Why It Annoys Me When My Husband Complains About A Little Cut.

Women are taught pain very early. Whether that is in the form of cooking accidents, puberty, self-sacrifice or childbirth, pain is an integral eventuality of womanhood. Men on the other hand feel comfortable complaining about even the slightest discomfort, and as a woman that causes me a certain amount of resentment. This is why.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

One evening, my husband had a persistent itch in his right eye. He scratched, rubbed and washed, but even as we sat on the couch after dinner, talking, he continued to make faces of discomfort, complain and bat his eyelid as if trying to get something out of it. This next part doesn’t make me look so good, but it annoyed me. Now I’m not discounting his discomfort, I have had a speck of dust in my eye before and I know that can be mildly irritating, but there is something about the magnitude of complaints a man will make over minor discomfort that requires unpacking. So, as a means to explaining my irritation I told him about a piece of writing I had read recently, it was about a woman whose husband had made his own breakfast one morning and burnt his finger a little bit, something that happens to millions of women every day and goes completely unnoticed, through the day her husband brandished his wound, sent help home to pick up ointment and discussed it with everyone in his office, and she couldn’t quite explain to herself why her husband’s injury (and attitude towards it) made her angry instead of concerned.

I was quite relieved when I read this piece of writing because all my life I had believed that it was only I, in my glorious lack of compassion, that diminished the need to complain about minor ailments and suggested everyone just suck it up. I thought it was just my “cold” and “dispassionate” nature that caused me to become annoyed when someone had a cut or a scratch and felt that it warranted a conversation. It was not until later that I realised some of us were allowed to complain about ailments, and others weren’t. Women have the reputation of being whiny and complaining a lot (and I wonder why women are complaining a lot, it’s only rape, abuse, violence, sexism and the patriarchy) but you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who complains about a cut, a cramp, an itchy eye, a slight fever or a little burn. Men, on the other hand (at least in my experience with them, and it is vast), will be more comfortable complaining about these things, and sometimes complain as if they were being repeatedly stabbed in the eye with an acid-coated screwdriver.

There are two important factors that govern the lives of women: pain and silence. Right from the beginning, pain is presented as an integral part of womanhood, and it is too. Most women cook every day, and are accustomed to cuts, burns and scrapes. Women are introduced to the concept of puberty via our periods which are accompanied by varying degrees of cramps. Sex is taught as a painful concept, especially the loss of “virginity” and because a vast majority of Indian women have unsatisfying sex-lives that focus only on the man’s needs, sex continues to be painful. Childbirth, an allegedly vital right of passage for women, is heavily pain-associated and also the benchmark against which a woman’s right to complain about pain is measured. Essentially if it doesn’t hurt as much as childbirth, you can’t quite allude to not being able to endure it because if you can’t, what will you do when you give birth? Very often, right from a very young age, when girls complain about pain, they are shushed, and encouraged to bear it with grace.

Moreover, medically speaking, women’s pain is taken less seriously. A doctor once told me that my fever and headaches accompanied by dengue were caused by my “tendency to worry too much” and that is probably what would cause my death too. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the same with gynaecological issues, a form of birth-control I was once taking was causing persistent cramping and random bleeding, and when I told the doctor, she told me that it was only natural that my unnatural decision to not procreate be accompanied by pain and discomfort. Additionally as I have tackled PCOS my whole life, many doctors have prescribed medication from birth-control to illegal diet pills to hormones but not one ever prescribed a painkiller even though each one knew that sometimes I was having period cramps so severe I couldn’t stand up (I still did stand up, of course, and worked too, because that is what women are expected to do), the attitude towards that was always that I had to have my period my entire life so I had to learn to deal with it. Pain is a life-lesson taught to women.

And it’s not just physical pain, it’s also discomfort and emotional pain. Women in many parts of India are still expected to attire themselves according to a patriarchal agenda. While I lived in Jaipur and worked out in a public park, every day I would encounter women in sarees and sneakers, with their faces covered down to their necks and jewellery hanging off every possible corner, trying to workout in the outdoor gym. At weddings most brides are decked in attire that leads to absolute exhaustion, I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard of women who were running a fever on their wedding day or developed a rash because of their clothes. Post-marital symbols like bangles and chains also cause physical discomfort, especially when you are working (on a computer) or cooking (in a kitchen), but that discomfort is just meant to be incorporated into your life.

Then there’s fatigue. My husband treats sleeping like it’s his right, and he’s not wrong there, adequate sleep is a right and important too, and if he is tired because of working all day and managing a home all evening, he will comfortably show it. However, I cannot do that, I cannot without guilt ever admit to being tired. I can wake up early, work all day, study, cook meals, deal with the child, workout, engage in my hobbies, write, read, check in socially, do the shopping and take care of the pets but I cannot admit to any of it tiring me without worrying that I am complaining. I see it in my mother too, for instance, she can say she is tired but she can never definitively declare that she will take a nap. She may take a nap but she cannot say that she will, and no matter how much stuff she has already done during the day, she will always do more if it is needed. Emotionally, too, women are expected to be creatures of adjustment and self-sacrifice: eat less if there isn’t enough food, say nothing if someone displeases us, just listen if an “elder” chastises you, sacrifice for your child or your husband. To say nothing of the socio-sexual violence and harassment faced by women and the pain associated with that.

Pain is woven into every aspect of a woman’s life, and it’s made worse by the fact that an expectation of silence is woven in right alongside. Girls don’t complain about the little things because attention isn’t paid when we do, and how can it when the experience of pain is so ubiquitous to womanhood. Who will take seriously when you’re always in pain somehow? Who will take it seriously when you need to be taught to bear pain so as to be able to sexually satisfy your husbands and have their babies?

On the other hand men have a very different relationship with pain. Men are taught, right from the beginning, that they are strong because they can lift things. They’re also taught that they are valuable cargo, and yeah I know many of us were raised in very “equal” households but most people in this country are not. Until such a time as when parents stop feeling like they can brag about doing their daughter the favour of not discriminating against her, we hadn’t even made a dent. Until such a time as when couple with two daughters stop having a third child because they haven’t had a boy, we aren’t really making progress. Until I stop personally knowing people who were forced to have abortions because they illegally found out they were having a daughter, I am not buying this “equality” lollipop. Until we can safely legalize pre-natal sex determination without worrying that it will cause people to kill girls, I’m not seeing this allegedly equal treatment. Girls are an expense and boys are an asset, and therefore when the ladla (dear) son of the house gets hurt, be that a tiny scrape or a broken toe, the world stops turning.

It’s like that with everything. Men’s clothing is governed by comfort and ergonomic convenience. There is no medical bias against men and they can access pain-management with ease. Most importantly, however, right from the beginning, when boys complain about pain, it is listened to and considered important enough to take action. After all there isn’t a big pain-based event that is waiting for them, and they don’t need to be taught to bear it. Pain is an inconvenience to men, but to women it is an inevitability. Men are used to people paying attention when they hurt, women are used to keeping quiet about minor inconveniences. The idea that men are “strong” also works in their favour here, because a man is “strong” it is understood that if he complains it must be because it is really bad but we’ve all had cuts, burns and scrapes, we know how bad they are and it impossible to justify that each time it worse for the men.

And so, when I am with a man, whether that is my husband, a partner, a friend or my father, and I see them be broken down by a knick or a slight headache, it always annoys me a little. It don’t want them to be uncomfortable, I would rather they feel just fine, but I can’t help feel a resentment because I was never afforded the opportunity to be derailed by a scrape. I could never go on for 20-minutes about a headache or a burn, no one would listen, and depending on the situation one might even tell me to stop complaining. I can’t sympathize with your tiredness because I wasn’t even taught that I was allowed to be tired. That’s not fair to my partner, no, but it’s not because I cannot empathize with his discomfort. It’s because I, a woman, was never taught that a fleck of dust in the eye could be enough to be considered discomfort. I thought it was just normal life to be quiet and minorly inconvenienced all the time.

Does “Female Privilege” Actually Exist?

Men love to tell women that if we truly want equality we should be able to sacrifice all the privileges that society has extended to us through the years. Apparently expecting to have a door opened for you is too much privilege and this culture of “equal rights and unequal privilege” isn’t working for the men. So, what is this female privilege? Does it really even exist?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

It should come as no surprise that I talk about women’s rights and feminism a lot, nor that I have the oft-loathed skill of being able to bring the subject into any conversation. As far as I am concerned it’s not the matter of an opinion I have on a subject, it’s the lens through which I see all subjects. I wouldn’t call myself an expert though because I am not sure exactly what qualification makes you an expert in this case, in my opinion being a woman is expertise enough but almost no one agrees with my opinion so perhaps there is a logical flaw there that I am not seeing. Regardless, the point is, I talk about sexism et cetera endlessly (and yes, I am entirely no fun to hang out with whatsoever) and as a result I always have a conversation to cite when I have to discuss a subject, it’s just good journalism. So, I was speaking to this man, and I don’t know how we started discussing the subject of how social disadvantage faced by women feeds professional disadvantage, and I continued parlance I used the term “equal rights.”

