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Alice Evans


Jul 14

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“I keep hearing the same tale: of strong-willed women falling for some silly, elite alpha male, and feeling empty and defeated by the mating market”. So why do independent & accomplished Indian women date men who “talk shit”? Fascinating & insightful new book by @Shrayana B

Why centre the book around SRK? Because he embodies a masculinity that many Indian women want (yet struggle to find)

Arjun Appadurai famously suggested that people can be trapped in poverty by low aspirations. @Deepa Narayan similarly suggested that Indian women have been socialised to have low expectations @Shrayana B instead argues that SRK has raised women’s aspirations Only causing frustration

And it may be especially hard to find guys like SRK in North India (Consistent with North-South India differences in gender beliefs and practices)

“Delhi is not designed for random encounters with strangers. It is not easy to meet new people occupying different worlds from yours. Our interactions with people outside our social bracket are limited to our employees” NOT what Glaeser predicted in “The Triumph of the City”!

Notwithstanding India’s very low rate of female employment, There are many brilliant, ambitious and professionally successful women. And it’s possible to be surrounded and encouraged by them!

But what are their love lives like?

“Most of us are expected to couple up early. So “you smile and suffer through the mounting indignities.. A man with multiple failed businesses laughs at his date’s successful ventures. Dating in Delhi feels like an incessant confrontation with one’s worst insecurities”.

“The upper-class mating market seemed neatly divided between males with unwarranted self-confidence and females with unwarranted self-doubt”. But why do brilliant, educated women endure this??? Have they just been socialised to have low expectations (as argued by @Deepa Narayan)?

Contrary to @Deepa Narayan’s brilliant book “Chup”, it’s not just that women have been socialised to have low expectations. Some really do desire respect, but they struggle to find this. Cue frustration.

But if they’re equally educated and desire commensurate respect, why don’t upper class women exit this unsatisfactory dating market?? LOVE. THEY DESIRE LOVE! As @Shrayana B writes, she was “unable to bear the weight of being on my own or being myself”

Reading @Shrayana B, I see 3 issues in the upper class dating market: 1) Low gender gaps in college education 2) Women’s desperate desire for love & marriage 3) Men’s sexism

Let me reframe this by using terms from Economics: Educated women want respect. Respectful men are in short supply. Yet educated women stay in this unsatisfactory dating market because they crave Love. This demand and supply imbalance permits men to be sexist & boorish.

So even this man might attract a captive audience:

Independently critical women (like @Shrayana B) might even go on multiple dates with men they find downright obnoxious

“But finding a replacement was impossible. If this were not the case, I’d have moved on to another male and forgotten all about him.” @Shrayana B should correct me, but it reads like she tolerated his gaslighting not just because she wanted him per se but a romance.

I think we can distinguish between 1st- & 2nd-order effects of socialisation 1) Women are socialised to revere men as superior and defer to their wisdom 2) Educated women are independently critical, but are socialised to desire marriage, so endure men they think “talk shit”

You could make a parallel analysis of first- and second order “false consciousness”. Women’s unrelenting quest for a romantic partner could be seen as a second-order form of false consciousness.

A woman who idolises Shah Rukh Khan might nevertheless stomach men who are openly sexist and revere Salman as the pinnacle of masculinity:

“In a country with rapidly shrinking numbers of women in the workforce, I wore my employment as a badge of honour” But he desired erasure: “The One never expected much from me. Stay slim and smile, he would joke. And never discuss your job, never ask anyone about their work.

“Chup” by @Deepa Narayan also emphasises women’s self-erasure. But she attributes it to their formative socialisation. @Shrayana B shows how educated Indian women may actually want to take up space & feel pride in themselves, yet commitment to dating means they endure erasure by men.

And even though she portrays him as totally obnoxious, she nonetheless fears his rejection:

.@Shrayana B argues that a core indicator of patriarchy is whether have freedom to do whatever they like.

But even if individual women enjoy freedom, they may nevertheless swoon after toxic men Why? Reflecting on her relationship, @Shrayana B had a eureka “I realized how popular culture had made us lightweights for love… [a] race to find the One” So she started writing this book!

Many Indian women seek a guy like SRK, who respects and listens to women:

.@Shrayana B interviewed a diverse range of Indian women, Those who want - marriage and motherhood; - careers; and - career and family.

Why do most Indian women stay at home? Flip the question! Why don’t men stay at home? Most forms of work are what David Graeber calls “bullshit”. And so many women with economic security find far more fulfilment in mothering:

Many people do not have jobs they “enjoy” Many jobs can be tedious, boring and exhausting. Motherhood can be far more fulfilling. This is a great and really important point!

