Clothes or relationships: Women only provoke


First the two shocking reports in the papers — just two among many — about how women’s issues are looked upon by those in power. Women in Ireland were in an uproar over the acquittal of a 27-year-old man for raping a 17-year-old girl in a muddy alleyway, because she wore lacy thong underwear, which, according to the defendant’s lawyer — a woman called Elizabeth O’Connell — was indication of consent. She is reported to have said, “Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

Ireland may be lagging behind the world on the matter of women’s rights — the ban on abortion was overturned in May this year — but in the age of #MeToo, one would imagine the judges would be a little more enlightened.

Then, this totally ‘facepalm’ report that states that leaders at a women’s resource centre at Eastern Michigan decided to cancel its production of The Vagina Monologues, because it’s discriminatory, given “not all women have vaginas.”

Apparently, the resource center conducted a survey, asking respondents about The Vagina Monologues and those opposed to the play said they were concerned about the fact that the production excludes some women, namely those who don’t have vaginas. What were they smoking seems the only possible question to ask.

Moving on to the mild shock that a film titled Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil directed by Aadish Keluskar won the Young Critics’ Choice Award at the recently concluded 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Which could mean that today’s generation may go to watch popcorn romances in the multiplex, but somewhere in their minds they realise that life is not all wine and roses. Keluskar called his film “anti-romantic” and that’s exactly what it is. With nudity, profanity and violence, it’s not the kind of film that would get released in the cinemas, not a film one can see with family, and hopefully not with a date, unless a break-up is sought.

The film has Rohit Kokate and Khushboo Upadhyay, playing an unnamed couple that is dating. At the start of the film, the woman is making up her face in the bus on her way to meet her boyfriend. They meet on south Mumbai’s sea front promenade of Marine Drive — and walk down chatting, over a long take, without a cut. At first, it is the usual date conversation, she apologises for being late, he compliments her on her dress.

As they talk, it becomes clear, that there is a power imbalance in the relationship. The man wants company and sex from her, but offers no commitment. They get into a cab, talk politics with the driver (Himanshu Kohli) — a lot of abusing the politicians — and reach a restaurant, where the woman hesitantly broaches the subject of marriage. She is thirty, she says, and there are questions from her family; also she wants to marry and have a child.

The man, like a catchpenny philosopher, talks of the importance of freedom, and says that after a while he will get bored of sex with her, and seek change. He is casually nasty, pointing out that she is not pretty or attractive in any way. It is quite another matter, that if appearance and financial status are the criteria, he is not such a catch either. The woman, equally casually tells him that she will break-up after they finish eating.

Then, as they wander on the beach, she quickly retracts her break-up threat, frequently calls him “jaan” and drops her demand of marriage. The man, whose language is crude and replete with profanity, talks of seducing another woman, and then dumping her, too. She is nervous about him leaving her, and holds out her only bargain chip — sex — that he expects from her on demand.

In a movie theatre, they make-out, with him pawing her rather aggressively, after which they end up in a lodge room, where he again cruelly criticises her look, body, and resistance to his kinky sexual fantasies, that he picks up from the porn he watches.

The woman does, by this time, muster up the self-respect to hit back at him verbally, but he uses violence to subdue her physically, and quite nonchalantly, drops her, with her head bandaged, to her hostel. By the time they reach the gate, some of his bluster is subdued; she expresses contempt towards him and his confused apology.

The upbeat ending of the film, somehow does not match with what has gone before, but how they accept it is for viewers to decide, and of all the tastefully written, beautifully shot and well-made films, entered at the Festival, the group of young critics picked this one, because, one assumes, it resonated with them in some way.

It does bring to attention the phenomenon of toxic masculinity — an ordinary-looking man, with no job and no prospects, believes he is somehow superior to the woman, because a patriarchal society has allowed him to feel entitled. Because of the social pressure on her, a middle-class woman, who is financially independent, is so hung-on marriage, that she puts up with the man’s viciousness, just be feel good about having a man by her side. She hopes that by being passive and offering her body, she will somehow bring him round to her way of thinking.

The constant anxiety that women are put through if they do not conform — look at all the bridal shows advertised in the media — make women stay in violent marriages, keep silent when they are subjected to molestation, and avoid reporting rapes. And if they do speak up, in every part of the world, not just in Ireland, women are asked, what they did to provoke a man to violence! Then, there are others, who do not care about the harassment women go through on a daily basis, but worry about women without vaginas!

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