Scream Across The Room When Asking For A Tampon.

Any person who has ever bought a menstrual product knows they are sold in black plastic bags as if they are things that need to be hidden. Women are taught to apply shame and discretion to bodily functions and parts, and that is not free of impact. Here is why it would be better to be able to talk about tampons openly at the dinner table.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

How many times has this happened to you— You’re in a class, or a bar, or just hanging out with some friends when a woman you hardly know (or may know quite well) slides up to you and whispers to ask if you have a tampon? Or because we’ve changed into a new generation and have as a result changed our method of discreet communication, this girl texts you instead of sliding up. We always have this look on our faces; a combination of embarrassment and need and we always ask discreetly.

For instance when I was in school, one day a friend of mine started her period unexpectedly and she asked me for a sanitary pad. I reached into my bag to give her one and she said that i should put it inside a notebook and pass it to her. It was weird to me that she had this request but over the years I realized that this was norm.

Feminine hygiene products are meant to be hidden even when exchanged between women; much like the societal approach like they put them inside a black/opaque paper bag when you buy these products at the pharmacy. We’re supposed to hide our period and never mention it in company for fear of it being considered improper. I have personally had several people tell me to shut up or mind the room if I broach the subject of the menstrual cycle (which if I believe pop culture makes me leak blue stuff and cry over Bambi) but’s not just the period that is not to be mentioned, it’s various aspects of the female reproductive system.

A few days ago I was with my mother and we were going shopping when we (read: I) happened to start discussing fertility problems.

In this discussion I said the words, “My uterus is driving me insane and i don’t want to release eggs anymore, feel like a goddamn chicken.”

Obviously I was being playfully flippant but it was not that my mother took issue with. She promptly hushed me and pointed to the driver of the car. She whispered that i shouldn’t use such words so publicly (we were alone in the cab with the one person who was driving us). I tried to explain to her why it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate and in my explanation I used the word uterus again which made her decide not to speak again until I stopped using “dirty words”. It seemed like my mother’s approach to the female reproductive system was only viewed through a sexual-shame lens; she would not have reacted this was if I was discussing an infected toenail. It’s not her fault, this is just how we are taught to talk about our bodies, as if their parts are dirty things.

It just seems like we spend our half lives being taught about what is okay to talk about in the presence of men and/or in public and female reproductive health and systems is an inappropriate subject. That is part of why abortion is such a “no-no” subject at parties and family dinners. A man once literally called me insane for trying to explain to him what a female body goes through during a 28-day cycle. He seemed like he didn’t have any understanding of it at all but he was so uncomfortable with talking to me (a set of two holes that can make words) about this issue that he dubbed me insane.

Now I’m not saying everyone has to know women intimately, but no one should have to be shamed and silenced just because they talked about their fallopian tubes or their menstrual cycle with friends. There shouldn’t be a gender barrier on this information. Like in school, the talk about periods and puberty was limited to girls (in fact, we were explicitly told not to inform boys about what we would be discussing). Male puberty was never even discussed, which is a problem of itself. My point is that this information is  vital and if you communicate with women on a daily basis and if you have girlfriends/wives/children having the right information at the right time would benefit men as well but more importantly, freedom of discussion in all spheres will make sure girls and women are better informed. The conspiracy of polite silence for social propriety takes many victims.

I’ve had a fourteen year old sister (despite a Sex Ed class) wonder if men have both penises and vaginas. I’ve had a 20-year old boy ask me how come tampons don’t get lost inside people. I’ve met thirty (and older) year-old women who have never had a pelvic exam because “gynaecologist” is one of those words that is inappropriate to say in a social setting. My own mother had never had a breast exam until two years ago since, she had children. My friend couldn’t understand why I said birth control, and why I couldn’t just say condoms. Digest this please, this 27-year old had somehow missed the fact that contraception does not end at condoms.

However, it’s not just the lack of information, it’s also the misinformation. All the jokes around women being crazy on their period and all the mystery that shrouds that exchange of a tampon alienates women into a species that men and society as a whole cannot understand. It creates the environment that allows the distance between genders to joke about how little they know about the actual existence of one another. Lack of communication is a horrible thing but a system of silencing discourse on one particular subject either in a way that you shut it down or with the subtlety that encourages the discussers to whisper instead of talk creates an environment of misinformation, internalised shame and distrust. No girl should wonder why she has to whisper even though she does it because all the women around her do it. No woman should have to think of uterus as a dirty word.

So maybe, just maybe, next to you want to borrow a tampon you can just ask across the coffee table, just like you would ask for a spoon. Because maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop pretending that women leak blue stuff from their vaginas every month for an unknown mythical reason. That’s stupid. Let’s not live in a stupid world.

13 Unprecedented Big Boob Problems.

Any woman with big breasts will tell you there are a myriad issues associated with them but while some like back-aches and posture issues are well known there are others that get less representation. Here is a (sadly-hilarious) list of 13 problems that may not be commonly known.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

All you ever hear about are back aches and lack of correct bra sizes on the market, the reality of big boob problems is much worse, such as:

One time I got hit in the face with my tit while running. All because I failed to put on the extra reinforced (it’s like armour) sports bra on one fucking occasion. I’m not kidding. One of them just got loose, swung itself around and hit me in the face

Also, when boob sweat accumulates under huge boobs for all the years of your existence, you get blackheads and little pimples under there. Boob-powdering is a thing. A thing I never heard mentioned but have never been able to live without ever.

That “correct way to put on a bra” thing really matters to the big boobed. Otherwise it just feels like packing trash into a ripped garbage bag.

A friend of mine has big boobs that on a size-scale can only be described as glorious, she told me that when she lies on her stomach she has to part her boobs so she can create a comfortable level. Also so her boobs won’t get hurt. Lying on your stomach can be an adventure sport for the big boobed.

Oh and the attention from men! I don’t just mean in the street. See, my breasts have never been an erogenous zone for me but I was often approached by men who were, uhm, fixated on my huge giant breasts. As a result my breasts got a lot of..loving attention. It’s not fair that i should have to endure having my nipples licked by hundreds of guys for hours just because I have big boobs.

On a different note, I have literally never been able to find any of the stuff I’ve lost in there. I once lost a piano, maybe someday my nipples will find it and teach themselves how to play it.

And the bra size thing is actually a problem. Pretty big boob bras are more expensive than pretty small boob bras, even the trashy stuff, it physically hurts me when someone rips one of them. I probably sacrificed a week of rent for that bra but that’s not the actual size problem, there are constraints but I am usually able to find the right size and style. The real size problem is that clothing brands refuse to recognize that someone can be a size 16 around the chest and a size 12 around the hips. Expecting a woman to have a uniform dress size for her whole body is the real unrealistic expectation if you ask me.

Also if you text me after midnight (ie: when I am half-laying on my back in bed), at least 50% of the text is typed by my boob. They keep sending half completed texts and clicking on spam links. Goodness knows how many Nigerian princes I’ve almost helped smuggle money out of the country.

Speaking of lying on my back, if I arch backwards, my boobs smother me and i die. They are a deadly weapon attached to my chest and I’m destined to die in friendly fire.

Honestly sometimes I can’t breathe and feel like I have no neck when I settle into bed for sleepy time. When I’m ovulating, I’m basically engaging in auto-asphyxia. (Kindly note how I didn’t say auto-erotic).

