‘MY CHOICE’ AND WHETHER IT IS A BURDEN TO US ALL

by Srishti Dutta Chowdhury

Disclaimer: Mentions female foeticide, abortion, and domestic abuse.

As part of the Vogue Empower project, that was initiated in October 2014, to commemorate the seventh year for Vogue in India, Homi Adajania’s video ‘My Choice’ features some prominent faces in the country of India. Besides Deepika Padukone, there’s Adjania’s wife, actress Nimrat Kaur, film critic Anupama Chopra, and Director Zoya Akhtar, among others.

The video went viral on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, in a matter of days — which is great news except it garnered negative criticisms everywhere. The reservation against the video by feminists and gender activists is understandable. According to a large number, while the video seeks to raise questions such as ‘If men can do what they want, why should women be deprived of the same right?’, it falls short of effectively addressing the question of women empowerment.

It is nobody’s contention that the video did make an impact on people, but what is the kind of impact it really achieved? The intention of the video is hardly questionable in a society as deep-rooted in kyriarchy as it is, but the video draws flak from naysayers on the style and treatment of the feminist question. The inability to render mature representation of the issues in a kyriarchy is glaring. In fact, Homi Adajania’s work is being touted as tokenism and hardly a real stepping stone towards an equal society.

Many say the video in question has started a dialogue, which itself is success as far as impacts go. Should our intended dialogue be pelting stones at feminists at large thanks to the peripheral, superficial treatment of issues women face every day? The more pertinent question is if we consider the lack of privilege in a subaltern reality that aid such choices (that form the crux of the video) the only ‘actual’, ‘real’ feminist issues in our society.

( Deepika Padukone © indianexpress)

It is by and large an extremely glossed over, glamorous and impressionable video, which remains true to the industry it comes from — but does that take away from the fact that some (most, actually) of the issues mentioned, are faced by women across religion, caste, creed, race, status and location?

While they can and should be criticised for their egocentric, insular treatment of issues, (keeping in mind their intended section of audience), would it be any better if they waxed lyrical of what is perceived as the ‘real’ feminist issues, as if to suggest feminist issues are non-existent outside the rural-Dalit binary? And if they did, would we not have called it a farce, too, citing who they are and what they represent?

There are, however, several problematic points raised in the video — some even intentionally so, in order to titillate the urban audience. Let us take some time and look at some of them.

”My choice, to be a Size Zero or a Size Fifteen.”

In a country where 33% of the population is Below Poverty Line, size zero is the last thing in the minds of people. Having said that, body image and weight gain are issues that affect a reasonable number of girls and women. Nothing wrong in someone addressing them. Indeed, empowerment in a country like India, with multiple Indias in it, cannot be sufficiently addressed in a three minute video.

”My choice, to love a woman, a man, or both.”

This is admittedly ambiguous, and makes me wonder if romantic sentiments towards others are necessarily determined, influenced by one’s orientation. Also, orientation is not a choice (not to suggest, if it was, it should be problematic). Eminent transgender rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi echoed similar sentiments that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not really a matter of ‘choice:

‘When people talk about gender and gender budgeting, it is only about the women, but definition of gender is beyond, gender is women, gender is men and gender is even transgender. So, gender parse and sexual orientation is different from individual to individual. So, I believe that it is again stereotyping the whole move and getting the Indian women back to the same square line, and telling ‘on you are a girl, and doing this’, so I don’t agree with this type of point.’

‘My choice, to have sex before marriage, to have sex outside marriage, to not have sex.”

Sanjukta Basu, a feminist blogger, traveller, writer, and social entrepreneur who wears many hats reacts to this the best. On her blog she wrote:

Nobody said it is. A woman is simply saying “it is my choice to have sex outside marriage. Not saying it is the best choice. Not saying you have to live with it, walk out of this marriage by all means. But it still is my choice.” Un-surprisingly men had a field day when they saw so many women outraging over one woman wanting to be adulterous. Boy were they vindicated or what. They rallied with the morality flag, gender equality flag. Suddenly they remembered that adultery is not cool and women are equal.

Indian men outraging over a woman choosing to be adulterous. If hypocrisy could blow itself off, this one would be a nuclear bomb. No one knows it better, than a hot 30+ single woman, the alarming rate at and the comfort with which most patni-vrata husbands sleep outside their marriage. But that is their privilege right? Women are supposed to accept their husband’s adultery as ‘harmless fun’ all men like to have once in a while. They should just be content with the fact that once he will be bored of the girls outside, he will come home to his wife, because she is the mother of his children, honour of his house, caregiver of his parents. They should be proud of the fact that he may have many ‘girlfriends’ but there would always be only one legally wedded ‘wife’.

We enjoy films that make adultery a matter of light humour at the end of which the woman who happily forgives the man. But we outrage when a woman wants the same. Whose agenda are we serving?’

‘The video is evidently decidedly and unapologetically
elitist and caters to only a section of feminist issues
while overlooking others.’

Homi Adajania may have taken too much on his plate. There is clearly an abundance of ideas that tumble one after another, without leaving space for introspection. Even so, there is no mention of women’s education, health and safety, sexual exploitation and harassment of women at workplace was left out, female foeticide, abortion, and domestic abuse were not addressed. The video is evidently decidedly and unapologetically elitist and caters to only a section of feminist issues while overlooking others.

But does it mean it serves no purpose at all (even if the purpose it serves is tad superficial)? It should concern us if such inadequate treatment of issues marginalise other pertinent issues in the subaltern. But do we have the temerity to decide for either Homi or Deepika (and several others who chose to participate in the process) what they should portray in their work (especially on account of elitism and exclusionary treatment — which, by the way, are our readings on to the work)?

Why not allow it to exist alongside others that deal with the very ‘real’ feminist issues women in our country face at every step of their lives?

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