2/3/08

privileges.

Caveat lector

I absolutely hate caveats. But I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and say that there are always exceptions to the norm and that not all men are like this. Ok, customary hedging done. Now on to the post.

-----X-----

Why do I always end up having these painfully absurd conversations with people, when I fully well know what the outcome is going to be?

I was having this little chat with a guy from one of my classes, and it started off pleasantly enough. While we did away with the customary exchanges of agreeable inanities, the conversation suddenly veered towards gaming. This to me is an incendiary topic, as I have been forced into a snippy, defensive corner while discussing the very same subject with other desi men and believe me, it is a wretched position to be in. To put it mildly.

So it didn’t surprise me in the least when, as if on autopilot, my face arranged itself into a suitably bland expression and my mental walls crashed into place. But in a rare act of magnanimity, I decided to not play deaf and actually listen to what he had to say. After all, wasn’t I jumping to conclusions? Isn’t life all about giving chances to people? How dare I give in to my formulaic assumptions!

Armed with such saccharinely noble, aphorismic thoughts I smiled and proceeded to ask him what his favorite games were, his console of choice and what have you, and I was quite thrilled that both of us liked the same games and that one of my two most favorite games in the whole wide world (Silent Hill 3, Okami) was his favorite game too! So as my mental walls start dissipating and my face begins acquiring a slow flush of comfort and pleasure at a positive discussion of an activity which happens to be close to my heart, he comes out with this.

Maybe Okami didn’t do so well because it involved a female protagonist. Right there, you have alienated one half of the population and I can see why guys are uncomfortable playing such a lead. How will they relate to her? I had the same problem as well, you know? Maybe if they had thrown in a god or two as a playable character, the game would have been much better and less alienating and it would have definitely made my playing experience more comfortable.

All I could do was gape at him, while my mask of blandness settled itself over my features and my mental walls were firmly in place again.

I mean, seriously? It is not fucking enough that almost all the games spouted out by the industry is targeted exclusively towards the male half of the populace (specifically the young/white/male demographic). Oh no, even if one goddamn game dares to try something marginally out of the ordinary like have a female lead who isn’t a cipher or a hysterical albeit useless damsel in distress who is nothing short of being a negligible burden on the game’s protagonist (male, of course), it immediately becomes hard to relate to. After all, the unsaid gaming manifesto dictates that even the ass kicking female characters should be hyper sexualized with gargantuan mammaries and outfits which would make a bikini look unquestionably dowdy and modest, thereby reducing them to unthreatening blobs of eye candy. How dare a game feature a female protagonist who embodies none of the above mentioned tired sexist clichés and effectively turns the gaming industry’s noxious stereotypes on its head by making its protagonist a goddess, and making her playable in the form of a white wolf! But, that leaves no room for reducing a powerful female to gravity defying tits and ass! But silly me, of course the game automatically becomes un-relatable and alienating if its female protagonist isn’t objectified or non-existent.

So basically, the subtext here is that it is entirely acceptable for a woman to feel at ease with a plethora of male protagonists and characters, nay it is expected, but the opposite does not hold water for men unless the female character is suitably reduced to something unthreatening or hyper-sexualized.

In short, hello male privilege.

It isn’t a particularly revolutionary observation that we live in a culture saturated in male privilege; on the contrary, it is so utterly omnipresent that it is tacitly rendered invisible. It only becomes somewhat discernible in its absence and such rare instances are actually perceived as being discriminatory towards men.

I.

When I mentioned how happy I was to find that some bars in Madras actually had women’s night specials, to my cousin, he sneered and essentially proceeded to tell me how skewed this idea was in favor of women. Of course it didn’t occur to him that as a man, he can go and get himself inebriated at any damn bar he pleases (without worrying about his safety or worse) from the swank establishments at star hotels to the decrepit toddy shops at the corner of the street at any given time and nobody would bat an eyelid or question his actions.

II.