“Tell me something,” he said in that smug voice that men use when they think of an argument that has a baseless premise but they think they’ve got you, “What do you think of the concept of equal rights but unequal privilege?”

Sigh.

“Are you saying women have unequal and more privilege?” I asked, even though I knew that’s what he meant and it was, in his mind, akin to that moment when bhakts ask you what other choice we have in our country from a prime-ministerial position, and think they’ve made a definitively winning-case.

“Of course,” he said, “Women want all the same things as men but they want to be treated differently.”

Honestly, it’s astounding I haven’t had more concussions from banging my head into walls. Either my skull is made of titanium or contactors in India have been using some shoddy materials to build walls.

“Let me guess,” I told him, “You think it’s unfair women want equal opportunities and not to be raped but also want someone to open a door for them?”

Of course, that is what he meant, but he wouldn’t “put it exactly like that.” This is a commonly heard phrase in the canon of arguments against the women’s movement. Apparently, women want to have all the same things as men but want to be treated differently. Usually the people who make these arguments are referring to two different forms of treatment. The first one, as referenced above, is about chivalry. Personally, I’m over chivalry. I can open my own doors, pay for my own coffee, make my own drinks, carry my own rucksack and pitch my own tent, but let’s say for the sake of argument that there are women who prefer to have doors opened and chairs pulled out for them. Let’s say that is female privilege. Not only does this privilege that women allegedly enjoy exist only in pockets and for short periods of time, it is often replaced by a lifetime of eating last, removing your husband’s shoes and making not only everyone’s drinks but their food too.

Furthermore, I think it’s entirely unreasonable to expect having a door opened for you be the reward for silence in the face of an epidemic of sexual violence, that’s a ridiculous argument but what is far more ridiculous is the belief that women somehow enjoy unequal privilege to men, and the women have it better. Men enjoy endless privilege.

Men enjoy the privilege to leave the house at any hour of the night and hail an auto with confidence that no one is going to try to stick a dick up their ass by force. Men enjoy the privilege of never being asked their marital or childbearing plans in an interview nor are they ever denied a job based on that answer. Men enjoy the privilege of higher pay, more opportunities, sustained career growth and more ease at changing jobs. Men enjoy the privilege of having people, especially government functionaries at university office and the like, actually listen when they show up to have some work done. A clerk at my own college refused to process my documents because he didn’t like how I was behaving like a woman because I was being assertive and I can promise that hasn’t happened to any men. Men enjoy the privilege of getting angry and acting out of ego without anyone thinking anything of it, in fact, most people make adjustments and room for men to get angry.

So is there unequal privilege? Absolutely, and the men have been enjoying that for millennia, yet somehow they believe it is a good argument to demand that women give up having their bags lifted by a man if they want equal rights.

The other form of treatment that rubs these men the wrong way is when women get, what they call, an “unfair” advantage in professional set-ups: Reservation for women in parliament or Panchayat elections, subsidized education for women, lower tax brackets for women, reserved compartments for women on trains and metros. A few weeks ago I was in a conversation, actually scratch that, it was a fight. I was in a fight because for once I actually lost my cool and had an emotion as part of an argument, based on the fact that a couple of men in the army thought women shouldn’t be in the army (or the infantry) because the environment is not right for them and if they wish to be in the army the physical qualifiers for women should be exactly the same as men. That’s not what I lost my cool about, it was the condescension that did that, I just don’t respond well to men sitting me down and telling me I need a lecture on being a woman, a decade ago I probably would have punched the guy.

Their argument was that women would be unable to join the army, even if they were allowed to do so, because they would never be able to meet the qualifications to join if the standard was the same as it is for men. It’s the same argument against reservations and subsides. Honestly, I know a tonne of women who could meet the physical qualifications set for the men to join the army and many of them who would put a lot of men already in the army to shame. Women are fucking strong, and not just “endurance” strong. However if the qualification to be a soldier is only physical strength, why don’t we only hire men between the ages of 18 and 25 anyway? Why are 55-year old uniforms demanding physical perfection from women when unable to pass a basic health screening themselves? Regardless, I digress because the anger has not subsided, I would make a terrible monk. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are women who want from different qualifiers for men and women, and those that want reservations in parliament too.

Is that female privilege?

On the face of it, one may say that being given an advantage that someone else does not have is a privilege but let’s not be overly-simplistic or stupid just for the sake of winning an argument. The advantages are provided to women, like many minority groups, not as a privilege but to correct an imbalance. The struggle a woman faces just to be able to make to decision to join a male-dominated profession like the army or politics is monumental compared to men. Where a man might be regarded with prestige for making these decisions, for a woman it is a fucking fight. Where a man might make a decision like this one as second nature, for a woman it means convincing their family, overcoming the bias of authority and society as well as having to work every day to justify their position in that profession.

One might say that these advantages dilute the quality of people employed in these positions or accepted into these colleges and should we really be so keen to correct an imbalance that we are willing to pay more people to do the same job less effectively? And to that I say, god I wish you had studied analytic processes better in life and maybe your school will offer a refund for having failed you? There is such a thing as social advantage and men have enjoyed that for centuries, even with qualifiers being lowered, women still have to be twice as qualified in other regards to even get to the same interview as men. While a man may be offered a job even if he is slightly unqualified but has a family to feed, a woman will need twice as many degrees and twice as much experience to be offered the same job. Moreover qualifiers usually exist only in one sphere, and most jobs are a function of multiple skills. Let’s just take the army as an example, you think that if a woman has to do only five push ups when a man has to do ten the quality of the organisation will be lowered? You actually believe the efficiency of the army is solely a function of physical strength? Do you think a woman who takes 32-minutes to run five kilometres as opposed to 28 is unable to have faster reflexes, more analytical ability, a more strategic bent of mind and more of a community-based approach?

Men love to talk about women having privilege because it’s an excellent method to distract from the fact that they enjoy privilege every day and have since the dawn of the human race. Men like to act as if pulling out a chair for us or allowing us to consider a particular profession is a huge advantage that they are extending to us at their own cost. In that case, please stop opening doors for us, wouldn’t want you to have to suffer through giving us such unequal privilege. It’ll be hard, but we’ll survive. It’ll be such a challenge though, to live without something that never existed.

10 Most Ridiculous Reasons Women Are Given For Marriage.

Women are constantly told they need to get married, who hasn’t heard that? But often we’re also given reasons as to why we should marry, here’s a list of the ten most ridiculous reasons I have heard. (Number 1 is just bonkers.)

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

If you’re a woman over a certain age, I can almost guarantee that you’ve been told it’s time to marry, but even if you are younger, you may have been told you have to marry eventually, and given a gamut of reasons as to why it is unavoidable. I decided to compile a list of the most ridiculous of these reasons women are given to marry.

So let’s explore this insanity: Why do women have to marry?

10. If you don’t get married your family will be stressed forever.

Here’s the thing: You’re choosing to be stressed about this. You can say whatever you want about society and expectations but ultimately if you’re the one emotionally extorting your daughters in the name of your mental health, all you’re doing is passing the stress on to her.

9. Your real life won’t start until you’re married.

Here’s the thing: Our “real” lives start the day we are born and presumably end the day we die. The things we do before we marry, like have jobs and friends and hobbies, those aren’t “fake” and we’re not just waiting for our “real” lives to begin to abandon those things.

8. My work as a parent will be over if you get married.

Here’s the thing: So. Many. Things. First of all, will your work be over or will you be able to check off the last expense on your list with regard to your daughter? Secondly, that’s it then? No more daughter after that? What if I have a problem in life after marriage, do I have to find a different parent for advice? Finally, it’s just… work to you? I don’t know, I don’t see my kid as work and I can’t imagine washing my hands off my kid on the event of marriage because that is my retirement. Makes no sense to me at all.

7. You won’t have to work for money anymore, someone will be there to take care of you, and your salary can just be pocket money you spend on things you want.

