May 21, 2008

Matters of Maal

a.k.a. The Day Feminism Crawled Out The Back Door

Sahi maal hai” they said,

as they walked down the street,

breezing by me

waiting patiently for a dear friend.





An item of hormonal desire with the appropriate anatomy.

I heard their voices float back,

let the words wash over me,

feeling only the merest of twinges

penetrating the numbness.

And I, who rant till kingdom come,

feminist until I’m blue in the face,

applaud women for whirling around and giving back,

let the words float away into the ether,

too weary to care.

And ensured that some other woman

in another time and place

will be called ‘maal’,

solely on the basis

of what exists between her legs.

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17 comments to Matters of Maal

  • Indeed. I don’t blame you for being tired of fighting.
    How long do we have to fight?
    How hard?
    For being but what we are:
    For having the right to be not noticed
    Our bodies not criticised:
    How long do we have to fight
    To be as normal a presence on the street as a man?

  • Any person who is or identifies oneself as non-male becomes a ‘maal’ for the male. It’s a power equation… unfortunately.

  • You know, I’m curious about this ‘whirling around and giving back’ business. Why do we believe that would serve as a deterrent? I could easily imagine it having the opposite effect – the trolls who make comments like these could just as easily find the knowledge that they really got through to you gratifying. And why deign to bandy words with such low-lifes? Silence isn’t always a sign of cowardice, you know – it’s also a sign of contempt.

    Oh, and by the way, I’d say the most accurate translation of maal is not package / object (and certainly not matter) but goods.

    Indignation aside, I have to say I’ve personally always found this colloquial sense of ‘maal’ being sexually suggestive fairly puzzling. My own associations with the word ‘maal’ tend to involve gunny sacks, tarpaulin, slow freight trains, dusty warehouses and the smell of diesel – not the sort of things one associates with the erotic (at least I don’t, though I suppose it takes all sorts). One wonders how this other sense of it evolved.

  • quilted says : I absolutely agree with this !

  • the same thing happens here in sri lanka. women are colloquially called “baduwa” – object, “kaalla” – piece etc.

  • Falstaff: don’t you think this has persisted so long because the perpetrators assume that women are too timid, too docile, to fight back? Because women are expected to ignore it, to pretend it doesn’t exist?

  • Unmana: No. I think it’s persisted so long because we continue to accept the ridiculous notion that being objectified is in some way a reflection on us rather than (as logic would suggest) a reflection on the person doing the objectifying (objectification?). Silly comments like this are only an assertion of power so long as they are experienced as harmful or degrading – if we treated them with the indifference / contempt that a clear-sighted view of the situation would suggest they deserve, then there would be no sense of satisfaction for these people in making them.

    To be clear – I’m not saying one should not respond / fight back even though one is upset / hurt; I’m saying why would you be hurt / upset by what some idiot on the street says about you anyway? It’s not about pretending, it’s about genuinely asking yourself why it upsets you. And it’s not about being timid or docile, it’s about being above such nonsense.

    Even if you disagree with that, or feel that we’re all too socialized to pay attention to what idiot strangers say to get to a point where we can treat their comments with genuine indifference, there’s still the empirical question of whether giving it back actually makes these cretins less likely to make such comments in the future. It would be nice if that were true, but I have no evidence, not even at an anecdotal level, that leads me to believe that. If you have genuine evidence of people who’ve stopped making such comments after they had it given back to them, I’d love to hear about it.

    That’s not to say, of course, that giving it back doesn’t have value – if you are upset by these comments then giving it back may make you feel better, may allow you to walk away from the situation with more dignity. But I’m not sure that there’s strong reason to believe that by fighting back you’ve made it less likely that this will happen to someone else. And, conversely, no reason to feel that by not giving it back you’ve increased the probability that “some other woman / will be called ‘maal’ “. Dilnavaz has reason to feel that she’s let herself down by not giving it back, but I see no reason why she should feel that she’s let anyone else down.

  • Namratha

    The issue more than anything is the erractic, unpredictable nature of the mob or the gang of guys involved here. The reason why most women try and ignore this remark or do not retaliate at being referred to in this undermining language is primarily because of instances where these guys have hunted these girls down and put acid on their faces, or just caught hold of them and raped them, etc. just for revenge of the humiliation…. all this because the women have dared to “whril around” and “give it back” ! So.. unless the women start gangism or start having guns to protect themselves… i am not sure how safe this give it back to everyone thing is.. ! Although i know that it is needed to put these guys in place.. I doubt the safety of women once this is done

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    Apologies, people, for not responding earlier. Health and internet issues conspired to keep me away.

    @Unmana: I didn’t think many people would understand. Thanks.

    @Malika: Equation? I think not. Nothing equal about this at all.

    @Falstaff: Now that I’m done laughing at visions of myself as a sack of potatoes, I would like to point out that in my experience retaliation has shown a minimal change. Of course I’m not stupid enough to go out and do this when I’m all alone in a desolate place (not that an incident of this nature has ever occurred in said place.) Several offenders are cowards and expect their victim to silently cower in the face of their words/touch. I’ve had one apologize when I stood up to him and though I’ll never know whether it was genuine or for public consumption (yes, I choose to be naive), I still see silence as tacit consent, not as dignity and Anindita’s post “Taking the Stitches Off” articulates that so well.

