Sexism and Violence Towards Women in Media

This post is about societal sexism and violence towards women depicted by media particularly through the Bollywood movie Badrinath ki Dulhania. Trigger warning, I address sexual harassment in this post.

I’ve been on the edge for the past few weeks because I keep hearing, reading and seeing harassment and violence towards women in different forms. It’s just flat out uncomfortable. I’ve been lucky enough to not experience this personally during my time in Indonesia but other women–Indonesian and foreigners, are not so lucky.

Backstory

Kelly and I went to karaoke with university students and the song “A Little Piece of Heaven” by Avenged Sevenfold ended up on the playlist. Two people were singing this song as a really graphic cartoon video played on the screen. In the video, the man proposed to this woman, she rejected him and to get revenge, he murdered her. He then proceeded to rape the corpse and eat the heart at candle-lite dinner…. I’ll leave it there, but take my word for it, the rest of the video was disgusting, psychotic and alarming.

Kelly and I were so disturbed that we needed some air. Maybe the students didn’t know what that song meant…either way, we were freaked out. This took violence towards women to another level…

How many times have we heard about a women who rejected a man and ended up abused or even dead? One too many times.

The next day, Kelly and I went on a movie date. We went to see Badrinath Ki Dulhania. I usually don’t watch Bollywood movies because they’re so long and also have a lot of BS in them that I don’t agree with but this one looked harmless. The title translated to Badrinath’s Bride and it was supposed to be a romantic comedy so I didn’t think  much of it when I bought tickets.badrinath-poster-story_647_013017110722

Badrinath Ki Dulhania Summary

The below contains spoilers for the movie Badrinath Ki Dulhania. Feel free to jump down to my analysis.

Right off the bat, the movie mentioned Indian society’s preference for the birth of boys versus the birth of girls in the family. It’s a sad truth that I’m glad they mentioned. (It’s prevalent in most societies for different reasons. It even exists in American society where someone will feel bad for the family if you tell them you have 3 daughters.)

The movie mentions the family–patriarchal father, obedient older brother who listens to the father, silent mother and silent sister-in-law. More stereotypical characters. Badri (Varun Dhawan’s character) is also introduced and you instantly get the handsome, rich boy-who-does-whatever-he-wants vibe.

During Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt’s character) and Badri’s “meet-cute”, Badri says something sexist about women’s empowerment while Vaidehi was just trying to ask the men to come into the party hall to eat dinner.

Badri is enchanted by Vaidehi’s rebellious nature and beauty and automatically decides he wants to marry her. Typical Bollywood crap right there.

Badri then shows up at her university with his friend, Somdev and starts spewing about how fabulous, great, and rich he is. Vaidehi literally does not care. She’s like, “Uh dude, I don’t want to marry you…get off your high horse.”

Another day, Badri and Somdev then follow Vaidehi onto a bus demanding her hand in marriage AGAIN! A man overhears what’s happening and tells Badri to leave the girl alone. Badri gets violent with this man, twice. He pushes the man down while the rest of the bus looks on. Vaidehi is a badass and handles it well. She tells him off and humiliates him in front of the whole bus with a few sharp questions. With a wounded ego, Badri retreats and is comforted by his friend Somdev but is also totally shocked a woman dared to put his entitled ass in place.

The movie shows Vaidehi as a smart character who has her own dreams and wants her own independence. She hates the dowry system, sexism and suffocation she feels in her hometown.

Fast forward a bit, Vaidehi and Badri get to know each other more because she needs his help to find a suitor for her older sister. Of course, they “fall in love”. However, Vaidehi flees right before she’s supposed to get to the alter.

It’s obvious that she agreed to marry Badri for her own personal gain. You can see that she might be falling for him but as she escapes, it’s clear that her career matters to her more right now.

His family is furious and Vaidehi’s family is embarrassed. Badri is heartbroken and is having a hard time coping. He’s taking his anger out in violent ways on innocent people.