Chest meat comes with upper-arm meat. Upper arm meat is hard to drop.

Also, you know because of the connection between weight and gravitational pull sometimes my boobs point downwards and i can’t find my nipple through the bra because it has decided to relocate seventeen inches south of where it is supposed to be. My nipple is pierced and i still can’t find it.

I haven’t left the house without a bra since 2001..when I was 10.

Big boobs really are a pain in the back. Gotta go smother myself to sleep now.

11 Ways You Can Tackle Casual Sexism Everyday.

If you ask most women, sexism is everywhere, and if you ask some men, they want to help tackle it but if all ask all people, many of us are not sure what we can do on a daily basis to help. Well, here’s what you can do.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I know it is bold of me to assume that anyone really wants to learn how to combat everyday sexism, misogyny and the rape culture based on the sheer number of people I know who won’t even admit that these are real things but inside my hard-crusted nihilism there is an impermeable center of optimism and I try to execute my ideas from that place. However here is the main idea: If you do actually wish to make things better everyday for the women (which is not to say things cannot be bad for men or transgendered people or gay people or chickens) there are a few basic tenets from where you must operate before you read the tips that could actually help you be less sexist and combat more sexism in everyday life:

a) Accept that women actually deal with sexism on a daily basis whether that is in the form of a server at a restaurant always handing the cheque to a man or being called a slut for wearing a skirt or having to use our initials instead of our female-sounding names in publications. There is a vast cultural, legal and professional framework that exists and enables sexism.

b) Understand that a sexist, patriarchal framework enables and supports the culture of violence against women. If you feel like women should not be crying about dresses without pockets when rape exists, understand that when you break these things down they lead you to the same place. They are borne out of the same fire.

c) Stop viewing a conversation about women’s rights as an attack on men. If you feel robbed because more women have the same degree as you, that’s your problem and not a woman attacking you.

d) Understand that women’s rights is still a nascent movement in many ways. I know there is a temptation, especially among men, to think that this women’s rights thing has been going on for so long and everything is different now. Just place it against history, woman really only started having rights (like men do, as in legal fucking rights) last century. Compare that to how long men have had rights before you tell women to stop complaining all the time. There are many, many things still to complain about.

e) And finally, learn that being open to understanding and changing your own sexist behaviour isn’t like admitting evidence against yourself. We’ve all been there. Women too. I had to learn what behaviours of mine were problematic and work towards changing them and doing that doesn’t rob you of your identity.

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If you are on board with those things, only then does it make any sense to even read further because obviously if you aren’t on board, you aren’t on board with checking your own sexist behaviour either. However if you are actually interested, I realise there is a lot of nervousness surrounding this idea of sexism where a lot of people are on board with taking down sexist frameworks but aren’t sure what that actually means in execution. Here are some tips you can apply in your daily behaviour and to the world around you:

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  1. If a woman tells you something is sexist, it is not your goal to prove that she is wrong or how it isn’t or #notallmen or to tell her how she has misunderstood the situation.

Here is what you could say instead if you really don’t understand, say this: “I’m sorry to have made you uncomfortable/that made you uncomfortable and I was wondering if you could help me understand how this behaviour makes women uncomfortable?

Let the person affected by the behaviour in question explain how they are affected by the behaviour in question.

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  1. If you are a man (or any other gender even) and a woman tells you about an incident like someone cat-calling her or touching her in the street, don’t say the following:

“Tell me who it was, I will punch him/I would have punched him/I want to kill him.”

…because then you are “protecting” her and telling her it is your job as the dominant force to commit violence on her behalf.

Instead, try saying this:

“How are you?/Are you okay? Is there something I can do to help?”

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  1. Think about things in “Would I do this too terms?”

Say you are a doctor and you happen to be in a discussion about a diagnostic test with other people, none of whom are doctors, would you say that in that situation, your opinion is the one of the expert? Now say you are not a doctor and you are in the same discussion with a sole female doctor present. Do you find yourself feeling the need to correct her or assert yourself as the authority? Or maybe do you find her confidence, arrogant? If you do, cast yourself in her role and check whether you would be as confident as the expert in a role. If yes, check your own sexism instead of ruining her day.

It’s fine, misogyny and casual sexism has taught a lot of us to hate authoritative women but you can teach yourself to recognise that and choose not to fucking do it.

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  1. Don’t tell women what you would have done in their place instead. You’re not in our place. If you were, you wouldn’t have gone and punched that guy in the dark corner of the street because you would have then grown up like us too and known that rape-based scare-tactics fucking work.

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  1. Chivalry is not as important as rights. I am settling this “should I open the door for her or not” question forever: NOT. Okay, some women like it (and will learn to live without it, I assure you) and some women are outraged by it and many many men have admitted to being confused and some seem to believe this means women want to have their cake and eat it too and let me say this right now, no amount of doors opened for me and chairs pulled out for me will ever compensate for being accosted in the street, and if we can only deal with one of those, let’s make it the latter. Don’t open the door for women, don’t order our meals, don’t stand up when we enter a room. If chivalry is hard to reconcile with feminism, you best believe it’s chivalry we are all voting to get rid of.

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  1. Stop fucking telling women to calm down. Seriously, I am not even explaining this. My own mother will tell me not say anything (well, not anymore) if my father is being a pissy diva (sorry, dad) and then tell me to calm down when someone at my work steals my fucking copy. If a woman’s emotions make you uncomfortable then a man’s emotions better make you equally uncomfortable. And if your mind is blown by the discovery that men have just as many fucking emotions then might I suggest going back to kindergarten and starting this whole thing over?

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  1. Practise consent like a fucking religion. Here’s how I suggest you do it:

a. If you have two kids encourage them to ask each other or you (if you have the one) before they engage in any physical play. And while you are at it, discourage physical sibling violence. It’s stupid.

b. If you are a person who masturbates (and not a person who specifically gets off to non-consensual fantasies, no judgement but also sorry because this won’t help you) build consent into your fantasies. It won’t take anything away from them if the person you’re thinking about enthusiastically tells you they are into it. Might even work the other way.

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  1. Monitor your words and the words around you. This one is especially relevant if you have children. Let the child hear you discuss women like you discuss men, by their profession or in their individuality. If you are watching television with a child, point out sexist tropes and invite them to talk about them.

Let me give you an example, my stepson has these sibling-friends, one boy and one girl. He plays with both, however he told me one day that he doesn’t understand why the girl comes to the park and then spends all her time just talking to her friends instead of playing football. So I began discussing communication-space with him by asking him to tell me where else he sees her talk a lot and after a short discussion he came to the conclusion, himself, that because her brother is allowed to always cut her off while she is speaking, talking freely is a valuable activity to her that she doesn’t always have the space to engage in except with other girls.

(FYI, this is why you think women are so chatty with other women, because we don’t fucking get to speak without being interrupted elsewhere).

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  1. JUST LET HER PAY THE BILL! Do you hate money? Or do you want her to have more money? Well, then participate in ensuring women are paid fairly instead of getting your manhood all hurt over cheque-politics. Just let her pay if she wants to.

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  1. Tell the jock to shut the fuck up. Seriously, if you find yourself amongst men and someone says something you know is bullshit like women bosses are ineffective, just tell him to shut up! You don’t have to ally to the cause only when women are watching.

