Dress to Oppress – Strip the Walls Bare

 

Today, we unravel the threads of time and tradition, and weave a new norm.

The dilemma of deciding what to wear is universal. But in an age where gender and sex are spectrums rather than definite lines, we must re-examine the stereotypes (‘tom-boy’, ‘slutty’, ‘sanskari’) we have woven with respect to the clothing choices of those around us. Furthermore, questions like “Who wears the pants in your relationship?” only deepen the scars of prejudice, and misguided notions of masculinity and/or power. Such erroneous judgments continue in assigning gender and/or sex to colours. While in the early 20th century, the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, mentioned that “pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”, by the 1940s, the tide had turned altogether. However, regardless of this timeline, an earnest plea to the reader would be to leave the rainbow alone.

Then, there are those who advocate ideals of equality and freedom of choice, and admonish men wearing dresses (read Jaden Smith at prom), all in the same breath. Say, if a woman wore a tuxedo to her wedding, one would witness all dainty facades of acceptance and support flying off the shelves. Admittedly, open-mindedness is easier in theory than in practice, and hypocrisy a smoother path to traverse than honesty. The question is- are you willing to take the road less travelled?

Further, dear reader, recall the stunning, overexposed shots of testosterone-fuelled, muscled men, armed with spears and shields, skin slick with sweat, clad in plumed helmets and fustanellas (a traditional Greek skirt) in Zack Snyder’s dramatic fictionalised retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae within the Persian Wars. Fixated as you may be on the seeming juxtaposition in the above description, of brave men wearing skirts, I shall clarify, that I speak of the box office success, ‘300’.

Moreover, consider the Scottish, who, in donning the kilt, were concerned with convenience and comfort for their male warriors and employed several practical uses of the garment- apart from shielding one’s body from nature and clothing one’s frame. The kilt could serve as a camping blanket, and was worn over a full-sleeved garment stopping below the waist (léine); loose-fitting, it enabled the wearer to make distant, long marches with agility and to wade through rivers. The upper half could be worn as a cloak over the shoulder, or brought up over the head for protection against the weather. Now, as queer (in more ways than one) as it may seem for some, to witness warriors donning an article of clothing reserved for the ‘weaker’ sex, when you come to think of it, it may be wiser and more comfortable for males to don skirts and females to wear pants, for obvious anatomical reasons.

Having said that, one should be free to clothe themselves as they see fit, regardless of the anatomy of their body. This free will is embodied in Megan Fox’s parenting style, whereby she abstains from enforcing stereotypical dress-codes for her children; in conversation with Jimmy Kimmel, she mentioned how her son, Noah, likes to wear dresses sometimes. Parents all over the world should take notes from the Transformers star, who said, “…there are no rules- you can be whatever you want to be in my house!” Moreover, skirts have made their way into men’s fashion through celebrities; Jared Leto, David Beckham, David Bowie, Jaden Smith, Kanye West and Vin Diesel have all worn skirts proudly.

Why, though, must we view these developments as achievements to be proud of, rather than commonplace occurrences that are treated with normalcy? I suppose we have, indeed, come full circle- where once, Luisa Capetillo and Katherine Hepburn went against the tide and donned trousers, the garment of revolt (the former went to jail for the supposed ‘crime’, though charges were dropped later), the dawn of the twenty first century brings with it the campaign for men to freely wear ‘feminine’ clothes. This is baffling, juxtaposed with the fact that cultures across the world started out with simple, flowy, dress-like garments meant for both the sexes – from the Roman toga, to the Indian lungi, and the Japanese kimono (to name but a few) – which were differentiated and altered into gender-specific clothes. Having said that, the response to the present hue and cry for gender-neutral clothing has not been met satisfactorily; despite the promise of equality, the unisex garment has essentially been of a ‘masculine’ style. Needless to say, we have miles to go in this area.

