Many of my friends tell me that they find haircuts,facials and pedicure very relaxing. One reason could be the feeling of well being that is born of looking good. Another could be the primitive sense of bonding that dates back to primate life.
“social grooming” is a common practice of primates. They “spend hours each day ruffling through each other’s fur, removing bits of loose skin or burrs caught in the fine hairs”The frequency with which any two individuals groom each other appears to be a reliable index of the closeness of the social bond between them--that is, the extent to which each can count on the other for support.

(source:article here.)

Reading this took me back in time to a long forgotten memory of women of the household combing each others hair, checking for lice and cleaning them in the days when beauty parlours were rare and expensive and even shampooing was considered harmful to the hair. Washing hair was a weekly ritual. Thick and long flowing tresses could not be handled on one's own and usually they helped each other in washing it off. Oiling and combing of hair was usually kept aside for the leisurely afternoons; Snarls would be delicately untangled with least damage and then the hair oiled with pure coconut oil or delicately perfumed Tata oil or the strong keshavardhini or cathredine for special occasions. Finally it would be carefully plaited ensuring that all the hair stayed in place and every plait was of equal tension resulting in a symmetric design. And the finishing touch would be a strand of fresh flowers. All of this was done with ritualistic care and involvement with women of the family helping each other in combing and plaiting. A lot passed between the women during these times - shared gossip, confidences and counsel and plenty of laughter. I had an aunt who would always insist on combing and plaiting my hair whenever she came visiting and my grandmother did this too - this was their way of showing that they cared. Any hair damage that they noticed would meet with severe disapproval and by the end of the stay they ensured that the damage was fixed.
It now occurs to me that they did this only for their favorites - not to all the women and children in the house. Grooming to express alliance!

Have you noticed that it makes you feel good when someone ruffles through your hair? In fact we even have an idiom in Tamil when two people bond closely they are described as scratching each other's backs - yet another allusion to grooming and bonding. With the break-up of joint families and opportunities within the family to bond, we seem to have found the closest alternative in parlours. A famous hairdresser had once said in an interview that a lot of his regular clients confide in him when he treats their hair. Not every one uses the hairdresser as their confidante but there may be a reason why they find grooming relaxing. And the article quoted above tells us why:
Being groomed is reported to be a very pleasurable experience. As Dunbar points out:
"In fact, we now know that grooming stimulates the production of the body’s natural opiates, the endorphins; in effect, being groomed produces mildly narcotic effects."

The article discusses the interesting theory that language evolved as an alternative for grooming in the effort to socialise and form alliances - as grooming was individual bonding and required more time. It seems that language evolved basically to fulfill the urge to gossip. Anthropologists at the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in Oxford, UK, say chatting on the phone is the human equivalent of social grooming among chimpanzees and gorillas. Could it be that humans are constantly in search of an alternative to fulfill the early needs met by the act of grooming? perhaps there lies in the deep recesses of our subconscious an unsatisfied urge: ah,If only we could sit in groups and look for lice in each other's hair!!!
So next time you swipe your card at the parlour for that fat bill, don't be filled with guilt. You probably just gave in to a basic primitive instinct - blame it on our common ancestors:

(Pic source : via google images)
Sujatha asked me to answer this in a tag she passed to me. I have earlier spoken on what feminism means to me and expressed strong views on issues such as female foeticide, virginity, gender bias, rape as a means of subjugation,
genital mutilation, women's sexuality etc.
But this time around the question made me introspect more and honestly define the kind of feminism I practice.
Am I a feminist?
Would I fight for Equality – political, social, economic? yes.
Do I believe in equal opportunities for men and women everywhere? yes.
Do I fight discrimination in every way between genders? – yes
So can I define myself as a feminist and feel good about being on the politically correct side of an issue and go back to playing hangman?
Something was holding me back – a little niggling at the back of my mind. Like an itch in the throat that you can’t reach and scratch.

So I decided to face it headlong. Was I being totally honest?

At fifty, I am at a stage in life where I am fairly independent - economically and emotionally – where I am not often presented with situations where I have to make a feminist choice. Very rarely do I have to interact with people from outside the educated, upper middle-class where people hardly see me as a woman but mostly as a person. In professional dealings too I am fairly high on the food chain to be open to any kind of gender-based discrimination.
So from my comfortable sofa it is easy for me to look at feminism as an issue that is out there, or say what I think is the right position to have if one faces gender-based discrimination.

