The Vagina Padma-logs

Ahhh Mondays. The beginning of the week. The nemesis of orange cats who love lasagna and being inferior to Calvin and Hobbes. After an exhausting Monday, let me turn to the internet for amusing distractions and calming cont…..

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Huh. Ok then.

Apparently now that Padmaavat has been released and the bard’s question about names and roses and whatnot finally been answered (turn’s out, a relatively deflated gang of goons and a very relieved film crew…that’s what’s in a name), some people have realised that a movie that ends with the “good” women LITERALLY burning themselves alive, accompanied by swelling music is probably not the best message for feminism. Yes, even when it is awesomely shot and a riot of colour. Ok, poor choice of words there.

So, one of these people is actor Swara Bhaskar, who, in the most fuck-you-but-I-like-having-a-career-so-let-me-watch-my-words-here open letter to that doyen of cinematic empty calories, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, said that the movie made her feel like a vagina. The internet responded in a calm, reasoned manner, with people pitching in many, many good points about the tone and content of the movie, and if you believe that I have a bridge over the river Ganges I have to sell you. It’s pretty awesome – it doesn’t even have a single nut or bolt.

Of course the internet exploded in a shower of hot takes. People were outraged that the movie had made a spectacle of an odious practice – one that women practiced ONLY because society told (and continues to tell) them that the honour of their vaginas is more valuable than their lives. And if you believe that, I have another bridge right next to it. It’s newer, and fancier and lights up really nice at night.

Of course the outrage wasn’t about that. Of course the outrage was because she said vagina a bunch of times. Of course people said that she was saying vagina only for cheap shock value, ironically forgetting that only the most patriarchal mindset would think that a woman referring to her bits by the name they learn’t in their biology textbooks is somehow shocking.

Of course, leading the charge were a ton of other women (internalised misogyny is a canine of the female persuasion), with Suchitra Krishnamoorthi wondering why a woman who had played an erotic dancer had a problem with a movie that featured a pious que…..wait what? She seriously said that? Like, she had that thought, and then, instead of discarding it in the trashbin of her mind where it belonged she actually typed it out? Seriously?

<Yes. Yes, she did>

Ok…so apparently, in the Suchitra Krishnamoorthiverse, (which is like the Marvel cinematic universe, but instead of superheroes, there’s just crazy flying around), an actor who portrays a prostitute in one film cannot criticise another that ends with a bunch of women burning themselves to death. A film that presents this without comment, but not really, because the context in which it is presented.

Journalist Sonal Kalra chipped in by saying that she was not a feminist because she couldn’t say vagina five times in one sentence but not really because she could but didn’t want to, thereby declaring that she had missed the point by several Suchitra Krishnamoorthiverses.

However, the best, and by best I mean “most hilarious missing of the point ever”, take on the issue is by writer duo Siddharth and Garima. Co-writers of Ram Leela and co-actors in the current “how hard can we use this opportunity to suck to SLB” drama, the duo published a blog slamming Swara Bhaskar for….feeling things? I guess?

In a rambling, incoherent missive bordering on the crazier side of junior Pataudi’s “nepotism is good because horses” letter sometime back, the duo have taken not just Bhaskar, but all of feminism to task because feminism has led to dented and pain…I mean drinking and smoking women. Sorry, I get my misogyny confused. Apparently, feminism has led to women adopting the bad habits of men which has led to women saying vagina a bunch of times in context of a movie that all but glorifies a supremely patriarchal period in Indian history. And the next step, surely, is total dissolution of all that is good and holy.

The letter then blathers on, asking if Bhaskar felt like a “vagina” a bunch of times when the name protagonist did typical protagonist stuff, like showing her face to another man via a mirror (Oh not! Not a mirror!! Whatever will they think of next!). Yes, I’m cherry picking, but at least I’m on the same tree. The writers of this mail had seen Bhaskar’s cherry tree and moved right on to the Orange grove next door.

The letter also displays a breathtaking misunderstanding of history by saying that Padmaavati “chose” fire over rape, while glossing over the fact that the choice was made ONLY because society had convinced women that rape was worse than death because their honour was tied to their vaginas.

Then, in a truly benevolent gesture, the letter explains to women what feminism is and isn’t. It says that feminism isn’t women doing what men do. It somehow misses the irony that feminism IS actually about creating a society where phrases like “men do” become meaningless. Then, the letter explains that feminism is about taking a stand (because men…don’t take..stands??) After spending nearly three hundred words slamming a woman for taking a decision and standing by it, the letter informs us that true feminism is about a woman taking a decision and standing by it. It addresses a woman who has placed herself in a dangerous position by standing up to a powerful man and tells her that true feminism is what those Rajput women displayed, by standing up to a powerful man.

And then it goes downhill.

It goes downhill because then, in a display of stupidity so FUCKING unbelievable that it would take your breath away, the letter talks about how “empowering” it was for women to burn themselves alive when faced with rape. It talks about how Jauhar was all about free will, yo, so it’s totes better than Sati.

Listen, assholes.

Creating a society that convinces women that being raped is worse than dying is NOT empowerment. Teaching women that their honour and thus, their worth, lies in their nether regions is not empowerment. Debasing human beings to the extent where they “choose” death over being raped is not empowerment. Psychological chains are no less constricting than real ones, and much harder to break, so if you don’t understand why a movie that paints a society where such values are normalised as glorious and heroic is problematic, educate yourself, read a book, talk to a feminist, do SOMETHING, but try to GET IT.

Oh, and to those supreme idiots who still don’t get it? Yes, she is perfectly justified in saying “the movie made me feel like a vagina”. Because after all the husband-rescuing, all the mirror-face-showing, and after all the priest-throwing, the movie ends with a few hundred women presented with a laughable “choice” – the most painful death imaginable, or rape. And they choose death, because as everyone knows, a woman’s true value is in her vagina. If that is violated, what really remains?

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