The Real L word

20 05 2011

5 reasons why the reality TV show, the Real L word, gets on my nerves!

One – are there any women of colour in LA? Any blacks and browns? I don’t know since I have never been there but maybe someone can tell me how come not one of them were “real” L word people?

Two – what is this obsession with mothers? I mean, I know we all love our mothers, biological or not, but what’s the acute obsessiveness with them also being your best friend? I am not sure if that’s healthy! I mean, my mum is my mum and my best friend is my best friend – I don’t confuse the two!

Three – The Real L word couple planning a wedding and getting married were like “oh my god!” They woke up in the morning and got on to their identical matching macs and started planning the wedding? Every day?! Jesus. What on earth will they talk about and do once the wedding is over? There surely is more to their relationship than that! Well if there was, we sure didn’t see it. Oh and don’t forget the chandelier!

Four – does anybody have, like, a “real” job? I mean, yes, fashion and TV production are jobs but does any one work in more regular industries? Or regular hours? Or hours at all? Is anyone a teacher, a nurse, a social worker or something a little more regular than producers of LA fashion week! (“My biggest and largest production ever”, we were reminded over and over again!)  I mean the world is in recession and people are starving everywhere not to mention the hundreds of natural disasters that occur every year, and you are worried about what to wear? Jeez, just be glad you have clothes!

Five – what is the obsession with small rat-like dogs and where are the lesbian cats? Lesbians have cats, don’t they? But obviously not in LA! And who the f*** will let a dog lick the inside of your palette! Dogs don’t use toilet paper remember!

But yes I watched it all – just so I could rant on this blog. Hope the second season is better!

The conspiracy of status quo

28 09 2009

“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.”

Gloria Steinem

O well. We knew that. Most women – and especially south asian women – absorb the laws of status quo at our mothers’ knee. Interestingly, this education is neither classed nor dependent on income group or language or any other factor, excepting only our womanhood. How we deal with it, and to what degree we accept or attempt to reject it is another matter.

Maintaining the status quo literally means ‘to keep things the way they presently are’. In sri lanka this often seems to be the guiding principle in virtually every public or private activity. Fear of change (closely followed by ‘the protection of the fabric of society’, treading on whose heels comes of course – ‘what will people say’,) is what governs many important, potentially life-changing decisions in all our lives. It is the powerful voice of a conservative majority that celebrates conformity and stifles that dangerous activity: original thought. And by extension, the capacity for and drive towards great art, music and literature.

My question is: are we even aware of how much we have all embraced the status quo? If we were to dissect the subtle, unwritten laws by which we all live they would make a most miserable list and their number would be legion. These laws apply to all of us – men, women and children but sri lankan women carry a responsibility far greater. As the back of every bajaj constantly reminds us – we are everyone’s Mothers. And as such we are expected to relentlessly uphold the traditional virtues of chastity, purity and dignity while manifesting a goddess-like disdain for all things new, radical or different. So how do you rebel against anything when you carry a burden like that? How can we see what’s out there when our eyes are modestly on the ground?

Some random things that are frowned on:

Disinterest in cooking.

Disinterest in cleaning.

Pre-marital sex.

Dressing ‘immodestly’ (revealing your arms, legs, stomach or cleavage).

Short hair.

Not practicing your religion.

Smoking, drinking, doing drugs.


Being loud.

Being aggressive or confrontational.

‘Disobeying’ your mother, father, boyfriend, husband.

Not being resigned to things (or disregarding the principle of ‘what to do’).

Drawing attention to yourself.

Living alone.

Being single (or uninterested in marriage anytime after the age of 18).

Not having a vast wedding/reception/’homecoming’ (so everyone is quite clear

that you are actually married).

Not having children after marriage.

Having children without marriage.

Disinterest in childcare generally.


Questioning the status quo.

I could go on and on. But as someone who would rather slit my wrists than conform (to the point where my obstinacy has often worked against my own best interests), I often wish we could lighten up here. If only we could all stop being so terrified of the idea of change – of unraveling centuries of fossilized beliefs and behaviours that are accepted as the rule simply because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ (ie: the status quo). If only we could celebrate the individual who stands out rather than the one who successfully blends in; if we could create an environment where a different voice would be greeted with screams of joy, not quickly silenced, mocked or hounded into oblivion. Where original and liberal thinking would prevail and the status quo would no longer be the altar at which we would all be required to worship…

What does it mean to be a man?

