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Vulgar portrayal of women in media || Acharya Prashant, at AIIMS Nagpur (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): All the forms of multimedia — the film industry and the advertisements have presented images of both sexes which are very often unrealistic and debatable. The very quality of femininity has been portrayed in the film industry, ironically, as victims, as mere pretty faces and sidekicks. Why do you think women are exploited by the film industry and advertisements? And in spite of the visible female objectification, why do women let it happen to them, and what is the role of multimedia in gender bias?

Acharya Prashant (AP): We are talking about it as if it is a great mystery. There is a woman who agrees to be in the commercial advertisement for a men's safety razor. And there she is, half nude and dancing and inviting men to buy that safety razor. Don't you know how that happens? Don't you know the dynamics involved? She is being paid some money, that's it. And that's all that Prakriti cares for — food. You take care of my food and I'll do whatever you want me to do.

We are saying that media, including mainstream movies and commercial advertisements, insult women or that they degrade women, my approach always is — can anything happen to you without your consent? Is it really being done forcibly? No, it is not being done forcibly. If something is being done forcibly, why not fight it? What's the worst that can happen to you? You lose certain privileges. Extreme — you will lose your life. How is life in bondage worth living anyway? Please, tell me.

You look at a woman playing a very abominable role in a movie, let's say a Hindi movie. Did somebody coerce her? Was she made to dance at gunpoint? Was somebody holding a gun to her? No. It's an offer that she accepted and that offer, the tendency to accept that offer comes from mother nature. Don't you see how animals behave? Show them a little food and they'll come after you. Is that not the case in the jungle, please? As long as we continue to be animals, we will continue to be susceptible to greed and fear and insecurity, and such things.

It is pretty rich on our part, quite unbelievable to say that things are happening to us. No things are not really happening. They are happening to us with our consent. Make a lucrative enough offer and you get any actor or actress to do whatever you want him or her to do. Maybe there are a few exceptions, but that's all. And why does that happen? Because we live our biological selves. The biological self says — to have prestige, power, a lot of assets, food, security, gather a lot of material things. And that's what the purpose of life is.

We are being told that the purpose of life is pleasure. And pleasure can be bought, pleasure can be bought using money. So, if somebody comes to you and offers money for something, you'll have a tendency to accept that money. And if you don't accept the money, it is not because you don't want to accept the money. It is because, usually, the money is not big enough. Quote a big enough number and almost everybody can be bought. Where is the question of exploitation? Tell me, where is the question of exploitation?

But a person who realizes that pleasure and consumption are not the purposes of life, cannot be bought. I want girls and women to be that person — the person who gives two hoots to all kinds of temptations, the person who says, “I’d lay down my life rather than sell myself in any kind of marketplace.” We can be that kind of person. You have the power.

Why do we care for security so much? Why do we care for belongingness so much? Is there really a need? And don't we see the price that we pay for our internal weaknesses? So many women continue to live pathetic lives just because they can't walk out of their households. I ask them what is the reason, why they can’t walk out of the household. They say, “Oh, because we love our kids, because the family is to be maintained, because we have certain duties and responsibilities towards such and such persons.” I investigate deeper, and what do we get to see? There is insecurity. There are economic issues as ‘Who will feed me?’

Come on. Let's give it a try. We'll do something. Maybe you'll not get as lavish a lifestyle as you are currently enjoying in your decorated prison. Maybe you'll have to make do with far lesser, but come on, freedom is worth it. Is it not? I don't know, each of us has to decide for ourselves. What is the worth of freedom, you figure that out. And if you have much in life and not freedom, what do you have? Figure that out.

Q: We talked about consumerism. Whenever we buy something or whenever we consume something, it is basically a play of hormones. We need to feel good. We fall in love. Whatever gives us pleasure, they're all a play of hormones. So, if we give up consumerism, what would be the alternative?

AP: Is this question a play of hormones? This is the alternative. As a human being, you are the only species that can watch this play of hormones. That watching is joy itself. This is the alternative. Can you watch the entire thing happening? And then be in a powerful position to accept or reject it? This power is pure joy. Otherwise, you are just a slave to circumstances. What fun is there in that? Somebody showed you a pizza ad and your hormones got activated. You said “I want pizza. I want pizza.” You have not decided to buy that pizza. Somebody has forced you to buy that pizza. It's just that the force has not been exerted through a gun or muscle power or something. The other one is controlling you through remote control with a chip within your mind. So, you don't even come to know that you are being enslaved. There is no fun in that.

Q: Being liberated is being about conscious about it?

AP: When you say ‘being liberated’, obviously, there has to be somebody in bondage, right? Only then the word liberation has any meaning. Who is the one in bondage, first of all, figure that out. If you do not know how deeply you are in bondage, liberation will remain just a word, a good word, a nice word, but not a word you can give your life to. You can give your life to this word ‘liberation’ or ‘freedom’, only if you first realize that you are deeply in chains. That every part of you, every cell of you is a slave.

Q: Sir, for a very long time, we have been hearing that a woman is worshipped as the epitome of perseverance, strength, self-respect, sacrifice, and so on. Now my question is, there are situations when we see a woman has to jeopardize her self-respect and dignity and sacrifice for the sake of her family, especially in the case of abuse and harassment by her in-laws. So, my question is, should she do that or should she go for her self-respect and dignity? Because if she chooses either of the two, she has to face that stereotypic mindset of the society that has been entrenched for a long time. So, what do you think should be pivotal at this point?

AP: Why are you narrating this story of weakness?

Q: These are the two major examples.

AP: Why do we even need to talk of these examples as worth narrating? What do you mean by family? You are an individual, first of all, and if you have to have relationships, there has to be love and respect. What kind of relationship is that which entails oppression and insult? What kind of relationship is that? And if ‘family’ is the collective name for such relationships, why do you even need the family? Just because somebody is labelled as a relative therefore you have to be with that person, what nonsense is this? Love is great, respect is wonderful. But what is this oppression and humiliation in the name of relationships? Quit, right now. No second thoughts about that.

We are afraid, we are just afraid. The moment I say this, there is no nod of approval from your side. There is a silence of the stunned kind. I said, “Quit!”, and you are stunned. How do I quit? How is it even possible? If it is not possible, then you will have to bear the bondage constantly. Relationships are wonderful. Being with a man or a woman is great. But there is a condition to be met, right? Without that condition being met, how are you spending even one day with that person or persons? Just because there is a social contract and a legal thing? What is that? No family, no institution is bigger than the fundamentals of life. And remember the fundamentals of life, remember who you are. You're not born to serve the family, you are born for your liberation. And it's your liberation that's your greatest act of love towards others as well. If you really want to help the world, work towards your own freedom. Instead, if you say, “Because I have responsibilities hence, I am choosing slavery,” it is both stupid and self-defeating.

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