Fake Feminism and the Alamuddin-Clooney marriage

A few months ago, somebody sent me a YouTube link to "the woman they say George Clooney is getting married to". Amal Alamuddin was discussing human rights. The feminist who forwarded it could have just sent the link, perhaps adding the subject of the discussion. It intrigued me that the 'connection' of the subject needed to be mentioned at all.

You are probably thinking what I asked myself too: would I have really been interested in watching the clip otherwise? To be honest, less so with as much immediacy. I did not know anything about her, and it is stupid to pretend otherwise. She lives and works in London, and as a legal luminary she is not — or was not — a subject of pop culture, which is what is fed globally.

I did not expect her not to be good, but she was indeed impressive and somebody I could trust with opinions. It did not mean I would forget who she was betrothed to. These were not antagonistic realities, and could run parallel without either jousting the other for space.

Amal and George are now married. They seem happy and look good together. That would have been my views on what has now become a celebrity wedding.

However, the link sender I mentioned at the beginning has found an echo in this headline:

'Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor'

If the idea was to laud her, it falls pathetically flat to a discerning observer. Mentioning the two by their professions is stating the obvious. The motive here is to show her as superseding him, which is the trope patriarchal notions thrive on — of the spouse as competitor, a threat who needs to be envied and therefore tamed.

There is a good deal of undercurrent here. The taming might be almost invisible. The article that goes with the headline concurs with Clooney's earlier observation that he was "marrying up". I have serious issues with such social mobility, and one is aware of how women are often accused of "getting a good catch" or relying on the "sugar daddy".

This is particularly galling if you consider that the man may genuinely think she is too good for him, but in the popular imagination it strikes one as him legitimising her superiority, and therefore acceptable to those holding forth. It is quite likely that this site is doing what the man believes is okay. They have his tacit approval.

Little is known of Amal’s earlier relationships (we assume she was climbing that corporate ladder and smashing glass ceilings) but she’s tying the knot with an actor, whose name is George Clooney, we’re told.

They are desexualising her as somebody who cannot have a personal life because she was busy proving herself. Would they ever day that about a man? Any man?

We only hope he doesn’t hold her back from conquering the world. We think this George Clooney fellow has scored big time.

Were they interested in her before this? Have they written about her earlier, and in such flattering terms, which would be deservedly so? And by suggesting that he might hold her back, they are playing into such an old stereotype that ends up reducing her to a puppet who can be held back.

They are only now scrounging for her pictures because of who she is with. It might have helped if there was honesty rather than facile attempts at pseudo feminism that doles out crumbs by way of cheesy headlines to prop up what does not need props. Or quoting Julia Roberts praising her for her to be seen as a legitimately accomplished person.

Cheap parody and sophomore trickery can't take you very far as feminists or humanists. It just can't take you much further than your celebrity-assigned blinkers.

Sunday ka Funda

There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.
— Hunter S. Thompson


Dance of Discrimination: Non-Hindus and Navratri

Last evening I could hear yodeling, interspersed with the beating of sticks to rhythm. The Navratri season is on, and open spaces become the playground of festivities.

Garba is not alien to me, and even less so to a couple of generations before mine. My Nana was said to be quite a dandiya player, and this has special significance because he died when my mother was very young, and he was her hero. Later, during events at the jamaat khana the garba-dandiya were an integral part of celebrations. As a teen I recall one such that lasted till the wee hours of the morning in a place I only recall as 'wadi'. When my cousin got married without fanfare, my grandma insisted we celebrate on our terrace. The highlight was the garba — and we weren't even dressed for it.

Does it upset me to read about how non-Hindus and more specifically Muslims are being prevented from participating in the Navratri festivities? The VHP issued a diktat. I read some truly sad accounts by Muslims in Gujarat who traditionally sang at venues who were now feeling totally alienated, even insulted.

Posters have come up announcing it. However, a Gujarati newspaper did report that the CM Anandiben Patel has said that if Muslims are not allowed then the permits of the organisers will be cancelled. The English-language press has made no mention of it although it continues to pile on about the ban.

