Women's most important equation

Updated: Jul 24, 2020, 05:55 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Misogyny = Joylessness is a formula I learned as a feminist, despite countless other lessons that inhibit us from having a sense of self

A still from Indian Matchmaking. PIC/youtube
A still from Indian Matchmaking. PIC/youtube

RodMy partner and I were horrified to watch the trailer of the trending Netflix series, Indian Matchmaking. We thought we'd sense the show's vibe and then decide if we wanted to invest our energy in hate-watching it. He was sure he couldn't. It was triggering for him to participate in viewing people being rated on purely superficial criteria. I was a little unsure.

The literature student in me that was trained to read popular culture was intrigued by this latest trash TV offering. From the trailer it seemed, there was much to unpack. But then, I argued, would the show tell me anything I didn't already know about the Indian arranged-marriage market?

Even as a kid, I had already learned from cursory glimpses of matrimonial classifieds that I was no one's notion of an eligible bride. Not being fair-skinned immediately disqualified me from being considered a worthy candidate. I was not unhappy about being excluded from this patriarchal exercise. But I wouldn't say that I didn't internalise that the onus, in any potential partnership, would be on me to fit into some idealised notion of a partner.

Part of my conditioning to perform as a woman was in my being successfully programmed to be flexible, patient, and deceptive. Married women were always telling me how it was imperative that you learn how to 'trick' men into believing they are smarter. I learned that one of the most significant wifely duties involved zealously upholding the myth of masculinity by constantly pandering to the fragility of the entitled male ego.

In other words, I learned that it was wisest not to inculcate too much of a sense of self. I learned that in any relationship dynamic, men were more entitled to power, because they could 'leave you' at will, and if you were to meet that fate, you would be the one blamed for the failure. You didn't love him enough, you didn't nurture him enough, you didn't give in, you didn't make him feel man enough.

I learned that one had to do whatever was in one's power to hold on to someone; that longevity in a relationship was a matter of pride. It signified one's ability to be yielding or compassionate.

In my late 20s, while I was content to participate in the happiness of my friends who had decided to bite the bullet and get hitched, I wouldn't say that I felt much envy.

In being doggedly single and unmarried well into my early 30s, I was sure I was participating in the same rebellion as many of my similarly aged peers. We were refusing to compromise. We were consciously refraining from falling prey to the lie we had been historically sold, that we are somehow incomplete in our committed singularity.

I was privileged to have parents who never forced me into an arranged situation, even if they did exert soft pressure on me to relinquish my independence. Most cajoling by relatives, too, assumed the nature of threats. Who would care for you when you're old? As if finding a partner and procreating was meant as insurance against loneliness.

"I do not understand that insidious joyless thing called misogyny," wrote Hélène Cixous in her essay, "Unmasked". Something changed in me when I began to decipher, with greater clarity, the nuanced connection between the two words, to the point where an equation was formed. Misogyny = Joylessness.

When once I spoke to a therapist friend about circumstances in a past long-term relationship that were unsettling, I happened to say something like, "If I could somehow contain my own desire to be desired, if I could be more nun-like, less wanting, I might see that I am in a viable relationship." "That would be the most misogynist thing you could possibly do," she responded. Everything changed that afternoon, when I truly listened to what she had to tell me, about how women, even feminists, are often unconscious about our internalised misogyny, the source of our joylessness.

Because, as women, we were taught to be resilient, we learned to accommodate emotional trauma; because, as children, we conflated love and abuse because the people who were most violent with us were people who allegedly loved us; it didn't occur to many of us that love can be an empowering life force. Because we were too busy ing flexible to really inculcate a sense of self, we never learned to assert our own boundaries, and in doing so, dictate the terms of our engagements with the world.

If, instead, there was a show that unambiguously championed Indian women's right to self-determination by clearly and concisely advocating how not to get trapped in false dichotomies of marriage versus career; motherhood versus single-hood, or that didn't valorise the category of wife or mother-in-law in relation to power, I would be the first to watch it. Until then, I've decided I'll give Indian Matchmaking a miss and return to the powerful storytelling of Broadchurch.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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