Here’s the thing: Women like working for their money too, and when men support women in marital set ups, that not “taking care” of them, it’s to be perfectly clinical, remuneration for the amount of work women do within households which is till today still considered free-labour. Taking care of someone is very different and you cannot guarantee any partner I have will “take care” of me, nor do I need to be taken care of mkay?

6. You get to wear pretty clothes, and buy all the jewellery you have every wanted.

Here’s the thing: No thanks. I don’t want jewellery and I can buy what I want. You can take that money and donate it. I can wear pretty clothes whenever I want and mostly for me, that’s never.

5. You’ve been getting too much freedom, we will get you married so you can be brought under control.

Here’s the thing: A lifetime relationship as punishment for free-will? That makes Indian-sense.

4. You need to have babies, if you don’t have babies how will you ever be happy?

Here’s the thing: Dunno, yoga, I guess? And this shelf full of awards and degrees. A sunset. This adorable cat.

3. We’ll get the son we always wanted.

Here’s the thing: Wow, way to make me feel like a means to an end. Adopt one if you want a son so bad. Jesus.

2. Single women who don’t get married are the reason why there is so much crime.

Here’s the thing: No, you are. People who think like you, you are the reason there is so much crime.

1. If you are not married you cannot hang out with your married friends anymore because they will think you are hitting on their husbands.

Here’s the thing: WHAT! WHAT? WHAT.
If you have heard this please come hang with me. Hit on my husband too if you want. Hell hit on me. Let’s go kitchen table poly and confuse the living hell out of your parents. Please.

Thanks for playing.

Do You Love Your Partner Or Did You Just Love The Wedding?

In this edition of our weekly sex column, we’re talking about love. I know. However between cultural expectations and pop-cultural expectations love seems to be a thing that is rooted in big explosive moments destined to wither into mutual hatred and offspring, but is that all love is? In my opinion, if you’re trying to go back to how you felt about your partner on your wedding day, you might not be in love with the person sleeping beside you today.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Climaxes are very important to storytelling, or at least, they were important to the stories of the ancient Greeks and because those guys get to put their name on everything literary we’ve had to play by their rules for millennia. I see the value of a good climax, it provides good structure for the story and it lets you know how close you are to the end (and whether you should buy more popcorn or not). All tragedy must contain a climax, you were right Aristotle (for now, but we’ll take it up when I have more time), but as far as romance goes, I think we might have had the format wrong for centuries. Romance doesn’t need a climax, it is its own climax in entirety. Okay, enough abstraction, let me explain.

You know those romance movies and novels that all essentially have one-of-three acceptable heterosexual plotlines? There is always a moment in those movies (usually in the rain), when shortly after a certain amount of romantic struggle or push-and-pull, the leads (re)unite in dramatic fashion? Either someone is crying, someone has died, they’re in Paris, they’ve just resolved a long standing fight, something. That’s the peak of the story of romance (and what follows is either a deterioration of love or happily ever after), that moment is portrayed as the essence of the relationship, and is always the one that plays in flashbacks of the happiest times of their lives. It’s not just movies and novels though, that sentiment reverberates through real-life romance as well. I routinely meet people who wish for things in their relationship to return to how they were “in the beginning”. All personal stories of romance that I hear are centred around a big moment — a gesture, a night, a fight, a realisation, a wedding — and a lot of relationships are focused on the retention or re-creation of that sentiment. Art informs life and life informs art, and at this point it is impossible to tell whether the stories taught us to love that way or we taught the stories to write love that way.

Regardless of which way it spins, the notion of the climax of love being its peak is damaging to relationships. There is the usual argument against this pop-culture based expectation from love and how it leads to an unreasonable understanding of real life. Relationships are built on compromise and struggle, they argue, and when you think it will all be roses you are so deluded that you can never be happy. Relationships are portrayed either as a perfect moment frozen in time or constant strife that ends in hatred of one another coupled with a determination to persevere for the children. Love is not easy, they say. I disagree. I don’t think that is the problem. Love is hard? Nah, love is the easiest thing in the world. Love is strife? Nope, it is one of the most joyful experiences of human life. As far as I am concerned, all the stereotypes about love are wrong. Love doesn’t just happen once. There isn’t just one perfect person out there for you (imagine the math and logistics that would require). Love doesn’t fade into definite sadness. Love doesn’t make you a better person. Love isn’t a cure. Love isn’t addiction. Love isn’t synonymous with co-dependency.

Love is misunderstood.

When we try to recreate that feeling we once had about someone when we stood underneath the stars and violins played, based on who we were ten years ago and think that is the key to our happiness with one another, we are misunderstanding that moment and disregarding the present. When we want to go back to how things were in the first six-weeks or two years, it’s not love that made that time so special, it was curiosity and adrenaline. And that’s fine, it is possible to experience candle-lit romantic intensity with someone and having it wear off after nothing is new anymore. That’s perfectly human and tremendously fun. It’s even fine to seek only big moments and have those be the coordinates to your life story. It’s all fine, but when that all we represent about love we do undermine it a little bit. Love deserves to be fully represented too.

Oftentimes we continue relationships because thy once felt like love, and that is where is becomes murky. It’s natural to equivocate going through big important life events with someone with continuing love, but living with an idea of your once-relationship is dangerous. It’s not dangerous in that it will kill you, but it is a threat to genuine happiness. It’s dangerous to be in love with the person you stood beside you at your wedding when you cannot bear to spend two hours alone with the person who lives with you today. It’s hard to admit that, it’s hard to admit you no longer feel that way about a person who once inspired poetry and hour-long massages from you, but it’s unfair to say that’s just what happens to love once it grows older. That’s what happens, I think, to relationships that were built purely on spectacle, moments, adrenaline and joint-routines, and that’s a lot of relationships because that’s how we are taught to love. That’s what love is supposed to be. The way I see it in a lot of older couples around me is that they see putting each other down as a hobby and change in personalities as a threat, but love doesn’t freeze you in time and promise to keep you that way.

Expecting that your partner will change is something relationship counsellors warn against but that is incomplete information as well. Expecting that your partner will change into the idealized version you have in your head is unreasonable, but it’s much more unreasonable to think they won’t change. What most of us really want is for them to remain exactly the same as when they were perfect to us but who doesn’t change? I used to say dumb shit like “I can’t be friends with women” and that changed. I used to eat hella meat, and that changed. I used to go to bed at 3 AM, and thank goodness that changed. People will always change and in that there is an eternal gamble, you may realise someday that the person you once loved is different now, but for me, that is where love really comes in. I advise that it’s akin to viewing your partner like a character on a sitcom, you don’t know what they are going to do or become, but you’re invested in watching it unfold. You don’t get to decide what happens to the character, but you get to watch and it’s endlessly entertaining if you love them. Love doesn’t fade or bore, it makes you equally excited to be with that person every day, and even on days when you haven’t slept enough and they won’t stop snoring. Every day I cannot wait to wake up beside my partner, every day I cannot wait to hear what he thinks about this or that, every day I cannot look at him enough. I may not get to do those things every day because life, but every day I want them. Every day I want to see what he will learn and what he won’t. I want to see the dumb shit too, I want to hear the farts and hide before I can smell them. I don’t want to go back to any moment from our past and have things be like that, I don’t even want to see what tomorrow will bring, I’m just happy to be with him right now and today. Whether we are taking a walk in the rain or making a no-fuss 20-minute dinner together.

People often accuse me of having an idealistic, almost magical idea of love and I do, but here’s the thing, in a world where we are willing to put two kgs of rice in flowing water so we can impact the course of the universe and our lives in the name of a doctrine of God, I’m putting my money on the magic of love. If there must be some faith, some irrationality that every human being must adopt, I would like mine to be love. There are endless arguments as to why love isn’t possible and some of them are meritorious arguments too especially the ones governed by the oppressive soci factions that criminalise love outside of a set structure, but if I’m going to believe in something, let me believe in something I know brings me endless joy. I don’t want to believe that there is a magical moment and the rest of life is just us moving slowly away from the magic of that moment into a rut defined by circumstance and fraternal love between partners, I want to believe in constant magic. Perpetual violins. A world littered in candles. It doesn’t take from my ability to cope or handle the vicissitudes of life, it just give me a magical backdoor into a world where I can be happy even when everything is horrible. Love shouldn’t be the thing that makes your life harder, not when it exists to make it easier. If that makes me naive, so be it, I’d rather have a reason to describe the flowers in metered verse than crush them because I hate my life.

The Pain Of The Polyamorous Bisexual Who Never Came Out.

