Waxing and whining

I’ve been picky about hair dressers for as long as I’ve needed haircuts. Once I meet and fall in love with the hairdresser destined for me, I go to them for years until either one of us leaves town.

But the rest of the hair on my body doesn’t get the same exclusive treatment. In fact, just the opposite. I’ve been to the big fancy waxing places where you could fall asleep while they de-hair your shin with magical hairy fairy wax.

But if you’ve been to an Indian home-turned-parlour – and you know the ones I’m talking about – then everything else is just fluff. These places – they’re loud, they’re rough and they scare the hair right out of the follicles. Two girls armed with wax strips and butter knives come at you like seagulls after a chippy, and turn you from a wildebeest to sheared sheep in under 30 mins. (If you’re in a hurry, they can make that four girls.)

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Generally called Angel’s Glow, Fair Beauty, Ladies Touch (Not a typo) or Miss Lovely, all of them offer the luxury and service of trying out wedding gowns in a fish market by the train tracks.

I was at one such magical place this past weekend.

Housed in a 2-bed apartment, the parlour makes you feel at home instantly. And by home, I mean the place where all your least favourite family members have gathered, but you can’t leave because the promise of free food has already made you its bitch.

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The living room serves as the reception (a row of chairs stacked against the wall) and as the hair-dyeing, face-fixing, hair-cutting zone. The chairs and mirrors point to the TV, which plays loud Bollywood music or, if you’re lucky, even louder Hindi soaps. This room also doubles up as the Society of Aunties Against Single Standards (SAASS) (omg this literally means mother-in-law in Hindi. It was purely coincidental and I love my mom-in-law who would never make it into this club.)

This group of powerful and opinionated women would make for ideal feminists if not for their fellow-female-cutting-down chainsaw and girls-your-age theories. But given their love of double standards, it is imperative to make your point and get out of the way, so they can disagree with you while agreeing with you.

I’m ushered into one of the bedrooms. Each bedroom is divided into refrigerator-sized subsections of semi-private waxing booths. A cold, hard plastic chair greets me, while my wallet trashes around my pocket wildly, begging to be spent at a swankier joint. Nope. Imma save that for the dermatologist.

We skip niceties and the waxer forward-slash life coach proceeds to scrape a vegemite-level schmear of wax along the length of my shin with the blunt side of a spatula-formerly-known-as butter-knife. Who cares if the wax just burnt through two layers of epidermis when you’re hoping the knife doesn’t puncture one of your blood vessels.

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When she stumbles upon my fourth tattoo, she can’t contain herself any more. Our conversation starts abruptly when the waxer informs me, the waxee, that when I get bored of my tattoos, laser is going to hurt. She knows. Her one client is never getting inked again. I shouldn’t either.

I mumble incoherently about knowing what I want, while it is painfully obvious that the woman with the hot wax and blunt knife knows what I really want.

Our awkward silence is broken by an active member of SAASS from the adjoining room. The conversation has been building up from Bollywood movies to Bollywood movie stars. Some heroine who is over the hill (30s) just had a baby. The woman getting her greys dyed black is about to drop some red hot wisdom. She cuts another woman off to loudly proclaim, in a voice that drips with wisdom – that women have a time for everything – studies, marriage and children. Maybe a career if it fits.

Of course she’s going to back it up.

“Why else would the female body hit puberty and menopause when it does?”

Boom.

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Given my stance of not taking any bullshit this year, I want to stand on the chair and educate them about positive body image, being strong female role models and uplifting girls, not boxing them in.

But I find myself standing atop a chair with more pressing work. The waxer is waxing the back of my legs and she finds it easier if I stand on top of the chair facing the wall, giving her a better vantage.

It is from this vantage that she spots my ankle tattoo. She decides that I don’t deserve her wisdom, so she mumbles to herself about spoiling your body. She throws a few rhetorical questions at my calves.

I steel myself to answer her. Yes, it hurt. No, my husband “doesn’t mind” – neither did my parents or 3-year-old son. Before I could school her on my-body-my-choice, she asks me to step down from my pedestal.

Meanwhile, so steadfast is our SAASS activist in her archaic views that she continues to Godzilla over everyone else with half an opinion and half a head of foils. By the sounds of it, mostly everyone in the reception/ face-fix room/ hair-do chair agree with her. They only wish for a chance to get into her SAASS club; they only wish she would accept their humble offerings in the form of a salacious story of their sister’s neighbour’s wayward daughter.

As I walk past these stalwarts of society in various stages of bleaching and dyeing, I feel guilty for tearing these women down in my head. I may not agree with a word they say, but it’s safe to assume they run their homes like a tight ship and practise a uniquely Indian form of feminism, which will always be at odds with what they preach.

Besides, I’m not picking a fight when I’ve just paid 1/10th of what it would’ve cost me elsewhere.

