Objectification in advertising and Indian cinema: The culture of sexual violence

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The Beast

“Beauty and the Beast”, the animated musical, was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1991. The generation of women I belong to, and hopefully relate to, grew up watching movies conforming to standards of gender roles and relationships Disney [and other such production houses] have made, and Beauty and the Beast used to be one of favourite films as a younger girl. The premise of the film is quite simple; a prince, after a series of unfortunate events, has been turned into a hideous beast due to his unkindness to a witch, and will not be restored back to his beauty until someone falls in love with him. Belle, which means beauty, is a town-girl who yearns for a life outside of her own jaded and rut-like schedule. Due to events I am sure everyone knows and understands, she makes the choice of saving her father and being forced to spend her remaining life in the castle with Beast. The beast keeps her away from her family for his selfish reasons, is extremely temperamental and has thinly-veiled rage issues. When Belle refuses to eat with him, he lashes out and decides that she not be given dinner at all. He almost causes her injury when she enters a part of the castle that he had told her specifically not to enter.

On a completely unrelated note, Psychology today defines abuse in a very specific manner. Some of the major characteristics of a textbook abuser are entitlement and an angry temperament. The abuser will relocate the victim socially and geographically to isolate the victim and claim possession. This will lead to the lack of a support system for the victim and he/she will be rendered helpless. This eventually leads to the hiding rage issues emerge in the form of either emotional or physical abuse, or both.

This is not only familiar, but strikingly alike to the behaviour that Beast shows Belle time and again. Let me also explain that whilst the Beast is shown to have a softer side, a side that he does not initially reveal to Belle, it should be noted that Belle had not yet seen that side of him when she pities him and decides to go back with him after running away from the castle. The character sketch of the Beast and the dynamics of the relationship he shares with Belle are fundamentally two-folds:

  1. He is a circumstantial hard-hearted monster who thrives on scaring others [evident from how scared the other residents of the house were of him], and does not understand basic human sentiments of fear and loss. This he hides by rage and anger, and lashes out on people closest to him. He is unforgiving and cruel; and the latter part of the movie shows him a changed man as Belle nurses him back to health and his desire to become a better human being.
  2. The major issue of the film lies in the perspective of Belle, the quintessential Disney girl [of those times, obviously]. Someone who is as forgiving as a woman should be. She has only seen the side of the Beast that is harsh and cruel [and possible incapable of love]. But it only takes the love of a woman to change an abuser. This is precisely the kind of belief that is supposed to be eradicated from minds of innocent young women and men alike, who have been victims of abuse.

Beauty and the Beast reveals to us how romantic relationships are perceived to be, and the generation old gender issues that no person needs to conform to. A hard-hearted man need not exist, and need not need saving by love and by a nurturing, young woman. An abuser cannot be enabled, and it is a lesson that we must be teaching young girls everywhere what the signs of an abuser are and to seek help if they understand the consequences and dangers of being around a person like that. That said, Beauty and the Beast is an old film that barely any young girls watch anymore.

Ergo, I will talk about other influences of the contemporary art.

2005 saw the release of the first book of a four-book long series about a vampire-human love story, the Twilight series. Even though the Twilight demographic has been admitted to be the internet-savvy young teenage females, recent statistics have shown that this demographic also consists of middle-aged women and young men. I will specifically talk about the young teenage generation that this series has catered to. Bella Swan has admitted numerous times to being extremely clumsy and socially awkward. Edward Cullen is described as the perfect male; he is enigmatic and extremely stable and caring. He is somewhat jealous and possessive as well. These are probably the qualities that have made him so charming and attractive.

My concern here is the fan base that Edward Cullen has developed. He coerces Bella into doing what he wants her to do, and Bella passively lets him. Edward Cullen becomes attractive due to his aggression and stalking obsession for Bella which makes her fall more in love with him. Bella shows typical characteristics of a weak, flat character – passivity, low self-esteem, immaturity and romantic irrationality. Millions of young girls all over the world are now calling themselves fans of a male character who, even though cannot be called an abuser explicitly, shows subtle characteristics that should not be in any respectable man, or woman. He makes it clear to Bella that he wishes to “feed” on her, and that her blood is attractive to him. His temper issues and his dangerous persona are attributed to him being a vampire, ridding him of blame for his actions and thus, making him seems like the nice person that he may not be.

Fifty Shades of Grey, which has a much older demographic, also consists of a man who is obsessive and jealous. Christian Grey mentions more than once that he has not had any “real” feelings for any woman, and he is 27. Let me clarify here that a man claiming to a woman he is sexually interested in, that she is not “like other women” is neither attractive, nor well. The fact that he has a low opinion of women in general, should be a ringing warning to step back and wonder about the vigour of a relationship.