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  1. Resist the urge to conversation mine when talking to women. Seriously, you don’t have to talk to women only about shopping, decor, clothes and children. These conversations can be as boring for us as they are for you. Unless specifically told otherwise operate under the assumption that women do, in fact, have brains.

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Also, just as a reminder, please stop telling women how we feel about our own lives or who we are. We know who we are, thank you.

Why You Should Kiss In Front Of Your Kids.

Growing up in India, most of us never saw our parents express any physical affection to one another and very few of us are comfortable displaying affection to our partners in public. This may seem like a personal choice but it speaks to a much deeper culture of shame, taboo and violence.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

On a bright summer day decades ago, my friend and I had just discovered how babies are made. We had watched a movie that mentioned condoms and our journey through the dictionary (the OG Wikipedia) had led us to this startling discovery. As we sat together in my room munching on potato chips that were staring to make our stomachs turn, there was only one, extremely disturbing, question on our minds:

“Did our parents actually do this too?”

I have since learnt that this is a common question among children who have just learnt about sex. In our state of repulsion we came to the conclusion that our parents must have only done it twice each — to make us and our siblings — and after that we decided never to think about it again. Fortunately for me, my mother was quite proactive regarding sexual education for an Indian woman born in the 60s and over the years she managed to set my sexual ideology straight enough for me to move past my disgust and accept sexuality as a natural part of relationships. That being said, there was and there continues to be, disgust associated with sexuality and especially, with the sexuality of our parents. With the sexual conservatism that plagues our society and the concept of modesty that is informed by both our laws and our culture, this is hardly surprising, but in reality there is a much more deeply-rooted phenomenon that enables this sexual shame:

In India, we never see our parents touch each other.

This is, of course, not limited to our parents. Public display of affection in India is not encouraged and often it is not even tolerated anywhere. Several years ago my partner was away for a few months doing a course in a different city, I went to visit him for a couple of weeks and we spent a lot of time together around his colleagues and course-mates. Now I am a person who is very comfortable in their body, a little too comfortable some might even say (and they can blame the yoga, I guess?), and I touch my partner as much as I possibly can, and I also do it in public (and so does he). We hold hands, we kiss whenever we want, we sit close together, we touch each other on the head or arm or back or whatever. We are people in love and we are deeply affectionate with one another and I guess, it shows in our behaviour around one another. I think nothing of it because it is a habit to me (and it’s not a social habit, I don’t touch people I am not in a romantic relationship with at all except to shake hands which also has been taken away from me by this wretched year) and I am determined to live freely in this world so if the person in my life is consenting to being touched, I don’t much care what anyone else thinks. I haven’t cared for so many years that now I don’t notice it at all.

People notice it, though.

After that trip, I found out that apparently we had been ascribed a moniker around campus. We were “the PDA couple”. It wasn’t said to me in a derogatory way, which is only a function of my privilege and how it enables me to socialise only in certain circles, but I’ve heard it said it many different ways over the course of the many years I have been dating. I have no idea when I got so old but this is bullshit. My mother expresses it in terms of casual annoyance. I think she was hoping we would stop after we married but joke’s on you mother. Ha. Some people poke fun at it in a friendly, jovial manner. Others avert their eyes. Some call you a slut. Others tell you to leave their establishment. Some straight-up attack you. Overall though, as a people, we are not cool with PDA, which makes me wonder what does publically displaying affection actually insinuate. To me touching a person I love is like talking to them, I cannot not do it and it will never not be appealing to me. However, socially and on an anthropological level our actions say things about human behaviour and how they are received makes a statement about our times. These times are strange, which I guess everyone believes about their times, and when we touch in public we say could be saying a few different things.

We could be admitting to an intimate knowledge of and comfort with the body of the person next to us which says that we may have been sexually connected before, and that is not a comfortable admission even in today’s world. We could be saying that while we are aware of society’s standard of decency, we choose to flout it anyway, and that is viewed as rebellion against the morays of our times. We could be saying that we are comfortable with sexuality and our bodies, and while that shouldn’t evoke a negative reaction from society, it crosses a boundary that we deem propriety. Essentially it’s very simple, public display of affection is a non-essential (sexual) touch and the conspiracy of morality dictates that we must love and touch not for pleasure, but only when there is due cause and publically there is only one due cause for touching that we acknowledge: Making babies.

This goes to the very heart of how we teach sex and love. You fall in love, you get married and you have babies. You fall in love, you have sex, and that makes babies. Even though sex occurs way more frequently to the end of pleasure, it is taught only as the process of making babies. If you think about it that is the whole reason why pre-marital sex is so taboo in India, because by law of culture you are not allowed to make babies without marriage which means the only reason you would be having sex before marriage is for pleasure. As a country, we are not okay with pleasure. Pleasure is at the heart of immorality which is why we don’t just condemn public display of physical affection, we don’t even like it if kids exchange chocolate and flowers on Valentine’s day. We don’t like to see anyone holding hands, let alone kissing and we definitely don’t want our children seeing that, because we don’t see that as healthy physical expression, we has prescribed an identity to it on the porn-spectrum. Parents don’t touch in front of their kids because there is something unspoken yet decidedly wrong about it and that is what it is.

Most of us, we didn’t see our parents touch. They never kissed in front of us. They didn’t hug. They never cuddled. They never even insisted on bedroom-privacy and many of us were just taught that it’s always okay to enter our parents’ bedrooms (with or without knocking). Our parents’ bedrooms were often just a public space of the house for us. Never touching was a habit for our parents and their sexuality was so hidden from us that many of us would still balk at the idea of our parents being sexual beings too. In response to that we will teach a similar idea of love to our children and when they see two people who don’t even seem to love each other (or have a relationship that doesn’t mimick a fraternal relationship) and two people who never touch each other, they will believe that is what love looks like. When they learn of sex and realise those two people who don’t even seem comfortable with each others touch had sex, that will start to seem normal to them. When that seems normal, they will learn that reluctance, discomfort and shame are part of sexuality and that is how rape culture is normalised. When we teach our kids our delusion that sex happens only for procreation and all pleasure is bad because we cannot bear the idea of our parents as people capable of pleasure, we teach them shame too. We teach them the idea that touch cannot be loving and innocent, it must only be shameful, secret and dirty. Look closely at your own sexuality and you will see how those ideas have informed it.

So I touch my partner in front of my stepson and have for years. We hug and we kiss and we make eyes at each other. We express our love and we are comfortable with each other’s bodies. As a result, he is more comfortable with his. As it changes, he openly asks questions about it. He discusses what he feels and questions ideas of gender and society. He is respectful of people’s boundaries and always asks before he touches anyone. He respects our boundaries which allows our relationship its own space and he understands that he has the rights to set up boundaries around his own body. He is physically affectionate and comfortable with being so. He can think about holding a girl’s hand without it being a wrong or dirty thing in his head. He doesn’t find our behaviour disgusting, nor is he uncomfortable with his own behaviour that he sometimes finds confusing. He sees romantic love as a positive and joyful thing that he looks forward to having and understands it has nothing necessarily to do with baby-making.

We keep saying we have to educate our boys in the effort to tackle rape culture, misogyny and sexism. Well, this is how you start to do it. Body-honesty is a great lesson.

A Comprehensive Review Of All Period Products.

