That game would be victim-blaming, female shaming, target naming, scapegoat framing. All of them sides of the same multi-dimensional terrestrial entity known as misogyny.
There have been several high-profile cases in the public eye and national media, each of them an instance of one or more of the above. Most recently, a certain extremely famous national starlet, recently in the news for her latest film release, was featured on the front page of a national daily in what can only be described as the most crass, appalling way possible, in a tweet that has since been removed. [It described ‘OMG, Deepika’s cleavage!’]
Some attempted to pass it off as a ‘marketing ploy’, ‘strategically placed’ to market Ms. Padukone’s new film. While I appreciate that film marketing can often stoop rather low, the use of the female body in the basest of attention-seeking ways was beyond repulsive.
Fortunately, in an extremely positive move for not only herself but for women across the nation, the star in question did not stay silent, instead choosing to respond to the article in kind.
Historically, in India, women have been taught and conditioned, generation by generation, to be ‘ashamed’ of their bodies, that their bodies are something to be ‘hidden’. It is a regression to the ideals of a woman’s body being a ‘gift’ to be given to one man and one man only: the woman’s husband.
Regressive, misogynist and attempting to not only impinge on but entirely destroy a woman’s self-will or own right, this sort of ideal continues to persist in 2014, and unfortunately not only in rural pockets of the nation.
Worse still is that it is because of these years of being repressed and pushed down that women have begun to believe these ideals too. That their bodies are to be ‘kept pristine’ and ‘gifted’ to one man, that their virginity is a prize that goes to the ‘highest bidder’, in a way like the mizuage of the geisha of old Japan.
Most Indian women, unless from specific socio-economic strata and levels of education, are neither free nor comfortable with their own sexuality, because they are brought up and taught not to be; that it is something they should not possess, or ‘preserve’ for the man. Openness, self-belief, one’s own mind, opinions, thoughts; all repressed in the repression of the expression of their sex, of their womanhood, and of their personalities.
Breasts existed, but they were meant to be covered. Hidden in their entirety. In existence for mankind to look. This ideal persists in the behaviour of men in public to this day, even in the most cosmopolitan of areas. Even in the least low-cut of tops, cleavage and breasts will be stared at, ogled in the most vulgar way just because, in a way that many men here seem to consider their birthright.
In personal experience: I was walking down a street to find an auto-rickshaw to take me home from a friend’s at 9 a.m., not by any means an ‘ungodly hour’ in our great ‘Indian culture’. A man on a bicycle drove past, shouting ‘arre khulla hai, aam dikhte hain!’ – roughly translating to something too disgusting for me to want to explain, but I will try “It’s open, I can see them mangoes”.
I was wearing a regular t-shirt.
While it is entirely irrelevant what I was wearing, a lot of the Indian public (men, women, ‘upstanding, educated’ members of society) use the way a woman is dressed as a reason to lech, ogle, or take it further to molestation and rape – everything from end to end on the spectrum of sexual harassment.
The star in question, however, questioned the publication, letting them know she was a woman with breasts that she was not ashamed of, a first for women in public in the country.
And in an extremely heartening move, the country stood behind the star, who has since gone on to publicly admit how violated she felt after the tweet. The publication responded with a rejoinder that only worsened the situation, but the actor stood her ground.
However, women, whether in the public or private eye, are rarely spared the ignominy of being taken apart like this, judged for their situations, their sexuality, blamed for being the victims in this Circus de Chauvinism, with the trapeze acts of the tabloid media.
A former actor, an incredibly talented young woman who has been in a few films before, was recently found to have been involved in what was described as a ‘high profile’ prostitution racket involving ‘rich, high-profile industrialists and businessmen.’
I appreciate that there are countries where prostitution is legal, but I also believe a very small number of women currently choose willingly to engage in the profession, at least in South-east Asia. Trafficking is a very, very real, very pressing issue that needs to be dealt with, and unfortunately most women, sadly of all ages, are forced into prostitution. Until that issue is even slightly alleviated, which does not seem like a reality in the current situation, and in consideration with several other factors, this will not happen in my opinion.
In the press, however, really all over it, was the name of this starlet, which, although it is open information, I choose not to repeat out of respect. Not the ‘high-profile rich businessmen’, the ‘industrialists’, the men who paid the prostitutes, because their ‘identities needed protection’, because they were ‘not to be exposed’, because ‘their family lives would be ruined’.
The young girl whose acting skills and life fell by the wayside, the young girl who was forced into the flesh trade. Her name was emblazoned across publications, headline news, lurid details all over the media. The men’s identities were hidden, protected, secret as they continue to be.
The excuse? The men deserved privacy, according to members of the public and press. The men paid a ‘premium’, and deserved to be protected. The men had families, they said, that would be broken by this revelation. Their lives would be completely altered, they said.
Do none of these apply to the young woman who was the obvious victim? Does she not have a ‘life that would be completely altered’? Privacy that she deserved, a family that would be affected? The judgement that invariably seems to follow? Yet it was HER name, not theirs, emblazoned across headlines, it was she who was blamed for being forced into the sex trade.
Finally, there is the recent case of Suzette Jordan, who was the victim in the horrendous Park Street rape case. She was on her way home from an event, and brutally raped in a car by her attackers. Instead of protecting her, taking down her complaints and pursuing her attackers, police and ministers dismissed her, lambasted her character.
Due to the fact that she had been drinking (shock, horror, only a man is supposed to do that in India!), she was dismissed as ‘characterless’, a drinking single mother? “Devoid of morals”, they called her. The chief minister of West Bengal, the capital of which is Kolkata, where the rape occurred, dismissed the case as a ‘sajano ghatana’, or a made up story.
Suzette was accused of being a prostitute, and that the ‘deal had gone wrong’. She was merely a single mother going out to a discotheque.
