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.

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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 clich├ęs 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.