A Goa Streets Debate Over Deepika Padukone’s “My Choice” Video
Whatever you think about Deepika Padukone’s “My Choice” video, it’s certainly done the trick for its maker Vogue magazine, creating a nationwide stir the likes of which have been seldom seen. One of the more striking elements of the debate is the sharp difference of opinion even among those who believe firmly in full equality for women. Is the video a delightful expression of woman power or a terribly misguided message for the women of today? To get both opposing viewpoints, UK-based Goan columnist Selma Carvalho and Goa Streets Publisher Marisha Dutt have each weighed in on the issue. Read on.
No one doubts it’s her choice. But does that mean you have to adopt the worst elements of male privilege?
Why Deepika Padukone’s Vogue video does nothing to lift up women
Protest it seems, in this age of social media, is facile. It is also largely pointless. Lata Dhavalikar, wife of a Goa Minister, had rich advice to dispense this week on how sporting a kumkum on the forehead, not wearing revealing clothes and weird hairdos could potentially ward off rape. Rape, according to Mrs Dhavalikar, is a western construct utterly foreign to India. Husband, Deepak Dhavalikar swung to her defence, assuring millions of Indians that wearing a sari and kumkum has adequately protected his wife from the male gaze.
When it comes to putting forward bizarre views on women’s issues, Mrs Dhavalikar is in the same league as our other Saraswat Brahmin Ms Deepika Padukone of the ‘My Choice’ video fame. (Deepika had no issues with mentioning her caste in a Bombay Times interview. If Deepika was truly invested in feminist causes, she might have known that caste and women’s rights are deeply entwined in India). In any case, Deepika’s version of feminism has us believing that it’s: ‘My choice to have sex before marriage, to have sex out of marriage.’ This sort of anarchic feminism is exciting but flawed. Anarchy has its allure but as history knows, revolution for the sake of revolution leads only to despair. Having sex outside of marriage isn’t ‘a choice.’ It’s just good old fashioned infidelity. We choose to be in a marriage. For the psychological well being of ourselves, our spouse and our children we enter into a contract which calls on us to be faithful. Promiscuity and infidelity don’t empower anyone. They lead only to misery and poverty, particularly for women. Amongst the leading causes of urban poverty in European societies are single-parent households.
Deepika goes on: ‘My choice to come home when I want. Don’t be upset if I come home at 4am.’ The thing about wanting to emulate civilizational values of extreme individualism is that they are self-defeating. To want to come home when one feels like it, is the whiny complaint of hormonal adolescents, not mature adults. If a woman is not home by 4am, in a caring, compassionate, responsible world, we can only hope there is someone concerned about her safety. To be out at all hours, dressed as one wishes, drinking as one wants and having sex with anonymous partners (man, woman or both, as Deepika’s video suggests) under the influence of alcohol is not liberating. It’s confining. It takes choice away from women’s bodies.
A flawed feminism is not confined to India. A campaign by the Sussex Police in the UK advising women to ‘stick together and don’t let your friend go off with a stranger or go off on their own’, immediately drew protest from women’s groups. Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women Coalition advised the police to ‘get beyond police campaigns giving instruction to women on how to behave to be safe.’
Rape is a terrible crime against women and for too long the onus of this heinous act has been placed on women. But should the pendulum swing entirely in the other direction and should women ignore all caution? It is a fact that we are less likely to get robbed, assaulted, murdered or raped if we are not alone. Exercising caution is not about blaming women, it’s taking responsibility for our own bodies and ensuring that we don’t put them in harm’s way. The Sussex Police have rightfully responded by saying that they would be failing if they did not urge potential victims to take all possible steps to minimise risk.
The far side of feminist protest can best seen in Canada-based artist Ruki Kaur’s photo of a fully clothed sleeping woman showing a patch of menstrual blood. The photo when posted on Instagram was removed citing violation of ‘community guidelines.’ What followed was a social media frenzy by Kaur’s fans forcing Instagram to apologise. The intent of Kaur’s activism, to demystify menstruation, is laudable. Menstruation subjects women, in many cultures, to irrational taboos. By way of explanation Kaur wrote,’ I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. A source of life for our species. Whether I choose to create or not. But very few times it is seen that way.’
But imagine for a moment, a man ejaculating and then subjecting us to his semen-crusted pants, proclaiming it to be a source of life for our species. Would such a photo be seen as demystifying yet another innately human bodily function? Would it have found the same level of support? Or would it just be a boorish male shot of close-up chauvinism uncomfortably bordering on the misogynistic?
Why is it that feminist protest of late has come to mean two sets of rules, with women being exempt from generally accepted norms of sexual morality and responsible behaviour? The empowering of women doesn’t mean turning them into misguided men embracing a female version of male privilege. Hopefully feminism means empowering women to have fulfilling, responsible, committed lives.
Selma Carvalho is a columnist and author of ‘A Railway Runs Through: Goans of British East Africa, 1865-1980’. Between 2011-2014, she headed the Oral Histories of British- Goans project.