Periods and period products are all a nightmare. Here is my hilarious review of all the products I have used.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

This is my extensive and possibly completely useless guide and review for all the period products I have used.

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Product Name: Basic-Ass Sanitary Napkins

Description: They’re fat, cheap, narrow and feel like you’re putting a doll’s bed between your legs. Which is, an odd experience.

Experience: I first used these during my first period. I knew what a period was and what I had to do during it but, I didn’t know exactly how to use this product and I ended up putting the side with the adhesive upwards (stuck to the vagina) leading to a strange week when I wondered why they would make a period product that tried to rip my skin off. I hated them even after I figured out how to use them but over the years (especially after the number of times I just happened to be in villages and small towns when I got my period) after having used several other products I came to realise these are actually much better than other pads. They last about the same time, they’re more comfortable against your skin than other pads and they cost less.

Questions though:

  1. How about putting a “this side down” sign on the sticky end? A girl’s first brazilian shouldn’t be on the same day as her first period.

Worst thing about it: The lumpy feeling between your legs and the environmental impact.

Best thing about it: They are cheap and if you’re going to bleed on something and throw it away, make it cheap.

Expert Opinion: I hate my period, this does not make it better.

Rating: Three out of five blue blood droplets.

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Product Name: Winged, Scented Elaborate Sanitary Pads.

Description: They’re thin. They’re winged. They smell like flowers allegedly. The come with roll up disposable plastic wrappers because why not more plastic?

Experience: Let me just say right away, I hate these pads so much. The glue sucks, especially in the wings so they never ever stay in place, I just always accidentally stick the wings onto the pad somehow (I am not very dextrous). Apparently these pads can absorb a lot more blood but i have never seen that because they also just get bunched up and become like a thin vertical line of bloody plastic-ey cotton. Also extremely rough feeling against your skin.

Questions though:

  1. What’s with the flower scent? It doesn’t actually smell flowery and I don’t actually mind the smell of blood but seriously fake flower+crystallized blood= Barf
  2. Why do you think the disposal wrapper thing works? It doesn’t. Neither your glue nor your environment game is on point!
  3. Explain the name whisper. Seriously, explain it. Who is whispering and why and about what?

Worst thing about it: The fucking scent. Why do you want women’s menstruating vaginas to smell like meadows?

Best thing about it: Nope. Not a thing.

Expert Opinion: I hate my period, this does not make it better.

Rating: Two out of five blue blood droplets.

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Product Name: Tampons

Description: A wad of cloth, cotton, plastic shaped like a bullet that you can choose to shoot into you with an injection style applicator or just push in with your hands.

Experience: The weirdest part of my experience with tampons has been dealing with all the people who are sure I will die of Toxic Shock Syndrome. I find tampons comfortable to insert and uncomfortable to remove, I realise insertion (and how India feels about women putting things inside their vaginas) is the reason they are so uncommon in India. However you can safely use tampons (even if you have never had penetrative sex before). The chances of TSS are quite low especially if you regularly change them. They are easier to store, dispose and carry. They are however more expensive and accessibility is a problem. I have used tampons for thirteen years but in smaller towns and cities, I can never buy them at pharmacies. Some pharmacists have been downright confused by what I asked for and when you get used to tampons, it is actually quite hard to go back to pads. They are however more expensive than all other menstrual products on this list.

Questions Though:

  1. Why have pharmacists in India been storing tampons in the refrigerator? Seriously, I am not kidding. I have experienced this 6-7 times, in multiple cities, and none of them can explain why they do it, they just do.
  2. I realise all tampons say I can pee with them in and biologically I should be able to but then…why can’t I?

Worst thing about it: They dry you out.

Best thing about it: Pretty mess-less. If you care about that.

Expert Opinion: I hate my period, this does not make it better.

Rating: 4 our of 5 blue droplets of blood.

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Product Name: Menstrual Cup or Diva Cup

Description: A silicon cup that you insert inside yourself and it gathers all the blood through suction in the cup and then you wash it out every 4-6 hours or so.

Experience: So this was supposed to be the miracle cure. It’s 300-500 rupees a year in terms of money so extremely cheap. It’s much, much more environmentally sound than any other products but IT IS DEFINITELY TRYING TO KILL YOU.

Okay.

So I got one. I kept it on my bathroom shelf for a month. Right next to the tampons. Finally I decided to try it. It’s shapes like a cup so you have to kinda fold it in on itself to insert, apparently this is extremely easy, but I beg to differ. Between long, sharp nails and a slight but extremely irrational fear that the suction would suck out my entire uterus (I know that’s dumb!), I could not

for the life of me insert it. I had to get my partner involved (he’s a doctor so he’s really not squeamish about bodily fluids or weird insertions and this is why I cannot be a doctor), and after 20-minutes of trying, he got it in me. It felt like it was suctioning my insides so I freaked out and told him to take it out immediately.

A day later, we tried again. This time I didn’t even try to do this myself, just asked him. It only took 19-minutes that time. I managed to withstand it for an hour. Then I pulled it out and GOT BLOOD EVERYWHERE!

Either this product is a wreck or I am.

Questions though:

  1. How do I get it out without spilling blood everywhere? Not everyone is dextrous!
  2. Is it sucking out my uterus?
  3. How are people successfully inserting these themselves?

Worst thing about it:

  1. This is a two person job.
  2. The job still won’t be done.

Best thing about it:

  1. Cheap.
  2. Really efficient if you hate yourself.

Expert Opinion: I hate my period and this definitely made it worse.

Rating: One out of five blue droplets of blood.

Not All Tough Women Are “Soft On The Inside”.

If you’re a strong, independent woman the chances that someone has told you that your tough exterior is an act are high. In this piece I discuss how the need for people to have women conform to the idea of a delicate emotional inside is part of the agenda to keep women down.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

If I had put a Rupee in a collection tin every single time a man who was (trying to) date me told me that I was “tough on the outside and a fragile girl on the inside” then I would have about as much money as I make working as a journalist (which is not too much but certainly way too much to make off a collection tin).

My ex used to insist that my “hardcore tough girl” demeanor was an act and on the inside I was a sweet and sensitive girl. The men who used to chase me (or did I chase them?) before I was an adult used to say that I seem cold and harsh but on the inside I am soft-hearted. The man I date now thinks I am fragile on the inside despite my *made-of-steel* exterior. There were men in between who said that I was not who I “pretended” to be, i just kept my vulnerability hidden because I didn’t want anyone to get to my insides and hurt them.

I’ve never really thought about these statements because I’ve always assumed that they are the pick-up lines of the “intelligentsia”. There seems to be something about the sentiment of the person wooing me knowing me better than I know myself that I am supposed to find irresistible. I must we wired wrong because not only do I not find it irresistible, I actually find that it annoys the living hell out of me. For starters, it’s the entire idea that I have an inside and an outside. Sure, physically, I have an outer coating made of skin and on the inside I have organs. But emotionally? I can’t quite decipher what my outside emotions are meant to be and which ones are inside emotions. Is it like having an inside voice? I doubt it.

I don’t know if I am “hard on the outside and soft on the inside” but I do know that on the *inside* I’m that person who will attack a minor issue with a machete until I find what is a major feminist issue that is causing the minor issue. I’m not saying all the men who said these things to me were coming from the same place but on some level it seems like some men cannot handle the idea of a strong, tough woman so on the *inside* she has to be sensitive, emotional and fragile. The strength has to be a sham, an act put up by a woman who isn’t really tough but knows how to put on a good show. That’s probably not what those guys were saying but that’s exactly what I was hearing. Or maybe I’m just being generous when I say that is not what they were saying.

