1 April, 2015
The 'My Choice' video went viral, earning over 2 million hits in a couple of days. It is the third film in the campaign directed by Homi Adajania and produced by Dinesh Vijan for Vogue Empower, a social awareness initiative on women’s empowerment supported by Hindustan Times. The script is based on a piece written by Kersi Khambatta.
This video is a montage of Deepika Padukone and 98 other women from Mumbai. All the 99 women are dressed in black attires. There are well-styled good-looking women, some celebrities, some random villagers and tribal women.
Composer AR Rahman, actors Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, cricketer Yuvraj Singh and film maker Karan Johar are also part of the initiative.
Is this video empowering?
Granted that women are always at the receiving end. We need to really work towards the empowerment of women. However, we need to be clear about the difference between empowerment and feminism. Here is what we think about the video concept, the script, Deepika and the whole issue of choice.
Initially, for a moment I thought it is an ad for a sanitary napkin or for diamonds. Though the language seems empowering there is a lot to think about. When you relate choices to women as in this ad, some women are born with it. Most Indian women have to earn it the hard way in a suppressive, male dominated society. This ad can only reach middle class society through social media leaving the vast majority of women who really need freedom, untouched. It’s too elite and urban to be significant for the 'real' India. Also, think; does this message really mean anything to the vast majority of women? Apart from urban middle class women (even there I have my doubts), most women of our country just will not be able to connect with the message given here. Merely addressing the YouTube audience from the frame of a slick video in a language that fails to register is missing the point in a big way.
Deepika is trying to emerge as some sort of spokesperson among the film stars on different issues. I do have my respect for her acting. But it stops there. What is disturbing is that she continues to appear in movies or songs that objectify women in the worst possible manner. In her last film, Happy New Year, released in December 2014, she performed a pole dance for an item number. In the song, she is referred to as the “the hottest firecracker.” And didn't her song 'Lovely' objectify women? We wish Deepika had been equally vocal about being part of a certain AIB Roast, which she hasn’t been. Now, she is talking about the right to choose.
In 1991, American author Naomi Wolf argued that as women gain social power and prominence, they are under pressure to adhere to arbitrary physical standards or beauty. In her book, The Beauty Myth, she wrote, “More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our un-liberated grandmothers.”
The basic problem with the likes of Deepika and Vogue talking about women’s rights issues is that they only continue to give a false sense of how a woman should look like or behave. For much of India the message does not make any sense. They talk about the prerogative of choice, but they don’t explain the burden or the consequences of those choices. They talk about empowerment when they are themselves slave to consumerism.
Freedom and empowerment is not something that can be sold through the glossy pages of a magazine or social media. It can only come through experience and self-knowledge and real empowerment. This comes when you teach men & women to make responsible choices.
What they are doing is merely telling a whole generation of women to grow up in a bimbo culture — women can be comfortable with the choices they have made, as long as they fit the stereotypical definition of beauty which is usually reed thin and conform to the latest fashion trends. The women cast in this video are from actresses to vegetable vendors & flower sellers to housewives. The video has also shown pregnant ladies from large size to thin sized ladies. However, in real life, Deepka is known for endorsing products that are targeted to women who have to stay slim, thereby endorsing the 'clichéd' opinion about them. And you end up having a generation suffering from diseases like bulimia and consumerist in their outlook.
This brings me to an important point I want to highlight. On one side, the video talked about women empowerment, on the other side, it propagates the idea that adultery is okay and it is a woman's choice and should not be of anyone's concern.
If you look at the Internet there is much being written and tweeted on this video. While many have praised it, the video has also received a lot of flak for being one-sided and that if any of the things that were mentioned by Deepika Padukone in the video were said by a man, he would be called a male chauvinist pig. Adultery is clearly confused with feminism or empowerment.
There is an unofficial 'My Choice' video created by YouTuber 'TheAnkurpoddar'. He talks about men and what is rightfully their choice too. And yet, he stops at the adultery part. The video ends with the text 'Respect women & men. We don't support cheating or adultery.' Watch it here..
"If it is your choice to have sex outside marriage, it should be his choice too. Don't call him a cheat.
