More Tabloid Misogyny from TOI

Deepika Padukone, Times of India, Objectification

How low could one of the worst popular tabloid newspapers in India go? Well  apparently a lot more lower than we had imagined. I don’t think I have to mention the whole incident again, you can read a summary of events here (and here’s a good piece on victim blaming and misogyny in light of recent events, viz. Deepika-TOI incident and victim blaming and harassment against Suzette Jordan).

It’s one thing to engage in complete violation of privacy, objectification and dehumanization of women through tabloid journalism, it’s worse when you ask a woman to “take it as a compliment 😉 ” when she explicitly said that it’s dehumanizing and objectifying, but it’s a whole new level of douchebaggery when you follow it up with horrendous trite like this.

It’s basically entirely built on implicit slut shaming, and then rationalizing their shitty story. First they go on to rationalize their headline saying how sensationalized headlines aren’t uncommon (which was literally “OMG, Deepika Padukone’s Clevage show”) and then they dissect photoshoots Deepika had voluntarily taken part in, in an extremely crass and distasteful manner.

I think supposedly “one of the largest media houses in the world” would have people with half a brain to figure out the obvious, that she chose to voluntarily pose for those pictures, she felt comfortable about those. That’s her choice. We don’t even have to get into the murkier area of modelling industry/Bollywood etc. promoting objectification. This is clear as a crystal, and I’d have thought even if they were on a cocktail of heroin, meth and cocaine, they still would’ve been able to join the dots here.

But oh no – you, instead, poked into her real life, violated her privacy, and posted picture of her breasts in utterly dehumanizing way. The difference is as huge as harassing a woman and paying her a compliment. The original “article” was not only dehumanizing, but when it was pointed out to you multiple times, you still keep rationalizing this, and pile more misogynistic bullshit on top of that instead of, at the very least, offering a wholehearted apology and retraction. In fact, this new article explaining “their side” is so explicitly misogynistic, that the initial article pales in comparison.

But hey, by all means when a woman tells you how you feel dehumanized, you blame and shame her further and call her an attention whore (“Was deepika’s hypocrisy for publicity?” – nice touch).

Well done TOI, you’ve officially downgraded yourself further from the already horrendous TOIlet journalism you champion.

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.

Viral Campaigns Gone Wrong

Viral video campaigns india

You know what gets my goat? The trend of a bunch of videos masquerading as “progressive” ending up screwing things so bad, that you want to tear your hair out. Especially those about sensitive topics like rape without much thought being put behind them.


The video above was passed on as some sort of a “social experiment” – while I feel if anything it’s an extremely poorly thought out “experiment”. The only thing that’s worth emphasizing in this video is if they could establish that none of the people who left called the cops. However in the given hypothetical, it’s extremely dangerous to thoughtlessly intervene – not just for them, but it could put the victim’s life at risk too. So one could understand why someone wouldn’t directly intervene in such a situation.

No excuse to not call the cops again, but that doesn’t seem to be their point when they ask: “Who was the real culprit? The beast inside the car or those who just walked off?” (to spell it out, it IS the “beast” regardless) Since it says “someone called the cops” – what if it was one of those who “shamelessly” fled the scene? They should have clarified these important aspects if one was to take this remotely seriously. And it was just a poor way to demonstrate the public apathy towards rape victims , which indeed is a problem.

And behold, it gets worse.

Let’s ignore the crass title for a second here (“Will you marry a raped girl?” – seriously?) – the video, while again, highlights the extremely misogynistic mindset of people at the beginning, goes on to state how they’ve found some “heroes” too. There’s nothing “heroic” about being a decent human being and not a misogynistic ass. While it’s a good change considering general perception towards rape victims in our society, posing it as somehow “heroic” is very problematic and perpetrates the existing notion that they’re doing some sort of “sacrifice” by marrying a rape victim. I don’t know if I can even give credit to them here for being “well intentioned”.

