Love in the Time of Feminism
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Art by Victoria Villasana
Written by Maitreyi Pandey
What do women want? A question that has seemed to plague humans since centuries. The perception of women in popular media as coy, introverted and secretive not only highlights the desirable qualities patriarchal norms tend to associate with a ‘good wife’ but also the exoticism of women and their desires.
As Rose says, “a woman’s heart is full of mysteries” (Titanic, 1997). While it may sound romantic to men, it alarms and forwards a larger notion - that women are selfless, who give up their desires and passions to settle for a good and fulfilling life.
If one delves deeper and sits to think about why women don’t openly act (or are expected to do so) on their so-called desires, while men, on the other hand, are lauded or termed as cassanovas when boasting about their affairs. The answer is that women who are quiet and selfless are the ultimate milestone for most people. The one who is not too loud, or too bold, or even too quiet: A woman who is simply "not too much".
Even on topics such as discrimination and feminism, it is asked of women to ‘explain’ these concepts to men, politely. It overlooks their struggles and trauma every time and demands a remarkably forbearing nature of them, while they help men understand and listen to you.
The bold, carefree and desirous women who are not afraid of keeping their foot first and fall in-and-out of love frequently often become comparisons to judge the desirability of shy women. In Cocktail, Veronica with her sassy, metropolitan name performs the role of the former, while Meera the sanskari Hindu girl who bows to all commands and presents a soft-spoken and forgiving nature is the latter. Without any surprises, Meera ends up with a lover while Veronica despite her attempts at reformation ends up with a “valuable lesson” of being more feminine and ergo desirable for men by an extension. It is almost exhausting, the trite trope where men date the forward and outright woman, not caring for anyone but then magically changing when chanced upon their perfect, sweet and simple, next-door-girl.
In the evil representation of feminism as a path of corruption for women, the milestones achieved by the feminist movement is conveniently ignored and liberal women are stereotyped as chain smokers, angry and anti-marriage, on a subversive agenda to overturn the ‘balance in society’.
The representation of women who openly adhere to these stereotypes is not so much of a representation but utter humiliation and ultimate defeat in front of the selfless, sanctimonious, ‘sanskari’ women.
This article, however, is by no means trying to shame women who identify with Meera but to highlight how women are pitted against each other- how women with a certain identity and personality turn into emblems of the right ideology. Even in movies like Cocktail which surrounds friendship, love and loss, there is still, though inconspicuous, a hero and villain- the Indian ethics versus modern values.
The idea is not that meek or quiet women are any less of a feminist than the bold ones. Or that we must adhere to one of these personas, but simply that we cannot put labels anymore. The choice to explore desires and sexualities should be free of judgement and criticism from the society.
However all is not dark in the realm of Bollywood, movies such as Queen, Lust Stories and Gunjan Saxena are path-breaking stories on women, ambitions and bottled desires, told by women. Lust Stories put all cards on the table - women from all fields of life and ages united by desires, Gunjan Saxena mysticized by her love for the sky and Queen manoeuvring the facets of a bride left at the altar; her journey from dependence to self-discovery and independence.
This inclusive portrayal points to discussions feminists urge people to realize- feminism is individual and personal. It is not just women wearing what they like, consuming alcohol and cigarettes, organizing political marches demanding better political rights- it is women and their struggles to achieve what and who they love. It is a path to make choices that are your own, whether they conform to the common beliefs or stand out- the power lies in choosing for yourself.