Husbands & mothers-in-law don’t necessarily coerce women to stay at home.

“Many women find greater love, social recognition and self-worth in being caregivers, thereby steadily withdrawing from the world of paid employment”

“Getting [my husband] to care or do his share would make me a nag & need even more effort, so I silently do it all” @Shrayana B’s interviewee captures sentiments on care work globally! Echoes @Deepa Narayan’s point on women’s socialised conflict-aversion & prioritisation of peace.

Even if men and women both work long days, women may still believe they should mop up the mess: “I feel guilty to ask as well. I know it’s strange and not very feminist, but I feel like I’m failing if I ask him to do my job.” [And that will persist, if men don’t offer]

Yes, great point The high cost of care also curbs women’s employment in Turkey. But it’s also endogenous to culture. The low supply of women workers pushes up the price of care:



Jul 14View on Twitter

Concrete example - it costs 24k a month for a reasonable nanny in Pune city for 8 hours a day. You need to make 1 lakh rupees per month at least to justify that cost. What's the % of women who earn that money in India?

Show this thread

“In real life, there is no Shah Rukh. All men are like Salman. Women have to fight with tradition and have to accept losing the fight”

“Shah Rukh had become a symbol of their youth, a time of optimism, a time when they believed it was possible to find a man who would love them as they were and always stand up for their choices”

“Real life required far more bargaining. A man could love you, he could be persuaded to marry you, he could be a terrific father, but he wouldn’t necessarily champion your freedom” [Echoes the 3 drivers I mentioned: - high hopes for respect - low supply & - desire for marriage]

“For most of these single women, marriage and monogamy were constant preoccupations” - @Shrayana B It’s not just that women are desperately seeking SRK and no one else will do. They aspire for more, yet given an over-riding desire for marriage they tolerate far less.

With development, millions more women become educated, and develop a love of learning, a deep curiosity about the world. But nevertheless discover they are to be wed. Aspirations crushed and curtailed.

Evans tangent, here’s a map I made earlier of women with secondary education but no say in their choice of husband.

“But men are pushed into arranged marriages too”. Yes, and that’s an area where I haven’t seen so much qualitative research…? Married men enjoy far greater mobility, however, roaming far beyond the home, so can pursue a broader range of pursuits (both their careers & gfs).

Men in India are free to explore, While women must “account” for their every move.

Why is SRK such a big deal for Indian women?? “We’d never seen a man talk to women with such respect and love (izzat aur pyaar se), never seen a man pay this kind of attention (dhyaan) to a woman”

Loving parents restrict their daughters due to heartfelt concerns for their safety

I conceptualise public safety as a collective action problem Parents fear cities are unsafe Daughters are restricted Men continue to dominate cities, lecher with impunity, police their turf Girls are less experienced & confident in public The few who step out are seen as harlots

Rational & loving parents restrict their daughters, for fear of safety. But by restricting girls’ movements those girls are not only less street smart But streets also remain male dominated, weakening women’s strength in numbers, & reinforcing men’s entitlements to public space

Some inequalities remain invisible, taken for granted. But when people come to see unfairness and expect equal treatment, they are frustrated by its denial! Here, girls accept their share of housework, but resent boys’ greater entitlement to leisure!

One chartered accountancy student qualified for a subsidy & increasingly thrived. How did her Love-interest, Tarun, respond?

The Accountant moved on. “Another potential match suggested that when they were married, she could use her accounting skills to help his business from home. He felt it was important for women to use their education without neglecting their domestic duties.”

“India is busy modernizing for its men” Men migrate to growth hubs for jobs and independent adventure. 80% of women, meanwhile, need family approval to visit a health centre.

12% of all commercial pilots in India are female That’s more than double the global average And the highest in the world!

“Oh yes, patriarchal countries often have more women in STEM” - you might reply. Dude, it’s just that India has the world’s 3rd largest civil aviation market. This sector has comparatively high labour demand.

And it was women from the LEAST patriarchal cultures that first became pilots: “Before the mid-1980s, women taking up jobs in the aviation sector were primarily from Christian & Parsi families [which] have historically reported better education & employment outcomes for women”

If patriarchy really predicts high shares of women in male dominated professions then the first Indian pilots would have been Muslim. They were not, they were Christian.

