Chapter 10: Bits and Bobs
What these men, Bobs and Babus, are doing is dismembering women in their heads, claiming a part of their bodies while binning the rest as unimportant, like cuts of meat at a butcher’s. So, we become less important than a live cow and only as much as its dead bits. Oh, men are judged on looks too, but only women are mentally dissected, weighed up on the merits of individual parts and assigned their worth as human beings on that basis. Bob is also bitty because he has an itty-bitty brain (and maybe an itty-bitty you know what, but let’s not descend to their level), so you can bet he’ll bleat resentfully, “But women tell us all the time that they check out our asses, our pecs, even our nails!” We are checking to see if you’re clean enough to let into our homes, and maybe, just maybe, beds, okay? And have you considered it might also be to make a point about how we’re treated?
So, for you, because I’m full of the milk of human kindness (no, not stored there), I have produced a Rough Guide to Objectification for Dummies – my Bitty Bobepaedia. This is a guide, not just for naïve women like me so we can spot the Bitties from miles away, but for the men for whom the only thing that figures is the figure. Bits of it.
1. Derriere Dan aka Bottom Feeder alias Ass Man, is not as ubiquitous as a Boobsy Bill (not Clinton in this instance, though he may well be one of that tribe). He may fool you more often than Boobsy Bill because unlike the latter, he makes eye contact. And as their scrutiny of their preferred body part happens when you turn your back you are less aware of it. They have to be more inventive too to get the eyeful of booty they want, making them a tad more engaging. The illusion doesn’t last forever though, because Derriere Dan can be a pompous ass. He thinks he’s revolutionary because he’s bucked the trend for ogling breasts and prefers copping a feel from behind. He’s convinced you’ll fall over yourself to please him because he likes your burgeoning bottom when you don’t. To the Dans I would say “I appreciate your sensitivity.” You’re on the side of all us femmes not favoured with the non-existent supermodel hips all the rage for decades (this may be changing – think Kardashian, everyone). Women who aren’t spring chickens anymore, “ethnic” women with naturally bigger booties, mothers with child-bearing hips because they’ve, well, borne; you’re our hero, Derriere Dan. But keep your distance, won’t you? We’d much rather worship you from afar.
2. Then there’s Face Man. No, no, I don’t mean Dirk Benedict from The A-Team (who’d object to a bit o’ bobbing with him? Not Shilpa Shetty). You’d think the Face Man was a romantic; all he wants to do is gaze at the beauty of your face, right? But Face Man is Face Man and very pernickety about individual features. A friend told me about a guy who walks out on dates whose noses aren’t centred. Just a millimetre to the left or right and he’s off. And you thought Shallow Hal was fiction! I knew a man called Leggett with a thing for lips. Fish lips. Which worked well for me but he was prone to getting unnecessarily bitchy about the not-so-pouty, carping about the wondrous Julia Robert’s “letter-box slit” lips in the course of a conversation. “Leg it”, I’d said to him in response, or I should have. Yet the irony of the Face Man’s exacting standards is that if you were to attempt to rearrange your face to fall in with his needs/society’s notions of beauty/your own hankering for “assets” you don’t have, you’ll only ever get censure or scorn for your pains. Especially if it’s gone horribly wrong, which rom-com queen Meg Ryan found to her dismay as the rags rudely labelled her “Old Trout Pout” after her botched lip job. Surgery, like marriage, should not be entered into lightly, but if a woman chooses to have some work done to boost her self-esteem in a world that puts her down repeatedly, then why not? It’s her body.
3. And can we forget Hairy Scary (he won’t let us if we tried)? He doesn’t mind what’s behind swags of long hair as long as it’s long. It’s not just that most men fancy long hair on women, they appear to feel threatened by short-haired or bald women. This fear is so ingrained; it’s the stuff of nightmares in fairy tales. The worst thing that happened to Rapunzel was not her kidnapping or incarceration or the blinding of her lover, but the loss of her traditionally sanctioned long locks. In India, short-haired women deal with disapproval and disrespect more often than their long-maned counterparts. In a gallery devoted to Bollywood actresses with short-lived crops, The Times of India declared, “Long hair is an asset making a girl look hot and sexier” (if I can forgive the attitude, I can’t the grammar). On top of boobs that bounce unhelpfully, wombs that immobilize once a month and bums that can’t be squeezed into, well, anything – tight spaces, tight pants – must we also have masses of hair obscuring our vision, tripping us up, yanked out by Baby, and the dickens to maintain? Men can go bald and be considered no less attractive (and more virile, they keep telling us. Yawn.) like Bruce Willis. Women are only women when they have wrenchable hair. As beautifully-bald-in-the-nineties Sinead O’ Connor said, “I grew too old and fat and ugly to get away with being bald.” So, the lesson to be learnt there is, if you haven’t got a pretty face, cover it with a bush, a bush of hair. Actually, no, don’t. Cut it short, even shear it off, sending out the powerful message that you decide what happens to you.
4. There are also Leg Men and no, it’s not restricted to the beardy weirdies from ZZ Top. It’s a bit of a Western import but now Asian men are just as hung up on long legs as their buddies in the west. Like hair, it seems to be the length that matters, not shape or feel or functionality (how far I can walk on my little legs doesn’t appear to turn them on as much). And so, women have almost become bio-engineered to be stork-like, giving up on eating and good health, if they are not naturally predisposed to having long, stalk-y legs. I won’t even bother with Neck Man or The Nibbler or indeed, Pussy Peep (because which man isn’t interested in our meows; that would make Bitty Bobs of all men and they’re not – some of them are capable of liking more than one body part at a time). Not Peculiar Peccadilloes Paul though. He likes odd bits of you. It could be your big toe, the hollow behind your knees, the last knobbly bone on your spine, your belly button (a common one), your index finger, underarms, the nape of your neck or your left ear lobe. These and more are common fixations that even the average joe may have and make no bones about (but if it’s your bones he digs, run; that’s definitely serial-killer territory).
5. It’s time to look at the most common Bitty Bob of all – Breast Man or Boobsy Bill! The one every woman’s run into (much to Boobsy’s joy) at least once. The Breast Man I got to know best was a guy I hung out with after George vamoosed. Tim was wise and well-travelled, and you would never have guessed his wisdom did not extend to women. We had many wonderful conversations till one day he indulged in a touch too much wine. Soon he was telling me about the notches on his bed post – in the hundreds he said, as if I was supposed to be impressed. “Please, please, Tim,” did he think I would say, “make me your 347th.” I didn’t, but I made the monumental mistake of forgetting that part of the conversation when we explored subjects as eclectic as Israel and the Mahabharata. He flagged down a taxi and kissed me between directions to the driver to my place. At mine, we tumbled onto the sofa and kissed some more. All that practice had made him a nifty kisser. He tugged at my clothes but I wasn’t ready. Then he tugged at my hand to lead me upstairs and I was even less ready.
“But I want to see your breasts,” he insisted.
“All in good time,” I promised.
“You’re a good sized 34D or something, aren’t you?” he said, peeved at what he was missing.
“No, really, I’m only a 34B.” Although I was a C. C for convinced the man would have to go. And quickly.
“Let me judge for myself. Just lift your top and jiggle them in my face like my fiancée does.”
I jiggled all right. I jiggled him straight out my door. And I don’t know if “jiggle” or “fiancée” upset me more.
Memoirs of my Body is published by HarperCollins India
Shreya Sen-Handley website