This post was written by Spoilt Modern Indian Woman reader Aishwarya Upreti
Indian television soaps have a history of portraying women in a regressive light. Sure, there are a handful which try to portray empowered women fighting for their rights and changing norms like in Sadda Haq Ganga etc , but that’s merely a teardrop in an ocean of misogynistic stereotyping. Even the ones that show women fighting for their rights and breaking stereotypes are about bringing change in tradition without breaking it.
Almost all Indian media portrays the ‘heroine’ as a woman who is ‘cultured’ (read: dresses in clothes that cover her entire body and does pujas & rituals), selfless (read: puts herself last and makes sacrifices), speaks in a low, soft voice and steers clear of any romantic association that does not lead to marriage (because God forbid you have more than one guy in your life ever, your first love should be your last)! And lastly, she is the gatekeeper of all morals – a virgin. Now let’s see the opposite of all these ‘values’: A skin-revealing-attire wearing, atheist/ non religious woman who thinks of herself, is loud mouthed and a passionate lover? Whoa! A lot of girls, including me, fit that description! So does that make us bad? Does being a heroine mean being an internalised misogynist and weak?
A lot of people ask me not to pay any heed to television soaps as they are full of nonsense and do not represent India anymore but sadly, in many parts of India this is still the reality. In fact, even in modern cities, this is true – just in a different form. You may think you live in a modern society, but just try wearing an unusually short dress or cleavage baring top, or dating different people without a serious commitment, like a lot of men do (and are called ‘studs’ for it), or declare yourself non-religious, or talk openly about sex, or go against something your elders or parents believe in, and you will see how this very ‘modern’ society of yours is no different from that misogynistic world you see in TV soaps.
Surprisingly, you will see women criticizing you for being independent too, slut shaming you, or hotly defending those sexist ‘Indian’ values that they were brought up in, in the name of dignity, modesty and culture. It’s ironic that in almost every romantic soap or movie, the hero is involved with the vamp who is a ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ (read: independent and sexually liberated) but ultimately ditches her for the goody-two-shoes heroine. The story usually goes like this: The hero and the vamp are living an ‘uncultured’ lifestyle; wearing ‘uncultured’ clothes (only the vamp, the hero can wear what he wants), partying, having sex and not paying any particular attention to religion. Till the time there comes a traditional, demure and religious heroine and the hero, who was so far portrayed as a player who uses girls as sexual objects, suddenly mends his ways, ditches his ‘slutty’ girlfriend and falls hopelessly in love with the heroine to eventually marry her.
So, the guy can use girls for sex, party, have pre marital sex, be an atheist but the heroine must be a religious, virgin, simple girl with no past at all and it is justified to use and ditch the vamp because she was not a ‘good girl’ and was just meant to be used and thrown away. Now, if we reverse the situation: the heroine was living that life and ditches her outgoing boyfriend for a ‘good and traditional’ guy, do you think he will accept her past? Hell no!
We even justify this behaviour by using stupid catchphrases like: “Some girls are not for flirting, only for loving” and “A lock which opens by every key is not a reliable lock”.
So are girls a lock now? Wow. This habit of making women a product for consumption by men and their entertainment is not new, where women are judged on how well they can serve men or how they fit in their desires. This is actually a psychological condition called the Madonna Whore complex in which men are reared in such an environment that they can only respect and love women who are Madonnas (virgins, morally right) and can only have sex with whores (women with a promiscuous life). This complex prevails in our lives, in our media, everywhere!
A recent TOI article on Indian serials quoted a script writer as saying that ”there is an unspoken rule that the wife will not leave her husband, he can beat her, abuse her but she will not leave him. She’ll withstand everything and ultimately change him.” Lastly, the article said that it helps these women relate to the characters because they themselves cannot escape the realities of their very similar lives. However, this just reinforces stereotypes and makes those women believe they can also change their abusive husband instead of looking for a way out of a troubled marriage.
We cannot tackle misogyny if we continue to promote small variants of it in our everyday life and criticize anyone who goes against it. It’s time to reevaluate the definition of the ‘Good girl’ and question ourselves if the lives we lead are really free from modern and independent. We also need to challenge the way media portrays the ‘good girl’, and stop them from promoting a dependent, meek and submissive girls as ‘good’. While it’s okay to be soft spoken, embody the traditional feminine qualities and traits and dress in outfits that cover your body, it is NOT the only way a woman needs to be. We need to start asking for TV content which shows more real modern women – who are not dependent, are sexually and emotionally liberated and wear what they want!
Story by Aishwarya Upreti