“Don’t you feel objectified when a man stares at you?” he asks me earnestly, slurping on his coffee.
I look at his girlfriend, who’s beaming smugly at the sensitivity he’s displayed. The one ideological grouping I find more insufferable than the Flag-Bearers of Feminism are the Male Feminists They Date.
I’ve never quite figured out whether they're brainwashed by the sweep of their worse halves’ principles or whether they’re trying another version of the I-am-so-good-with-babies-and-find-them-so-cute-you-can-say-aww-now first date routine.
“Dude, we all know women would never go to salons and men would never bathe if we didn’t want to be objectified,” I say, biting the one nail I ration out to myself after a manicure.
“No!!! I look good for me,” he bobs his head, “and I like who she is…”
“Yeah, yeah, with all the hair and a wheelchair. Popular turn of phrase. But I know I’d shut myself up in a room with chocolate, cheese and books if men didn’t exist. I'd be perfectly happy with my rotting teeth, four millimetre nails and Frida Kahlo eyebrows.”
“Don’t you think looking good is about you?” my friend chimes in.
“Umm…you think I go to the dentist’s and the salon for me?”
I’ve studied in a convent whose mission was less to educate than to Christianise. I’ve worked with three born-agains. I’ve roomed with a Pakistani who was exiled for being an Ahmeddiya. I’ve conducted two-hour debates with atheists. And yet, I’ve never been harassed to convert by any group as much as by the Flag-Bearers of Feminism.
This group finds the concept of a non-feminist woman so obfuscating that it can only deal with it through denial. They look at you with a mixture of pity, condescension and frustration, and chorus:
“I think your education in feminism is lacking.”
“It’s not about bra-burning.”
“I don’t blame you, you’ve got the definition of feminism wrong.”
“How do you define feminism?” I once asked one of its proponents, who said, “it’s about standing up for your rights.”
“So Amnesty is the best-known Feminist organisation today?”
“Why are you so self-hating?” I’ve been asked.
Forget that the chain-smoking, poly-amorous, bisexual feminist Simone de Beauvoir spent most of her life with the misogynistic Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Maybe I just don’t find it particularly worth my time to find an extremist solution to patriarchy, which, by the way, I have never encountered.”
“But other women have.”
“I’d rather worry about animals being killed everyday to make shoes like those.”
“How can you be intelligent and not on this side of the fence?” asks the Male Feminist, “how can you endorse patriarchy?”
“Maybe I’m dumb, like most women,” I say, and the collective gasp makes a bird shriek, “oh, most men are dumb too. But the difference is – women are dumb in predictable ways that lend themselves to slapstick, while men are dumb in unique ways that lend themselves to girl-talk.”
Having silenced them with that bit of inspiration, I go on, “women and men can never be equal. Our bodies are different, our capabilities are different, our…”
“Are you saying biology is destiny?” the Male Feminist splutters.
“Should we talk when you get pregnant and I open a can by myself?”
Why does rejecting one school of thought imply endorsing another? Why does changing your surname have to mean you subscribe to sati? Why does wearing sindoor, thaali and toe-rings have to mean you’ve compromised on your rights? Why does deciding you’d rather do the cooking and cleaning have to mean you’re a ‘victim of the male gaze’? Ask a woman who’s fought her way through a vegetable market in Delhi, and she’ll swear she’d rather have her man buy the produce than put it through finishing school.
I believe being female has two advantages: (a) I can write anti-feminist columns without being lynched (b) I can flirt my way through ten kilos of excess baggage at most airports.