The unfortunate bit is that this gives the VHP enough leeway to sneak in that they are responding to what a mullah said. Mehdi Hasan Shah Baba said such rituals were associated with demons.

One question is about whether religion and public celebratory rituals should be closed affairs. Will Muslims bow before the goddess if they wish to participate? This one is tricky. Such conditions can be laid down if it is a place of worship, not a public space. The problem is with the altered exclusion.

It makes little sense when the garba venues play contemporary music, hold competitions for the best dressed, the best couple and other such. Huge amounts are spent on clothes and jewellery. Many of these shows are sponsored. And now we also have participants tattooing, wearing masks and paying tribute to Narendra Modi. The goddess is incidental.

Muslims in Gujarat would not really shy away from building up such a cult. Modi and they have a rather cosy relationship. In fact, that is one reason I believe, aside from the nature of the diktat and the attitude, this is not really a Muslim issue at all.

The media and the elite social media are essentially taking up the cause of the well-off Muslim in this case. One is not suggesting they should not, but let us not conflate it with the Muslim issue and thereby the issue with Muslims, which is a thin line away. Those living in ghettoes and the poor do not have the luxury of participating in Navratri celebrations at the targeted venues because they cannot afford the ticketed events. They might also not fit into the clique version of pluralistic and secular.

The CM is aware that the BJP depends on the rich and the trading community, so her creditable statement is inspired by pragmatism. These Muslims have voted for Modi before he became PM. They know it is barter, and they have reconciled themselves to it.

While discrimination on any grounds should be anathema, how many will remember this nine days after the festival? What is happening now is passively picking up the signals that the Sangh Parivar sends out to bolster its own image.

Perspicaciously, the song playing now is:
"Jo bheji thi dua
woh jaake aasmaan se yun takra gayi
ki aa gayi hai laut ke sadaa"

(The prayer I sent
Has so hit the sky
That it has ricocheted back as a sigh)


The Cleavage Chiaroscuro

What happens when a Bollywood actor decides to speak out against objectification? The reactions are simplistic and extreme.

The Times of India tweeted a link to its web gallery, with one picture that had the caption: "OMG: Deepika Padukone's cleavage show."

She responded with: "YES! I am a Woman. I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??"

TOI, rather flippantly, told her that it was meant as a compliment, adding: "You look so great that we want to make sure everyone knew! :)"

Deepika: "Don't talk about Woman's Empowerment when YOU don't know how to RESPECT Women!" and "Supposedly India's 'LEADING' newspaper and this is 'NEWS'!!??"

One thing needs to be clarified — this is not news and was not sold as such. It was by the entertainment department and the link was to a web gallery.

Was TOI being disrespectful? Yes. Specifically to her and generally to its readers. The assumption is that people are intent upon looking only at certain aspects of a person they might admire as a performer or even a looker or, worse, people cannot see what is there and need to be guided with verbal cues.

This is infantilising besides objectification. What exactly does a "show" conjure? That it is a performance, a display. Deepika is being accused of exhibitionism.

As happens often, the story is not so much about what was said but how it snowballed. The actor has featured in Times of India's other publications, often on the cover. It is a mutually-acceptable relationship, even beneficial. TOI has often passed off pulp as news.

The point is: are we and should we consider the cleavage of anybody as pulp? Would that not amount to a denial of gender dynamics, of the body, of identity? While Ms. Padukone herself was clear about what she has and how she expects respect, has the response followed this template?

Lyricist Swanand Kirkire came up with this: "Behind every cleavage there is a heart, a voice, thanks... for showing us your true beauty & this is a compliment." If he had to pay tribute to her heart by mentioning its location, then he should have mentioned the rib cage.

The general tenor of "she is more than a cleavage" is patronising, apart from missing the point: A woman can show cleavage, but it does not give anybody the right to point at it. Just as one might object to catcalls, which again are considered compliments by some.