A lot of times in India, we live in secret. Some of those secrets are small like drinking only when you’re out of your house, and some of them are bigger, like being gay or polyamorous. My secrets are bigger and so are those of many people, and while some of us learn to have a “real-life” where we don’t have to hide, growing up having had to hide parts of you that you were still learning to understand is not impact-free. I am the loudest person I know, but I’ve hid parts of myself for a long time, there are those parts.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I’ve liked and dated women for a lot longer than most people in my life know about. I say women, but what I really mean is that I have dated people of all genders for a lot longer than I have talked about it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, I didn’t think I needed to “come out” and part of that was because I was raised on a philosophy of “don’t ask don’t tell” like most kids of my generation, but I convinced myself the most important element was that I just didn’t care. I didn’t owe anyone the truth. I wasn’t ashamed, of course not, and I believed that until a woman I was dating refused to go out with me. Here’s what happened, I was young, and in college. I liked her, she liked me. We hooked up. I still liked her, she still liked me. I asked her out to dinner.

And she asked me,

“You mean as friends, right?”

I did not mean as friends. I meant I wanted to hold her hand, buy her flowers, and fight over the cheque. I explained that and she said,

“I’m not bisexual like that, I mean, I enjoy having sex with women but you know, I can’t..date-date women.”

Heteroflexible and heteroromantic. That is what she meant. I know these words now. Back then it felt like she was just telling me that I was a drunken experiment. Regardless, I was young, nothing mattered for too long, I let it go and moved on in life. I didn’t really tell anyone because even though I alluded to dating women to my friends and siblings, it wasn’t like I was really “out”. I figured it was a one-off incident (even though my experience on the “little bit lesbian” spectrum began with an experience that was similar, and more emotional), but it happened again and again. Over and over, I ran into people who were gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual but only at night and in secret. I’m not an idiot, I understand why, I understand that social conditioning is strong and many of us can imagine having sexual relations with more than the one gender but most of us cannot imagine falling in love with those people. I also understand that sexual deviance, as anything less than pure defensive heterosexuality is viewed, is not a choice most people India make, it’s what is going to happen, and anything else you do is wild oats and sin (and quite possibly an insult to your culture).

I am not condemning the people who couldn’t date me out in daylight, but I am saying it had an impact on me. It made me feel objectified. It made me feel like I was a real-life porn category but that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is best exemplified by a conversation I had with my mother about six years ago. I had just ended a very serious relationship with a man, one that was definitely heading to marriage, and in the wake of that I was working a lot because I needed the distraction. A lot of my work involved travelling and I travelled with a woman who was two-decades older than me, very experienced and had short hair (this shouldn’t be relevant but it is). One evening my mother called me which is something she rarely does out of the blue so I answered immediately. She sounded serious and said she had to ask me something. She asked if I was sleeping with my boss in order to get more work from her. My boss, despite her “gay hair” and polo neck shirts was heterosexual and not at all soliciting sexual favours from anyone. She’s a wonderful person who was professionally very helpful to me.

My mother was worried because she thought I was skirting the shores of immorality in the name of ambition but what struck me wasn’t her concern, but her concern that a gay-seeming woman was sleeping with her daughter when her daughter was working as a journalist covering stories of rape, gendered violence, crime against women and sexism. She was worried about me sleeping with the one woman I encountered regularly more than the actual criminals I rubbed shoulders with. This isn’t to condemn my mother, like me she has her own upbringing and biases to contend with and through life she has made tremendous strides in the field of tolerance, but it struck me. I told her I wasn’t dating my boss. She told me she just had a feeling that I was seeing someone and since I was spending so much time with my boss she thought it could be her, except she didn’t just think I was dating her, she thought she soliciting favours from me. I told my mother that I was actually seeing someone, and I was, and I hadn’t told her because he was older, going through a divorce and had a child. My mother was extremely relieved.

See in the grand scheme of things my boyfriend’s divorce, age or child shouldn’t have mattered either but let’s get real about India for a second, those things matter a great, great fucking deal. They’re the worst things you can bring home to your parents but my mother was relieved. I’m not saying she wasn’t happy that I was seeing someone I genuinely liked, but she was also happy I wasn’t seeing an older woman. Usually I don’t tell this story like this, I tell it in joke form with a punchline but I just watched Nanette for the third time and Hannah Gadsby is a treasure who taught me something very important: You learn from the part of the story you focus on. Comedy shifts focus from trauma to catharsis, and when I tell this story without the comedy it hurts me. It doesn’t just hurt me that my mother had such a poor opinion of gay women, it hurts me that I have to keep so much of my life from the people in my life.

As far as my roots and my family go, I am notoriously secretive. In fact, my parents probably learn more about me from reading news and feature pieces I wrote that they find on the internet than they do from my mouth which is not to say I am not close to them, it’s just to say that only about 50% of me is real to them. They don’t know the rest. I learnt very early in life that everything I liked and am was shameful. I am a pansexual, polyamorous, sex-positive (as they say, slutty), self-aware masochistic woman with abnormally high testosterone, there is no room for that here except in pornography and cautionary tales, and when I talk about these things, I am immediately sexualized or condemned. No one believes these things are real or to be taken seriously. When you’re a teenager and realising these things about yourself, if you bring them up you’re either trying to get attention or being deliberately “rebellious” and should be beaten or taken to therapy. You learn to hide them and to convince yourself that when you’re old enough you will have a “real life” that is far removed enough from your roots that you don’t have to hide, but you are though, you are still hiding.

But what can you do?

If I tell people that I am polyamorous, what they hear is that I am either cheating or i am some kind of whore who cannot be “satisfied by one man”. What it means to me is that I am endlessly open to love, and I only date people who feel the same way about life, and understand loving more than one person has always been how I have operated. As far as society is concerned, I married a man, I’m done now, anything else I do from this point is extra-marital and wrong. Any bisexuality that may prevail is masturbatory fantasy and should exist only between me and my computer (if even that). People tell me often that relationships such as the ones I theorize never really work out, but I know better than that, I am almost thirty (love saying that), I know how I have conducted my relationships all my life and I know that this configuration brings me immense joy. I don’t believe in a form of love that shackles me (except quite literally). Except I cannot tell people that. I cannot because I never really “came out”. I’m more a proponent of the “slip things in” approach. I talk about my life as it is, and if you gather things about me from that, fine, if not, that’s also fine. I never made any declarations because declarations, I learnt very early, lead to condemnation and after the first time I was accused of “turning someone gay”, I adopted an approach where no more allegations could be made.

But it’s lonely.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, my partner is an outstanding human being, my pets are amazing, my stepson is a budding little feminist and smartmouth, I do great work, I have good friends, I have a workout routine that serves me well, I don’t eat animals, I love my life. I don’t love that I have to censor parts of my life though. I don’t love that when I meet someone new who may have a vagina and I have that giddy feeling in my stomach, I cannot tell most people in my life. I don’t love that I still mostly meet women who are into women only after half a bottle of vodka and till dawn. I don’t love that the structure of my relationship and sexuality is a veritable pornocopia of which even those in the know are waiting for an implosion. I don’t love that I couldn’t just tell my mom that I wasn’t dating my boss not because i am straight but because my boss is (and if she wasn’t I would probably hit that). I don’t love that I have to lie by omission and that makes me seem secretive because in reality I am perhaps the least secretive person in the world. I don’t love that. I don’t love the sexualisation of how I love. I don’t love the association of immorality. I don’t love the intolerance.

Because, I am a good person, yeah? I do my best. I take care of people. I care about animals. I do my best to minimize my carbon footprint. I stand up for social justice even at personal cost. I don’t litter ever. I vote. I pay taxes. I smile at people in the street. I’m alright. Is it really so important then that I sometimes date and love four people at once (all of whom know about each other) and some of them have vaginas? Is it really what matters most?

Let me know, because I’d love to come out of hiding.

Living In Two Indias: Ripped Jeans and Sex Toys.

Last week the Chief Minister of Uttrakhand criticised mothers for demeaning our culture by wearing ripped jeans, and at the same time India saw the opening of its first brick-and-mortar sex-toy store in Goa. These two pieces of news do not belong in the same country, is it possible we’re all living in two countries at the same time?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Sometimes it feels like my news feed is curated by reaction junkies whose sole goal is to maximize my outrage. A few days ago, during my morning dose of outrage, I scrolled past an article about the Chief Minister of Uttrakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, condemning women for wearing ripped jeans (especially if they were mothers), and I landed on an article about the first brick-and-mortar sex-toy store in India located in Goa. I scrolled back and forth between the two pieces trying to reconcile them with each other, but it felt a lot like trying to reconcile adding two tablespoons of salt to a banana smoothie. They just didn’t go together. They didn’t make sense right next to each other. They didn’t sound like they were addressing the same place. Yet this happens all the time. We recognise a third gender, we won’t recognise marital rape. We commandeer an all-woman flight on the longest possible air-route, but we ask why a 50-year old woman who was raped and killed went out alone. We subsidise women’s education yet we wonder why the marital age for women needs to increased when females can give birth even at fifteen. We had a woman as Prime Minister years before that seemed possible to most of the world, but we arrest a woman for posing “provocatively” for pictures in a bikini.

