If you look at it long enough, this might just make a nice photo prompt for your next post.
If you live in India, you’ve probably seen the Vogue India Ad starring Deepika Padukone, by now. In the ad (see below), Deepika boldly states choices she’s allowed to make as a woman, without your consent: “To marry or not to marry, my choice. To have sex before marriage or outside of marriage, my choice.”
Since yesterday, “Deepika Padukone” and “Vogue” have been trending on Twitter and Facebook. Men and women are sharing the video in the name of “feminism”, “gender equality” and “female empowerment”. Is it really feminism to proclaim a right to choices without speaking of consequences? Is it truly gender equality when a similar ad from GQ would probably be viewed as outrageous? And is it really female empowerment when a bunch of different women are laughing/ dancing/ staring at a camera while Ms Padukone spews endless, incoherent sentences in the background?
Can, what is essentially a women’s fashion magazine, claim feminism as brand positioning? A part of me wants to say no. Feminism should probably be left to something like, sanitary napkins, a product that faces a taboo that actually needs dispelling. But then again, fashion magazines are also considered taboo by certain sections of society. So, why can’t Vogue India claim feminism for its brand? Because, to claim feminism as your brand position, you have to show an established pattern of behaviour that co-relates to your position. When Vogue India regularly features women of all shapes and sizes on their cover, they can claim feminism. When they stop advocating brighter skin, they can claim feminism. When they don’t promote anti-ageing routines for twenty-somethings, they can claim feminism.
But of course, all Brand Positioning isn’t historical. In many cases, it’s aspirational. If Vogue India is aspiring to feminism, then when they champion female education charities, or help young girls love their bodies the way they are, or just stop propagating unrealistic beauty standards, I will retract this post and allow Vogue India their claim.
I will give Vogue credit where credit is due though. For whatever short time this ad trends, Vogue’s got a section of India talking about female empowerment. And that is certainly a laudable achievement. So, till the next entertaining cricket match takes its spot, let’s give #VogueEmpower its due.
A Word to Women
Think. Don’t let empty words, black and white images and pointlessly-gratifying hashtags cloud your wonderful, sharp minds. Use this as a platform to make yourself heard. Raise your objections and help people break through the shallow surface of this conversation to the real issues hampering gender equality. Let’s advise the need for education and cultural change over and over.
You can choose to keep the momentum going by simply talking about it (like I have) or you can go further and think of actionable projects. That is your choice. And if the ad spoke out to you and you want to defend it, that’s your choice as well. You’re stirring the conversation, go ahead and do it. I urge you, do something. Say something. Or maybe don’t. It’s your choice.
We talk about good storytellers all the time. We also talk about the good work they produce. But about the reader/watcher/listener? What about the audience? If the storytellers have the onus of creating good work, doesn’t there lie some responsibility within the audience to be good consumers? If the writer should write beautiful prose, the reader should spend time devouring it. If the actor should give a performance of a lifetime, the audience should focus on each of his nuanced displays. If the painter should portray all the magnificence life on canvas, then the viewer should gaze deep.
I’ve spent the last month binge watching The Office (US). I’ve watched 10 years of television in a month and it’s been a roller coaster ride (I’m not done yet, so no spoilers, please). Today I watched a character contemplate infidelity and I contemplated it with her, through her. I felt the pain, anguish, confusion, moral dilemma and animal urge to ignore it. I played my part as a responsible audience member. I invested myself in the characters, actors, writers, the entire theatrical.
The feeling was fleeting but in those few seconds, I lived the story. I hope you do too.
She was dressed as the definition of a “Plain Jane”. She sat in the window seat of the 7.30 train going from South to Central. Nondescript headphones in her ears, she bobbed her head occasionally to the sound of the beat. You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t know her but she had the personality of someone with an asymmetrical haircut. The way her thoughts leaped towards genius, her words that cut worse than the sharpest knives and her quirks that would rival a hipster’s dream, everything about her was noteworthy but she dressed so you wouldn’t notice her at all.
When I was growing up, I dreamt of being many things but the one that still sticks to date is wanting to be a writer. You know how some kids think about what kind of pop star or athlete or scientist they’d like to be, well, I wondered what kind of writer I’d be. In the early stages of this fantasy, I wished to be Enid Blyton who wrote Noddy and a few years later I wanted to be Enid Blyton who wrote the Famous Five. This was followed by a brief delusion of wanting to be an Apollo astronaut, which lasted an embarrassingly long time. Then the Harry Potter books came into my life so I obviously wanted to be the next J K Rowling. This fantasy also lasted a very long time. To be honest, it was active until a few years ago when I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire. This was when I realised where the Harry Potter books actually stand in the fantasy genre. No offence, Miss Rowling gave me some of the best years of childhood fantasy but my over-confident young adult ego was grandly mistaken about the entire genre. I don’t blame myself too much though, I didn’t know better back then. Now I read epic fantasy and know why the name is fitting. And no, I don’t want to be the next Robert Jordan (who is featured heavily on this blog recently, if you’ve noticed), I’m not that delusional.
