Holding up the whole sky

Holding up the whole sky

All this dividing of earthlings into two primary genders has perforce thrown up the term 'woman'. Even inanimate objects are masculine or feminine. Which at first glance may appear more egalitarian than it is. Look at the myriad usages: 'woman is the opposite of man', 'she is the only woman in the team', 'women are the fairer sex', 'shut up, woman'... Not a word that stays in one place, in one reference. Depending on the accent, 'woman' takes on different meanings, some of fulsome praise but most derogatory. From 'my woman' to 'you women' is a zigzag phraseology that commits itself to sexism than any special status conferred.

Statistics are skewed; there are more housewives than house-husbands, more women writers than male writers, less female CEOs than male CEOs, more female rape victims than male rape victims, more women-only tours than men-only tours, fewer female boxers than male dancers. Unlike our grandmas we can choose to work, be the breadwinner, not marry, not have children, love another woman, travel alone and pursue an independent life. But, is that bone-deep secondary-citizen feeling a thing of the past?

To each her own

Take, for instance, feminism. There are as many understandings of this as there are women. Broadly speaking, women themselves start off by saying 'I am a feminist' or 'I am not a feminist', with large, complicated footnotes to what they have just declared and why. For most of us, feminism feels like a word to hide behind. A privileged background, higher education and a support system disable our right to talk for our less fortunate sisters.

I remember once, many years back, when I went on an overnight road trip with some girlfriends. We had to wake up very early to return, and a hot breakfast was laid out for us, cooked and served by two underage girls who obviously had to wake up at 3 am to do this. It was a feminist moment for those who ate, having left behind irritated husbands, clingy kids and indignant mothers-in-law to roam free and man-less, but what about these women, and what was their feminism looking like?

What sets women apart is not so much their child-bearing ability as their genetic predisposition to acquiesce, to adjust, to eat last. Women can be such gentlemen and agonise over how to reject a man as gently as possible, but when they can take no more and start shaking their head, they get called whores or sluts. Which is the verbal version of acid thrown on the face.

Geographically speaking, there is no place without women. Where there is human population, there must be a woman or two there who, well, did the populating. Let's clear up one more rumour along the way: no woman actually wants to be a man. We do say it like a compliment – 'she has balls' - but which woman wants prostate cancer?

Women are usually depicted angry or sad. Sad everyone can deal with; they feel protective, in control, all is as it should be. But angry is unwelcome: the furious, hysterical, foul-mouthed fishwife who tells it like it is, strikes fear. The older she is, the more worrisome her temper. Women with rocking sex lives, loud laughs and grey hair really disturb their neighbours.

There are secret benefits to ageing that most women don't let on. For women, every passing year brings some kind of inner balance, an articulate voice, and the organic confidence to say this isn't right, no. Personally, I loved turning 50; now when I put on weight nobody says, "Aww, you are expecting."

Those who see women as flibbertigibbet flotsam and jetsam mental lightweights ask if women are finally taking control of their love life. This is hardly a boy-girl thing - we see as many lovelorn Romeos as Juliets. It is the word itself - love  - than one cannot take control of. All you can try is to not let love control you. Yes, most women have sat on their kitchen floors and cried for a man - as Amy Winehouse once sang - at some point. But an equal number of men must have stood somewhere stone-faced, just dying to cry.

Time has spoken...

Times are changing. More women die of natural causes than Sati. Men who swear at female drivers are flown by she-pilots. I warn my daughters against some men, while my mother warned me against all men. I was considered weird because I married late; my daughters think marriage itself is weird. Once was shaadi.com, now it is Tinder. Joint family has given way to nuclear, arranged marriages to consensual alliances. Where once it was romantic to be gifted a household appliance, now women just go buy themselves solitaires on Valentine's Day.

Are women satisfied? There's perhaps a deep underground desire in women to be swept off their feet, especially in the Indian context where men traditionally got the woman without lifting a finger. No woman wants to feel like a compact three-in-one washing machine, refrigerator and microwave.

When they say a woman wears the pants, it's a power thing, while a man in a skirt is an admission of weakness. When oh when will a man proudly say, "In this house, I wear the lehenga"? Half the sky, we are told, is held up by the female of the species, going by Mao Zedong's famous quote, but there's an increasing rumour that even if men let go their side of the sky, we've got it covered.

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