And finally this is the latest video that falls prey to the same thoughtlessness (although admittedly to a much lesser degree than the previous one) albeit having good potential is this video that’s gone viral oflate:


The video comes so close to properly acknowledging male privilege and ends up being borderline patronizing, essentialist, objectifying, despite the good intentions. No, women are not all “beautiful” or “sexy” – and they don’t have to be. They are NOT a monolith. They’re as complex and diverse as men are – that’s the message we should be conveying, instead of being extremely patronizing.

And while India is one of the worst place for women to be in, Saudi Arabia is NOT a safe place for women – it’s a far worse misogynistic dole than ours. There’s some perception among people that because of the harsh (and barbaric) punishments in Saudi Arabia it’s somehow “safer” for women. No it isn’t.  Rape is horribly underreported in Saudi Arabia and statistics on rape isn’t available for comparison.  

This video is perhaps most disappointing as it seeks to make a strong and relevant point and loses track big time.

So am I saying that these campaigns are useless? No, and at the same time I’m someone who thinks that projects like these are a good medium to nudge people in the right direction – it’s a good starting point. Which is why I so wish that they would put some thought into these things instead of thoughtlessly making problematic token videos that caters to the more progressive demographic (this being a fine example of how to do it right).

End of rant.

When Fanaticism and Misogyny Intersect

Sharapova Sachin

I am an ardent Cricket fan. I have greatest respect for Sachin Tendulkar, who is truly one of the legends of the game. But I have never been fond of the cult like fanatics who froth at mouth at the slightest semblance of criticism. This is hardly limited to Sachin of course, any popular star – Rajnikanth, SRK – choose your pick. These people just brainlessly attack anyone who doesn’t remotely agree with their perspective. I get the being passionate aspect of it, for sure but losing all perspective and frothing at their mouths? Not so much.

It should hardly be a surprise why Maria Sharapova, who is a Tennis star and Russian, wouldn’t know Sachin – especially since cricket is hardly a popular sport in Russia (or globally, as compared to Football etc.). But oh no, she is just not allowed to not know Sachin, because fuck logic.

A lot of innocuously funny (albeit childish) remarks may be dismissed as innocent trolling, but this was just the tip of the iceberg. Her page was flooded with misogynist comments and is still being done so. I’m borrowing this assimilated screenshot by India Commenting FB page:

Sharapova Misogyny

(for non hindi speakers: randi=whore)

These are not even a fair indicator of the a minor percentile of the misogynist crap that’s being dumped there. I just can’t be bothered to screencap these douchebaggery – basically the more “innocent” comments are the ones which spams Sachin’s achievements over and over again and the ones which claims that she’s just lying. Then there’s direct death threats, slut shaming etc. If you really have the time and patience, go through it here in the comments section.

And people continued slut shaming, calling her “bitch”, a “porn star” etc. on twitter – in and outside the by now popular #whoissharapova hashtag which I have no intention of linking here.

When exactly did being a fan become equivalent to a brainless moron? Or more importantly, a misogynist douchebag? How exactly are you putting your legend you worship so dearly in a good light by doing all this? Zombies on their slower days are capable more rational thought than these bunch.

This whole incident sums up everything that’s wrong with our society – mob like mentality and misogyny. And the intersection of both was very hard and shameful to watch for me as an Indian and an ardent cricket fan myself.

Seriously, sort your shit out people. I don’t care how much you worship any sports star, it’s not okay to dehumanize someone under any pretext, much less for the blasphemous crime of not knowing a sports star regardless of how much of a legend he may be. Just think about that for a second and calm the fuck down. Thank you.

On Preity Zinta, Misogyny and Intersectionality

Preity Zinta

Recently, Preity Zinta lodged a formal complaint against her ex Ness Wadia, for alleging intimidation during the IPL. You can read the full content of her official complaint here.

Now it’s very brave of a woman to come forward and do this in India, considering proportion of the misogyny and how inevitably worse it gets in proportion when you’re a celebrity who is in the spotlight. And to put things in context, she’s also someone who refused to retract from her testimony in 2003 Bharat Shah Case while major figureheads in Bollywood “chickened out”.