Fast forward again, we find Vaidehi in Mumbai. She calls her parents to say hello and tell them she got a job as a flight attendant. Her father refuses to talk to her and mother wants her to come home. Her parents tell Badri’s parents that she’s in Mumbai.

Badri’s father then demands that Badri go to Mumbai to bring Vaidehi back so he can have her publicly hanged to make an example out of the her. The father makes it clear that a girl who defies and makes a laughing stalk out of the Bansal family will pay for her mistake. Everyone–mother, sister-in-law, older brother and Badri look horrified. No one says anything but the father says that if Badri doesn’t do it, he will send someone else to kill her. HELLO, WHAT THE HECK?!?!?! NOT OKAY.

Badri and his friend Somdev go to Mumbai and find out Vaidehi is training for her job in Singapore. They end up in Singapore and kidnap Vaidehi in the night. They forcefully throw her in the truck and speed off. Vaidehi is in the trunk crying and begging them to let her go. She says that they won’t get away with it. Badri pulls over abruptly and pulls her out of the trunk to verbally assault her and threaten her for threatening that he won’t get away with his…yeah. He makes a big deal about his broken heart and how he’s a nice guy blah blah.He starts vomiting vitriol at her and also says some more alarming violent things. Just as he puts her hands around her throat in a choking matter, the police show up.

At the police station, a woman police sergeant questions what happened. Vaidehi lies and says nothing happened. The sergeant is suspicious but eventually lets them go with a warning.

For the next few days, Badri and Somdev continue to stalk Vaidehi at her apartment, workplace and more. For some reason, the producers of this movie thought it was a good idea to play slow heartbreaking romantic music while he was stalking her…

Badri starts causing scenes all round Singapore by being loud, violent, rude and flat out ridiculous. He slapped his friend, got violent with security at Vaidehi’s workplace, and also tried to drown his friend while simultaneously trying to apologize. Like what???

Anyway, Badri later gets drunk, drives over to Vaidehi’s apartment complex and ends up fighting the old security man. The police end up taking Badri and Somdev away and Vaidehi bails him out with her own money. She takes them back to her apartment and tells them to stay out of trouble because the police seized their passports.

GIRL, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? He’s not your responsibility!!!!!

Badri later has another violent outburst with an innocent guy who he thinks is seeing Vaidehi. It’s actually Vaidehi’s roommate’s boyfriend who played a big role keeping Badri out of jail. Badri then goes on to lecture Vaidehi by saying that this is not who he is and that her leaving him is the reason he’s turned violent.

Badri then randomly gets sexually assaulted in an alleyway by a gang of men in masks who rip his clothes off and I think, inappropriately touch him. It’s unclear but weird.  Vaidehi and friends come to save him. He looks hurt and confused but eventually everyone starts laughing…which is not okay because any sort of sexual assault is NEVER funny.

For the next few days, we see Vaidehi and Badri playing nice. They are going out around Singapore with friends, having fun and falling in love….GAH. VAIDEHI, DON’T DO IT. HE’S ABUSIVE!!!!

He sees Vaidehi in her element at work and suddenly has an epiphany. “Oh wow! She’s really good at what she does! She’s dedicated to her job and making something of herself!”

She even says something along the lines of she wishes she could be the perfect son for her parents and Badri says something like “you don’t need to be the perfect son because you’re already an amazing daughter.” OHH HE IS SO SINCERE. Yeah okay, cute Badri, you fooled her but you didn’t fool me. 

Badri eventually has to go back to India but doesn’t say good bye to Vaidehi. Back in India, Badri lies to his father and says he didn’t find Vaidehi and father again says that he’ll have to send someone to finish the job…

Next thing, there’s a pooja ceremony for Badri’s sister-in-law because she is expecting a child. Apparently this ceremony will please the Gods so they give the family a baby son instead of a daughter. (Yes, this is exactly how it works! Silly me for thinking biology was real…)

Badri is drunk at this ceremony and tells a bunch of people off including his father. Of course, he’s still not thorough enough. Vaidehi shows up and they profess their love for each other and they later get married.  

