You know things have reached an all new level of wrong when a major (albeit very senseless) prime-time television reality show trivialises and mocks sexual harassment, by way of a distasteful and un-funny prank (which Zee News very politely calls “the tamasha“) Of course I was not surprised that a show like Bigg Boss scripted this in, but that the prank was played by Parineeti Chopra, who has previously been very vocal in fighting everyday sexism and gender stereotypes, irked me.
Incidentally, just earlier last week, one of the contestants Ali Quli Mirza had been admonished for crossing the line and touching Sounali Raut inappropriately, and I found myself wondering if maybe all was not lost with Indian reality TV. Could it be that the show with currently the largest audience in the country is actually trying to be the voice of reason and administer small doses in understanding alien concepts like personal space, consent and drawing the line? It was nice to see Bigg Boss put on his peacemaker hat again and question Ali’s propriety, only to receive his totally classic reaction, “But she’s friendly with me, puts her arm around my shoulder and often horses around in jest.” Read: if she is okay what that, what is a little flick on the knee/thigh, under a blanket? Why would she mind that?
I was a bit shocked (pleasantly) to see lessons in taking no for an answer, in respecting a person’s personal space and boundaries of comfort, and need for privacy on personal issues, was being meted out on a show whose very basis is to violate privacy, display the very raw and human tendencies to erupt over the things we do, and instigate every day tussles — a lot of which tend to be of the sexist kind. Contestants are constantly getting into lengthy debates and fights over distribution of house duties. In the first week, women are always reigning the kitchen, and seen shirking tasks like sweeping the garden lest their skin gets tanned. Several tasks allotted to them demand physical strength and it is as common to see a male contestant step in and volunteer his might, as it is to see a woman step back because she doesn’t think she’s strong enough. But to pull a prank of the sort Parineeti Chopra, Salman Khan and the team did on Ali Quli Mirza — accusing him of touching Parineeti inappropriately — was an all new low.
There’s a series of short films being made by Vogue and several Indian filmmakers, addressing various issues under the #VogueEmpower banner. They were relentlessly shared, applauded and praised all over facebook and twitter for being bold and effective. But I watched them (I’ve seen two so far, don’t know if there are any more) both with a slight discomfort.
This is the first one:
And here’s what I find slightly worrisome. I understand the film depicts an unreal situation, and ideal, a utopic world, a filmi rendition of Take Back The Night. A scene where everything is typically going against the woman pictured. She’s clearly in a place “she shouldn’t be” — it’s late, the street is deserted, it’s evident she’s been out partying — and meets with the expected fate — a bunch of leery men in an SUV, who are deliberately made to look like predators just waiting for her to turn so they can attack.
I understand we live in times where we’re wont to look at all unknown men with more than just a little suspicion. Especially if it’s late at night and you’re a girl all alone. Heck, I know the first thing I do when I’m driving home by myself at night is to get into my car and lock the doors. When I get home, I make sure to look around before I unlock the door, get out and dart from the car to my door at an unreal speed. But, is it so difficult to put that stereotype aside even when we’re talking about a utopic reality? Aren’t we somewhere reinforcing the message that all men are to be feared, and it is truly unnatural to expect a bunch of men on a lonely road to come help you?
The second film troubled me even more:
How many of you thought it was all going well until the last scene, and were left thinking WTF just happened? Why are we fighting one kind of sexism with another kind? Why couldn’t the film end by just addressing the fact that crying is not a sign of weakness, instead of portraying (and reinforcing) the fact that women are often subjugated and made to cry and therefore the weaker sex? Why confuse the message by bringing in another about domestic violence? The end detracted completely from the beginning, and troubled me with the implied message that girls cry because they’re made to cry at the hands of men. By mixing the two issues (both important in their own respect) of challenging the “boys dont cry” notion and ending with “boys make girls cry”, I strongly felt the two stereotypes inherently feed into the very sexism the video ironically tries to fight.
I wonder if somewhere we’re becoming a little numb to women’s rights issues. Is it possible that the constant stream of outrage has dulled our sensitivity to it. The sheer conspicuousness of everyday attacks, sexism and violation has perhaps made it passe? I also feel it has skewed our understanding of these issues, and our reactions range from slightly strange to downright twisted.
It is not uncommon to see the words feminism and women’s rights being bandied about a little too flippantly all over social media. And in many cases feminism has come to mean being on the woman’s side = putting men down = getting one up on the opposite sex. I’m troubled by this.