Last night, I happened to watch the ‘The Actresses Roundtable 2018’ – an annual feature by film critic Rajeev Masand – on YouTube. The 1-hour video celebrates some bold voices and memorable films that made a mark this year. It also marks the return of Rani Mukherjee (with ‘Hichki’), who was last seen on screen four years ago. One of the main topics of the discussion is #MeToo, the movement that shook India this year, with women speaking out on sexual violence and harassment, and naming the perpetrators. Everyone knows Bollywood was (rightly) jolted too.
Rani dominated most of the discussion on #MeToo, with her awful, regressive views. I was wondering if I’d heard correctly when I heard her tell women to take responsibility of their own actions, to learn martial arts (umm, what?), and then blame women (the mothers who raise boys incorrectly), for the awful actions of men. Let me break this down here.
Cringe #1: “As a woman, you have to be that powerful within yourself, you have to believe that you’re so powerful, that if you come into a situation like that, you have the courage to say, ‘Back off!'”
Sorry, what? “Power within yourself” isn’t a switch that you can just turn on, and which will drive potential harassers and rapists away. We live in a country where an act of sexual violence happens every few minutes and where the understanding of consent is still not a reality. If this ‘method’ worked, we wouldn’t need a law against sexual violence. Rani speaks from a place of utmost privilege, assuming that this so-called inherent power switch will ‘save’ women. She is ignorant of how saying “Back off!” isn’t an option when several crimes are perpetrated by men misusing positions of power. She also forgets how thousands of survivors of violence are from marginalised communities, and how an act of violence can shake you, and make you fear for your very life. It’s like saying Nirbhaya should have called the rapists ‘Bhaiya’. These approaches blame survivors and completely take the onus away from men to not harass and assault women in the first place.
Cringe #2: “Everything relates to what you want out of your life.”
NO ONE ‘wants’ to be raped and harassed and assaulted and stalked. Real life isn’t always like ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne where what you get, is what you attract. Let’s not give a philosophical spin to sexual violence, please.
Cringe #3: “Obviously the way my voice is, and the way I look, half the people run away with that only.”
Why crack a self-deprecating ‘joke’ about this issue? It perpetuates stereotypes about which ‘kind of women’ are harassed. Not a single other woman on the table is amused when Rani says this. The lack of a reaction is the best reaction in this case.
Cringe #4: “It is important for women to believe in themselves and say, if they don’t want this to happen, it’ll not happen.”
WHAT? Thousands of #MeToo stories across the world have been shared only in the past year. Did all of us ever believe this would happen to us? Did we always believe that some of our friends, our relatives, employers, colleagues, influencers, actors we admired, and our lawmakers and law enforcers would turn out to be harassers and rapists? Rani’s holier-than-thou speech is alienating and highly ignorant.
Cringe #5: “Kick him between his legs and give him a jhaapad of his lifetime, that he remembers ki ‘Yeh ladki ne maara tha’, so he remains fearful and doesn’t do it to the ladies hereforth. You have to have the courage to protect yourself.”
That is again, no solution to how real and widespread sexual violence is. It completely puts the onus on women by telling them they are responsible of their own protection, forgetting that no one should ever feel unsafe in the first place. Rani is ignorant of the power dynamics at play, how cornered and vulnerable one can feel, how scared and shaken one can feel. “Kick him” and “give him a jhaapad” are no real and practical solutions to fight how deeply rooted violence and harassment is.
Cringe #6: “[The women who feel cornered] are the women we need to talk to and say, ‘Yaar, you guys need to change.'”
At this point, it’s only been a few minutes since Rani started, and I’m exhausted already. Kya saviour complex hai aur kya survivor-blaming hai. First, tell women to put on their “power switch” and drive sexual violence away AND then change yourselves and learn how to give a jhaapad to men. Sab kaam women only have to do. The perpetrators here are no where in the picture, because yaar, boys will be boys. Thank goodness for Anushka Sharma at this point, who jumps in and politely points out the problem.
Cringe #7: “In school na, please make martial arts compulsory.” *thak thak thak*
Deepika Padukone rightly responds, “We’re now jumping ahead and talking about self-defence. I am saying, why should it even get to that stage?” Sure, anyone who wants to learn martial arts, totally should. It’s a great, empowering skill. But to learn martial arts to have to protect yourself from violence? It’s a very problematic take that blames women, establishes a wrong notion of ‘strength’, and completely takes the onus away from the perpetrators of the violence. To make it worse, Rani even acts out a few karate chops – while again, no one reacts.
Cringe #8: “It is women who are making these boys, who are doing this.”
Rani moves on to blaming mothers now. Throughout this whole time, she doesn’t pause once to put the onus on a single man. Why are we saying that women are responsible for shaping and transforming and ‘correcting’ the men in their lives? We don’t want this labour and baggage and we never asked for it, just like we never asked to be harassed. Ultimately, Rani is saying that women are only responsible for the horrible things that other women have to face.
Watch from 34:40 here if you want to feel the cringe for yourself: