Motherhood and Benevolent Misogyny

 

Unpaid Housework

“These days, sexism is a bit like Meryl Streep, in a new film: sometimes you don’t recognise it straightaway. You can be up to 20 minutes in, enjoying all the dinosaurs and the spacefights and the homesick Confederate soldiers, before you go, “Oh my God — under the wig! THAT’S MERYL.” – Caitlin Moran

Although I’m no huge fan of Moran, the quote is bang on when it comes to benevolent misogyny. It’s still same old shit, just sugarcoated well enough for people to swallow en masse. In fact, sometimes it makes me wonder if it’s more toxic than your garden variety misogyny for the same reason.

A video by Sharman Joshi was shared by The Logical IndianI intend to rant a bit about this page later, but they are, in my opinion, very faux liberal and now and then posts misogynistic/anti feminist drivel. You can see a sample of their latest of their misogynistic bullshit (although again, wrapped in all the apparent “good intentions” in the world) here:

Anyway, coming to video:

And as the comments suggest, conceptually, it seems to be a rip off of this highly problematic advert. However when this gets “indianized” and has been released as some sort of PSA – well that sucks real bad.

The video is basically Sharman asking his colleagues/workmates how they feel about someone working day in and day out, tirelessly, ghade ghade garmi mein (standing all day in extremely hot conditions). And then when they get tired of his “riddle” and asks him, whether his “dad will work for free” – and then he goes: “..my dad won’t, but my mom does”. Then it goes all sappy and everyone realizes how awesome mothers are and motherhood is and it’s all boo-fucking-hoo.

The part where he says that his dad won’t, that – that precisely is the problem. This is where such normalization of such “struggles”  through imposing such notions of “motherhood” comes in. As in the implication of how these “struggles” of housework is somehow part and parcel of “motherhood”, what better way to reinforce gender roles? “Mere papa nahi karte” – the problem is very much that, how about we focus on that instead?

To be clear, I’m not intending to generalize or imply that no women choose housework. However India especially does have a HUGE problem with disproportionate number of women doing all the housework and hardly many men. This disproportionate nature of women doing all the housework should make it painfully obvious these are not just women ‘choosing’ to do housework, but rather something they’re burdened with.

What irritated me more was the fact that how the description even goes on to say “I have often seen that people do something for their mothers on Mother’s Day and then forget about it” – well what did YOU have in mind while making the video (aside from hits)?

And no, shedding faux tears and telling her “I love you Mom” doesn’t make it all magically go away. As the comments on the FB posts suggest, it just plays right into the mindset that these are all “natural part of motherhood”. And that makes it a crappy “PSA” video, afterall.

Even when they do it ‘right’ – They do it wrong.

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I had been meaning to write on the M.A.R.D. (literal: Man, acronym for: Men Against Rape and Discrimination) campaign (launched and promoted by Farhan Akthar)  after the Delhi incident took place. And it was about time, although such a horrible incident had to take place to shake our nation, while sexual violence against women were mostly brushed aside as a small column in newspapers before and not to mention that the root issue, misogyny and rape culture was not addressed by most people even in light of these events.

Before I begin, I have to say that I appreciate Farhan Akhtar’s good intentions and I do believe that he genuinely is interested in the cause of promoting women’s rights. Much before, I was happy to see him tweet against victim blaming multiple times most big ‘Bollywood stars’ just distance themselves from making any political statements and recently, his support of One Billion Rising campaign. Although to promote violence against putting the ‘true man’ rhetoric on pedestal is non constructive. What irritates me more is that he gets it partly, and agrees that patriarchal mindset is the problem, and still thinks  making posters like the one below is a good idea for an anti-rape campaign:

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This gender norm of mardangi (masculinity) is exactly what should be done away with, instead of stroking it further to promote women’s rights. This does nothing in addressing patriarchal gender norms. Although to their credit, they share some very good posts (along with some not so good ones, which still promotes the patriarchal  mindset) on their FB page, which I haven’t seen many such celebrity-endorsed campaigns (in India) do. Only if they had taken those seriously and done a serious re-evaluation on what they are promoting, this could have had some real good impact, but sadly fell short by a long way. You can read a detail critique of the campaign here, also addressed well by the video I had shared here. Oh and meanwhile could we please end the “maa behen” nonsense, once and for all? Because women deserve respect because they are people, not because they are some man’s mother or sister. This has been so since Bollywood films of 60’s (or earlier) and people won’t just let it go.