My early years were spent in a milieu where a girl was considered a responsibility and a boy an investment or asset. Girls were given the same treatment materially but there was a clear difference in attitude. There was definitely less freedom of speech and movement to girls than boys. One did not know there were other ways to live and so the discrimination did not hurt so much. Obviously I was not born with a natural sense of justice because I did put up with this kind of discrimination without even noticing it.

In my twenties and thirties too, as I look back, I think I have taken a lot of crap in relationships. I have been a doormat in some imagining it to be patience and love or sacrifice needed for a greater purpose. I have endured a lot and seen it as bad karma.. Allowing myself to be maneuvered, exploited by people, perhaps reinforcing their belief on why women deserved to be doormats.
I could blame it again on my upbringing but where was my independent thought – I was educated too, wasn’t I? I can only say that I chose to allow them to treat me badly. I did not stand up for my rights or my dignity as a person. I was not confident enough, I needed acceptance at all costs. I wonder if I symbolised reasons why women are considered the weaker sex. So in that sense I probably was not a feminist – but I was the reason why such movements were needed. :)

I believe I became the person that I am only when I turned 35. By this time, I had developed enough confidence and ideas and begun to see me as a person rather than defining myself in terms of others. I am outraged when I see discriminations of any kind – particularly on the basis of gender and let out steam here.I try to talk to younger people and make them see the flaws in their reasoning or areas of weakness in their relationships with men. I try to give them the confidence that they do not need men as emotional crutches but as equal partners in their marriage. And in this space I try to register protest against discrimination when I see it hoping to reach out to a handful of younger minds with my thoughts and hoping to provoke some discussion on sensitive issues affecting women or at least prod them gently to think about these issues.
But by the time I was 35, my life and station had moved to a place where there was less room for exploitation on the basis of gender. Have you noticed that Indian men begin to treat other women in a sexless way when they turn 35 or 40? They do not mind having bosses of a certain age, somehow they do not seem a threat. They do not make passes at them. Not as a norm in any case. They are not objects any more but respectable behenjis and auntys. And I am not complaining. The point is that by the time I was 35 or 40 there was no need to fight for any feminist reasons because there was no cause – no one was looking at me that way. I mean , at least most of the time.

So the answer to the question ‘are you a feminist?' would be a “yes’ without a trace of doubtsince it is in the present tense. But the point is that I was not one when it could have made a difference to my life. And even today I am not constantly treat one another fairly and without bias.
And would I be a feminist if I had to risk life and limb for it? Would my safety and life be more important to me than my individuality and rights? Would I be a feminist, for example, if I were living in Afganistan today? I am not sure. Would I even notice the discriminations if I were born in Saudi Arabia and lived there all my life? I don’t know. I would be a different kind of person then. And since I know from my experience that a sense of justice is acquired rather than genetic, I cannot answer for the kind of person I would be under different conditions.
So I guess the answer to this question in its entirety would have to be “I DON”T KNOW.”
I am comfortable only with doctors with a sense of humour - who can make you laugh about your condition by seeing the funny side of it. A friend even goes a bit further and declares that the most successful doctors are those with a sense of humour because in a profession where you deal with so much of suffering, you need it to cope and be successful. I am not so sure because I have come across doctors like the ones you see in films who look at you gravely, remove ther spectacles solemnly for effect and declare that you have Acute viral nasopharyngitis as if it is a terminal illness and you want to know how many days more you have to live.

My trips to hospitals take this to the extreme - I find each experience more hilarious than the other. Not too long ago, I shared this with you and had another of the kind yesterday and today. DIL has been complaining of a pain in the gluteal region and I assumed it was an allusion to her boss. It turned out that she had a huge abscess in that region and the quack she went to initially treated it like a pimple and gave her a couple of painkillers which did nothing to reduce the pain. For a couple of days we waited for it to burst on its own and it just grew worse. So finally we decided to go to one of the fancy hospitals closer to home.

