Tuesday, June 05, 2007

princesses, happy endings ... and patriarchial lies

hmm. i just deleted what i started with, because i wanted this to be openly personal, and had instead ended up talking from a distance (as usual!). well.... here goes:

if a face belongs to my childhood, i cannot categorise it in terms of good-looking or not. you see, i had grown up in a house where i was told that looks didnt matter. and more importantly, anything that ma told me when i was a kid, i believed - and internalised - totally. moreover, my mother (even today) seldom labels people as being good-looking or not. she speaks mostly of instances when someone looked beautiful or handsome. so, a wrinkled old woman like my grandmother was and could be described as beautiful without its seeming ludicrous at all.

from there, as i've grown older, i have learnt the media message moderately, on what's beautiful and what's not. of course i can rationalise that it's conditioning, that beauty is a currency for us to deal in a sexist culture. but intellect-shmintellect, what use is it when i'm able to look at my body and feel near-automatic inferiority, walk into a health and glow and come out with a complex, self consciously pick waaay looser clothes when i think i've put on weight, or angrily catch myself thinking "if only my cheek bones werent so high"?

i read somewhere that there's body consciousness, body unconsciousness, and body selfconsciousness. i generally dont pay attention to my body, but when i do, i certainly feel selfconscious. 5 years of depression and bingeing have done no good to my skin or figure. i knew it, of course, when i was bingeing, but i couldnt give a damn then - priorities! during that time, i generally dreaded it when anyone wanted to see old photographs. whenever my mother used to look at photographs of me as a child she'd worry herself into a headache about what i was then doing to my body deliberately and without caring.

while i stopped being an idiot as of the last 2 years, putting my body back together is a slow and difficult job. (let me clarify: that means achieving fitness and stamina again. it doesnt include spending time at parlours.) so yep. here i am, definitely overweight for my build, hair cropped short because i need to cut it whenever i'm stressed out, 3 piercings in one ear (i dont think it stands out terribly but it's there), one for my nose, a tendency to reach for bitter chocolate when i'm feeling down, a little prone to panicking, and my wardrobe slowly graduating from funereal blacks and dull shades to all colours of the rainbow - even reds!

i am going to get married wearing a traditional 9 yard sari, this on my nose, my favourite unfeminine anklet, and my cropped hair. i am not beautiful, as magazines, tv and every other screaming mouthpiece of society tells me. i sure as hell am not a "feminine" woman! i have been both, the dunce and the brains, of my class. i am of average intelligence, maybe a little up on common sense. i've always preferred living in my head than in the world outside. i'm not particularly well-read. i've dabbled in everything that has interested me. oh, and i'm pretty old-fashioned. and snarky. some days i can be as scintillating as a wet canvas shoe, and others i can manage pretty interesting conversation.

i'm figuring this is about as everyday, unfashionable and unremarkable as one can get.

and according to everything from movies, magazines, fairytales to well-meaning relatives, that's about as catastrophic as life can get. because you see, there are no happy endings and fulfilled lives for unprincesses. there's no social recognition, let alone anybody actually liking them. ridiculous as the assertions are, that's still basically the message that patriarchy dins into us.

well, sucks to the patriarchy.

this is for everyone who was an ordinary girl. this is for every woman who resolutely ignored the conditioning, but started wondering if there was really anything for the unbeautiful. for every woman who sadly watched her friends "dress up" ("why is she doing that? doesn't she know she looks lovely?!") but restrained herself - and wondered if that was pure arrogance of some kind. this is for some women in my life who almost scare me with their slave-like devotion to make-up and costumes.

guess what? evidently there's love for the unbeautiful too, and it aint lesser or anaemic. somebody wonderful loves me.

in fact, it has been the way i've thought ideally love should be. right when we'd just got talking, one of our earliest conversations was about how vile the concept sold in mainstream culture as "romance" was. we were firm friends after voting the heart as a symbol of total commercial insincerity! (if one of us unknowingly ordered a coffee which was served with chocolate sauce squirted on top to make a heart, it was a gesture of loyal friendship for the other to swoop down with a spoon and blur it beyond recognition :D) we talked deconditioning. we talked stereotypes and expectations. and we kept practising looking at people as people. do you know many men who can notice and put words to a twinkle in an eye?

upto the time when i realised i was falling for him, most of our conversations had been abstract and theoretical. (i wont say impersonal because we were talking a lot about our politics.) even when we did realise we loved the other person, we didn't get "romantic" :) we continued to talk a lot, and politically. that means working on creating a space where we've the comfort to say anything we feel like, to being able to cough, be sick or tired, aroused, burp, puke, hug, whatever, without feeling awkward that its not an airbrushed-perfect image.

as soon as we thought of marrying, our first few conversations included gender politics. included domestic violence. included cheating in marriages, and our views on divorce. we have both resolved to test for hiv before getting married. "romantic"? no. but sure as hell reassuring, and realistic.

we've worked our way through several issues to keep our wedding as in line with our politics as possible. we've had long talks about what rituals we'll have, how we'll organise our house, our personal comfort levels in conforming to gender dictates - and those talks haven't just been between us, we've obviously had to talk to everyone else involved. a lot of hard work, but well worth the investment.

because we declare our politics openly, it also makes for lots of interesting discussions. i've learnt that i'm more bound to gender conformity than he is. and he feels very comfortable threatening to shave his legs if i do mine. (sigh!) i've learnt that my idea of femaleness is different from his, and still not clearly defined. we've talked about attitudes about sex, cultural mores, guilt, sexual politics, responsibilities, family planning... lots of stuff. i've discovered that while fighting society's gaze is one thing, being looked at in feminist appreciation and acceptance can even transform the way you see yourself.