“Boys were more confident about going anywhere. The cinema hall was not a proper place for a girl without her family. “Girls in my group of friends were scared that something may happen, or their relatives would see us.” (Gold, from Jaisalmer)

Gold wanted to dance competitively. “No decent Khatri girl could dance for strangers. It was obscene’ said her father. He stopped speaking with her except to say, ‘Kuch sharm karo, humare baare main socho.’ [Have some shame, think about us, think what the neighbours will say]

Hoping to persuade him, Gold invited her father to watch a school dance rehearsal. He went “completely red” “He was sad. He looked so disappointed, I felt awful. I knew I had hurt his feelings.”

Gold aced college, but her parents refused to let her study in Jaipur or Delhi. Her brother studied outside Rajasthan but Her role was to stay home and marry well.

When Gold turned 18, their neighbour told her parents he’d seen her at a cinema with a foreigner. “Mr Arora told Papa that he should be careful because I was too free.’ His exacts words were ‘Gold bahut free hoti chali ja rahi hai.’ Gold is becoming too free.”

“They behaved like I had murder someone”. Gold was grounded, denied extracurricular activities, and always escorted by her brothers. Her parents worried that rumours were hurting her chances of marriage.

Gold did not want to touch her prospective groom But initially complied to make her family happy.

Gold discovered that her proposed groom had a terrible temper. Triggered by a DDLJ song, she panicked and started crying. Her mother and sister told her that such love was only for films and wealthy people. She should lower her expectations and comply.

Gold had other ideas: she escaped, moved to Delhi, and got a job as a flight attendant. The money was good but she was angry at male arrogance and entitlement: Like the male passengers who watched porn on their phones during flights, and stared at her breasts.

Gold was also angry about the inequality of dating. She relished her freedom and the new possibility of dating, without anyone knowing, But was frustrated by men’s privileged capacity to date as they like without repercussions:

“The more men you try to make things work with, the more of a failure you seem And the more gossip about you, the lesser your chances of finding someone good We have rules here, and they exist only for girls.” - Gold.

“Men like Shah Rukh are scarce these days, that’s why we all admire him.” - Gold. But but but It’s not just that SRKs are scarce! Women themselves may pursue Salman Khan types!

“Girls want gentlemen like Shah Rukh, but society forces you to need a body-builder type, a guy who looks intimidating to thugs and Romeos,’ - Gold.” Why is this???

Here’s my theory.. Ancestral pastoralism -> honour culture Weak rule of law -> men act tough so others dont mess with them. Public space is hostile & aggressive Public space is also male-dominated and thus especially hostile for women So some even seek Salman!!

So my theory is that ancestral pastoralism has long-run cultural persistence, which continues due to weak state capacity, and is reinforced through the dating/ marriage market Loving parents want their daughters to be protected. Cloistered & harassed women may also seek Salman.

Evans Segway: Where rule of law is strong, men do not have to act so macho. Hence the decline of interpersonal aggression in 17-18th century England and Scotland. And the rise of thuggish masculinity after the fall of the USSR, when streets were controlled by gangs.

“Unlike her mother and her sisters who chose conformity in Jaisalmer over freedom in Gurgaon, Gold had no intermediary helping her navigate the world of men. Her close friends had less experience of the kinds of relationships she found herself in”

This is a great observation by @Shrayana B and echoes my emphasis on deep and diverse friendships. Key to female liberation and solidarity is not just having friends per se But a knowledgeable and well-resourced network that can support you through diverse gauntlets (work/love)

“Maryada means self-discipline.. never express desire, never buy things for yourself”. [This is common in patrilineal cultures and Eurasian religions. Patrilineal kinship was strengthen through female self-sacrifice].

As I’ve written, male-majority workplaces are systematically hostile to women. This is why male-majority STEM has a leaky-pipeline. Women are pushed out Now what happens in India, where FLFP is so low that ALL workplaces are male-majority? ALL workplaces are hostile

That’s a great observation by @Shrayana B All workplaces are male majority and thus hostile to women. Hostile sexism in the workplace pushes women out. Likewise, Delhi’s male-dominated streets are hostile, pushing women out.

icymi: here’s my piece on how male-majority spaces are systematically hostile to women And this is why I’m curious to see pilots with gender quotas in India’s civil service, to “smash the fraternity”…

Male bosses and male-dominated workplaces consistently fail to recognise and elevate female talent. Rewards and promotions go to those who put in long hours. Men can take advantage of this system...…

Smash the Fraternity

“I wish someone could talk to me or touch me the way he does with Kajol in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, but that’s never going to happen,’ ‘My husband’s moods and hands are so harsh.” - explained a garment worker.