What ministers, police, lawmakers, locals, the chief minister even, failed to understand was that it was a violation of her personal rights. Even if she had been a prostitute, no person had any right to do anything with her against her own wishes. The so-called ministerial diaspora thought that was the ‘excuse’. Suzette’s family were judged, her daughters stared at.
Recently, Suzette and her fiance visited a Kolkata restaurant for what seemed like a routine meal. They were however refused entry by the head waiter, who labelled her the ‘Park Street Victim’, and refused her entry on that basis. She was sent away from the restaurant after being derided and shamed by the management.
Yet again, the second time for Suzette, the victim, it was she who was blamed. The first time, for being raped. For being ‘loose’ and ‘going to a disco’ and ‘drinking’, things the “aadarsh bhartiya naari” is not supposed to do, haye haye!
This culture of shaming the woman, this idea that it is the woman’s fault, needs to stop. The ideal of the man needing to exert and assert his ‘power’ over the woman, which is what rape really is (it’s not sex!) needs to end. This sexism, this easy selling of women’s sexuality needs to stop. Women need their own right over their own sexuality, not permission from anybody else or the right for them to do with it as they please, for games to be played with those who are helpless.
Women are not men’s to be sold or bought in any way, shape or form. They own themselves and everything that comes with it. And that is something they should be proud of, not need to hide behind closed doors out of fear.
Fingers need to pointed, publicly and legally, at the true perpetrators of the crime, not the scapegoats who can be easily framed, not those whom it is most convenient to blame.
Sadly, when the wheel of fortune is spun, the arrow of the blame always lands squarely on the woman. We need to stand up, as many have recently done in each case, protesting against this blame-the-woman culture, and change the way the wheel spins entirely.
The crème de la crème of Indian authors, the cat’s meow, the cream of the crop, the bee’s knees, that literary genius, that proselytising Twitter guru, that magician with his words, Chetan Bhagat, has recently made a wonderful video for Shaadi.com (possibly the world’s most well known matrimonial website [ugh]), where he lists tips for the site’s founder, who recently got married himself.
For a little bit of a background, watch this
The guru of gurus, the unrecognised (but clearly deserving) head of MENSA, is now dishing out tips for a successful marriage.
Chetan Bhagat’s #ShittyTipNumber 1
“Just Say What She Wants to Hear”
In this tip, he talks about how choices, with women, are not really choices. you just have to guess which ones they like. WOW, Chetan Bhagat. I speak for all women when I say you are really, truly the most amazingly perceptive man in the entire universe. How did you know all women were not really human, just completely irrational, two-faced vagina-toting humanoids incapable of normal thought processes like men are? Poor ol’ us. ‘North Indian, South Indian’, we’re all the same. He talks about choices between A and B as being like computer programs, which solve problems ‘based on applying criteria’. What are those, Mr. Bhagat? Programming? Criteria??? You’ve lost us poor stupid women already!
It’s not about finding A or B, Chetan. It’s about finding, to quote a certain Red Forman, my foot in your ass.
P.S – You know what *I* really want to hear? That Chetan Bhagat has given up writing and/or a public existence for good. I will wait for that day and I will celebrate it.
Chetan Bhagat’s #ShittyTipNumber2
“Remember Anniversaries, She Will Forget Your Sins”
Here he talks about remembering anniversaries, something I am not a fan of. You celebrate if you feel the need to celebrate, and don’t if you don’t. If the day means something to you then let it. I fail completely to understand why ‘forgetting’ a day makes you a bad spouse/partner, and if that is one of your criteria in deciding whether you should be nice to your partner or not, you are a horrible partner yourself.
He instructs all men to ‘remember their in-laws’ birthdays. But he doesn’t stop there, taking it a step further instead. He asks that most wondrous of all beings, men, to ‘be the first one to call your mother-in-law’ on her birthday, and then ask your spouse/partner why they haven’t wished their parent yet. Of course, these birthday wishes are not birthday wishes, but leverage that you can use when you’re ‘in the doghouse’, so to speak.
If you happen to be friendly with your spouse’s parent/s, then you wish them because you know them and you want to fucking wish them happy birthday. Not as ‘OMG I WISHED HIM HAPPY BIRTHDAY NOW I’M OFF THE HOOK’. Dear Chetan Bhagat, as much as your writing and behaviour make it seem like it, you are not five years old.
P.S – As far as being ‘woken up at midnight by Chetan Bhagat’ goes, I’d probably just tell myself I’m having an incredibly horrible nightmare and go back to sleep.
Chetan Bhagat’s #ShittyTipNumber3
“Do not give an opinion, merely endorse”
According to Mr. Bhagat, if one of us ‘lil ol’ ladies asks a man for an opinion on an item of clothing, we’re not asking for an opinion at all. We are obviously too weak to handle honesty and truthful viewpoints, so all we want and need is positive reinforcement from men (of course we do, how in heaven’s name would we live without it?).
It is absolutely telling that the whole ‘Do I look Fat’ scenario is limited to women. That, dear Chetan (or do you prefer Chetanji?) is a product of our stupid, patriarchal society where men can look whatever they look like and be successful in a field that focuses exclusively on appearance (the movies, for example) but women, in day-to-day-life, need to be suspended in a bubble of self-doubt, in a constant state of worry as to whether they look fat or not. Health matters whether you are male or female – how you look should not matter at all, but unfortunately for the world, and consequently to women themselves, a bulge here, a fold there, is absolutely unsightly and should be banished immediately, by whatever means possible. Women are meant to be pretty little fairies with no opinion, no cranial ability, and no life beyond men and serving them, aren’t they, Mr. Bhagat? And their lives invalidated without said ‘endorsement’ from men? Poor us. Also, we look at other women who are prettier than us and begin to hate them immediately. How did YOU know, Chetan Bhagat, that women cannot look at other human beings the way men do, rationally, and consider their abilities and strengths as independent aspects of their personalities? I’m so glad you’re around to teach me the ways of my kind.
