On a recent trip to Madurai’s Meenakshi temple, I was walking in the precincts of the imposing hall of 1000 pillars with intersex activist Gopi Shankar Madurai, when he stopped at a beautiful sculpture with full breasts and a slender waist, an archer's bow resting on the shoulder, a moustache and beard. “Arjuni” he said as I marvelled at the intricate, unusual work of art. Here was a depiction of the fierce Pandava warrior in a female form. He's not to be confused with Brihannala, an identity Arjun assumed to spend a year in exile as a transgender dance teacher. Arjuni was perhaps borne out of the mind of a craftsman who took artistic liberties and moved away from a gendered representation of men and women in art, leaving behind a rare work that in some ways, challenged the male gaze.
Our acceptance of the male gaze is subconscious, an involuntary, default lens through which we view the world. All of history is male. The depiction of women’s bodies in ancient sculptures and murals and paintings, male. Even goddesses, depicted in their youthful splendour, full-bodied, fertile women, were cast through the male lens. I have often wondered whether this would have been different if women were the creators, would we have taken intellectual risks and artistic liberties to err on the side of inclusion, casting gracefully ageing goddesses, silver-haired, with bodies that were past their prime, but whose faces shone with wisdom and empathy. When women create content, there’s a definitive shift in thought, a democratising of the idea, freeing it from boxes. Gaining this lens requires time, and a deliberate breaking down and building anew of ideas and ideals. It demands you nurture your wild instincts and challenge the culturally sanctioned boundaries assigned to you.
For me, Women's Day is a reminder of the responsibility to pay it forward. If we have a voice and a vote today, it is thanks to our mothers and their moms, women who kept up the fight for a more equal world. What are we doing to close the gap? How are we encouraging the people around us, to challenge the male gaze? This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #balanceforbetter is a call to build a gender balanced world. It demands we speak out about discrimination in every sphere of life, call out sexism--at the workplace, in your relationship, among your friends or family. It demands you stand up with others who have called out their harassers, in public or privately, and lend your power to movements like #metoo that have opened up a space for women to speak out and share their experiences. Creating a gender-balanced world requires all of us, men and women, to question and confront ourselves.
This brings me to our all-women team of smart professionals, writers and a designer—a bunch of hardworking women who stand up for each other, make fierce arguments and gather around prawn biryani, dal khichri and whisky or gin with equal enthusiasm. We live this year’s theme for International Women’s Day—#BalanceforBetter—each day. During lunch hour, we have rapturous conversations about balancing work, other passions, the politics of the #MeToo movement and the subtle discrimination, soft-pedalled as parental/societal concern for our safety. If we are not discussing food or the newest restaurant in town or sharing nuances of our regional foods, we train our feminist lens on the male privilege in the industry, our collective exasperation with the sexism in restaurants where the woman is almost never handed the check (unless she's with a visibly younger man or child), or fitness stores where even the weights are pink! Scroll down to read what my teammates have to say on this International Women’s Day.
For you, dear readers, we have a clutch of stories to keep you engaged and entertained. Beyond our Bodies is about embracing our bodies, with its imperfections and flaws. All through history, women’s bodies have been claimed and cast in various roles, beauty ideals fixed at thin, dainty, fair, long luscious hair. We are all complicit in upholding it, what else would justify a booming beauty industry that is selling anti-ageing creams to 20 somethings? Can we reclaim our bodies, rewrite the rules of engagement, learn to love ourselves at our best and worst?
Every year around March 8, publications, television channels, newspapers begin a furious search to look for a new set of women achievers. Unique professions, breaking boundaries, survivors, fighters. Everyone is looking for a new set of achievers and last year’s stories are past their sell-by date. Call it the fetish for the untold, or better still, the wave of change that has sent women in all directions, boldly going where no person has gone before. In Breaking Boundaries: 6 trailblazing women achievers we have featured interesting women who have taken bold intellectual risks, weaving creativity, empathy, sustainability and innovation into their work, doing what they love while challenging the old order. That’s the other kind of balance for better we believe in!
Also read our interview with celebrity chef Sarah Todd and her journey to success. Bartending guru Alice Farquhar talks about the growing interest of Indian women in bartending.
Every day is a celebration. But that shouldn't stop you from indulging in a little celebration today.
Happy International Women's Day!
MEET THE TEAM
Sumita Bagchi: Respect the balance
From being the son to your parents to being the brother to your sister to wearing the pants in the house to let your partner pursue his dream to being the ‘man’ friend to your girl gang, and helping your gal squad when it needs the most, balancing the wo=man equation in every relationship and juggling the roles of being a daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, colleague, sister and a friend— in equal capacity in our everyday lives—is what #balanceforbetter is all about. Gender-bending and gender-defying— you are just a decision away from striking the right balance! After all, it’s a woman for the win!
Henna Achhpal: Girl = Boy
Dear men, time's up. We are in 2019 for crying out loud. It's high time you accept that you're not the only breadwinner and the woman in your life doesn't belong in the kitchen. It's not polite, anymore, to get threatened by a successful woman or the fact that some women might not, after all, need you at all. Get used to seeing us everywhere - in the conference room and the richest lists, in schools and universities, global administrations and public transport, in playgrounds and hiking mountains, but remember to keep that male gaze in check. You've dominated earth for way too many centuries. Now, it's time for wo-man because #BalanceIsBetter.
Sayoni Bhaduri: My life. My choices
I’ve been away from home since I was 17-years-old and it has been a journey of evolution ever since. I’ve met people who have been or still are very close to my heart; it is surprising how they can lead you on a path of internal struggle. A struggle to understand when a change is important because you need to step out of your comfort zone, and when it is clearly an expectation by those around. Thankfully, the choices thus far in my life have been mine and mine alone. And that is what #BalanceForBetter means to me—the ability to make my choices on my terms.
Annabelle D’Costa: Not without my sisters
I think that in achieving #BalanceForBetter, I’ve realised that our fight towards achieving this balance is stronger when we as women are able to accept, celebrate and support other women, irrespective of their sexual identities. We aren’t striving to achieve balance if we as women focus only on issues faced by straight and cisgender women. We must be equally committed to ending the prejudice and harassment that women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, and transgender face. I hate labels and tags, and look up to women for who they are, not for what they are. Despite being straight and cisgender, I will continue to support and advocate for my other sisters, so that those who are and who will become my friends, neighbours, coworkers and/or family members won't have to live in the fear of fighting alone.
Shraddha Varma: Balance begins at home
Despite the efforts my parents made to maintain equality at home, when it came to my brother, it didn't take long to realise the in-your-face bias. After multiple arguments (some really nasty ones), I came to realise that I needed a better way to communicate my feelings to them. So, I waited for a time when they were in a better frame of mind and expressed my honest feelings. Ever since, I've seen a change, and the resulting #BalanceforBetter at home is heartwarming.
Vartika Pahuja: Together we can
My mother has always supported my choices and that bolstered my confidence. When mothers support daughters, we learn to pay it forward by creating #balanceforbetter in every aspect of our lives.
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