Male characters are increasingly testosterone oriented, and violence is a facet in entertainment that has surprised me. Young girls are growing up with convoluted ideas of idealization in men, and in themselves. A song like “You don’t know you’re beautiful” is disturbing simply because it shows attraction towards someone who has a low opinion of herself. Women who have a clear idea about their thoughts, actions and life purpose, their strengths and weaknesses are somehow perceived as being unattractive. This is exactly why a woman wanting sex, or sexual experiences, is shunned a ‘slut’, a word that has no male counterpart. How that asserts the stereotype is that, that dominance in a relationship is held by a man alone, whether by pushing the female counterpart down, or fuelling relationship stereotypes with false definitions of manliness or feminity. And the worst part is, that vigorous, able women fall for it.

If a person with low self esteem gets into an unhealthy relationship, something very disastrous could happen. He/she will want to validate themselves by trying to change someone who may never change. That is why it is necessary to have a healthy perception of marriage and relationships by the people surrounding the victim. A person who is in an abusive relationship lives constantly in denial and fear and refuses to relate to other people, and is stuck in being a part of something that they could lose their lives over. I cannot possible imagine the psychology of living such a life, hence I refuse to hold them culpable for not leaving the relationship. But, it is necessary that such a person has friends and family such that they need not think twice before leaving a spouse who has, even once, cause physical or mental injury.

I would rather that if I have a daughter someday, her idea of a relationship, any relationship, sexual or platonic, be governed by her ability to understand herself and not anyone else. Women need to understand the subtle differences between genuine care and concern, and excessive possessiveness and unreasonable jealousy, and the latter is NEVER attractive. Maybe after that, we will try to restore balance to the society.

“Don’t take me to be a feminist…”

“…because I believe in equality!”

The first time that my school arranged an activity for the first level of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, I was in 8th Grade. I did not know then that my clenching of fists when I found out that knitting was the activity decided upon by the teachers for the young girls of our school, something the boys were not really supposed to do, was my first feminist reaction. The boys, and this was the worst part, got an introductory session on web programming (I fail to remember what it exactly was). But what I do remember is sitting through hours of knitting, trying to get my hands to govern threads, with the eventual result of being able to make socks I was never going to wear.

My memory is deceitful, since I may be wrong about having no options. I also remember sessions regarding Disaster management, cartography and an outdoor trekking expedition under the same programme. But for some reason, the memory manifested itself into my mind as a parasitic recollection about how my teachers expected me to want to do certain activities that I might have had no interest in pursuing. And I didn’t. In spite of my clenched fists, I reckon I did nothing about the rising anger that I suppressed for not very long after this.

In 11th grade, because of a misguided sense of ‘feminism’, I wrote out a 200 word poem about womanhood and spoke of it as much as I could. I was young and naïve, trying to convince people that a woman need not be identified by her relationships with a man. I am ashamed of digging out a poem such as that, but the truth is, the washing-machine whirl that I felt in my stomach every time someone told me to ‘relax’ was a very potent, albeit harmless, thing. When my favourite English teacher read the poem, she asked me if she could keep a copy, and to say that I was happy is an understatement. And then, she said something that has stayed with me for the past 3 years. She said, “This poem is very insightful, but I hope you do not turn out to be a feminist.”

I am pretty sure she isn’t reading this, but I suppose I could safely say that I turned out to be a disappointment to her. I identified with feminism, and even now, I can safely say that feminism is a very relevant and potent concept in certain parts of the world, especially India. Patriarchy is not what it once used to be, it is not the concept of men being superior to women, but that men and women are not equal. Whether it be the taboo against male nurses, or men as primary caretakers, or the thought that rape is the worst thing that could happen to a woman, it has always been my opinion, that feminism could be a solution. As could ‘masculinism’, if there was such semantic availability. And unfortunately for feminists, there is not.

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, recently distanced herself from being a feminist. That, combined with her insistence of having an incredibly short maternity leave and her Vogue photo shoot, fuelled the anger that a lot of feminists were waiting to spew. What feminism, ergo, has become now is a much privileged remnant of what it needs to be. A woman will not be ‘supported’ by feminism if she is too sexual (playing into the sexual showcasing that the media desires), is a home-maker, or even if she is ‘setting a set of expectations from working mothers that are too unrealistic’. It has become about only breaking the stereotype and doing nothing but that, even if it is something that the woman has wanted. The scrutiny that Mayer’s photo shoot underwent itself is proof that gender ideas are not very clearly understood world over. It is, though, a real concern that a man in her place would not have been a part of glamorisation of such sort.

I have realised over the course of a few years that when asked if someone is a feminist or not, the most common answer I have received has been negation combined with a claim to egalitarianism. It used to annoy me endlessly, when I realised I couldn’t be angry with the sense of a perception. I could, however, be angry with the origin of the idea. Media (and feminists themselves), have been trivialising and antagonizing feminism itself. That is obvious when a feminist will question a woman’s decision to forfeiting an education for other pursuits, or when Lily (from How I met Your Mother) claims that when she wanted an easy-bake oven, her feminist mother bought her a ‘boy’s toy’.

