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January 18, 2008

Do only bad girls smoke?

Any woman traveling in autos in Delhi will tell you that men around will stare at her, whether they are in cars, on bikes or sitting on a cycle rickshaw. Now if any woman were to light up a cigarette in an auto, it might as well create a traffic jam.

Cigarettes are a serious health issue, but the moment it is a woman smoking, it becomes more than just a health issue. It becomes a yardstick to judge her character, her morality and even a question on her motherhood capabilities. It is of course assumed that every woman will make a mother and every woman wants to.

For long Hindi movies – since one has seen more of those than movies in other regional Indian languages – have shown only bad girls smoking on screen. The gangster’s moll (Manisha Koirala in Company), the vamp (Nadira, Shree 420), hookers (Sonam, Mittu Aur Sona) and ‘non-Indian’ mothers, meaning mothers who wore Western clothes and were against the norm of a good Indian wife or a good Indian mother (Lilette Dubey, Monsoon Wedding). The association has always been clear: Fallen and bad women smoke, good girls don’t.

While nicotine harms both men and women – women more because our systems, thanks to the uterus and the estrogen, are more sensitive than a man’s – the ISSUE of women and smoking is NEVER just about health. And it’s neither recent nor just relegated to India.

Smart marketing gave cigarettes an image overhaul from being cancer sticks to being ‘torches of freedom’: public relations guru Edward Bernays, dreamed up a campaign where he persuaded a dozen debutantes to light up cigarettes while marching in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1929 where the attractive young women called their cigarettes “torches of freedom” (courtesy Wall Street Journal, Jan 2008).

Even today many women hold their cigarettes as a symbol of defiance: If a man can, why can’t I? Then there is the entire bit about how cigarettes “help” you retain your figure or get slim. Nicotine kills appetite and many a young thing picks up the habit because she wants to be thin, look good. Do we blame the girls for wanting to look good? Ad after ad, actress after actress and role-model after role-model perpetuates thin-is-beautiful. And sincerely, no matter how many articles say announce that meat-is-back in fashion, NO woman will buy that.

Then there is the bit about fitting-in. With more women heading out in the corporate world – where a large number of men smoke, particularly in India – women join in the smoking-clan as well. Call it peer pressure, call it looking cool, call it wanting to be fit… Cigarettes are being marketed as much more than another habit to pick up and it’s sad.

I have been a smoker and I am trying desperately to kick the habit. My skin has lost its sheen, my hair structure has changed and more than anything else, I confess, I am paranoid that I will put on weight. I know what it feels to be “fat” (political correctness be damned). Yesterday, I wrote ‘smoking is injurious to your character’, do read it. Today, as you read this, I am going to meet a doctor who claims to be able to make me QUIT IN FOUR DAYS. But I know the honest truth – as a friend of mine pointed out – I have to be ready to give it up. I am. Will share the pointers with you by evening…

But more than anything else, let’s please look at cigarettes for what they are: A suicidal bad habit that lasts a lifetime… Whatever life is left after we get hooked to it and let’s try and kick it together. My inspiration is my father, who quit after 32 years of smoking. He didn’t want to… till his nose started bleeding of an internal haemorrhage. Now I am going to get ready to meet the doc, see you later.
COURTESY: WALL STREET JOURNAL, JAN 7, 2008 (mailed by Vasundhara on facebook, tks!)

When Worse Than A Woman Who Voted
Was One Who Smoked
January 7, 2008; Page B1
Mrs. William P. Orr was riding in a car on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1904 when she lit up a cigarette. A policeman on a bicycle ordered her to put it out. "You can't do that on Fifth Avenue while I'm patrolling here," he told her.

Until the late 1920s, a woman who smoked in public was not only considered vulgar, she risked a warning from the police. In 1922, a New York alderman, Peter McGuinness, proposed a city ordinance that would prohibit women from smoking in hotels, restaurants or other public places.

"Young fellows go into our restaurants to find women folks sucking cigarettes," the alderman argued. "What happens? The young fellows lose all respect for the women, and the next thing you know the young fellows, vampired by these smoking women, desert their homes, their wives and children, rob their employers and even commit murder so that they can get money to lavish on these smoking women."