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All images from Google the Saviour and Creator.

If you ever find your way to one of these magic 2-bedroom-multi-room-salons, remember to keep your ears open and hand-sanitiser close. You’ll be wiser for it, and hairless in half the time.

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Show some respect.

My grandparents live 70 km to the right and my in-laws live 60 km to the left from where my parents’ stay when we’re in India. Which means long drives have become such a mainstay in my life that I have my favourite sights and pit stops bookmarked. Like the shops with heavily plagiarised names of social media networks and barbershops that Brad Pitt and Cindy Crawford unwittingly endorse. Certain traditions have continued over the years, like staying up for the bridge that reminds me of incessant backseat singing, or the strip of road flanked by trees and mountains that remind me of waking up groggy with my face buried in my grandmother’s lap. When I wasn’t travelling with my grandparents or parents, it was with my husband and child. Sometimes it was the sweet solitary drive with a driver, free of conversation, and free to daydream about the day ahead and reminisce about the days past.

On one such road this past month, a girl no older than I am, was travelling with her driver. I imagine she looked at the landmarks that had become her bookmarks on a road often travelled. At a pit stop she perhaps didn’t remember, her driver took it upon himself to let in four other men, who then horrifically molested and abused her for more than an hour while the car drove on.

The fact that she is a movie star doesn’t make this sick, sick, sick act any more or any less deserving of attention. The fact that this happens regularly does.

This news isn’t new, just another version. From the brutal rape, murder and assault of innumerable girls and women from 2 years of age to 60, we are not numb – we are seething with an unfathomable rage that threatens to destroy everything in our sight.

Every time I looked at the Hindu Goddess Kali, I felt a sense of disconnect with the all-consuming angry eyes, the chain of skulls and the trident piercing through a demon’s throat.

Not any more.

That is every woman today, even if she is smiling or crying outwardly.

This Women’s Day, I urge the men in my life to give the Hallmark holiday more meaning. While our sisters in the US go on the Day Without A Woman Strike, I’m asking every man I know to #ShowSomeRespect. Fuck the breakfast in bed and spa vouchers. Fuck the red roses and decorative mugs. Show the women in your life some respect.

Reach out to 10, 5, heck even 1 woman and tell her why you respect her. Because no matter how softly she giggles, she is made of a metal you haven’t even heard of yet. Because no matter how quickly she breaks into tears, she wipes them away and gets shit done.

Because she has to work twice as hard as you do to get the same recognition, while fighting off gropers and patriarchy with her elbows.

Because it isn’t about how hard she toils in the kitchen or how well she takes care of you – it’s why she does what she does, and you may never understand it.

So tell her. Tell her that you see it and respect it. She doesn’t need your protection or approval; she needs you to accept that she is equal and should be treated as such.

Then seek out 10 of your male friends and tell them to #ShowSomeRespect. Call your friends out on their sexist jokes and tell them you don’t appreciate it. Prove to the world that there’s more to locker room talk than vulgarity. Talk about your female classmates, workmates and friends. Talk about their achievements, strength and resilience.

Enough is enough is enough. No more women getting raped. No more putting women “in their place”. No more nagging wife jokes. No more talking over women. No means no.

No, Indian cinema, if her skin is exposed, it is NOT completely acceptable or even hilarious to grab it.

No, Hollywood, the damsels are not in distress.

No, music industry, her arse is not yours to smack.

And no, society, she is not yours to take.

Start now. Whether you make your pledge public or private, make it count. Get out there and #ShowSomeRespect.

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It’s only words.

I started writing an amusing (if I may say so) post about getting my legs waxed, but kept getting derailed by one that’s been swimming in my fingertips since November 8 last year.

Tomorrow the free world gets itself a new despot – the Stale Cheeto aka Fuckface Von Clownstick aka Little Donnie Diaperpants aka PEEOTUS aka The White Pride Piper aka…you know what, just go here and here.

I share the sense of disappointment and alienation with the American people; but with it has returned a jarring personal memory for me.

Years ago at uni, I was the unwilling protagonist of a skit. It had all the elements of a timeless “meninist” crass comedy. Sexism, body shaming and the kind of blind confidence that can only spawn from generations of patriarchal entitlement.

I use the non-term meninist in quotes, because it will never be a thing.

I use the term timeless, in that, all these years later, it has never left me.

The skit was about how naked photos of a girl (coincidently, her name was mine with a letter changed) were leaked, and how all the excitement was quelled upon seeing how small her breasts were.

I stood there in the crowd, between seniors, juniors and peers, between friends and strangers. I stood there in the crowd, as realisation dawned on every one and they turned to look at me, one by one. I stood there in the crowd, as eyes pried through my tee, and judgement slobbered around my body.