The daughter-in-law eventually gives birth to twins–one boy and one girl. The now grandfather apparently loves both kids equally and plays with them all the time now that he’s retired. Vaidehi goes on to open her own flight attendant school in their own town.

The movie then shows the daughter-in-law (who was actually the brains behinds the father’s business and the reason it grew so much when the older brother took over) getting her own space in the office.

alia-bhatt

Reasons Why This Movie is Toxic:

1. Chauvinistic Behavior and Patriarchy- Most of the male characters displayed chauvinistic behavior through their words, actions and straight up violence. Male characters, specifically Badri and his father, act like the world revolves around them and that women are only there to serve and be married off. This entitlement over women’s bodies is seen in many forms throughout the movie. Badri’s father and another character’s father make a big deal about getting dowries from the bride’s families which are illegal in India. (I could go on forever about dowry because it’s up there with some of the most ridiculous garbage the patriarchy has spit out but I’ll leave it here.) Sexism, socially and culturally, are deeply rooted in Indian history and our world’s history. The stereotypes in this movie were intended to be funny but some of it just went too far. It wasn’t funny. Also, there is some mansplaining that goes on in this movie and for lack of a better word, this Badri dude is a total fuckboi. 

2. Silent Women Some women in society are still silent due to their own personal situations which I understand. The women characters portrayed in this movie found happiness in their own environment which is great but no one broke out of the sexist cycle. They settled. They didn’t need to be as rebellious as Vaidehi to make a statement but they could have been better allies to her. I was upset when Vaidehi’s older sister told her to face her reality by just getting married and dealing with it. Also, why didn’t anyone make it known how smart the sister-in-law was?!? She was a secret brilliant badass!!!!

3. Harassment and Violence Towards Women- Badri’s attitude, words, and actions were UNACCEPTABLE. What he was doing was harassment. If a person threatens your life, throws you in a trunk, almost strangles you and stalks you, they are an abuser. (The movie even romanticized stalking!!! NOOOO. NOT OKAY!!!!) Also, Badri’s father says that he wanted to make an example out of her and publicaly execute her in front of the whole town. WHAT THE HECK?!?! In reality, if Vaidehi was a real person, she’d be dead by now. I am serious. Stuff like this happens to women around the world everyday and they end up dead. I don’t care that this is a romantic comedy. I’m mad that harassment and violence were taken so lightheartedly. Badri faced minor consequences for his actions…

4. Anger and Violence- Regardless of how mad or sad or whatever you are, it is NEVER acceptable to hit someone or act violently. Badri did this multiple times–to a man on a bus, another man in the movie, Vaidehi, Somdev, Vaidehi’s roommate’s boyfriend and multiple security guards. He was not reprimanded properly for his behavior either. This dude couldn’t control his anger and actions. He acted like a child and should have known better.

5. Guilt Games- Vaidehi felt guilty for what she did but she kept adding more blame on her shoulders. She lied to the police for him, bailed him out of jail, let him stay at her place, cooked for him and more. I think she also was developing a degree of Stockholm Syndrome for Badri. SHE KEPT TRYING TO SAVE HIM! WHY?! Let him rot in jail! It could have cost her her job to help him but she risked that for Badri. Maybe she thought he could change? Also, Badri further guilted Vaidehi. He kept talking like the world revolved around him and acted like Vaidehi is the reason that he’s been acting so violently. Um no, you’re a grown man. You have power over your own decisions. Vaidehi did not force you to be violent…that’s not her problem. It’s yours. Blaming her is victim blaming.

6. Abuser Changes After Falling in Love- GIVE ME A BREAK. Apparently Badri had an epiphany after seeing how happy Vaidehi was in Singapore. All of a sudden, he believes that women deserve equality, etc. Yeah, overnight changes don’t happen. If he’s pushed you down the stairs once, there’s a good chance that he’ll do it again. There is little to nothing he can do to redeem what he’s done. Drop him like a hot potato. I don’t believe in cutting an abuser slack. His actions spoke way louder than his words.