We completed the registration formality and she was sent in to see the doctor while I waited in the waiting area. The doctor examined the affected area and explained that it was an abscess and asked her if she knew what that meant. She replied in the affirmative (Let me kiss the hands that created Google). Then he recommended an I and D procedure to drain the fluids and she said "ok." May be he expected her to panic or react a bit more. The unperturbed OK seemed to have confused him. So he again asked her if she knew what he meant. At this point she thought that probably there was more to it and she did not know what he meant and called me in. But the doctor was too busy initiating the admission procedure to notice my entry on the scene. After several phone calls to surgery, admissions, registrar and back to surgery, he finally noticed me and said "we are admitting her." I asked him why and he explained that the procedure was the only way she was going to be rid of the pain and there was no way the abscess would comply with our wishes and burst on its own. 'But surely there was a way to do it without admission?' I queried.
'Then you won't be able to claim insurance. I am assuming you have insurance?' he said.
"Ok. you go now and get admitted. Don't be fussy about your choice of room. Take whichever they give you. Then you can have it changed tomorrow."
All this seemed like a huge emergency - getting admitted even before we knew who the surgeon was. May be the surgeon was going to be paged to come and perform the procedure right away.
'So when will the procedure be?'
"oh the surgeon will be in tomorrow morning. Dr Bhat will do it."
But of course, Dr.Bhat for an abscess in the butt!

So we went to the admissions counter, still a bit unsure of why she needed to be admitted and what the huge hurry was if the surgeon was coming in only in the morning.
Counter no. 5 or 6 , we were told and we asked the young man the procedure for admission.
"you pay 10000 and get admitted and before surgery you pay 80% of the operation cost" and then he went on to elaborate on the forms required from the insurance guys.
My thoughts went: '10,000 for a boil - ok ok that is trivialising it a little. It is NOT a boil but an abscess but 10 k for an I n D procedure?'
"And can we have the type of room we want?" asked DIL sounding like she was booking rooms in a resort.
"No ma'm, we only have the general room that is shared by 3 people."
"And the bathrooms?" asked DIL probably hoping every bed had a bathroom attached.
"They are shared too."
That was the clincher. We did not want to go in with a boil and pick up more infections sharing rooms with people with other ailments. And certainly not share bathrooms with strangers.
So we decided to have a chat with the surgeon and take a call on the admission while making a booking for a separate room.
We went back this morning and the surgeon simply drained the fluid without so much as local anesthesia and neatly dressed the affected part and told her she could go back to her normal life. Total cost:consultation Rs.350+ RS. 320 toward lab charges for the Pus culture and Rs.303.21 toward cost of medicines.
We still do not know why we were being hurried into admitting her with an advance payment of 10 k. May be the first doctor missed the classes on the day they taught A for abscess. Or may be he gets his bonus based on the income to the hospital from his clients.

We do see a lot more cases of surgeries that people undergo these days - I wonder if the instances of surgeries have increased since the availability of insurance claim. At least there are a lot more cases of by-pass surgeries these days. Is surgery becoming the first option in most cases just to be on the safer side? And because insurance covers the costs anyway? What about the side effects of surgery etc?
I do know a lot of people who prefer to get admitted rather than be treated as Outpatients even for simple procedures - so that it is covered by insurance. Otherwise they would have to pay it out of their pocket. No wonder there is such a demand for beds.
And what about cases that really need surgery but where people cannot come up with 10k+ 80% of the cost of operation immediately? It could be a Saturday and banks do not open till Monday or one of those many bank-strike days or festival holidays - what happens then? We could get away laughing about the hilarious encounter but I am not sure it is so funny for many people who go to these hospitals.
In a comment on Mystic Life’s post dealing with stereotypes quite some time back, I had offered to do a post on the stereotypical ideas I grew up with. And then I got bogged down by so many other things that this kept getting postponed. Well, I could have blamed in on that stereotype - 'a woman's work is never done' but knowing me, you wouldn't believe it, would you?