P.S – Chetan Bhagat likes to make jokes about women’s insecurities with their appearances. I’d make a joke about Chetan Bhagat’s appearance but that video speaks for itself.
Chetan Bhagat’s #ShittyTipNumber4
“Warning – she follows you on Twitter”
This takes off from Shitty Tip Number 3, which is all about female insecurities. While body image issues are, unfortunately, a reality, Chetan Bhagat brings us his own version of female insecurities, which have to do with men calling other women attractive. According to him, the moment a man compliments a woman, it is grounds for the wife to ‘put her husband in the doghouse’. In Chetan-land (or Bhagat-world, if you prefer), not only are women completely devoid of self-confidence or self-belief, but men are not supposed to have opinions either, unless they want to regret them all their lives.
For SHAME. How dare any being have an opinion on another human being right? And of course, said opinion necessarily means you like that human better, no? Like a little child’s mother complimenting another child, which necessarily means she loves that child more than her own.
P.S – Gentle reminder, Mr. Bhagat. YOU ARE NOT FIVE YEARS OLD.
P.P.S – Sexism works both ways, and you’ve just illustrated that extremely succinctly. Thank you.
Chetan Bhagat’s #ShittyTipNumber5
“Show your support. Like all her Facebook updates”
He says this is a ‘tip for a modern marriage’. ‘You must like all the pictures, silly rants, stupid things’ your spouse posts on Facebook.
I’m all for social media. I’m doing a degree in media. I do NOT, like most other people, believe it has a damn thing to with somebody’s feelings towards me. If your love, or the security of that love, is predicated on a ‘like’ or a retweet, you’re in an incredibly shitty, insecure relationship. I do think every one of the last few points is predicated on Chetan Bhagat’s assumption that women are insecure, and that is the most important aspect of their existence. Women are insecure beings that cannot survive without male validation – it is THIS male validation, of course, that validates not only their looks and figures but their very existence. Yes. That’s all the vagina-ovary bearers of the world need, Mr. Bhagat, to ‘keep us happy’, because we need to be ‘kept’ happy. Facebook likes. This man has all the answers, people!!
P.S – When you say the rants are ‘never stupid, always profound’, you’re obviously not talking about yourself, you fucking moron.
P.P.S – your ideas are anything but ‘modern’.
Chetan Bhagat’s #ShittyTipNumber6
“You might be the boss in the office.. She is the boss at home!!”
So according to Satan…oops, Chetan, the days of performance reviews are over. You are now not the reviewer, but the reviewed. This review will not be an annual one like the rugged menfolk are used to, but a daily one, nay, an hourly one, nay, a minute-to-minute review, based on the clothes you wear, how you sit and stand, your appearance, things that the rest of us would find trivial but Saint Bhagat tells us are the criteria for judgement.
Who ever thought a marriage/relationship was a partnership between two equals, right? It’s supposed to be about one dominating the other, browbeating them into submission and having them follow their every word. It’s not like it’s supposed to be a symbiotic thing, with both people contributing to conversations, discussions, finances, the relationship itself. It isn’t supposed to be an environment where two people feel comfortable enough to air their opinions and are able to discuss their problems and lay them bare as they are. It is about submission, complete submission. Men and women are not MADE to be equal, right, Mr. Bhagat? Relationships and marriages only ever work when one partner dominates.
I think we should all just listen to Chetan Bhagat when he says ‘Seriously, you’re not supposed to be listening to this. Bye bye, take care.’ If you truly DO care about yourself and your sanity, do not watch that video.
My condolences to Chetan Bhagat’s readers and fans (male, female or otherwise) for being utterly brainless, and commiserations to his wife for being married to a sexist, male chauvinist pig, paperback-writing hack with no visible redeeming qualities whatsoever.
This evening, on my usual trawl of the internet, I came upon an article and some lovely animation, a trailer for a documentary called Centrefold, by two filmmakers named Ellie Land and Siobhan Fenton, and sponsored by the Wellcome Trust:
It certainly isn’t a new thing, and neither are a LOT of surgeries related to female genitalia. There are labiaplasties, vaginoplasties, hymenoplasties and probably a handful of others I’ve never even heard of.
In India and other South-East Asian countries, hymenoplasties are said to be the ‘bestsellers’ of the plastic surgery world – specifically because of their obsessively patriarchal, misogynistic societies that somehow put a value on a woman’s purity and virtue by her virginity, or lack thereof.
I have written and ranted excessively about how disgusting, archaic and retrograde I find the entire concept of ‘arranged marriage’, [because, yeah, instead of being in love and in a relationship and knowing somebody, let’s just look through a bunch of photos and a CV of sorts to decide with whom who you must have sex and spend the rest of your life, BRILLIANT!] but the fact of the matter is that it continues to happen. Somehow, the people entering these marriages seem to think somebody else’s past is their business.I cannot locate an online version, but I read an article in last Saturday’s edition of a local paper about men ‘breaking off marriages’ with women after ‘finding out their past on Facebook’. The writer also very kindly mentioned in his closing paragraph how ‘women who are looking to get married, beware of what you post online’.
There seems, somehow, to be a price on a woman’s virginity here, something that people think needs to be preserved, as some sort of gift to a man. People have varying views on the whole virginity issue, but in my humble opinion, if you are mentally and physically ready (read – not an underage, pre-pubescent young child looking to have some sort of cool ‘experience’), it is nobody else’s business who you sleep with and why. It does not matter whether you are in a relationship with this person or not. By all means, if you are not in a monogamous relationship with somebody else, and neither is your sexual partner, do what you may.
