Countering Male Privilege

Rahul asked the following question here.

As an aside, I have often wondered , if just by existing as an upper caste male, and not necessarily by any acts of commission or omission by me individually, I am being party to an unjust system that benefits me,

then what is my moral obligation?

I felt both happy that a man bothered to ask this question and surprised that no woman replied to him so far. He addressed me, but the question is a rather open one and there are many female commenters in BR’s blog. This post is basically a reply to that question. Quite obviously Male Privilege is no particular guy’s fault. It just is there around us like the air we breathe. We kind of get used to it over time. It is all pervasive and affects so many facets of women’s life. So I am just taking one example in which well-meaning men can do a certain something for the women around them. I am not taking problems like safety, glass ceilings and generic misogyny as they are such sprawling topics. It is much easier to discuss one problem at a time.

Please read this.

This is a surprisingly common scenario which pretty much every woman faces. Here gounderbrownie fights for the right to visit a toilet. She asks

Why did I have to make a fuss for the driver to comprehend that this was an important issue? Why didn’t the husbands/fathers/sons accompanying the other women speak up if they themselves felt shy of asking the driver to stop?

But I am not feeling as charitable about the other women as GB does. Those women even if they did not open the topic themselves, let GB the battle all alone and then used the facilities when she won the battle single handedly.

There is no evidence that anyone even thanked the lady. This is the type of invertebrates that we like to honour with the title “Adakamaana Ponnu”. As for me, even if I had not wanted to use the loo, I still would have joined forces with her just so that she is not alone when she is fighing the fight.

But this is a good example when men can put aside their privilege and apathy and speak up. It would have cost very less embarrasment to the men in the bus to have just verbally supported the lady. Men who bother to “accompany” their own mother/wife/etc are so quiet when another woman needs help. This is a problem that can so easily be solved.

I assume that chivalry arose as a type of counter to Male Privilege. So that men take it upon themselves to help women in these circumstances. It seems to have deteriorated over time. Chivalry often seems to imply that women are inferior and so should take some male help. Chivalry should be practised only when needed. And only when there is obvious Male Privilege at play. I agree with what Bhagwad says here.

Snow White and Cinderella are quite alright

I have always been a great sucker for stories with a female protagonist. You know stories that actually start with “Once upon a gtime there lived a girl” rather than “One that day, he saw a figure in the bus stand”. Stories of that sort are actually very hard to come by. It is for that reason that I instantly fell in love with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. I did not have every pencil box and school bag themed with the Disney Princesses but that is because such things were not easily available during my childhood and were insanely costly when they did exist. They were pretty and feminine and the story was about them and not about some guy. In a childhood that was filled with stories about Rajinikanth and Kamalahaasan and Mowgli, these are the only type of Female centric stories I ever got. I am not including Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood here.

But as the time of internet came about I noticed that pretty much every feminist I have read seems to be against these stories. They say that these girls wait around to be rescued by a Prince rather than take the initiative to solve their own problems. Also that being pretty is a hugely important thing in both the stories. Snow white would not have got into trouble if she had not been the fairest of them all. And the Prince would not have bothered to track Cinderella the next day if she had not been that pretty. So it teaches women that beauty is risky business and also the ticket to fame.

While I do understand and to a certain extent sympathize with these two arguments, I have never been to really hate these two stories as anti-women stories that teach passivity and vanity to impressionable girls. For the main part, I feel that similar stories from the male POV do not face similar criticism.

Cinderella is rescued by a Fairy Godmother and is introduced to a prince; Aladdin is rescued by the Genie of the Lamp and is introduced to a princess. Both move from slavery/poverty to being Prince/Princess because they get married into Royalty. But no one says Aladdin shows that little boys should passively get supernatural help and somehow get married into royalty. This is because Aladdin is only one of many stories about young boys with unique adventures. Harry Potter also begins in a very similar fashion and is rescued from abusive foster parents (Aunt and Uncle) by Hagrid. People in slavery just cannot save themselves just like that. That is not how slavery works. It is quite alright that Cinderella had to take some help from a fairy Godmother.

