Sunday, December 14, 2014

Treasurywalla, Open Letters and Objectification

    In the last couple of days, social media was suddenly booming with an open letter from Shehnaz Treasurywala to eminent male personalities of India in an attempt to either grab their attention towards the increasing crimes against women or a means of publicity stunt. I read it and chose not to comment on it or share it, nor did I feel it's something out of the blue because we women have been yelling this pretty much everyday with almost no effect. I also happened to read an open letter to Ms.Treasurywala from an Indian man asking her all sorts of questions, that I felt the need to pen this down, upon reading the kind of eyebrow-raising comments on the website.

    I don't care if Ms. Shehnaz's open letter was a publicity stunt or not. The problem with most things we Indians do is attaching our judgement on a person along with their viewpoint. For starters, would this letter have reached such masses had it not been an actor's? Secondly, why conjoin her profession and the content? Would the same objectionable questions about what one does for a living been raised had this letter been written by an anonymous author or a 'conservative, Indian girl'?

    The response letter has placed a heavy weight on the objectification of women. Sexual objectification in movies, ads etc. First of all, how many of us have informed and contemplated opinions on objectification at all, is a question that runs in my head. I still haven't quite confirmed my own thoughts on the matter. Is sexual objectification deplorable because we have complete disregard for the party's personality or is it an aggressive movement towards the tapping of downright raw nature of human being?
    I cannot but agree of all those movies that have scantly clad heroines without any role but glamour and that of a crowd-puller. It makes me wonder why the heroine agreed to such a movie at all.(Money aside, of course) But glamour and sexual appeal are there in almost all of our movies. Do we suggest to ban such portrayals or learn to see past it? Mass media is a portrayal of the society and vice versa. In this cyclic process, who stops first and who follows? Will filmmakers stop introducing erotica in movies if we, the public, learn to see past the fact that it's yet another viewpoint or stop the thought itself by banning such scenes in the movies? Would such an act be regressive or progressive? For, one one hand we're finally moving away from patriarchal concepts that deem women pure and chaste if only she refrains from a particular kind of behaviour we all well acquainted to understand and on the other hand we're wishing to walk away from the other end and asking women to not be open about their own bodies. In a world where sexual objectification of both men and women are on the rise, why are we greatly concerned with only women? What did the poor men do? Or is it all praise for men and condescension for women on the topic of sexual objectification?

       I found it extremely disconcerting to note that the response to the actor's letter ran along a line of condescension. The author lays emphasis on whether celebrities ever talk about all this at the least 'over a cocktail party'. Why is alcohol even being brought into the whole story? What eligibility criteria did he pass in order to question Sunny Leone's eligibility in the movie industry?

     It's not like these 'celebrities' aren't doing anything to bring upon public awareness in the country. What about people like Aamir Khan, Farhan Aktar, Amitabh Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Shabana Azmi, Rahul Bose and Nafisa Ali? While you may claim that Aamir Khan charges in crores for an episode of Satyamev Jayate, clicking your tongue; he's still doing a great deal to the society. Money is a part of his job and no one but himself has a say in it. How long is the society going to blame the movie industry? Yes, it's unsettling that masses are swayed whenever an actress's legs are in view and it gets them all horny. If don't want to get all horny and rape people, do not watch those movies. But no! You'll want to watch them anyway and later raise questions about an actor's choice of movies and nudity. That, my friend, is called hypocrisy. Ever wondered about all those movies where the lead actors utter something utterly chauvinistic about how a woman should be? All I heard in the theatre are claps and support when dialogues fill the air about how a woman should be. (In Tamil: they go like 'Pombala na adakka odukkama irukkanum') I didn't see anyone writing open letters then. Why now?

    The problem with our society is that it's full of taboos that needs to see the light of the day. Sex is taboo but we're one of the largest reproducing country in the world. No, we can't portray erotica but it's perfectly okay to be pent up with sexual energy that can be unleashed on the streets while folks from one's own family sleep in the safety of their homes. I believe that the rate of crimes against women, in particular will decrease only through awareness and education. Yes, movies are influential and you can question the kind of message a film delivers but we have no right to judge an actor based on their choice of movies and interlinking an on-screen portrayal with their real life persona. It's not the complete catalyst for groping hands and lewd comments on the road. It comes from those mothers who let their boys be, even as they exhibit questionable characteristics and don't let their daughters out in the night because it's not safe. It's because of your high school biology teacher who chose to skip the chapter on reproduction or spent a matter of minutes on it with the rest for 'your own reading' of the subject. It's because of the callous remarks and labels attached to the idea of boys and girls in the country. It's happening because of those fathers who don't slap their sons hard when they harass another but smile in a resigned approval. A lot of issues don't surface because they're bound by the ideas of morality and 'family values'. It's time we all took time out to understand what it really is, in the current times. The day sex can be a dining table topic, we'll have the air around the topic cleared and resolved.

 Until then, let's at the least not blame a third party and realize that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we choose to see a situation.

Decide what you wish to take from a movie or a man or woman. It's always a matter of choice.

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  1. While there is chauvinism and the retention of the general belief that there are certain 'acceptable' ways for women to behave, there will be objectification. The divide between what men and women can do in society is very deeply ingrained in the minds of many in this country. Though the country's population is exploding, and the fact that there are way more youngsters in our country than there are those who retain more backward mentalities, I feel the problem of crimes against women is in some ways because of the skewed sex ratio as well. Our population is very cognizant of the current state of affairs, and I'm sure many feel extremely intimidated by the reality of the rat-race they've been born into. From this perspective, maybe the unfairness of life looks a whole lot worse. Maybe it makes the hopelessness, the bleakness take on new proportions. Maybe, it makes some men think, "Why can't women be the way they used to be?", simply because they are angry. Angry with the success of others, and most of all, the success of 'mere women'. If you think about it, the change we have seen over the past few years, where women have finally started being recognized and treated as equals to men has not only been rapid, but also quite loud and well-publicized. It's the media and/or the internet that has allowed this change to take effect so quickly, or at least get noticed so quickly - but it has definitely had a big impact. So the men who actually commit these crimes are very cognizant of the 'before' and the 'now', if you get what I mean. This doesn't justify crimes against women in any way, but all I'm saying is, there are multiple angles to this, each of which has its own back-story.

    1. Hi Anon,

      I agree with you on this one. There is never just one reason for the increasing crimes in the country and what you have said makes perfect sense. We have too many reasons and back-up stories don't we? One large complicated web!


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