Nobody has any right to call you anything – a slut, a hussy, or if you’re a guy, a ‘man-slut’ or a ‘man-whore’ or any of the many eloquent terms people come up with. It does not matter if it’s a ‘one-night stand’, a ‘two-night stand’, or a ‘one-hour stand’ even.
If you want to wait until you’re married to somebody you love and then have sex with them, that is, again, your own business and nobody else’s – this only holds true, however, as long as the views are your own, and not some ideal society has somehow indocrinated into your head or conditioned you to believe.
Sadly, in these cultures, it is not just the men who believe the women they are going to marry need to be, um, pure. The women do, too:
Why should it ‘soil her married life’???
Not sure what is sadder here, the girl’s attitude or that the man answering these queries calls himself a ‘sexpert’ – he has also advised homosexual people to ‘get married if you think you can satisfy a woman’. ‘Expert’ advice indeed, good sir.
That was just one small example of genital surgery, which in itself is not really ‘small’ at all. The latest craze on the block is labiaplasty – as the name suggests, it is surgery to improve the appearance of your labia. What they essentially do is chop off the skin you think is ‘extra’.
There are women who have genuine congenital defects, like problems with their uteri, fallopian tubes,vaginas – issues that affect their reproductive systems and/or general health. Most women who opt for labiaplasties, however, do not fall into this category – instead, they do it to “enhance the beauty of their vulvo-vaginal complexes.”
These women are unhappy with the way their bodies look, which is not exactly a new thing. Entire industries run on insecurities – cosmetic industries, clothing industries, food industries, slimming products (I could go on and on and on).
The focus is always on female appearances, and less about the internal workings of anything at all – more than half the adverts out there for weight loss involve liposuction and/or some sort of invasive or non invasive surgery, body sculpting, fancy lasers or whatever the hell they use, or crash dieting. If you really ARE overweight, it is less about dropping ‘x’ dress sizes or inches and more about being healthy, which is less about having a tiny waist and more about having the stamina to exercise, and not having the cholestrol clogging your arteries as thick as the Berlin Wall (and they demolished that). It’s about feeling strong and energetic and generally being able to function better. If you feel like your looks matter to you and they’ve improved, good for you, added bonus.
Except the priority is ALWAYS how it looks and not how it works. Suddenly, the focus seems to have shifted from beaten-to-death body parts like faces and tummies and ‘stumpy legs’ and ‘saggy breasts’ (those products will be around as long as humankind is), and is now on genitals.
A recent ad in India advertised a feminine hygiene wash, which for Indian markets is a rarity. Vagisil and Summer’s Eve are two products I have never seen on Indian shelves. Lubricant, too. Come to think of it, there’s only the one brand of tampon sold, too. I’d love to know if this is an economics/import issue (which I sincerely doubt, as I see all sorts of products imported from all over the world in stores two minutes down my street), or just the fact that India seems to have an issue with anything sexual. (Because our 1.2 billion strong population got there without the assistance of any sexual organs whatsoever.)
The latest craze is having your labia snipped and stitched to your specifications. After all the images of the Klums and Bundchens and Kerrs and Crawfords with their flat stomachs and gravity-defying breasts, our attention must now be focused on the women in porn, the women who are supposed to be our ‘ideal’ for what our genitalia look like. Whatever you do not possess naturally, a surgeon can give you, no?
It’s not about how the sex is, or whether they’re affecting your health, but only that they do not ‘look right’.
Just in case there was an insecurity that wasn’t already being preyed upon, we’ve got a new one. There is a problem with your bits, ladies. Unlike the men, who are told their bits are not ‘big enough’, we’re told ours are too big!
Don’t you shudder to think what might happen if you don’t have ‘perfect looking genitals’, whatever those are? You might not look like a woman on the centrefold of a men’s magazine.
You might actually be with somebody who cares about you for YOU, and not what your nether regions look like.
Who wants that, though?
Of course, this also has to be hairless. We must subject ourselves to hot wax and lasers or any other way is there to get rid of it because being natural is absolutely terrible. (And a million other reasons I will delve into – they deserve an entry all their own.)
So on one hand, there are young girls and women all over the Middle East and Africa, and some immigrant tribes around the world, who are forced to undergo various degrees of genital mutilation, the most common of which is also by far one of the most gruesome, depressing, inhumane things I have ever read :
Type III mutilation involves removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth.
On the other hand, there are women who will pay through their noses to voluntarily have this done, in their quest for a ‘designer vagina’.
Meanwhile, I (and several others) are still waiting for a world where people are identified for who they are, and not the genitals they possess, irrespective of their shape or size.
There are a few things Indians (or at least Indian advertisers/TV show producers/filmmakers/corporates) seem to be obsessed with. Cricket, Bollywood and sex are the three that come to mind immediately, and lately, I’ve been thinking marriage is the fourth. [Be warned, however. I’m not particularly fond of marriage or weddings in general, so if you’re likely to be offended, I don’t really care.]
I’m one of those people who watches the IPL for entertainment. Sort of like a Hindi film where you already have a beginning and an end and you just go to watch how it gets from one end to the other. (Also like digestion.)
Anyone who watched edition 5 of the Indian Premier League (and really, even anyone who didn’t) has been besieged with ridiculous, ridiculous ads. There are at least a billion of them that are related/refer to marriage in general, most of them for products, but this one caught my eye, and not in a good way.
In the ad, a relative (I’m assuming the granddaughter) is giving her grandmother a pedicure as the woman sits comfortably in her plush armchair and munches on a bar of chocolate. The daughter-in-law is in the same room. Suddenly, the granddaughter/pedicurist suddenly pipes up, saying “Bahu gaai hai na” – which directly translates to ‘the daughter-in-law is like a cow’. I’m not really Prem Chand, so I had no idea what that meant. Neither, however, did anybody I knew for whom Hindi was a primary language.
