Courage

More than half of what people call courage is a combination of an overlarge capacity for avoidance and a tendency to laugh at inappropriate moments. The rest of it is the ability to look the things you cannot avoid in the face, and cry for what you cannot laugh at.

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Rules are for breaking

“I just feel like breaking a rule today”

It was hard to resist that smile, and harder to stay in the present when I heard those words from the five-year old in front of me. She didn’t look like her father at all, but his words were just as irresistible in her mouth. As I scooped ice-cream into a bowl for her (before dinner, the little monkey!), I found myself humming.

Aaj mausam bada beimaan hai…

***

Was that what had been playing in the background when he’d first said it? It might have been. We’d just finished dinner, and he’d wanted to get a smoke. He’d quit the previous month, but was feeling rebellious. “Why should I live my life by some arbitrary set of rules?” “You made this rule yourself, didn’t you?” “Well, yes… but I just feel like breaking a rule today”, he’d smiled. I’d been looking at him over a forkful of something chocolate, and for the first time, I felt something go flip-flop inside me.

I’d thought I was too old for flip-floppy romance, and anyway, it was one of my rules not to look for romance in my friendships.

He didn’t break his rule that day – I broke mine.

***

The second time, the rule hadn’t been as simple as no-dessert-before-dinner.

He’d just heard about his schol, and he’d called me at work to tell me. “We’re celebrating”, he’d said. “And I’m cooking. When will you be home?” He’d made potatoes and pappucharu – the first meal I’d taught him to cook. We’d opened a bottle of wine, and cuddled on the couch, and I’d heard him murmur it. “I just feel like breaking a rule today…”

We did, then. And struggled through the long-distance pregnancy that gave us this five year old rule-breaker, who’s sitting here calmly eating her ice-cream.

***

We have a rule about writing about each other, too. But I just feel like breaking a rule today…

Of Myths

Some time ago, I blogged about Naomi Wolf’s essay, The Porn Myth, and I asked what was wrong with Wolf’s statements about Dworkin. Of course, Andrea Dworkin has been one of the most controversial feminist philosophers ever, and Naomi Wolf is herself a very popular and well-respected feminist, so let me caveat this post:

 

What one feminist says is not representative of what the ‘feminist standpoint’ on a particular issue is. In fact on most issues, there is no one feminist standpoint. This acceptance of the existence of multiple feminist points of view is one of the reasons I am proud to be a feminist. Porn, in particular, is one of the issues on which feminists do not agree. In fact, feminists may consider porn anything from oppressive to liberating. Of course, the response also depends on what you call ‘porn’.

 

That said, let me get down to Wolf’s essay. It’s called “The Porn Myth”, and revolves around how the ‘pornographisation’ of the world has affected sexual relationships. The myth she says she’s debunking is Andrea Dworkin’s ‘warning’ that

 

“if we did not limit pornography…before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility—most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.” Wolf says Dworkin was “right about the warning, wrong about the outcome”.

Wolf ‘agrees’ that young men and women are learning about sex, drawing their expectations of sex, from porn. However, she says,

“the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.””

Somehow, the essay didn’t ring true. I think it’s a misreading of Dworkin to say that she believed that the wide availability of pornography would lead to rape. Wolf implies that Dworkin said (i) that men are ‘raving beasts’ when they commit rape, or (ii) that rape is a product of the ‘male libido’. I think Dworkin would consider either statement sheer rot.

 

Dworkin has drawn parallels between pornography and rape, between pornography and prostitution. She didn’t suggest that pornography turns men on. She said pornography happens to women, in the same manner that all violence against women does. When she wrote of causes, she talked about how dehumanizing women is part of how boys become men. And how this dehumanization is part of the process of oppression, the process that includes pornography and rape and other sexualized violence against women.

 

On the other hand, Wolf’s essay is all about men. How does porn affect men? Is it making them (and of course women too) lonely? Is it turning them into ‘raving beasts’? Is it making sex unexciting for them? Of course it’s about women too – young women are worried about “compet[ing] with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification” in their attempts to satisfy (guess who?) men!

 

Wolf is not talking about right and wrong here, but merely about what internet porn has done to sexual relationships. She says that

“The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking.”

 

On the other hand, here’s Dworkin on why pornography matters to feminists:

 pornography gives us no future; pornography robs us of hope as well as dignity; pornography further lessens our human value in the society at large and our human potential in fact; pornography forbids sexual self-determination to women and to children; pornography uses us up and throws us away; pornography annihilates our chance for freedom.

Which, then, is the myth?

 

A trip to the other side of nowhere

To get there, we take a national highway to Sonipat and drive through its narrow, crowded markets. Coming out of there, we take the ‘main road’ to Gohana and then turn off into a road-cum-dirt track-cum-paved path, to reach our destination. When the main road is blocked, we take a diversion through three small villages, till we can see the main road again.

The tarmac on these roads hides under layers of dust and bullcrap, turning itself a dull grey-brown in its attempts to blend into its surroundings. It doesn’t succeed, though – the dominant colour in this landscape is green. The shiny bright green of well-watered fields, the yellow-green of ripening corn, the deep black-green of clusters of jamun trees. We turn a corner and cross a culvert over a tank full of blue-gray-brown water, but here the road is just dust.

I look up when I hear our horn tooted impatiently the bullock cart in front of us with its load of a black bicycle lying on top of a few armfuls of hay. It maneouvres out of the way, and we pass it slowly, taking care not to get stuck in the ditches that separate the road from the fields.  There’s a motorcycle on the other side of this ditch, a bright red Rajdoot. A man stands on it, trying to get a footing in the large tree under which it stands.

As if in counterpoint, a group of brightly coloured polyester dupatta covered heads appear in the middle of the next field. An old lady stares at us from her charpai in the porch of the largest pukka house in the village. We slow down to pass a Maruti 800 on the narrow road; the driver, lips pursed in concentration, lifts her ghungated head and smiles at me.

Worldviews need relocation, sometimes.

Current MIAP (Most Irksome Aspect of the Patriarchy): that it is beyond the bounds of our collective imagination that a woman and a man who calls, or has at any time called, her ‘ma’am’, may be romantically involved.

I don’t know why

this kind of thing continues to shock me.

I mean, we women have been responsible for how men behave for ever and ever and ever. Every right we have has been and continues to be restricted on the grounds of how our exercise of it is likely to affect men.

So why does it continue to shock me?

For my tax students

This.

the committee feels that taxing employers based on the type and number of manpower they use has a good rationale and should be considered seriously for implementation

Critique (teehee!). The report is here. You might want to note the date.