    @Quilted & Pissu: Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

    @Namratha: As I’ve mentioned above in my comment to Falstaff, I do not claim to display bravado when I am in a vulnerable position, but there are times when I am not physically vulnerable and those are times I choose to take a stand against what is being said/done to me. I think it’s an individual choice. It may not work for all women but it does for me.

  • Dilnavaz: Fair enough. Two things though. First, the question about effectiveness, to me, is not about whether the person apologizes or seems scared, it’s about whether it makes him significantly less likely to do this again. I’m unconvinced that is the case. Second, while you’re entitled to choose response over silence if you see more dignity in that, it would be dangerous and wrong to assume that other people feel the same way. By saying you see silence as tacit consent, you risk not only doing a disservice to women who don’t respond because they feel it’s below their dignity, you also risk legitimizing this kind of behaviour, or at least buying into it in terms set by the creeps who behave this way. It’s worth remembering that the choice is not between being frightened and tacitly consenting and speaking out. There is a third option.

    And I’m not sure Anindita’s post is relevant. As I say above, this is not about staying silent when you want to say something – I’m certainly not advocating that – it’s about considering and questioning why you want to engage with these people at all.

  • Thinking about it, it occurs to me that we’re talking about two very different types of silence. So let’s try a little reading comprehension:

    Part I

    You’re driving around in the city, looking for a parking space. You spot one just outside the building you want to go to. You draw up a little ahead of it and start to back in. Just then this woman behind you slips her car into the spot you were trying for. She stole your space! You’re really mad about this. You jump out of your car and start shouting her. Tell her it’s your space. Call her names. Generally make a scene. She, on the other hand, doesn’t respond. She gets out of her car, locks it, glances across at you for a moment with complete indifference and then, with a shrug of her shoulders, walks slowly away.

    Q 1: How would you describe the woman’s silence?

    a. Tacitly consenting
    b. Arrogant
    c. Insulting
    d. Self-secure

    Q 2: Would you say that the woman walked away because:

    a. She was afraid or embarassed
    b. She had been brought up by her grandmother never to answer back
    c. She didn’t understand what it means to be a feminist.
    d. She thought you were beneath contempt and didn’t see any point in arguing with you

    Q 3: As a result of the woman’s behavior, how do you feel (pick all that apply)?

    a. Vindicated
    b. Triumphant
    c. Proud of having told her off
    d. Belittled

    Q 4: How likely do you think you are to jump out and shout at someone in a similar situation again?

    a. Extremely likely – in fact, I may do it even if no one steals my parking space
    b. Very likely – it went so well
    c. Somewhat likely – at least I told her what I thought
    d. Unlikely – I looked like an immature idiot.

    Part II

    Same scenario. Except this time the woman jumps out of her car as fast as she can, keeps her eyes firmly fixed to the ground, refuses to look at you, and scuttles off into the nearest building as quickly as she can.

    Questions – same as above.

    See what I mean?

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    @Falstaff: I’m going to practice that highly recommended look of dignified contempt beginning…
    “Reading comprehension”—-> *dignified contempt*
    There we go. I feel so much better already. 🙂

  • Gulshan Aunty

    As i see it, we sometimes ignore acquaintances and kith and kin’s comments as unworthy of our attention/response. More so, some roadside romeos, don’t you think?

  • High Priestess

    I always retort back, “lekin, tera maal kharab hai”

    When you turn it around on them, that THEY are the object, and a very undersirable one at that, it really tears apart the desi male ego.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    @Gulshan Aunty: I can’t hit the ignore button that easily. My system doesn’t comprehend the command. 😉

    @High Priestess: Lol! True, true. Also, I think molesters are primarily bullies and they’ll continue to victimize you and other people unless you push them into a corner, after which they usually back off.

  • Sathya

    Great discussion! Feel ashamed to belong to the society with different chromosomes. These open discussions definitely help ppl. from my side realise how terrible these acts are. As more and more of us (men) look down upon such senseless / tasteless comments, I believe that such instances would go down.

    While discussing how you immediately react to these road-side romeos’ comments is a good thing, will it be better to also think how else this attitude can be changed? How many of us have open honest discussions about these at home? Would having open discussion forums in schools help boys understand / appreciate how terrible the other sex feels about this behaviour (i don’t highly believe in “teaching” moral science…. we should have more open discussion forums where ppl. express their thoughts and teacher just facilitates it & moves it in the right direction). What else can be done in schools / slums to make young boys realise this issue (catch them young :-)? Do we openly criticize, in all forms of media, cartoonists / novelists who draw / write as though women are objects of sex? Do we show their pictures on TV and throw cow dung at them? How else can we use the media to communicate this?

    Keep writing and have these good discussions going!

  • unconventionaldesi

    Hmmm … It happened to me several times while I was growing up. It did not take much time for me turn back and hurl abuses like MC, BC etc etc.

    I remember once I got down from the train at Andheri station. This guy in his 40’s just brushed his hands on my top. I was ill that day because I just got my chums.

    I had two choices. Either just go with my pain and buzz off or teach him a lesson. I chose the latter.
    I created a chaos and ran after him. The people nearby thought there was a problem and everyone caught him and starting beating him. I was glad that I did it. It was fun to get even with such a man.

    Its upto us. If we women want to be treated like doormats, we can take shit.

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