Ms. Representation: Being a woman in cinema
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week it is about the female actors, and how we look at them, as a society.
This column has looked at portrayals of women on screen for a while now. This week for a change, I would like to look at actors, who identify as women, and how we look at them, as a society. And as an observer, consumer and to a large extent fan of the medium, and a feminist, my movie-watching experience has been exhausting as well as challenging. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for these intelligent women weaving their careers in a sexist world, in an industry that has made hundreds of crores making absurd portrayals of women its default position. Even as they dodge questions flung at them: ‘Are you a feminist’, sheepish 'no's, followed by uproar and sighs of relief, ‘What do you think of the Padmavati controversy?’ answered with ‘What difference does it make, what I think,’ at an event meant to honour a woman who’s breaking the glass ceiling. Even the ecosystem around cinema, click baits and Youtube videos, outrage manufacturing, etc., is built around daring women to take risks or say things that could cost them their careers.
It is already a path paved with all sorts of dangers. A woman venturing out of her home and a woman entering cinema, have indeed a lot in common. Lots of ‘warnings’ are given to both of them. Warning about men. And sometimes I wonder how men feel. That they are the cautionary tales women are brought up on and they are used to crush women, and their dreams. What do people think of cinema as a career option for women? It’s not safe. Where have women heard that before? Hint, see the second sentence of this paragraph. And if you ignore these warnings and proceed bravely to make a mark in your field, what are you offered? Equal pay and respect, you say? Ha. Think again. The amount of rumour-mongering regarding their personal life that actresses face is astounding. And it is far beyond the kind of things men do. In Mayaanadhi, the character Sameera, an actress warns her friend wanting to become an actor, ‘If you are unwell or have a fever don’t go to a hospital. They will say you had an abortion. Just ask the doctor to come home.’ It is a fact that women in cinema are at the receiving end of blatant misogyny, sexual assault, harassment, unwanted advances from men within and outside the industry, hostility, casting couch, and to top it all denigration and objectification.
The ‘Times Up’ movement that has gripped the US has been a long time coming. Time really is up for men who are making an entire industry ‘unsafe’ for women. Time really is up for women suffering in silence. I hope the conversations continue to trickle in from other cinema industries, like Hollywood and champion women’s right to exist with dignity in their chosen careers.