Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Third Sex

Amrita Nandy-Joshi The Times of India Saturday, June 17, 2006
I was chatting with a young district collector, picking his brains about reasons behind choosing the services. The conversation veered around and finally the collector's thoughts settled upon his college life. His eyes seemed to move to a distant past. The nostalgia and memories were writ large on his face. He spoke of friendships and ragging, the lectures and the food in the mess. A product of one of the premier engineering colleges in the country, he reminisced on the excitement of being surrounded by bright people. Talking of his classmates, he said,"My class had all male students except three non-males". Not very surprised by the skewed sex ratio of a civil engineering class, I was stunned by his choice of words. "Non-males? Why do you say that?", I asked in quick succession."
Arrey yaar, they wore those thick glasses and salwar-suits, oiled their hair. Ugly girls and with no personality. Not worth being called women". The collector had just thrown his female classmates outside society's accepted binaries of male and female. Women he described as ugly and with no personalities (a misnomer for sexuality) were part of the same bright group of people he remembered. It was interesting to note that he could differentiate between female and women but equally shocking to find that the meanings behind his words were still stuck in their traditional phallocentric spaces. Those bright females were not women because, to him, they lacked physical appeal. And they certainly did not have what it takes to be a man. Non-males was the only other category that they could be sidelined to.
Seeing my horrified expression, he soon realised his slip and aggressively tried to cover up with what can best be called political correctness. This high-lighted yet another sad truism for me, that political correctness is largely being used to camouflage certain thoughts with a polite, velvet veneer to cover crude, socio-cultural biases and beliefs. It has become a new tool of hypocrisy in the hands of those who live in a milieu where political correctness is de rigueur. Beauvoir's words make for a perfect quote here: "We are told not that femininity is a false entity, but that women concerned are not feminine". The contrary facts of experience are impotent against the myth.

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