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The Cinematic Sexism: Glamour fades when reality strikes

Cinema, an industry we presume to be progressive and open-minded unlike most of the other professions. A platform that is inclusive of all forms, sorts and types. An industry that would set a standard for society, outlines behaviours, attitudes in terms of beauty, and acceptance. A profession or say reels that would channelise the society to push forward. However, if you adhere to the same thoughts, I would suggest contemplation and deep introspection.

Cinema isn’t the epitome of social and cultural ideality and people engaged in the business tend to abide by the same norms as the rest of the society. It ain’t ideal, it is disrupted and has cracks and holes like the rest of the society. It swells on the same focal social issues which the society has to endure at large; needn’t be idolised and romanticised. 

‘Sexism’ is any expression (act, word, image, gesture) based on the idea that some persons, most often women, are inferior because of their sex.

Sexism is harmful. It produces feelings of worthlessness, self-censorship, changes in behaviour, and a deterioration in health. Sexism lies at the root of gender inequality. It affects women and girls disproportionately.

Sexism is present in all areas of life. A report released by the Human Rights, Council of Europe reads about the condition in European Countries which is deemed as developed but lacks upholds the age-old prejudices. 

-63% of women journalists have been confronted with verbal abuse.

-Women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid housework (OECD countries)

-Men represent 75% of news sources and subjects in Europe

-In the UK, 66% of 16–18-year-old girls surveyed experienced or witnessed the use of sexist language at school

-59% of women in Amsterdam reported some form of street harassment

-In France, 50% of young women surveyed recently experienced injustice or humiliation because they are women

-In Serbia, research indicates that 76% of women in business are not taken as seriously as men

Individual acts of sexism may seem benign, but they create a climate of intimidation, fear and insecurity. This leads to the acceptance of violence, mostly against women and girls.

Sexism affects mostly women. It can also affect men and boys when they don’t conform to stereotyped gender roles. The harmful impact of sexism can be worse for some women and men due to their ethnicity, age, disability, social origin, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or other factors.

From developed nations to progressive professions, the status of women is no different from in any arena we read about. Women in the Cinema industry have often been asked about when they are “settling” in their life vis-a-vis the question of the future strategies from their male counterparts. 

The “ settling” of an actress revolves around her marriage and starting a family. Such red carpet encounters of actresses with journalists just a click away on google or youtube. The anguish is lamented on the actresses by a question like when you’re going to get married?

The lack of congruity between genders can be drawn from the fact that the most prestigious and grandest of film festivals just had two women who have ever won an Oscar for best director, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009 and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland 2021. 

From Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Stone to Meghan Fox, several actresses have spoken and re-encountered their own experience to give a glimpse of the vulturous mentality that penetrates within the glistening industry.

From left to right- Emma Stone , Mila Kunis and Jennifer Lawrence

During a December 2019 Rolling Stone interview, Emma Stone, the Oscar-winning actress revealed that some of her well-received jokes have been taken from her and given to her male co-stars, leaving her with material that landed flat.

“I hesitate to make it about being a woman, but there have been times when I’ve improvised, they’ve laughed at my joke and then given it to my male co-star. Given my joke away,” she said.

Stone continued, “Or it’s been me saying, ‘I really don’t think this line is gonna work,’ and being told, ‘Just say it, just say it, if it doesn’t work we’ll cut it out’ — and they didn’t cut it out, and it really didn’t work!”

“If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life. And this is Billie Jean’s feminism, and I love it — she is equality, man: equality, equality, equality,” Stone said.

In 2016, the “Black Swan” star Mila Kunis wrote an open letter in A Plus Magazine saying that she’d been “insulted, sidelined, paid less, creatively ignored, and otherwise diminished based on my gender.”

Refusing to be “complicit” any longer, Kunis spoke up about having a producer threaten that she’d “never work in this town again” if she didn’t pose semi-nude on a men’s magazine.

In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, Emma Watson used numbers to show how male-dominated the industry is.

“I have experienced sexism in that I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women,” she said. “Of the producers I’ve worked with, 13 have been male and only one has been a woman.”