Moving past M.A.R.D., this is not just the case of one misdirected campaign. But people who care (or pretend to care) about women’s rights repeat the same mistakes again. Another example the Bhartiya Mahila Bank initiative, which is a project worth millions, for an exclusive women’s bank (read detailed critique here), which is one of the worst forms of tokenism. Apparently our government thinks gender segregation is a good idea, instead of promoting diversity, making these male dominated areas more accessible to women and taking measures to counter workplace harassment. One would have thought these people would have put more thought behind these projects before implementing them. To quote from this well written piece, “Segregating women into separate spaces is easy; giving them real equality is far more difficult.”

And then there is hilariously bad pretenders, Raj Thackeray recently asked Women to ‘Send bangles to Patil‘, because ladies, as you would have guessed, the worst insult to a man is to be called a woman. Questioning his ‘manhood‘ is the worst thing you can do. And far be it for me to care about what Raj or his cronies has to say, but this is not at all uncommon. This is exactly why I have such a big problem with the M.A.R.D. campaign and how they confirm this again, which really undo a lot of effort they put into this campaign.

What is the solution? I think Rahul Bose nailed it, gender equality should be compulsory part of curriculum. None of this ‘aurat maa hoti hai‘ nonsense, but a robust inclusive course which isn’t gender essentialist. And when you go ahead with some activism or ‘progressive‘ projects, put some thought behind as for what you are trying to achieve. Or else this could go all wrong – not only as just a wast of effort, but even reinforce the patriarchal norms that many activists are trying to counter.

Sexism in Movies – Why do I care?

I have been planning to start this blog for ages, but time constraints have been holding me back a bit. Recently though, I have been quite religiously commenting on Baradwaj Rangan‘s (excellent) blog, mostly on Ranjhanaa, and my objection against glorification of stalking in the film. So just to be clear, I won’t be flogging that dead horse anymore, but I think I would like to (at least attempt to) put all my perspectives in a single blog post.

I am a passionate movie buff, to state the obvious. Movies are my obsession. I try and watch movies, time permitting – or else at least follow and keep track of reviews. Recently, in the light of Ranjhanaa and the blatant glorification of stalking, there have been a lot of interesting comments and polarized views on the topic.

The first question people ask is “why take it seriously?” – it’s after all a movie, right? Well that is where I would beg to differ. Movies influence people and our culture in general. I’m not implying that movies cause sexism, but it could play an important role in perpetrating it. This is especially problematic with movies, which are supposed to be emotionally connect with the audience or the masala movies, where hero ends up directly promoting sexism. One example I can think of is the slut shaming in the movie Vel, that I had alluded to briefly  in BR’s blog. The hero lectures the heroine and her friend about how women are exposing their bodies that only their husbands are supposed to see (and to make it more ridiculous, the women he was referring to weren’t exposing anything in the first place). This is worrying, especially since a majority of our population and fans who almost dedicate their lives watching and promoting their movies, would lap it up quite seriously.

Then there’s the second kind of films – which is otherwise quite well made, but still ends up glorifying misogyny. Raanjhanaa is of course one of the recent examples – but since that topic has been discussed to death, another film I felt such disconnect with due to such problematic elements was Cocktail. This was a more subtle case of the conservative ‘bhartiya nari’ winning the guy over rather than the “loose” girl (who attempts to transform herself into an obedient Indian bahu with learning to cook, pray and the whole deal) – although I will give them some credit for showing female bonding between the two lead pairs. This article by Rajashree Sen reflects my thoughts on the movie well.


Pyaar Ka Punchnaama: Women ain’t nothin’ but bitches and hoes

Then there are these eerily misogynistic set of films – like that abomination of a film called “Pyaar Ka Punchnaama”. Which again, was lapped up by the audience, and recommended to me personally by a lot of my (male) friends. I wouldn’t bother get into dissecting that one here.

That said, there are movies which attempt to show these from an independent perspective, which doesn’t end up glorifying sexism or abuse and intentionally portray the characters in gray shades. Those are not to be confused with the above films.

This is exactly why I think these movies should be dissected from an ethical point of view. It is worrying how sexist views are still part of mainstream cinema to varying degrees and still eludes most of the critics. This ranges from demonizing women’s sexuality to suggesting corrective physical violence against women who voice any kind of dissent. It’s ridiculous how the slightest bit of innocuous comment that might offend the religious sentiments is scrutinized, but oh no, we’re never supposed to discuss sexism, something that actually is so appallingly rampant in our society. Then we are back to “it’s just a film” mode.

That’s enough of my rant for now. More later.