Should I Feel Guilty For Not Reporting Sexual Harassment?

“Little things” happen to women everyday — someone touches you in a bus, follows you home, sends you dirty texts, undermines you at work — and women rarely report these things. I certainly don’t report everything and each time I don’t, I feel a infection of guilt take me over, but should I? Should I feel guilty for not reporting everything? I recount an incident to discuss the guilt of not complaining in our latest piece.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

We have recently moved to a new city, and while we wait to get a house, we’re staying in a guesthouse with one kid, one dog and two cats. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s temporary. There are two men who work here on upkeep and maintenance, and the one who was assigned to our rooms seemed nice at the beginning. He was kind, scared of our dog (she’s harmless but she’s exuberant) and somewhat chatty. Over the course of our first few days here, I started to notice that he would always come up to me when I was alone outside. I felt a creepy vibe, which women will tell you is a real thing, and (some) men will tell you is women’s insane imagination. Later, I saw him watching me through a gap in the boundary wall as I did yoga outside. They were little things so I bit my tongue. I continued to bite it even as I noticed that he would always find excuses to come inside our room the moment I was alone in it. The doorbell would ring literally the moment my partner and stepson stepped out to walk the dog or bring something from the market.

I continued to say nothing even though I was convinced this behaviour was not normal. Eventually, he touched me. Five times. They were what a court of law would call “accidental” touches, and any woman who has been on public transport can tell you that we are not idiots, and we know when you’re touching us accidentally on purpose. We’ve all met a lot of men in our lives. He was bringing food into our room. Something that he never does when my husband is home, he just leaves it outside, and we bring it in. As he brought in the food, he brushed against my breast. Then he did it again. Then as he found excuses to wander around the room (also something he never does when my partner is home), he touched my butt. To make a definitive determination of his intentions, I moved well out of his way (and that’s despite the fact that I was never in his way in the first place), and he still found a way to “accidentally” touch me two more times. I felt that clammy, uncomfortable feeling that you get when you know your personal space and body are being violated, followed by a hot, white rage. I asked him to leave the room immediately and not come back.

When my husband came back I told him about what had happened, and I spoke with the kid about it as well, because that is how awareness starts. We aren’t sheltering children by not discussing real things with them, or hiding that there are situations that are complicated to deal with. My husband was livid but he knows to not take over the “handling” of a situation from the person suffering through it, so he asked me what I wanted to do. At that moment, I was extremely angry, I wanted to complain to his boss and everyone in my family agreed that it was the right thing to do.

I didn’t complain to his boss.

An hour later, when my anger had subsided and I felt a little ill in my heart, I started asking myself that question we’re not supposed to ask: Are you sure that’s what really happened?

The amazing thing is that people constantly allege that women make accusations against people too easily, and without considering the situation, but in my experience women don’t make accusations easily at all. I am completely convinced that I was right about this entire situation, and I know exactly what I experienced, but I still had a shadow of doubt creep up on me that kept me from saying anything. I handled in on some level, I spoke to the guy he works with and told him to ensure he doesn’t come into my room again, and he hasn’t bothered me since, but that’s not the point, the point is that I feel guilty because I am convinced that I was supposed to do more. I am convinced that I have more responsibility in this situation.

And that’s the catch.

Responsibility. The truth is that this man, nor any of the others who have done things like this, ever think about responsibility. Ultimately, it’s always the woman who ruined the man’s life by complaining, and never the man himself who did anything wrong. A while ago an army officer in Pune committed suicide after sexual harassment allegations against him came into official light and what followed was a bilious attack on the woman for ruining his life and family. Not one person, and I spoke to many, felt like he ruined his own life by doing the things he did. Men are exempt from this responsibility, as if allegations of sexual misconduct are divorced from their behaviour. It’s always the woman misunderstanding, being unnecessarily triggered, lying or ruining their lives. The proportion of women who say they have been harassed and men who admit to harassing women is so skewed you’d think these women were role-playing harassment with one another. It’s because, for all our talk of “empowering” women, we don’t want to believe what they say. Apparently it’s gone on “long enough”, a few decades of men being pulled up for their actions and suddenly it holds a candle to millennia of suppressing women. No one wants to hear it.

No one wants to hear it especially from a certain type of woman. Hi, I’m Certain Type. My entire life revolves around women, women’s rights, women’s policy, law, feminism, women’s journalism and the women’s movement. It’s what I do for a living and for my soul. It’s almost all of who I am and I never shut up about it (and you know, I’d love to, but the fucking content is endless in this country and that’s sad). There was a time when we used to think that maybe our misgivings about certain types of women being believed were not as severe as we thought, but the after the judge in Goa in the Tarun Tejpal case stated outright that a woman’s involvement in feminism and knowledge of the law is a reason to disbelieve her, we’re starting to feel like our misgivings are confirmed. We think that women who are Feminists™ have an “agenda” and we make allegations as part of that agenda, and that is the most misguided idea I have ever heard. Do feminists have an agenda? Of course, that agenda is equality. Is making allegations making us more equal? No, justice does that.

And that’s the other reason.

Justice is not something I expect to ever accomplish when I complain. I’ve complained many times in my early life and I always heard a set of things: Are you sure that’s what happened? It happens to everyone, let it go. What were you wearing? Why were you being so friendly with him? How come this only happens to you? Don’t say anything, what if he does something worse to you? Think about his livelihood! It’s a gamut of counter-accusations and an endless trial of your story and character to qualify if this could happen to you and if it did and whether it really warrants any action. You know, because if it’s through the clothes, is it even inappropriate? So when you aren’t going to get any kind of justice, why complain?

Well, there is still a reason to complain. The mere act of bringing to the attention of the perpetrator that his behaviour is liable to be checked can deter them from doing it again. That’s the ideal situation, though. Here’s the thing, justice is a wonderful and complex thing. It means something specific, in legal terms, but in practise, if its purpose is to deter delinquents from repeating their behaviour, it doesn’t always work. I want to say that every complaint yields something positive but it doesn’t. Most of them don’t. Ideally, in this situation, I would like for someone scary-enough to him to have a serious talk with him about his behaviour, where it came from and why he thought he could get away with it. I don’t think there should be no punishment but I think it’s more important that a regular schedule be followed in checking on his behaviour and ensuring he is changing it, and understanding why. It’s idealistic but it’s the only thing that works. That being said it’s not the right route for all sexual misconduct. However, I am not convinced that complaining will achieve this at all. I know that it’s not my responsibility to ensure he continue to be employed, but at the same time, I am unable to look past that, and I admit that it’s partly because that is what I was taught and I am prey to the same patriarchy I constantly criticise, but patriarchy is not the only problematic thing that plagues society.

