New Female: That Red Strap

With Alanis Morissette's Hand in My Pocket plugged in the ears she walks carefree on the streets. Her long, uncombed hair roughly settles on the shoulder and in between this chaos a bright red bra strap naughtily peeps out
Hardnews Bureau

Behind every successful man there is a woman.Behind? Oh! Is that where she is?

Take a look around. She is all over the metro streets.  Like a flood, this time happily crossing the male society's danger mark. Because, this is a moment of life-affirmation. Also, it's women's empowerment crossing many morbid marks of entrenched patriarchy, including in the unstated, unconscious labyrinths of liberal, 'enlightened', educated, modern, postmodern, cosmo-urban careerist mindscape. Including the crass reduction of the female identity into a sex object, item girl, happily-married-to-a -wealthy-man syndrome. The new freedom crosses, almost eclectically, perhaps without expressed or felt feminism, the danger marks of the inherent and expressed male gaze, bias, prejudice, bad faith, oppressions, stereotypes, clichés, and gender injustice.

She is dark and she is fair. She is fat and she is thin. She is tall and she is short. But she is not the damned clichéd 'fair sex'. Or, fair game for abnormal male aberrations. There's something wrong in the way boys grow up out here, isn't it? Including in the so-called cities?

This does not deter her from coming out in the open. With Alanis Morissette's Hand in My Pocket plugged in the ears she walks carefree on the streets. Her long, uncombed hair roughly settles on the shoulder and in between this chaos a bright red bra strap naughtily peeps out. She cares a damn. She leans on the wall and crosses the street, her deep purple dupatta waving with the wind. She laughs her guts out in the midst of the street, along with all the girls out here in the open. She wears shorts and thin, sleeveless tops, kajal in her eyes, smelling good, feeling good, liking the feeling of feeling good. 

Skin. Even skin is ephemeral. Eyes. Who cares for those predator perverse eyes anyway anymore? Her eyes are wide open because the world in her head is an imagined space outside the male gaze. She is not objectified in your eyes, in her own eyes. She is almost free. Wanting to be free. Alienated maybe, solitary maybe sometimes, and yet she is free. The male gaze and the male mind do not trouble her basic instincts anymore. 

Does she care? What the hell! No. Flicking her cigarette, she hums her way through, waiting for a female friend outside a coffee shop, reading a book maybe, completely alone on a crossroad: "I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one is...." 

And men beware. Don't beware. The soft-hearted, eternally forgiving, suffering mother, wife or girlfriend look does not appease her anymore. She is not here to only fulfil ancient, feudal male fantasies: produce babies, procreate, polish your shoes, touch your feet, iron your clothes, keep house and domestic bliss intact, eternally 'presentable'. She is tough, she is independent, and she is totally unselfconscious of her body, and she is chasing her dreams. Sometimes tangible, sometimes meaningless. And all her dreams are not only about career or money.

But who is this 'she'?

Puhup Prasad, at 26, a successful product designer, calls this new female protagonist "the woman of today. She is smart, confident and knows what she wants from life". So how does she relate to this picture? She smiles, "The idea of a red bra strap." For Puhup, the colour red is symbolic of courage, passion and strength.  It can't be curtailed behind the façade of middle-class constructions of morality.

Shushmita Menon, 29, working for woman's rights, calls this state of mind and daily life a kind of "carnival" where ideas and truths about female sexuality are endlessly tested and contested. Others like Parineeta hate the classicism of the orthodox female text; the erotic is also the new body on which she writes her poetry, but that is not the only realm of her life and being. She, like others, cares two hoots for sexual stereotypes: "We will find our own erotic language and happiness scaffoldings and emotional emancipations." Even if it means defiance, rebellion, going against the current, turning a half moon into a full moon of desire. 

For long, society has curbed the female body in the dictatorship of hegemonic father figures. Sit like this, stand like this, talk like this, eat like this, wear this, don't wear that, don't speak loudly, don't sing that song. No one dare speak of her sexuality. What, she's sexy? Oh, that's bad. She's independent? That's blasphemy.

That's a game all over now.

The young urban girl/woman is fast breaking away from these dogmatic bondages. It's in her body language. Today, as she battles the binaries falsely constructed between her body, imagination, mind and self, she is also successfully moving beyond and within the home and the world. Thus, juggling between the private and the public, this multi-tasker is slowly but steadily making her way up to a room of her own. With a view she likes as her own. This is her own gaze.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2010