Last week, Vogue India released a video about female empowerment, entitled “My Choice.” The video starred Bollywood actress, Deepika Padukone and various Bollywood female entertainers, who spoke about various choices of womanhood and sexuality that many women are not in control of.
Since the video’s release, it has gone to divide millions in India and around the world, because of its stance on sex outside of marriage. Firstly, I’m amazed that this video has created such a furore, but given the current global context I’m not 100% surprised either. And secondly let’s be honest: it’s a fashion video campaign by Vogue. I don’t think that the masses were expecting featured quotes from Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem or Germaine Greer.
From a digital perspective it’s great PR for Vogue India; once again it’s proved that when social media flexes its biceps, you’d better run for the hills. In addition, it has opened up a can of worms and an opportunity for many to engage in discussions about aspects of women’s sexuality. This opportunity to create a discussion has been driven by the mere presence of this video. Even to all those who vehemently object to it, condemn it and hate it – including other high profile Bollywood actors – they are still driving the conversation by talking about it. So in a way, it’s all been very cleverly crafted.
On one hand, I credit Deepika Padukone for starring in this video and for being vocal about issues (such as depression and mental health) which often fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, I wish that a wider range of women had been used in the video as it felt constrained at times and that the current selection of actors contradicted the overall message of women’s empowerment being available to all. It also felt elitist and a bit plastic; I couldn’t help but think who was watching this video. People like me, who own a smartphone, can understand English well or have access to the Internet. This message wasn’t going out to the thousands of women and girls living in rural areas with very little access to power and basic supplies let alone a smartphone and a command of English.
I felt that the video was a start and not the final message.
According to an essay by Silverstein and Sayre (Harvard Business Review, The Female Economy, September 2009) women, as a global market, control $20 trillion in consumer spending. It’s an astounding statistic and many wouldn’t have guessed that the number would be so high. This is a really good – and short – essay by Harvard Business Review and is worth a Google as I only have it in paperback copy.
This monetary control occurs in an environment where women are paid less than men, as well as being in spaces where women’s bodies and sexualities are pitted against them in exchange for money to buy products that will ‘make the problem disappear.’ It’s a concept that we are all aware of and fall for. There’s been instances where I have bought a concealer that promises to hide my under eye circles, but actually exacerbates the problem in my head, and proves to be a waste of my time and my money.
While many argue that women’s empowerment is more than what we choose to wear, do with our bodies and live our lives, in today’s world, this sexualisation needs to be confronted when it comes to discussing empowerment. If we are going to be surrounded by hyper-sexualised imagery of women’s bodies, but have images of women breast feeding, menstruating or experiencing menopause banned, than that counts as part of the problem. We have a right to address these images, take back ownership of our stories and our bodies.
“My Choice” was a half decent attempt to usher in a discussion about women, their bodies and who really does control them. After all, this is something that many diasporic communities and the West are also starting to talk about. Who controls who and what is considered to be beautiful? Who decides on ideas of femininity and masculinity? Technically, that power belongs to individuals, but we are increasingly realising that we don’t actually possess that control. As more and more people, globally, are pushing for gender equality to be made universal in all arenas of life, I felt that the video was a start and not the final message.
Women’s empowerment is not a prescribed pill that will immediately solve all our problems at once. It begins within ourselves, it involves bringing men on board, it is about having the right to an education, to live in a safe environment, to enjoy childhood, to access water, electricity and basic infrastructure as well as having the right to be ourselves.