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!


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