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7 Films, TV Shows & Books This Year To Prove Women Are Much More Than ‘Mere Muses’

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By Amrita Singh

Remember the time when movies used to glorify stalking and sexual harassment? When women were portrayed either as helpless, dependent or the hero’s arm candy? Thankfully, the depiction of women as inferior damsels-in-distress is reducing, albeit slowly.

With movies like ‘Queen’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘, 2015 took a huge step forward in raising awareness about gender issues and empowering the marginalized, especially on the pop culture front. A plethora of movies, books, and TV shows promoted equality and successfully integrated a feminist perspective in many. This year looks even more promising with more releases with strong female characters and relatable stories.

Here’s what 2016 has lined up for us!

1. Shonda Rhimes’ The Catch

Shonda Rhimes took the world by storm by being the first African-American woman to have ever created and executive-produced a Top 10 network series – ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. Her new production ‘The Catch‘, is the story of a professional fraud investigator (Mireille Enos) whose fiancé robs her. Like all other tough and professional leading ladies of Shondaland, what follows her betrayal is the story of her revenge and not just heartbreak. With shows like ‘Scandal’, ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ to her credit, we can safely expect a perfect combination of drama, unexpected twists and absolute brilliance from ‘The Catch‘.

2. Fuller House (Full House sequel)

Full House‘ -a popular TV show of the late 80s and 90s- was about a widower, Danny Tanner whose brother-in-law and best friend move in with him to help him raise his three daughters. In a time with nearly negligible understanding of gender equality and careless stereotyping, the TV Show had three men taking care of children and performing household activities that were considered by most as “duties of a housewife”—and in doing so, flipping gender roles. Fuller House is a time-leap into Full House but with a gender-flip. Danny Tanners’ eldest daughter DJ Tanner, a veterinarian will bring up three boys after being widowed. So we have a girl brought up by three men, raising three boys! Nostalgia, humour, and fun can be expected in this family show which will hopefully also question gender stereotyping.

3. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

lucy barton elizabeth stroutPulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s new book has multiple underlying themes, in the backdrop of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. Lucy Barton’s long-estranged mother comes to visit her in the hospital where she’s slowly recovering after an operation. During this period, Lucy reflects on her life: her impoverished childhood, her marriage, daughters and much more. Strout’s powerful narrative will weave through a complex and emotive journey from a troubled childhood into adulthood. Will Lucy Barton be able to shed the baggage and make peace with her past?

4. Innocents And Others by Dana Spiotta

innocents-and-others-Much like Spiotta’s last book Stone Arabia, ‘Innocents And Others‘ revolves around relationships and emotional conflicts. Meadow and Carrie, childhood best friends grow up in LA to be successful filmmakers. Both have contrasting views and methods in life, and one important similarity that overshadows their differences- their unconditional love for one another. Everything starts to fall apart when Jelly, a 41-year-old woman who seduces famous men by listening to them over the phone, enters the scenario. Set in the tumultuous film industry, the story revolves around the identity struggles of three very different women. It highlights the importance of accepting one’s limitations and recognizing ones strength.

5. Queen Of Katwe – Directed by Mira Nair

Internationally acclaimed director Mira Nair, who has been lauded for her depiction of the obstacles faced by those living in the fringes of society, is back with an upcoming biographical drama film, ‘Queen Of Katwe‘ —based on the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess prodigy. The plot follows Phiona’s journey from the struggles of living in a slum in Katwe to becoming the first titled chess player in her country’s history. Madina Nalwanga will portray Phiona and Academy-award winner Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, will play the protagonist’s mother. The intense plot coupled with a cast of immensely talented women, this film is sure to be a treat for all!

6. Sarbjit

Sarabjit Singh was an Indian national accused of being a spy and jailed by Pakistan’s Government. Omung Kumar, of ‘Mary Kom‘ fame, is directing a biographical movie on the same. Despite Sarabjit being the lead actor, the plot will revolve around his sister, Dalbir’s, various struggles to get him back home, her relationship dynamics with Sarabjit and his wife. The movie stars, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Dalbir, Randeep Hooda as Sarabjit and Richa Chadda as his wife.

Omung’s impeccable ability to exhibit the strength of a woman and distinguished actors is likely to make this film a hit.

7. Neerja

Even with Sonam Kapoor, notorious for her controversial statements, playing the titular role and veteran actor Shabana Azmi portraying her mother, the highlight of this movie is its inspiring story.

In 1986, Pan Am flight 73, with 306 people on board, was hijacked by four terrorists. Upon hearing about the hijack, the cockpit crew escaped, leaving Neerja Bhanot, a senior flight attendant, in charge of the flight. Though Bhanot ultimately lost her life at the hands of the hijackers, she succeeded in saving all the passengers and posthumously became the first female recipient of the “Ashok Chakra”, India’s most prestigious gallantry award. Neerja exemplified bravery not only professionally but also in her personal life. She got married at the age of 22 to a businessman living in the Gulf, and immediately after marriage, Neerja was pressurized for dowry. She refused to succumb to the demands of her in-laws, left the Gulf and became a flight attendant. Even though the trailer doesn’t mention her dowry case, it’s pretty enthralling and has further increased our already high expectations from the movie.

Women still, in majority of cinematic representation, continue to be portrayed as mere aesthetics and muses whose primary aim in life is to settle down with an “ideal soulmate”, who cares for them – implying the inherent need for protection. However, courageous women who battled sexism and refused to conform to gender roles are responsible for the ongoing shift in paradigm which has led to some refreshing changes that reflect the slow but positive transformation of our society. Recent movies like Gulab Gang, Mary Kom, English-Vinglish, Queen, Mardani, Dam Laga Ke Haisha, NH 24, Kahaani etc have portrayed women in lead roles covering the entire spectrum of genres – Cheers! As we see light at the end of the tunnel, there still are more glass ceilings to be shattered. One hopes that the increasing no of women writers, directors and producers will accelerate this transformation as well as challenge the inequitable status of women working within the male-controlled industry.

So there you go – 7 (and hopefully even more) reasons to look forward to 2016- with tough female protagonists, brilliant creators and goose-bump-inducing stories that promise to entertain!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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