It constantly feels like I am living in two different countries. This is not in reference to the “diversity” of India, it’s in reference to the ideology of the country, it seems to be moving in two different directions at all times so what do we stand for? Sex-toy stores or condemnation of ripped jeans on women?

For the past ten years or so, progress in the field of women’s rights is constantly shoved down our throats and I won’t deny there have been legal changes that were, at least, designed to the end of progress. Moreover, in the wake of Nirbhaya, there was a seismic shift in the conversations surrounding rape, violence against women and feminism. All of sudden fringe feminist theories about teaching the boys, touching the pickle and freeing the nipple became much more mainstream, and refrains like “my body, my choice” became so common you’d think a renaissance was underway. Stories of women doing extraordinary things were celebrated, and platforms that specialised in women’s content didn’t just become possible, they became popular. Conversations about teaching our daughters empowerment and independence became a lot louder and women’s fashion in India got a lot bolder (and maybe even more permissive).

At the same time the past ten years have been brutal for women in India. The #metoo movement revealed just how deep the web of power-based coercion was spun. Crime against women increased steadily but the rate of conviction remained largely stable (and abysmally low). Arranged marriage got a makeover and made a resurgence on Netflix to serve as a reminder of its reach and the misogyny built into it. The government suggested replacing all sex-ed programmes (which were shockingly few) with yoga classes (because a botched chaturangasana is the same as chlamydia). Women repeatedly took their parents to court to fight for their right to love whomsoever. The MRAs and the “humanists” started their own counter-cultural movement alleging women were taking advantage of their supposed privilege in society. No significant strides were made in women’s employment, and in alleging that women had no role in farmers’ protests even the Supreme Court displayed just how severely disguised unpaid employment afflicts women. To say nothing of the anti-woman statements that have been made by various political leaders in the past decade, if I made a list, it would be as long as Victor Hugo’s doctoral dissertation.

The last decade has been confusing.

On the one hand, I see a lot of empowerment on the internet, I see women talking about things that were swept under the rug for generations and I think that’s wonderful. I see movements and hashtags and strength. I saw that in my life for the longest time. On the other hand, for the past 18-months I’ve been living in a very small town in J&K, it’s an interesting social experience for me given that I have spent most of my life surrounded by “like-minded” people most of whom have had the same level of privilege as I have had in life, and I had a very different idea of our country than what is real for the majority. See, I had my life, and it had its priorities: an apartment close to the metro station, career growth, bars I liked, intellectual stimulation, that one yoga pose. Even though most of my work has always pertained to covering crime against women, I never reconciled the world I lived in with the world in which I worked. The world in which I lived was populated by women like me, we’d been through some shit, but the focus of our lives was liberty, growth, ambition and gin. When life got too much, we took trips or made appointments with a good therapist. I don’t mean we were vapid or out of touch, I just mean the scope of our struggle was mostly incidental and not pervasive. We might have dealt with an abusive relationship or sexual assault or a patriarchal upbringing, but oppression was not a way of life for us, it was an annoyance that came up frequently but our version of the world had space for us, our rights and our choices. Of course it wasn’t as much a space we had created as much as it was the ability to rent an apartment or a life within an area where you could insulate yourself from certain aspects of life. We bought our freedom, and rented an existence in sex-toy India.

However, our freedom was a function of luck and privilege, because after I was taken out of my environment and put in a different one, I realised just how easily I could have grown up in ripped-jeans India. This is not an indictment of bucolic life by a “city” girl, nor am going to romanticize it. I don’t think city life has more “meaning” and I don’t think town-life is more simple. However, my social existence here has been very different from the message of empowerment I was fed all my life and the experience of achievement I could take for granted through my professional life. I attend university here, and I’ve had clerks openly tell me that women shouldn’t behave like me because I told him he was wrong about something. I’ve had a professor tell a classroom full of women that if they married for love they would definitely regret it and almost certainly be unhappy forever. They don’t understand why I object to people enquiring about someone’s marital future; neither the asker not the asked understand my objection. I’ve had virtual strangers tell me I should make more of an effort to look married and behave like a wife. I have been told by people I employed that I shouldn’t speak so openly about being someone’s step-mother or second wife. Allegedly educated men have commented, that I as a woman, should not swear. My friends are terrified to dress in revealing clothes and when women date here they do so with the secrecy of a spy. Muslim women I know are told to their faces they shouldn’t attire themselves religiously lest violence be unleased upon them. When I profess independence, the youth here calls me naive and out-of-touch, and the truth is that by their measurement, I actually am. When I tell them they have the option of leaving their homes and living elsewhere, they call me crazy, and I must sound crazy to them.

It’s because there are two Indias.

You’re supposed to live in the one you were born into and always look at the other as sort of aberration obstructing your world view. There is the India where a minister saying that women in ripped jeans insult Indian culture outrages you, and there is one where you may know it is wrong but you’ve heard similar things said so often by your father, mother, neighbours that you secretly wonder why everyone is so mad. There is an India where we celebrate having a sex-toy store because we’re so tired of always having to buy dirty things on foreign trips and then just hoping to get them through customs, and there is an India where this idea is an abomination and we should all be shot. There is an India where you can get on Tinder and get laid no problem, and there is one where you cannot even choose the man who will have sex with you for the rest of your life. There is an India where you can indulge your passions for microbrewing and motorcycles, and there is one where you have only until you are eighteen to make your peace with getting married and making babies.

Yet on some level, underneath all of this specificity, there is one India. I don’t mean this terms of unity at all, I mean that underneath our failures and victories in the name of women, there is a similar sentiment of oppression. Ripped jeans are just a symbol, and when someone tells a woman how to dress, we must fight but saying it’s wrong is very different from really having the freedom to wear whatever we want. Many of us will be vocally against this statement, and I am too, but for family, decency, dignity or whatever the reason du jour many of us still won’t wear things that aren’t permissible. Many of us won’t wear low-cut tops. We won’t wear skirts or dresses.  We won’t wear clothes without sleeves. Not because we don’t want to, but because we aren’t allowed to do that, and it’s reinforced with ideas of culture, beauty and fashion. A sex toy store is a great story but in a country where menstrual products are still wrapped in black plastic by the pharmacist and most women would never buy a condom themselves because of how they treat you for doing so, a sex-toy store is also just a symbol. A symbol for a more progressive era that only exists in one out of thirteen thousand neighborhoods. I mean it’s great that I can buy a vibrator when I’m on vacation in Goa while wearing my ripped jeans, but if I have to cover my head and pretend to be chaste at home, what is the point?

They Lied To You About Women’s empowerment.

I grew up in the liberation-generation. We were taught as young girls to stand up for ourselves, claim our rights and pursue our dream on which there were no limits, but those were lies. There were important things they forgot to tell us about this empowerment, these are those things.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

There is deception in this womanhood-thing. A mixed message. A dissonance. I remember being taught that I could do anything, I could change the world if that is what I wanted. I could build a wall or tear one down. I could inherit the earth or populate it. I remember being taught that I should study for I would need a career to rely on and no one should have to take care of me. I remember watching videos of women running, holding board-meetings, flying planes with neon messages of empowerment flashing underneath. I remember the birth of women’s day and slut marches. I remember the moment, when in a tennis skirt and my dad’s t-shirt at the age of thirteen, I decided I was done with shy awkwardness and I was ready to be the woman this world told me I could be; I remember the smell of the sweat on my face, the sound of my coach telling me to run faster, the ugly brick red colour of the court staring at me, I remember everything about the exact moment when I could have been filmed with a magenta message of empowerment flashing across the screen of my life.

They told me I could.

So I did.

I became what I was taught women should be by the messages of empowerment that littered my childhood. I became loud, I started saying everything I meant and asking for everything I wanted. I stopped being shy and scared, and I started stating my opinion with authority. I saw disparity and I started fighting. I saw goals and I discovered ambition. I achieved goals and I discovered hunger. I saw the law and politics, and I took my place as a citizen. I saw the little things everyday, the ones that take away from you when a man thinks he’s just spreading his legs on a seat he’s entitled to, and started pushing back. I saw sex, and love, and I liked them, so I did them. I saw the night and I wanted in. I saw choices and I made mine all by myself. I did what I had been taught. I stood on my feet. I learnt all the lessons that got me a career. I became independent.