And why does a woman need to have more that is in the realm of the abstract? She may possess many qualities that need not be for public consumption or its intensity may be reserved for personal interactions only.

In fact, one fallout is men who are standing with her want to express solidarity by posting pictures of their moobs (man boobs). This means little, for male actors have no issues about being known for their six-pack abs and muscles. If anything, their bodies convey a single-minded commitment to achieve a look required for a role, if not for the image of star power.

A woman actor who does work on her body is seen as an aberration that needs to get back to her original shape soon, even if the original shape follows a standard idea of perfection.

Returning to the online battle, not for a moment did the thought of Ms. Padukone's just-released film 'Finding Fanny' cross my head. She does not need publicity, although the mainstream media that is reporting on this are referring to her as the FF star.

One radio jockey, Malishka, resorted to hyperbole saying that Deepika "makes history today not just coz of #FindingFanny but coz of the stand she took".

It raises an uncomfortable question: If responding to a newspaper means creating history, are we to assume that there is silent acceptance otherwise? The reiteration of "about time" reveals a scenario where nobody speaks up.

I am particularly concerned that even now the sounds are merely echoes of one who is a top line actor. It is fairly routine for those not as well-known, especially those who are referred to as item girls, like Rakhi Sawant or Poonam Pandey, to be dismissed as drama queens if they do raise their voice. I doubt if they would get any support. So, this is also about class and the pecking order.

The Deepika episode gives an opportunity to some to become legitimised, even as they continue with their ogling. Director Anubhav Sinha said, "It is the high camera angle not a low neckline. What is low is the standard of journalism. Downright SICK!!!"

What exactly was actor Ayushmann Khurana trying to say with this, "Dear yellow journalism, a star showed you that some of you are green"? How puerile to suggest that this is about envy. The puerile seems to prevail, just as it becomes obvious that a little flash makes a bunch of people sweat and indulge in mass catharsis. Not many would wish the rub a big media house the wrong way, and they just do not have the time of inclination for more than a castaway statement.

If all these stars are truly concerned, they should speak out more often. It is only real war that will get them results and bring about a change in attitude.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth."
— Henry David Thoreau

Why pick on how humans have failed the environment during times of natural disaster when we in our pampered lives slowly destroy Nature every day?

And then we do not even look back to clean up the mess.


Kashmir Needs You

Almost a million people displaced within a week. The army is out, but it is volunteers who are doing most of the monitoring and arranging for essentials, medical services and boats too.

There is a shortage of rafts, medicines, water, disinfectants, ropes, besides food and a lot else.

Do visit HERE for more details. It is a comprehensive site and is coordinating with the forces as well.

Where is Bollywood, that has used the scenic locales for many a celluloid romantic interlude? Where are the activists who took pictures with azaadi proponents? Where is Farooq Abdullah?

We know where we are. Emotions need to be translated into concrete action. For, Agha Shahid Ali's "The country without a post office" may be submerged but it still waits for the letters, the rations so that it can see the day when it will be dry again. 


Humanising the Inhuman: Of ISIS and a Rapist

After the news, what we look for is the people who make the news or are affected by it. Human interest stories have always been attractive to the readers as well as to those who have a stake in the news. The latter because they know that although facts cannot be fudged opinions certainly can be. There is also a strong need to dispute the prevailing discourse on the 'newsy'.

Satire is a handy and potent tool to make a point. However, is all satire successful in doing what it is supposed to — expose clay feet and demonise the devils?

Comics and cartoons in response to the ISIS in the Middle East media are now seen as a weapon against the terror group. One can understand the need for such a release of frustration and anger. But do they really manage to reach home?

Let us take a few examples.

The Looney Tunes-style cartoon depicts a hapless young ISIS militant struggling to carry out simple tasks; first dropping a rocket launcher on to the foot of his commander before accidentally shooting him when he holds his weapon the wrong way round while firing towards an Iraq military checkpoint.

This works as nervous laughter for the audience, but the reality is not about fumbling. The mistaken killing of the commander, in fact, consolidates the martyrdom that is so desired.