The situation is no different in Bollywood, or rather more grim in a country which is dealing with its own sets of prejudice, and preconceived norms. Many Bollywood actresses have been vocal about the prevailing sexism prevalent in the industry.

The actresses are more of a decorative prop in all major film industries in India. If there is a hero, he is at the forefront; an actress’s role is surrounded mostly around the character development of the actor. From Sholay to Bang Bang, the women in trouble will be saved by her Prince and the identity and character of the actress often get lost in the muscle display of the leading actor. 

Where one hand, the country laughs at the ‘sexist jokes’ and Kartik Aryan’s rant about his girlfriend in ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama’ and hailed Emran Hashmi for being a ‘good kisser’ in his movies, unable to digests when movies depicts female roles as more bold and blunt than just usual showpieces.Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma role in ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ narrates about women’s aspirations or desire.  Not just unacceptance, the movie also courted controversy for its topic was seen in a bad light. 

From left to right- Vidya Balan, Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkana Sen Sharma

Film and theatre artist Ratna Pathak Shah, notably known for playing a role of an widow who has fallen in love with a much younger swimming coach in  ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ actress blamed the country’s popular media for representing women in a stereotyped way and said any unconventional story about women’s aspirations or desire is still not well accepted, a media report said. 

“The women in the country have always been represented as the Sati or Devi (the goddess). There was no exploration of the woman as a person. If we can put out the idea of women as epitomes of sacrifice, It is sold everywhere in India and the popular art is particularly guilty of that,” she claimed.

There has been numerous instances where actresses has raised the issue of gender discrimination previaling in the industry that most of time goes unnoticed. 

Dia Mirza, an advocate of women rights recently opened about ‘rampant sexism’ in the Bollywood industry that is ‘dominated by men’ and even revealed that her first Hindi film ‘Rehnaa Hai Teree Dil Mein’ has ‘sexism in it’.

She conceded that it was crazy for her to work with people who were writing, conceiving and creating sexist cinema. Citing examples, she further revealed several sexist things about the industry like how a makeup artist could only be a man or a hairdresser had to be a woman who opens about the paradigm of the glittery cinema industry. 

Lately, Vidya Balan, while promoting her film Tumhari Sulu, revealed in an interview how she faced sexism early in her life. “The film industry has been really nice to me. I’m quite head-strong. But I think it can really be sexist. In the initial phase of my career, I did face a fair amount of sexism. I used to be really angry about that,” she told ANI.

“I was told he has been given dates, so you have to work around them, but I was never asked like that. The male actor would always get a bigger van, a bigger hotel. People would always say, ‘do you need to listen to the story?” she added.

The subtle sexism that objectifies women bodies is neither new in the glamour industry. In the infamous case, the country’s renowned newspaper tweeted a photo of Deepika Padukone from an event with the caption: “OMG! Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show.” To which Deepika gave a benefitting reply, “Yes! I am a Woman. I have breasts and a cleavage! You got a problem?” She, thereafter published a Facebook post demanding respect for all women, sending across a powerful message that women should not be objectified, even if they are celebrities.

Famous Bollywood filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, however, claimed that the condition of women in Indian films is changing. But he also accentuated the importance for men to come forward to put an end to the suppression of women in the society. 

“There was a time when the producers used to cut down the budget by 40 per cent in the case of a women-centric cinema, but now things have changed. I think we as an industry are coming more towards equality in terms of gender,” said Bhardwaj, who has made women-centric films like ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’, according to a Business Standard report. 

However, it is a problem that instead of ‘tokenism’ demands a real measure of change. “The importance of men coming forward” would help in the suppression of women in society till we cancel the gender norms constituted by society. Educating children and treating women as equal is the initial step the society must adhere to. 

Both the film industry, Hollywood and Bollywood have an obsession with the colour of the skin of their leading lady.

Hollywood’s prioritizing of paler skin over darker skin, and preference for presenting women in stereotypical ways. Similarly, Bollywood representation of skin colour is neither an inch progressive. It abides by the same notion of a fair, young girl that lingers in society. Whether Bollywood shapes the mentality or represents the mentality of the society in both ways it looms around the hollow ideals that shames women. 

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