What women need is security

Remember Billie Jo Spears’ song from 1969 which went ‘Mr Walker, it’s all over / I don’t like the New York secretary’s life’? And why is the young lady so fed up with her life & her profession? Because, apart from the stress of typing eighty words a minute & fetching paper clips and coffee, ‘In this building there’s a crowd o’ guys / With old familiar thoughts upon their minds’. And what old familiar thoughts might these be? Well, they result in ‘a lot of hands a-reaching out / To grab the things that I consider mine’. Ah, now we understand. Don’t think she could have put it any more succinctly.

And as if that’s not enough, ‘the president pursues me / Even though he’s old and hair a-turnin’ white’ – couldn’t have been the Oval Office & Monica Lewinsky since she was an intern & born four years after the song. In any case, the first stanza of the song complains about the working conditions, the second about sexual harassment and the third about the living conditions – more specifically, ‘a flat in Greenwich Village’ with a trumpet player upstairs and a ‘jumpin’ all night bar’ below. And even then she has to ‘share the place with bugs and big ol’ mice’. No wonder she quits.

I consider it to be one of the best lyrics ever, leaving Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ gasping at first base – though Boots (1966) highlighted the other major source of exacerbation in a woman’s life: the ‘a’messin’’ husband or lover, who keeps ‘lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’’, who keeps ‘samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’’.

And there we have the woman’s world, which seems to have mainly one problem – the man! Actually it’s like the two sides of the same coin, since not having a man can be a problem too, in societies east & west; either it’s the difficulty in finding ‘a suitable boy’ à la Vikram Seth, or it’s the sexual & emotional merry-go-round (roller coaster, rather!) of the ladies in Sex and the City.

Let’s do a Fast Forward to what happened in front of the Cologne railway station on New Year’s Eve: another example of those ‘old familiar thoughts’, I should think, Billie Jo Spears wouldn’t have been surprised in the least. And from there we can go on to the current ‘burqini’ debate. Why anybody should insist on – or object to – a woman wearing – or not wearing – a certain piece of apparel at a certain place & a certain time while engaging in a certain kind of activity, beats me. Generations of women in our family have gone bathing in the Bay of Bengal or in the Arabian Sea in saris, for God’s sake, who’s talking about Aheda Zanetti’s rather fashionable creation. And we’re ruddy Hindus in our family, except for the woman for whom I left the diplomatic service, who used to wade into the raging surf on either coastline wearing a bikini & looking hot enough – for those times & climes – to make the sea boil. Whether the sea or me.

So it’s not as if I’m in favour of the burqini or against it. A colleague of ours was relating how certain young and fashionable girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have taken to wearing the niqab (which covers all of the face except for the eyes) just to escape the unwanted attention of the street romeos. What does that tell us? That these women are feeling insecure, that society is not – or is not perceived to be in a position to give them the freedom of choice to wear what they like & where they like. Fear is the key.

As for male behaviour, desire is the key. Desire is dificult to control, that’s why it’s considered to be dangerous. And because it is uncontrollable, like an incurable disease, we have all sorts of W.H.O.-financed attempts to ‘disinfect’ all possible & probable ‘sources of infection’ – mainly WOMEN! But even that does not help, will not help, cannot help. The number of references to the damsel’s eyes in Urdu poetry (together with the extravagant imagery) is mainly because of the niqab, I suspect. A traditional Muslim woman does her eyes with special care when she goes out, I am told, since those eyes are all that will be visible – it’s those eyes which will have to do the ‘killing’, in the rhetoric of Urdu poetry. We could have spared ourselves the Trojan war if Helen of Troy had been wearing a niqab, you think? No, her eyes would have been enough to launch those thousand ships & a couple more, if necesary.

The whole problem with how a woman dresses or does not dress, is the collateral damage – which in the woman’s case means collateral garbage. We, the men, do not want to get ‘killed’ – to follow the time-honoured heroic hyperbole of Urdu poetry as well as of Bollywood film songs. In other words, we do not want to feel attracted by a woman we do not know from Eve & shall never get to know from Eve; whereas she does not want to be ogled/mooned at by a whole lot of strange & unappetising males – that’s the collateral garbage. And still it happens all the time.

But why? Is it because she knows… and takes it into account, maybe even likes it? And why do we, the men, react like Pavlov’s dogs? I know! Because we are Pavlov’s dogs, at least in this one respect. And where do the clothes come in? I was thinking of an experiment, not with dogs but with lions, in the Serengeti, say. We put all the leafeaters in clothes and send them out to graze among the beefeaters. D’you think the lions would look dejected & say to themselves: ‘If only these antelopes had been…’ No, lions do not know the difference between naked and… We do, that’s the whole problem, it seems. Unless… unless…

What about all women dressing up as men when they go out? And the men dressing up as women…

What about women turning into men & men turning into women, in which case the women would be whistling after the men & pinching their bot…

Because men look so sexy in whatever they wear, from boxer shorts to scuba suits to business suits…

Have fun.

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