They mock the jihadists' radical ideas and portrays the group as obsessed with a literal interpretation of 7th Century Islam that makes their lives needlessly difficult. One producer said, "These people are not a true representation of Islam and so by mocking them. It is a way to show we are against them."

A group such as the ISIS is not dependent on what people think, but how it can market its own ideology. Nobody knows what really happened in the 7th century. If people want to oppose the ISIS, then they must do so for reasons of their social and political terrorism. They are using modern technology, so mocking them about the past sounds disingenuous. Besides, there is a problem when a people feel desperate about distancing themselves for what they get associated with by default from societies that are prejudiced against them. It only serves to highlight a moral dilemma that isn't even there.

Even the sickening videos of mass shootings conducted by ISIS have become comedic fodder. Palestinian television channel al-Falastiniya aired a skit showing militants shooting Muslim civilians for their lack of piety, while simultaneously reminiscing about partying and meeting beautiful women while training.

I find this particularly disgusting. In trying to draw attention to the hypocrisy, it only conforms to a stereotype that the ISIS and other fanatic elements might find enchanting. It conveys that the rewards are a result of the killings. What sense does it make when such vile characters exist only for such fruits of labour? Also, rather unfortunately, the subliminal message is that lack of extreme piety deserves an extreme punishment. The victims are as much grist for the satire mill here as the predators.

When a Jordanian Christian approaches, the two militants begin fighting each other over who gets to shoot him - each wanting the 'blessing' for himself. Terrified, the man suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving the militants devastated.

What do you learn from this? That a person marked has to die. Anyway.

Of course, all is not bleak. This skit by the 'Ktir Salbe Show' hits the right spot. Even though it falls in the disingenuous trap about the past, it manages to make a potential victim proactive and in charge:

A taxi driver picks up a jihadi who rejects listening to radio because it didn't exist in the earliest days of Islam.

The driver offers to turn on the air conditioning, but that too is rejected. The jihadist then criticizes the put-upon driver for answering his mobile phone.

Fed up, the driver finally asks: 'Were there taxi cabs in the earliest days?'.

'No, 1,000 times no!' the passenger answers. The driver responds by kicking the jihadist out of his car and telling him to wait for a passing camel instead.

* * *

The other sort of behind the news stories are all about humanising, including the villains. This is appealing because it is about penance and reformation. We like to judge and to forgive.

When I read this article on the young man who was one of the rapists in the Delhi gangrape I was confused. Several criminals serve sentences or are sent to correctional facilities (as this one is), but nobody wants to trace their progress. This man's story is bound to be humanised because he is a crucial part of the bigger story that was on primetime for months. That one was milked and through him will continue to be milked.

As a juvenile — and whether we like it or not, he was tried as one — he is serving time in a reform centre. The job of such a place is to rehabilitate him. One can understand the anger against him, but every day people are let off by the courts, if at all they are reported, for similar crimes. We remain silent, if not unaware. Besides, even those who get sentenced for a few years will ultimately be out and one does not know whether a jail term has given them a lesson that would have changed them.

The media is always looking for angles and twists not to make people aware, but to tug at them. By telling us that a criminal is having it better after arrest we are fed what we already know. I also found the piece disorienting for reasons other than humanising. It makes our correctional facilities sound like Doon School prototypes or something out of a Karan Johar film. And the guy who knew no English has titled his painting "The Princess".

Something else bothered me:

There is “no trace of anger” in him, says psychologist Shuchi Goel, who works with him and has conducted an art-based therapy session. “He is certainly putting an extra effort to become acceptable to others,” she said. “He takes a lot of pride in his paintings.”

Without an explanation to back the statement, what exactly does lack of anger in him mean? Who should he be angry with — his victim, his accomplices who are sentenced to death, or himself?

For those of us who believe that justice should not be a hammer but a chisel, this sort of pop analysis defeats the purpose by pandering to the gallery version of the humane.

© Farzana Versey


Images: Daily Mail, Washington Post