“Life was tough on men and they took it out on the women and children, losing interest in being devout, kind and courteous.” Yes, poverty and precarity tend to exacerbate family conflict, stress, and gender-based violence. This is why GBV is higher among the poor

“They were happy in the early years when he had a job. But when money became tough, all homes in the colony faced trouble” - Zahira

“Her husband didn’t talk, he just took out his frustration on his wife. Men here never like discussing money with their wives. It makes them feel like they are not providing for us or doing what a man is supposed to do. So, instead, men drink and hit their wives & children”

Zahira’s narrative perfectly encapsulates gender-based violence: - Economic insecurity exacerbates stress - Men are frustrated by their failure to be idealised breadwinners - Men seek solace in alcohol abuse & - Beat their wives

Let me add my further hypothesis: Alcohol abuse is higher in Southern India Because men tend to live in nuclear homes, Where they are not policed by anyone more powerful than themselves.

CAVEAT: I have not seen this tested empirically! But I think I am correct! Look at nationally representative data for India, you’ll see two big predicts of wife beating: Alcohol abuse and nuclear families!

But what’s the causal mechanism? It’s not that joint families are NOT more protective of women. We know that mothers-in-law may even perpetuate emotional and physical abuse of women.

Instead I speculate that in joint families, Brothers, uncles and parents do not like it when their son returns home stinking and being outrageously drunk. So they police this. By lowering alcohol abuse, they (indirectly) protect women from physical violence.

Whereas in nuclear families, the only person who could police a man’s drinking is his wife, and her authority and exit options are very weak. So men drink with impunity.

Here is a map of men’s alcohol consumption in India, National family health survey (2015-16) They do not explore the relationship with nuclear families, but I believe that is a plausible hypothesis!…

Joint families are four times more common in north than South India.… I suspect that joint families are less likely to tolerate their sons returning home absolutely plastered. And this minimises alcohol-fuelled intimate partner violence.

What’s the most significant insight from @Shrayana B ? What should we really learn? Across India’s slums to its elite soirées, many women long to be LOVE: to be adored, caressed, heard, respected and appreciated. That’s the core of SRK’s fandom: he shows LOVE

All his female fans long to be adored, caressed, heard, and appreciated the way that Shah Rukh adores his on-screen love interests, and the way he respects his wife in public (never denigrating her, always treating her with utmost respect).

“There is love and respect. You don’t see much of that amongst boys these days. Just look at the way he looks at his heroine” - Zahira.

Academics track inequalities by asking about - FLFP, seniority & pay gaps - political representation - decision-making - permission to leave the house - violence But these narratives emphasise “respect” These women want to matter, to be appreciated, not taken for granted

So then the BIG QUESTION becomes: Why do many Indian women feel UNLOVED? Let’s see if @Shrayana B answers this question!!

I’d suggest that men’s motivation to be loving is suppressed by women’s guaranteed amenability. If women are socialised to please their husbands, & if marriage is normative, such that singled is both socially & economically hazardous, then Men do not need to be loving.

But women’s guaranteed amenability is clearly not a sufficient explanation For when women resist or exit unsatisfactory relationships they are more likely to incur men’s wrath With their masculinity offended, men may react violently / spread rumours of their date’s impropriety

Many men also feel entitled to women’s unconditional devotion and deference. So react aggressively to the denial of their due dominance. Patriarchal socialisation & peer expectations mean this is not something that is subject to bargaining through improved exit options.

There are also structural features of poor patrilineal countries that inhibit conjugal companionship: The mother in law may keep the couple apart, so as to maintain her’s son’s loyalty and support; Precarity & precarity exacerbate household tensions.

SRK’s fans desperately want to be loved But often struggle to achieve this due to: 1) Men’s entitlement to deference; 2) Women are socialised please, marry & never exit 3) Jati-endogamy restricts matches & heightens surveillance 4) MIL pushes wife away 5) Poverty-induced stress

Those five factors - I think - make it harder to find love, Jati-endogamy reinforces patriarchal socialisation: Families teach their husbands to please their husbands unconditionally & then arrange their marriages, because marriage preserves vital bonds of kinship.

Continued Evans tangent: Marriage is the lynchpin of caste networks. Daughters are thus socialised to please men and Preserve their marriages at all costs (even enduring emotional and physical abuse).

As generations of women are socialised to please unconditionally, generations of men become entitled to deference. Men do not have to earn women’s love, because women have been encouraged to please. And that asymmetry inhibits the love & respect that so many women crave.

“70% of the women employed by India’s textile & garments sectors operate from the home. These women are not protected by labour laws, minimum wages or social security”. “Minimum wages for textile industries only apply to those who work 8 hour shifts in a formal establishment”

This is a classic example how India’s labour regulation reinforces patriarchy: It raises the costs of formal employment, which factories seek to minimise by outsourcing to piece-rate home-based workers, whose mobility is thus restricted.