Finally, somebody told me it meant the DIL was ‘decent, calm and quiet, like a cow’, which made ME the polar opposite of calm.
Anyway, before I go on my long-winded, extremely angry tirade, I should explain what the ad is about. So, granddaughter/pedicurist asks her grandmother WHY exactly it was that they were looking to ‘have the DIL married’ if she was, ahem, cow-like and ‘Krish’s choice’. The grandmother gives her a stern glare, the granddaughter wilts, and Miss Cow comes in with steaming tea for the poor old lady on the couch whose feet are being expertly pedicured, and who just happens to be munching on a massive, massive bar of chocolate. Poor, poor thing.
Then there’s another ad for this TV show:
This made me even angrier than the first one. Of course, the ever-dutiful Miss Cow is sari-clad and conducting prayers (the epitome of the perfect daughter-in-law in traditional, patriarchal families). The mother-in-law is standing around there somewhere with yet another woman, who I’m going to assume is a visitor. THIS vomit-worthy, absolutely abhorrent conversation ensues:
Visitor: “Doesn’t she take care of the home?”
MIL: “More than she ought to”
Visitor: “Oh, really? Then does she have any faults or shortcomings?”
MIL: “No, she’s perfectly OK”
If you want to know what they’re getting at, I have no idea, so I would be absolutely the wrong person to ask. What sickens me is that there are people who still hold these sorts of beliefs, the ‘dutiful daughter-in-law’, the woman whose only goal in life is to be married, take care of a home, and pop out a kid or two. Sure, a lot of urban India (my family and thankfully most of the people I know) find this sort of crap vile, but I know people who believe in this tripe, buy into the ideal, and then get sucked into the world created by these soaps, deluded into thinking they’re real.
This isn’t the only marriage-related thing on TV, though. Skoda came out with a ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ Campaign a while ago, where the car was responsible for really, really important things, like taking the bride and her giggling friends to the salon, the wedding planners, the makeup artists (wtf?) and other wedding-related people around. It was along the lines of the old MasterCard ads, where they mentioned the price of a couple of things and then ended with ‘Priceless.’
The final shot, before they told everybody how amazing the Skoda really is? The girl, looking at her jewellery as her husband picks up and fastens her missing earring. WOW, how romantic. *Rolls eyes*
Speaking of jewellery, there are at least 4 advertisements on television specifically marketing bridal jewellery, with the Bollywood brigade dripping in gold and diamonds, and of course, as the typical North Indian bride is expected to look, demure, shy and to quote the pedicurist, ‘domesticated’.
On an average, for every 5 minutes of TV Viewing in India, you WILL necessarily see an advertisement for a matrimonial website. There’s the stupid one that’s been on for a while now, where a father follows men around with a wedding turban (which, funnily enough, is not an all-India thing. In fact, it’s only in very, very specific bits of central and northern India). In the end, they find a picture on the matrimonial website.
At least the ending is funny. I don’t think the guys who edited the ad realised in time that the photo they used was, in fact, this certain hilarious, awesome guy named Matt LeBlanc. I still crack up EVERY time I see the ad. [ I also whisper a little “How YOU doin’?”]
Then there are the others, about ‘finding your daughter a groom within the community’ (someone please, please get me some medication before my rage gets out of control) and another I’ve seen not only on the telly, but in Reader’s Digest, too. [For shame.]
It’s about a privileged little girl, and how her parents want to ‘do right by her’ and find her a groom. You’d think doing right by her would be spending their apparent scads of money on a quality education, but no. According to these guys, ‘the best thing you can do for your child is give them a happy marriage.’
Watch the ad here(and try not to be absolutely scandalised):
Additionally, marriage is somehow associated very closely with sex in parts of India, because a) premarital sex is ‘immoral’, but female foeticide is not, and rape is ‘justified because the victim was “provocatively clad” ‘ according to these men
b) Marriage is the only way they think they have ‘access to unlimited sex’. That’s not just me talking, though – it’s every sexual advice column in every single newspaper.
Marriage, however, is not just two people who love one another deciding to spend the rest of their lives together- here it is a woman who marries not the man, but his entire family, whom she is expected to be a quasi-servant to, the rest of her life, all while looking gorgeous, of course.
There are at least a dozen television shows themed around the Big Fat Indian Wedding (a kind I especially hate), which I also think happens to be the title of one of these shows. It involves fancy, shiny designer dresses, professional makeup artists (like in that Skoda advert), and makeovers that include medical things like dental procedures. Who cares about the actual marriage? The wedding is where it’s at, man. It’s all about an album full of pretty pictures, not the other human being you’ve been ‘fixed up’ with.
More importantly, according to Indian advertisers, marriage is a girl/woman’s ultimate goal, and that, her looks and her baby are her crowning achievements. [Not her education, her intellect, or anything of the sort, mind you. Because what does all that stuff mean if you’re not MARRIED? You’re 30 and not married yet? Oh, the humanity!]
In the meanwhile, I still cannot reconcile myself to the fact that I live in a country with two ‘types’ of marriages. ‘Love Marriage’ and ‘Arranged Marriage’, where a groom/bride will be ‘found’ for you, either in the pages of the newspaper, in disgustingly shallow specs, or, for the slightly more tech-savvy, all over the internet. I absolutely fail to comprehend why one should even have to marry someone they do not love, or MUST marry if they do not fall in love. If anybody reading this has any idea where the modern version of this system came from, I’d love to know. Please enlighten me.
It’s bad enough there are idiots out there who actually believe in these ideals of permanent servility, ones who believe nothing matters unless they have a marriage to show for it, ones for whom NOTHING in life matters unless it is pushing them in the direction of marriage, where marriage is being covered from head to toe and fetching people’s tea and biscuits. (Take a training course and waitress if that’s all you want to do, at least it’ll earn you some money.)
What makes it about a billion times worse?