A Washington Post editorial in 1914 declared, "A man may take out a woman who smokes for a good time, but he won't marry her, and if he does, he won't stay married."

There had been famous high-profile female smokers, of course. In the late 18th century, Rachel Jackson, wife of the seventh president, sometimes handed her pipe to a dinner guest, saying, "Honey, won't you take a smoke?" In the mid-19th century, the French novelist George Sand openly smoked cigars. But before the 1930s, most women smoked only in the privacy of their own homes.

"To smoke in public is always bad taste in a woman," Alexandre Duval, a Parisian restaurateur, said in 1921: "In private she may be pardoned if she does it with sufficient elegance."

World War I drew many women out of their homes to jobs where their co-workers smoked. Americans who traveled abroad, or who entertained foreign guests, saw aristocratic women smoking, often with elegant holders, at dinner parties. The suffrage movement, culminating in the 19th Amendment in 1920, drew attention to other gender inequalities. Smoking became a visible symbol of defiance and feminism.

Working women in New York in the 1920s would sometimes jump into a cab at lunchtime for a private smoke. Upper-class female smokers in Charleston, S.C., at around the same time ordered their cigarettes by mail so the local tobacconist wouldn't know their dirty secret.

But the old ways died hard. In 1920, Hugh S. Cumming, surgeon general of the U.S., warned that "the cigarette habit indulged by women tends to cause nervousness and insomnia and ruins the complexion. This is one of the most evil influences in American life today."

The manager of a Manhattan hotel told a New York Times reporter, "I hate to see women smoking. Apart from the moral reason, they really don't know how to smoke. One woman smoking one cigarette at a dinner table will stir up more smoke than a whole tableful of men smoking cigars. They don't seem to know what to do with the smoke. Neither do they know how to hold their cigarettes properly. They make a mess of the whole performance."

Several women's colleges banned smoking. At Smith College, students seen smoking, even off campus, received a demerit. Three demerits meant expulsion. Bryn Mawr students were prohibited from smoking within 25 miles of the college except in private homes.

In 1921, U.S. Rep. Paul Johnson of Mississippi proposed a bill to make it illegal for "female persons" to smoke in "any public place where two or more persons are gathered together" in the capital. "Regulating smoking by women comes under police power and, as is well known, police powers are practically without limit," he said. (The bill never came to a vote.)

In 1928, the executive board of the Cleveland Boy Scouts recommended that scouts use their influence to discourage women from smoking, saying it "coarsens" women and "detracts from the ideal of fine motherhood." Sioux Falls, S.D., barred billboards picturing women smoking, and Lynn, Mass., banned the showing of films in which women smoked.

Capitalism came to the rescue. Philip Morris brought out a cigarette for women with the slogan "Mild as May." The American Tobacco Co. suggested smoking could make you thin, proclaiming "You can't hide fat, clumsy ankles. When tempted to overindulge, reach for a Lucky."

Finally, a public-relations genius, Edward Bernays, dreamed up a campaign that echoed across the country. He persuaded a dozen debutantes to light up cigarettes while marching in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1929. The attractive young women called their cigarettes "torches of freedom."

According to a U.S. government estimate, the number of women between 18 and 20 years old who began smoking cigarettes tripled between 1911 and 1925 and more than tripled again by 1939.

Some men who disapproved of women smoking thought it might be the lesser of two evils. "If it were a question between their smoking and their voting, and they would promise to stay at home and smoke," Sen. Joseph Bailey of Texas said in 1918, "I would say let them smoke."


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't categorize women on being bad if they smoke.. and definitely not you :)
I confess.. I have never know personally a women who smoked.
But I encourage you to leave the habit. It is plain injurious to health and I know it is not easy!! oh! well for that matter no habit is easy to let go!!
But where thee is a will there is a way.. I am going to read the other post.. see you there then!

Take good care!

Silvara said...

