Dear Vogue and Deepika: Empowerment isn't just a word to be hurled at men

So, I am a snowflake and a tree and my soul roams around naked. (And unlike you ordinary mortals, I came up with that without any help from superior weed).

I am also 'infinite in every direction' (because clearly, I have not bothered to look up 'infinite' in a dictionary).

If I were married, I would live out every Charlie Sheen aspiration I secretly had and have sex with whoever I want to. I would be the one deciding if I want to have a baby or not, because who the world calls a 'husband' or a 'partner' is basically a sperm dispensing machine.

Ah, now don't come running to me with your 'Feminist of the Century' trophy. The rightful recipients of the same are Vogue magazine and the team who have now come out with a video under their 'Vogue Empower' series called "My Choice". It has been directed by filmmaker Homi Adajania and written by Kersi Khambatta, who wrote Finding Fanny.

A screengrab from the video.

A screengrab from the video.

Apart from a painfully gorgeous Deepika Padukone smiling beatifically at you - not even slightly discomfited by the fact that her hair is billowing mid-air like clothes hung out to dry in monsoon winds - there are apparently 99 women in the video. You could have mistaken it for a Dove commercial in black, if not for Padukone's voice-over telling us what makes an empowered woman as opposed to simply a glowing-complexioned one.

So then, what does make a truly empowered woman? Having the right to have sex whenever and with whoever? And wear whatever and return home whenever?

Where's the woman who demands equal leadership opportunities at the work place? Where's the woman who has had the guts to give up a well paying job to bring up a child? Where are the women who have chosen to work, perhaps all day as domestic helps, because they want their sons and daughters to finish their education and have different lives? The most significant choices in life have had to do with education, financial independence and the power to support our families instead of sex, clothes and staying out.

In fact, the Vogue video only speaks for a small group of women for whom education, healthcare, money are privileges they can take for granted as birthrights. But if social media is anything to go by, the video is the new Bible of feminism. "I am the universe. That is my choice," Padukone pronounces in the conclusion of the video.

Apart from making women sound a bit like that Shaktimaan villain howling 'Andhera Kayam Rahein', the video which claims to 'empower' women, sadly, does so in the language of the same patriarchy it is trying to eviscerate.

While we suspect that the video wanted to urge women to be themselves, it insinuates that all men will gang up and come in their way. Like some upholders of patriarchy would like to believe about men, this video tells you women are the real sh**. While the truth is, feminism, in its simplest definition says women and men are equal in a society, not more, not less. Just because patriarchy can treat women as possessions and accessories, feminism definitely doesn't ask you to treat the men in your life with as much respect as a television remote.

"Remember the bindi on my forehead, the ring on my finger, adding your surname to my name, they are all ornaments. They can be replaced, my love for you cannot. So treasure that," Padukone says, right after saying that it is her choice to 'love temporarily, or lust forever'.

Through the course of the video it becomes clear that it is meant to be a monologue aimed at men. An 'us' and 'them' exercise. Also, one in which it has been already determined that we are better than them. It suggests that men are inevitably at odds with choices women make in their lives.

I was 20 when I landed by first job at a newspaper desk in Kolkata. "I have to go to work at 5 in the evening and will return not before 3 am," I declared to my gobsmacked parents who were then unaware of how a newspaper office worked. "How will you stay awake?" my father muttered, before quickly scribbling down the office phone number as I rolled my eyes and waved my newly-acquired safety device - the mobile phone - at him.

At three in the morning, our bustling, talkative middle class south Kolkata neighbourhood slept in squeaky silence and the familiar walls of my house looked decidedly Hogwarts-ish with long shadows. For two long years, the father stayed up to fetch me from the office car which would not enter narrow bylanes. My mother was a teacher at a morning school and could not stay up that late. In my father's world women who held jobs worked "normal" safe hours until I came along. But he adjusted. It was a choice I didn't make alone, it's a choice we made together. And I know that's not just my father, that's many many other Indian men. And it's completely unfortunate that the Vogue video, with its black and white stereotyping, cannot understand that simple fact.


Updated Date: Apr 02, 2015 13:20 PM

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