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Why are women miles ahead of men in understanding feminist thought? Why do men find it more difficult to understand and respect boundaries than women?
Here are some answers, in this experience I am now sharing.
Being nurtured by a wounded man is as dangerous for a woman as being straight out exploited. Because such a man may use ‘nurturance’ to fill up his own emptiness and a woman hungry to be seen — women usually are, brought up as they are on severe love deficit — are unlikely to find out what is going on.
At 17 I had a college professor who wanted to have sex with me. I have written about him before.
I saw him as building me up. He took me to libraries and seminars, introduced me to various streams of literary criticism, to authors considered too advanced for students of my B.A honors literature course, toted me around while visiting with other professors from the Delhi University. He had even started a literary criticism journal in which I was the only student writing critical articles alongside academics with decades of experience. He told everyone how promising I was and I knew more people in the University than any student in my class.
I thought I was growing. It was just a coincidence that I was not attracted to him, which is why no sex happened — in fact was too dumb to figure out what he wanted though he was pushing with all he had — but given my vulnerability it could very well have happened, and led to other complications.
The bubble of growth too burst swiftly once I moved out of his shadow. In University days I got rejection after rejection from literary journals, and my professors who were NOT trying to sleep with me drew gentle boundaries to let me know that there was a difference between a very bright student and a senior academic who has given decades to research and personal growth. And I had to learn the hard way to stand on my own and find my space. It took years to let go of the fake genius facade he had created around me.
And surprise of surprises, this man was married to a true genius. I had heard lots of good things about his wife from my seniors who met her — it was no coincidence I did not get to meet her despite being the ‘favorite’ student. I had heard that she was a highly respected scholar in her own right, that she looked divine, was very graceful and kind. He himself had described her to me in terms that were carefully crafted to show respect and admiration, but had also dropped hints of ‘something wrong in the relationship’. He had told me a story — I see it now as really petty — of how she would not share a mug she had brought from France with him and how ‘left out’ he felt because of that.
Today, looking back at the phenomenon, I wondered why he could not find a true emotional connect with a woman so wonderful. Or, if they were incompatible, why couldn’t he move on and find another wonderful woman who might have been his equal. Why did he need to create a fake genius out of a troubled young girl?
And I started laughing when I realised why.
Because loving a self-made self-sustained woman is to meet an ‘other’. It is to be met with boundaries that we are required to respect. To meet someone who is not an extension of oneself. It is to come out of oneself, and meet something totally different.
To ‘create’ a woman is an easy way to appropriate a vulnerable other and turn them into an extension of oneself. By ‘creating’ a goddess out of the lump of unformed clay that I was, he could go on loving himself by proxy. He could be proud of himself for his ‘creation’, and easily forget that I was someone in my own right.
And I would have lived in a boundary-less infantalized union in the mistaken assumption that he loved me — maybe lionised him, fed his ego and served him hand and foot for years (I was to do that for other men in later years) till the appropriation started to hurt. But a woman empowered in her own right would have figured out what was going on very fast.
I see this behavior coming from a deep rooted love deficit in the formative years.
A girl/ woman who faces this lack
It is almost the same phenomenon as a woman clinging to her child, unable to let her walk away. And equally unhealthy. The only difference is, the love deficit for girls starts right in infancy, which might reflect in choosing the infant to fill her need.
The willingness in young women like me to be infantalized by older men may also stem from the same love deficit.
A boy/ man who faces this lack
With boys the love deficit starts usually at the onset of teens when the mother is pushed away and the father steps in to ‘make a man out of’ the boy’.
Maybe the endless craving for the young boundary-less woman arises from this root. I am saying this because I am coming across psychological research that says that our love seeking patterns are dictated by our love deficit — at whatever age we are denied love, we try to suit our new loves to meet the love need of that age.
I see both phenomena as the outcome of patriarchy and misogyny. The system benefits as much from girls and young women eager to be in infantalized positions, as it benefits from inwardly empty men craving to colonize such young women to fill their emptiness.
Which is why both men and women need to fight the patriarchy shoulder to shoulder. But the reality is that while women are waking up to the need for a strong separate self from which to meet the world, men go on enjoying colonizing and infantalizing women.
Until we change the way we raise our boys to be in touch with their emotions and understand boundaries, until we raise our girls to have better self esteem and be able to enforce boundaries, I don’t see this changing much.
Then shall we?
Image source: a still from the film English Vinglish
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Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous
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