So a few weeks ago, I was on the fence about being able to identify with feminism at all. One question that always needs to be asked about any –ism is that of relevance. How relevant is feminism today? For the first-world, I would have to happily admit, there is not much relevance to a movement that sought to bring legal equality in a world where that has almost been achieved. The first world is open to women who are fond of sex, open about their sexuality, even (to a very huge extent) understands the fundamental nature of humans to discriminate. For their own good, they have been saved.

India, on the other hand, has faced severe criticism about how genders are viewed. In several parts of our country, there is a clear distinction in the number of girls and boys receiving education [1]. If the basic building block for society is flawed and biased in its service to a different gender, how are we, as a nation, supposed to further ourselves? There are several other concerns that India faces when it comes to gender issues, whether it be discrimination against men, or women. The fact that prostitution (organising prostitution) is not legal in our country poses a lot of threats to the children and adults that have been victims of sexual trafficking, and most of these adults are women.

Several countries are still even unclear about unconditional women’s suffrage [2]. Almost all nations have granted suffrage for women, but there are still nations that mandate a male guardian (whether it be a father, brother, husband or even a son) for legal proceedings. Maybe there are people in the world, even in India, who may think and rightly so, that feminism is no longer relevant to society, but this just is not true for all parts of the world. The media that the generation I belong to relates to the most, is the internet. The global framework that the internet has provided each and every one of us, makes sure of the fact that we know more about the world but less and less about our immediate surroundings. The very fact that there is doubt about the relevance of a school of thought that encourages nothing but equality, in a country that has proved how gender roles have been governing the society, is evidence of misplaced information. And as long as there is need for an apparently angry woman who just needs to stop taking everything too seriously and ‘chill’, to stand up for any kind of oppression based on inequality, there is need for feminism.

[1] http://iussp2005.princeton.edu/papers/52184

[2] http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/suffrage.htm

Other references:

  1. http://www.cgdev.org/doc/books/lewis-lockheed-eduCaseStudies/lewis-lockheed-chapter5.pdf
  2. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.6.Add.3_en.pdf

Heads Over Bodies

There are certain products that are meant to invoke feelings of jealousy and inadequacy in a person. These are the products that project an image of a person better than you, a product that will do something to change a certain characteristic that is unattractive in a person. Whether it is a face cream that promises younger, brighter, fairer, tighter, or firmer skin, or a diet powder/pill that promises thinner, firmer, or more toned bodies, they are all projecting an image of the self that is desirable and praise-worthy. That is how the essential value of the product is weighed; in its ability to improve one’s self worth.

But a recent analysis of certain other products made me realize that they could probably be marketed in a much different manner than they already are. I was recently looking through a website involved in selling clothes for men and women, and it was surprising to note how they imagine their shoppers to be deciding upon. To understand this clearly, I did some simple arithmetic to see how their customers are perceived to be.

A dress that I saw was of length (from shoulder to the end) 34.5 inches. The dress was slid onto a model for whom the dress only reached her mid thighs. Checking this same length on myself, I found that 34.5 inches was actually down to my knees, even slightly lower. Assuming that the model and I had similar body proportion (which is actually far from the truth), the model must have been 5 feet 11.6 inches tall. And this was only the worst case scenario, assuming that the distance between where her mid thighs ended, and her knees started, was approximately 4 inches (which was probably not true).

This was the simplest measurement I could do without being inaccurate, because I could not measure other features of the body, or actually find averages for that either. The standard length of a small to medium size dress is 33.5 – 34.5 inches, and considering these measurements, these models are 11 inches taller than the national average [1].

The question is not about body image issues that women (and men) are facing today, but the fact that sellers are misreading the idea behind what mindset shoppers carry.

India is not yet entirely comfortable with the idea of online shopping, and we see constantly that the middle-aged generation is discouraged with issues that are only relevant when shopping online, whether it is delivery issues or finding the product not of the quality that was expected. This is especially true of products that rely on sizes and measurements.

When a cream promises a consumer better skin, it is legitimate simply because the shopper wants to realize the dream of having as perfect skin as the person in the advertisement. But the first thought that crosses a shopper’s mind is when purchasing clothing is not that, but the imagination as to how the consumer will look wearing that particular outfit. There is a strong deterrent that might prevent the consumer from buying that particular product that while the item in discussion looks terrific on the model, it might only accentuate the features that the subject is least proud of, especially since the shopper cannot try the outfit at that point in time. Even the basic requirements of the clothing item might not be addressed by the model in question. For example, a person might assume the dress is too short simply because it is short on the model wearing it, while that may not be true considering the person in question is average in height.

This is not to say that there are characteristics that do not exist simply; but that commercial ideologies have to offer some variety in terms of the kind of advertisements that they profess. Tall women do exist; but so do short women. Men with broad shoulders exist; but so do men with narrow shoulders. Whilst some products sell a characteristic, clothing sells an image. And this image cannot be distorted to fit a particular group of people, but not the rest.