7. Mixing up the Heroine with the Hero- It’s great that at the end of the movie Badri is now down for women’s empowerment but I’m mad that his words at the babyshower-pooja at the end were portrayed as some sort of heroic deed that deserved praise. Badri is not a hero and isn’t worthy of praise. At the end of the movie, Badri did claim that he loved Vaidehi and whatnot. He stood there ultimately letting Vaidehi have this thing that SHE worked hard for. HOW RUDE. “Oh yes! Vaidehi can work and do whatever she wants because it’s 2017!” Well uh, thanks but she doesn’t need your approval or anyone else’s either. Also, the way he addressed his father at the end was weak and unconvincing.

8. Strong Woman Settling- I am deeply hurt that a strong, independent woman who can obviously hold her own succumbed to loving her abuser despite all the red flags. She deserves better. Did she settle by coming back to her hometown and opening up a flight attendant school? I’m not sure but what I do know is that she deserves way better than a man like Badri.

9. Romantic Comedy Failure- There is a time and place for comedy. Parts of the movie were funny and there were subtle jokes. The movie had a lot of places to make this movie more comical but it’s ridiculous to present harassment and abuse so lightheartedly under the guise of confusion and love literally cancelled out the humor in this movie. Satire used correctly can really break down walls but in this movie, it was just used incorrectly and insensitively. Badrinath Ki Dulhania failed on most accounts of Romantic Comedy…”good try” producers. You missed a really great opportunity to set things right. 

10. Twitter & Social Media- I’ve read tweets talking about how people haven’t seen a more romantic story! The chemistry between the actors is great! We’re so glad they fell in love. Sigh. Abuse isn’t romantic. A twitter user even accused me of being too harsh for calling Badri a stalker and abuser. WHAT THE HELL?! Please read points 1-7 again if you don’t see why I’m mad about this. Women get called crazy and all sorts of nasty things but when a man gets called what he actually is, everyone is so eager to give this man the benefit of the doubt. MUST BE NICE.

Changes to the movie that would have sent a stronger message to viewers:

1. More Strong Women- Vaidehi was great for the most part but if she had a supporting sister, mother or a friend, it would have made a stronger point that women need to stick together and stand with each other.  Vaidehi’s roommate and boss characters had a lot of potential for growth that would have displayed allyhood and women’s empowerment.

2. Woman Police Sergeant- This sergent should have taken Vaidehi into a side room and questioned her away from Somdev and Badri. She should have addressed domestic violence as a serious thing and emphasized that her safety mattered more than keeping the other two out of legal trouble.

3. More Men Willing to Stand Up for Women- Badri’s best friend, Somdev was displayed as a lovable goofy character but he too was sexist, rude and instigated Badri’s violence towards Vaidehi. Badri’s brother, Alok seemed reasonable and kind but he was a coward who didn’t even stand up for his wife. His character could have done a lot more to help this fight against sexism. It would have simply started by him saying NO to his father. Men need to be allies in this battle against sexism too. This means shut down your sexist friends when they say stupid things.

4. Vaidehi Not Marrying Badri- A stronger message would have been sent if Vaidehi did not fall in love with Badri and marry him. Her action would have said “Hey girls, you deserve better. You deserve a man that puts you first and will stand up to his family for you if they’re in the wrong. You deserve a man who doesn’t stalk, abuse, threat, kidnap or hurt you. You don’t need a man like that.” Throughout the second half of the movie, I found myself praying that Vaidehi would not fall for this guy and marry him. Sigh, she disappointed me. This ultimately just said, “Hey girl, if you’re in an abusive relationship, stick it out! Things will get better! He will change!” SORRY BOLLYWOOD. THIS STUFF DOESN’T FLY IN REALITY. I will repeat, many women in abusive relationships are harmed multiple times or even end up DEAD. Bollywood should know better than to send messages like this. If Vaidehi didn’t marry Badri, this movie would have served as a good example to women in abusive relationships and provided hope to survivors of domestic abuse. 

