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OP-ED: Losing the plot

  • Published at 09:08 pm October 11th, 2020
Photo: Reuters

How much do films contribute to the objectification of women?

With the ongoing outcry against rising violence and molestation against women, the objectification of women has also been raised several times as one of the reasons why women continue to be victims of barbaric sexual crimes. 

While the protests and the activism are more vocal about the need to introduce stricter punishment, there have also been several views which highlighted the way society has deliberately turned women into sexual objects.

Arguably, what we see as entertainment has a lasting impact on our minds. Though there may be a counterpoint stating that celluloid is just fiction and cannot be mixed up with real life, there is plenty of evidence right before us which shows that there is a tendency to emulate in real life many things we see in films.

Young people across the country have taken to the streets to denounce predatory sexual behaviour and, while there is a strident call for more social sensitization regarding sexual harassment, the relentless portrayal of women as objects of pleasure go on unimpeded in our filmdom. 

Surprisingly, there have been very few debates as to how the vulgar presentation of women in celluloid is reconciled with the escalation in social calls for more respect to be shown towards women. 

A hot item

A few years ago, a film producer, who had once been acclaimed for adding the bling factor to modern-day commercial films, was asked in a TV interview as to why a noted actress in skimpy clothes was made to gyrate in one of his productions to a suggestive song, bordering on blasphemy? 

The producer slammed the interviewer and quipped: It’s an item number; you don’t expect a woman to be coy and conservative. 

This shows how the producer is convinced that, unless an actress is explicit in dance numbers, the commercial value of a movie will decline and with it, the film’s draw. It will be a flop and the money invested will be lost.  

Any item number in a movie, which is now de rigueur, usually features close-up shots of certain parts of a woman’s body. The lyrics, too, have eroticism all over them.

A commercial movie without a highly charged-up item number may face aversion from movie financiers. The raunchier the item song, the better the chances of pre-release hype. To hell with the storyline -- make the item song a dynamite of erotic stimulation!

In addition, the celluloid trend for about 10 years has been to feature ostentatious dance sequences where the men usually sit and drink in splendour, ogling at women who dance suggestively, singing provocative songs.  

Unfortunately, when such aspects become regular, the young mind becomes influenced. Add to the item numbers the common plot lines where underground crime leaders are glamourized. The current top actor in our film industry has been continuously playing gangster roles for several years. 

The vulgarism-violence formula

Young movie-goers come out with images of hedonism implanted in their heads; many try to emulate what they’ve seen in real life, often with appalling consequences. 

The demand for such performers leads to countless young girls being taught to dance or perform in ways where their sexuality is brazenly flaunted. Under the rather benign banner of “modern dance,” women are trained to hone the skills of the femme fatale. The same women are often lured by unscrupulous manpower agents to go abroad to work in hotels where they are exploited and tortured. 

A vicious cycle

The year in, year out presentation of women as objects of pleasure in films has also had a drastic impact on life in general because, nowadays, during weddings, it has become the norm to re-enact film item numbers. 

And we still refuse to acknowledge the impact of movies on life. 

Understandably, when the objectification of women is rampant in films as well as in real life, it’s only natural that some youths will look at women not as persons but merely as items of gratification. There is a need to make commercial movies which do not demean women in this manner.  

Regrettably, the subject of human sexuality and sexual desire in both men and women are shunned by society under the pretext of conservatism while, at the same time, perverted notions of physical pleasure are unashamedly proliferated through common culture. 

Stringent punishment along with open discussions within familial spheres about human sexuality are essential to curbing rapes. Suppressed feelings veer towards deviant behaviour when such an inherently human issue is pushed under the rug in the name of hollow conservatism.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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