But clothes aren’t where it all ends; cosmetics form an integral component of fashion trends and the way one wears them (or doesn’t, depending on one’s preferences) reflects a person’s projection of themselves as much as their clothes do. Men have found their footing in the cosmetics industry, debunking the myth that makeup can’t be ‘macho’. This comes amid a larger investigation into traditional gender boundaries in fashion and beauty, alongside the growth of internet-famous beauty fanatics who have built followings via social media. Take, for instance CoverGirl’s latest face, James Charles, 17, a high school senior from Bethlehem, N.Y., with nearly 650,000 followers on Instagram and over 90,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. Following suit, Maybelline unveiled their first ever male model, Manny Gutierrez, the 25-year-old “beauty boy”, with a whopping 3 million followers on Instagram and 2.1 million YouTube subscribers.

And then there is the eventful history of high-heels. From Medieval Persia to Carrie Bradshaw, the elevated shoe has come a long way. Initially donned by Persian noblemen as riding shoes, the heel enabled a steadier stance so that the rider could shoot his arrow more effectively while standing up in the stirrups. European royals took notice when Persian monarch, Shah Abbas went to tour European courts around the 1500s. And so the Persian style shoes were adopted by the aristocracy who felt it lent their demeanor a masculine edge, until it was eventually taken over by women.

Cut to the present, where more men are adopting the style originally meant for them, dispelling invisible boundaries and gender norms. In 2014, Yanis Marshall auditioned for the talent show Britain’s Got Talent; the part French, part British dancer combined his passion for dance and his undying love for high heels, and along with his two friends Arnaud and Mehdi, won the hearts of everyone who was watching. Sure-footed (in 6-inch heels, no less) and sassy as can be, the trio stunned the crowd and received nothing but adoration and respect from the judges, with their up-beat and bold moves on numbers by the Spice Girls and Beyoncé, among others. When asked why he dances in high heels, Yanis replied with the same answer he has always uttered, i.e.- “Why not?”

And truly, that is a question we must all ask ourselves. Why can’t men wear high heels? Why must make-up be withheld from the masculine? Why should women worry about being looked down upon for wearing a tuxedo instead of a dress? Can the walls we see around us be crossed and broken? More importantly, who built them to begin with? In part, we all are culprits, and these walls stand testament to our crime. Every naysayer has placed a brick and a dollop of mortar. It seemed a small contribution at the time- but then, no individual water drop holds itself responsible for the flood.

And while, as a general rule, things are easier to break than build- these walls are standing exceptions. We must all resolve to make a small indent, to chisel away yet another bit of prejudice, and to bury away our notions, in order to break the walls that separate us from each other, and ourselves. For, there are those amongst us who do not identify as either male or female- everything is not, after all, simply black or white. But this human tendency, an obsession almost, to put things into neat, tiny little boxes, has imprisoned some of our own; the breaking of these walls may be the first step for some of us to see ourselves in the clear light of day and do justice to who we truly are.

After all, walls are only so good as long as they protect and support us. But when they begin separating us from reality, and each other, it’s time to start considering cutting a few doors into them. And even if we don’t find the courage to cross those doors immediately, at least we’d have let in a bit of light from the other side.

– Divas Kindra

Discernment of a Being

Humans are recognizable irrational beings. The majority instantaneously accepts that they are, but there are some who undeniably prefer to find consolation in ideas which they believe could potentially fluctuate their unconscious craze through the help of their innermost intellectual capacity. The latter could not accept that we are irrational and disoriented, but in some cases we have to. Flawed is flawed.

We have to balance the imbalance at some point of time. Imperfections must be embraced and treated as our own, because that’s what we are and sometimes this is what we have, the imperfect side of us. No matter how we strive for perfection, there are cases where we have to lower our flags to half mast in order to pay respect to oneself and to others. To share grievance and sorrow, jubilance and sheer comfort, solace and fortress. And again, this is what we are and what we have, our flaws. Either it unites us or break us, either we choose frail over might.