A lot of the men who have said to me that my insides are fragile are people who know me well; people who know my life story and have lived with me closely. I assumed, although I admit I have never checked, that they also know the meaning of the word fragile and don’t hail from the tradition of “everything means what you want it to mean”. Maybe I was taught English by an idiot (and every single dictionary in the world is wrong) because it seems to me that fragile means something that is easily broken or damaged and I’d like every single man who ever said that to me to justify his case because personally I feel like I’ve managed to escape damage in the worst circumstances. Moreover, I don’t even believe in breaking, I’m flexible and I bend to accommodate pressure. I’ve done that my whole life. It’s hard to break objects that have high elasticity and I’ve always considered myself fairly elastic.

But of course, the insinuations of the dissonance between my inside and outside are always accompanied by insistence that I don’t know myself as well as the men who have known me five minutes (or five years) know me. I’m unable to see my fragility and softness because I am biased and I don’t want to admit it because admitting it means I am inviting people in to break me. I’m not making this up (and I’m pretty sure a fair number of women can relate), men have actually said these things, but if I was making it up it would have travelled through my bowels and come out of anus because it is a giant load of crap.

Sometimes it feels like, as a woman, no matter what I do I cannot prove that I am truly tough. The question of my soft and fragile insides will always be raised as if I am a giant walking vagina. I travel the country alone and have done so for years, but my independence is an act. I cover truly traumatizing things in painful detail and I still sleep at night, but my perseverance is an act. I make my own decisions and i deal with my own mental health but my strength is an act because at the end of the day the men who want me still want to see me as a delicate, fragile flower *on the inside*.

I am not a fucking flower and I have no interest in being one. Nor will I agree with men when they try to make me believe I am something I am not.

Am I sensitive? Yes. I am sensitive to the slightest changes and that is why I am good at my job. I notice everything and i let everything affect me because that is the only honest way I know to live. Do I get upset and experience upheavals? Yes. Am I soft-hearted? Yeah, show me an injured puppy and i will bawl till the sun comes up. I cry when I want and I laugh when I want. Neither my laughs nor my cries are an act. Sensitivity and vulnerability are not the opposite of being tough and strong. They are not **virtues** that I hide on the inside and if you spent five minutes looking instead of trying to figure out what your next self-important proclamation should be, you’d see that in an instant.

I don’t have an inside or an outside.

I have emotions.

I have feelings.

I have capability.

I have strength and self-awareness.

Everything I have is real, you just can’t believe it because you can’t see what you know to be a woman in it. I’m not tough on the outside and tender on the inside.

I’m a real woman, and I know too many men who can’t handle that.

The Greatest Love-Affair of Kamala Das’ Life.

Kamala Das is known for being one of the earliest voices for Indian female sexuality as well as her honest, risqué confessional poetry. A lot her writing deals with her conflicts and dilemmas about love, but there was one love-affair in her life that never ended: Her affair with language.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Kamala Das, popularly known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty was an Indian poet in English as well as an author in Malayalam from Kerala, India. Her popularity in Kerala is based chiefly on her short stories and autobiography, while her oeuvre in English, written under the name Kamala Das, is noted for the poems and explicit autobiography. She was also a widely read columnist and wrote on diverse topics including women’s issues, child care, politics among others. Her open and honest writing about female sexuality gained her both popularity and criticism. She was considered iconoclastic not just for her time but even today she is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the Indian feminist movement and the godmother of liberated female sexuality in India.

Many young feminist writers of the modern age cite Kamala Das’s free-form, fearless confessional writing as inspiration for their own work. However, as open and transparent as she was in her writing, she was deeply conflicted about the concept of love, which to her was a struggle she was still wading through when she died in 2009. To understand this conflict we must first take a look at her life itself. She grew up between Calcutta and Kerala in a family littered with poets and writers. At the age of 15, she was married to Madhav Das with whom she had three children over the course of 43-years of marriage. While encouraging of her work, her work became a bone of contention between then when at the age of 42, Kamala wrote her autobiography titled “My Story” which included details of her sexual dalliances with other men. Though she later claimed many of the stories in her autobiography were fictionalized, it is believed she did so on the insistence of her husband. While they remained married, the changes in their relationship are evident in her poetry past this period. Of her autobiography, Kamala Das has said:

“Some people told me that writing an autobiography like this, with absolute honesty, keeping nothing to oneself, is like doing a striptease. True, maybe. I, will, firstly, strip myself of clothes and ornaments. Then I intend to peel off this light brown skin and shatter my bones”

The intensity with which Kamala writes about the act of writing itself, is an indication to the intensity of love she craves, and it can be argued that the only thing Kamala was ever able to truly love was writing. After the death of her husband in 1992, Kamala made the choice to convert to Islam in 1999 for her 38-year old lover and Muslim League MP, Sadiq Ali. Of late, propelled by the 2018 biopic of her life titled “aami” even this has become a source of conspiracy after members of a nationalist political outfit tried to have this film banned on the grounds that it depicted “love jihad”. While the supreme court ruled against the ban, her relationship with Sadiq is still rife with conspiracy in the minds of many Indians, a lot of whom you can find on Quora talking about her as if she is part of the history of love jihad (seriously, you guys). Though they never married, Kamala Das died behind a purdah in Pune. Of her conversion that occured in one minute in her living room, she is quoted as having said to an interviewer:

“Islam is the religion of love. Hindus have abused and hurt me. They have often tried to scandalize me. I want to love and be loved.”

Even her quest for religion was ultimately based in a deep desire for love, and her concept of love is best discussed through this lens even in her poems.

In her poem ‘An Introduction’, a few interesting points are raised about her idea of love. As a young girl she is conflicted not only about her identity and weighing it against a social-messaging system but also about her body. She says,

“When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask for, he drew a child of sixteen into the bedroom and closed the door.”

The key element here is that she asked for love because she was unaware, as yet, of the various methods of expressing love. What she asked for was not an evidence of desire, however upon receiving that in response to a request for love, her life-long conflation of love and sex began. The poem also delineates the eventual loneliness that follows her despite being “loved” in a sexual manner. She does not display any confident possession of anyone she loves in her poetry, not in the way she does for language when she says,

“The language I speak becomes mine. Its distortion, its queernesses. All mine. Mine alone.”

This statement alone speaks to the kind of love in which she felt confident, the love of pure possession and intimate familiarity. Of which she could truly say, “This is mine.” Which is not to say that Kamala Das did not feel sexual desire, throughout her poetry, “Malabar” has been used as a symbol for ‘wildness’. In her poem, “A Hot Noon in Malabar” she talks about her affinity for the heat, dust and noise of the town others abhor but she loves. She longs for the hot noon in Malabar because she associates it with the wild men, wild thoughts and wild love. It is a torture for her to be away from Malabar. The quality with which she talks of love has the straightforwardness of Sylvia Plath coupled with the wild mysticism of Anais Nin. Kamala’s own conflict with choosing desire over love, perhaps even in a effort to gain love, distorts her concept of love even further. She might even trick readers, with her infinite skill, into thinking of her as an eternally confused wide-eyed innocent.

