An open letter to Shobhaa De

Hello Shobhaa,

Your Wikipedia page and other sources of general public information describe you as an author, a novelist, a columnist, an editor of some ‘famous’ magazines and an ex-model. You are also, I believe from my observations, a socialite and a regular face on Page 3 of quite a few newspapers. Congratulations for all of this!

Now I read this recent article of yours on your blog, which (unfortunately) was also published in The Week. And I could not help but write to tell you what you are not.

You are not a feminist. You are not a champion of the female cause. You are not even what can be construed as a part of the face of the modern Indian woman. At your best, you are just another pseudo-feminist with a demented idea of what women want, probably derived from reading the obnoxiously superficial and outrageously deceitful articles about the ‘real’ interpretation of female equality and achievement thereof.

Because when you made a hue and cry about the fact the some men started visiting the same salon as your highness was a regular at, and then when you went ahead to label it as ‘the worst kind of male intrusion into our personal space since the introduction of common lavatories’, you were actually jeopardizing what feminism actually stands for.

I have a problem with this.

You see, I understand where you come from. Your stint in modelling may lead you to believe that a ‘female-only’ manicure and pedicure facility is the epitome of the female equality. Because hey, feminism is all about women having exclusive salons where they can spend the rest of their lives getting rid of body hair and ‘perfecting’ their natural self!

Reality: It isn’t.

You know what, while you were busy ‘spreading awareness’ about the male encroachment in your neighborhood salon, somewhere in this very country a woman got raped because supposedly she ‘was inviting it’, a girl was not sent to school, a female child could not survive the gender stereotypes, a bride was set ablaze for being unable to substantiate her worth in gold and cash, an educated professional lady was sexually harassed at her workplace and many other women were denied even their basic human rights. All this happened, while you were mourning a chipped nail and an unwaxed upper lip. These aren’t the real threats to feminism, Miss. De. We need social, political, economic and cultural equality for women. And forgive my shortsightedness, but I don’t see how your battle is going to be of any help in this war.

Not to mention that the condescending and disdainful tone in which you talk about both men and women who have ‘imperfect’ bodies is only going to reaffirm the superficial norms of beauty that the modern society has so wrongly accepted and even revered. Hair or no hair, we need to learn to respect people for what they are and not how they look. So, if you can’t help with this, please at least don’t screw it up for those who are trying!

And yeah, so what exactly is the big deal if guys have started taking personal grooming seriously? On a lighter note, isn’t it finally a victory for all the women who have, for centuries, been nagging about how untidy and unkempt their partners/husbands/boyfriends are. Yes, painting toenails is taking it a bit too far even for the most metro-sexual of men but I’m just going to treat it as a figment of literary exaggeration a writer of your ‘stature’ has to resort to and live up to, to keep the pseudo-feminists interested and then exclaim- “Hah! Men are so stupid, aren’t they!”

You claim to be ‘all for male grooming’, yet you are averse to the idea of sharing a salon with them? Why, do you have to share a wax strip with a (as you said) ‘hirsute man’? I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Even if for a microsecond we agree to your statement that both the parties might get grossed out looking at each other’s not so perfect bodies, isn’t it also true that this also in some way brings a sense of understanding, even appreciation, of the natural shortcomings that the opposite gender has?

I think it does.

And hey, in this part of the universe we still have hospitals where men get treated alongside women. So with your persistent sense of getting ‘grossed out’, what are you proposing, we get separate hospitals for them?

Shobhaa, another thing. The men you are talking about, they are what we call in marketing language ‘consumers’. You cannot really expect each one of them to open up a salon for themselves just because a woman suddenly feels threatened with men sharing the grooming space with her. You see, not everyone has the kind of money that you get by selling Bollywood gossip and grapevine bundled in smooth shiny papers to gullible people!

As a matter of fact, the business concept of a unisex salon is pretty much a successful one, even in a relatively conservative country like India. You might want to read this article about the growth of this industry. If the idea of a unisex salon was ‘grossing out’ a majority of people (as you would want us to believe), I don’t think unisex salons would have survived, let alone flourish the way they have not only in metros but also in Tier-II cities of the country. So, you know, go easy on Mr.Branson there with your business ideas.

What you have so easily termed as a death knoll for the female privacy and the male intrusion into the female space, is actually more of your own personal problem. Because last time I checked, unisex salons were not there in the ‘list of things that threaten feminism and female equality’.

It is a sorry state of affair if a woman thinks, believes in and propagates the idea that ‘female space’ literally means how many square feet of a salon the women can have exclusively to themselves!

You can now go ahead and get you toenails done.



The ‘hirsute’ man you don’t want to see in a unisex salon