If I had known that the third installment of Vogue’s Empowerment Campaign (#VogueEmpower) ‘My Choice’ would be THIS disappointing, I’d not have bothered to watch it. After launching the Vikas Bahl directed ‘Going Home,’ starring Alia Bhatt and the Vinil Matthew directed ‘Start With The Boys,’ starring Madhuri Dixit, Vogue’s next-in-line was only going to get bigger and better. At least, that is what I thought. Don’t get me wrong- it certainly did get bigger – what with Homi Adajania’s direction and the likes of Deepika Padukone, Adajania’s wife, Anaita Shroff Adajania, film critic Anupama Chopra, actress Nimrat Kaur, director Zoya Akhtar, Adhuna Akhtar, Scherezade Shroff, and many more starring in it. Just not better, not even close.
Sadly, what I sat through, watching for two and a half minutes in the name of women empowerment, was a bunch of talented, not to forget upper class, elite, urban women (with say, about five village women injected in their midst, probably to make this rather-narrow-focused video seem real and all-encompassing!) hopping on to the vague-(and-fake)-feminism bandwagon, unabashed in their declaration of being unapologetic sexists!
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a close look:
1. My Body, My Mind, MY CHOICE
This couldn’t have been more true. But there’s a rather unsettling form of disconnect between the message and its impact when it comes filtered through an actress who most recently titillated the ‘male gaze’ by being Farah Khan’s ‘hottest firecracker.’ The paradox inherent in this otherwise perfectly phrased motto for empowerment is what Naomi Wolf had explained in her book, The Beauty Myth:
“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.”
Perhaps, Padukone’s voice would have appealed more, if there was a connection between the voice-over and the real – REAL women in their real skin, dealing with their real problems!
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2. To wear the clothes I like, even as my spirit rolls naked, MY CHOICE
Image source: Youtube
I strongly uphold a woman’s right to choose what she wears, what she does not – but I NEED to know that the choice of my clothes shall not be associated with any man’s ‘CHOICE’ to exercise the unabashed and unapologetic rights of the male libido. I mean, if a nun can be raped in my country, I refuse to believe that my ‘choice’ of clothing has anything to do with inciting the inviolable rights of the male libido. Coz after all, once aroused, they’d not be satiated unless the ‘howsoever-clad’ object of libidinal arousal has been had! I wish the video had struck this note. Without this underlying message, it just seems to be a comment-in-passing. Not to forget, such a statement made by a woman who hails from a particular section of the society, is anyway, free to ‘choose.’ What about the rest of the women worldwide, who are fighting the strict and draconian ‘purdah’ or asking for a leeway in the way they dress?
3. To be a size zero or a size 50, they don’t have a size for my spirit, they never will
Image source: Youtube
True, if only you weren’t a part of the same consumerist culture that exhorts millions to conform to a certain ideal! Many urban women ARE beginning to embrace their bodies and love themselves for who they are. They are beginning to cherish themselves for what’s on the inside rather than any superficial aspect of their bodies, which would anyway fizzle out with time! But what about the rest of the women across the globe who are yet to find the voice of their spirit? What about the women whose life-spirit is being stifled everyday – in homes, outside of homes, everywhere? If only this message could have come from real women embracing their womanhood and talking about the problems encountered on the way.
4. To use cotton or silk to trap my soul is to believe you can halt the expansion of the universe
Yes, if only the infinite avenue for expansion was available to the rest, as well as it is to you!
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5. Or capture sunlight in the palm of your hand
Again, the same! High time, you hit the nail on the head, instead of beating around the bush. Rearranging syllables to create resonant poetry, replete with oxymorons, isn’t going to empower women!
6. Your mind is caged, let it free; My body is not, let it be, MY CHOICE
Image source: Youtube
This is a line that had the potential to be perfect. But sadly, it falls prey to the same hungry-fake-feminist-falcon that devours the whole video. The first part of the line does make a good point of freeing the male mind from the fetters of patriarchal dictates (just like the Vinil Matthew directed #VogueEmpower film ‘Start With The Boys’ outlined by focusing on undoing the effects of ‘conditioning’ the male minds to feel and act superior). However, in relegating the freedom needed by the ‘fairer sex’ (I am no supporter of fairness – I actually did the air quotes whilst typing this) to the physical domain alone – the video engages in a self-defeatist dynamic. Even if I, for a minute, ‘choose’ to believe, that the well-intentioned makers of the video had the current socio-cultural milieu in mind and wanted to reinforce the idea that a woman’s body is not somebody else’s to cage and is hers and hers alone, to do as she pleases, the assertion poses a counter-intuitive paradox. That of the making of the video itself. For all those who have happened to miss this stark aspect, the video showcases over twelve frames of unnecessary ‘body’ depictions (from navels to bare backs to hooking up an unclasped bra). Not that I have a problem with it – I just need to point out the paradoxical deployment of women’s bodies by male filmmakers to drive home the ‘bodily’ freedom that they wish to champion, the physical fetters they’d have these women break free of!!
7. To marry or not to marry; to have sex before marriage, to have sex outside of marriage, to not have sex, MY CHOICE
Image source: Youtube
The most problematic point of the whole video. Does it mean adultery is okay if women so choose? Would the women advocating the same in the video be able to forgive the men in their lives, if they chose to stray? If yes, I will not be a part of this ‘choice’ that I shall not allow my partner either. And I know millions of other women wouldn’t too. I am aware of the inherent fallacies implicit within the hegemonic cultural script of monogamy, but I ‘CHOSE’ it. And if either of us ‘choose’ to opt out of it, we should respect the ‘choice’ we made first and bid it a dignified farewell first. On the other hand, if the answer is no, what kind of equality is this? Isn’t it merely the substitution of a set of hypocritical, double standards with another, that caters to the opposite faction?