However, a general consensus is that the sellers want their products to look as appealing as possible, and may believe that there is no way that can be accomplished with variety of the kind that I am proposing. That is not only presumptive, but also crass. As a seller, advertising is the chief cause of concern, especially if the consumers cannot identify with the product. The idea of non-variety amongst the product and its display is unintelligent and worse, unimaginative. There is a great amount of dissatisfaction in finding that as a consumer, you made the wrong choice simply because the seller is making someone much different than you wear the product. And that is a brand association the seller should be afraid of.

India has the seen the emergence of lots of commercial sites, and they have been setting up sale after sale in order to bring in more customers. While this is an insight into how the internet is taking over our fast moving consumer goods and needs such as those, this is also representative of the fact that online media is more and more influential in terms of how a consumer reacts. The advertising should no longer be about the product, but about the consumer. A pertinent question is raised, and left unanswered. Who are these products tailored for?

What we are becoming is a shocking reality. This is only a representation of what is happening in other sectors of the society, something that I am personally ashamed of. We have been fitting our minds into slender jeans, too tight for us, too tall for our legs. But we do it because we have to hide our skins in some community that we have to belong to. Whether it be clothes that are not made to look good on an average person, but on the ideal, or the fact that we constantly find references to mass production shrouded in an illusion of uniqueness, we are fast approaching a dead end in terms of the solvability of an identity crisis. There is a constant need to find products to fit into, where as it should really be the other way around.

There lies proof in how the common person of India is finding a safe identity in someone like Kejriwal. There is finally safety in similarity. Kejriwal is a product that a group of people are trying to fit into; because there is finally an ideal that they can fit into. There are a set of issues that need to be handled, and they can only be handled by someone who claims to belong to that group. What will be interesting to note is not how the definition of the class that Kejriwal is fighting for is shaping his ideals, but how Kejriwal will be defining that class for years to follow.

The main idea behind this article was not to criticize any entity, simply because there is no purpose to it. Advertising has always been an incredible tool to not only judge society but also predict what direction it might turn itself into. Let there be enough light for the future because of this.

Reference:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21560461

The Default

I have been asked why I take so much offence at everything more times than I can count on my fingers. Close friends have asked me this, and it is a question that has, in its own nature, made me feel quite uncomfortable, and I have had to ask myself whether I have had the justification to raise questions regarding thoughts that deeply unsettle me. One instance of this question came up when I was slightly critical of a play that I saw being performed in college, and my friend asked me why I couldn’t just leave the sexism aside and just enjoy the comedy. I will come to this later.

I also recently came across this video. Although this video has very low production value and is quite poorly made, what came across to me was the exceptional presence of women on the screen. I am hoping people reading (and watching) this will feel similarly. This parody trailer made me realize that the overbearing presence of women on screen like this is not what audiences may be used to, even if the audience is a feminist who tries as hard as she can to not attribute characteristics to either gender. Every time we see more than a few women on screen talking, it is different and gives it a feel of a romantic-comedy (‘chick-flicks’), while this is seldom noted when the same thing happens with men. It is normal to watch men interacting on screen, but not women. No wonder so many movies fail the Bechdel test.

This is not to say that the Bechdel test is a test to disregard a film, but it is evidence to a much more compelling problem in media today. This is true especially for Indian cinema, where there is glaring difference between how actors of gender are treated. The female characters are commonly bland, uni-dimensional and mere plot devices, if not dancers in an ‘item-song’. Most movies have a male lead who is the driver of the story, and the female character is a device used to pleasure the audience gaze. The dancers (mostly major actresses of these times) use sexual suggestions to grab the attention of the audiences, and one may argue that this is just a healthy sexual expression, something that women have lacked in India for a long time now. But there are two responses to this:

  1. This healthy sexual expression is only done by these ‘item-song’ dancers; the leading women characters are still virtuous, virginal and coy. This tells us that even if there are women expressing their sexual interest, it is still not a desirable quality in a woman that you are supposed to admire. These women are nice and wise, albeit with some quirks. This is much unlike the leading men who have had areas of grey, and not just black and white. There is a dearth of what I call ‘imperfect women’ in the cinema today. For example, it is common to see a male pursue a female romantically in movies, but that kind of forthcoming nature is rarely seen from women.
  2. When an actress that I suppose is a decent actress does a role that has no value as such, it makes me want to take her less seriously, something that I don’t like doing, but is a personal preference. Amazing actresses have had still to do songs that appeal to nothing but the audience gaze. The song “Ram chahe Leela”, “Chikni Chameli”, “Shelia ki jawani” and many others solve no purpose other than for the movie and the song to sell. These are definitely things that the audiences prefer to watch, but this in itself should be a concern since there are talented actors (both male and female) who have to resort to bland musical performances to earn popularity. I would repeat again that this would not be a problem had there also been other kind of movies running mainstream. My only concern is, after all, a lack of variety.