A friend of mine decided to keep her family name after her marriage. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Leaving aside the pesky fact that in a patriarchal culture you go from bearing your father’s name to your husband’s, the reactions she elicited for professing an attachment to the name she grew up with, were telling. Family friends and relatives alike, tut-tutted about how difficult life for her future children would be and didn’t she care about her poor husband’s feelings? Wouldn’t her brash decision be disrespectful to him? Her husband’s male friends sniggered and made not so subtle jokes about ‘who wore the real pants in the marriage’ and feigned sympathy over what a hard time he must be having in handling his ‘willful’ wife.

III.

Extrapolating from the previous instance, another friend of mine (who kept her family name after marriage as well), chafed at being addressed as Mrs. So-in-so. She would insist upon people using her chosen name and the title Ms. This was nothing short of a sacrilege according to her husband’s brother, who argued with her constantly about her 'sexism' and her temerity in insisting that people address her with a neutral title and the name she was born with. To him, this was indelible proof of her 'misandry' and her 'hatred of men'.

IV.

I once had the misfortune of overhearing two men agree heartily on a singularly nonsensical argument-well, nonsensical to me anyway, that it was a crying shame that public transportation in India (specifically buses and the like) had special seats for women. What fanned their ire even more was the fact that the women could sit in the other seats too if they liked, but the men could not sit in the seats specifically reserved for women, at least in principle. This to them was discrimination at its worst. Of course it did not occur to either one of them as to why such discriminations were necessary. It did not occur to either one of them that maybe, just maybe, if the men stopped using public transportation as a free for all for their sexual proclivities or worse (leading to the women living with a perpetually gnawing fear for their safety), then just m-a-y-b-e, we don’t have to come up with such discriminations, like special seats for women on a bus. Now, fancy that!

In these examples, it is not hard to see that they all have one thread in common. A lack of male privilege, be it a step towards equality or just the creation of a safe space.

And in all of the above instances, this simple lack of male privilege is considered both discriminatory and exclusionary.

Make what you will of that.

Post Script: This is probably the longest I have gone without posting. Not that any of you particularly care (yay, if you do), but I will make an effort to update this space more regularly. Ideas and rants swimming around turbulently within my being need to be siphoned off somewhere, and that should hopefully push me towards updating more. God knows, I want to. I also want to extend a big thank you to those of you who asked about my whereabouts. So, thanks y'all.

Right. Now that my coma inducing thank-you speech is done, you can shake yourself out of your torpor and shoo off.

44 comments:

La vida Loca said...

Welllll the games are created by ppl who hold the MCP views....I don't expect anything better.
Good to see you back.

Broom said...

and she's back! yay!
And this is why I play the Wii. I can create a plethora of female Mii's & no man can ruin that.
:)

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ La vida loca: You are awesome. And I mean it.

@ Broom: I iz bak! And many thanks to you and la vida loca. You guys are teh fabulous. *hugs*

Oh ha ha, but what to do, I play the games which the boys play and I happen to enjoy it immensely. Biological anomaly, perhaps? ;)

Rohini said...

I am lucky to have a husband who doesn't feel threatened that I kept my name and even finds it funny when we get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. My-name.

Thanks goodness. Because changing my name or using Mrs. could have been potential deal-breakers...

Mahogany said...

You have to have to have to play The Longest Journey. It is a fantastic adventure game, and the protagonist April Ryan is my all-time-favorite game character. Even if you don't think you like adventure games, I urge you try this one.

As for the surname thing, would you believe my wife was forced to change from her maiden name 3 years after we got married, because some dickweed police constable in Bombay refused to give her a police clearance, without which she could not get a passport! And as a bonus, he asked me what sort of man I was to not make her change her name.

We spent nearly 3 months (!) trying to bypass him so she would not have to change her name, but once the bloody bureaucracy digs its heel in, there's no way you can win. In the end we were forced to admit defeat.

And if you really want something to rile you up about male privilege, have a gander at this article in the Hindustan Times

lekhni said...

Nice rant. I have also made every one of these arguments (except the one on gaming) in the past.

Yes, the default mode is one of male privilege, and many men have never even known any other perspective. I am not even sure whether these men alone are to blame. Why are more women not having these discussions? Why are there still so many women even in our generation who would be horrified that others don't change their name, or even that women play games?