no, it hasn't been all pleasant. the political is personal. we've had some flaming rows. but its all worth the space to be free. to have a place where we can shed layers of ourselves that are just to fit expectations and rules, to be able to look at, get to know and experiment with what we would like to be, left to ourselves. (to eventually build a home where my kids can grow up being savvy about the patriarchy and learning to be feminist! what, you thought i'd give up on world domination just because i was happy?!)

the kind of incredibly dismal fates that patriarchy paints, for women who treasure their intelligence more than their appearance, or for women who need their independence more than they need their acceptability to society, is staggering. every time i watch tv, i see conformity to patriarchal norms being rewarded with a totally contorted notion of love. but why just pick on the idiot-box, there's enough reinforcement in real life. i've heard discussions about women put up for display in the marriage market, and the belittling criticisms levelled at their body, skin colour, height, hair... godknowswhat. god help you if you're an intelligent woman with a sharp tongue, who speaks her mind. there's an equitable version of love that the patriarchy is hell-bent on keeping invisible!

so here's a true story for every woman who feels in need of it, every woman who started feeling weary or wondering if there was anything particularly worthwhile other than the principle of the thing -

"the unprincess lives happily, politically ever after".

cheers, people. i've a marriage to prepare for!



Blogger Krish said...

I was wondereing what had made you so quiet!! Seems like all those discussions would have left no time for anything else!!..>Congrats~

11:03 am  
Blogger babelfish said...

Congrats (more to him than to you though!) And much much happiness to both of you :)

11:50 am  
Blogger annie said...

many, many, warm congratulations. and a hug. i've never met u (i think?), but have watched your writing, and thereby bits of your soul, for a while. and it makes me happy to see you get here. wherever here is. may it all be happy. wishing you both sunshine and rain.

2:43 am  
Blogger the wannabe indian punkster said...


And psst, short cropped hair rules.

1:23 pm  
Anonymous vagueashell said...

a most reassuring post - if i can say so! here's to all the bold unprincesses ever.. wishing you a lifetime of political happiness. :)

8:50 am  
Blogger Anurag said...

Now that you are married and all, should you not concentrate on important things in life, like posting appreciative comments on other people's blog, having heated arguments over beer and suchlike?

Here's wishing you a very happy married life. Yes, there are people who look beyond the outer beauty. I'll let you know when I meet one. :)))

No, seriously, there are people who look beyond the exterior, but it is difficult for us. :))))

I should definitely stop now. Best wishes.

3:33 am  
Blogger The Black King said...

Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials... and this was one brilliant read! You put into words a lot of things I have pondered about myself.

11:48 am  
Blogger Scribbler said...

It is difficult to be happy with what you have. I love the term 'unprincess'. Congrats on your wedding!

1:39 am  
Blogger m. said...

krish, babelfish, the wannabe indian punkster: thanks muchly!

annie: gosh, thanks a lot! and no, we haven't met :)

vagueashell: glad it was so!

anurag: ah, but i'm learning fast! i have just returned from a quick trip full of much beer and conversation. :D thanks for the wishes.

the black king: thanks, and welcome here.

scribbler: i do too - it aint my brainchild though: i've heard and read it before! :)

1:53 am  
Blogger rebel said...

aaaaaaaaawwwwwww, you getting married! Great congratulations :)

And I think short cropped hair looks amazing...

3:58 am  
Blogger Sriharsha Salagrama said...

The question isn't really about whether or not short cropped hair looks good. I don't really think the "looking good" or "not looking good" coefficient of short cropped hair really matters in the final assesment of who you are. One would hope that the guy who is marrying you doesn't really care either way.
Cheers though!

12:51 am  
Blogger utopia said...

unprincesses :). so many of us out there, nameless maybe. there are those who don't look like one but sure do feel like one. congratulations!

3:56 am  
Anonymous pankaj said...

very personal and touching...your relationship with your partner sounds as near perfect as relationships can get. so something called an intellectual connection exists. i had started to think of relationships as a ritualized mating game.

6:12 am  
Blogger m. said...

rebel, utopia, pankaj: thankyouverymuch! :)

sriharsha: indeed. i think i can confidently say that my husband expects nothing spectacular of me in the hair department. he has, after all, seen me grumpily awake at 5 am, and after bike rides. :D

9:18 pm  
Anonymous obw said...

i've waited such a long time to hear a hopeful story like this. thank you. so so very much.

and congratulations!

5:21 pm  
Anonymous Life's Elsewhere said...

This comment is not to lead you to my blog. I just want to draw your attention to a brilliant writer, a friend of mine, who shies away from attentions. But she has written a very touching piece on certain things which has happened to her friends. I think it is topical and she deserves to be read. And it has connections to this post of yours.

7:27 am  
Blogger Shri said...

Something which every 'cropped hair woman' can relate to :)

10:40 pm  
Blogger sriram said...

Congrats for a happy married life! What do you do when someone insists you are beautiful ... when you know otherwise? Is it their conditioning:)?

10:49 pm  
Blogger Vartika said...

Hey there!! Congratulations! I guess it's been a while now of the 'happily and political ever after' life!!
This post came along...from nowhere just when i was muddled up in b/w similar thoughts and while we are and will be still at it many more times to come...right now...just to you...cheers woman!

1:35 am  

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