And so I haven’t complained.

I don’t feel good about it. I feel like I let women down every single time I let something go, and when I feel like that I also feel that I’m letting feminism down by believing that it would hold me accountable for something that was done to me. And overall, I feel bad because I think past this point, I am responsible for every careless assault he launched on any woman, because I didn’t shut it entirely down right now. I realise that overestimates both my responsibility as well as my power in this situation. Even if I did everything I can, what would I accomplish? I know exactly how any public forum discussion of this incident would end. This entire issue of when and whether to say something is mind-numbing because whether you do or don’t, it always seems like you are doing something wrong. You feel guilty. I feel guilty when I say something and guilty when I don’t, because guilt is what was taught to me.

So is it okay to feel it?

Of course. The complexity of our emotions and their experience is our strength, it’s indicative of a multi-faceted mind. It’s okay to feel, but it’s important to remember we were taught to feel this way. Compassion is taught as compulsion to women and sometimes it seeps into places where it doesn’t belong and infects everything. It clouds our judgement and mine is clouded right now. I don’t see myself, and my role here clearly. I blame myself for things that aren’t my fault. I am afraid to stand up for what I believe in and sometimes that happens. Sometimes our judgement is clouded by who we have been taught to be, and we don’t do the things we think we should, because it’s not an ideal world, and you cannot predict the consequences of your decisions on other people, and that’s scary. I’m scared and that’s what I really don’t want to say. Comparatively, admitting to guilt, is easy.

If You’re A Feminist, Why Do You Wear Lipstick?

In a time when gender is so political, can it also be personal? The feminist movement tells us our freedom is about choices, but how free are our choices? Can we make them without sending out the wrong messages? We discuss the political and personal aspects of gender in our latest piece.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I’m a woman and I’ve never identified as anything else. For a brief period in my early teenage years, I may have wanted to be a man but it was a longing based simply on an evaluation of the social settings around me. It seemed like things were easier for boys. It seemed like no one was talking to them about what it was okay to wear, when it was okay to speak, why you need to fear rape or how marriage was a compromise-laden inevitability. It wasn’t because I identified with a masculine spirit or felt that is what was inside me. It was just because I didn’t want to deal with all the social issues of being a woman but I’ve always felt like a woman. That’s easy enough to say.

It’s harder to explain, though.

In general terms, I have always believed that the role of gender is entirely social. It drives social expectations and prescribes social roles, and sometimes those are deeply oppressive things. On a personal level, identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth, or a different one, or none at all seem like perfectly acceptable things and it’s also perfectly acceptable for that experience to mean whatever you want it to mean. In that regard, I wish we could say things like “gender doesn’t matter” without sounding tone-deaf. Unfortunately, sexism doesn’t always care about what gender you identify as, it cares about what gender it identifies you as. So if you present as a woman, or something it doesn’t understand, or something it cannot identify, you will still be fair game to it. I could be a man, and have breasts, but all it will see is the breasts. I could be genderless and have a penis, but it may only see the penis. That’s why I cannot say gender doesn’t matter.

The truth is that in many ways gender is expressed in stereotypes and symbols, even a break from stereotypes is expressed using stereotypes. If you are a man who seeks to expand the definition of masculinity by wearing a dress or putting on make-up because that’s what feels right to you, you’re still using symbols associated with a particular gendered experience. We cannot entirely rid ourselves of that, and the best course of action, and what we usually do is to reclaim, redefine and expand the meaning of these things. And that’s great, it does actually weaken the hold of destructive and restrictive roles and gendered expectations, but it’s not always as “free” as we want it to be. It’s not free from scrutiny, it’s not free from inherent or internalised biases, it’s not free from society and its intervention. That’s one of the main reasons why I strongly identify with my birth-assigned gender. It’s because I define womanhood as a political and social struggle and if I am going to be part of it, and oppressed by it, I will bear its name while I fight. I do not see womanhood as a personal thing. When I say, I “feel” like a woman, it mostly means that I feel, resist and understand the socio-political connotations of that experience. After all, if gender is a social construct, my gender identity would be found in my social experience of womanhood, and that social experience has been rough, but it feels like mine.

But that’s womanhood.

There is also, at least to me, an undeniable part of the gender experience that is deeply personal. It is removed from society and politics, it is not defined by struggles or oppression. I call that femininity, but that’s only what it is for me. For another it could be fluidity or masculinity. Femininity is not political to me. It’s defined instead by the aesthetic and emotional pleasure of enjoying your gender, with or without symbols. For instance, having long, red nails makes me feel feminine. It’s a gender stereotype, but I enjoy it, I opt for it. The aesthetic pleasure of that, the understanding of the colour and its cultural connotations, the shiny tips, they all make me feel feminine. I struggled with that when I was younger, and I wondered often if any of the fight mattered at all if I found some identity is symbols of oppression, but eventually, I came to decide that the personal is not necessarily political. Sorry, Chinua Achebe. The personal is aesthetic, emotional, artistic, sometimes disturbing and sometimes a reflection of behaviours we should know are problematic.

For instance, I find my femininity in being aesthetically pleasing to my partner. I know! Clutch yo feminist pearls which are..anal beads? I like that. Here’s the thing, I love the concept of dress for yourself, put on make up for yourself, be beautiful for yourself, and I would love to participate, but I can’t. I have no desire to look pretty for myself, I just don’t see the point. I’m not looking at myself. I don’t enjoy feeling the odd texture of lipstick on my skin. I don’t see the point of walking on conical structures. I don’t like bright, pretty colours or how lace feels on my skin. I like black pants and black shirts, and I always look exactly the same. I do however enjoy how my partner looks at me and feels when I dress for him. It makes me feel feminine in a way that is visceral and enjoyable. It’s always been hard to adopt symbols of femininity for myself, but it’s much easier, and more enjoyable, to do it for the pleasure of someone else. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t see it as being an object for the pleasure of a man. I see it as being decorated for the pleasure of the person I love. It’s personal and between two people, it does not represent me socially. I will never say that women should make themselves pretty for men, nor do it as a general social expectation, I’ll do it as part of a personal exploration.

Because, as much as we may say that feminism is about choice and you can do anything you want with that choice, our choices are not always free. Recognising that means that you become afraid of being a certain person, representing a certain way and sometimes even identifying with a gendered symbol in any way. I was scared of lipstick, dresses and showing any emotion for the longest time, and it was mainly because I was worried if I could do those things and still be feminist enough. To be clear, no feminist ever told me I couldn’t do those things, but based on what I was seeing, it seemed like those things sent louder messages than I wanted to send. I couldn’t keep my gender behind closed doors, and I couldn’t explore it without worrying what it said about the movement and that is why separating the political from the choice-based (but self-aware) personal was important to discovering my own gender identity and femininity.

