Feminists have long found themselves in an untenable position: if we object to beauty contests, cheerleaders, item numbers — in short, if we object to the commodification of the female body, we find ourselves in the unsavoury company of the rag-tag brigade who whisk about the place closing down bars, arresting bar girls, banning sex education and demanding a fully covered cheerleader. These sinister champions of ‘our’ culture, in their attempts to control women, do not make for good company. On the other hand, supporting Valentine’s Day and cheerleaders goes against the grain. But support them we must, because the freedom and rights of women are at stake.
The demand that cheerleaders at the IPL matches be ‘properly’ clad is a case in point. Nobody wants to address some of the larger questions around this over-the-top spectacle. The opening ceremony had a blonde woman quivering soulfully, the camera lingering lovingly on her bosom. As the players set about what they have been paid vast amounts to do, the cheerleaders act as fillers.
The commodification of women’s bodies is an increasingly unfashionable subject to bang on about. The ‘gaze’ is no longer centred only on women’s bodies, you are told sternly. It is now centred on men, too like SRK’s six pack; Hrithik’s barechested shenanigans in Jodhaa Akbar. You don’t get to talk about Jia Khan in Nishabd who, as a perceptive critic pointed out, had her legs wide open throughout the film.
A columnist argued that the cheerleader debate was rubbish because this is the land of the Kamasutra etc etc. I’m tired of this line seeing as it constructs a mature, Golden age of Indian sexuality which was somehow wiped stamped out by the ‘Coming of The British’. The cheerleader makes a choice to become one. So does the item girl, and the girl in the advertisement. This debate is not about supporting choice or about attitudes towards sexuality. It is about deriving an income from women’s bodies. The cheerleader exists in that space, on the field, only to be looked at.
Fully clad or not, the cheerleader is to be consumed, piecemeal, by a willing audience and camera. The debate should be about people’s complicity in that enterprise.