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Rohini: Good for you. It always warms the cockles of my heart to see folks bucking the norm. :)

@ Mahogany: Erm, hello my favorite gaming genre happens to be action/adventure and The Longest Journey has been one of the best PC games I've played so far. I'm not a PC gamer, I prefer consoles, but this game had me riveted and April Ryan is glorious, I quite agree, but my heart belongs to Heather Mason of Silent Hill 3. :)

And omfg, are you serious? I hope that police constable rots in hell.

@ Lekhni: Hello and thanks! I hate to sound trite, but I have to flail my arms in the direction of institutionalized oppression and say that even if most women recognize male privilege, they're basically marinating in it, so they probably give in to resignation and the feeling of thats just how things are, you know? I guess its one thing to recognize privilege and its another thing altogether to try and buck a system which is fashioned to curtail you at every turn. What do you think?

And well, I wouldn't let the men off so easily, if I were you. :)

??! said...

Acquaintance of mine got married, and wanted to keep her maiden name while getting the "married" tick on her passport.

Cop who needed to give clearance refused to do so (what's with them anyway), putting forth the same reasons as given you and Mahogany. In the end, she stymied him by demanding to know where exactly in the Constitution it was written that she had to change her surname.

The flummoxed jackass had no chance but to give in.

I suggest this method for future reference to any interested.

Drunken Master said...

I cannot believe there aren't enough pimply adolescents not willing to escape reality and transmogrify into a super-hot goddess or whatever-else-have-you! Tomb Raider/Lara Croft was a massive success, so this guy's theory does not hold.

I also heard of a guy who switched his last name to his wifes, because (being Japanese), she had a "very ninja/samurai sounding name". Never met the fellow, but he is a good friend of a friend. Bet he'd be sliced 'n diced in some parts of the world for his actions.

I wonder if there are folks who though Ladies Night meant the club became the typical Indian "Dance Bar" and scooted over only to be quite disappointed.

Y said...

Hey Punkster

Good to have you back.

And great to hear you will be posting more often, too :-)

La vida Loca said...

Thank you ^hugs

Drunken Master said...

I just got done teaching and I noticed something that was very interesting in the context of this post: This one couple doubles up as lab partners and all the leg work is done by the girl while the guy just sits around. She lifted the heavy components and equipment around and he didn't even help out. I even tried to get him moving with some jibes since I felt a little bad for her, but it didn't work...

Silvara said...

Agree here Megha,

I decided to keep my maiden name as well as my married name, you know sorta hyphenated which according to some people isn't right because for one I have an Indian last name and my husband's one is an Anglicized one so it 'confuses' them...that annoys me and I often drop off my name when dealing with such people.

Lucky here there isn't so much red tape to cut through if you do want to keep your name, but it's the social stigma that still gets you every time.

Good to have you back!

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ ??!: Your suggestion is actually quite brilliant, especially because of its simplicity. I wonder though, some cops might be too pigheaded to see any sort of sense, but I guess your idea is definitely worth a try. I'll pass it on to some of my friends.

@ Drunken Master: Ha ha, I'm pretty sure my cousin knew what a 'Ladies Night' was. He was just being an entitled ass (sorry cousin, if you're reading this, I only mean it in the best possible way).

@ Y: Thank you, thank you! I definitely hope to post more often too. My posting frequency has become abysmal lately. Sigh.

@ La Vida Loca: No problem. :)

@ Silvara: Oh but of course. There are some people who'll blanch at the mere mention of a woman wanting to keep her maiden name (hyphenated or otherwise). At least you don't have to wade through bureaucratic muck for your choices, yes? And thanks, its good to be back. :D

lekhni said...

I am not letting the men off easily :) As I said, I do rant and rave about all the same things, and I am surrounded by men who are either enlightened or at least know which opinions not to profess ;)

My point was that I find it easier to rant at the men. When women profess those same opinions (what, you haven't changed your name?? or you want to go to a bar ??) that I am rendered speechless. You would think all women would join together to take up the cudgels.
But no, some of them have drunk the male privilege kool aid.