For me, the way in was through my sexuality. When I have sex I feel like a woman and it’s not a PIV thing, because I feel like a woman regardless of the gender of the person I am engaging with sexually. It’s a feeling. It’s an aesthetic and emotional intimate feeling that cannot be explored socially. That’s where I ultimately found my feminity, it doesn’t always mean the same thing, but there’s a common feeling. It’s not fragility, though even when it is, it’s okay. It’s not smallness or fear, nor sensitivity, it’s a euphoria driven by something inherent. It’s a part of the self, and it’s the part that enables me to separate the struggle from the self. It enables me to put on lipstick and not feel like a fraud.

That doesn’t mean I’m free from the conflict inside me entirely, just that I’m willing to acknowledge there is a conflict, and I try to deal with it the only way I know how.

10 Ridiculous Things Gynaecologists Have Said To Me.

Despite the click-baitey title, I stand by the shock-value of this content. Gynaecologists in India say some stuff that is unbelievable, and with the right kind of morbid humour, it can be funny. Tragically so, but since I’ve been to every gynaecologist in the country, and I take notes on everything, here’s the cream of the nonsense.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

For whatever reason, I am almost proud of the fact that I have been to so many gynaecologists in my life that I am practically a catalogue. Part of that is just because I’m a “routine maintenance” kinda girl and I move a lot so there’s always a new doctor. I have also had enough gynaecoloical issues (and in a different piece we will discuss how they could have been avoided by vigilant diagnoses, better goals and less misogyny) to be an expert. Let me disclaim this by saying, I have had some great gynaecologists, ones who have been thoroughly professional, open-minded and informative, but in India the scope of gynaecological health is often limited to and equivocated with reproductive health and as a result many things are brushed under the carpet. Women are not prepared for their bodies (and okay, men aren’t either, but this is just, not about that, okay?) and gynaecologists aren’t prepared for their jobs. Many of them aren’t prepared for unmarried patients who have sexual health issues, contraceptive issues, patients who don’t want children, endometriosis patience whose pain is definitely not psychosomatic, and being unprepared is one thing, they also say some stupid shit.

This is an anthology of that stupid shit. If you detach from reality just enough, it’s funny, but when you get back, you’re going to feel sad.

10 Things Various Gynaecologists Have Said To Me Over The Years (that are too good not to share).

  1. When I was a young adult and going in for a routine examination: “Young girls should come with their mothers.”

(Lady, what if I didn’t have one? I mean I do, but what if I didn’t? What a mean thing to say in that case, and stupid in the rest of the cases)

9. A gynaecologist who inserted my friend’s IUD said to her: Why would you get this? What could you want out of your life that doesn’t include babies?

8. A gynaecologist who was explaining to me how people on birth control could get pregnant: “Condoms fail almost 90% of the time.”

(That would explain our population if I believed most of you idiots actually use them. Seriously, guys. They’re so easy).

7. After a doctor asked me how long I had been sexually active: “That’s not possible.”

(Say what. I think I might remember, good sir).

6. A male gynaecologist to my husband: “How can you let her decide she doesn’t want kids? She’s 28, it’s already past time for you guys.”

5. At a young age I decided that being a sexually active woman, I should have an STD panel so I went in unsolicited to request one, and the gynaecologist asked me: Are you a sex-worker?

(FYI, nothing wrong with being a sex worker, just with assuming the only women who request STD tests are sex-workers).

4. A gynaecologist who prescribed misoprostol (the abortion drug) said had the following conversation with me:
Me: This painkiller you have prescribed is very strong, does it really hurt that much?
Her: Well, don’t you think some things should hurt?

3. When I was lying down for a pelvic exam: “Take your underwear off from one leg only.”

(A lot of them do that, and it’s a thinker, why so reluctant to ask me to just take them off? I know what I came for and also what you do for a living. I’m not confusing this for a sexual thing, please don’t make it one by being unnecessarily awkward).

2. A gynaecologist with whom I was discussing pain during sexual intercourse said: “What else would there be? Women aren’t actually designed to enjoy sex.”

(Well, I must be sleeping with the wrong women then).

1. A gynaecologist with a modern practice that I took my sister to said: “Don’t worry if you have sex before marriage, when you do get married, I also perform hymenoplasties.

(Thank you for your service to the delusions of the men of our nation?)

Ugh.

The Danger Of The “Protective” Older Sibling.

We do many things in the name of protecting our young, but the most dangerous thing we do is disallowing them from growing up. In a country where the mechanisms of control and moral-policing as so vast and pervasive, the “protective” older sibling is sometimes an enforcement mechanism, but what do we lose when sibling-relationships are governed by that sentiment? We discuss, in our latest piece.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I used to say that my sisters are like my children but they’ve since grown up into adults and it feels a bit odd to refer to them as children now. Regardless, I am the oldest, and the two of them are four and ten years younger than I am, and as a result, our relationships when we were growing up were governed by that hierarchy. I took care of them. I helped them with homework and projects. I drove them to birthday parties and took them for ice cream. I spent hours of my life playing “fashion show” with the youngest and she still hasn’t stopped playing that game, she just plays it in real-life now. Being the older sibling automatically means you have to take more household and familial responsibility from a younger age. When your siblings are still children, it also means taking on the responsibility of protection. You know the song ‘Dumb Ways To Die”? My younger sister could actually be the subject of that song, and it takes more than just parents to stop a creature like her from accidentally killing herself. You have to protect your young.

However, there is a danger to that sentiment as well.

Let me tell you a different story. I know a woman. Well, I don’t know her, as much as we existed in the same social settings for a period of time. When she was twenty-three, her younger sister moved to the city she was living in for college. Her sister wanted to live in the hostel and then later move into a flat with the friends she would make there, but her parents (and sister) insisted that she live with her sister for her “safety”. This wasn’t a financial concern at all, these people are rich, they didn’t want their young out and too free. I met the younger sister several times and then one evening I was in my neighborhood cafe, getting coffee to take with me while I ran my errands, and I saw her sitting with a man at a table outside. I went up to her and said hello. She was a little awkward but I was only planning to stay a few seconds. I was just about to take my leave when she asked me to step aside with het for me moment.

“Please don’t tell didi that I was here,” she explained in a sorry tone of voice, “She won’t let me go out if she knows I am with..a guy.”

