Recently, a friend’s Facebook status read “We live in a world where porn stars can be easily accepted as actors and a rape victim can’t even be accepted as a person”. It had 21 ‘likes’ at the time when I saw it.
The allusion was to Sunny Leone and her recent Bollywood debut. What astounded me was the fallacy in the reasoning, the comparison drawn between two seemingly unrelated events and the causal link established between the two. Even if we were to go so far as to say that all events create a ripple effect ultimately influencing all aspects of society, the direction of the attribution was farfetched to say the least.
If the issue is objectification, mainstream cinema has no qualms about objectification. In fact, it pervades almost all forms of social media. If the issue is talent, we know all too well the diverse manifestations of “talent” that the film world has to offer. And these objectified products reach a much larger and uncensored population than, perhaps, pornography.
If anything, the recognition of a woman’s right to her own body and her awareness of her sexuality is an encouraging sign. Pornography thus could potentially change gender roles, legitimizing a woman’s right to pleasure, desire and experimentation through the acknowledgement of her consensual presence in the industry. The refusal to admit that a porn star would enter the industry of her own volition, the refusal to view the porn industry as a legit occupational choice is the refusal to give women agency. It’s a refusal to accept her right to her own sexuality.
The woman’s body as a site of exploitation exists because of this refusal to give agency and the widespread notion that a woman is and can be treated as merely a symbol of succession, wealth and family, and as an object of possession. It is the refusal to acknowledge self ownership that allows perpetrators to walk free and unscathed under the assumption that a woman is another’s property to be tossed around/allowed to change hands with no voice or consent of her own.
A right to oneself and a right to one’s body comes with the right to utilize it as one will, with the State’s continuing protection despite this freedom. For women, however, this freedom is afforded to them at the risk of losing this protection.
The comparison drawn reveals another threatening and dangerous train of thought. It suggests that a woman aware of her sexuality and in control of her own body would potentially endanger the security of all women by damaging the image/reputation of a “good” women.
Images of “good” girls/women pervade all aspects of social life implicitly or explicitly with stereotyped ideas such as “a (good) woman wants you to tell her she’s beautiful and not hot”, “a (good) woman wants to be your last not first” etc.
While some of these may not in themselves be harmful, in defining a “good” woman parameters for a “bad” woman are also implicitly set. The element of choice becomes negligent and women are robbed of the alternative to digress from the norm. Unless they want people to think of them as “bad” women, they must follow the rules. While the “good” woman must be treated with respect and protected, the “bad” woman then becomes the object of aggression.
The idea of a “good” woman then ultimately becomes that of one who needs protection, one who is the victim. While this may be an accurate description of a portion of traits of a portion of women in certain situations, it is by no means representative of all women. However, what the generalization of this image implies is that all those woman whose behaviours do not fall within the boundaries prescribed, are “deviant”. It implies that those in possession of their sexuality and socially aware of their individuality do not deserve the respect reserved for “good” compliant women and do not come under the purview of the protection provided to them.
What these images do, is create a dichotomy where none exists – that between a “good” woman and a “bad” woman. It thus creates a politics of exclusion where any exhibition of “undesirable” behaviour leads to negative stereotyping and such women eventually face ostracization.
It astounds me that empowerment and liberation come at such a high price and in such a contained package for women. In the process of defining a “good” woman, we also define a “bad” woman. What’s worse is that these definitions are then internalized by women creating a generation of clones with suppressed individuality. These then reinforce the existing set of rules and thereby strengthen them. The Facebook status in question is that of a female friend.
It’s almost a system of systematic identification and elimination of elements that threaten to destabilize the patriarchal structure and order of society. It becomes, then, not a fight for empowerment of women, but a fight for a specific kind of containment. Any deviance from the norm is quickly and unabashedly demonized. It takes on, essentially, the form of a quest to ensure the continued compliance of women within a supposedly “modern” and changing society so as to allow the patriarchal setup to exist undisturbed.