Later on she posted this status asking people and media to stop humiliating her over this :

Every human being has a limit to how much they can take ; some of us foolishly call it strength and try to look ahead focusing on the positives of work and life. All these years i have never said anything about him in the media but now i have no choice.

I humbly request the media and my supporters to pls focus on the issue and the incident that happened in Wankade and not turn this and me into a TV soap. This is not easy for me and my intention is not to harm anyone but simply to protect myself and to stand up for myself. I don’t want any sympathy from anyone but i will sincerely appreciate it if people do not try to take away my dignity in the process of my fight for respect at my workplace. I think after all these years i deserve it and I’m not asking for too much.

Now unsurprisingly, many people characterized this as “celebrity drama” (because what’s more fun for a woman here than reporting harassment right?) and rest, as evident from the comment section (lead by “Masculinists”) are engaging in blatant misogynistic douchebaggery calling her a “gold digger” and accusing her of lying. Business as usual.

Most of this backlash seems to be born out of the usual, garden variety misogyny, which comes with the notion that since it has to be her simply “whining” about it, because her ex harassing her is nothing but a woman making a “big deal” out of a spat between her ex. But female celebrities being at the worse end of it in many ways because people can’t stand the thought of a successful woman, being able to stand up for herself and not putting up with this shit.

However there’s another section of people who shame her for lodging a complaint because “little girls are raped and hanged for nothing”:

 

Now this is a whole different type of douchebaggery. There were a bunch of comments on Preity Zinta’s original status which said more or less the same (which seems to be cleaned up now) – i.e. how she should stop making a “big deal” of harassment while worse things are happening in the country.

The worst thing about these comments are, ironically, how they smack of classism – i.e. turning rape of underprivileged women/children to our own desi version of “starving children in Africa have it worse” meme. While class (along with caste etc.), no doubt, plays a huge role in discrimination against women (and intersectionality is hence important) using this to put a woman down is not only terribly misogynistic, but also incredibly classist. Discrimination faced by underprivileged women are not some sort of leverage for you to trivialize misogyny.

What this case reflects is how, even for a female celebrity with class privilege, has put up with this terrible level of misogyny for merely filing a formal complaint against harassment. And the same people who create an environment where misogyny is desensitized wonder where all these “monsters” who commit these “brutal rapes” come from.

 

An Open letter to Guardian

Cultural relativism

My last blog was a rant on shit post modernists say, and I thought that would have just ended there, I had no intention of taking that any further. And then Guardian just published  this horrendous article, by Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, defending Saudi’s refusal to grant women the right to drive on cultural relativist grounds. I’m just lost for words here – the last time I had read a nearly dire article was a Tribune piece defending slavery. But this is Guardian, one of the most reputed papers in the UK, which published this – and that worries me so much more.

I just loathe cultural relativism. No amount of ‘genuine concerns‘ would take away the stink of cultural relativism. And when it comes to fundamental human rights, it’s just unacceptable for any reasonable person to support cultural relativist nonsense. This article precisely demonstrates why, and hits a whole new low by engaging in explicit cultural relativist apologia, and horrendously faulty reasoning.

Lets see what his arguments are:

Westerners should be wary of trying to impose their version of feminism on Saudi women. It’s not always welcome

Yes, how dare the western feminists shove basic human rights down our throats? It’s certainly problematic. Because whether women deserve basic human rights is now a “western feminist” concept. We are having none of that, surely.

The Saudi economic newspaper El-Iqtisadiah ran a front-page news story suggesting that women’s driving is just a luxury rather than a necessity and that protesters against the ban seek to undermine the kingdom’s stability and create sedition.

Seriously? Women having the right to drive is a luxury? And oh yeah, sure – those brave women who stood up and protest against were obviously conspiring against Saudi Kingdom’s so called “stability” which are well aware about.

That wasn’t just propaganda. I conducted a survey of my former Saudi female students at Al-Lith College for Girls (at Um al-Qura University, Mecca). They helped me distribute a large-scale questionnaire to their colleagues from different departments of the college and to their female relatives and friends. It wasn’t exactly scientific, but their responses are worth considering. I offered them anonymity in their answers, but even so, some wanted to be recognized.