I assured her I wouldn’t say anything but I was very disturbed by the event. A nineteen year old girl in college in a big city shouldn’t be disallowed from leaving a house because she was seen with a boy. No one should. And therein lies the problem with the protective older sibling. Before you know it, they become agents for control and moral policing. Protection morphs into control and suddenly the girl who used to take you for ice cream and sneak you candy becomes an object of fear. Protection doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t allow our young to grow up.

And I acknowledge the struggle.

When my sisters were younger, our relationship was different. I had to take care of them and sometimes that involved telling them what to do. However when they started to grow up, two clear yet divergent paths appeared before me: I could start controlling them (by telling them not to go out, see boys, have sex, drink alcohol) or I could be there for their growth and participate in their lives. I remember the first time I realised my younger sister was growing up. She was sixteen, I was home from college for winter break, I had just arrived with my luggage and I was going upstairs to my room to put it away, and when I opened my door, she was inside with her boyfriend and they were kissing. They were freaked out, and they jumped apart, and I immediately told them it was okay, but they were still a little uncomfortable. Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable too. It’s not that I have an issue with sexual expression, at all, it’s that when you have known someone as the tiny creature with the terrible haircut who only cares about chocolate and playtime, it’s a little bit jarring when you see them embody a grown woman’s body for the first time. It’s not even that we hadn’t talked about it. In my family we rally the responsibility of having “the talk”. My mom talked to me about sex and sexuality, I talked to my younger sister about it, and my younger sister talked to the youngest one about it, but it’s different when you talk about it, and when you see them/know of them acting on the talk.

However, that’s not what was important. What was important was what came after that. For a moment I may have been surprised, but once it passed, I realised she was growing up and it was okay. That’s what kids do, they grow up, and they change. Their needs change, their priorities change, their emotions change and their bodies change. My sister and I talked about how our relationship would change as a result of that as well. One of the first changes was that instead of being the presence in her life that always asked about her and took care of her needs, I needed to become a presence in her life that was equally communicative about herself. She demanded it. She demanded that I share my life with her as well and that was fair, because when she was younger there may have been things I couldn’t talk to her about just yet, but once she became an adult, the adult world was as much her purview as it was mine. She demanded that I share my life, my stresses, my feelings and my thoughts with her as well. Once I started to do that, we became equals, and that process was extremely important.

That didn’t mean that she wouldn’t come to me for help or advice, she still does that, but it meant that I could go to her as well. It didn’t mean that when shit hit the fan I wouldn’t take care of it for her, it meant that I recognised that her journey was not mine and I could not dictate actions to her. I could not condemn her. I could not use “protection” as an excuse to stop her from doing things that made me uncomfortable. Instead, I was just there for her life. I was there for her first drink, and shortly afterwards her first thorough projectile vomiting. I was there for her first kiss, her first heartbreak, her first cigarette, her first interview, her first move, her first apartment, the first time she had sex. I wasn’t there to tell her what to do, I wasn’t even there to clean up the mess when it inevitably all went wrong (because it didn’t and it doesn’t), I was just there to do it with her. And the alarmingly positive consequence of that was that I rediscovered her as complete person. An amazing person. A person whose presence in my life is vital, entertaining, positive, inspiring and loving. Between the five years from when she was sixteen to twenty-one, our relationship changed completely and it was a great thing that it did. She is no longer my child, she is my peer and that’s a wonderful thing.

Because of that experience, it was much easier when the youngest one started to grow up. Given that she is ten-years younger than I am, it should have been harder but by then I had learnt that there is a time for protection, and a time to take a backseat and allow them to grow up. With her it started the day she stopped calling me “didi” (a respectful title for an older sister). I told her very early on that she didn’t need to call her that, but respect titles are a deep part of Indian culture and she continued to do it for many years. One day, on her own, she addressed me by my name. She was fourteen. I remember it quite clearly, she said my name, she watched my face to see if I would say something, and when I didn’t, she just went on with her day. She never called me “didi” again. It was her way of telling me that she was ready to grow up a little, and start a new relationship with me. We did. A relationship where she could discuss her accomplishments, her growth, her relationships and her budding interest in boys with judgement, condemnation or disapproval. I had to let her do that, because the alternative would be to not have her be honest with me about her life and the things that excite her, and that is unacceptable to me.

This year she turned twenty and she told me I shouldn’t be at her “entire” party because I (and my 40-year old husband) would scare her friends (and I’m never letting her live it down) but deep inside that seemingly bitchy request (it’s not, they’re kids, they want to be sloppy drunk and I’m too old for that shit) was a comfort. She’s comfortable telling me when she needs space for her own life that doesn’t need to be chaperoned and it shouldn’t be. If we continue to chaperone and coddle adults, we end up with grown ups who cannot handle themselves, and we have a lot of those already. Adults who are codependent on their families and cannot make independent decisions, and it’s, sad. Ultimately seeing my sister’s flourish as independent and dependable members of society was far more important than controlling them in the name of protection. I am not responsible for their protection anymore and accepting that change in roles was necessary to sustaining our relationship. I will always be there for them, but not to tell them what to do, just to listen and share my life experience should it be relevant.

The result of that? My sisters and I have excellent relationships with each other. Unfiltered and open relationships in which we can say anything, and more importantly, we enjoy each other’s company tremendously. We love spending time with each other. We look forward to seeing each other. We help each other tear down our boundaries and develop further. It also means that they are wonderful human being who contribute to society and inspire other women around them, and they do it by being distinctive, authentic individuals. We are not all the same person, all three of us are very different from one another, but it doesn’t matter at all. We don’t have to have the same views or personalities to enjoy each other, and it’s very important to learn that in life. And all it took was for me to shed the connotations of being “older”. It doesn’t matter that I am older, all that really means now is that my knees will give out sooner than theirs (and that I am not allowed at the parties of 20-year olds who need me to roll for them still). It doesn’t matter because I am not their protector. I am an active spectator in their journey and that is a much better thing because it allows me to love my sisters without controlling them, and it’s glorious.

Sisters can be an amazing thing, but you have to let them grow up.

Promise Me, You Won’t Have Sex.

Often when we are young, we have an older sibling or a parent concerned about whether we might be having sex, and sometimes promises not to do it are extracted from us under the garb of deep concern about our well-being. I believe there is something sinister at the heart of these promises, and these concerns. In this week’s sex-column, we discuss the hypocrisy of the Indian attitude towards sex (and I make a few gynaecologist jokes).

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Be whoever you want to be,
Do whatever you want to do,
Get a car and drive it too fast,
Run a race and finish dead last.
Climb a mountain, I’ll pay for a guide,
Travel across the globe for a wild ride,
Bribe a cop on the way back from school,
Worship at the altar that makes you cool,
Pass around a bunch of bad cheques,
But promise me, you won’t have sex.’

