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Five gutsy women make powerful personal statements

They are fun, they are fiery, they are fearless, and they are feminists. Radhika Apte, Aalia Furniturewalla, Meghna Pant, Saloni Chopra and Sapna Bhavnani write on some important and relevant issues this Women’s Day

brunch Updated: Mar 04, 2017 23:47 IST
Radhika Apte

Aalia Furniturewalla, Sapna Bhavnani, Meghna Pant, Radhika Apte and Saloni Chopra speak up against misogyny and other demons

Radhika Apte on #nudity

These days, much is being said about heroines taking up ‘bold’ characters. Yes, it is heartening to see women in movies break away from the virginal angelic stereotype. But that doesn’t mean every woman character has to be ‘bold’. That again is a stereotype.

Also, being bold is not the same as being a strong person. What is important is to project a woman who is real: she can be shy or an extrovert, timid or loud, strong or vulnerable, a victim or a perpetrator. There are many dimensions to being a woman, and each needs to be explored. Also, going for a makeup-free look doesn’t make an actress bold, or the character she is playing any more real. The look really depends on the role. Glamorous women are also real women.

 Movies nowadays are giving real women a shot. The line between parallel cinema and the mainstream is blurring, and the audiences are becoming more open to newer ideas. It is great to see movies like Piku or Kahaani, both of which have women protagonists, do great business at the box office. If actresses can manage to keep pulling the audiences to the theatres, the perennial problem of the wage gap between male and female actors will eventually begin to close.

But we still have a very long way to go for that to happen. Today, if a hero gives a bad film, his fans still throng the theatres. But a heroine needs a strong script to get the audiences to pay for the tickets. 

 There is another positive change that has happened. Actresses today have become more vocal about social and political issues in real life. The roles they are doing are giving them the opportunity to talk beyond costumes, make-up and co-stars. So people are seeing a new breed of socially aware heroines.

 It will take society some more time to get comfortable with strong, outspoken women who have minds of their own. But you’ve got to do what you’ve go to do. I have always been an outspoken person and never really cared what society has to say about me or my choices. I was in a live-in relationship and my family was very happy with it, but some of the extended family thought differently, which is completely alright. That need not affect my decisions.

When some of my intimate scenes from Parched were leaked online, I learned about it while having breakfast with my husband. I was expecting this to happen anyway, and we both laughed it off. Why should people who don’t matter to me have a say in my life or my decisions? It is not about people’s perception of you, but about your own growth, both as a human being and as an artist.

Radhika Apte began her career with theatre and was appreciated in Badlapur, Hunterrr , Phobia and the short films like Ahalya and Kriti. She spoke unabashedly on nudity when intimate scenes from her film Parched got leaked online.

-As told to: Ananya Ghosh

Aalia Furniturewalla on #slutshaming

It’s no secret that I like to march to the beat of my own drum, but I’ve always tried to be sensitive in the way I do it. I always believed that as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone and my intentions weren’t misplaced, I could do anything. What I could never figure out was why being an autonomous, bold woman capable of making her own choices was such a big deal.

With social media being so big now, it’s easy to lose your real identity behind a sea of filters and hashtags. That didn’t change much for me. I loved being able to display my life, but I didn’t want it to turn into an elaborate facade either. So I tried to keep it as authentic as I possibly could; if I happened to take a nice photo while I was at a sleepover with a few of my friends and we were in pyjamas, I’d post it. The same way, if I was at a beach and I happened to get a nice photo in a bikini, I’d post it.

So when it became an unreasonably big deal, I couldn’t quite understand why. It didn’t matter whether people were commending me or berating me. The fact that posting a few harmless pictures here and there made me so “scandalous” made me laugh. So for a while, I fed it. I fed the metaphorical monster until it got fatter and more powerful. But there came a point where I couldn’t feed it anymore. It had started learning how to feed itself.

I realised that what I regarded as a “feminist issue,” was much more than just that. I realised that I was the ignorant one. Living half my life in Mumbai and half in New York had blurred a few lines for me, lines that are there for a reason. I questioned my own beliefs very often. I asked myself why I wouldn’t ever think of walking into a temple in shorts and a crop top, and the answer was very simple: It would make people uncomfortable and it would be disrespectful. That’s when it hit me that this frenzy I was stuck in had originated from a small seed of discomfort that kept growing. That discomfort was what I fed the monster, and that discomfort was what made it a self-sufficient creature that brands me. 

And so I’ve begun feeding another being. I will continue to be as authentic as I possibly can, but this time, I also want to be authentic within my culture and the place I call home. The kind of bold I want to be doesn’t feed discomfort. My confidence no longer has to feed off someone else’s discomfort, it just has to empower.

Pooja Bedi’s daughter Aalia Furniturewalla is an Insta-star who was slut-shamed over her pictures. She’s currently pursuing film and television studies from New York University.

Meghna Pant on #domesticviolence

In India, 33 per cent of women­­ – around 20 million women; almost the entire population of Australia – are victims of physical abuse. Take a moment to think about this. One out of every three women you know is hit by a man she loves and trusts! Worse still, according to UNICEF, 57 per cent boys and 53 per cent girls in India think a husband is justified in beating his wife!

The problem lies in our society. We ignore and even condone physical abuse. We tell women that violence is a private matter. We tell women to cover their wounds with make-up and sunglasses. We tell women to lie, to say that they walked into a door or tripped. We assume a wide distance between abuse and our own lives.

Worse still, we shame women who speak out. When yesteryear movie star Rati Agnihotri came out in public about her abusive marriage, she was judged and disparaged. She must have provoked him! It’s a publicity stunt! Why didn’t she walk out of the marriage earlier? Why would a strong woman like her endure her husband’s beatings?