Exceptions do exist. I suppose Queen handled the idea of a female lead extremely well. But, Indian cinema is based on the idea of escapism. India is dirty; show the audiences beautiful beaches which are spotless. Sex is a taboo to be talked of; show scantily clad women and resort to voyeurism. That said, the movies which do have female leads, them being female is a major selling point of the film, as if being female is a shift from the normal. Why is this so troublesome to me? I also watched this video a while back, too. The video is not flawless, the study more so, but it does reveal to us a worrying thought. That people will start to believe what media will tell them. It made me extremely sad to watch the video where kids as young as in the video, were falling trap to standards of “goodness” and “badness” in particular races. This is true for gender as well. For example, if a child sees that being virtuous and rejecting every notion of sexual interest by the innate nature of it is what a woman is supposed to do, that is what he/she is going to learn. Young girls will learn to inculcate these qualities, and boys will look for them in girls. Another example would be the lack of variety in superheroes. Most superheroes are male, and the female ones are generally an extension of the already existing. The female heroes that come to me from the top of my head are Catwoman and Wonderwoman. These women share the characteristics of being wise, intelligent and composed, while the male superheroes have a variety of characteristics, even being goofy. These are then the characteristics I assign myself, even though it is actually perfectly acceptable to be goofy and silly. This lack of variety is extremely evident in Indian cinema as I already mentioned.

You can look at the clothing sections for children, and the girls’ clothing is predominantly pink, red and purple, and the boys’ clothing is blue, green and yellow. There is a major difference not just in terms of clothing, but also in terms of toys. Building sets, car sets, train sets, even Legos are still marketed as boys’ toys, and dolls, baking ovens are still girls’ toys. And then we wonder why there are still less women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Gender behavior will guide us about what traits are admirable and what aren’t. I have anecdotal evidence too. A girl, someone who is intelligent and academically potent, told me that she did not believe that “girls were dumb” until she was narrated an incident by a male friend about a girl who did not know simple mobile phone operations. Or that when a male friend ordered green apple vodka, everyone else said it was a “girl’s drink”. Which brings me to my most important evidence; the play that I watched in college.

The play was a musical one, riddled with the idea of a guy in college trying to find a girlfriend for himself. It included the supposition that the Teaching Assistants pay more attention to the female students during lab hours, and not enough to the male students. A line that also stayed with me was when a male TA asked a female student why she had put curly braces (in a piece of code), she replies with a cloying, “But curly braces are so cute!” The stereotype blew me away; and to people in denial, I’d ask if there was any chance a line like that would have been given to a male student. Eventually, the said TA did find a girl to go out with (one of the students he was partial with), and when he asks her to be his girlfriend explicitly, she rejects him (which has since been perceived to be such a bad thing). This does also fit in well with the entire idea of males being “friend-zoned” by girls, as if sex and a romantic relationship was an entitlement.

I will not go into the details but the end of the play saw the line (in Hindi), “Girls are like jeans, and friends are like underwear. Even if the jeans come off, the underwear will save you from embarrassment.” The play made me angry; mostly because it made me feel alienated. There were several girls in the audience, and there was nothing in the play that I could relate to. They even claimed by the line subtly that girls and friends have to be mutually exclusive groups; a notion that made me feel even worse because I would like to think I have the ability to be a decent friend.

I have been told I was reading too much into the play when I confronted a few people with my thoughts, and I cannot deny this. I am truly reading into the play, but I do not regret it. I would have not have a gender related problem with it had it only been about relationships and sex, even so from the male’s perspective, since then the issue would not be about gender stereotypes. But that is not currently the case. The main issue here is that there is a severe lack of voice from the side of the women, and I wish I had the creative excellence to do something about it. But I know that even if I could, it would barely be popular simply because it is not something the audience is used to seeing. If there would be a female student pining for a male in just the same way as the play showed, there would be no question of how accepted that kind of behavior will be. The solution can only come from people making these plays, to try and bring a uni-sexual voice into the entire conception.

Wo-man has always been an extension of man. To be a man is the default, to be a woman is a defect. Hence when a woman is asking for equal representation in arts and media, it is asking for something that doesn’t exist by default, something that needs to consciously be provided. To finally clarify my position further, I would quote Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex:

“In the midst of an abstract discussion, it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know my only defense is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true’ thereby removing my subjective self from the discussion. It would be out of question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary since you are man,’ for it is understood as a fact that being a man is no peculiarity. “

The only way to battle this is to create a medium where it is not necessary to ‘leave your brains aside’ to enjoy a show, and to be critical is not undesirable, but a habitual reaction.

Thoughts on Pornography

Almost two years ago, I heard the interesting bit of information regarding pornography and college. The LAN share (accessible through any DC++ type software) has more than 8Tb amount of pornographic videos and images. I reckon it must have increased by now. Apparently, owning a lot of it was even cool at one point. The “churan” that everyone boasted of, was everywhere. A look at the recent releases on any of our hubs will give you insight into how much porn is being consumed by the people on our campus. There are a few select people who upload this porn, and I wonder if they have even seen all of it.