We’ve all had a variation of this conversation. Sometimes it is with a friend or perhaps an older sibling or maybe it’s with a parent (or similar authority figure). I’ve had it several times in my life, admittedly a lot more frequently when I was younger, and somewhat differently after I grew up. The first time you have it is probably the most distinctive. Mine was a with a well-intentioned cousin who knew I was in a relationship with a young man, and I suppose she felt, being 10-years older than I am, that she should guide me. Inherently, there is no flaw in that. She was concerned, I was young, and she asked me to promise that no matter what I did, I wouldn’t go as far as to have sex with the boy.

I made the promise.

A very small incident of no consequence to the world, but when I made the promise, I had already broken it. I made the promise even though I had already had sex with the boy, and until that moment, it hadn’t occured to me to decide whether that was right or wrong. The moment I experienced concern on the part of someone who cared about me, I started to wonder whether what I had done was actually scary or wrong. Concern is one of the most common cautionary associations we make while participating in discourse designed to discourage young people from having sex. Man, that was a tedious sentence. It is, though. Concern is the primary reason we tell young people not to have sex. It’s multi-layered, so let’s slowly peel back this onion and cry a disproportionate amount of tears (as is fitting).

There’s concern that’s rooted in physical harm that may come to your ward if they have sex. Part of it is medical and part of it is social. Let’s say medical fears are totally justified, but easily allayed if you teach and promote safe-sex practises (and portray a teenaged girl who accidentally got pregnant on a TV show having a termination instead of life-changing baby every once in a while). There’s the social fear of someone you care about having sex. Sex is viewed as a dangerous thing, especially for women. The guy you are with may take advantage of you and not respect your boundaries. He may take pictures of you. People will find out and think you are a slut. You might get raped. The list is endless, and perhaps the validity of these fears is evident but we send our loved ones out into a dangerous world everyday. How do we know they won’t just walk into traffic? How do we know they won’t stick their fork in a socket? How do we know they won’t lick a toilet to prove they won’t get covid? Either we teach them to navigate the world, or trust they know how to do it (based on how old they are and what your relationship with them is). It’s the same with sexual relationships, if we teach people to navigate them safely, they will know how to judge a situation, and if we trust them to do it, they will learn better.

That being said, ideologically, I do think that the onus of responsibility for raping, revenge porn and consent violation is on the people doing these things, but I realise an ideology doesn’t keep you safe. There’s also the concern of pregnancy and on this front I can absolutely confirm that if my foremothers had spent more time learning about contraception, and more research had been conducted into safe methods of contraception, I wouldn’t be here today, almost 30, and still trying to figure out a method that works and doesn’t try to kill me (or is slimy latex). You don’t eat prawns with the vein still in, and teaching a lot more about taking the vein out would benefit everyone. Contraception should be taught as a rigorous discipline akin to physics and tested more severely than IIT aspirants. There have been enough “it just happened” babies. Physical concerns, as I said, are easily allayed.

But I don’t believe that is the primary concern anyway. For one thing, if people were so concerned about the physical welfare of the havers of sex, arranged marriages would include STD panels but they don’t, instead we live in a country where 9 out of 10 gynaecologists judge you for opting to have an STD panel (and I am not pulling this statistic out of my ass, I have been to a lot of gynaecologists, in a lot of different cities, you’d think it was a hobby for me to have my insides peered into). From where I am standing, there is no sexual behaviour more risky than an arranged marriage. Maybe the modern set-up allows for more communication between the parties involved but ultimately it involves having sex with someone you don’t know well, and certainly don’t know well medically-speaking.

So physical safety, then, is not as much of a concern as they would like us to believe, so perhaps it is emotional concern? The one I hear most often, especially when the conversation is focused on young people, is that they are not emotionally ready or mature enough to have sex. Sex is a big deal, not just in India, but in many of the world, but does it need to be? Indian parents except children to display maturity on a vast array of subject’s from a very young age. You are supposed to display financial maturity and take into account your family’s income before you desire things. If you are a girl, you are quickly taught the concepts of sacrifice and compromise, and groomed for a life spent in service of the patriarchy. You are expected to participate in religious ritualism, with children as young as ten fasting for Lent or Ramadan or Navratras. We do not see our children as too emotionally immature when we expect them to understand familial circumstances, sexism or spiritualism. We do not think they need to be protected from the “realities” of the world like powerlessness, bribery, rape or other crimes, we think they should have a realistic view of the world when it comes to these things, but when it comes to sex, the same children are suddenly too young to understand pleasure, or be able to handle it. I smell a rat.

So it’s not emotional concern then, it’s just a dead rat, which leaves only one thing, and it’s the one thing that unfortunately determines everything in India: Social Concern. After all, what will people think if my child has sex and then talks about it? What will people think if everyone found out? What will happen if my daughter sleeps with a man and they don’t get married to each other? There is an equivocation between morality and sexuality that encompasses perhaps all of time and most of religion. Sex is dirty and unclean, and acceptable only when done in service of the propagation of the species. Fundamentally, India is a country that is suspicious of pleasure, and there is only one reason to have sex outside of wedlock when not trying to have a baby, and that reason is that it feels good. We do not want our wards to feel good in this way. So we teach a horrific style of mythology associated with sex: If you have sex before marriage no one will marry you, if you do it god will punish you for the sin, if you do it you will fall sick and get pregnant, if you do it everyone will talk about your character, if you even so much as hold the hand of a person of the opposite gender you will get pregnant. My favourite one was when someone told me that oral sex would get me pregnant (and as an adult I wish I could find this person and inform them that for decades even the strongest hormones couldn’t get me pregnant). We spread this misinformation and we believe that we are doing the youth a favour, but we are not, because we are not trained to think analytically or determine the consequences of our actions. So let me lay them out for you.

We have created a nation that is so sexually frustrated, bound by the dichotomy of morality and desire, and focused on marriage as a solution to this problem, that people are now getting married (and have been for decades) just so that they can have sex. Given that our marital laws have no room for consent (basically you marry the man, you consent to letting him have sex with you forever, anytime he likes), we have created a hot-bed for sexual abuse within marriages and given that a majority of women do not have access to reproductive health or agency when it comes to reproductive decisions, they are forced into having an unhealthy number of children or unsupervised abortions. Treating sex like it’s a thing we need to actively keep people away from has also created an untenable amount of shame surrounding the subject, and a large number of issues with self-esteem stem from the alienation of oneself from their body, from blaming your body for its needs.