11 08 2009

There are some dominant characteristics that constitute being a man in south Asia. Being physically strong and attractive, being the protector, the leader, the chief decision maker, being sexually successful and being heterosexual are just some of them. These definitions are commonly referred to as Masculinities. The plural form “masculinities” conveys that there are many definitions for being a man and that these can change over time and from place to place.

These dominant forms of masculinities are instilled in men from birth onwards and perpetuated by men and women, mothers and fathers, in schools and on the streets, throughout a mans life. Once instilled, men are required to constantly prove their manliness. Men are taught from an early age that to be a successful leader you must be ready to put up a fight. Adolescent boys for example think they are proving their manliness by engaging in risky behavior, like driving too fast and too rash, or drinking and driving, or proving them selves to their friends by going through with certain dares. Ragging in universities is a good example of this in Sri Lanka. Some men consider beating their wives an expression of their manliness. Many young men are initiated into sex by their friends. Some are forced to visit sex workers whether they like it or not and rarely refuse for fear they will be considered less of a man.

These aspects of masculinity are encouraged to prevail for a man to be a “real man” and are endorsed by key institutions, such as in business, politics, the military and in sports. Such institutions are structured and designed around these masculine roles making it extremely difficult for women to play a leadership role. We see this from the few number of women in parliament in Sri Lanka for example.

However, these behaviors have a cost to society. Ragging for example has lead to countless closures of our Universities and even to the death of some students, most notably S. Varapragash in 1997. Drunk driving and the resultant injuries and deaths from road related accidents amount to millions of rupees in losses. These are costs that can be easily avoided, lives that can be saved.

What if a man were to develop and take on characteristics that are not those of the dominant man, if he were to become for instance a secretary, or a kinder garden teacher, or a nurse, would that make him less of a man? At least as women we are given the choice today to either wear pants or skirts, to work and pursue a career or to stay home and bear children or both. A young girl can be a tomboy and get away with it, but a boy who is sissy is called a “sothiya” a “ponnaya”, laughed at and taunted. A man who is not naturally aggressive or competitive is forced to pretend to be or face scorn. In fact, “feminized men” are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Studies in our neighboring countries India and Bangladesh show that feminized men are more likely to be abused as adolescents, most often by members of their own family. They are also more likely to harm themselves and commit suicide than their peers. It seems like the worst insult one man can hurl at another is the accusation that a man is like a woman.

One reason for this is that women are less valued than men in our society. We know from the rates of female infanticide across the region that this is true. The girl child is seen more as a burden and liability to the family. When compared to boys, girls are less valued hence less educated, less fed, given less opportunities, confined and treated as less than human in many instances. Our culture and the rituals associated with it celebrate the male child, while a daughter’s arrival is not half as jubilant.

Certain jobs associated with caring and rearing, are considered too demeaning for men to do, almost unclean and dirty.

But no man can possibly live up to the dominant characteristics of being a man all the time and still be human. As a society we expect too much from men. We expect them to be super human; men are looked down upon if they show emotion or if they cry, men are expected to do tough physical jobs, they must succeed at all costs, they are expected to be assertive, to know all about sex and how to perform in bed (in reality young boys get even less sex education that young girls[1])  We place too much pressure on men. And if men cant live up to the pressures we place on them, they turn to other ways to vent their frustrations like drinking, violence, abuse and the like.

As a society we need to redefine what it means to be a man. This will not only allow men to develop deep and rich connections with others, including women and children but also with other men. These connections are what make life full and rewarding, but they require vulnerability. We need to allow men to explore their softer side without being ridiculed and tormented instead of narrowing their emotional range and depth. This will be good, not just for men, but for women too. By redefining what it means to be a man, there will be less violence against women and more harmony between the sexes.

[1] In a recent review of the Millennium Development Goal indicators for young people from 9 countries in Asia, no country reported more than 50percent level of sexual knowledge among boys with some countries reporting as low as 3percent. Redefining AIDS in Asia, 2008