We don’t shame the perpetrator or the crime. We shame the victim. And so, behind closed doors, the violence intensifies, protected by silence – everyone’s silence.

Bad secrets

Now I am a storyteller by profession. I live to express emotions. But when a man began hitting me nine years ago, I couldn’t talk about it. My few attempts ended in tears.

When I finally gathered the courage and wrote about my abusive relationship, I got an outpouring of messages from all over India. A dancer messaged me that her boyfriend broke her spine and she couldn’t dance anymore. A theatre actress told me her ex-husband had thrown her out of a moving car. An ex-classmate wrote that she was hit in both her marriages. There were many such women, and many such stories. All they wanted was to be able to talk about it to someone. It made my heart bleed.

It also made me realise that silence is the biggest crime against women. To speak of it is hurtful, but to remain silent hurts us more. The only way domestic violence can be stopped is if we speak out against it. 

First, let’s debunk some common misconceptions about domestic violence:

Educated women from urban families don’t get hit. FALSE. Women from all socio-economic strata are victims of abuse. Money does not buy you safety.

A woman is provoking the man or asking for it. FALSE. You can’t provoke a man into hitting you. An abusive man will hit a woman no matter what the reason is.

Modern women don’t put up with abuse. FALSE. The person who hits you is someone with access to you – a father, a lover, a boyfriend, a husband. When someone you love hits you, you go into shock, a numb denial. You wait for him to change. You want the abuse to end, not the love.

How to change it

Firstly, accept that you are in an abusive relationship. Your love will not stop a man from hitting you. Secondly, speak about it. It is a small but powerful step forward. Choose someone you love and trust: a parent, a friend, or a counsellor.

Remember that one punch or one kick could kill or paralyse you. If a man hits you once, he’ll do it again. Don’t rationalise his behaviour. Be honest. Be smart. Confront him. If he shows neither remorse nor change, end the relationship.

You may be afraid of being judged, scared to be alone. These excuses don’t matter. Be strong! Get out of the house. If you have children, take them with you. Stay with a friend or family, stay in a hostel. Go to a woman’s organisation or a social worker. Report him to the police. If you’re married, find a lawyer. The law under The Domestic Violence Act 2005 protects you.

Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that I’m still here. But I am. And I am laughing again. You will too.

An award-winning author and journalist, Meghna is the sister of stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant. Her bibliography includes The Trouble With Women, Happy Birthday and One And A Half Wife.

Saloni Chopra on #virginity

Around mid last year, I told you “my breasts are not my respect and dignity”. And I meant it. My boobs really aren’t holy or sacred. No woman’s are. Neither is our vagina. Then why all this undesired attention?

My grandmother used to tell me, back in the days when women got married, that after the first night (suhag raat), the mother-in-law would enter the room and look for blood stains on the white bedsheets. If they didn’t find any, either there had been no sex, or she wasn’t a virgin. If they found the stain, that was celebrated.

Back then, I guess, we didn’t realise that girls can break their hymens during sports, or via injuries, etc too. Today, we’re evolved and modern enough to know this. That’s why there’s no way you won’t find blood – oh no, instead, her parents themselves take her to get her hymen replaced. All these years later, we may have become advanced enough to figure out different ways she could’ve lost it and how to get it back, but to hurt the man’s ego by accepting she isn’t a virgin? That could take a couple more decades. 

When I first moved to India from Australia, I wondered how this whole country was expecting to raise young, educated, confident girls who would want to be astronauts and engineers, when they couldn’t even teach them to be comfortable in their own skin. How are these girls supposed to concentrate on their studies when during the years their bodies are changing, they aren’t educated about it? Girls don’t openly talk about periods. A girl must one day give a man the best sex of his life, but she dare not enjoy those orgasms. She must nurture, love, give life. But dare she live the life she’s been given! Wow. What a Goddess!

I fail to understand why women are judged on the basis of their virginity. Half of society judges her for not being a virgin, because you know, what a slut, while the other half judges her for still being one!

If she’s had sex, she’s characterless, she’s asking for it...damn, she’s easy. But if she hasn’t, she’s playing hard to get! I’ve been on both sides of the coin (yes, that means I’m no longer a virgin) and I can tell you for sure that my vagina doesn’t have a personality. My vagina isn’t kind, sweet, shallow, bitchy, arrogant, educated, talented, generous, or humorous. It’s me. Those are my traits.

So let us decide for ourselves and STOP judging us on the basis of our hymen. Judge us on our talents, judge strengths, passions and skills. Better yet, don’t judge us at all. 

A leading lady from MTV Girls on Top, Saloni Chopra is associated with Free the Nipple movement. Her Instagram campaign addresses issues like bra-strap shaming, physical abuse and virginity.

Sapna Bhavnani on #dressingup/down

It’s no secret that the fewer clothes you wear on social media, the more likes/followers you get. Although it’s visually appealing to see so many naked people on my timeline, it’s also very sad to see so many women/men fall prey to this sneaky advertising gimmick that convinces people that this is a sort of feminist movement.

Brands continue to objectify men and women, but now it’s under the pretence of ‘personal choice.’ As feminists, we fight for our right to wear what we want when we want. To see brands use that as a way to pimp their products is really shameful.

Don’t be a product of some media-fuelled revolution. Being comfortable in your skin has got nothing to do with taking off your clothes or keeping them on.

Celeb hairstylist and feminist, Sapna Bhavnani is known to have shared her story of being gang-raped at the age of 24. She recently spoke about being stopped from trying on a wedding dress because of her tattoos and shaved head.

From HT Brunch, March 5, 2017

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