Aside from all of that there’s the way the image of sex itself leads to problems. When we discourage sex, we also define it as peno-vaginal, and like my cousin, who said it’s okay to do other things but not have a penis in my vagina, there are many people who believe that having sex has only to do with penises in vaginas and this heteronormative and (straight) male-pleasure centred view of sex is terrible for everyone else. Sex is about connection and pleasure, it’s not about the one act, and limiting it, and creating a fear-based mythology around just that one act makes it unlikely that others will ever discover their pleasure. Especially in a society where the bearer of the penis gets so much of a say in sexual matters (including whether you are consenting to them or not).

So when you build an entire generation’s foundation of sex on guilt-based, emotionally-extracted promises not to do it because it may impact the abstract and imagined concept of your honour or expresses the selfish nature of your concern (however well-intentioned that concern may be), what you’re really doing is raising a generation that is sexually stunted, and sexuality is an extremely fundamental part of human nature, it influences a lot of who you are in life. Medically and biologically-speaking, sex is good for you, it makes you a happier person (provided you’re not asexual). Emotionally speaking, sex teaches you a lot about yourself. Relationships do not need to be centred on sex, but it is only when you have a great sexual relationship with your partner that works for both of you, that you are able to focus on those other things that make you happy. Please, stop asking people to promise not have sex, instead, maybe start asking them to do it for themselves instead of the expectations of other people. That’s better advice.

Do Women Sleep Their Way To The Top?

If you are a successful and possibly intimidating woman, the chances are that at some point in your career someone has accused you (to your face or behind your back) of sleeping your way to the top. This reduction of a woman’s professional accumen to sexual privilege is just another male fantasy, why then do we never discuss the male behaviour that causes it to come up so often?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

We’ve all worked in an office where someone seems to have defied the Peter Principle, right? The Peter Principle dictates that people rise through the ranks only to the level of their incompetence but there’s always a person, here and there, who seems to have risen way past their incompetence and is somehow placed in a role they seem completely unable to manage. A person who makes us wonder — How did you get that job? For me this happened in my very first job. There was a woman in-charge of production and while I wouldn’t say that she was not bright, I would say she was extremely indecisive and inefficient and those are traits that should not be found in someone heading production. She couldn’t make a decision to save her life and was constantly changing her mind, often when we had already started acting on her previous instructions. She was everyone’s favorite subject of exasperation and we often ended our rants wondering how she got the job.

One theory was suggested more often and with more relish than any other: She was sleeping her way to the top.

At the time I didn’t realise the extent to which that was problematic as a suggestion, I just didn’t engage with it, but over the years I noticed a lot of women’s success being explained away as sexual prowess. In the case of my former colleague, she was incompetent, but a lot of the women I heard this about since then were quite brilliant. The accusation that they were there because they had gotten undressed in front of the right person was indiscriminate when it came to competence. You didn’t have to be good or bad at your job for people to begin suggesting that you had gotten it by sleeping around, you just had to be a woman. On the face of it, that seems like the disgruntled ravings of a person who is bitter about losing the competitive but there’s a lot more to it than that.

First of all, let me say that morally-speaking I take no issue with a person using their sexuality to get ahead in a world where they are solicited to do that and promised rewards for it. It may be a jaded position, but the truth is that the meek shall not inherit the earth, honesty doesn’t always win the day and integrity doesn’t mean shit to most people. A lot of times when people are competing for a position, and it comes to the final round, they are all equally qualified (on paper), and if the person handing out the job is basing their decision on whose pants they can get into, that’s on them (even legally-speaking, they are in a position of power and able to coerce the applicant), if I am willing to take my pants off to give myself an edge, I don’t see the lack of morality in that. That being said my position on morality comes from the cutthroat, brutally-ambitious girl that lives inside me, I tried to sedate her by running, doing yoga and drinking chamomile tea but it only made her stronger (and more expensive to sustain). However, I feel, all too often, we discuss this issue from the vantage point of the morality of the person who was willing to sleep their way to the top, and never from the place of the person who demanded it. We never discuss why we are so comfortable with believing that about any successful woman.

I mean, there is the obvious reason, the need to justify keeping women out of the workforce and paying us less by proving that we don’t compete on merit but on wiles and preference. Society is threatened by successfull women because they are unable to put them in a box and while a man must manage family and work as well, he is often lauded for giving more time to work, a woman who does that is judged by a different yardstick. The most threatening creature is a woman who actually manages to have a successful career, a thriving social life and a happy family, that creature is most often at the receiving end of allegations of using their sexuality to get ahead. The way many people see it is that a man’s desire for a woman is an unfair advantage given to women however there are plenty of unfair advantages given to men as well. When a man goes into an interview and talks about his children, the odds are skewed in their favour because we believe, still, that a man is the one supporting the family. It is not without reason that men’s careers experience growth after they have children (otherwise known as the Fatherhood Bonus) whereas women’s careers often tank after they have children (otherwise known as the motherhood penalty).

But all of that misses the key point. The heart of this issue is still that a woman in a position of power being viewed as an evil seductress plays into a male fantasy; a fantasy that enables them to ignore the skill and intelligence a woman may possess and reduce her to a sexual tool. That is the sinister plot that is actually at play here. A successful woman is decidedly immoral because most men still have a lot of difficulty letting women into the boy’s club of professionalism and acknowledging that they lost out to a woman because of her professional accumen is a lot harder to do than saying it was the unfair advantage of her sexuality that got her there. However, that approach still scrutinizes the women, and the fact that women can (whether they do or not is irrelevant to this point) get ahead by bartering sex means that most of the people making those decisions are still heterosexual men. The environment that enables sexual favours is created by the people at the top and when someone is fundamentally disadvantaged they can be compelled to take that path.

See, women are professionally disadvantaged in almost every field. While corporate set-ups have an even ratio of men and women at entry-level positions, the number of men in managerial positions is much higher. There are astoundingly few female surgeons. While many women go to law school, most litigating lawyers are men. And professions that are female-dominated like teaching and nursing are alarmingly unpaid. Add to the fact that asking a woman about her reproductive plans is common at interviews, and rejecting her based on that is acceptable. Women have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as men and even when we do get it, criticism of our character is muttered quietly behind our backs. Women are paid less than men for doing the same job and there still many professions like civil engineering and taxi-driving where women are just not welcome. There is a culture of disadvantage, and in that environment if a woman sees the opportunity to use her body to advance herself, what is so terrible about that? You left her no other way to do it.

And most importantly, the reason it works is not because of the women, the reason it works is because men are making professional decisions based on masturbatory fantasies. If you want to give me a job because you think I am hot, that’s on you, I came to this interview with a resume and a portfolio. If all you want to assess are my legs, don’t accuse me of sleeping my way to the top when I did it in your bed.

A Letter To My Daughter.

