Rosalyn D'Mello: Better alone than subservient

May 05, 2017, 06:05 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

I could say my feminism often gets in the way of acting upon either love or lust, but it protects me from the insufficiencies of men

A still from the Jill Soloway show, Transparent. Pic/show's official page on Facebook
A still from the Jill Soloway show, Transparent. Pic/show's official page on Facebook

In the middle of purchasing the costliest tablets I've ever had to consume, thanks to the unwanted intramural fibroid that's creating havoc within my uterus, I found myself compelled to comment on the steepness of the price: Rs 1,500 per strip of 10 pills of 5mg of uripristal acetate, one a day for three months.

"Why is it that most medicines meant for women are so expensive?" I asked the chemist.

"Because women are expensive," he replied, thinking himself to be funny, not realising how he could come across as misogynist.

There's no real guarantee that this medication will shrink the fibroid and ease the trauma of menstruation, but it's the best bet, I've been told by my rather fabulous new gynaecologist, who addressed her prognosis with me in a very scientific manner, explaining and dialoguing with me about available options (all of which work up to around the same amount, including surgery), rather than treating me as a pre-pregnant, illiterate girl-child.

I'm taking a gamble, knowing that I'll have to take on extra work in order to pay for each strip. This tiny red-oxide coated pill has fewer side effects than the other options, and anything is better than the invasiveness of being operated upon. But the price still pinches, and the fibroid has made me more introspective of the relationship between the body and how it is used as the primary determinant of one's gender. Is being a woman essentially reducible to being born with a vagina and a reproductive system? Or is what Simone de Beauvoir said way back then - that one is not born a woman, rather, one becomes one - still relevant?

Of late, I've been immersing myself in a fair bit of queer theory, thanks to my recent reading list involving superb books such as Laurie Penny's 'Bitch Doctrine', as well as my newfound obsession with the Jill Soloway show, Transparent, about a Jewish patriarch, who, in his late sixties or early seventies, finally comes out to this family and the rest of the world as transgender.

I've become more attentive to all the many minority genders and exploited subgroups that feminism has to grow more accommodating of, bringing them into the fold as a collective that's intersected by race, gender, caste, and class, as we rage against the patriarchal, capitalist machine that must be held responsible and accountable for our continuing oppression. It's becoming important not to perceive the world exclusively through the binary of male and female, men and women, but to look beyond biology into what gender people choose to identify with, and to respect that choice and encourage its possibility.

As I embark on my "treatment", meticulously consuming 5mg a day of this new medication, essentially a selective progesterone receptor mo­d­ulator, I also find that in order to muster greater empathy for the greater causes of the feminist movement, I'm becoming short on reserves of patience as far as most men are concerned. My friend, Sharanya Mannivannan, author of the book, 'The High Priestess Never Marries', recently wrote a brilliant column about the pitfalls of feminist self-respect, how, if you refuse to play by the rules of heteronormative engagement, you are denied respect, just as women who do play by the rules are. The unobvious consequence is that as a single, successful, independent woman, you don't get laid as much as people think you do, because a greater sense of self-worth means you are able to easily detect red flags, or as Sharanya puts it, "you are more adept at identifying small-scale manipulations and refusing to react accordingly", which means the disrespect is "even more insidious, designed to ultimately convince you of your undesirability."

It is quite tragic that the men that the women I know, including myself, try to give their hearts to end up being incapable of honest reciprocation. If it were just a question of incompatibility, it would be easier to swallow, but often you are robbed of your sense of self-worth and are reduced to being seen as obsessive.

"I get very immersed when I work," someone I was crushing on recently offered as an excuse for his textual unavailability. "So do I. That's part of what being an artist is about," I said. "But I'm just a little tired of men not being able to reciprocate in any way because they think what they do is somehow more important than what I do, as if I do nothing, as if I'm just sitting around waiting to be attended to," I added, ending all possibility of future discourse.

I could say that my feminism often gets in the way of acting upon either love or lust, but it also protects me from the insufficiencies of the men in question. I would always choose being alone and happy than to have my needs be made subservient to another's, to someone I know I will soon resent.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to

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