This has come to my notice because of a variety of personal reasons. More than one important person in my life has admitted to have realized that porn is actually not much different than self-harm, at least for them, and that it is a problem for them. None of them are against pornography by principle, but to say that pornography has no effect on how you behave on a daily basis, is a gross misconception. This article gives enough insight into how pornography does in fact affect real life relationships, and even the overall behavior of the person who might have a problem with it.

To think that anything that brings you enough entertainment has no repercussions, would be bad mistake. This holds true for smoking, excessive drinking and even exercising, and porn is not off the list. All of us, including me, grew up with a taboo against pornography, with various lies told to people around me about why one should not indulge in it. One popular rumour was that masturbation is likely to make you go blind. I had a friend who believed this up to 12th grade, and I was stupid enough to think that it was extremely dull of him to believe this. But one thing it did accomplish was to keep him off the porn.

To start off, I want to tell the reader that for a person to admit they have porn addiction problem is an extremely difficult thing to do, considering our surroundings. Even people who watch porn everyday might not really think they have a problem. Nicotine, alcohol and even weed might be “addictive”, not porn, they might think. Porn is not a chemical that your body gets used to. But the truth is that addiction can be physical (when the lack of the chemical in your body gives you various symptoms like shaking of hands, urge to consume that chemical, insomnia, anxiety, stress, and even nausea), and also psychological (when you just cannot help it). I have heard around me people being extremely judgmental about any sort of distress pertaining to the mind. Whether it is depression or addiction (even physical), people are extremely non-understanding and think that people who are depressed or addicted, lack self-control. The truth is, however, that these issues may be genetic, or have a history behind them. It is not as easy as self-control. For depression, the go-to advice is to just be happy, or not to dwell on whatever makes you sad. For other types of addiction, it is to just stop. Addicted to nicotine? Just stop. Addicted to alcohol? Why don’t you stop? Addicted to pornography? How is that even possible?

To anyone who has even a slight interest in psychology and empathy, it is clear that addiction is a more deep seated issue. For people who have never been addicted to anything, it makes no sense. For them, it is as simple as not doing something because they don’t want to. People who have never undergone depression, also, never understand what it is like. Depression, I suppose, must be a horrible state to live in, to know that what you feel is probably not justified but you feel ache regardless of your life circumstances. Which is not to say that the people who do not understand are to blame; that is the environment we live in. Whenever there is some discussion related to suicide, I have personally heard remarks that suggest that they made an extremely stupid choice, and they were an idiot for not thinking of their parents, or that they (this is a personal favourite) were overreacting. No one can be bothered to understand what it is like to be chained up inside your own brain, knowing full well that a person sometimes knows that their life is too good to actually be depressed about, which actually makes it worse.

I, however, digress. My talking about depression is so that I can bring a little more empathy to what addiction is. If you, the reader, feels that porn is an issue for you, this might help clarify your doubts. Of course, this is just a blog, and not academic quality, but it is easy to understand and not off the mark.

My main agenda in writing this was two-fold. One is to make sure that people understand that the viewing of porn is not without repercussions. It affects a person’s energy, if done in excess. A quick burst of pleasure is psychologically distracting. Masturbation, as I can tell, is an activity of boredom and deflection more than anything else. Either a person is bored, and has nothing to do, or that they feel that the activity of masturbation will distract them from whatever it is that is making them feel stressed out. This might actually be precisely why the more stressed a person is, the more susceptible they might be to develop an addiction – for porn or even addiction. Smoking a cigarette after a long, hard day, is similar to masturbating at the end of the day. This might actually be a good thing, everyone needs to unwind, and an orgasm is definitely supposed to make you happy. However, according to the NoFap (more about this later) community on Reddit, sex is supposed to make you happy, not masturbating. The end result of sex with a loved one is relief from stress, but with masturbation, it is generally a feeling of guilt and disgust, especially if it is done in excess.

But what about people who view porn, just not regularly? Let me be upfront about this and tell you that while you may say you know this, sex in real life is nothing like pornography. “Of course I know this”, people tell me. All of my friends tell me they know this. But is this true? I really doubt it. No one knows what they don’t know. If you have never had a sexual experience, how do you know whether or not something is real? A woman’s body does not look anything like it is shown in those films. And I do not mean the size and shape, I even mean the texture and the clothing. And this is true for the men as well. The reactions are also extremely fake, and what a woman might enjoy in bed are also screened and scripted. It is not a huge exaggeration to say that every person is different, and has different tastes, and this is generally not something that porn really keeps into account. Objectification is a real issue, and nothing is more objectifying than turning the woman into an item of sexual pleasure. This extends into real life when people (not just men) make comments about a woman’s body parts in their own right. “Her legs are hot,” or “Her breasts are large” or “The shape of her ass is weird”. I am sure you have had heard someone make comments like these before.

