostly, she knows what’s what, who’s who, where to go and how.

Counterpoint

Every attitude has its extremes. For every small girl who wears short skirts and gyrates to obscene lyrics, there is a rural counterpart who sees the world in fast-forward vision. For every memsa’ab who moans about not finding good help, there is the currency-conscious poor woman selling manual labour to the highest bidder. For every boss who thinks it is alright to paw girls in memory of his feudal forefathers, there is a street-smart cookie who will take him to the cleaners. The average of all these acts adds up to the desi babe of today, the dudette who is most of the time neither man nor woman but the child of her times, demanding, deciding and day-dreaming of better times.

Those days are over, of sighing and staring listlessly out of the window. Of saying with misplaced pride, “I was brought up like a boy.” No point granting haloes to dead women either, kindly address the living. It takes less smarts to rave about Jhansi ki rani of yore than to find one in your midst right now, right here. And don’t tell your teenage daughters hackneyed morality tales, not unless you want their pity. Black and white went the way of dinosaurs. The palette is mixed, special, customer-specific, very you. Only a brave society can meet this new woman on her terms.

Somewhere out there is a woman who is still scared of the strength in her husband’s hands. All the differences between him and her — physiological and psychological — come into full play when they are alone. Her own hands are always folded in repose, in her lap where they have nothing to do, while his palms are fleshy and red, blushing in their readiness to strike, to clench into fists. It takes time to change her martial tactics, her marital skills, her mindset. Let’s leave her to it, she is working out a way...

The changes may not be visible to the naked eye, but don’t mistake a lack of visibility for inaction. Young boys are nursing their moms through traumatic divorces — mothers who can be a bit of a fishwife, depressed or drunk. Young girls see their mothers abused physically, verbally, intellectually or financially and plan getaways and escape routes. She won’t marry the first man who proposes, will skip lithely over men on bended knees, take her time, earn her way, please herself and think carefully about alliances personal and professional. The frill has given way to a sensible hem that can be taken down. Move over Miss Nice, Ms Don’t Mess With Me is here.

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