As interesting the survey results might be, why does it matter? Having the right to drive doesn’t mean every woman is compelled to drive. Do we have to spell that out for you, if that wasn’t obvious? And of course, there is still peer pressure etc. to overcome for women who choose to drive, and all you care about this poll?

Also two words for you: Internalized Misogyny. They live in an oppressive regime which refuses to grant women their basic human rights, so why are you surprised that women have internalized this themselves?

Now this is where it really gets horrible and where I couldn’t make sure if this was a satire or an actual opinion piece:

To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

Mashaal El-Maliki, a housewife:

Female driving will destroy family life because it will give husbands a chance to know other women who (as drivers) will be free and without guardians.

Bedoor Elmaliki, a student:

In my point of view, female driving is not a necessity because in the country of the two holy mosques every woman is like a queen. There is (someone) who cares about her; and a woman needs nothing as long as there is a man who loves her and meets her needs; as for the current campaigns calling for women’s driving, they are not reasonable. Female driving is a matter of fun and amusement, let us be reasonable and thank God so much for the welfare we live in.

Maqbula El-Malawi, a student:

Honestly, I don’t like women to drive. This will create sedition … I agree that there are already different kinds of sedition we see every day, but the right place for a woman is her house; this will really save her from what is happening in the outside world.

A Saudi mother:

If they allow women to drive, there will be many negative effects on the whole society (eg, sexual harassment). Furthermore, there will be many things that don’t comply with our Islamic principles. This will open the door for women to imitate men in everything, and who knows … there would be calls for banning niqab. This way a woman will lose her femininity; and if a woman goes out without a guardian, she may lose her honor.

Banaader Elmaliki, a 4th year mathematics student:

[The driving movement is] just a crazy imitation of America, and doesn’t mean more liberation for women. It rather means liquidation of the society and inferiority of its moral values. The biggest evidence on this is the liquidation of American society; we don’t want this in our kingdom.

That’s right, he just quoted a bunch of horrible, bronze age misogynistic perspectives (albeit from women themselves), some of which  engages directly in victim blaming. Letting women drive “opens the door for sexual harassment” – oh yeah – lets shift the burden of not getting harassed on women now, totally. Because men have absolutely no role to play in it – so lets just deprave women of their fundamental rights they’re entitled to. That sounds just about perfect, because after all, we know that women are not people and are at best sub-human slaves, so makes sense.

Now one would have thought someone would have used these quotes to merely demonstrate the horrible state that Saudi is in, to highlight how much misogyny women themselves have internalized. But oh no, he apparently thinks this supports his “argument” in some way, while it merely demonstrates the dire need of addressing the misogyny.

Whether or not women have the right to choice that men already have is not open to debate. Period. I find it quite baffling that a person with half a brain would have any difficulty in grasping this exceedingly simply premise, you don’t have to be a feminist to know that. You have to a total misogynist douchebag to not only remain oblivious to it, but also defend the oppressive laws that refuses to grant women the choice that they already should have.

What is most baffling is how Guardian thought it was somehow a good idea to publish this drivel. This is cultural relativism at it’s worst, and giving a person platform to spew his half-brained apologist nonsense is a massive fail of some basic journalist ethics on your part, let alone a massive fall in your credibility. Sort your shit out, pretty please. Being the “liberal” variant of Fox News or Daily Mail is not a good way to stand up against prejudice against Muslims or racism. To quote Nietzsche here: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.

Women”s rights are human rights, and not a matter of debate. If you stand against it, or promote views that stands against it, then you’ve lost perspective (to put it mildly), regardless of your “intentions“.  Get that into your thick skulls please. Thank you very much.

The Problem with Post-Modernists

Warning: I’m not planning to do a detailed academic analysis on Post Modernist philosophy itself, this are my views (or rant) on my personal blog, because I’m tired of reading this nonsense on a daily basis.

