Free For All

No, Deepika Padukone didn’t 'get it wrong'

Many of the critiques target Deepika, reducing collective responsibility to an individual.  

Several of the criticisms levelled against the Vogue Empower campaign featuring Deepika Padukone are oblivious to the extent of hypocrisy inherent in them. In the digital space, where outrage and sensationalism draw in an unprecedented surge of readership and views, this hardly comes as a surprise. Many of the headlines, to begin with, targeted the popular female actor, reducing collective responsibility to an individual.

‘Deepika Padukone’s got it wrong’, a headline said. ‘Deepika Padukone’s powerful video: we beg to differ,’ was a popular daily’s slightly better, but hardly more reassuring a choice of title. And what is a rejoinder without an open letter? ‘Dear Deepika, Vogue’... one went. Perhaps Padukone’s name will bring in clicks? If the video lacked substance, and fixated on the repeated use of the word ‘choice,’ how are these criticisms a foil?

A consistent feminist argument was that the video focused on privileged women. That it was elitist. What they failed to see, however, is if the choices that even privileged women make are easy; if they are devoid of taboo or judgment. And the core message hardly loses relevance: respect.

Everybody has their own version of freedom and feminism, and it needs to be said, in different ways, many times, perhaps in cliches, and in unique ways. Feminism isn’t a one-size-fit-all.

The message that many came away with instead was: articulating the choice to have sex outside marriage is a promotion of adultery. Criticism has poured in for the shampoo ad-like hi-def video quality; the clichéd use of the female form and for semantics. Saying that one needs to have the freedom to choose to love a man or woman is offensive because one doesn’t have a choice in sexual identity. It is natural.

If the video is accused of being shallow, is this criticism particularly profound?

Feminism isn’t about establishing a hierarchy of gender-related problems. It is the continuous experience of a lack, and the lack has an infinite range to it; from the purely economic to the damagingly psychological.

What it means to be empowered is hardly static; it shifts, changes, is variable with circumstance. How can a single video, and an ad/marketing campaign at that, possibly encompass the many meanings of empowerment? Why is there this expectation, that every popular/mainstream initiative that attempts anything around gender be a comprehensive, near-academic treatise? While doing a sociological analysis of this ad campaign, one article said that the campaign doesn’t question the “structures that allow men to dominate our society. Emphasis on choice does nothing to dislodge male privilege.”

If this is the language of “educated criticism,” why is there an issue with the fact that videos like these are winning more brownie points than they apparently deserve. It is unfair to expect that a politics, expressed in a language suited to some, will resonate with everyone. And when a form of expression - as this video - however poor according to some, does resonate, there needs to be acknowledgement and contemplation as to why it found the acceptance it did.

Finally, it can’t be denied that labels such as Vogue, and industries like Bollywood have a dark history of objectifying women and being the contexts for harmful insecurities. But, if this video is an indication of how brands and industries have to evolve in order to sync with popular sentiment in the country, let this be seen as an attempt. It is a small break with their guilty histories.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 4:37:57 AM |

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