Not just this, I know way too many people who have used porn as means for sex education because apparently that is just not something that young adults should be taught when they are teenagers. There are major misconceptions of people regarding sex even in college, and the only place they can solve this is from pornography. I wish there was a sex education column or a club in college which might help people understand sexual urges in a better way. A lot of students need this to get their questions answered. But the truth is that our college even blocks sites on the basis of “SexEducation”, so this concern is definitely legitimate. The recent debates about whether serious sex education should be a part of school curriculum will tell you how lightly our country takes the issue.

The truth is that it is not difficult to obtain hardcore pornography these days. It is a few clicks away. This means that everyone (especially post puberty) has seen some sort of porn in their lives (this may vary with gender). My point here is not that pornography is bad, or that it causes sexual harassment or even rape, but that it is not just an innocent production. Of course, there is different kind of porn available online, but all of it does feed into the unhealthy obsession of young teenagers for sex and orgasm. Overall, it is not entirely a bad idea to refrain from watching any kind of porn at all. For encouragement, here is a success story from a subreddit that I have realized is a place of acceptance and understanding.

Reddit has an amazing community for people who are depressed, as well as for various kinds of addictions starting from gaming (another underrated addiction), to pornography. This is the link to their NoFap community, where different people (men and women) come with different goals (like not viewing porn, not masturbating, and even not having an orgasm at all) but a common agenda – to make the lives of themselves and their loved ones much better. As the story tells you, it is a more freeing experience than you might understand now. I’ve read very interesting anecdotes from people who have been either addicted to porn or are currently in that state, and a thing that also got my attention was the fact that they think that pornography is making them feel entitled to sex. As if it was a commodity that the person they are doing it with has to enjoy, because that is what porn tells them it will be like. The truth is, however, that the person in real life that they will eventually experience it with, will be a person in their own right, who has feelings and emotions and inhibitions about what they want to do. Before one can learn them, how is sex supposed to be a good experience? In fact, in reality, most first-time sexual experiences are a big let-down, because everyone expects to feel good, and they realize that the person they are with might be shy or refrained.

Regardless, I am subscribed to the NoFap community simply for the heart-warming success stories that people share. Most of them have to do with healing relationships with their spouses, immediate family and even their friends. The benefits and the goals vary from person to person, but NoFap has made me see pornography in an entirely different light. And I hope that other people will agree with me on this eventually.

The Default

I have been asked why I take so much offence at everything more times than I can count on my fingers. Close friends have asked me this, and it is a question that has, in its own nature, made me feel quite uncomfortable, and I have had to ask myself whether I have had the justification to raise questions regarding thoughts that deeply unsettle me. One instance of this question came up when I was slightly critical of a play that I saw being performed in college, and my friend asked me why I couldn’t just leave the sexism aside and just enjoy the comedy. I will come to this later.

I also recently came across this video. Although this video has very low production value and is quite poorly made, what came across to me was the exceptional presence of women on the screen. I am hoping people reading (and watching) this will feel similarly. This parody trailer made me realize that the overbearing presence of women on screen like this is not what audiences may be used to, even if the audience is a feminist who tries as hard as she can to not attribute characteristics to either gender. Every time we see more than a few women on screen talking, it is different and gives it a feel of a romantic-comedy (‘chick-flicks’), while this is seldom noted when the same thing happens with men. It is normal to watch men interacting on screen, but not women. No wonder so many movies fail the Bechdel test.

This is not to say that the Bechdel test is a test to disregard a film, but it is evidence to a much more compelling problem in media today. This is true especially for Indian cinema, where there is glaring difference between how actors of gender are treated. The female characters are commonly bland, uni-dimensional and mere plot devices, if not dancers in an ‘item-song’. Most movies have a male lead who is the driver of the story, and the female character is a device used to pleasure the audience gaze. The dancers (mostly major actresses of these times) use sexual suggestions to grab the attention of the audiences, and one may argue that this is just a healthy sexual expression, something that women have lacked in India for a long time now. But there are two responses to this:

  1. This healthy sexual expression is only done by these ‘item-song’ dancers; the leading women characters are still virtuous, virginal and coy. This tells us that even if there are women expressing their sexual interest, it is still not a desirable quality in a woman that you are supposed to admire. These women are nice and wise, albeit with some quirks. This is much unlike the leading men who have had areas of grey, and not just black and white. There is a dearth of what I call ‘imperfect women’ in the cinema today. For example, it is common to see a male pursue a female romantically in movies, but that kind of forthcoming nature is rarely seen from women.
  2. When an actress that I suppose is a decent actress does a role that has no value as such, it makes me want to take her less seriously, something that I don’t like doing, but is a personal preference. Amazing actresses have had still to do songs that appeal to nothing but the audience gaze. The song “Ram chahe Leela”, “Chikni Chameli”, “Shelia ki jawani” and many others solve no purpose other than for the movie and the song to sell. These are definitely things that the audiences prefer to watch, but this in itself should be a concern since there are talented actors (both male and female) who have to resort to bland musical performances to earn popularity. I would repeat again that this would not be a problem had there also been other kind of movies running mainstream. My only concern is, after all, a lack of variety.