ETA since I got a few negative comments: Again, I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t take this as a critique of post-modernism itself, which was never my intention. 

pomo social construct

Last month, a blog was posted in CNN about a white woman who visited India and had horrible experience with sexual harassment over here. This was met by outrage from many parts, some having victim blaming overtones. Myself as a guy who lives in India, and most feminists I know of, found it very relatable and not even slightly hard to believe. That’s hardly the point. The point is, when a woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or race, narrates her experience in India, deserves to be heard and understood. You can’t just go on to blame her or ask her to mince the words just because you are offended. And there was no reason to either, she was very polite and did not attempt to paint all Indian men by the same brush. This has been already discussed at IHM’s blog, you can read it there.

Coming to the central point, postmodernism. I have never been impressed by postmodernist philosophy in general (I have respect, but although I don’t want to imply that their entire field is obsolete without proper exploration on my part, needless to say the sort of nonsense from many postmodernists is getting far too much for me to tolerate. Alan Sokal did a good take-down on the anti-intellectualism that plagues postmodernist philosophy in his book “Fashionable Nonsense, but that is not again my central point. This blog is to discuss about how some post-modernists get it so wrong, you can’t sometimes even tell the difference between a post modernist and a misogynist. And when that happens, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

1. Victim Blaming

This was posted on a tumblr, and was posted in relation to the RoseChasm article I mentioned:

shitpomossay1

Post-modernist nonsense exhibit 1: Victim Blaming

“Yet another deeply obnoxious, racist, classist and douchey, white woman’s account of her experience in India. […] There are ways to tell this story without being colonizing, white supremacist piss hole. Find that way or shut the fuck up.”

I saw absolutely nothing generalizing or unbelievable about her account. Why should a woman watch her mouth to stroke your post modernist sensibilities to narrate her terrible experience of sexual harassment? And what’s worse, this is riddled with personal attacks towards her. Yes, it is important that woman of color be heard, absolutely. How does that make this venomous personal attack on a person who faced sexual harassment okay? So extending the same reasoning, should non-dalit women be allowed to speak in India? Would you say the same shit to them? This is just downright misogynist douchebaggery. Oh no, we have to take everything as white savior complex, completely ignore the fact that this was a victim narrating her personal experience.  Just write a post-modernist guideline that women ought to follow from now on to speak of their personal experiences, I’m sure they would be very grateful for that.

This is the worst form of post-modernism, which is, in my view, anti-feminist and misogynist.  And this runs so deep down, where being offended  and having an us vs them mentality is good enough to rant on about anything.

2. Cultural reappropriation

shitpomossay2

PoMo exhibit 2: Racism

Now we come to the so called ‘cultural appropriation’ issue, in this case apparently the burning issue seems to be: “Should you wear a Bindi?” First of all, for all the things Po-mos say about racism, this post is ironically racist and such a sweeping generalization. Not all desi woman who wear bind wear them “cheap ugly looking desi chappals” – in fact many women who wear bindi probably from middle-upper middle class. And many of the women who do so themselves use these fairness creams. That is just the colorism they have internalized, and unfortunately confirm to. It’s an amazing leap of logic that you just made there.

And I am thankful that people from the west don’t make a fuss out of all this “cultural re-appropriation”, because we do that ourselves, if you are even aware of that. We’re not some monolithic group that wear “cheap ugly desi chappals” along with bindis. Bollywood actresses wear bindis. Upper class and caste women wear bindis.  I haven’t seen many Indians getting ‘hurt‘ in India because some white women wore a bindi here, and we’re a very sensitive bunch when it comes down to religious and cultural sentiments. But regardless, being offended is not good enough reason to refrain from doing anything. Because especially living in India, I know very well how that is used to shut down any debate. If you offend any religious sentiments, you’re screwed. And that has worked out great for us, as you can see. You may find it silly, or you may not like it, but that does not make it inherently racist. That is just irrational prejudice, nothing else.