8. To love temporarily or to lust forever, MY CHOICE
Again, vague and extremely problematic! Either choices are okay and I shall uphold one’s right to them too, provided each party involved is complicit in the equation of ‘loving temporarily’ or ‘lusting forever.’ Since we do not advocate men toying with women’s feelings and using them as sex-objects, I wouldn’t like it if the tables were turned either!
9. To love a man or a woman or both, MY CHOICE
Again, if you are okay with this ‘choice’ being that of humanity as a whole, perfect! If not, aarrrrggghhh!! Bisexuality, homosexuality or heterosexuality are all ‘choices’ open to an entire population. Be open to the idea of everybody making them. We seek the ‘right to choose’ and thereby, express our sexual choices in a society that treats them as taboo subjects. The idea of a woman broaching the discussion is welcome.
10. Remember you are MY CHOICE, I am not your privilege
Only if you know this holds vice-versa too, lady!!
11. The bindi on my forehead, the ring on my finger, adding your surname to mine are all ornaments, they can be replaced
Image source: Youtube
Well, not that easily replaceable, if you ask me. All of these symbols of marriage bring in a sense of commitment and responsibility that accompanies the ‘choice’ of marriage. Why is it that you divorce the ‘choice’ from the responsibilities that the choice, as a result of being chosen, inevitably entails? Again, many women are denied a say in ‘choosing’ these too! So, when you talk about these being replaceable, which section of society are you speaking to? Why are you conveniently forgetting that the privilege of a select few (to divorce or ‘choose’ divorce) isn’t an accurate representation of the masses?
Suggested read: Tim Cook’s op-ed slams discriminatory anti-gay laws
12. My love for you cannot, so treasure that, MY CHOICE
Again, holds equally well the other way round too.
13. To come home when I want, don’t be upset if I come home at 4 am, don’t be fooled if I come home at 6 pm, MY CHOICE
Image source: Youtube
Again, the underlying connotations of adultery (especially in the face of the visual of Deepika hooking her unclasped bra) are deeply unsettling. Are you calling in for a gamut of lies, manipulation, and ‘appropriation’ within the ambit of your personal relationships? Will it be okay if the man does it too? Honestly, it creates more problematic questions than it posits answers or exhorts one and all for social change.
14. To have your baby or not, to pick you from 7 billion choices or not, MY CHOICE
‘Your’ baby?????? And he has a right to pick ‘you’ too! Choice is a right for all!
15. My pleasure may be your pain, my songs your noise, my order your anarchy, your sins my virtues…
This one clearly defines the double standards and hypocrisy implicit in the video all along. Your sins, my virtues???? My pleasure may be your pain??? My order your anarchy???? If I look at these statements in the context of the entire video, they seem to be deeply problematic and disconcerting!
16. MY CHOICES are like my fingerprints, they make me unique, I am the trail of the forest, I am the snowflake of the snowfall … I choose to empathize or to be indifferent, I choose to be different, I am the universe, infinite in every direction, MY CHOICE
Image source: Youtube
This one is just a poetic close. I wish there was a caesura here instead and it would have rendered the ‘silent voice’ (much like those of women in India and around the world) a real VOICE. Coz this ‘voice’ claiming to be the journey of a woman finding her voice didn’t quite have the empowering voice we needed. Instead, it failed its very own purpose.
And while this post-mortem must have come in handy to burst the ‘empowering’ bubble within which Vogue (and perhaps Padukone too) hides the ultra-narcissistic culture that is constantly reinforcing sexist standards of beauty, and worse, fetishizing and objectifying women (needless to say advocating for another unequal ethos as a substitute for the current one) – the viewers aren’t quite sure which of the voices to believe, the overt or the covert?
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The subtext that lies hidden speaks much more poignantly than Padukone’s elitist voice that is aimed at enabling women to find their own, and unfortunately, that latent voice, much like those of women around the globe, is wailing to be heard. The makers have conveniently forgotten that the female right to ‘choose’ is a privileged prerogative too (as is blatant in the representation that the video posits). They have also clearly overlooked the fact that the ‘right to choose,’ for most women, is being handed down vis-à-vis a carefully screened process of what the patriarchal tenets deem apt for belonging to the realm of ‘women’s decisions.’ Chipping in a few tribal women for a few nanoseconds does not make the video universal. The highly misleading and not to mention, dangerous video is clearly celebrating a morphed idea of what it means to be ‘free to choose.’ Especially when this idea of ‘choice’ is divorced from the responsibilities that accompany those choices. Not to forget, the seemingly forced and urbanely ‘cool’ idea of competing with men at all costs, even if it entails making the very same choices that are adjudged ‘wrong’ when men make them. That isn’t equality!!! That isn’t what feminism stands for either!!
A highly misconstrued idea of feminism is masquerading in the form of empowerment in the video! One need not even outline the kind of outrage that would have followed if a man would be voicing these very same things. Adultery, bigamy, indifference – all seem to be ‘cool’ coming from a woman! Oh, the dangers of replacing the prevalent set of (patriarchal) double standards with another (matriarchal) one!! Is that what Adajania and the rest deem empowerment? Is that what the urban, educated class seems to understand when it talks of women’s rights? Is the right to volition, the right to choose about debunking the notion of equality completely? Is this the kind of lopsided awareness that we expect the people with ‘social outreach’ to spread for the cause of women’s rights?
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Featured image source: Youtube