February 28, 2020
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Difficulties With Girls

The ‘new’ woman inspires both primeval aggression, preening love

Difficulties With Girls
Illustration by Ashish Bagchi
Difficulties With Girls

‘Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere’. Were the tragic pawns of dangerous liaisons—Madhumita Shukla, Bhanwari Devi, Geetika Sharma, Kavita Rani—‘Cosmo Girls’? Who knows, but it’s as if Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan’s zesty editor and author of the ’60s DIY book, Sex and the Single Girl, whose quote this was and who died this week, could have been their idol. Brown may have taught a generation of women feminine guile, but that is not the point—she also inspired generations to throw all caution to the wind and have it all.

Perhaps it was this spirit of spontaneity that empowered the fiery young balladeer of Lakhimpur Kheri, in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, who became a star in the local kavi sammelans (poetry sessions), to have a torrid and ill-fated affair with notorious politician Amarmani Tripathi? Madhumita was 21, Tripathi was 45, married, a father, and had 30 criminal cases pending against him. But she was independent, unrestrained—a child prodigy who was invited all over to take part in sammelans, and was the sole earner in her family.

Was it a similar recklessness that spurred Bhanwari Devi, the 36-year-old auxiliary nurse and midwife from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, to conspire with her husband and associates to blackmail their political benefactor, former Congress minister Mahipal Maderna, with an incriminating sex CD? Bhanwari went missing for almost a year before her remains were found in a deserted canal. Maderna is in jail for conspiring to kill her. What was the impulse that swept off Kavita Rani, a 29-year-old lecturer at the Chaudhary Charan Singh University in Meerut, to become an influential broker because of her alleged links with powerful politicians? She was found dead after missing for eight months. Or the terror that kept pulling the latest victim, Geetika Sharma, a 23-year-old former airhostess with MDLR Airlines, who committed suicide in Delhi last week? She named her chairman Gopal Kanda, whose position as Haryana’s MoS for home affairs affords him a direct say over the state’s police, and his harassment as the reason for taking her own life. The disgraced Kanda is on the run.

Clearly, what gave these girls their chutzpah was that women’s lib has redefined what it means to be a woman—you can be bold, adventurous, empowered and enjoy it. And you don’t have to end up dead. They may have been both progressive and retrogressive given their circumstances, but they were self-made, smart, sexual and ambitious go-getters. Some enjoyed the good life, or were captivated by the thrill of political power, or simply rode the wave of sexual consent and liberation. They could have been victors living their lives, but they became victims in the battle of the sexes.

For, herein lies the rub—in the mating game of cohabitation and passion, while the women have inherited a lust for independence, the men have remained primeval, mean-spirited and illiberal. While they were incurably attracted to the vivacious and sprightly young women, who brought with them a vitality and spunk they would never have dared look for in their own homes, the men were swift and ruthless to snuff it out when it became inconvenient.

In fact, if one had to put the story on its head, the gender debate surely beats the hell out of men. Obviously, we are not referring to the criminals above, but where are the men in the gender story? While women have successfully fought and won several triumphs in the workplace, inheritance rights, birth control choices, gender roles, etc for whatever it’s worth, where do the men fit in? Has redefining masculinity even begun in public discourse? Is masculinity and manliness rooted in biology or in the demands of cultural machismo stereotyping?

Gender programming has left the poor blokes holding on to a violent, patriarchal world, stuck with performance anxiety, feudal fornication and misguided aggression. Is being tough the only weapon they have? Isn’t it time to boot out violence to preserve patriarchy?

If you pushed the idea further, it’s funny, but if the first wave of feminism saw women trying to be like men, it seems the first wave of manism is making men wanting to be like women. So, those who want to smash out of the machismo rage now preen as the caring, gentle, tender metrosexual man; or he is the buffed, coiffed, glossy six-pack man; he can be a bromancer (close nonsexual friendship between men) and he loves his Brotox (botox for the guys). So, men now want to touch their inner Barbies.

Is the manist movement ready to kick off? Are men ready to rethink their ideals of masculinity and manhood? What do women want from men? Where are the manists? It’s time the men have their Virility Monologues.

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