3.  Savior Complex and Western Allies

This is a more sensitive issue, and I hope I get the nuances right here. I agree that racism in the west is not a trivial issue to this date, and I get that white savior complex might well exist and be very prevalent. But here is something many people just annoyingly go overboard with again:

PoMo exhibit 2: White Savior Complex

PoMo exhibit 3: Savior Complex

Now here comes the oft repeated phrase: “we do not need saving“. I repeatedly hear this, that “we do not need saving” strawman. What is the point of this? I mean I could say that to any activist. That “women don’t need saving” or “LGBT people don’t need saving” – and you would rightly call bullshit on that. Homophobia is terribly prevalent in Islamic communities, that’s just a reality. And I don’t see how accepting that is a problem – and I would go so far to say that acknowledging the problem exists and is widespread is the first step.

Progressive Muslims (reformists) are still in the minority, and they’re mostly the ones who are vocal about LGBT activism. So yes, allies are important. At least in my view. This kind of broad and unhelpful rhetoric just negatively affects LGBT activism in Muslim communities. And I’m just pointing out Muslim communities in this specific case, that applies to a broader context too. And it’s hard to tell if it’s a satire or real thing (spoiler alert: it is real) when you say things like “”We” are not helpless objects for you to (hyper)sexualize and prey upon with your colonial gazes.” – seriously?

Yes stereotypes are bad, and should be done away with. I appreciate that. But how about some nuance? Or being more specific and conflating strawman arguments with genuine issues that should not be brushed under the rug? I love how “hyper sexualization by colonial gazes” is an acceptable statement, but criticism of veil as a form of sexualization is “orientalist and offensive“.

And I could go on. This is just me talking from a feminist perspective and me randomly choosing a few examples to present a case.

When you yourself engage in black and white thinking whilst criticizing black and white thinking, that’s the epitome of irony. Issues in the so called “third world countries” are that bad. Ignoring that because you’re “offended” is just counter productive. And it’s not just white people, anyone who doesn’t confirm to this absurd and irrational west bashing, and black and white thinking are subject of this nonsense as well. Recently I had the misfortune to read this horrible article attacking Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Muslims, for pointing out the irrational anti-west sentiment and pointing out the obvious denialism from this crowd. And not to mention the obvious Taliban apologia or rationalizations (blame it all on the west!) these usual articles come with.

So bottom line, for all your criticism of the “west” and “white savior complex”, just stop with turning a blind eye to the very important issues that people in so called “third world” face because it “offends” you. That’s erasure of people’s experiences and reality denial. And that hurts the activism in these countries more than anything.

End of rant.

The problem with Burka Avenger

I was glad for once to see a female superhero being introduced in Pakistan. I am always a big believer that media can do their share in bringing in change to a culture, especially when it comes to children’s cartoons. I’m sure we all fondly remember the Disney films and various other cartoons that we grew up with. So when news about Burka Avenger came out, I  had my reservations about the choice of Burka as a costume like many, as in a very conservative society, especially when it is worn by a child, it could be problematic. I won’t get into that because that is not the topic of my post here, and here is a post that I mostly agree with regarding the choice of burka as a superhero costume.

Finally, I decided to watch Burka Avenger after a long time, as the series is uploaded on YouTube by the makers. Seeing that sites like Huffington Post had good thing to say about it and claimed that Disney could learn a thing or two from the portrayal of female character in Burka Avenger, one would expect it to be really good, right? Wrong. 

Can I haz moar pink?

Can I haz moar pink?

*Spoilers ahead, if you consider it that*

So the series starts with the prologue, of how an orphaned Jiya was raised by a ‘kind man’ who taught her ‘Takht Kabaddi’ which involves fighting with books and pens, and she uses her skills to fight tyranny and ignorance. She leads her ‘normal’ life as the teacher in a village school (and always wears a pink salwar with even pink chappals – god forbid she gets gets any less womanly, right?), and worries about ‘Baba Bandook’, the villain, preventing a girl’s school from getting opened (segregation much?), and rightly so. Him and Vadero Pajero, believes that women should have nothing to do with education and should just stay at home. Burka Avenger manages to throw books at his goons and save her kids from them meanwhile in a sub plot – and it’s boring. I mean, what’s the point? Yeah books and pens are probably supposed to be a metaphor (and in my opinion, it doesn’t work at all), but if you are supposed to land blows using them, what’s wrong with fighting goons like any other superheros? It’s not as if it’s non violent attack, it does hurt them, but no – a female superhero kicking ass would be too bad?

