Back in the day, when I was a single woman searching for a flat, I heard all sorts of things from potential landlords. But first, the broker told me not to tell them I was a journalist. “People don’t like journalists,” he said, but I think what he meant was people don’t like women who ask questions.
You might have seen that illustrated poster from the 80s: the ideal girl. The ideal girl prays and respects her parents and cooks. That’s the kind of girl these landlords had in mind, they didn’t actually want me for a tenant, so they tried to justify it. One of them said I could have no male guests. “In my own home?” I asked and they looked surprised. Sure, I was paying rent and living there and sure, I had a front door that locked, but it was never to be “my own home” just an extension of theirs.
Another had an outside staircase which led up to the flat they were offering. This staircase had a metal door, which they informed me would be locked by 10 pm. “I see,” I said, “And what about later?”
“If you want to come in later, you can call,” said the landlord, “But you won’t be coming in later.” Ominously.
All these are the stories when I actually met the landlord, the number landlords I didn’t meet were greater, the ones who rejected me out of turn for being a single woman. A single woman, the kind they used to call “modern,” the kind that smokes and eats meat and drinks, and occasionally has friends over and plays music.
Hi, I’m Aunty Feminist and here are three common stereotypes around that Unicorn but also The Girl Next Door: the Single Modern Indian Woman (SMIW).
You’ve heard this one before. If a girl lives alone—and why should she live alone when her parents have a perfectly acceptable house—then she’s probably having orgies every night. At the very least, she’s swapping out men like underwear, one each for every day of the week.
Except, you’re not looking at the vast majority of women who move out of their parents’ homes for convenience (jobs), or because they want to be independent (heard of that?) or because they want more space. Some of them are having a lot of sex—and more power to them—but frankly, what goes on between two consenting adults is really none of anyone else’s business.
Besides, I’ve heard of the kinkiest coupling, and a lot of time, it’s done in tiny apartments shared between five family members. In truth, being an SMIW and having sex is hard, because you know what people expect of you so you need to set harder boundaries and limits, you know that everyone who comes to your door is subject to the scrutiny of an eye pressed against the peephole in a door (even as a non-S, but still an MIW, this has happened to me, when a friend carrying a bottle of wine made his way up our stairs, he was stopped by nosy neighbours asking him what his business was). It would be so much easier to just give up, to go back home and live with her parents, or get married or live the life of an Indian widow from the 1800s just so she can get on with her life and not have to answer a billion questions.
She’s out to dismantle the family as we know it. She’s the biggest enemy, and if it was up to her, there would be no families at all.
Well, for one, traditional Indian families have not always been the kindest to their women members. Made to cover their heads, defer to the men and not offer up any opinions is no way to live a life. Secondly, a lot of SMIW I know want to get married and have children, the whole picture. But, by virtue of this independence they’ve chosen, they don’t want to settle for anything that is less than ideal. And in a lot of cases, “ideal” is just the idea of being acknowledged as a person who has their own thoughts and ambitions. Not too much of an ask!
She’s a bad influence on her neighbours, and entering her home is like going to a really decadent nightclub.
Hello, have you heard of this new health craze that’s sweeping the world? The SMIW, more than anyone else, has the time and inclination to work on her fitness goals: she’s probably eating healthier than you, doing lots of exercise and still has time to meet her friends for a drink in evening. Even the unhealthy SMIWs know this much though: if your neighbours disapprove, your landlord will probably not renew your lease, so if nothing else, count on them for self-preservation. I, for one, have never been invited to a nightclub/orgy/cocaine-filled party at an SMIWs house, so there’s that.
What are some stereotypes you, an SMIW or a friend to an SMIW have encountered? Tell me all about them in the comments!
Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.