5. Standing up to the Patriarchy- Vaidehi said a lot to make moves for women’s empowerment but her character could have been more assertive with her phrasing. She did call Badri out for his nonsense a few times but it needed more fire. I would have LOVED to see her or Badri’s mother tell Badri’s father off. This is where the writers of this movie failed. They didn’t stand firmly on either side. Yeah, it’s great they wanted to get it out there that these things happen to women and showed Vaidehi as a Jhansi Ki Rani type but they shouldn’t have half-assed it. Vaidehi and other women like her deserve better.

Conclusion

This movie continues to show us why feminism matters. EQUALITY. It’s 2017. We are still struggling to gain equality.  

As an American woman who is ethnically Indian, I know where my privileges lie. I know that the realities Vaidehi and other women around the world experience might not ever affect me. The litany of terrible things done to abuse, exploit, harm and erase women has grown too long. It hurts to watch this. Women of privilege can’t sit around in their bubbles of comfort. Our sisters deserve equality.

I’ve read a lot of literature on women’s struggles. I’ve heard my own friends tell me their personal stories about rape, sexual assault, unwanted touching, name-calling and violence from around the world. Just this week, I’ve seen articles about the Marine nude photo scandal, a well-dressed man looking like he was assaulted the little girl statue on wall street, sex trafficking in South Asia and the black market operations where people sedate sex workers to steal their skin and organs.

IT’S UNACCEPTABLE. These examples are all DISTURBING. The underlying theme in all of these situations is lack of respect towards women. I’m furious. The world just celebrated International Women’s Day too….

I was really fired up about this and I just needed to vent it out in this post. Kelly and I talked about these issues over pizza in the Ciputra World Mall. I’ve watched too many movies and seen real life situations where women get the short end of the stick and are treated unfairly  while the men get away with too much. Our society and realities are reflected and also affected by what people see in the media. By normalizing the sexism and violence towards women in these movies, the media is showing the world that it’s okay to treat women like that. I’m disgusted by all of it.  I expect better from the media and society and we need to hold people coming out with their movies to higher standards. We need more women in powerful roles. We need more supportive allies. We need open conversation about these injustices and condemn words and actions of sexism and violence TODAY.

Some people are making a change and pushing for progress like this awesome dad:

View this post on Instagram

“When we had our son, a lot of people congratulated my wife saying, ‘you can relax now…you have a son in the house’ and my wife and I laughed at their mentality but realised that this is how people still think. I was overjoyed that I had a son, but I knew I wanted to raise him right. It’s okay if he cries and if he shows his emotions — my wife and I are constantly telling him that crying doesn’t make him any less of a man. We teach him to respect girls as equals and even in little things like a game of football or cricket to not make fun of them — that’s where it all begins. Just the other day at the park, they were playing football and right before this small girl was about to kick the ball, a boy shouted — ‘don’t kick like a girl…we’ll lose’ and everyone began to laugh. That small girl looked so shaken, but before anyone could say anything my son went upto her and said, ‘kick like a girl…that’s how we’ll show them how to win!’ and I promise you, that girl was beaming — she played like a real rockstar. As a father, I felt proud because the boys we raise today are the men of tomorrow. Everyday we hear things about women empowerment and feminism but I’m trying to teach my son that women don’t need to be empowered— they already are. By trying to empower them, we’re proving that they’re weaker and need us to help them. Truth is, women are ready to rule the world as is…all they need is the world to be fair to them —to give them the respect they deserve…whether it’s at home, at work or out on the streets.”

A post shared by Humans of Bombay (@officialhumansofbombay) on

We need more of this. Empower. Educate. Elevate. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.  

Also, yo Bollywood, if you need a writer who isn’t afraid of expressing herself and is willing to say what needs to be said, hit me up.

 

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