But as I have said, I’d rather choose weakness to earnestly improve my might and the might I craft shall eradicate my weakness. But I must say, this is a never ending cycle, just like how you breathe, how I breathe, how we humans breathe. We breathe imperfection. We speak imperfection. We live imperfection.

  • Eden Roc B. Ramos

Biting the Dust

A dim light. The desk, cluttered and piled with books, Ayn Rand, PG Wodehouse, JD Salinger, a little humour, a little knowledge, a little motivation and a little courage. The thoughts of the days past, playing in her head like a movie, a sense of dread. The pen begins to move of its own volition, ranting and rambling, the hopeful adolescent begins her descent.

Dear Ideal Self,

You seem to love writing letters and I guess that’s an extension of our mind. Unfortunately you and I at this moment are poles apart, but don’t worry, someday, we shall meet. I always wondered what it would feel like to meet you? Would we be complete opposites or would we be reflections of each other? Like an Idea and Impression? would it be like sitting in a coffee shop with a cold caramel frappe and thinking about those moments where we almost met, where you and I were at different spatial and temporal dimensions but were thinking the same thing. Those moments when you and I could have quarrelled over some friend we favoured while being neutral or about our little world of fantasy, a little damsel in distress play. Maybe we could have argued about the knight in shining armour, would he be like what you wanted or what I expected?

So many what ifs! Its crazy how when I walk those empty streets thinking of nothing in particular I can hear your voice as if you’re right there by my side whispering to me, edging me on to do better, to make certain choices, but I’m sorry, I’m sorry to disappoint you, I’m sorry I’m not be more like you. I wish I was that strong, I wish I was that stable, but I’m not and I think that’s okay. I know you wish to be more independent and I’m holding you back but I can’t let go, I can’t let go of those moments you conjured up in my head, they made my drab day to day existence so much more happening. I sometimes wish you hadn’t, its making things a little difficult now.

Remember that time, when we met for a few brief moments? I wish I’d gotten to know you better, things might have been different, my boundaries might have been different. I clearly remember when you and I were in consensus about reading more and spending time with my friends as well as my self. My self? What self, what do I mean when I say something like that? Is it what I am, is it what I want to be, Can I even try to fathom a concept so complex?  I’m sorry that I didn’t do that, I was so scared of losing sight of the so called important stuff that I let a lot of things slip away. I know we had decided to keep these things safe and sound, but I was so scared of taking chances that I let go. I put up walls and I’m so sure you wouldn’t do that. You’re like a fire, raging and I unfortunately am like the effects of that, hurt, helpless and destructive. But no more.

Conformity, I know you won’t be bothered by it, you’re strong remember? I might need the acceptance, the validation. You’ll manage on your own, I may not. I am so sorry I can’t be more like you. I wish things were different, I wish my choices were different, but I think I’ve made a choice.

I think I’ve been waiting too long to meet you, now I’m shifting closer to understanding you, I’m making my own observations, I’m taking those chances, I’m making those changes. I may take the wrong decisions but I need to make my own. Who knows I might even surprise you. Though I think you already know, you already are that person. See you soon. Another time, maybe another life.

Yours in Anticipation,

The Real Self.

She looked around that room, its white washed walls, the fan slowly moving in circles, almost stationary, the smell of wet earth outside her window, the smell of steam inside the room, the blinding colour of the blankness of everything, the shrill and overpowering voices, the dark green of the bottles that lay there, the smell of smoke in her hair, the sound of a million silent expectations, a buzzing fly almost like those whispers when she walked outside her house, those very soft nagging whispers that judged her for being different, for being vocal for being an individual. How was she to survive in this society? How was she to bring two opposing halves together? How was she to pacify her soul? Her integrity?

The answer existed in front of her, or did it? The noose hung loose, white- merging with the walls that cloistered upon her, round- like the circles of society that she was forced into, beautiful- like the contradiction she was. Right in front of her eyes. Acceptance came at a cost. Conformity was the price.

Slowly she slipped it around her, kicked the pedestal on which they placed her and then like a mixture of colours, it was Black.