Good on you for trying to kick the habit - I don't believe there is any base to the whole 'only bad girls smoke' thing but I do think that due to a lot of external factors - movies, society, friends that it has been given the tag of being 'cool' and 'modern'. Even if it is in the end a personal choice. And you know what a modern woman has to deal with in today's world.

In regards to my earlier comment on my friends smoking, I realised that all of them who did smoke were found to be more weight-obsessed as well. It really is an image thing.

Good luck anyways :)

Pointblank said...

WHOA! tat was some good writing. Something tat I always had in mind.If smoking meant freedom, then we have the answer. The exact reason y women r dissuaded from smoking is just tat - they become liberated! nobody really likes a liberated woman - neither men nor women(atleast most).

BTW, though its hard to get outta thos habit, it will definitely do u good! so keep trying n keep writing. good post, once again!

avijit bakshi said...

Hi again again,

read till 19.3.07 today. At first I had thought that your blog was entirely about women's issues. Crimes against women etc, which i wanted to read about and support a voice that speaks up against them. But the more I read I see that it is also about you but in a specific way. In the way that demonstrates that a woman has the right to live the way she wants demonstrated visibly on the blog. A woman as she is and not as she is supposed to be take it or leave it blog. And that's just great, because it openly goes against what women should be and shows what is - what we call product demonstration in advertising.

I had a thought last night that you may or may not agree with but I thought I would share it with you. I noticed a lot of villification about you in the posts. People using vituperation as criticism. My thought was that the abuse could be viewed as laurels. The fact that you are inspiring abuse means that you are a success and have shaken things up and and questioned presumed unquestioned rights. The abuse is actually a mark of your success. And like any real crown this one has its thorns. The abuse is both your crown and your thorns, an emblem of your being the queen of what? Blogging for a better country? Shaking things up that need to be shaken up? the just won't take it lying down anymore blog? You decide if you like the whole idea.

Anyway great blog.

Take care


the mad momma said...

Well I dont smoke.. but bad girls have fun. and i really dont care what anyone else has to say. smoking is a health decision you must take. not a moral issue.

Senior said...

20 years from now a woman smoking in public in India wont get as many stare as she is getting today.Why?Cuz if many children today are growing up watching women around them smoke,they may not care in future if women smoke or not.In villages I have seen/known many women,mostly aged,smoking.Its usually their way of relaxing after a days hard work or the idea of a smoke saving a meal.Its more of not having money or saving money and not about staying slim or to look cool.

Try replacing with chewing gum,if there is fear of gaining weight.And think of other healthy alternative to keep off the weight,for example,exercise.Have no doubts,am here struggling to keep off the weight.And i know smoking will only add to health problems and make it worse than just weight gain.

My dad one fine day threw his cig packet into the trash and said no more,i quit.But at times he couldnt resist and would ask me secretly to go to the near by shop and get him just 1 cig and not the whole pack.(Yea,the small shops do tht too,retail at its best:D)But slowly he stopped it all.

Would love to hear you say "I quit smoking" and most importantly keeping it off. :)

eve's lungs said...

No I'm a good girl and Im still trying to kick the habit.

Dusty Fog said...

first time reader of your blog and what a good piece to begin with. I work on the mezannine floor. I used to walk up 3 flights of stairs to smoke, so people who know me don't see me smoking, cause then my 'good guy' image is down the drain. When I realised that, because i don't go for sunday mass, i am already termed a 'bad' boy. Because i bought 3 shirts at one go, I don't know the value of money, and again a 'bad' boy. What the heck. i am a bad boy in any case, so i smoke now on the same floor i work on.
I guess there are certain actions that are defined in our culture to support the good/bad theory. If one tends to indulge in those actions that fall into either category, we are doomed or hailed as angels. Big deal. I don't suppose I don't want to anymore front a facade...: )
cheers and have a great blog year ahead.

Eve* aka JB said...

Hello Dusty
Wish you a happy blog year - with mor frequent posts ahead.

Abhi said...

Warning: Long, sarcastic comment!

Smoking and Women! Hmmm ... At least four issues come to the mind within our Indian context:

A little about me: A male smoker who has always liked smoking, but of late has been uncomfortable with the fact that the cigarette smokes me than the other way round.