But that is the least of the problems with this atrocious show. This is where it all crashed down beyond redemption. Baba Bandook and his goons block kids from entering the school. Then this conversation takes place between kids and him – where he asks “Do these girls want to become modern? What will these girls do with education?” A girl just comes running into the scene screaming (Nahiiiiiiiiiiin, Bollywood ishtyle!) and says these gems that would just made my want to stick needles in my eyes.

burkaavengersexism

 

Yup, that’s the reason why girls should be educated, because they are mothers of tomorrow, and if mothers remain illiterate, the kids too will remain illiterate. Really? And the whole scene was so bad, with background maudlin background music and everything (think bad Bollywood movies from the 50’s) and the girl pleading in a very (fake) sad voice. And this was a child who was mouthing these dialoguesand they actually thought it was good to put in a children’s cartoon? Ugh.

Burka-Avenger-555x370[1]That’s not to say the whole thing is really bad, but even the good portions (that were the fight scenes in my opinion) were itself not so great, if you exclude the end credits – which was really cool.

Why this is so disappointing is because this was a good opportunity for them to push the envelope for all the media attention it got – and they completely grassed it. This could have been so much more. Production values when it comes to animation and such are really good for a Pakistani cartoon, and only if they had hired some good writers to make this at least a little better without. I shouldn’t have expected much better when the co-writer is apparently the guy who is behind this comic.

The whole point of me writing this brief critique is in some vain hope that the creators would notice this and at least try to stay away from reinforcing gender roles, ending up doing more harm than good.

Why the romanticization of Arranged Marriages needs to stop

I just happened to come across this video, which is apparently a video made by students of University of Berkeley as a part of their Campus MovieFest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtppMsiqqrM

The video description reads:

The movie is a light-hearted take on the custom of arranged marriages in India. Although widely practiced, the young generation is uncomfortable with the concept and feel compelled to show that it was love that brought them together.

I wouldn’t have honestly minded this, and I did find some parts of the video funny in a cheesy way. But it ends with this ‘message’:

Most Marriages in India are arranged…  amazingly enough this bonding lasts forever!

This really made me angry. There is nothing romantic about arranged marriages. marriage

The main part that disturbs me is the concept of spending a lifetime together with a partner you barely know. If it has worked out well for some people, I am happy for them, but I just don’t see it how we are supposed to marry a random stranger you barely know, whom you would have to decide if he or she is a good enough match for you looking at the photograph? Oh, and how are these photographs chosen? Either through online marriage services, or some agents who would do the same offline. And potential ‘grooms’ and ‘brides’ are handpicked by families based on factors like religion, caste, class and even color. Yep, because that is what is very important for the stable marriage, being of the right classcaste or religion. And this is what you are romanticizing, instead of criticizing. 

And what makes it all the worse, people who break this ‘tradition‘ of arranged marriage would face serious pressures from many families. Many just don’t bother resisting, but those who do, are disowned from their families. And many who resist are disowned by their families, which has happened in my family itself (although they later made amends, but in many cases they don’t). And that is me ignoring the common problem of forced marriages, which deserves a whole separate post – and this outrages me even more as one my friends now is living under the fear of getting married by force herself.

 

And as for the, the ‘bonding‘ lasting forever is mostly because there is still really bad stigma associated with divorce, and families would still ask them to ‘compromise‘, even when it comes to domestic abuse – because as  ‘well mannered woman’, you have to make compromises. That is how it rolls. Because it is all the inevitable part of a family life, apparently. This is why I hate it when people bring up divorce rates in the ‘west‘ and compare it to that of India to show how ‘stable‘ our relationships are. 

Now remember, I am not talking about those who have a good healthy, relationship that happened to be a result of arranged married, but rather the process itself, as it is widely practiced in India. It’s an utterly despicable and hardly talked about practice in my view – and the last thing you need is a propaganda telling us ‘young generation’ who are ‘uncomfortable with the concept’ how great this absurd practice is.