Exceptions do exist. I suppose Queen handled the idea of a female lead extremely well. But, Indian cinema is based on the idea of escapism. India is dirty; show the audiences beautiful beaches which are spotless. Sex is a taboo to be talked of; show scantily clad women and resort to voyeurism. That said, the movies which do have female leads, them being female is a major selling point of the film, as if being female is a shift from the normal. Why is this so troublesome to me? I also watched this video a while back, too. The video is not flawless, the study more so, but it does reveal to us a worrying thought. That people will start to believe what media will tell them. It made me extremely sad to watch the video where kids as young as in the video, were falling trap to standards of “goodness” and “badness” in particular races. This is true for gender as well. For example, if a child sees that being virtuous and rejecting every notion of sexual interest by the innate nature of it is what a woman is supposed to do, that is what he/she is going to learn. Young girls will learn to inculcate these qualities, and boys will look for them in girls. Another example would be the lack of variety in superheroes. Most superheroes are male, and the female ones are generally an extension of the already existing. The female heroes that come to me from the top of my head are Catwoman and Wonderwoman. These women share the characteristics of being wise, intelligent and composed, while the male superheroes have a variety of characteristics, even being goofy. These are then the characteristics I assign myself, even though it is actually perfectly acceptable to be goofy and silly. This lack of variety is extremely evident in Indian cinema as I already mentioned.

You can look at the clothing sections for children, and the girls’ clothing is predominantly pink, red and purple, and the boys’ clothing is blue, green and yellow. There is a major difference not just in terms of clothing, but also in terms of toys. Building sets, car sets, train sets, even Legos are still marketed as boys’ toys, and dolls, baking ovens are still girls’ toys. And then we wonder why there are still less women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Gender behavior will guide us about what traits are admirable and what aren’t. I have anecdotal evidence too. A girl, someone who is intelligent and academically potent, told me that she did not believe that “girls were dumb” until she was narrated an incident by a male friend about a girl who did not know simple mobile phone operations. Or that when a male friend ordered green apple vodka, everyone else said it was a “girl’s drink”. Which brings me to my most important evidence; the play that I watched in college.

The play was a musical one, riddled with the idea of a guy in college trying to find a girlfriend for himself. It included the supposition that the Teaching Assistants pay more attention to the female students during lab hours, and not enough to the male students. A line that also stayed with me was when a male TA asked a female student why she had put curly braces (in a piece of code), she replies with a cloying, “But curly braces are so cute!” The stereotype blew me away; and to people in denial, I’d ask if there was any chance a line like that would have been given to a male student. Eventually, the said TA did find a girl to go out with (one of the students he was partial with), and when he asks her to be his girlfriend explicitly, she rejects him (which has since been perceived to be such a bad thing). This does also fit in well with the entire idea of males being “friend-zoned” by girls, as if sex and a romantic relationship was an entitlement.

I will not go into the details but the end of the play saw the line (in Hindi), “Girls are like jeans, and friends are like underwear. Even if the jeans come off, the underwear will save you from embarrassment.” The play made me angry; mostly because it made me feel alienated. There were several girls in the audience, and there was nothing in the play that I could relate to. They even claimed by the line subtly that girls and friends have to be mutually exclusive groups; a notion that made me feel even worse because I would like to think I have the ability to be a decent friend.

I have been told I was reading too much into the play when I confronted a few people with my thoughts, and I cannot deny this. I am truly reading into the play, but I do not regret it. I would have not have a gender related problem with it had it only been about relationships and sex, even so from the male’s perspective, since then the issue would not be about gender stereotypes. But that is not currently the case. The main issue here is that there is a severe lack of voice from the side of the women, and I wish I had the creative excellence to do something about it. But I know that even if I could, it would barely be popular simply because it is not something the audience is used to seeing. If there would be a female student pining for a male in just the same way as the play showed, there would be no question of how accepted that kind of behavior will be. The solution can only come from people making these plays, to try and bring a uni-sexual voice into the entire conception.

Wo-man has always been an extension of man. To be a man is the default, to be a woman is a defect. Hence when a woman is asking for equal representation in arts and media, it is asking for something that doesn’t exist by default, something that needs to consciously be provided. To finally clarify my position further, I would quote Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex:

“In the midst of an abstract discussion, it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know my only defense is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true’ thereby removing my subjective self from the discussion. It would be out of question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary since you are man,’ for it is understood as a fact that being a man is no peculiarity. “

The only way to battle this is to create a medium where it is not necessary to ‘leave your brains aside’ to enjoy a show, and to be critical is not undesirable, but a habitual reaction.