Hey Mister, How Long is Your… Spine?


Hey Mister, How Long is Your… Spine?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

You might call me flagrant, for this is not how cultured women speak.

You might call me crude, for this is not the kind of question “classy” women ask.

You might call me shallow, for this is not something “real” women care about.

But here I am, about to ask you.

As flagrantly, crudely, shallowly as we come,

Dude, mister, sir, pal, sonny, bruh,

Answer me this:

How big is your… that?

You know… that thing that most women, including myself, really, truly dig? That ultimate symbol of brawny machismo that can make a woman go weak in the knees? That ultimate X-factor. That one size that matters more than the rest. That thing that most definitely makes you a man.  

I can see you out there, pulling out the measuring tape to measure it, but hold on a for second. Take a moment to figure out if you even have one. At this point, you are beginning to rage and ready to belittle my existence and say, “Who the fuck is she? This author of an insignificant essay, to question if I have that. Of course I have it, and I have it GOOD. I’ll send you a pic, bitch.”

Please do, dear sir. Send me a picture. Of your spine.

A man who can take a stand in front of his friends for a woman he is neither related to, nor hoping to sleep with.

Because that’s the part of you I am deeply interested in, that we are deeply interested in. You see, it is nice to meet a man who plays the guitar, or reads Kafka, or both. It is nice to talk to someone who has travel tales from everywhere to share. It is even nicer when these men also happen to be *male objectification alert* easy on the eyes – but that’s everybody.  

What is special, however, is to see a man who can get a male friend to back off, when he is making a woman, who may or may not be related to either, uncomfortable. A man who can tell a friend that he or she is a jerkwad for calling a woman names behind her back. A man who can take a stand in front of his friends for a woman he is neither related to, nor hoping to sleep with. A man who can do any of the above with a straight face, to let it be known that he means it, instead of avoiding confrontation by casually letting it pass in a “haha, bhai jaane de!” moment.

An essay on Arré titled “How Men Talk When Women Aren’t Listening” chronicles these moments when men have been on the other end of numerous conversations featuring a woman on the ropes of either dignity or security. The author confesses about adhering to a bro code –  he has listened passively to men giving lascivious details of encounters that are morally and ethically unsound, even if he hasn’t spoken a word himself. Sir, it is not the tongue at fault here. It is the spine.  

Sure, men feel terrible when their women friends narrate their #MeToo stories, and wish that society were a safer place for them – a place where everyone has the right to wear whatever they want. But how many of them speak up when and where their words could make a difference?

When I was young, I loved being the elder sister who would pick up her baby brother from the school bus stop in the afternoons. He, on the other hand, hated it; he continued to whine until I stopped. At the time, I thought it was his “I am a grown up” or “I am a boy” phase. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned why he did not want me there – the boys on his bus talked foul about mothers and sisters who came to pick up their children or brothers. Of course, my brother was not ready to hear any of that about his sister. Of course, he would have gotten into a brawl had anyone said anything. Of course, he wanted to prevent it. Of course, his innocent mind at the time thought that the best way of not letting it happen was for me not to be seen. As my friends now tell me, this wasn’t just my little brother, but pretty much every young boy who grew up with a sister.

If not for the old and crusted rules of the bro code and other such aggressively male dicta that coerce men from a young age into conforming to unhealthy guy-friendship dynamics – most of which stipulate the kind of passive silence the author of the above article called out – perhaps, they would grow up to be okay with straight-up telling a male friend who is in the wrong, “Dude, that’s not cool.”

There was a time when women were told to simply settle with the belief that men just don’t get it. That they are either not mature enough, or not emotionally evolved, to understand the nuances of human emotions and social situations as well as women do. Men, too, were happy to receive the free pass (and the lack of consequences) that these funky stereotypes brought along. Rahul got this free pass in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, where his flippant attitude toward the women in his life and his shallow approach to love became an aww-worthy spectacle of childishness for people both inside and outside the movie. Remember Radhe in Tere Naam? His bullying and harassing his love interest was supposed to evoke heavy gasping and romantic melting in the viewers’ hearts, and it did. What about Kabir in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani? The travel freak who was too cool for love and responsibility until the serious and sensible Naina came into his life.

I like to think that things are changing. I like to think that we are moving closer to a world where most men will not need an Anjali or a Nirjara or a Naina to centre them, to ground them, to make them… decent. And I know it is true, because while men are still bro fisting to the bro code in all its abhorrently sexist overtones, many of these men are also thinking and writing and talking about their own realisation of the damage that their passive participation is causing to the world around us, and the fact that they owe it to the world to speak up. To grow a spine.

Dude, mister, sir, pal, sonny, bruh,

I know you are a “great guy”.

I know you care about equality and all that jazz.

I know #NotAllMen;

But what really speaks for you,

And your spine,

And how big (or small, it’s fine, happens to everybody) it is,

Is the way you think of –

And react to,

Actions, words, thoughts, gestures of your friends.

You know, your bros.

The same ones that come before hoes.