“These were tough times for the women of Rampur. It had been a year of drought. As prices increased, the quality of husbands declined: men who discharged their pain on their family, men who blamed their wives and children for their financial crises.” - on Western UP.

2011 was a much better financial year! “The boys were on their bikes” cruising the highway, racing between towns.

But in truth they had no where to go.. Although these men were earning more, and seeking exit, they were still trapped in rural Rampur They had little to do but go on joyrides, lechering at women, “Wanna be my chammak challo?”

Women, however, were bored. “Purdah is very boring” Higher earnings had not loosened restrictions, so their “excitement was reserved for the secondhand reports from male cousins who had managed to ride their bikes to Noida or even Delhi, bringing back news“

Manju (Western UP) had never seen her future husband But that was expected. She was upset because her father and brothers refused to let her take her memorabilia of SRK. They refused to let her escape to a fantasy of being loved.

That’s such an important insight from @Shrayana B about low expectations and deeply felt private desires! If everyone else in Manu’s community is in arranged marriages, she doesn’t expect any different, and can accept her fate. But she still clings to the fantasy of love!

In my own work, I’ve distinguished between people’s internalised ideologies and their norm perceptions (about what is widely practised and endorsed in their communities). @Shrayana B illuminates how they come apart: Women DO desire to be loved, But expect & tolerate far less.

One of my favourite paintings by @Shamsia Hassani captures this distinction: See how her hair looks like film negatives? But she has no mouth I interpret this as conveying how even if a woman isn’t speaking, she may still be brimming with independent desires, ideas, & memories.

I’ve watched and adored many films with Shah Rukh, Knew he was a megastar But I never really understood why, Nor what that tells us about gender in India Until I read @Shrayana B’s book. The point is he shows women’s desperate longing to be LOVED. An unrealised fantasy.

“[Manju] was in her early twenties and her in-laws expected her to be a mute workhand within their home. They did not like her watching TV and did not allow her to work or leave the house”

Women purchase DDLJ iconography to express their ideals, But in their own lives cannot conceive of independence.

And I would suggest the blockage is because people develop their norm perceptions by observation of their immediate vicinity. If their peers comply, so will they. Even though women do desperately want to be loved like Kajol, if their neighbours are not, they do not expect it.

Why are arranged marriages so high in North India? Manju explains it perfectly. Since men are unreliable, you may need family support. Better to go with their choice than a (temporary) love match. [She takes dependence on patriarchal guardians for granted]

Low female employment perpetuates reliance on patriarchal providers, hence it remains rational to defer to parental choice. Obviously this makes it hard to find LOVE. Side-note: I’m still unclear on why parental choices are accepted by MEN.

So it’s not that women are irrational, nor that they lack independent desires, nor have they been socialised to want less. Many crave the love shown by SRK And wish all men provided marital bliss:

In North India, women’s social critique is limited by their exposure. The Gulag Gang are dismissed as impossible. Purdah is inevitable. They just want marital bliss.

Lily (a migrant domestic worker from Jharkland) saw “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”, She was touched by SRK’s appreciation of his wife’s cooking. She hadn’t seen any other man who was so appreciative women’s domestic work.

Segway: Back in Morocco, a family invited me to Iftar. It was a wonderful, marvellous spread! So many delicious treats, the mother had really worked wonders. Heavenly. Her husband did not even look at her. None of her sons said a word of thanks, nor did anyone compliment her

Afterwards, while doing the washing up, I was her about their reactions. “Yes, they treat me like a maid”. Now back to @Shrayana B’s book.

“It’s impossible to grow up as a woman in India without knowing what it is like to have to always seek permission to be yourself.”

“60% of Indian women are not allowed to travel alone outside their villages or neighborhoods, even to the market or a health clinic. 53% of us are anaemic. 37% of female suicide deaths are Indian. Each aspect of Indian life has become colonized by an old boys’ club.”

“We have learnt to expect very little”. The “quasi-deification of male babies remains rampant” “We socialize our daughters to become subservient in their own homes” - @Shrayana B

SRK fandom in some ways defies patriarchal expectations: “Good women are supposed to surrender their wages to their in-laws or husbands.. [and] save for their families. Good women are not supposed to visit cinema halls alone, and not blow up their savings on fangirling.”

SRK fandom is also a way women can stretch the confines of their patriarchal realities.

Alice Evans


✍️ THE GREAT GENDER DIVERGENCE ⚖ Why have all societies become more gender equal? 🌏 Why are some more gender equal than others? 💼 @KingsCollegeLon @Harvard

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