On changing names though, the one person I admire is Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar.

??! said...

I guess your idea is definitely worth a try
Happy to oblige. Might we worth reading up on the rules, though. And carrying a copy of the constitution, which they could thump in front of the cop.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Lekhni: Yes, currying up to the patriarchy is always easier in the short term, no? Its depressing though, because its a false security blanket.

@ ??!: And carrying a copy of the constitution, which they could thump in front of the cop.

ooo, thats even better! Makes it all showy and effective. :)

Falstaff said...

Wait, there are people who relate to characters in video games? In VIDEO GAMES? Where do you find these people?

And they choose video games based on their ability to relate to the character? Really? I didn't even know there were games where the lead character was a socially inept loser with a single digit IQ who spends all his time in front of a gaming console. Clearly, if people choose games that best reflect who they are I must be wrong.

chandni said...

hello!

its been the longest time ever!!!

I have been reading, or rather waiting for u to update and checking on the feed reader, but been too lazy to comment!

Just thought i'd drop in and say Hi!

Unmana said...

Hey, there, punkster. Missed you around. :-)

I am a bit surprised that the women mentioned above had so much trouble keeping their names, cause - guess what? I kept mine. And I got my passport after that and it wasn't any trouble. I'm more surprised at the friends and relatives though. You've got to ask if such rude/MCP/stupid (take your pick) friends are worth keeping. Catch anyone asking ME why I don't change my name - I definitely wouldn't consider them a "friend" any longer.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Falstaff: I know, eh? Who would have thought. Apparently I seem to have underestimated the girl/boy next door appeal of a beefy man-roid or a hypersexualized woman in a chain mail bikini and leather chaps. Oh well, you learn something new everyday.

@ Chandni: I've missed you! And hola to you too woman! How have you been?

@ Unmana: Unfortunately its not just their friends, its their family as well. Like my friend's husband's brother, you know? So it was a tad bit complicated for them. As for the friends/pricks I should ask her about that. I wonder if they're still around. I sure as hell wouldn't be calling them my friends. I totally agree with you on that.

nevermind said...

Some people, they just can't post regularly. Terrible.

This copper guff with the passports is news to me. Anyway, a friend has a double-barrelled name, which I assumed meant merely that he had a rotting country pile somewhere. Turns out that his family has had a tradition of partners adopting each other's surnames for 3 generations, so you have Mr and Ms. Ross-Hughes, for instance. Logical, though it now strikes me that things could get complicated when Miss Ross-Hughes hooks up with Mr. Tanaka, say. Must clarify.

nevermind said...

And it's liberating not to post, no?
Sod everybody's expectations, for a change, including your own. Not living up to expectations is so liberating. You don't have to publish this, of course. Though you should, if you want to. But now maybe you can't. Anyway, whatever, you get my drift.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Nevermind: What do you mean, maybe I cant? I just did. :D

nevermind said...

Touche:)

PR said...

Hi there... Am a regular reader, delurking for the first time... I had to undergo what you mentioned in II and III, but I still stuck to my decision... Its funny how little things like these get blown out of proportion(If it involves females)... Indian Marriage System is highly male-friendly... Sadly the Education/Upbringing/Blah blah doesn't really help!!...
Love your writing, btw! :)

Unmana said...

@PR: "Education/Upbringing/Blah blah doesn't really help!!..."

I don't agree. Education and upbringing are the only things that do help. I definitely see the difference between friends brought up in conservative/traditional and more liberal families. Though it definitely needs to be supplemented by a person's willngness to think for themselves.

Anonymous said...

get a life

Alice in Wonderland said...

I had always planned to use my maiden name even after marriage and fortunatly found a guy who has no qualms about having a wife who has her own identity.

Strangely enough I later learnt that the Nair community in Kerala that he belongs to does not change their surnames after marriage. Being matriarchal community the children carry the mother's sir name. So in effect my husband carries his mom's sir name and not his dad's.

But I still get questioned, though have not faced this kind of discrimination. My passport carries my maiden name. Let's see what happens when I send it for renewal in a few months.

