Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Conditioning Conundrum

On the way home from a particularly intense and meaningful session of the Sunday Adda, I hopped on to a bus. Normally, on a Sunday evening at 8ish, I would just take one of the many autorickshaws plying the fixed route between the Adda spot and close-to-home. But, this is durga puja season, and all the Bengalis and their uncles have gone ape-shit crazy. Normally deserted, horror movie setting streets have looked like middle of the day at a busy shopping destination for the last couple of weeks. Traffic, non-existent to the point of scariness under normal circumstances at that hour, has been standstill and crawling it-will-take-forever-to-get-there over the last few weeks. So, not chancing waiting another hour in the insane auto queue, I just jumped into the first bus I saw that was headed in the right direction.

Miracle of miracles! There was a seat! So I parked my more than ample behind, and settled in to ruminate on the fantastic session we had just had talking about male gaze, comfort levels, policing of women's bodies and clothes, movies, books, feminist theories, Freud, Woolf, and SO MUCH more. In the intensely slow crawl to where I was going, many people got into and off the bus, of course, some noticed, some not, in my post adda zen state.

One pair I did notice consisted of a young guy and a girl, probably in their mid 20s. They got in, and seeing the crowded, standing room only, state of the bus, chose a corner near the doors to stand. I sort of vaguely, peripherally, noted the animated conversation they were having, and concluded – probably erroneously – from the body language and particular nyakami of the woman, that they were a couple or at least romantically interested in one another.

Soon, a seat opened up across the aisle, and the young man promptly rushed across and took it, leaving the girl standing where she was. The first reaction I had was anger. A clear, knee jerk, what a creep, he-should-have-let-the-girl-sit, what’s-wrong-with-men type of reaction that came from some lizard brain conditioned part of me. And that, the reaction I felt, that spurt of anger, immediately made me uncomfortable.

People who know me can vouch for how vehement I am about equality, about the abilities of women to negotiate this world without being constantly infantalised and babied (as chivalry does), and so on and so forth. The woman was not older, physically differently abled in any way that I could see, or pregnant (that I could see). Any of those would have made me ok with my anger, because I would be angry with anyone, of any gender, not giving up their seat in those cases.

But here were two similarly aged, similarly abled people, and yet my first reaction, my instinctive (conditioned?) knee-jerk had been of anger simply because the “man” had taken the seat. Putting myself in that situation, if one of my male friends had dared to offer me a seat “just because I am a girl” I would probably have beaten the shit out of them, or at least handed out an extensive and caustic tongue lashing laced liberally with feminist theory and egalitarian rhetoric. I DEFINITELY do not want a world where ANYONE gets special treatment (either good or bad) simply because of something like gender.

So, time for introspection I guess. About conditioning and its effects. About how successfully I have been able to resist conditioning. About how many of my received notions I have been able to ditch. About why/how I have seemingly retained some (unconsciously or consciously). And so much more.