Her idea of love, or at least the love she craves is somewhat clarified in the poem “My Grandmother’s House.” A more mature, and maybe even a more bitter Kamala writes about her grandmother’s home where was taken care of and adored. This sentiment is at the heart of the love she craves, one that is not governed by the giving (or taking) of her body but dispensed onto her by someone for the sheer delight of loving her. She uses symbols of darkness like death, snakes and despair to describe the house almost as a representation for her own body and soul which were once hopeful and pure in some way, and is now infested with a distorted perversion of love. In the closing lines of the poem she says,

“Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved…. I who have lost
My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?”

She talks of herself as a beggar for love because while many men have made her feel sexually desired, none have yet made her feel cherished or loved. There is also in this poem a hint of self-loathing that Kamala carries through a lot of her later writing. She seems to have harboured at one time an idea that giving her body would get her love, and for that idea she grew to resent herself later. Although, even as we discuss the conflicts of Kamala Das we must remember that she is not a confused, helpless girl who is satisfied to be a victim of love, she may be conflicted but her primary purpose was always to turn her conflicts into art. While lacking in love, she was never lacking in self-awareness or skill which is why she managed to so effectively communicate her conflicts of love, many of which we feel even today, onto us through her writing and ensure we are still discussing them even long after her death.

Her self-awareness is most visible in her poem ‘The Sunshine Cat’ where she explores the concept of love by gender. She declares that the lack of reciprocation of love from her husband led her to find it elsewhere but even from there she returned empty-handed because where was willing to give the entirety of her love, men did only offer her kindness. She is trapped in a world where her measure for love is based on how useful she is to men. In this poem, Kamala is perhaps at her most resentful but also instead of taking it all upon herself she puts both men, and love itself on trial. She uses the phrase ‘they let her’ as opposed to the use of first person she usually employed in her poetry. She seems to conclude that it is not she who is unworthy of love but men who cannot love and while this final interpretation is personal, I’d like to believe that upon concluding she was never going to be of use to a man again, she was able to find it in her to finally love herself.

Ultimately Kamala Das’ understanding of love is a struggle between sexuality and purity, and does see the two coexisting in the ideal form of love but at some point she acknowledges this idea of love she has might be the unattainable Platonic form of love. In the politics of sexuality love is the victim not Kamala Das and she proves this by continuing to chase love to the very end of her life. However, the type of love she yearns for contains the sultry wildness of Malabar as well as the purity and unconditional nature of her grandmother’s love and I would argue that this love she might have only found in writing itself. Writing was clearly the greatest love-affair of Kamala Das’ life.

Why We Must Resist The Ban on Porn.

Pornography has existed for centuries, as has the censorship that tries to control it. Over the last few years the Government of India has instituted several bans on pornographic content claiming it causes rape and immorality. Have the bans made things better? I argue, they have made them worse.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

The first time I watched pornography it happened completely by accident. I went to get a DVD from what might have been the last one of those shops that existed in our town and as I was accustomed to doing, I asked the guy who ran the shop to make a suggestion.

“Do you want a movie to watch alone or with family?” He asked.

That was a strange question that I had never been asked before and I really was a little unsure as to why the nature of the film should change based on that. I told him I would most likely watch alone and he gave me a case that didn’t have an illustrated cover but had the word “competitors” scribbled onto it. I took the movie and later at night I started to watch on my little portable DVD player. The first shot was a naked girl on a wooden table and a man pouring a literal vat of oil on her. I have no idea how she didn’t slide off that table. Within seconds of the oil bath, they started to slide all over each other. Pornography is not great at providing context. Anyway, that’s when I shut it off, not because I take moral issue with naked people but because I felt a little strange that  the DVD-guy had chosen to give me that. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to watch it or he thought I wanted to watch it. In any case, I never did find out what the competition was.

Over the years though, I did find out, mostly from male friends and a few women, that the DVD-guy was once the human version of Pornhub and telling him that you wanted a movie to “watch alone” was code for “give me porn”. Other introductions to porn included magazines one kid stole from their parents and passed around to others or soft-core films mostly young boys gathered together to watch. Shortly after that the internet went mainstream and got cheaper and cheaper to use through the years and quietly, but surely, the porn industry exploded. In 2018, India became the third largest consumer of porn in the world, with 30% of those users being woman. 89% of smartphone users admit to watching porn on their phones and the bulk of these users are aged between 18 and 40. The majority of these users do not view Indian porn or as it is more commonly known on the internet “desi porn”. Which honestly, I kind of understand, because anytime I have viewed any Indian pornography I always felt like I was watching something non-consensual, not wilfully non-consensual for the hotness of it but like i was watching someone be coerced into making those videos, or I always felt like they were being distributed against the will of the participants, at least the female participant.

This is not entirely untrue. India has strict laws against publishing or distributing pornography and unlike other countries where this may be legal in some form, the minimum age for viewing pornography is 20, not 18. The fact that there is no governance or structure to protect anyone in the porn industry, means it is rife with exploitation. Not everyone in the porn industry has a Sunny Leone type story, I would venture no one else does. Even writers of erotic comics, erotica and phone sex operators (and these have existed for a lot longer in India than you would think) work mostly anonymously in India. Besides this, starting in the late 1990s, “hidden cameras” became quite popular in India. We all remember the DPS case, I am sure? When the rights of a young girl were grossly violated and we collectively conspired to drive her out of the country? Well, if you were a teenager in the aftermath of that, you will remember, that MMS videos of girls you knew became all the rage. All the boys claimed to have seen this or that girl naked. Then smartphones brought leaked nudes and revenge porn. The final nail in the coffin came, at least administratively, from in Dehradun, four boys raped a young woman they went to school with and claimed they did it after viewing porn, and as a response the Indian government began undertaking a series of bans on pornography. Do I believe that chronic porn watching could lend the ideation to believe they could just have sex with anyone? I think, yes. Do I believe banning porn was the answer? Well.

Here’s the thing that we don’t really want to admit. Porn existed long before the internet and people have always viewed it in some form. Personally, not a big fan of watching it, I’m a storyteller and I need rich characters and context so when I want to I read it instead. It also helps that when I read it, I know no real people were harmed in the making of it. Before there was visual porn, it was written. Whether that was the chapbooks of the 17th century or the letters to penthouse of the 20th century, porn has been around. Human beings have enjoyed pornography, sensuality and eroticism for many centuries. I think it’s probably because we are actually capable of having sex for fun. In a very weird civics lesson in school we were studying the “causes for the high population of India” and one of the causes was quite simply: Recreation. What they meant, somewhat horrifyingly, was that (and I kid you not) poor people couldn’t buy much recreation so they had sex as recreation and therefore more babies. Hence, population. Terrible textbook aside, they have a point, human beings do have sex for recreation. We all know that we all do it much more for that than baby-making. It’s like our country’s worst-kept secret. And because we have sex for recreation an industry develops around it, that is how marketing works in a somewhat capitalist but definitely consumerist world. There are industries that support all our pleasures. Pornography is part of that and that’s really not immoral, sex is only as dirty as you want it to be. We have become so embroiled in the conversation of morality, we have ignored a much more important thing. Managing the industry that already exists.

