Sing, o muse, the wrath…

I’ve been having to go to work about an hour early and come back an hour later this entire week because of transportation issues, and that’s apparently all it takes for my brain to turn itself off and refuse to do anything else but eat and fall into bed. It’s been making me think about my rather adversarial relationship with writing: I’m constantly writing in my head, and can’t live with myself unless I physically write/type out some of it on a regular basis, but I also hate the actual process because it’s so fucking hard. I’m fundamentally lazy: I do things voluntarily if they come easily, and if I’m good at them — but I write because it’s a compulsion and an addiction and I do it like a penance: tears, hair pulling, beating my breast, the lot. It takes a lot of my time and space, both mentally and physically, when I write; recently, at work, I’ve found I can sit down and hammer out so many thousand words at the drop of a hat, but if I’m actually writing from within, even if it’s something as informal as an email, I need to be relatively stable mentally, and have enough time to sit and think and write and rewrite and move commas back and forth a dozen times before I’m satisfied with the sentence and can move on to the next one. And, if, like this week, there’s just been not enough space to be alone, to think, to get rid of all the clutter in my mind about meetings at work, letters I owe, the argument about whose turn it is to pay the phone bill etc. etc. etc., I go around stewing between my need to write and complete inability to do anything about it, until I snap.

This morning I cursed out the taxi driver who was trying to cheat my tourist friend, thinking she was an easy mark. Generally I refuse to turn it into a confrontation, even when I know I’m being cheated, even when I’m angry, but today I could feel myself being physically aggressive: holding myself taller, stabbing at the meter and the map, interrupting his complaints about the traffic and the price of petrol ruthlessly, and at the end, while dredging up some pretty filthy vocabulary, deliberately being louder, not letting myself be made ashamed of using it.

So much of my life, so much of the way I present myself and interact with the world is about being an observer, not an actor, someone who steps outside a little bit and looks on, and describes what she sees. I hate doing things that deliberately draw attention, even positive attention, though I’m trying to push myself to do more. From one perspective that’s a very gender-conformist role to play: Indian women aren’t supposed to court attention or be contentious, they are supposed to be gentle and quiet-voiced, “modest,” like the matrimonial ads say. But I’m not like that at all! It’s never more apparent than when I’m in India, the only woman alone on the street making eye contact, frowning, walking impatiently, refusing to let other people tell me what is best for me, deliberately not stepping out of the way of the groups of men also on the sidewalk. At the same time, this quietness is a part of being feminine for me, and in direct reaction to a sort of aggression that I perceive as very male, and which really grates on me. I suppose the crucial distinction is that I don’t think that my quiet manner has, or should have, anything to do with my generally high confidence level or ability or unwillingness to tolerate other people’s bullshit. These things are not incompatible with being feminine.


~ by mortarandpestle on November 5, 2007.

3 Responses to “Sing, o muse, the wrath…”

  1. This is an important exploration. I think there are all sorts of ways to display and embody confidence and femininity for that matter. People will preceive it a certain way when they encounter it, but you are subverting gender roles when the quiet, feminine you, stands up for yourself and does speak against people’s bullshit!

  2. I can relate very much to the ambivalent relationship you have with writing. If I don’t write for awhile my thoughts start getting congested, I start getting stuck on the same broken-record thoughts and I can’t move on to anything new. I have to write, to expel all the ideas that have built up and make room for what’s new. In regards to quietness and femininity… I tend to think that the standing tall, not tolerate mistreatment and not being ashamed to stand up for yourself or someone else are characteristics that reveal a mature femininity but they have been written out of the social scripts for women in favor of a femininity that makes us into children and imbeciles. I suppose I cannot speak for all cultures, but I think this is present in numerous societies.

  3. Dylan: Of course there are all sorts of ways of being confidently feminine, but I was musing about how much I seem to conform to a particular type of traditional quiet femininity, almost without trying. I’ve grown up around many extremely confident, extremely feminine, traditional Indian women, but they don’t do the quiet, shy thing like I do.

    Miss Avarice: Yes, I’ve thought about femininity being equated to childishness before; I think that’s a definite part of it. In fact, my rather unexpectedly feminist grandmother rails at the traditional flowy clothes and the bangles and jewellery because she says that they are all used to constrict women, until they can’t do anything for themselves, like children.

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