If he wants to marry a fair, beautiful girl, don't call him sexist. It's his life, it's his wife. Simple!
If he asks for dowry at the time of marriage, don't call him a dowry seeker because it is again his choice.
Don't force him to move out with you, because it's HIS CHOICE to stay with his parents."
Do not file a rape case on promise of marriage after having consensual sex because he made a CHOICE not to MARRY YOU."
Adultery, bigamy, indifference all seem cool coming from a woman. But if a man would've said the same things about affairs outside marriage and walking naked, he'd be finished.
Let me just give four points that for me sums up what making choices is about.
1. Our choices can never be absolute
There is no such thing as absolute freedom in this world. All of us have freedom but there are boundaries to that freedom. We say “free as a bird” but think: is a bird really free? A bird can only fly to a certain height and has to be careful of other predators or stronger birds. These limit its freedom. In fact, I dare say reverently, that even God is not totally free. He is only free to do whatever does not contradict His character. So God can only speak the truth and cannot lie. His inability to lie limits Him to always speak the truth. In that sense there is no such thing as absolute freedom or absolute choice.
2. Our choices have consequences
If we choose not to sleep, we will be tired. If we choose not to eat, we will be hungry. Making a choice is something like picking up a stick. When you pick up one end the other end automatically comes with it. When you make a choice, a consequence also comes with it! Some consequences come quickly after you make a choice. Sometimes you may not recognize a consequence long after you made it. But eventually there is always a consequence.
In books the heroes make as many mistakes as they like. Even in our soaps, serials and movies you may find a woman/man sleeping with a new partner almost ever episode and never seem to have a problem. They rather seem to enjoy it. It doesn't matter what they do, because everything works out in the end with a happy ending. They'll beat the bad guys and put things right or find the right partner in the end after trying/living in with many others and everything ends up cool.
In real life, if you cross a busy road without looking, you get whacked by a car. If you fall from a tree, you break some bones. Real life's nasty. It's cruel. It doesn't care about heroes and happy endings and the way things should be. In real life, bad things happen. People die. Families break up. Children are abused. Evil often seems to win. So in real life we should be making choices based on the consequence we want to see in our lives!
3. Our choices need to be responsible
Choice is a powerful idea. Choice is also a privilege that comes with a responsibility. Our choices are not made in a vacuum. Our choices also affect others around us, positively or negatively, especially those who are in our circle of reference. Choices ultimately have to be responsible.
Increasingly we have become a me-only generation where we are taught to live in an I-Me-Myself ghetto. Our choices tend to be about myself and not about others. I am the reference point for my life. But just think about life. Is life like that? We are social beings and everything we do affects the next person, whether we like it or not. Both men & women need to exercise choices that value relationships over rights.
If you notice we make different choices in different seasons of our lives. When we are single, when we get married, when we have children, at different stages of our children’s lives, when they get married, and so on. That’s how we make responsible choices.
4. Our choices determine our character
We are the sum of all the choices we have made. Decisions affect and shape our character because our decisions become our habits and that becomes our character. Also the decisions that we make in front of people that we don't know very well may change the way that they look at us. If we make good decisions we will have a good character and more people will most likely end up liking us.
Decisions affect and shape our character because it shows us who you really are.
Ultimately when we die, people are not going to remember us for our riches but our character. The bottom line is that our decisions now will effect who we become in the future, and how others see us.
If all that mattered is “My choice” sans whatever happens to anyone else, then ISIS are absolutely right when they stab or shoot people on camera, it's their choice after all! The accused and their lawyers in the Nirbhaya case speak nonsense in the BBC video "India's Daughter". But it’s their choice. We have no right to do anything about it. I shudder to even think of these possibilities! Oh my dear, I wish making "choices" without facing repercussions, good or bad, was that simple!
You have a choice. If you still want to watch the video after I chose my opinion,
Do also watch this video:
'Ladkiyaan' Kamla Bhasin's Tribute to the South Asian Girls presented by Samar Minallah Khan in collaboration with Black Box. https://vimeo.com/121459886
Check Gunjeet Sra at http://qz.com/372373/deepika-padukones-video-for-vogue-is-not-empowering-its-hypocritical/ from where also a few points initially are derived.