Because, no one stopped watching porn because of the bans. We watched more porn than ever this year. Based on the numbers, most of our population is on the “immoral” side but no one wants to be the champion of porn. So many watch it, pretend to abhor it, watch it again but none of them really ever seem to think that the people of this industry deserve our support? Bans do not control the internet (unless you are China), and VPNs are too easy to get, and everyone continues to view whatever they want. However here at home, bans impact people who work in the industry, their job becomes more dangerous, they make less money, the have fewer or no legal recourses, they cannot quit under exploitation. The pornography that comes out of such an environment speaks to the environment itself. So much Indian porn features coercion, rape, hidden camera set-ups, “girlfriend” videos, spy videos or “caught” at a hotel videos, and what that tells me is that even in our pornography we want sex to be a forced, hidden thing. Bans only reinforce that idea. When people watch that porn that is the idea they may get about sex, and that kind of idea could absolutely cause four boys to rape a young woman. It’s not because of porn, it’s because of how Indian “culture” reflects off porn. It makes DVD guys give you porn when you wanted gore. It makes women scared to have sex because it may be filmed. It makes men who think it’s fun to record rape. It makes private school boys create WhatsApp groups to expose girls they know. You think banning porn will stop that? Nope, it’s going to make it worse.

What would make it better is having better porn. Porn where you know the characters are consenting, decently paid, safe, legally-prot nor being forced or trafficked, not underage. Porn where we know everyone is medically sound and protected. Porn that does not allow for exploitation. And I daresay, porn with better storylines and richer characters. But what we have down is instead of putting the porn industry on trial, we have decided to put the concept on trial and even as we watch it unceasingly, we look up at the news of the ban and nod our heads in agreement. Ultimately the question is a simple one :

What is it we want to protect — an idea of Indian culture or real Indian people?

10 Questions For The Goddess Of Feminism.

I’ve always wished I had a goddess of Feminism who could answer all the questions I have accumulated over the years. It seems like I can’t but here are 10 of the questions anyway. Please help.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

I’ve said this for many years now, and I will continue to say it forever, I wish I had a goddess of feminism. Not an ideological or mythological goddess who sends cryptic messages through doves or falling pots, no thank you. I wish I had a genius, omnipotent, overly-specific, reliable, constantly fact-checking and always dressed in black (just for the aesthetic) goddess who had all the answers, you know? Because I know that I am supposed to always do what I want and that’s what feminism is really about and that sounds just lovely but it’s bullshit yeah? None of us really are sure how we feel about anything and none of us are really immune to social messaging. Even though I personally routinely pretend to be above all these things, I’m not even close. I never know if I have the right opinion or if my feelings are feminist enough. I never know what the fuck with my body, I mean, I can make a body positivity speech on the high-end of mediocre but when it comes to my body, I’m just not sure of anything. We can pretend that we understand everything and the whole world is open to subjective interpretation and anything can mean anything to anyone and that doesn’t make any of us anxious at all or we can admit an omniscient goddess who had definitive answers to everything would be awesome to have.

Of course I know I can’t but I do have questions I have been accumulating my whole life that I would definitely ask if I did have a goddess. Here are my top ten questions (please feel free to answer if you are feeling real goddess-ey today, subjective answers not accepted).

1) How excited am I allowed to be about marriage? See, fundamentally, I believe it is a sexist institution that aims at consolidating assets and asserting behavioural control but also there was a guy at my wedding (not the one I married) who was solely in charge of bringing me everything I wanted at all times. I said the words “water chestnut” and he brought me a whole plate! I turned to look for a table for my glass and HE WAS ALREADY THERE READY TO TAKE IT! Is that womanly wedding excitement or do I really just want an assistant? How much should I pay my assistant?

2) Why is the efficacy of all period products based on how well they prevent staining? I mean forget about the fact that all period blood is blue but I can watch a man’s head explode freely on national television, and let’s just focus on what a good menstrual solution is because so far THEY ALL SUCK. If you can keep a pad in place, you are operating at a level I will never get to. Tampons dry you the hell out. The menstrual cup is a literal torture device with 7000 instructions for care. The period panties thing seems kinda okay but really why are none of these products looking out for my comfort and just trying to keep me from staining? I have never had a cup of coffee without spilling, you think I care about a little blood? Pfft.

3. Is it okay for me to still like Harry Potter after J.K. Rowling lost it at trans women? Because it’s really not just about her, art v/s artist is one of life’s great unanswerable questions. Whether that is Wagner’s anti-Semitism, Spenser’s insane vendetta against the Irish, Shakespeare’s faithless ways or John Ruskin’s love for 12-year old Effie, is it okay to like the creation of a person you couldn’t have at your dinner table?

4. Is biology..a misogynist? Really, is biology sexist? Because why does everything hurt or feel like shit? Growing boobs hurts, both naturally and surgically. Periods hurt. Sex kinda hurts. Childbirth, don’t even get me started. HRT even hurts! Aging hurts. Upper body workouts hurt (but that one I would like to keep). Menopause hurts. I am assuming death hurts but that one is pretty gender-neutral so okay.

5. Is it okay to ever stop fighting? I realise this one one may not apply to everyone as a quandary but it definitely does as an experience. The politics of womanhood are a minefield. Is it ever okay to get tired and not say anything when you see something or experience something? Feels like cowardice and even Gandhi said violence is better than cowardice! Gandhi found something he disliked more than violence! Who am I to argue with Gandhi? But sometimes, is it okay to get tired of arguing, working, battling for a single cause? Or is that what death is?

6. Seriously, just give me a straight answer on this, what birth control should I use? No issues with being childless forever but much issue with the birth control market as it stands now.  Not a fan of what happens with Oestrogen/progesterone blockers/inhibitors (and if you don’t know the type of birth control you use or how it may be impacting your body, please look it up, the birth control industry be hella sexist). Period math depends on a reliable cycle, lol. Not on board with having things inserted into me at all. No surgical options, please, and while my partner and I are cool with a vasectomy, so few competent practitioners are willing to perform it. Should I use Saheli? Seems safer than other oral contraception but the Indian government (that thinks nuclear fission came from the Mahabharata) is involved. Seriously, just tell me, how do I keep myself from accidentally having babies (or abortions)? Celibacy is not an option, please.

7. Really… What are men? Let me just preface this by saying there are many nice men bla bla bla but seriously straight men, have you ever tried dating straight men? Just as a social experiment, #nohomo, try it. Just try it and then you will understand my question, and you might even ask it yourself.

(Pro tip: Don’t ask a girl you met on hinge and haven’t even seen in person yet if she is willing to relocate for the love of you. Seriously.)

8. Am I allowed to have emotions or not? May seem like one of those “you can do whatever you want” questions but it’s serious and I need a real answer. I thought I had it right at 21, I had no emotions at all at work and minimally expressed them personally, but apparently I was scaring people. Then I tried subverting emotions into humour and apparently I was also scaring people. Then I tried turning emotions on and apparently men at work will attack you for that and think you are too naive to be taken seriously. Now I pretty much don’t know how to emote without discomfort so I put them all into writing about other characters. If you could assist that would be real dandy. Please don’t suggest a therapist, they keep telling me to find god and seriously you think I wouldn’t if it were that fucking easy?

9. How do I explain to doctors that not every single ailment a woman has is caused by depression or anxiety? I once had dengue and the doctor said my fever was caused by anxiety. My mother will be writhing in pain and be given an antidepressant. My sister had a two month cough and was mostly prescribed xanax. Why do all doctors think all women are depressed (and simultaneously why don’t we take women’s depression seriously?)