But now they don’t like me.

No one told me.

No one told me those messages, and women like me are only welcome on women’s day and when someone has a pregnancy scare. Oh everyone loves a loud, empowered woman who says fuck a lot, everyone loves them, when you have to write a second-grade essay about someone you admire. Everyone loves them when it’s the 24-hour period designated to celebrating women. Everyone likes to read about them on dust-jackets and Humans of Bombay. Everyone loves a strong, independent woman, because that’s what we are teaching our daughters to be too after all, but only in concept. In real-life, this empowerment thing is a lie.

In reality, there was deception afoot. When they said you could do anything, they left a lot out. They click-baited you and by the time you realised they didn’t even have the information they advertised, you had wasted ten minutes reading the article. In the real version of events, when it’s not women’s day, the world has very different expectations for strong independent women.

In terms of career, when they said they wanted to you to “take care of yourself” they meant they would like for you to have “pocket money” to buy dresses and stuff, because when you do make money (and more of it than your husband) they will tell you that you will ruin your relationships. They’ll tell you that your are cold and “too ambitious” to have a family. That you are neglectful as a wife or a mother. That you have too much of an ego. That you only needed to take care of yourself until you had children.

In terms of rights, when they said yours matter, they meant they matter on paper to the image of their country and the family structure in place is reliant enough to ensure no girl would ever be given too much freedom. You can go wherever you want, in a world where your hostels will have curfews and your neighbours will be watchdogs for the time you come home. You can vote, but politics is not for women so they will actively discourage you from participating from the moment you’re old enough to say the word panchayat.

In terms of marriage, when they mean they want you to settle down and be stable, they mean they want you to be someone’s wife so they can feel like their parental duties towards you are over and you’re someone else’s property know. You can have the nicest caterer at your wedding and the water chestnut can be just scrumptious but the truth of the wedding is in the moments before it, when they remind you it’s your new life and you have to be a different person to fit into it. So what if someone is telling you how to dress and you have to wear pale yellow sarees to day events now, you’re supposed to be in love girl. With the guy that was pointed out to you.

In terms of freedom, when they said you can do anything you want, they meant you can do anything as long as you uphold the ten-thousand rules of honour that are upheld by your vagina. You can be friends with boys, but don’t have sex with them or worse, your girlfriends, and marry whoever we choose in bargain for that freedom. You can go study abroad but you have to come back and be a good daughyer-in-law to someone and for good measure shun all norms you may encounter in another country because they look and smell like freedom because Indian culture is best, you are a goddess here, and it doesn’t matter if what you really want to be is a pleather clad human-kitten with a ring around your nipple. Freedom is fine, if you beg and take what is given and remain eternally grateful.

In terms of love when they said you should give a lot of love, they meant in terms of service to men and their families. They meant you should be the colourful creature that likes animals and sacrifices her joys for everyone else because that’s what really brings her joy. They meant a chaste love of the Victorian era or post-truth India where love doesn’t involve reality, biology or desire, only families, immaculately-conceived babies and duty to the patriarchy.

There is deception in this womanhood-thing. There are lies. They don’t want free, empowered women. They want a party and a reason to eat bread on March 8.

Every other day, they tell us to eat cake.

The Myth Of A Free, Modern Woman Is Designed To Discourage Feminism.

People often tell me, especially on days like today which is International Women’s Day, that things are different now, and the modern woman in India in free. While many exceptional women have achieved extraordinary things in our country, they have done so against the odds. In reality women, modern or otherwise continue to be suppressed by bastardised versions of good ol’ sexism, and letting women believe things have changed is yet another ploy to discourage feminism and the fight for equality.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A few weeks ago I attended a really stuffy overly-coordinated event, as part of the proceedings, a middle-aged man did a bit of a comedy routine. The subject of his jokes was marriage and how women make it a miserable state of affairs for men to be in them; every joke was about how husbands are whipped, unhappy and subject to so much control, and how being “stuck” with their wives through the lockdown had been terrible for all of them. None of the jokes were even remotely funny. Fortunately for my outrage, the comedian ended up seated next to me at dinner, and I asked him about whether this sexist brand of humour was really appropriate.

“Not everything is meant to be taken so seriously,” he said genuinely surprised that he had been confronted, “It’s all in good fun.”

Good fun. The battle cry of the eternally inappropriate.

“Don’t you think though that creating this alternate reality where women have so much control in marriages they become the abusers is dangerous to the women’s movement?” I asked him, because I am nothing if not persistent, “Don’t you think it creates the falsity that women have it great out in the world?”

“What are you talking about?” He said, “These things you are talking about are old news, things are different for women now, things have changed.”

I’ve never wanted to drown myself in a bowl of soup more, but we’ve all heard this before right? Whether it is from a professor teaching the poetry of Mamta Kalia saying none of it applies anymore because times are different now. Or in conversation with a South-Delhi dwelling socialite sipping cocktails in honour of Women’s Day. Or from your own family who touts the freedom to work and leave the house (in daylight) as the monumental successes of modern India. We’ve all been taught the same things: Times are different, things have changed, modern women are free.

Are we, though? Are modern women free? Have times really changed?

Well, it’s 2021, and apparently the advancement of years is enough to indicate progress but let’s take a moment to think about the facts of our times. Women in India report 88-cases of rape a day, of which 30% lead to conviction. We had a high-court judge rule recently that touching a child through clothing does not amount to sexual assault. We had a Supreme Court Justice offer a rape-victim up for marriage as a means to commute the punishment of a government employee. Multiple women have been killed in the last few months alone for spurring the advances of men. The employment rate for women has been lower than 35% for my entire lifetime. The head of the National Council of Women (NCW) hates the term “feminist”. Female representation in government has been at a plateau for years. It hasn’t even been five-years since period-products were deemed essential in our country, and every year millions of girls drop-out of school due to lack of facilities to manage periods. We’ve had an officer of the police deem that beating his wife is a “personal matter”. We’ve seen a bunch of private-school boys use social media for revenge porn and to parade young women as trophies. We’ve seen a prominent and respectable journalist taken to court for defamation for alleging sexual harassment. We’ve seen a woman detained for her own alleged kidnapping because she didn’t want to marry the man her parents had chosen. There’s been a dowry related suicide this week. All of this is just news from the past few months and it’s nowhere near exhaustive.

Moreover, all of this is just facts and figures, there is a lot more to women’s existence. I am as modern a woman as one can be – I work, I vote, I wear skirts, I travel alone, I pay taxes, I date – and in a modern world a woman like me should have the option to be the norm, and based on the whole “awareness of rights and education” fix, a woman like me should never have to go through the archaic practises of the patriarchy that are such “old news” but that’s not true. I’ve been sexually assaulted, abused by a live-in partner, slut-shamed, harassed in the street and humiliated for not being the “right kind of woman”. I am just one of many examples, even as i was growing up, my peers and I were not taught freedom of choice, we were taught that women must learn to do everything: Work, keep a house, be financially independent, marry, bear children, keep her husband’s family happy and be overall quite agreeable. The test of tolerance is to demand respect and rights even when you refuse to embrace those roles, and as a country we have woefully failed that test.

When we say that it’s the 21-century and women are free, what we are really doing is pretending to a reality that doesn’t exist. Women ought to be free,  I wouldn’t dream to disagree, but we aren’t. In my very privileged experience, I know women who had to beg permission to work and are actively shamed for shunning their family as a result. I know women who cannot leave their house without permission. I know women who have been asked to ignore their husbands’ infidelity and abuse. I know women, and have been the woman, passed up for promotions because my bosses were worried I would have a baby and ruin their company. I’ve known women who have been assaulted for their choices and been forced to marry. I don’t know a single woman who is free, not even me, and every woman I know who has made choices in the interest of their freedom, including me, has suffered for them. Whether that is in the form of shaming, loss of family, loss of income, loss of respectability, loss of rights, outright violence or social shunning, we have suffered and we continue to suffer. That is why I refuse to buy into the notion that times are different. There are more buildings now, we have the internet, life expectancy has risen, but if I agree that things have changed, I give credit where none is due.

