My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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16 December 2017

On women who say "I only get along with men"

(This appeared as my F Word column in The Week)

Recently, someone proclaimed to me that she hated women. “I'm a man inside a woman's body,” she told me, “I don't get women.” I began to protest, but it was that time of the night, two drinks too many, no other sound apart from our conversation drifting off the balcony and across the park. Later, I recapped this, and my partner said I took things too literally. “Obviously #NotAllWomen,” he said, in a reasoned, reasonable tone, which made me feel about five years old and sulky. But the more I think about her statement, the more I wonder what it is like to not like women. It seems so strange, so alien, especially if you are a woman yourself.

For me, women have always been a sort-of safe zone. My eyes automatically scan a crowded room for other women, and when I see them, I am able to settle in more easily. If I'm walking somewhere, I like to walk behind a group of women, they may not know they're escorting me, but they are. Sometimes, when I am in a mixed group, and there is a single female walking in front of us, I see her glance back, apprehensively, take me in and then relax just a little bit. I am her ally, even if she doesn't know me at all, because it's the Woman Code, we make spaces a little bit safer just by existing in them.

I read this article once on serial killer couples, and it struck me as even more of a betrayal that the women were helping the men abduct other women. It wasn't the code! How could they let us all down like that? We are wary of lone men, and a woman adds legitimacy and security to them and if the woman herself is out to get us, what else can we hold on to?

Of course, this could be just me. I've always liked other girls growing up, other women now in my thirties. I used to think I was a guy's girl, preferring the company of men, but truth be told, very few of my friendships with men turned into something deep and meaningful, whereas I have a whole tribe of soul-sister-female-friends with whom I have remained close—some for over decades. I'm good with women, as I grow into my thirties, I may not have entirely stopped competing, but I now step back and examine the reason I'm feeling competitive in the first place.

Speaking of friends, I have this Whatsapp group with three other women, where I am the only non-corporate, non-commuting-to-Gurgaon person on it. We try to meet every other week, usually for loud and raucous drinks on a weekend, which inevitably ends with group messages the next day groaning about drinking too much. Our conversation lingers briefly on the subject of men—three of us are married or “as good as”--but swiftly moves on to jobs, advice, things we're doing, travel and more and more and more than just our relationships, that we not only pass the Bechdel test, we ace it, we hit a home run, we are the shining example the Bechdel test should be holding up. Not to brag or anything, but female friendships can be pretty darn perfect.

And so when a woman says she “just doesn't get other women,” (and the person I met the other night wasn't the first example of this—nor will she be the last), I wonder what it is she's missing from her fellow female interactions. Patriarchy can knock us all down and make us believe that there's only room for one great mother on the playground, one beautiful woman at a party, one top woman boss at a mostly male company, and this means women are sometimes nasty to one another, cold and cutting, or sly and passive aggressive. But then, so are some men, so why do we take it so personally when it's our own sex? I'll tell you why—because even the loudest advocate of Female Friendships Don't Exist, and Men Make Better Friends still, still lean on the idea that there is solidarity to be found with other women. And when they are betrayed, they burn brighter with resentment than the rest of us, who shrug it off as the actions of one person as opposed to a basic gender trait.

I feel like I am richer for having close female friends my whole life. Well—that's not true. For a brief, dark moment of my life, I had girl bullies, who dealt in psychological twists of the knife that left me introverted and self-conscious for several years. One of the things that pulled me out, that made me strong and confident again, able to face a room without flinching or worrying that they were judging me has been the love I feel on all sides of me. Love that is (with the exception of my partner) purely female.

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