There are already enough older people with these ridiculous, patriarchal, outdated, sexist ideals. The morons that conceptualised this ad have now successfully managed to introduce ridiculously retrograde ideals of marriage to a new, impressionable generation, a generation I am genuinely afraid for, as I sit back and watch the idea of marriage (and mind you, marriage only for the beautiful, fair, or if you’re a guy, an MBA at the very least) aggressively marketed to anyone who will have it, and anyone who is watching.
So basically, everyone.
A disclaimer to those who feel rabid patriotism for no apparent reason (the kind that somehow only reaches its zenith when India wins a cricket match and doesn’t really exist otherwise).
If you’re looking for a post about how awesome India and Indians are, (and they are, in their own ways), this is not it. You have been forewarned.
I’d been to the local club last week, for my evening swim. Adjacent to their swimming pool, unfortunately, is a sort of party ground, if you will, where anyone who’s willing to pay can host an event of their choice. I like to call it the Boat Club Mangal Karyalaya.
More often than not, the kind of event hosted at the BCMK is the kind that brings out ‘aunties’ in flashy, bejeweled saris, dripping in gold, their faces caked in makeup, looking for all the world like overstuffed sausages, and sexist ‘uncles’ who pretend to be ‘above it all’ but will end up in a large group, gossiping, filling themselves with enough whiskey to get an entire battalion drunk.
This time, the ‘event’ happened to be a tiny little sprog’s birthday . The only reason I knew that it was, was because there were gigantic, political-rally-sized posters of the baby, with his name plastered beneath them. At first glance you’d actually expect to hear some holier-than-thou idiot spew rubbish about how roads need to be widened,and communities need to be be closer-knit (again, something that will never happen, because our politicians need communal hatred as much as plants need sunlight, if not more).
The huge, easily 10ft x 10ft posters proclaimed ‘PROUD TO CELEBRATE THE FIRST BIRTHDAY OF OUR SON’, with his name colourfully emblazoned underneath.
The entire idea of having a 200-strong party or really, any party at all, for a child’s first birthday – one that s/he will never even remember, is absolutely idiotic to me. (I could, perhaps, understand the parents wanting a memory to cherish – in which case, the best thing would be the parents and the child spending its first birthday together, perhaps with immediate family or close friends.)
It has turned into the same ostentation-fest that most ‘Big Fat Indian Weddings’ are – that one day (or in the case of certain sects, 3 or 4 days) , where you can put on public display how much money you can afford for your daughter’s or son’s wedding (although in our lovely, still patriarchal society, I think the bride’s parents, to this day, bear the costs of the wedding. Just because.) The whole event ends up being flashier than a pop ‘concert’, with everyone dressed to the nines, trying to do exactly what the host is in the process of doing; showing off their wealth to the world, in a sort of twisted version of ‘mine-is-bigger-than-yours‘.
Gossipy, near-uneducated women, relegated, over the years, to lives of servility and drudgery, gossip about whose third cousin-twice removed is married to whose brother, how they’re related, any issues with the sex lives of the couple, ‘why don’t they have a child yet? Kuch problem hai? (alluding, ever so subtly, to non-functioning reproductive bits) ‘ and so on and so forth.
The men are much the same, trying to boost their own self-esteem by critiquing others, and calling it ‘networking’ (Because finding out who Tony slept with when his wife was away on a trip with her friends is networking, yes indeed.)
Their wives, who are a handful of feet away and doing much the same thing, however, are labelled gossips.
As loud Bollywood music blared out of speakers that I am certain were not at decibel levels healthy for a one-year-old, or really, any human or dog, I saw a woman, her thick, glittery sari draped across her head, run out of the party with a yowling baby held close to her, and she ran into the pool area, just as I was drying off after my swim.
I told her the area was specifically for members, or guests that they brought to the pool, and asked her why she was there. In broken Hindi, she looked at me and said that the baby was hungry.
In that instant, I felt annoyed for many reasons, a couple of which, I admit, may seem selfish.
Then I wondered – if a regular, full-grown human being felt hungry, would they go eat in a loo? As healthy and/or sterile as breast milk may be, I really don’t think a bathroom/shower, or really, any place with a lavatory (and its accompanying Shigella, Staphylococcus, Salmonella and other nasties) in the immediate vicinity is particularly hygienic to eat in.
She nursed the child, and I, still grumbling, had my shower and left.
I kept wondering why in an apparently ‘advanced’ country, the world’s second-largest economy, not only do people still have issues with breasts, but this woman was still in ghunghat (a form of purdah), something we tend to associate with villages and/or the lower socio-economic strata of society except this ghungat-wali , much like the other women there, was covered in shiny jewellery from head to toe, and carrying a Blackberry AND an iPhone.
There was no proper hygienic area to actually feed the baby anyway, like a nursing room, or anything of the sort. Are pregnant women in India just supposed to be housebound until their babies stop breastfeeding?
Could the mother, too, not have pumped milk for the baby in advance, or, alternatively, not have brought the tiny little thing to a place where its eardrums were at serious risk of rupturing? But of course, that is secondary to keeping up with the Joneses. [Or the Kardashians. Whatever floats your boat.]
This is a country where breastfeeding (one of the most natural things in the world, not just for humans, but every single mammal in existence) is, for some reason, frowned upon, and the baby is forced to ‘eat’ in a toilet, but men will openly, unabashedly stare at breasts – it doesn’t matter if they are tiny mosquito bites or gigantic melons, they shall be stared at and you will, categorically, be mentally undressed. I say this from the awful personal experience of not being able to run peacefully, for fear of the creeps that stare at my chest which,thanks to gravity, moves when I run. I feel like they’re boring holes into my clothes with their creepy stares.