Suffocated by conflicting thought. Smothered by society. Scared of being Alone. Scarred by Conformity. Another ‘Individual’ bites the dust.

– Yashasvini Kumari

I (?)

The clock goes tick tock tick tock
Trying to master it?
And, it will rush past
Striving to clinch it in your fist
And it slips so fast
The turn goes blame sham blame sham
Extremist shamming moderates
Minority blaming the government plan
Isn’t it just turn of events, hinges of cults
The graph goes high-low to low-high
Happiness reaches the top nib
And, suffering the lowest tip
Longing for the highest point
Didn’t Buddha say “pain is the only permanence”
Aren’t we bound with contradictions?
Aiming to overpower our limitations
Don’t we belittle our counterpart?
Grabbing the joy it brings to your heart
The god of small things
That is where we are struck, isn’t it aching?
Never thought I would witness a night like this
Beneath the tree swinging with the wind
Knowing and discovering myself
Thinking of the world in which I want to dwell
Leaving inhibitions ashore
I saw my reflection once more
This time I discovered myself
I am the one who will take the road less travelled
I am the one who will make the world dwell with me
I am the one who will define what it means for a woman to be free
Ahead lies the juncture of roads
But do I still know where I want to go?

– Sabhyata Vedant

Am I but a Tragic Figure of Destiny?

I sit in Class.
The Professor talks on,
The Students argue on some Inconsequential Matter.

They talk of Symmetry.
They talk of Quantum of Punishment,
Of Quantum Of Justice.
They talk of Sophistry.

They reduce Culture to Nothingness.
They reduce My Identity to Culture.
They reduce My Identity to Nothingness.
(Syllogistic Logic??)

They term this Adaptation.
They describe Adaptation as Growth due to Change.
They believe Change occurs due to Destiny.
Due to Strife.
(Cosmic Cycle or some such thing)

I sit in Class,
The windows once so large, now diminishing in size
The walls closing in on me.

My thoughts running about in complete anarchy,
My solid spherical Universe changing into a bell jar.

My fear of mathematics manifesting around me as things,
Oh! How I wish Indians hadn’t known Pythagoras,
The heat, stifling, as if coming straight from some everlasting Heraclitean fire.

I am pulled taut as a string of the lyre,
My strings lay determined by another cause,
I can feel all the control slipping from me,
I can feel destiny trying to run its own course.

I understand nothing. I know Nothing.
Yet that is knowledge. Can I know and not know at the same time?
What am I? Am I merely an effect of a supreme cause?

Am I But A Tragic Figure Of Destiny ?

– Yashasvini Kumari

Women in Mahabharata

–A review of Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee’s book ‘The Palace of Illusions’–

‘Everything is created and destroyed by women’–a popular proverb pointing to the instances in history where a woman’s actions have been responsible for the fall or rise of the biggest of races. But we seldom get to know how the women characters actually felt. Were they merely pawns in the hands of men or did they assert their will to change destiny? ‘The Palace of Illusions’ is a journey in the quest to unravel the answer. It is an intriguing and thoroughly absorbing account of ‘Mahabharata’ by Draupadi.

‘Wait for a man to avenge your honour, and you will wait forever’- these words uttered by Shikhandi reveal that the book is not an ode to Draupadi alone. Rather, it tells the story of women living in a world dominated by men and of the hardships they face. They were made to live under an illusion, where even the marital alliances often were nothing but ways to maintain political peace and order.

A strong-willed rebel and a feminist of her era, Draupadi, the protagonist and narrator, is weighed down by her rage and vengeance. She has always been considered as the impetus for the Mahabharata that massacred mankind, and is called a kritya. But she was called a kritya for what? For always being hushed because she was a girl? For being vengeful for the misery she suffered? Chitra Banerjee challenges this notion in her book, bringing to light aspects of the tale that have never been considered before – a woman’s emotions, the dynamics of her various relationships and the roles she plays in realizing the inevitable fate of thousands of people. What’s striking about the author’s approach is the concept that Draupadi, as the central character, brings to light a radical view of gender consciousness in the understanding of the mythology. As the book progresses, Draupadi’s many traits surface and the most powerful, enigmatic woman of the great epic Mahabharata, appears as an ordinary woman with her own share of imperfections and shortcomings. The fact that the novel actually revolves around a character so distressed, is an ode to Draupadi’s untold endurance and audacity.