I just stood there.

When I finally came to, the curtains were being drawn amid loud boos – and one too many cheers. I convinced my friends that I didn’t care what a bunch of immature college nobodies thought of me.

Here I am. 13 years later. Not caring what the immature college nobodies thought of me.

Until recently, I thought it was humiliation and rage that crippled me that afternoon when my classmates pointed at an imaginary picture of me in the nude, and frothed at the mouth before agreeing that my breasts just weren’t doing it for them.

I’ve often wondered what the “creative” process was like. I imagine the boys deciding to put up a skit. I imagine them thinking of what would get the most reaction from the crowds. I imagine someone suggesting me as a subject. I imagine all of them arriving at the premise of the story.

I stop imagining when the bile starts rising.

What I thought was sheer humiliation and rage back then, was my body refusing to acknowledge hurt and disbelief at the violent breach of trust by those who had been sharing the same space with me for four years.

I’m working to find the fabled higher consciousness where you learn to free yourself from painful memories. Until then, that it happened, marks its permanency in my mind.

This is the memory that my brain picked out as the president-elect prepares to take office.

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Megan Lane: Women and Trump, by Tony Ward

Everything about this campaign has brought back how I felt that day/week/year, and I feel for what the American people (and most of the world) are going through.

That people they’ve been sharing their space with all their lives just displayed in front of the world how lowly they regarded them – their body, ability, sexual-orientation, religion, origin.

But rather than standing frozen in shock and disgust, the world is rising up; and goddamnit if it isn’t the most beautiful things that’s come out of all this.

I’m not an American citizen or resident, but I think we can all agree that this poison has seeped into every living room and work cubicle around the world. Luckily, the antidote is making its way in.

When I let that offensive skit slide all those years ago, I opened the doors for every student to pass their judgement on my whole being, and made room on that stage for the next non-conforming girl to get publicly harassed.

Never again.

As an indignant Fox News reporter wondered: Are we planning to be in a state of mass protest for the next 4 years?. Yes, that sounds pretty accurate. I’m joining the global movements against systemic racism, sexism and bullying at every level, in my own way. With it, I hope I can wash away the ugly stain on my memories.

So no, Mr Trump & co., you cannot and will not get away with “Sayin’ it like it is”, because what it is to you, is repulsive to us. These words that you callously toss around because of the podium you’ve been afforded, are validating the basest of opinions and actions. Now we will toss our powerful words around, too. Equality, feminism, respect. Basic. Human. Kindness. And the podium on January 21 at the Women’s March is far bigger than any you will ever have the honour of standing on.

This is the year I lose friends.

Crabs have been crawling out from under my son’s blanket and pillow at approximately 2 am every night, pinching him with their “pinchers’. He wakes up screaming.

We assure O that there are no crabs, and tell him that maybe they’re lost and looking for their friends? We calm him down saying we will never let anything hurt him, and that we’re right there with him.

Did little Aya’s parents tell her that moments before she lost sight of them in Aleppo? Is that why she was being so incredibly brave?

Almost as an echo in my head, I can hear parents all around the world promising their little ones the same thing. In Aleppo, Mosul, Sudan, Peshawar, Sandy Hook.

I started writing this post around the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre. I was sitting in the back of a cab, reading an article written by a father who lost his child on that day. My vision blurred and cheeks burned with something more than rage.

It wasn’t a blinding sense of helplessness like I’ve felt these past few years when living beings have been reduced to dispensable numbers, through power struggles, cowardly terrorism and blatant intolerance towards a different race, gender and opinion. It wasn’t helplessness or rage or sadness I was feeling.

It was failure.

Absolute, crushing, suffocating failure.

I failed. As a thinking, breathing person of the world, I failed. Because I didn’t act when I had the chance. I researched all the perspectives to make an “informed decision”, but these children and people didn’t have time to spare to educate me.

But now I see it. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are no oil pipelines or terror groups. There are no ifs and buts.

There are dead bodies, orphans, rape victims. Parents who will never kiss their child’s toes again. Dreamers who will struggle to close their eyes again.

And then there are heroes. Women, men and children who rise above fear and differences, every day. Who stand – at frontlines, rallies, shelters. Who stand – for equality, compassion, peace.

This is the year to take a stand. From world peace to workplace sexism, we cannot take this shit lying down any longer. We cannot wait for someone braver, smarter, richer to come sort it out. It’s up to us. You and me.

I understand keyboard warriors make more noise than action, but if the biggest election upset of our generation was stirred and spurred on by social media, then I’m sure as hell not going to stop spewing strength, support and positivity.