I don’t have a daughter, though I’ve often said my sisters are my children, but if I did have a daughter, I would want to talk to her about womanhood. This is what I would say. (PS: I write this letter regularly, not because I am pining for a daughter but because it helps me navigate how my understanding of gender changes and grows over the years, I highly recommend it).

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

To my daughter,

What being a woman means to me should always be completely irrelevant to your definition of it. As should what being a woman means to any other woman around you. Never try to emulate someone else’s definition of your own spirit. Be whoever it is that you want to be even if that’s something you have never ever heard of someone being before. Nothing you do in life, will ever make you any less of a woman.

But remember, being a woman in spirit and being a woman in society are two different things. One is personal and will hopefully bring you joy while the other is political and hopefully you realize that being a woman in society means being visible and being a fighter. You cannot choose not to represent your gender, even if you really just want to identify as a person, and when you do remember these things that I tell you.

Never let any injustice stand even if you have to bear a personal cost for it. People will try to beat you down along the way but that’s only because your power scares them and they worry about what might happen if you do succeed.

Always be available to other women because we’re all in this together; the temptation to hate on other women can be strong but remember this is something we have been taught so that we never realize our strength. Hating on other women puts you down and it puts down women. It’s counterproductive.

Remember and learn about the struggle we’ve been through in past centuries, it will help you see right and wrong more clearly. Before you pass judgment on anyone, see their whole life and where they came from. A lot of us act more out of the chips on our shoulders than our characters, and the only way to bridge the gap of communication is to see where everyone is coming from. People respond a lot better when they believe you understand their struggles as well.

Always ask why when someone tells you to do something that you can’t quite understand. So many times we unwittingly participate in activities and rituals that demean us because we don’t know any better. Never do something that you don’t understand. Even if it hurts someone’s feelings and even if it impacts your relationships. Never do something just because they tell you “it’s tradition”.

Never do anything just because someone told you “that’s what girls do” and never stop yourself from doing something you want to do because someone says “doing that makes you unfeminist“. You can do anything you want, so long as you cause no harm to anyone around you.

Be active in your community. Be visible and proud. Let people reach out to you and let them know that they can depend on you. Community is important, it is the first step on the road to civilization. People don’t have to believe what you believe for you to show them respect. But you must never stand for bigoted beliefs, call them out and don’t be afraid if no one is standing next to you when you do. You don’t need company when you have right on your side.

Respect your body and remember that includes being honest about its sexuality. No one has the right to shame you for having sexual needs and no one has the right to stop you from fulfilling them. Take care of your body because while it is unimportant how you look, your body is the only tool you have to get through life. If you neglect your body to the point where it is no longer able to support you, you will have taken yourself out of the fight.

Don’t be afraid of your emotions. People will shame you for them and tell you that having emotions automatically makes you less reliable as a human being. Shut that shit down. Cry when you want. Laugh when you like. Breakdown should you feel the need to. Use your emotions, cater to them and take care of them. If you don’t, you’ll have a heart attack because those kill women too.

Don’t be afraid to be strong and powerful. Don’t be afraid to be homely and soft spoken either. Just be afraid of dishonesty. Nothing else stands a chance against you. Because you are a woman and while you may lack the upper body strength to lift with your shoulders, you have all the resilience in the world to make up for that.

You were not born a liability or with a chip on your shoulder. You were born with the opportunity to make the world a better place. No matter how naive they call you, never stop believing that.

Love,

Aarushi Ahluwalia

I Was Going To Be A Tree.

A Poem by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

I used to wonder, so often—

Am I no good?

Trouble seems to follow me around.

I disguise myself in respectability and all shades of green, but it finds me.

Pries me out of the parched crusted Earth with a rainstorm.

Exposing the dirt and filth; washing it all away, until nothing remains.

Just a trace of me.

Unowned.

Unchained.

Unfettered, and useless.

A piece of me that wonders.

Do I really even deserve any better?

Maybe not.

But strays need love too.

I may be no good.

Sometimes I see it reflected back at me from the people I love.

Their eyes telling me that I could never be that one thing they always hoped I’d be.

Instead, a stray with a master

An orphan with a mother.

A lost map-reader.

A whore with virtue.

A professional without any.

A lover who hurts you.

And answers without questions.

None of the branches I ever expected to sprout.

Maybe this is what I’m supposed to have.

The oppressive home for the liberal.

The desert for the water-girl.

The dance in my step without any music in my soul.

A rainstorm that washes me away each time I sprout.

Do I really deserve any better?

Maybe not.

But,

Even weeds need water to grow.

They Teach You Pain.

A freestyle poem about learning pain as a young girl and unwittingly teaching it forward once you grow up.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I must have been a very young girl because I remember it seeming horrific;

that my mother would pay someone to pluck out the hair from her eyebrows, one by one.

Until they looked like they were drawn on perfectly.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked her.

I can’t even feel it.‘ She said casually.

Because they teach you pain.

They tell you the importance of being beautiful and show you how beauty involves ripping the hair out of your skin.

My mother taught me how to eat at parties so I could be thin and still social.

She taught me how to squeeze into shoes that hurt and smile through the evening.

Because they teach you pain.

And if you refuse to learn,

They use these words to describe you.

Bossy. Arrogant. Overconfident.

Because you’re guilty of speaking your mind as a girl.

They tell you not to be too smart.

Or the boys won’t like you.

People won’t like you.

Use your eyelashes more than your voice.

They teach you silence.

They tell you that sex is going to hurt and feel terrible; they scare you with it so you wouldn’t think to desire it.

I remember I was twelve and I asked my aunt about her first time,

“It hurt so much I screamed,” she said.

I never could forget those words. We’d all heard them. My friends, my sisters and I, all young women dreading the idea of sex.

Because they teach you to expect pain.

They caution you to build boundaries around yourself so strong you alienate yourself from your own body.

Before you know what you were protected, you already know there is something to protect. I knew rape was something that could happen to me before I knew what sex was.

And before it ever could happen, I already knew of the shame.

The shame you’re supposed to be silence about.

And persevere.

Because they teach you to bear the pain.

My former partner’s mother once sat next to me on a warm afternoon,

And while she sipped tea out of the white china, she told me:

Women are like the sky, they subsume everything. They take everything. To be a woman is to persevere.

They teach you your strength comes from how much you can bear in silence.

That’s really why she gave me that little speech; she knew her son was beating me and she wanted me to see that as being a martyr in the name of womanhood and hold my silence in the prestige of that position.

Because they teach you pain is a virtue.

And bearing it makes you special.

They cast you in these roles.

The goddess.

The martyr.

The mother.

The meek.

The object of beauty.