I’m quite sure men stare at breasts the world over, and it’s not really an India-specific thing. What DOES seem to be India-specific, however, is the fact that here, it’s okay to not just look, but whistle, leer, and sing disgusting,suggestive, third-rate songs as they walk/cycle/ride by and follow you around, trying to bait you into reacting, or try to grab something in a moving bus or at a store counter, the creep surreptitiously sidling up next to you.
The men who do that are the same ones for whom ‘item numbers‘ are made, with the camera panning suggestively between the actress’ legs, lingering for just an extra moment on her breasts, which have been all but smushed into a ten-sizes-too-tiny prison that they seem to be trying to escape from. (Is it really even ‘cleavage’ anymore when it’s about 90% of the actress’ breasts just spilling out of her blouse?) [Some of you might even remember the infamous Mandakini wet sari bit from the 80s.]
In our beautiful, diverse nation, we seem to have trigger-happy, up-their-own-collective-backside censors and lawmakers that seem ridiculously hypocritical. It’s somehow okay to watch Aishwarya Rai gyrating to Kajra Re, shimmying and shaking her chest, (which really, shouldn’t bother anyone) but bar dancers who do much the same thing in real life (but without marketing themselves as ‘thespians’ – which god knows, most Bollywood actresses are not! ) are denigrated, called all sorts of names, and in 2005, had their livelihoods taken from them by the Maharashtra Government, which decided it wanted to impose a blanket ban on bar dancers and dance bars altogether. Somehow, however, it deemed it still okay to allow a scantily clad, near-naked Mallika Sherawat to dance on stage at an upscale five-star hotel in Mumbai.
The audiences were rather similar, lying back in their seats, enjoying half-naked women gyrating in front of them whilst sipping on their poisons of choice – replace glasses of Chantilly and Sauvignon Blanc with Desi Daru and McDowell’s Number 1 and you might as well be looking at the same people.
The performers, too, are more similar than our (undoubtedly beautiful) Bollywood ‘actresses’ would like to admit, especially to themselves; Except for the number of zeroes in their respective paychecks, and the fact that one’s costume is designed by Manish Malhotra, couturier to the stars, and the other by Manish Tailor, Panvel, they are being paid for precisely the same service.
Our politicians and ‘public figures’, however, (and, let’s be honest, about 90% of the general public) label bar dancers ‘sluts’, ‘harlots’ and other misogynistic terms that I’d rather not even mention, because they make my blood boil.
Why are the esteemed members of Tinseltown so saintly and blameless and virtuous, and why are they beatified by the media when they are doing the same thing everybody else is, which is working to earn a living? (I am not even getting into the whole ‘casting couch’ bit – that, to me, is another ‘job’, which both women and men do, voluntarily, which makes it their business exclusively. If it’s voluntary, by both parties, it ceases to matter. Whether it is sexual or not.)
Speaking of sex, India as a whole seems to be singularly self-righteous when it comes to the actual subject. The phrase ‘land of the Kama Sutra’ seems like it’s been done to death, but it’s true nevertheless. For a country that has its own, 2000+ year-old sex manual, we sure are repressed, what with all the publicity ‘kissing’ and ‘lovemaking’ scenes in Hindi movies manage to drum up – simply because they show people doing something ridiculously natural, and something most movies in the rest of the world have been showing for 60 years now, at least.
Then you have guys like this one, and the entire country goes up in arms when Richard Gere (somebody I am a big fan of) came to India to promote HIV/AIDS awareness (something we all know India needs, desperately), and swept Shilpa Shetty off her feet, rather literally, as he gave her a peck on the cheek, recreating a scene from Shall We Dance?
Self-proclaimed activists and the media went into a frenzy, with some of them setting fire to effigies of Gere (which seems to be a very popular way to denounce people here, especially politicians and cricketers. At least the former are a group of numpties who deserve it), others proclaiming how ‘vulgar’ and ‘cheap’ it was, and shouting from the rooftops how Mr. Gere had insulted ‘Indian Culture’.[ I hate the term with all my heart, and I’ll be damned if I know what ‘Indian culture’ is supposed to be – wanting a wife as a substitute for a cleaning lady/cook/carer for one’s parents , being sexist, ogling, spitting on the street, being obsessed with religion to the point of idiocy, or perennially being the moral police to everyone?]
In the end, everybody forgot about the event that was supposed to create sexual awareness – an event that, ironically, managed to show people’s lack of it.
Indians, as a people, frown upon sexual conversation, public displays of affection, even mildly sexual content on television (as evinced by this woman, who moved the Bombay High Court to have any programs with remotely sexual content (again, a term that is so ridiculously broad it is impossible to know what really is ‘sexual content’ and what is not) taken off the air. Here, it meant that even a couple kissing or making out on-screen was ‘obscene’ somehow. [If you do watch an English film on the telly in India, you will notice how it skips awkwardly when you know a kiss is about to happen. Yes, it looks incredibly stupid.]
Although there are ads for condoms in India, they are few and far between – one I remember seeing on the TV while growing up was for Kohinoor condoms, and I remember them being marketed aggressively (no pun intended) during the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Sure, it was a little weird watching a mattress shake like that with my parents in the same room, but the content didn’t really bother any of us.
In the last two, maybe three years, I’ve seen two ads for condoms – one in which a cleaning woman finds a pack of condoms in her employers’ bed as they nibble at each other on a bike elsewhere, and another with a half-dressed, extremely attractive woman licking melting chocolate off her fingers. In both advertisements, someone or the other was giggling stupidly, for no reason at all. Condoms are not disgusting, profane, or funny, but somehow they seem to be portrayed as such.