Nothing major has changed in my life to suddenly make room for activism, but there has been a big shift in my mind. So from here on out, I will be loud; I will be outspoken; I will be relentless. I will continue to feel the pain and weep openly, but I will not give in to hate. I will be optimistic and see the best in everyone. I will be happy and spread cheer when I feel it. I promise to be an insufferable feminist and opinionated pain-in-the-arse. And I take courage in knowing I’m not alone. (Even if it means I will be left alone because I’m being a Debbie Downer and taking the “fun” out of casual racism and sexism. Sorrynotsorry future former friends.)

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If support seems biased to you (there’s more #prayforparis than #prayforsyria), then please shout louder to balance the scales without tearing the other one down. Shout until we silence the very idea of hate and intolerance.

Here’s to a future where pinching-crab-nightmares are the only things that keep adults and children up at night.

Let’s do this, 2017.

“The whole world wants to save Tibet. Don’t worry about saving Tibet, don’t get caught up in trying to save the world or trying to affect what is not in our direct control. You will grow old and the world may not be saved. Dream big, but instead change yourself and affect people directly in your realm of influence, and soon it will have a rippling effect.”

                                      His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The (un)fairer sex.

HeForShe

 

I am a feminist.

Because I am a feminist.

Recently there was a douchebag espousing some douchbaggery against feminism, homosexuality and fireflies, I think. In general, I’d ignore these living-in-my-mum’s-basement idiots who call themselves kings. But I reckon we need to hear this one out.

Not because everyone has a right to their opinion (which include terms like legal rape, fat girls and anti-gay), but because this thing has followers. Men who feel vindicated and emasculated by “feminazis”.

And women who agree with them. Women who think that we’ve “taken this too far” are mocking every woman who has been verbally and physically abused by men because she’s just a girl. They’re mocking every woman who was beaten and jailed for standing up for our right to vote.

I respect that women shouldn’t pull other women down. But if we can call men out on sexism, then feminism says that we should call everyone out equally.

In these past few months of travelling and living in different parts of the world, I’ve been exposed to a comfortable bias that makes me very uncomfortable.

It started with the stares I got when I asked M to help with taking the baby to the loo, washing his bottles or with the laundry. The stares are mostly puzzled, but a few stares also reek of disdain.

At first, I was enraged with the attitude. As if it’s below the “man” to do such menial tasks. But with time – it’s pretty clear that it isn’t male superiority that’s being honoured. It’s male ineptitude.

It’s the inside joke that men can’t do a good enough job.

If I was at the receiving end of the stares, M was nothing short of a spectacle either. He did, after all, get onto what he needed to do. What I asked him to do

Because what wasn’t obvious to me through my equality-tinted glasses was that men weren’t wired to do certain things. Like care for a baby, or step into the kitchen without making a giant mess for us poor – but efficient – women to clean up, or god-forbid boyishly forget to separate the colours from the whites. We, women, should just do those chores and save ourselves the trouble of explaining it to the men or waste time picking up after them.

Would you want to be the butt of that inside joke?

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When organisations promote the hiring of women, I see how desperately we need this, but I wonder if it is working against equality? Yes, we need to see it in writing because the norm has become to look at a woman as a flight-risk, and a mother as a liability. But no, we’re not getting promotions because we wear skirts. We sometimes wear pants, too.

Women before me have spent years trying to crack that glass ceiling for the rest of us, yet, unfortunately, we still get asked: “how do you think you can do this job, given you have a 2 year old and all?”

Better. The answer is: She can do the job better (than you).

Her patience is reserved for the said toddler, so don’t push it. Her skill levels just went up 1000 points the minute she learnt how to negotiate meal times and bedtimes (even if it worked just that one time). She won’t crack under pressure; she’s seen her soft-headed baby roll off the bed, she’s calmly cleaned dinner off the floor that only took her all afternoon to make, and she’s brought down 40 degree fevers with her own bare hands.

So yes, I think she can do your silly little job.

Men don’t get asked this question at interviews. Don’t dads want to run home on time to feed their kids? Or stay home when the little person is ill? Aren’t they just as distracted when they know their baby is in someone else’s care? Between my dad, M and friends who are dads, I know they would cringe at the thought of being the inconsequential parent.

Sexism discriminates. And it doesn’t give a flying fuck as to what gender you are.

If you’re still struggling to see the need for feminism, then look at this way: The minute women and men are considered equal, it’ll be a world where “will he be able to watch the kids?” is just as absurd as “will she be able to get the job done?”

A world where boys are free to feel and girls feel free to be. Where asking for help isn’t “girly” and being immature isn’t “boyish”. Where both boys and girls feel safe to walk home alone at night. Where both men and women know they’re getting paid for their hard work and not their gender.

Where you can choose if you want to be a girl or a boy or both or neither. Or if you want to be with a boy or a girl or both or neither. Because not one of them is less than the other. Because we’re all unique, and we’re all equal.

I am a feminist. Because I am a feminist.