Sarah said...

Hi! Arrived via the Feminist Carnival and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post... I will be subscribing to your feed! Thanks! :)

noni said...

Yehh….
Everybody on EARTH has their share of bite…….urge for individuality….marking own presence….this way or that way…..

But I think socio economical/historical changes can do the trick and will make this kind of things right on time……

By the way your writings reflect a volcano inside you…..and..….there is need of pushing things forward again and again too…..for acceptance of change on time….

bendinggender said...

ah these shut-up comments from men, which are said in the most 'normal' way. 'this game would have done better had it had a male protagonist'- said to a woman! the guy is either dumb or dumber or steeped in dumbness. patriarchal dumbness at that. we are the masters of the world, thats how its always been and shall always be dumbness.
someone called your post a 'rant'. hmm...i think it is just an astute observation of reality.
and a good read as usual.

on a nice note- some really enlightened couples i've met take both partners last names and hyphenate them as their common last name post marriage. i find that most cool. admirable.

Jim said...

I'm probably going to get mauled for this (yes, there are people who are scared of you! *shock*), but what about Metroid? Of course, it could be that most guys don't know that Samus is, in fact, female.

Plus, at least the Unreal franchise gives you the option of picking a female avatar, but then most guys pick one because they're more difficult to get a shot at.

Did I miss the point of the rest of your post? Uh, perhaps, but I don't care, I'M FREE!!! *runs around in underpants*

Unmana said...

Wanted to let you know that I've blogrolled you.

Deepti said...

Very long ! :)
Well, what can I say? It's a sexist world and quite easy to raise the ire of conservative narrow minded dull heads!!Hmm... the point you made about retaining our family names post marriage and ppl immediately labelling the woman as a radical what-not is quite true!!
But, did you notice the irony in a woman retaining her own name post her marriage? Her kid still gets to keep it's dad's name post!!!

mumbaigirl said...

No, its not simple to NOT change your name and insist on people calling you Ms. if they insist on using a title. It's a battle and an exhausting one.

venkee said...

wat do u intend to do by writing abt all of this....i mean i agree u r right...but do u write just cos u want to or does it really help bring the change..if yes good! if not/not sure...u sure must have a lot of time.....just curious!

mumbaigirl said...

Venkee, these are issues that matter, and we should make time to write about them even if we don't have it. People who have different opinions or think they don't matter might read this and realise why a lot of us feel the way we do, and therein lies the potential for change.

Mystique said...

hello-there.....
hmm....very long post, which induces very long comment.
here I go.

I. No comment. sometimes women would like to go drink without being chatted up.

II. yeah, I'm planning on doing that too....mainly because nothing goes with my first name (Shalaka) and I like my name as it is.....plus the whole 'family name dies with me...' haha...

III. urgh, I think keeping one's identity is one's choice...

IV. Not discrimination!! is good!!

raindrop said...

Male privilege? I saw a recent online 'debate' on whether women should be banned from night shifts at BPOs. A discouragingly large number of readers were of the opinion that women WOULD indeed be safer if they were banned from night shifts. Now, not only is this dangerously untrue, it also reeks of male privilege. As one male reader pointed out, it's not like anyone is suggesting keeping all the MEN confined to their homes at night so that women can be safe. Now that's actually a more sensible idea, where the potential offender is pre-emptively punished, and not the victim. What do you say, men?

This shit makes me want to scream. Seriously.

Krish Ashok said...

Damn. 40 comments, and no Q yet. Has he disappeared? Or did his commentary stoop to rediff.com levels?

I wrote about something similar a while back, well, sort of. It was restricted to the world of IT in India though -
http://krishashok.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/an-open-letter-from-a-male-project-manager-to-women-in-it/

Unmana said...

Do you do tags? Please say you do!

http://unmanaswords.blogspot.com/2008/02/crazy-8s.html

Neena said...

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Anita said...

isn't it silly that such a simple thing as keeping your original surname induces so much panic and anger? but in a world full of such mindless discrimination on a regular basis, I am impressed you still manage to retain the ability to observe these things and comment on them. Go girl!