Snow White is spared by the hit man who recommends that she run away from the palace and live elsewhere as the queen may kill her. After a small rough patch, Snow White finds employment in a house that lodges seven little men and offers to do cooking and housekeeping in exchange for food and lodging. That is surely a smart thing to do. Also notice that there are many stories in which the male protagonist gets help from some Fairy/Nymph/Witch. People do not take the angle that men need female intervention/help and are portrayed as weak non-entities. Snow White earns the admiration of the seven dwarves by working hard in their house. Give her a break.

I am not discussing the topic about Beauty and Vanity playing a huge role in these stories and about the stories having Female Antagonists (Step Mother or Witch) here as I feel they are huge sprawling topics and deserve separate posts.

Thozha Thozha

So a conversation on Platonic Friendships between a guy and a gal goes something like this. Some extrapolation included.

Girl:       Hey Friend, Give me your shoulders I want to rest my head on your shoulder when I talk about how Platonic our love is. Our relationship will never ever be a Romance. Isn’t that so awesome?

Guy:      Um, Nothing wrong in that. Romance is pretty terrific too. And a friendship that turns to love often does happen, you know?

Girl:       Oh come on. You and I. Have you even thought about it?

Guy:       (I just told you so, idiot. I HAVE thought about it.)   Well, notice this. When we are chatting about this and that we may be very cool. But when it is time to say goodbye there is a small awkward silence, right? Isn’t that Romance?

Girl:  (Aiyo. He is changing track. I should never have brought this topic up.)  Well. You know how friendship is forever and Romance isn’t? Romance has its disadvantages. Friendship is safe. (Moreover dude, you are fun and all that but I do not really have the hots for you. )

Guy:      Well if she feels that way. Ok. Friendship rocks.

Girl:       See we understand each other perfectly. It is the evil world which misunderstands us.

Guy:      Yeah right.

The only thing I like about this song is that it is so true to life. This is for real. This really is how many men and women who are uncertain about their feelings for their special friend behave. A few of the things I have noticed based on long discussions with the ‘Youth’ of today goes something like this.

1) The Victim can be male or female. This is not a gender specific problem at all. More often than not, it is the more attractive partner that wants to keep things at “just friendship” and keep his/her options open and the less attractive partner that wants more commitment and thinks of taking things to the next level. The reason is very obvious. The more attractive partner is getting more and more options and they just do not want to miss this attention just yet.  The top reason for this type of relationship to exist is to feel wanted and be sexy.

2) Sometimes both of them are pretty attractive and there is a seeming Status Quo in their relationship. There seems to be no obvious jealousy or possessiveness in the relationship. They go out of their way to show the world this by setting each other up with other people. This is not real, it is just that both are pretty sure that they are the hottest option on the block. This is until the better looking, younger girls come along (into the college or office as the next batch) to interest the guys or the parents of the girl start showing prospective “Maapillai Photos” to the girls. More often than not, the relationship is shaken at its roots at this stage. They “break up” even if there was never a relationship in the first place.

3) Both Partners are actually completely self-aware regarding the fakeness of their Platonic Relationship. They both know that they are being attracted to each other in a not too innocent . They are completely in the know regarding the fact that the relationship is unequal and is hurting one of them. But they just play innocent (as in the above song). They pretend more to each other than to the world.

4) Sometimes they keep it this way so that they need not be tainted with the boyfriend/girlfriend count. They can then truthfully say that they had never been in a relationship after having had all the perks of having been in a relationship.

5) Most importantly, they do not stick by each other in times of real need.

Un Samayal Araiyil

This movie is a love story between Prakash Raj who is in his mid 40s and Sneha who is in her mid 30s. What should have been a simple heartfelt romance was destroyed in the second half by a comedy of errors involving a younger boy and girl who are in their early 20s.