Before I get to the kind of writer I want to be I must mention the Jane Austen phase. It didn’t come about when I first read Pride & Prejudice or Emma even. The inkling to follow in Miss Austen’s footsteps came upon me when I read Persuasion, undoubtedly her most mature work. I was lost not only in the plot, but also in the nuances of her storytelling and her first-class talent of writing complex and complete characters. I wanted to write like her so much that I started writing letters to her. I never posted any of course, I’m not a weirdo, and she’s long dead so there was no where to post them, really. But I did write quite a few of them in, what I thought would’ve been, a style pleasing to her. They all began with “My Dearest Jane”, as though we were sisters separated. I would write to her in a very honest manner about my health (and enquire about hers), my work, about any gentlemen who were courting me, any impropriety I’d experienced and other Austen-ite things. This one-sided correspondence was one of my most memorable attempts at being the type of writer I wanted to become. Once it was clear that I had none of Miss Austen’s eloquence or mastery with prose, I stopped writing to her regularly. Yes, I say “regularly” because I still write to her occasionally. I understood my limitations, I didn’t stop being “a little bit strange”, as I’m referred to by my friends.
So, on to the type of writer I want to become, the answer is the Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling type. I want to make you laugh and think “Oh yeah, I’ve been there”. I want you to feel warm and comforted without weighing too heavily on your intellect. I want you to feel like you’ve understood me a little bit and think that maybe I understand you a little as well. I want to give you a glimpse of what’s in my head. I want to certainly discuss a few serious issues but I don’t want to take you down the deep and dark recesses of my psyche (I’m saving that for a psychiatrist who will need to get his own psychiatrist when he’s done therapising me). I want to be this writer because there is a part of me that believes this might be an achievable goal. This is my “I’m not eating chips for 15 days” rather than my “I give up chocolate for a week” because as we all know, chocolate is basically addictive and it’s not our fault that we want it so much. I’m not saying that I won’t try my “give up chocolate” gig, that will be my attempt at a young adult fantasy series. That’s still very much on the cards. But for now, I will try my hand at Fey and be happy if I end up with something even slightly close to Kaling.
It usually starts around the first week of December when that one over-excited annoying friend pops the question, “What plans for New Year’s, guys?” If you listen closely you can hear a thousand grumpuses like me roll their eyes. “What’s so new about the year, anyway?” we ask ourselves. You’ll make the same resolutions as last year and break them before you can even plan them. The parties will suck as they inevitably do. I hear you disagreeing with me here, and let me tell you that you are wrong. Think you had that one epic party in 2005? It’s because you’ve probably forgotten the horrendously loud music, cold food, warm beverages, sweat, excessive body contact, piercing shrieks at midnight, or the throw up you definitely saw somewhere near the dance floor/bar/flat balcony. Considering that around 90% of the New Year hype is about the parties, that’s a pretty poor show.
The few sensible ones among you out there will say, it’s not about the party, it’s about the actual New Year—the beginning of something new. Well, that’s at least an acceptable way to look at it, I think. But bear with me for a second and let’s think of it as a restart rather than a start. That way you don’t discard your past mistakes, failure, etc. Instead, you make them a part of the journey. Because let’s face it, there are times when we all need a reminder of that one embarrassing day when we drank too much in front of people we wanted to impress and ended up with memories we wouldn’t want to discuss with our mums.
A restart also means renewed hope and faith. Faith that you can be better this year and hope that you manage to pull it off. That’s quite nice, isn’t it? Now if only I could manage to forget how this same new hope can be a crutch quite a few times, I’d be sailing calmer seas. But calms seas usually indicate a lack of adventure, or warning of a gathering storm, and I guess we wouldn’t want either of those things. So, fine; go on with your pointless parties and useless resolutions. But also remember that this is a restart with renewed hope and faith in you. Sail those rough seas because you can and want to. The shore will find you eventually, if you don’t manage to find it first, that is.
I know I’ve gone from complaining to some sort of sailing metaphor but that’s just how things go sometimes.