Yes, some women have achieved extraordinary things and others have found extraordinary happiness in everyday life, but as a whole the war is not over until women can stop fighting. Things aren’t different until success is had against the odds. We have not achieved freedom until we still have to grovel and modify our behaviour to be deemed worth of it. It’s dangerous to say “times are different” because it creates an alternate reality where women no longer need to fight for freedom, and that discourages feminism. That enables men to tell women to “lighten up” and leads to movements like #notallmen. It leads to men saying things like we should fight for “humanism” not feminism. It’s a tactic to make women believe things are better than they are and I refuse to participate. I refuse to say we have won, when the war is far from over. I refuse to celebrate battles because the celebrations are designed to distract us from the war.

How Breaking Free From Roles Changed My Life.

I do the wrong things, often and with relish, because after spending years working myself to death for validation I realised the patriarchal agenda had succeeded at reducing me, like many other women, to just one thing. Women are expected to find their identity within roles and justify their existence by excelling at them. This is how it transformed my life the day I decided the roles would have to find their place in my life without changing me.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Ever since I was a little girl I found it a bit strange when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s India’s favourite question to ask children, which is weird for a country whose favourite pass-time is ensuring no child is ever really allowed to grow up enough to make their own decisions. That’s not why I disliked being asked that question though, no, I disliked it because I was expected to give only one answer. I have never wanted only one thing from my life, and having to condense my entire worth into one role feels like I am being wrapped up in the unforgiving grips of an anaconda that’s about to consume me. As I grew up and realised the extent of the disparity women had been through in our country, as well as the world, I noticed what we have come to see as a common problem. Women are expected to define ourselves within an exhaustible set of roles.

You’re either a mother, a daughter, homemaker or a wife or if you’re “privileged” you’re given the option to define yourself by your job. The temptation is very strong there. When I was in my early twenties and just starting to work, I felt the overwhelming need to constantly overstate what I did for a living, and that I did something. I’d grown up watching most women be “housewives” and as much as I hate to admit that, I think I looked down on them when I was a teenager. I believed I was destined for a superior path, I wanted to do what men do:  Wake up in the morning, have coffee, put on a suit, get in a car and drive off to work. I wanted the stature that comes with having a job, much more than I wanted the money that comes with it. I thought all these women I saw they weren’t working by choice, and more importantly, I failed to recognise that all the work that did go into keeping a home, raising children and supporting a community deserves as much dignity as any other job. All of that came later, when I was younger, I just wanted everyone to know that I had a job, and my job was my entire identity.

I understand the temptation to call me an idiot for this, I think I was an idiot, especially because in my crusade to ensure women were no longer defined by singular roles, I defined myself by a singular role. Before you judge me too harshly please understand where I was coming from, I had seen women valued only for service, sacrifice, beauty and child-bearing most of my life, and I figured ensuring women were valued for their intelligence as well was a step forward. I know how hard I had to work to get the jobs I wanted and how much I had to put in to prove I could do them just as well as a man. The inordinate amount of pressure that is put on unmarried women to justify their unmarried and childless state by having a wildly successful career is hard to say the least, and it puts you in a state of blind ambition and constant competition. You work so hard at one thing that you cannot imagine defining yourself as anything else. All of your confidence and self-esteem comes from where you place your own value and I placed all of my value on my job. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I really truly love my work, and loving it created an additional layer of justification for my obsession with it. After all, we are taught to give everything we have to what we love, and that is what I was doing.

It was a hard day when I realised I had become just one thing. I had placed so much value on the one thing I was that being other things terrified me. I was scared of the idea of marriage because I believe it reduced me to a wife. I hated the idea of having children because if I had to be just mother, I would be giving up on what I considered made me brilliant. I was afraid of learning or doing something new because that meant I would have to redefine and rediscover my skills. On paper I always said that no matter what a woman chooses to do, she has value, but in my actions, I displayed something different. I displayed judgement for those that hadn’t taken the path in life that I had. I wondered why women placed so much emphasis on how wonderfully they kept their homes and how much attention they gave their children because I didn’t realise that we all have the same need for validation and self-esteem, and we take it where we find it. It wasn’t just my approach that was wrong, it was the entirety of this system. It pushes women to justify our existence by doing much more than one person should have to do, and much less than one person should be allowed to do. There are so many restrictions on being more than what you have been deemed to be, that at every step you are left fulfilling goals you didn’t even set for yourself.

If you’re working, you must work so much and so ardently just to be able to compete with an adequate male employee, because women are fired from jobs with so much more ease than men as society doesn’t view us as being “breadwinners” only suppliers of supplemental income. If you’re a wife you must clean, cook, report on your whereabouts, embrace a whole other family, dress like one, behave like one, sacrifice your wishes, be ever-present, never let your husband see you without make-up, wake up before everyone else in the house, the list is endless. If you are a mother just must conform to a sense of dignity afforded to motherhood, sacrifice yourself for your children, be there everyday to deal with every issue they have, feed them, clothe them, always be a ray of sunshine for them. We all may choose to embrace these roles differently, or not at all, but the societal expectations on all of us are the same, and we face the same condemnation for acting differently within these roles. Ultimately, it is all the same, we must embody a limited set of roles. We must be broken down to a set of nouns.

My life changed drastically the day I decided I wanted to be a set of adjectives instead. Nothing monumental happened. There wasn’t a big moment of realisation, nothing terrible or wonderful preceded it, I just realised there was so much I wasn’t doing because I was working so hard on justifying my right to exist. Like every other woman, I was doing too much within just one role, just so that I could feel like I had the right to the space I took up. I went back to the question I was so often asked as a child: What do I want to be when I grow up?

That list used to be so long, and the only part of it I had embraced was my job. I wanted to be a journalist and I was, but that’s all. That’s all I was. I also wanted to write, not the news, I wanted to write pain and emotion and stories of all the people in the world. I wanted to dance. I wanted to learn yoga and martial arts. I wanted to fall madly, insanely in love. I wanted a house full of animals. I wanted to speak five languages. I wanted to keep studying and rack up a wall full of degrees so intimidating they could speak for me. I wanted to take long walks and regularly get lost. I wanted to travel, not for work, but just because it’s Sunday. I wanted to contribute to local politics. I wanted to feed the hungry. I wanted to run a marathon. I wanted to really get to know people and learn to care about them. I wanted to win awards and give them back to the government because I don’t approve of their policies. I wanted to paint my walls black. I wanted to quote Anais Nin and lust after Victor Hugo. Heck, I want to be Victor Hugo, I want all the brothels in a city to be closed the day I die, that’s the fucking dream. I wanted to go to protests. I wanted to be arrested. I wanted to satyagraha. I wanted to indulge all the creepiness and macabre that I enjoy much more than one person should. That’s who I wanted to be.

That’s who I decided I would be.

I refused to govern my life in anticipation of the roles that I would have to one day embody and instead I designed a life where I did what I wanted and the roles would fit in. I wouldn’t change my life to be wife or worker or mother, I would be who I wanted, and those things would only happen if they fit into my life. The day I decided not to care about whether I fulfil my roles well-enough was the day I truly embraced freedom, and it worked marvellously. I did get married, but nothing in my life changed for it, I love my husband for who he is and he loves me for who I am. No one moved, no one changed their name, we kept living in the same house and having the same legal identities. I didn’t change how I dress, work or travel. We don’t limit one another, we marvel at each other’s adventures instead. Our house is often dirty and we just hope the other one remembered to throw together a salad for lunch. We travel without each other, and we love each other shamelessly with abandon. I work whatever jobs I feel like working, and I find ways to make more money than I ever could have working just one, I only do what I enjoy I refuse to define myself by what I do. I did go back to college in a weird place, and I love it. I did have a child, I didn’t birth him, he came from my husband’s first marriage, but I didn’t become mother. He stayed who he is and I stayed who I am, and we learnt to love each other. I learnt to parent, as I would, with swear-jars and walks on which we feed all the dogs in all the neighbourhoods. I never learnt to do the “right” things, but I learnt to be honest about everything I do. I learnt to respect everything anyone does, no matter what it is. I learnt to love my life, and not limit myself but what life is supposed to be. I refuse to be worn out by my child. I refuse to grow to hate my partner. I refuse to be exhausted and limited by my job. I refuse not to grow. I refuse not to join a karate class for children just because it’s too late for me now.

Nah.

I won’t take on roles, they are welcome in my life, but I will be who I am, and they will adjust around that. I will never be able to answer the question about who I am, because the answer is not a word, it’s an essay. I am vast, I contain multitudes.  So do you.

Why Do Men So Easily Sexually Harass “Open-Minded” Women?