Synopsis

Prakash Raj is constantly cajoled to get married by his colleague(Aishwarya), his friend (Elango Kumaravel) and his cook (Thambi Ramaiah). All three of them appear to be unattached past their prime too. On Sneha’s side we see Urvashi who runs a Beauty Parlour and an effeminate boy who works at the Beauty Parlour. Urvashi’s husband lives in Dubai. A wrongly number situation introduces Sneha and Prakash Raj to each other and they start with a fight but eventually find loads of common ground to share.

But when it is time for each other to meet, they send a younger person each.  Sneha sends a 21 year old roommate and Prakash Raj sends his nephew who is also about that age. The two introduce themselves with Sneha’s and Prakash Raj’s name and so a huge confusion ensues.

My Own Thoughts

1) On both sides, people keep asking them to settle down. But as I mentioned, Elango Kumaravel, Thambi Ramaiah, Aiswarya and the boy who works in the Beauty Parlour are all unattached people too. It appears that we need to bother only about Prakash Raj being unmarried and not about Thambi Ramaiah who seems unmarried. This is apparently because Prakash Raj is the hero of the story. This happens in all movies, of course. We are told that we are to be concerned about Rajinikanth’s love life and not about Janakaraj’s love life and we obediantly do just that. This is an age old tradition. But in this movie it seems very out of place. It is because the movie’s theme itself the love life of the very ordinary uncle next door. So we look at all the ordinary uncles the story introduces to us.

2) Sneha’s life is even more pathetic. Not a single sentence is ever uttered by her friends without bringing her age or marital status into the topic. But why do they keep talking about the importance of a woman being married in front of an effeminate boy? Does any one consider him a man with feelings at all? Does his marital status and the fact that effeminate boys in India have it real rough matter to these people at all? And it is movies like this that are applauded for bringing in LGBT people into the story as real people with feeings. It is one thing that nobody teases or abuses him. But everyone implies that marriage is the highest form of existence. He himself admits that being alone forever is very difficult. The whole thing has not been thought through. It was insensitive.

3) Apart from this, Urvashi does not talk a single sentence about her husband who lives in Dubai. How long has he been there? When are they going to be together again? What are their plans? What is the level of intimacy is this long distance relationship? Does Urvashi love her husband? Nothing matters. She is a married woman as she once had a wedding day. That is all that matters. She is not even shown making a single phone call to her husband (in this world of Skype). Contrast this with Malgova Maami in Kalki and her husband who was in Jail. I guess we need a separate post to discuss that very interesting man who was so present in the movie inspite of being so absent. But then again we are not supposed to be worried unduly about Urvashi or Aishwarya whose marital status is not discussed at all. The story commands us to be bothered only about Sneha. She is the only one who matters here.

4) Sneha’s sensitivity to sentences like “You are still beautiful” is quite understandable. Many women have such problems of doubts regarding their looks but if the movie really wants sympathy then we need a woman with understandably real issues in looks. How about choosing a dark or fat actress to play the part? The movie starts with Sneha’s interest in Dosais so the movie would have worked wonderfully well with a plumb cute 30s-40s actress. Perhaps Kushboo. Even Aishwarya who is very much a part of the cast would have worked well. Urvashi would have too. But they need to cast ultra glamourous Sneha to play the part. Sneha will gets 100s of proposals if she updated TamilMatrimony.com. I could not sympathise with the movie at all.

5) The younger couple were a damn waste of time. They could have spent more time in points 1 to 4 and also more on cooking, eating in restaurants, cookery shows etc. Moreover such confusions need masters like Crazy Mohan to do it credit. Again the movie aparently had cold feet about showing non-glamourous people all the time and shows two pretty faces as if giving icecream. If I wanted to watch a pretty face movie, I would have chosen a Tammanah movie in the first place. Right?