10. This one is really important. How should I feel about shows like “The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives?” Like, on the one hand I think that if this is what sells and it makes some women money, why the fuck should I have a problem with that? Then there’s the fact that it actually makes a lot of male-dominated boardrooms a lot more money than the women. Then it’s just so problematic but also I watched it, even if only to write about it. Also it does accurately represent some things however tone-deaf they are but it fails to take the opportunity to discuss actually relevant things. Also the whole show felt like a trailer to a finale that never was. I don’t know, woman.

I need answers.

Why I Refuse To Be An ‘Army Wife’.

When a woman marries anyone in India she is compelled to change her identity in the name of tradition, but if a woman marries an army officer she may have to allow herself to be indoctrinated into a system that reduces her identity to a service she is never paid or thanked for. I refuse to let anyone call me an army wife, here is why.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Back when we lived together in Jaipur, before we were married, I invited my partner’s colleagues home for dinner one night. While we all sat together having drinks, I noticed that all the women were on one end of the room while all the men congregated on the other. I asked the men first why they wouldn’t converse with the women as well.

“All they talk about is sarees, kids and other women,” one of them said, “No need to get embroiled in that.”

“You know women are interested in a lot more things that sarees right?” I asked, “I have not once in my life had a discussion about a saree.”

“You will once you are an army wife,” he said, “That is the culture of army wives.”

Immediately, I asked him why they were comfortable referring to their wives under the title of their jobs. After all, once we married, my husband wasn’t going to become a “journalist husband” but the conversation devolved almost immediately as I stood in the middle of the room and both sides attacked me for criticising an institution that in India is completely beyond reproach. After all they are in the business of nationalism, and me with my anti-establishment feminism am in the business of sedition. Anything I say, no matter how much it deals with my own autonomy or agency, is met with aggressive resistance. Yet at the time, it didn’t matter so much because by their own admission unless we were married our relationship wasn’t real to the army or really, most people in the army. The few that did see our relationship as one day being real enough, told me almost threateningly that I would eventually change everything about myself because I would have to become “army wife” in support of my husband’s career. I was told tales of “independent” women who refused to conform and how that impacted the careers and postings of their husbands.

I was most concerned about getting married because of my partner’s job and not because he has to move frequently, honestly, I was already moving quite frequently anyway and I would say that the best thing about the army is that it allows you to live in so many parts of the country. The worst part is a book entitled “Wedded To The Olive Greens”. I first learnt of this book a month after I got married, while at one of those unnecessary (yeah, I said it) stiff upper-lip dos, unable to contain how appalled I was at the idea that there was an actual book that tells women how to behave within a marriage and an institution that they do not work for. I read the book and among other things it tells you to be cheerful, how to talk to the soldiers who may frequent your home, how to socialize and it was also entirely dedicated to women because Bipin Rawat said it himself there is no room for women in the army so why teach the “army husbands” who will never exist how to behave. For my outrage I was told I was misunderstanding the intention behind the book, it wasn’t sexism, it was elitism.

“You’re already well-spoken and polished, this book is not for you,” a well-meaning older woman told me, “There are all types of women who marry army officers and some of them are lacking the.. soft-skills.”

People never believe me when I tell I them I always remember exactly everything that is said to me but I do, and when it comes to women’s rights I will speak it all out someday. Satya, and all that. Which is why I must say very honestly, the idea of being viewed as an “army wife” feels like indoctrination and reduction of my identity and being forced to call myself that feels like non-consenual inculcation. Many have told me I am taking it too seriously and the actual intention is all about community, but let me tell you a story. A while ago we were having a little get-togther on the roof of our building and a man, who had met me several times before, called out to me by the last name of my husband.

“I’m sorry that is not my name,” I said turning to him, “My name is Aarushi Ahluwalia, could you be please address me as such?”

“Look ma’am,” he said clearly shocked by my request, “I’ve been in the army for 20 years, these are our traditions and I am too old to change now.”

“This is not about your traditions or the army,” I told him, “This is about my name.”

He disagreed and we came to the usual question: Why does it matter so much what someone calls me? Apparently if I am secure in myself matters of agency shouldn’t bother me. It’s all about inner-peace and acceptance.

It matters because I, and every fucking woman, has the right to her goddam legal identity. It matters because “tradition” is exactly what we have used for millennia to get women to behave. It matters because I financially contribute and always have to my household and myself and it is not okay with me that four out of the eleven-thousand army people I have met have asked me what I do, let alone my name. It matters because I have a name, and when you calling me ma’am is more about never learning it than showing me respect then you have forgotten what your traditions are about. It matters because I will not be typecast or allow a diverse, vibrant group of women to be painted as a saree-obssessed monolith especially when they are forced to be that way. Let me tell you another story.

Very shortly after we were married, I was to attend a women-only event that the army hosts routinely in every station. The goal is to impart skill and knowledge, which I am completely on board with, and to that end I was going to make a presentation on how to raise children who are aware of their rights and the women’s movement. (Yes, I really only have one talking point, would add a second if I ever ran out of subjects on this one). I was coming straight from a meeting I had for a project I was working on so I was wearing trousers, a shirt and a coat. I didn’t think anything of it since I was in formals and the “dress code” on the invite also said “formals”. At the event it didn’t seem like anything was wrong, I made my presentation and afterwards we had tea and samosas which is like compulsory no matter what if you are at an indian anything. The next day however all the men were called in for a meeting about army wives deviating from dress-codes. Apparently I was to wear a saree and all the women’s rights presentations in the world couldn’t rescue me from the rules of the role I was cast in without my permission. The irony was lost on everyone but I still tell the story in my circle to a successful eruption of laughter.

But that is wrong, no?

I shouldn’t laugh about the forceful traditions of an organisation that gives me so much respect? Because one thing is for sure, whenever there is an eruption of anger from the forces after they are accused of sexist behaviour or harassment, their indignation is real and I can see why because they do truly believe they respect the rights of women by calling us ma’am and holding doors open for us. They truly believe that by letting us eat first at parties and standing up when we enter rooms they are giving us our rights, just not the ones we want. To me that doesn’t sound like you are upholding the rights of women. It sounds like telling them to carve their rights within your tradition. The same people who take dire offense at criticism of any behaviour of a uniformed person have told me to my face that being a journalist meant I had sold my soul. Probably the same people who got real worried about press freedom when Arnab was arrested. When it comes to them everything is about tradition, and if you call the tradition out for being oppressive that is your problem as an individual.

Here is the fact, though, I never joined the army. If I wasn’t forced to by virtue of the location of my partner’s current station, I wouldn’t even live in an army house. I don’t want the nation to spend resources on me when I don’t work for them and more importantly when I do not need them, I pay taxes that contribute to the salaries of the army, and I do everything in my power to redistribute any resources that I am compelled to take. I will not relinquish any rights because I married a man who wears a very hot uniform. You have principles? Well, so do I. I will not be an “army wife” and I have it in me to make my case each time I am expected to be that or forcefully made to adorn that role. Let’s see who gets tired first.

Identity matters to women as well.

My identity is my right and I’ll be damned if i let pressure to put on a saree in the name of a tradition that means nothing to me take that away from me.