The true purpose of the book, it seems, is to make the readers think about How often we question the indifferent ethic towards women through our epic? Draupadi’s vengeance for her humiliation has been regarded as the impetus for the war, but aren’t Yudhishthira and other characters equally, if not more, to blame? Yudhishthira as a husband staked her, Duryodhana and Dussashana being brother-in-laws humiliated her, and Bhima was the one who retaliated and took the vow to kill his cousins. They all are the doers, so why and how can the responsibility then be Draupadi’s supposed thirst for vengeance? Draupadi’s retaliation deposes her from being an ideal character, but the question that arises here is: why are the mannerisms of the rulers, kings, Pandavas and Kauravas never questioned in Mahabharata? Many questions like these serve as the ground to analyse the underlying theme of feminism.

The story is interwoven with the remarkable sagacity of other women in exercise of their power and leadership. Kunti managed to raise her sons singlehandedly and keeps them loyal to each other.  Kunti is one of the characters who had to sacrifice a lot. She had to give up her first born, Karna, because she did not want to bring shame to her family; she had to watch him being killed by his own younger brother when he was in his most helpless state. Gandhari, mother of Kauravas, repeatedly exhorted her sons to follow dharma and make peace with the Pandavas when her husband kindled in them a feeling of vengeance and hatred. Hidimba, a rather unacknowledged heroine of the epic, displayed extreme courage and loyalty. She was never given the respect and place a daughter in law deserves. She was abandoned after a son was born to her. Her son was also not honored like a prince but was only used as cannon fodder to fight and die.  These women proved that the truly powerful do not cling to power.

Their unassailable belief in themselves and their power as women—even though shaken many times in the story—is re-enforcing for each one of us today.

– Malvika Verma 

Lack of Individuality

Everybody belongs to everybody.
When the individual feels community reels.

Phrases such as this are a common occurrence Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, Brave New World. Often believed to be a prophetic piece of work, the book attempts to illustrate the vulgarities of a conformist totalitarian society based on scientific principles. This Huxley does through the character of the civilians of his New World and the price they had to pay. Their collective happiness comes at the cost of their freedom to feel, freedom of identity, freedom to know and create. The world that Huxley has fashioned is one of castes, ubiquitous sexuality, mindless drug use, and conditioning. Individualism, which is the very breath of life, is repressed in this world.

As man has progressed through the ages, there has been, essentially, one purpose. That purpose is to arrive at a Utopian society, where disease is nonexistent, and strife, anger, or sadness is unheard of. Only happiness exists. But when confronted with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, this purpose is questioned as this novel succeeds in describing how a Utopian society can be horrific.

One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. Nothing else speaks about the lack of identity in Brave New World more than this, the Bokanovsky process. If individuals have identical genes and are raised in the same environment  then there’s not really anything to distinguish one from another.

However, at the same time, the story makes the reader sit up and wonder if the people in the New World were no more forced than people are “forced” in our society. Yes there is childhood conditioning, but how is this different from schools, being raised by parents, television… everything is conditioning. Given that we are going to be conditioned no matter what, isn’t it better to be conditioned so that you’ll be happy? People took soma, and did what they did because they wished to feel good. They weren’t being forced. They did not want anything they could not have. They could have everything they wanted. I believe what this novel reveals is that humans are either conditioned, or genetically predisposed, to valuing their pain and suffering.

The story of Brave New World did not seem so much like fiction as it did a window to the future. “Men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” It is precisely because of this willingness of man to make the same mistake more than once, that the idea in this novel does not seem that far off base.

-Malvika Verma