The Ultimate Balancing Act

Outright blatant feminism makes me a bit annoyed. Angry people are never taken seriously, and angry women even less so (more about that later). So being militant about anything isn’t going to help.

On the other hand, I really want to talk about this ultimate balancing act that women these days seem to have to do. I don’t know whether this is limited to certain cultures in general or to guys everywhere, but this article inspired this post, so I’m going to list out my Principles of Being Female:

1. Be pretty, but not too pretty.

There’s really no getting around the fact that women are expected to look good the way guys are expected to go to the gym. I’m not saying I don’t love the idea of looking good, but it annoys the hell out of me that, for instance, pretty South Asian brides are expected to suck it up and marry the ugliest men without any complaints. Hey, to-be-grandparents! Let me give you a little genetics lesson, okay? Your sweet little granchildren’s genes are determined both both your daughter and her hideous husband.

Anyway, digression aside, women are expected to look pretty. Men can somehow get away with being ugly but charismatic; looks are optional. But woe betide the woman who’s actually blessed with good genes — it’s now her lot in life to not be taken seriously because really, someone that good-looking can’t be intelligent into the bargain.

2. Be girly/emotional, but not too girly/emotional.

Women are expected to be, to a large extent, walking hormonal imbalances who can’t get over their emotions enough to think one coherent thought. Well yes, that’s a gross exaggeration, but I always seem to get the feeling that a sane, sensible girl is a sort of mythic creature — she defies the expectations of guys who expect women to be easily handled by manipulating their emotions.

On the other hand, if the lady does tend to get emotional — if it’s that time of the month again, etc — she’s dismissed because she’s just “being a girl”.

3. Date, but not too much.

The idea is that the woman must appear to be a normal, potentially attractive person. My theory is to do with my (very uncertain) knowledge of share prices — someone starts buying stock and the assumption grows that there’s something about that company that makes it impressive. Thus the dating: there must be some evidence of someone buying into her stock, so to speak.

And it also proves she’s not — terrifying thought here — lesbian or something.

Too much, however, and the usual derogatory terms for too-popular women start manifesting. Whatever else you might say about this enlightened era, a notch on the belt for a man is another scarlet letter for a woman.


I won’t claim that I haven’t assumed certain stereotypes about men myself. And in fact, full disclosure: I don’t know that many men. But on the occasional instances where I’ve felt that these principles apply, they’re a jarring reminder that in fact, feminism — not the militant kind that loudly calls for reverse discrimination, because no one should be allowed to do anything just because they’re not from the status quo — the quiet, confident assertion that women and men are fundamentally the same, you know, type of creature, is necessary.


Glass Walls

“Imagine this:

“Sitting on a bench at the edge of the water, lights snaking out across the banks like the delicate bones of a lover’s spine. Couples are everywhere — fingers interlaced, heads bent towards each other, smiles silly and shy — infesting the place.

“No, there’s no annoyance this time, now you can’t call it up. Instead what you feel is an ache marrow-deep, a pain in the stomach, an unhappiness that makes you slump into yourself as you sit on the bench, because you sit there alone.

“Imagine this:

“The air is sharp and particularly beneficial to the pairs of people who lean into each other until their coats are indistinguishable. But there is a thickness to it. The feeling that there’s an invisible glass wall, a cold atom-thick barrier, a boundary between your life and others’. Like a child, longing and loving, waiting your turn to grow up, you lean into the wind and press your face into that window.

“Your nose will leave no mark. No one notices.

“Three days later, she meets him. Or perhaps he meets her, it is immaterial. When she thinks of him speaking, she realizes that he is all of these things: a) unassumingly intelligent, b) unaffectedly hilarious, c) unintrusively kind, and d) undoubtedly devoted. She uncovers them like presents, buried under layers of conversations. When she thinks of him, a warm glow ignites in her. It eases the pain in her stomach.

“It is his mind that she loves first, but he has such kind eyes. A smile she wants to trace with a thumb. Palm on his cheek that he can lean into. Hair that she likes to think is deliberately unruly before she combs through it with fingers. She wonders if she would ask permission first. She imagines him aloof, her curling her hands into fists at her side with the fingernails biting into the palms as he expostulates with her about art, science, history.

“She believes he is a few inches taller than her. Good. She can turn up her face to his. She likes that image. At night she plays certain very particular songs, willing herself into sleep, feeling lighter than air.

“Sometimes it’s hard. She feels this glass wall grow thinner and thinner, the press of people and reality abrading it away. He begins to fade, until his absence is far more real than his presence. Seeing other couples meandering along, no longer is she reminded of their arms intertwined, faces animated in conversation and each other’s companionship. She simply sees — well, other couples.

“Eventually he becomes a pale shadow. Fingers slipping from her waist if they were ever there; an echo of his laugh from another room; his ghostly presence at her back. She knows that if she turns, he will not be there.

“So she doesn’t turn. She tries harder.


“So she comes to sit on this bench, wires trailing from her ears and certain very particular songs playing, aching for the glass wall. Of course, by now, she is not quite certain whether the wall is hers or whether she only sees it.

“And gradually, she lets the scene change. The pool of lamplight illuminating lucky couples now widens to include her. When she takes a breath, she can taste the stirring of anticipation.

“She has her eyes closed and the earphones in, so she doesn’t see or hear him. He walks distractedly, a few inches taller than her, hair a little disarranged, thinking of other things entirely.

“And by the time she opens her eyes, he has already passed her, heading towards the opposite bank with the lights like the points on a lover’s spine.”