Update dt 5-Apr-2015: This blog has gone viral, reaching a total of 2.20 lac people through Facebook, over 70,000 page views and over 10,000 Shares. I’ve been blogging for 10 years, and this week all records broke when it received 32,541 page views on a single day. That’s 22 page views every minute. Thank you everybody who shared this post and made it a viral. Special mention of film maker Anurag Kashyap and actor Atul Kulkarni both shared the link on their Facebook pages.
The Vogue Empower video titled ‘My Choice’ featuring Deepika Padukone and 99 other women, from different walks of life, has already taken way too much space than it deserved. And yet, I feel the need to defend it. Allow me to explain why.
My first reaction:
The video was released on Saturday and when I first saw someone sharing it, I didn’t even bother to open, just like I don’t care to open so many other virals the public seem to love. But as more people started sharing it, particularly my feminist progressive friends, I thought ok let’s see what is it all about. So I saw and thought it was just about nice, makes a few bold statements which may be appreciated except that they didn’t really have a large size woman, even when the narrative went, “To be a size zero or a size 15, my choice.”
My second reaction:
Within 24 hours it went massively Viral and I immediately knew that the feminist would jump on it now. As expected respected fellow feminists had started rolling out extremely nuanced critique. “The video is superficial, it fails to represent all kinds of women and their choices, it is about rich high society women, sexuality is technically not a choice, sleeping outside marriage is cheating and that’s not cool” and so on.
This just kills me. They do it every time there is someone popular making a point about feminism. Whether its a popular actor making a TV show or a telecom company creating a TV ad. These scholars expect an one minute video to address all nuances of feminism. They want an hour long episode to deliver the same level of knowledge that they gather over a life time of research and study. For life of me I don’t get this line of criticism.
My third reaction:
By now the video have gathered over 4.5 million views on YouTube and the negative criticism have also grown exponentially. Yesterday, #MyChoice was trending at No.1 on Twitter almost all day. Every online journal and media house have at least 2-3 articles on it and almost all of them are negative criticism.
This makes me sad. We are so fucked up in our heads that we forgot who our enemies are. We are rebels without a cause, soldiers fighting the wrong enemy. Our outrage is misplaced and prejudiced. I say ‘we’ because I don’t want to point fingers, but this ‘we’ includes women who couldn’t appreciate the effort even a little bit, rather felt the need to pull it down, dismantle it, tear it apart frame by frame and obsessively criticize it.
Defense no.1: The video is not inclusive, most women cannot relate to the choices stated as they have more pressing issues.
The video is just a collection of strong statements making a simple point, women have a right to chose. Any woman could make these choices depending upon their priorities. Sure it’s not inclusive, so? If I say Save Tigers should I also say Save Lions, and Whales, and Giraffe. Rich high society women are not allowed to make statements about their issues, their choices? What seems to be superficial and irrelevant to the majority of middle class women, may still be somebody’s choice, should we be dismissive about it just because we cannot relate to it? The sad reality is that there is no solidarity in the women’s movement, Everybody is busy pulling each other down claiming, ‘my feminism is better than your feminism. Look at me my problem is more important than yours. What do you know about struggle, you rich women.’ This attitude completely defeats the basic tenets of feminism which is about equal respect for all.
Defense no.2 Sexuality is not a choice so technically she cannot say it is ‘my choice’.
Agreed. But suppose it was a choice and she chose to be an LGBT or anything in between or around, would that change anything? Would she still not have the same right to chose as she has when it comes to the size of her body or the length of her hair? This over emphasis on the fact that sexuality is not a choice rather something natural and biological makes it sound like LGBT people have no pride in their sexuality. As if, if they had a choice they would all rather be heterosexual. I say, “Screw you biology, I would chose my sexuality. Bloody hell it’s my choice to be a lesbian. So what?”
Defense No.3 Sex outside marriage is adultery and that is not cool.
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?
Defense No.4 – What business does Vogue has talking about women’s empowerment when they thrive on selling unrealistic body image.
Socialist feminist have dismissed the video at the outset simply because it is by Vogue. Last I heard, this was called ‘prejudice’, a vice feminists are supposed to fight against. We should judge the video on its own merits and in the right context. Let’s understand the context. These PSAs are made by corporate brands as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives. Please note, CSR activity was made mandatory by the new Company Law in 2013. So companies are bound to do these initiatives, but they try to get maximum value out of it which is ‘branding’. So even when Vogue talks about feminism, they need to sell their brand. And it is in this context that we should judge them. If the same ad would have been made by the government we’d have perhaps questioned it more. But when a brand makes it, let’s give them a bit of latitude.
Conclusion: What the negative criticism actually did
To conclude, it is easy to outrage, very difficult to create. The first thing arm chair activists do is to write an opinion piece in some paper or magazine and feel extremely good about themselves. But does that really help the cause? Here’s what the criticism actually did – Young girls and boys, say the age group of 16 to 21 instantly liked the bold video and applauded it. Some got inspired too. But as the senior feminists poured in the nuanced criticism, they felt confused, even embarrassed. They were quiet downed. Then, the men joined the criticism. As a spoof of the video, they created their own version of My Choice, as if they didn’t already have enough choices. Cyber bullies started personal attack against Deepika Padukone questioning her credibility as a voice for feminism. Feminism was hijacked, everybody forgot who the real enemy was.
As researchers and activists we have to be more careful about how we react to this new branch of social activism or commentary by CSR trusts. Let’s encourage them, engage with them, enable them to make better products. But let’s not be aggressive and negative.
Ps. Here is what I understand of adultery by women:
To sleep out side marriage. My Choice. Not saying its the best choice. Not saying you have to put up with it. It’s your choice to walk out too. But you know you could consider the fact that while I may have many boyfriends you’d always be my husband, my Pati no.1. I may be doing many handsome hunks outside when am traveling for work, but I’d always come back to you because after all you are the father of my child (or so we think) the honour of my family. I wish I could change but you know sometimes, women would be women. Thoda bahat chalta hai, just adjust and compromise. Or you could take a cue from Bollywood and try win me back. Try Biwi No.1 or No Entry or Masti. May be your dedicated patni-vrata sewa, tapasya & tyaag would make me realize that asli sukh ghar ki murge mein hi hai.