The saddest part of all this is the fact that if the Indian public (by Indian public, I mean the aam junta, not the swankily educated) were aware of condoms, we wouldn’t have the second highest population in the world. For a country that has a billion-and-one issues with anything even remotely related to sex being shown in the public eye, we sure seem to know what sex is – obviously SOMEBODY (and by somebody, I mean hundreds of millions of somebodies) are having it – these babies aren’t dropping out of the sky. But if Khushboo, or any other public face for that matter, talks about premarital sex (which somehow is only an issue in India, an issue that befuddles me),she is, again, vilified in the media.
As a result, you have women who feel the need to ‘pretend’ to be virgins for their ‘arranged’ marriages ( another issue that sends my rage into overdrive) seeking to have reconstructive hymenoplasties.
We will still, however, deny schoolchildren sex education in this country. My personal view is that by the 6th standard, all children, irrespective of their gender, should be given basic sex education, by a trained professional, or a biology teacher. With puberty hitting teens lower and lower, and the internet providing access to all sorts of sexual content, I think it is essential that these children grow up with a clear idea of what sex is.
While I see absolutely nothing wrong with pornography per se, and I know most 12-and-13 year olds have already discovered it, I don’t think it’s the best way for an impressionable young kid to learn about sex, simply because they should have some semblance of an idea of ‘normal’ sexual contact and human bodies, instead of thinking that the only good breasts are the ones filled with silicone, or that everyone has to be a certain ‘length’ or ‘girth’, including themselves.
Is it not, then, better for a teacher and/or a parent to talk to their child and give them the ‘talk’ ? Infinitely safer than having them discover one of the millions of pornography websites out there, managing to confuse them completely and destroy their self-esteem in one fell swoop.
Here in India, sadly, we have no law in place for sex education – in fact, just last year, Indian policy makers shot down efforts to make sex education mandatory. Their reasons? The content is ’embarrassing’ and ‘too explicit’. They also bandied about their favourite term, yet again. ‘Indian culture’ and social values would be affected, they said, if sex education happened. How, exactly, I am not very sure, especially considering part of India’s culture is the fact that we are multiplying in the millions, day by day.
For anybody in India who has ever read their local variant of TOI publication The Mirror (unrelated to the English newspaper) , a quick scan of the Ask the Sexpert column will show you just how little people know about sex. For anyone who is not in India, you can read it online, too.
A childhood friend of mine who is studying medicine, both of whose parents are also doctors, specifically in the field of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, recounted a scary, scary incident to me, one that highlighted just how much,and how urgently, we need sexual education in this country.
A couple came into their clinic one day, complaining about how they had been unable to have a child, a year into their marriage. After a thorough examination, they found that the woman’s hymen was still intact. They had never, in fact, ever had sexual intercourse.
You know you really shouldn’t expect too much, however, when the Union Health Minister labels homosexuality an ‘unnatural disease’. (Anybody who wants to read more about this or watch the video can do so here.)
I’d like to go into India’s LGBT awareness, but that is an issue that deserves attention all its own, attention that I will give it someday.
For now, I’d like to go back to an issue I did not expound on earlier, when I was talking about our beautiful stars being completely blameless. Let’s face it, we’re a Bollywood-obsessed nation. (Three things sell in India – sex, Bollywood, and cricket. Want to maximise your profit? Combine them all!)
It’s pathetic how much fame can blinker people – which, again, is something that happens all over the world, but not to the extent it happens here. In Bollywood, you can shoot innocent wild animals for sport, be inebriated and attempt to beat up your significant other, be inebriated yet again, drive, and kill a bunch of people in the process, and then sell t-shirts labelled ‘Being Human’ – because, clearly, that is something you know how to do if you’ve done all those things I just mentioned.
Still, you will find people on the street – rickshaw drivers, cleaners, paanwallahs, random guys referring to these stars as ‘bhai’, and talking of them lovingly, as if they were their own brothers.
A few years ago, a convicted terrorist, a man who, along with his girlfriend, was wanted by Interpol, was in the news, with the paper polling college-going girls, asking them to rate how ‘hot’ they thought he was. A few months later, his girlfriend landed a spot on a ‘reality show’ here, had her own fan following, even, and is probably back in Bollywood, doing something or the other.
The last edition/season of this same reality show, which, for some inexplicable reason, seems to be ridiculously popular, played host to an international face (?) in the world of pornography, a certain Sunny Leone, an appearance I am certain was engineered to help her gain a foothold into Bollywood.
People on the street will pretend to be scandalised when you talk about sex, sex education, or anything even remotely related, but ask them who any given Bollywood actor is sleeping with at any given point in time, and you will have an instant answer. Talk about sex on a realistic basis and you’ll probably hear something along the lines of ‘ghar pe maa-behen nahin hai kya?’ , which translates to ‘do you not have a mother or a sister at home?’, a line I hate. Are you not supposed to respect a woman unless she is your ‘maa’ or ‘behen’?
And hypocrisy shall continue to rule. As we avert our eyes from sexual education, 51 babies are born every minute. We will continue to blame rape victims for ‘dressing provocatively’, instead of the creepy men who can’t keep it in their pants.
Politicians will wax eloquent about Indian morals and how our culture does not promote over-sexualisation, about how it is all the influence of western culture that has led to the degradation of our nation, only to go back to their homes and be the philandering slimeballs that they are, to rape women, be third-rate philanderers, get them pregnant, and have them murdered.
And people, at large, while being obsessive about their own privacy, will still find it exciting to know where Aishwarya Rai had her baby, whether she pushed or had a c-section, whether or not she had an epidural, probably even how many centimetres she was dilated as of 0600 hours on the 16th of November (and the celebrities, of course, oblige by telling us via Twitter that they aren’t ‘too posh to push.) [If I could respond, I’d say ‘who cares?’, but clearly, more than a million of the man’s followers do, so I would be in the minority.]
And we will live amongst a public that knows precisely where Anushka Sharma is and who she is or is not dating, but is absolutely unaware of the existence of a true ‘celebrity': a woman named Aung San Suu Kyi.