Many of the stories I heard in my childhood reinforced the belief that suffering was the sure path to glory. They were always about endless trials and tribulations on earth and at the end of it all promise of eternal bliss, stardom or godhood. There was even a time when, as a child, I used to be suspicious of all rich people – if they had so much on this earth they couldn’t be good, could they? Or at least I was sure that they weren’t getting a place in heaven after their good time on earth. Women who were happily married did not get to merit the status of a great woman – you had to suffer like Sita, Draupati, Ahalya, Nalayini, Damayanti, Chandramati. This stereotype was further emphasised in my adolescent years through the films I saw. A good woman always suffered – she was usually married to some good-for-nothing alcoholic and/or wife beater with a good measure of paranoia . And how her patience and perseverance and faith finally help her reform this worthless specimen is the measure of her greatness. If only she had the good sense to send him to rehab, she and the audience could have been saved of a lot of misery. I was rather disappointed to see this same old concept used in some of the TV serials in recent times.

Another fallacy these childhood stories emphasized was the importance of sacrifice and self-abnegation. You needed to forego things, even when they were rightfully yours, to achieve greatness. Ram was great because he did not argue with his father about the stupidity of Kaikeyi’s demands. Lakshman was great because he followed Rama to the forest. Bharath was great because he would not ascend the throne. Bhishma was great because he renounced his claim to the throne and any prospect of marriage so that his father could marry someone he loved. There was this story which was popular in every Tamil household about 40 years ago. It was also popular because it had a funny tagline – ‘amma, amma Kozhakattaikku kannu undodee?’ (Mom, does the sweet dumpling have eyes?) This was about a girl in Cinderella-like situation. Only there was only one step-sister in this case. One day the step-mother, probably in a PMS moment, throws the girl out. And the girl wanders to the forest and finds a cottage where an old lady lives. After the initial introduction, the old lady asks her if she is hungry and what she’d like to eat. The girl settles for left-overs but the old lady protests and makes hot and tasty food for her. Then she asks the young girl where she’d like to sleep and the girl opts for a mat but the lady insists on giving her the softest mattress and pillow. You get the drift, don't you? While the girl always chooses the most austere of the options the lady insists on giving her the finest and the best. The next day she returns home laden with gifts from the old lady and the step mother is pleased. Now the step-sister decides to go and grab her share of goodies too from the old lady. So she goes to the old lady and demands the finest and the best but all she gets is some leftover food and a night on a torn mat . She returns home with a lot of advice and nothing more. Moral of the story, children: “Always set your heart on the basic necessities. You will be rewarded with the best if you are good and if you deserve it” I think this story was single-handedly responsible for creating a generation of children who were afraid to want the best for themselves.

And that brings me to the other stereotype – the wicked stepmother. You saw them everywhere - in fairy tales, in films, in stories. Stepmothers who spent all their time and energy persecuting their step daughters. One of my classmates had a step mother and the other girls spoke in whispers about her. We assumed that the girl was being beaten up everyday and starved and locked in a room. When my aunt died leaving 4 children behind, her husband decided to remarry and brought home an angel. She loved my cousins as her own children and worked really hard to bring them up on her husband’s limited income. She went without so many things but made sure that they didn’t go wanting for tasty food or nice clothes or a good education. But one of her step-daughters never accepted her because as a child she had heard that all step mothers were evil.

Many of the gender stereotypes that I had seen as a child are still around, although many of them are in the process of being thrown out. Ideas like it is not possible for a woman to be happy without a husband and a family or that women are genetically designed to take care of children and the family.('Biologically and temperamentally, I believe women were made to be concerned first and foremost with child care, husband care and home care' - Dr. benjamin Spock)
One of my vivid memories from childhood is hearing an adult dismiss a woman as being unwomanly because she whistled. No she didn’t whistle at anyone – she just whistled a song in the privacy of her bedroom. He happened to be visiting and heard it and that was enough for him to pronounce her ‘unwomanly’ – not un-lady-like but Un-woman-ly!! A ‘good’ woman did not whistle, wear revealing clothes, drink alcoholic beverages or smoke,; She did not swear; she put her needs after everybody else’s. She was seen ( mostly as another man’s shadow) and hardly ever heard to assert herself.

While many of these traditional stereotypes have been left behind by the current generations , there are other stereotypes today on what constitutes being ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’, what is ‘hot’ and what is not and above all, what constitutes physical beauty. In earlier times it was society that had a stake in creating and sustaining stereotypes but today it seems to be a multi-billion dollar industry. And perhaps that is what would make these stereotypes that much harder to reject.