We all have our little escapes, don’t we? The secret little worlds we build in our heads that become places of refuge when things are wrong, or just not that right. And those worlds get their expression and even engendered from objects and places around us…
The other day, not too long ago, Pree n I were passing a magazine stand. The new Marie Claire was out, and in an unnatural state of excitement, I picked it up. Pree bemusedly watched me through all this from outside the store, since she thought she’d catch up on her smoke, and later said to me: You know, I’ve only ever known one other woman who spends good money on these good for nothing, weirdly expensive magazines. And that one was such a weird ass, got married at the age of 18 and all she could ever talk about was clothes and sob about all the men who’d broken her heart and think that the tests that these mags have defined her. I’d never really have thought you were one of those!”
Now, I don’t know if that was a backhanded compliment or just a plain snide remark against those that read the ugh-so-lame mags, but later it got me thinking. Let alone the fact that I’d loathe to be classified as one of those females, there was something still in what pree had unwittingly (as always) said. Why do a certain class of uber cool women who are given to defining themselves and generally identified as intelligent, sort of denounce women’s or fashion mags as the dust on their prize bookcases, or even as a conspiracy against them?
And then I was reminded of myself circa 2003-04, when I’d look at my aunt’s ‘Grihshobha’ or my mother’s Femina, and go – eeeuuch! Ma, how can you read such rubbish? Don’t you have any self respect? She’d give me a puzzled look and say, what’s self-respect got to do with it? And for some reason, I could never really explain my ‘feminist’ anguish to her.
It was undoubtedly feminist because the associations we’ve come to make with these beautiful, big, glossy pages is another male conspiracy theory of yore that women rebelled against by burning bras: that of keeping the woman involved in her life, and defining this life as an involvement with homes and gardens, children, the husband and a woman’s office and temple all-in-one, the kitchen.
I got a forward from a friend that had a scanned clipping of one such magazine from the 1950s which was a list of directives on how to be the good wife. It included tricks of the trade in the line of ‘never sulk when your husband re-enters the house after a long day of work. Always look fresh, with perfume, lipstick and smile in place because he will be tired from work which he does to bring the bread in.’ and there was worse, believe you me.
In other words, subjugation. Structuring the place of the woman in the family as the dependent and the slavish. Of course this was masked under heavy jargon of feminine strength, dependability and the real driving force. After all, every successful man has a capable wife and all that jazz.
But really, being career-oriented, rebellious and wild wouldn’t necessarily make a woman stop from being slavishly devoted to a man, even a wrong one at that, and reading such mags might not make any woman a given walk-over or brainwashed enough to take the nonsense akin to that of six decades ago and live with it. Hell, we have pre-nups today!
My mother’s reason for reading femina then was that they used to have good recipes. She has a folder full of yumminess, scraps cut out, Xeroxed, even stolen from her sisters. She’s stopped reading the mag since then, simply because she can’t identify with it anymore. And to extend the point, she’s equally, no, maybe way more fond of Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell. And an excellent cook. My grandmother loves to read ‘Sarita’ because it gives her stories, real and fictional, of courage and happiness that she says she never saw in her on life.
I guess we need to get over our prejudice against this gloss, because unlike then, they don’t really come with an undercurrent of compulsion any more. If the arts professor at Wellesley college in ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ is agitated, she has reason in the proximity of those stormy events, and the possibility of a relapse. We urban women of the 21st century, on the other hand, do not really need to have our guard up so much.
Be cautious and own pepper spray, but not act militant against the innocent.
And me, I am a fan of Marie Claire simply because it is one of my escapes from the mundanity of daily life, ugliness of this world and what not. It does have some good features on social cultural positions of women, but mostly, it is the still beauty of places, ideas, being, existence and movement in their sprawling pictures that is my pull-factor. Nothing criminal about wanting to get away, I’m sure.