We still need feminism because…

…gender equality is considered a ‘ladies’ problem.



Mardaani isn’t great but you should watch it anyway

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead

I’ve been sceptical about Bollywood’s new found interest in woman-centric films. Some of the movies come across as knock-offs. Like a good copies of a designer bag, they look right but don’t feel genuine.

Similarly, Mardaani’s message of women’s empowerment feels flawed. Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukherjee) is a cop who vows to bring unravel a child trafficking ring that abducts young girls and sells them into prostitution.


Having a gender-neutral Raksha Bandhan

I’ve never really taken Raksha Bandhan seriously, despite having celebrated it for the most part of my life. That is, I’ve never really taken my brother seriously when he’s made that promise to protect me. Maybe that’s because he is younger than I am, and I’ve always considered myself as the “big sister” whose role it is to guide, advise and warn my siblings against what’s to come as they get older. 

These watered-down feelings probably existed because my brother and I spent much of our childhood practising WWF moves on each other (or rather him on me) and Raksha Bandhan was a just once-a-year event where we knew we had to get serious, listen to our parents and behave (or else…). 

Nevertheless, it has always been a fun festival to celebrate. At first, it was the sweets and money and a Diwali-like feeling. As we got older, my cousins and I would take the time to spend the evening together, which reminded me of our shared childhood and that there were 10 others who were like me in one way or another.  

And that feels about right. As I was scrolling through Instagram today (#rakshabandhan), I saw photos of sisters celebrating the festival, without a male in the frame. Growing up, I knew pairs of sisters who would appoint a brother through the action of tying a rakhi on him. There would be a hint of sadness linked with the gesture, such as “we don’t have a brother, so please can we adopt you as ours”… which really throws a light on the perceived effectiveness of a brother over a sister as a sibling. 

Historically speaking, rakhis served as a bond that would protect men from harm as they set out on wars and there are many stories in Hinduism which have fortified the role of Raksha Bandhan in its original brother-protector / sister-well wisher context. But the role of the rakhi and Raksha Bandhan has been evolving. Be it through Rabindranath Tagore, who used the rakhi to strengthen Hindu-Muslim bonds in 1909, or women in Himachal Pradesh using rakhis to protect trees from deforestation. In Marwadi and Rajasthani culture, women also tie rakhis to the wives of their brothers, be it that the move is seen for the well-being of the brother. 

Of course, there’s also the idea about whether a woman needs protection. We can blame patriarchy for this, but in Indian society males have had to play the role of protector and provider of sisters, even if it is only other males that women need protection from.

I came across this advert that Dainik Bhaskar brought out for Raksha Bandhan. I recognise the good spirit of the message but this may explain one of the reasons why the feminist movement has such bad rep in India. 

Women may feel the need to shed Raksha Bandhan in our new climate of feminism and woman empowerment but on a personal level, I feel this does injustice to the males in our lives who have played this ‘protector’ role and well. And yet, we need to see beyond the idea of ‘brother-protector / sister-protectee’ if we want to move on from a male-dominated society. Muscles aside, women can and do play protector well. 

If we must, let us have rakhis tied to us by our younger siblings, male or female. Feeling protective of your younger brother or sister is a more natural emotion, and one that is gender-neutral. This also leaves in tact the well-wishes and feelings of goodwill towards your brothers and sisters, which is what I feel more genuinely on Raksha Bandhan.  


The week in sexism

42-year old women are now desirable to men and we have feminism to thank for it: Yes, older women are breaking free of “the shackles of biology and convention” but why not celebrate it for the achievement that it is, rather than judging it against the yardstick of a man’s desire?

Warrior dictates…the men play sport, the women watch them: Warrior is an American company that sells lacrosse and hockey equipment. They got into trouble last week for complaining about a women’s sporting event being shown on a primary sporting channel. This brought into light their appallingly sexist ad campaign showing women in a series of sexually suggestive images. Also, they also don’t sell women’s gear – wonder why? There is a social media campaign against Warrior and you can read about it here


The week in sexism

Supermarket staff in Britain could claim millions in equal pay cases: The claims have been made against the supermarket chain Asda and involve assessing whether supermarket store-front staff jobs, which are mainly held by female workers, are of equal value to  higher-paid jobs in distribution warehouse jobs, which are held mainly by male workers. Distribution warehouse jobs may well be considered higher value due to “uncomfortable conditions, additional skills and unsocial working hours involved” but this is a significant development in the private sector where equal pay job evaluations aren’t as frequent. 


The objectification of women in Bollywood item songs

Are Bollywood item songs anti-feminist? This burning question came to me after watching Sunny Leone gyrate to Baby Doll Main Sone Ki from Ragini MMS 2 for the millionth time, whose lyrics so obviously objectify and de-humanise women.

This had to be a slam dunk – Surely the answer is staring us in the face (“item” song) and don’t we have our answer already when we consider “Is this something men are worried about?”, also discussed in my previous post.

But the more “performance numbers” (I am using the term as a substitute for item song) I watched on YouTube, the more convinced I was that the answer wasn’t as simple.


Queen: A feminist review

Sometimes, I feel like we watch Bollywood films with bated breath, and fervently wait for them to put a foot wrong. There are movies that I’ve really wanted to enjoy but have almost always left me disappointed (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I am looking at you).

I was in a similar situation with Queen. The film is written and directed by Vikas Bahl, and produced by Phantom Films, which he jointly owns with progressive directors Anurag Kashyap (of Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur), Vikramaditya Motwane (of Lootera and Udaan) and Madhu Mantera.

The film is entirely based on the trials and tribulations of “homely” Rani (Kangana Ranaut) after she gets dumped at the mandap by smarmy asshole Vijay (Rajkummar Rao). Rani, who by this point has plenty sunao-ed her honeymoon plans to everyone from best friend to bank cashier, is reluctant to let go of her holiday. And so, we are taken on a hilarious coming-of-age journey across Paris and Amsterdam.