Last week, media reports stated that the Karni Sena had withdrawn the protests against “Padmaavat” – saying that the movie ‘glorifies’ Rajput valour. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In my opinion, much of the Rajput valour is based on patriarchal values.
As a man, I will never be able to understand the negative sentiment expressed by women like Swara Bhaskar about the glorification of Sati or Jauhar. Neither will I be able to accept the argument put forth by her critics like Siddharth-Garema when they claim that Rani Padmini committed Jauhar out of her own free will. It’s like saying that the people who jumped from the World Trade Center towers when the buildings were on fire did it out of their own free will.
As a society, we need to be aware of the underlying patriarchy which was exposed by this movie. To the Karni Sena, Rani Padmini is sexually pure, chaste, and generally good. They see modern women like Deepika as sexually promiscuous, manipulative, and generally bad which is why they wanted to cut off her nose. This medieval punishment is usually reserved for women with poor moral character. What happens to a society when they categorise women into solely these two groups and how do we dismantle this Padmaavati vs Deepika dichotomy?
A study titled “The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy” (MWD) revealed that this behaviour is grounded in a man’s desire to reinforce male dominance. In other words, it stems from a desire to reinforce patriarchy. It relates to attitudes that restrict a woman’s autonomy and impairs intimate relationships between men and women. The findings showed that support for male dominance negatively influences the well-being of both men and women by reinforcing gender inequality, objectifying women, and restricting their sexuality.
MWD beliefs correlate with a variety of sexist and derogatory ideologies. Men who endorsed such male dominance were also more likely to sexually objectify women, express double standards that allow men more sexual freedom and initiatives than women, and display benevolent sexism (for example, by trying to take care of women) towards women who embrace traditional feminine roles. It should come as no surprise why states like Haryana and Rajasthan have one of the lowest sex ratios (among the larger states), while also having some of the highest number of incidents of sexual and physical violence on women and the girl child. The study also concludes that the MWD has negative consequences for men’s well-being which adds to the feminist understanding that reducing gender inequality, and the ideologies that support it is good for everyone – men as well as women.
To me, a story can have multiple narratives. Hitler can be viewed through the eyes of a Jew in Auschwitz, a Nazi General who wanted to stop him or a businessman who wanted to save as many Jews he could. The easiest narrative would be from the eyes of a proud German nationalist. Similarly, Bansali had many options to narrate his Padmavati. He could have chosen to make a movie on Jhansi Ki Rani. He lacks neither creativity or capital. But what he did lack is a vision to inspire his viewers and send them home with a message that if we want a better society, we have to shun patriarchy and embrace gender equality in society.