1. Smoking itself, done for whatever reason and by whoever.

Smoking as an act would always be an individual choice. So men, women, monkeys ... anybody who wishes to, can, may and will smoke :). Cliche, I suppose ;). But then, it is also true that it is better to leave the habit. Perhaps it is only a fellow smoker who understands the issues that
make it difficult to
give it up!

2. Women smokers.

Much has been, and can be, said about the individual and smoking. At the end of the day, it is a habit better given up. I think the act has more social issues than individual ones, and I find most issues converging on the underlying moral view points.

Smoking by women as individuals will almost necessarily have the "liberation" component! With patriarchal morality torch on the female shoulders, our males are free to indulge. Smoking is the same as "non demure" dressing. Indulging men are "studs", indulging women are "sluts" (cause traffic jams ;) by smoking or dressing "provocatively" )! And few are concerned with any aspect of these two other then the impact on the social values.

3. Social perspective on smoking.

The rise of the anti-smoking lobby is probably a recent phenomenon. The irony is that most anti-smokers are concerned about the ill effects that smoking by the smokers has on the health and well being of the non smokers. It is unfortunately very easy to forget that there are many activities and choices other than smoking that have an adverse impact on the health and well being of fellow life forms. Perhaps the only admissible argument against smoking is a genuine concern about the smoker's health and well being.

4. Social perspective on female smokers.

No man likes to marry a charlatan - that weak minded slut who is a slave of her own way of life rather than the ideal of the fragile torch bearer. Of course, the only ideal identity for the torch bearer is being a "Mrs. Some-Body". And then to seek that sole permissible identity of existence, a woman has to avoid anything and everything that could decrease marriage prospects. And then, her role in marriage is to produce the next generation for the husband's family! Everybody is "oh so concerned" about the health and dignity and purity of her reproductive organs! Since all of us love the ideal images in our minds more than the natural realities of our hearts, bellies and groins, we find that the road side paanwalla refuses to sell cigarettes to women, or that almost every woman who wants to smoke has to hide somewhere preferably behind a man. The social ideals do offer women a choice of accepting a smoker husband, and do offer men a choice of rejecting a smoker wife. Just that, in practice, the word "choice" disappears; men reject smoking women, and women accept smoking men! On asking for smoking as a preference in a woman I could spend my life with, most of my friends took it up as my sexually kinky side. An example female response: great to share a puff after some great sex, and an example male response: wow, the cancer stick between those luscious lips! I guess it's difficult to imagine that both of us could more easily look at each other's minds and lungs! And yes, I do get turned on by the sight of that glowing cancer stick between those luscious lips, and that's one part of the entire human me ;).

(Sarcasm start)
Smoking women? Groomed to bear the torch of morality, women who do anything that are considered as "vices of men" (NOTE: not bad men), should be considered "weak" in that they are not able to bear the torch. Being weak, like men, they are "available" for participating in "masculine vices" but being female they must be called - the charlatans! Women who appear to not be able to bear the torch of morality are a cause of much worry. I worry: wouldn't our social future be bleak if women start becoming weak in bearing the torch? Men, after all are men, physically strong but mentally weak, as made by Mother Nature. Can't expect them to bear the weight of the torch :( when even the sight of a woman makes them "go bad" - ughgh ... that's nature though :(. Errr ... Sorry, I forgot that women are humans :( (just not used to consider them so). They have lungs just like me, that can be damaged by smoking just as mine would be. You see the problem is because the female breasts come in view before the lungs, and then the male natural "weaknesses" stop any further thought! But then, I - the man - need not have anything to do being responsible; it's been held up well on the shoulders of our females. Aah the liberty of oggling at her breasts without worry about the lungs behind!
(End Sarcasm)

Signing off with the best wishes for success in giving up the habit :).

Dusty Fog said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a line...will try to laugh back like you say....when and if the next time ever happens...thanks for the tip...: )
You on tv? You look extremely familiar.

Satvik said...

Do u still smoke cigarettes?