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Romantic Movies Can Be So Sexist! Thankfully These 8 Aren’t

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By Amrita Singh:

Red roses, candlelight dinners and elaborate proposals are a few of the many romantic clichés that are time and again used in pop culture, especially movies. From Bridget Jones’ Diary to Sleepless in Seattle—romantic love in cinema is often unrealistically portrayed and reinforces gender stereotypes. But real life is far different from such representations: it doesn’t adhere to pop culture’s skewed depiction of masculinity or femininity (thankfully) and seldom has a happily ever after. But still, it has love and the struggle between two people that comes with love.
So here are a few romantic movies that entertain whilst shattering sexist stereotypes!

Silver Linings Playbook


Academy Award Winning Silver Linings Playbook is a 2012 hit starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the leading roles. Pat (Cooper), a bipolar patient who was institutionalised for eight months after beating up the man his wife was cheating on him with, desperately tries to communicate with his estranged wife, who has a restraining order, and in his quest to do so, bumps into Tiffany (Lawrence), a widowed and recovering sex addict—who promises to help him if he participates in a dance competition with her. Thematically, the movie deals with stigmatisation of two people with mental health conditions and how they find comfort in each other’s company. Often, conversations about psychiatric health are portrayed in a negative light in mainstream culture, but this film challenges that.

 Frances Ha


Frances Ha
 is the story of an adorably reckless, self-doubting, awkward 27-year-old struggling dancer. Wrecked by her parting with her best friend and roommate, Sophie, Frances moves from one place to another: from her friends’ place to her parents to a disastrous trip to Paris that leaves her broke to working as a waitress at her alma mater. The movie highlights the thin line between self-discovery and attempting to escape reality and brilliantly depicts the journey of a young woman trying to get her act together, with some important feminist messages.

Queen


Queen, the 2014 Bollywood blockbuster, proved that sometimes break ups are a good thing. The movie is about the introverted, conservative Rani (Kangana Ranaut), who battles rejection and a damaged self-esteem. When Rani’s ‘London-return’ fiancé ditches her two days before their wedding, she courageously decides to go on their pre-booked honeymoon trip to Paris and Amsterdam alone. Along the way, she befriends many who change her perspective on life and restore her confidence. The gradual transformation of a heartbroken, dependent girl to a liberated, self-assured and independent woman who refuses to let chauvinist men like her ex-fiancé push her around, makes Queen a landmark victory for feminist Indian cinema.

Enough Said


A divorced single mom and masseuse, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), meets Albert (the late James Gandolfini in his last screen outing), another single parent, through a common friend at a party. Both bond over their kids going off to college and start seeing each other. The movie is a mature love story that challenges Hollywood’s rampant ageism and deals with sensitive issues such as divorce, single parenthood and ageing. It earned Julia Louis-Dreyfus a Golden Globe nomination.

Brokeback Mountain


This 2005 classic is a tragic tale of two cowboys falling in love in a society that represses any form of alternate sexuality, and tackles the struggles of being a closeted member of the LGBT+ community. Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet and sleep together once on a shepherding job and subsequently have a fight and go their separate ways. As a result of repressing their feelings, both have failed marriages and unfulfilled lives, but their love transcends all bounds of society and survives the test of time, despite having tragic consequences.

Obvious Child


Donna (Jenny Slate), a struggling stand-up comedian and bookstore clerk becomes pregnant after a one night stand with Max, a business student she finds at a bar. In most romcoms, an unplanned pregnancy leaves the protagonist with two options – decide to raise the child on your own and fall in love with the male protagonist, or mull over the idea of abortion for a bit, have a change of heart and raise the child with/without a partner. Donna’s immediate instinct is to get an abortion, an instinct she goes through with in spite of falling for her male counterpart. The movie destigmatises abortion, which is pretty revolutionary, since many mainstream films still refuse to take an openly pro-choice stance.

Blue Is The Warmest Color


Blue is the Warmest Colour is a French movie revolving around sexual exploration, first love and heartbreak. Attempting to figure out her sexual identity, Adèle, a 15-year-old girl ends up at a lesbian bar where she finds Emma, a blue-haired woman she once saw crossing the road and found attractive. Soon they begin seeing each other. Later, Adèle and Emma start living together and as their conflicts increase they realise they have nothing in common. The movie covers a host of sub-plots: their families’ contrasting reception of their sexuality, Adèle’s lack of self-confidence, her increased dependence on Emma, and so on. This is a never-before seen exploration of lesbian sexuality, and won great critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.

Kissing Jessica Stein


Kissing Jessica Stein, a 2001 release, is the story of Jessica, a copy-editor who thought she’s straight all her life, only to find her ideal soulmate in a woman. What follows is confusion about her sexual identity – her reluctance regarding intimacy and the inability to distinguish between the hazy lines of friendship, infatuation and romance. It gives a fairly refreshing approach to the families’ reaction and is thematically focused on gender fluidity instead of bisexuality—a remarkable feat for a movie that came out in the early 2000s.

The standard structure of a romantic movie goes like this: cheesy wooing, typically after love at first sight, with two or more break-ups, and elaborate proposals, before a final union. Predictability is the norm and hence, one really yearns for movies that project love and romance that one can connect with–with less symbolism and more substance. Well, thankfully, we don’t draw a blank in this search with these trope-free romantic films–some with a minimal dose of red roses and chocolates but still, entirely relatable and refreshingly entertaining.


Featured Image: Still from ‘Queen’. Source: YouTube.

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  1. B

    The title reeks of misandry, as the term ‘sexist’ has been used to automatically mean sexism against women. As far as romantic movies are concerned, why don’t women get down on their kneed to propose, gift men diamonds and gold, buy chocolates and gifts, pay alimony and child support after a divorce, and stop using men like ATMs, porters, drivers, and dildos for a change?

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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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