While all women are subject to a certain degree of sexual harassment, some women are often treated to inappropriate behaviour from men they know at a much higher frequency. These men will often tell you that you are “open-minded” and therefore sending them signals, but what do they mean when they call you that? Why do men think they can be as inappropriate as they like with “open-minded” women? In our latest piece, I detail my personal experiences to figure out what an “open-minded” woman means to a man.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Shortly after I started working my first job as a journalist, a much-older (and married) producer in our office asked me to accompany him for coffee after work so that he we could discuss my “career plans”. I thought we were going to a cafe or the press club as colleagues but instead he took me to a rather secluded, completely shady establishment. The kind that has blackout curtains that reek of tobacco and round tables with white tablecloths that haven’t been washed since they were bought. I was immediately uncomfortable and told him I couldn’t stay long since I was meeting someone for dinner later. He brushed that off and began discussing my work with me, telling me that I was “different” and amazing but this field of work is so competitive that you can’t get ahead on brilliance alone.

“You’re ambitious,” he said to me touching my hand that was gripping the cup, “I can help you get ahead, you want to work at a news agency? I can help you.”

I was shocked. No matter how many times this happens to you, I think it always continues to be shocking. I wasn’t sure how to react either. In the past I had done all the things: complained, not complained, punched, reasoned, gotten the police involved, gotten the community involved, spoken up and not spoken up. I had done all of them and there is only one thing that all those methods had in common was that after the fact, I was always the one who was questioned/talked about/doubted.

“I don’t need help,” I told him, “And when I do, I know who to ask for it.”

“Don’t be like that,” he said coming closer to me and gripping my other hand, “You’re an open-minded woman, don’t take this the wrong way.”

I excused myself to the bathroom and asked a friend to call me pretending to have an emergency. I called a cab and left, even as he insisted that he would drop me off. As I began the hour-long journey home, I began to think about a word he had used to describe me: Open-minded. I am open-minded but to me that means that I am interested in information-based decision making that is open to change as and when more reliable information is added. That’s not what open-minded means to many, many people though. I’ve learnt that when most men say open-minded they mean a very specific thing and it’s not necessarily a compliment. To him, I was open-minded because I drank alcohol, I wore dresses and skirts, I swore, I lived alone, I spoke openly about dating, (even though we never had a conversation about it) I’d clearly had sex before, I smoked cigarettes, I advocated for women’s sexual liberty, I worked in a “cool” profession, I’m openly bisexual. To him those things meant that I was “immoral” and would therefore sleep with anyone.

I remember once a very long time ago, I could not have been over twelve, and my mother was fuming about something. I don’t remember what it was exactly but some man said or did something inappropriate with her. I asked her what was wrong and while she did not share the entirety of the incident, she did tell me something that stayed with forever.

“When men see a woman they called “bindass” (translation: wild, free) they cross limits,” she said to me, “Just because I like to have fun and I drink and make merry with everyone, doesn’t mean men should cross limits with me.”

My mother’s extremely astute observation is true even today. While there is no “one-type” of woman who is more prone to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, predatory men of a certain kind tend to seek-out women of a particular nature. This is not at all to say that women should not persist in being whoever we want, but it does indicate that men have been taught certain behaviours are immoral for a woman (drinking, wearing revealing clothing, swearing, having sex) and if a woman engages in them, that must mean she’ll let you have sex with her. This is the story of my entire life (and I imagine the lives of women like me). Men take liberties with me and they have since I was very young. Men you would never think would do things like that. While dancing in a group of women, men who barely know me will touch me and no other woman there. Married men have touched and said the most inappropriate things you can imagine to me. Men have insinuated and outrightly assumed that a “woman like me” would definitely cheat on her partner because “one man cannot satisfy me”. Men have assumed they can kiss me just because I am in a room with them (and done it). Men who were my bosses and teachers have “wanted something more” and tried to leverage their position to get it. Men I’ve hired will still sometimes call me drunk in the middle of the night to tell me they “feel something special for me”. Men have hidden outside my window watching me as I sleep. To say nothing of the outright criminal offences that have been committed against my body. My autobiography would essentially be a chargesheet.

All these men, well not all because some of them would have preyed on literally any woman, but many of them took these liberties with me because they believed I am “open-minded”. I speak my mind. I advocate for and engage in causes like polyamory and homosexuality so that must mean I am a pervert who will let anyone have me. I will use the term ex-girlfriend with as much ease as ex-boyfriend so that just means I am a whore. I will ask a male colleague to step out for a smoke with me so that just means I am a slut. I will wear a low-cut dress and black lipstick to a party so that just means anyone can touch me. I will loudly and with confidence be who I am at all times so that means I am more “open to” sexual harassment than others. We tell women that what we wear is never the cause for rape, and it isn’t, the criminal intent in the mind of the rapist is always the cause, but predatory men do actually take cues about their chances of getting away with it from women’s behaviour. While that’s still on them, it does make for an interesting insight on how men choose their victims. In a country where you have the option to blame the skirt and vodka for your criminal behaviour, it’s best to pick someone drinking vodka in a skirt.

And that is often exactly what happens. When I talk about these incidents, especially when I spoke about them in the aftermath when the vulnerability was still fresh in my mind too, I have mostly gotten the same responses. The same questions. Questions like: What were you wearing? Why did you go there with him? Why are you always being so “pally” with men? What did you drink? Are you sure that’s actually what happened or are you misunderstanding? Maybe he was just being friendly? Did you touch him first? Maybe you sent him signals that you were open to it? Why do you have so many piercings? Why did you let yourself be alone with him? The same damn questions. Everytime. The questions too came mostly from people you wouldn’t expect, people who loved me and allegedly cared for me. People who were just “looking out for me”. People who thought it was their job to give me advice on how to “protect myself”. Ultimately though, it was only in rare instances that people shared my my outrage, and even in some of those incidents, there was a question that put the onus of responsibility on me.

Why didn’t you do anything?

Well, I used to. I used to rage each and every time. Complain. Take action. Call them out right there. I’m fucking tired now. I am not exaggerating when I say how permanant a fixture of my life being inappropriately hit on by men is, and if at this point you find youself wondering quietly that maybe it’s me, maybe I am actually asking for it, let me tell you, you are part of the reason why I am tired of bringing it up again and again. I know what happens when you bring it up, you get a reputation for being “difficult” and the men get to walk away having cast aspersions on you. Almost everyone leaves the situation wondering what it is that you did that made the man think he could fuck you. Even as you complain, even to the police, you are not allowed to be angry. People constantly tell you to “calm down” and reassess the situation when you are calm. As if sexual harassment becomes less sexually harassment the morning after. And that is just what happens socially, what happens emotionally is much bigger and much more invisible problem.

When people tell you to “let it go and be careful next time” what they are saying is that you should just erase your trauma and clad yourself in body armour against it for the future but trauma is a serious thing. Due to certain incidents in my life, I already carry a lot of trauma borne out of sexual violence and abuse, when you add all of this (and it’s a lifetime of it, mind you) to that it contributes to re-traumatizing the victim. I’m just telling my story here, but the number of women who suffer from this is extraordinary. Trauma has a way of showing itself in all factions of your life, and when you already know what it is like to have your consent violated and your body breached, every single incident that follows feels like it may lead to the same path. You live with fear. You re-live the most fearful parts of your life with regularity. Then one day when you’re running on the sidewalk and someone walks too close behind you, you panic and punch them before they can do something terrible to you even though they were just stopping to cross the road. Your reflexes learn a very different world than the one that exists out there. That’s the impact of trauma. That’s the real impact of men thinking they can get away with harassing “open-minded” women.

Will I stop being open-minded?

That’s extremely unlikely, I am who I am and I intend to never let anything get in the way of that, but that didn’t come without a steep cost. And everyday there are young girls and older women being subject to casual sexual harassment that is causing them to re-evaluate their behaviour and choices. We’re destroying women’s liberty and authenticity by allowing men to be creeps around them based on how the women behave. We’re convincing women high neck sweaters and seven-layers of clothing are better. Speaking softly is better. Never letting themselves be free is better. Drinking in secret is better. We’re telling women not to be the “open-minded” girl because open-minded girls get raped, and the worst part of that is that there’s some fucking truth to that. Not because of the “open-minded” girls, but the way we are seen in society. We’re never going to fix rape culture by reacting to the incidents after the fact, we’re never going to fix it at all unless we start here, at what happens every day.

Disclaimer: Please understand this piece is about a certain type of sexual harassment and does not mean at all to insinuate that only “open-minded” women are victimized by men. I do not in any way wish to minimize the experiences of other women, only to discuss the esoteric and niche factions of the rape culture.