And before you know it you’re bound inside these boxes and beating yourself up for not fitting into any of the ideals they picked out for you.

You still go on about your life.

You do the things you are meant to do.

Work. Life. Love.

One day you’re sitting in front of a lighted mirror at the salon and a lady is plucking your eyebrows.

Your mind is preoccupied by that e-mail you have to send, that payment that still hasn’t come in and those mushrooms you have to prepare.

You lean back in the chair.

And you see a child staring at you in horror.

A little girl.

So little that the sight of having your hair torn out of your face must seem horrific to her.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” She asks..

I can’t even feel it.‘ I tell her without even thinking about it.

Because they teach you pain.

And sooner or later, you learn it.

It’s Not Radical To Recognise A Woman’s Intelligence.

Women are praised for being beautiful, sensitive, socially-skilled and gentle all the time, but throughout our lives we are discouraged from brandishing our intelligence. With the wage-gap and self-esteem crises facing a disproportionate amount of women, why is it such a radical idea to value a woman’s intelligence?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I was an argumentative child, or at least that is what I was told, it was only when I was older that I realised that an analytical, critical conversation about a particular subject is not an argument, it’s a valuable intellectual exercise. The point is that I had a lot to say in general, and about everything. A lot of my discussions with people were related to poltics and oppression, and most of them occurred at home with my parents’ friends and family. This was before the time that ignorance could be presented as “alternate facts” and some of the discussions got impassioned and heated, but never personal or offensive. Still, my mother did not like this. She started telling me, each time people came over, that I shouldn’t discuss politics with my dad’s friends. When that didn’t quite work, she redirected me into helping out in the kitchen. I would volunteer my opinion on something being discussed and she would immediately give me a task.

By the time I was a teenager, I was spending most of my time at soirées coordinating kitchen activities and bring out platters of food. Everyone loved this! I heard an endless stream of compliments: You’re so mature for your age, you help out so much at home, you’re such a sensible young girl, you’re so socially skilled, you’re already trained to be a great hostess. It bothered me. The compliments bothered me because they were casting me into the role of an ideal woman, but also because that role had been given to me to keep me from talking politics with men. That concerned people in my life enough to find a solution, and discuss it with one another. It bothered me also because alongside this negative tag of being an argumentative, headstrong young woman, I was also pressured to always have outstanding grades. It never made sense to me why I had to be great at school, when using my knowledge only seemed to upset people around me. This dichotomy seemed sinister and it continued to be unexplained.

Of course, I understand it now. Women cannot be too smart lest it make the men feel less smart. It’s a ripple effect of the perceived inferiority of women, more commonly known in the noxious upper middle-class drawing-rooms du jour as the “men-and-women-are-equal-but-different syndrome”, as perceived by the patriarchy. When I was a child I didn’t understand why I was told not to disagree with my father or any other men, I didn’t realise that a girl disagreeing with a man could be perceived as an offence. I didn’t understand why I was told it was important to be intelligent, but not to brandish that intelligence. I wasn’t told why the people around me discussed the possibility of their daughters earning more money than their future husbands as a potential problem in the hypothetical marriage.

I didn’t understand it fully until I grew up and started to experience it. It started with a man I was in a relationship with for many years. He loved spending my money but he hated my ambition. He constantly fought with me for wanting to do well in school and then college. When I got into prestigious programs he chided me for trying to show off. When I got good job offers, he lost his temper and accused me of being “too available” to get those jobs. When I achieved goals and had professional success, he often said to me, “What do you think of youself? You think you’re so smart but you’re nothing. You don’t even know how to be a woman.” Harsh, and unnecessary, but it taught me that a lot of men, and people, cannot handle a woman’s pride in her intelligence or accomplishments. You can be as smart, accomplished, skilled or ambitious as you like but all of that just counts against you, especially when you don’t know how to accessorize, match drapes and tapestry or dress meat. In that entire relationship, I never felt like my partner was proud of me, I never felt like he appreciated anything about my brain and because of the generally abusive dysfunction in the relationship, I became scared of my own accomplishments. I kept them to myself. I didn’t share them with my family or my friends or my partner, I didn’t even use social media until this year, because I was taught that brandishing my intelligence in any way was showing off and it caused friction in my relationships.

However, romantic or familial relationships aren’t the only way in which we devalue and refuse to recognise the intelligence of women. We do it socially as well. Once I was with a group of my husband’s friends on my balcony. My husband is a decade older than me and some of his colleagues are a decade older than him, and as a result I sometimes have to socialize in circles that are strange to me. My world, with my heathen friends, my seditionist colleagues, my strange pets, my brutally-honest family and my radical books is very, very different from his world of uniform-wearing certified patriots. They take offence at me asking them to call me by my own name and don’t understand why I am being such a pain about my legal identity. There is no overlap in our worlds. While on the balcony I was talking to someone about carbon taxes, and several men were talking over me about segregation of garbage as the radical idea that will save the planet (I cannot, I swear, I just can’t). At a certain point someone interrupted the man who was speaking to alert him to the fact that I was talking.

“I think she’s saying something,” this man said to the one speaking over me.

“She’s hot,” the guy speaking over me said.

Now, this man is over twenty-years older than I am but let’s say that’s not an issue because I like em old. He didn’t want to hear from me because I am not a brain to him, I am red lips and low-cut tops, and therefore hot (which, really? I think he meant he thinks I’m easy). Nothing I could have said had any potential value to him because I have a vagina and to him that meant that purpose is mere aestheticism. Similarly in my husband’s circle, there is a systematic segregation, they encourage women to hang out with women and men to hang out with men. When they encourage women to hang out with women it is often explained by saying that men have no interest in womanly discussions about sarees, jewellery and household help. No one ever asked if women were actually interested in these discussions, or why men couldn’t be. It’s just how it is.

“It’s just how it is,” is one of those bullshit tautologies that shut off further questioning without explaining themselves. It has no meaning and under its garb we teach young women that they must not expect to be valued for their intelligence as much as the men. That’s at the heart of the wage gap as well. Women can be intelligent, we’re okay with that, but if they wish to be decorated and socially-liked they just be gracious, beautiful, not-arrogant and strategically quiet. That’s part of why the industry of beauty and vanity targets women like it does, because it knows, as do we, that women are much more likely to seek approval and appreciation for their beauty. That’s why homemakers are forced into a competition of whose house is the cleanest and shiniest, because they know that no one is sitting around waiting to laud their dazzling intellect. That’s why no matter how successful you might you be as a woman, when your company goes public (talking about you, Vimeo), you’ll be photographed with your child and covered from that angle.

Women aren’t appreciated for their intelligence. It’s pretty shitty to live in a world where that is a radical idea.