Sexual violence and rape have suddenly taken centrestage on national TV, social media, office-lunch discussions, pre-meeting chit-chat, you name it. Not to mention the alarming incidents of child sexual assaults shaking up the entire nation.
People are finally protesting against the victim-blaming-and-shaming culture and the fact that perpetrators often get away without facing the consequences of their actions. I sat back and wondered what my little girls are hearing or seeing that might shape their reactions towards sexual violence. My thoughts also wandered back to what I believed about sex, babies, marriage and men as I was growing up in the days when Doordarshan was the only TV channel and when Saturday and Sunday evenings were the only time we got to watch movies.
Turns out, some of my notions were downright ridiculous. And all of them were fed by Indian cinema (Bollywood as well as regional films). I decided to pen them down when I saw this beautifully illustrated story #STANDWITHPRIYA which reinforces (sadly) that we are still battling the misconceptions and attitudes that were prevalent during my childhood.
Here are some that I picked up from the movies.
1. Rape is something that happens to stupid girls. And definitely to mentally challenged/ill girls.
Cause: Stemmed from watching something where a mentally challenged girl is locked up somewhere and there's a lot of screaming and scraping shown. And then, her torn clothes. And then, more people calling her stupid.
Effect: I was terrified whenever someone called me stupid. Made me think of myself in torn clothes.
2. If someone saw you bathing, you were raped.
Cause: A lot of movies showed somebody watching the heroine bathing from a keyhole. And then she would cry that she was 'spoilt'.
Effect: For a long time, I practiced something called the two-minute bath. Followed by my mom yelling, " Did you even pour some water on yourself?"
3. If you get raped, your parents will have to beg and plead with the guy to marry you to save face.
Cause: The movies showed a lot of chest-beating and head-banging when the daughter got raped. Mostly resulting in one of the parents committing suicide.
Effect: Many terrifying attempts at picturing my parents doing the same things. And shutting my eyes tight to go to sleep.
4. The effects of rape are nullified if you are lucky enough to be married to the guy who raped you.
Cause: A ton of movies that showed that the girl's honour was 'saved' after the villain was persuaded to marry her.
Effect: Made me wonder who I can 'allow' to rape me.
5. Pregnant women cannot be raped.
Cause: One movie (starring Amitabh Bachchan) featured this rather blatant statement: "Pregnant women can't be raped."
Effect: Just made the technicalities of rape even more complex. Turns out, it was just male ego speaking. After all, 'taken' women can't be claimed!
6. Getting raped is worse than even dying.
Cause: Some movies showed a girl hanging by the branch of a tree. The next morning, the parents are crying (thankfully) but as an afterthought, they are relieved since she was raped.
Effect: I didn't want to die. So, I didn't want to get raped.
7. If anybody sees you naked, it is equivalent to getting raped.
Cause: Similar reason as # 2. If a guy accidentally saw your leg, you were raped. This confused me, because sometimes the heroine showed cleavage, but looked happy! Not ruined!
Effect: When my best friend broke the news about Protima Bedi streaking on Juhu Beach (I was in the eighth grade), all I could think of was, " How come she is not crying about getting raped? Is there something else to getting raped?"
8. Anybody seeing you naked can get you pregnant.
Cause: Similar to #7. The movies showed someone undressing in the room/bathroom, getting raped and getting pregnant.
Effect: At the age of 11, I used to check my tummy periodically to be sure nobody had seen me while undressing.
9. If you become the wife of a rapist, you should be doubly pious to be able to change him.
Cause: I watched a movie (which was a super-hit, by the way) showing the heroine (The South Indian actress Jaya Sudha) marrying the guy after he raped her. The entire movie is about her struggle to change him into a good man. Of course, now that the girl he raped has become his wife, he is technically a non-rapist.
Effect: Confusion! What if he refuses to change and rapes another girl? Will he have two wives?
10. If you are still angry with the guy for having raped you, you are stupid. Because you just have to accept the fact that men will be men!
Cause: I watched a movie in which the heroine (The South Indian actress Suhasini) gets raped by her friend's brother while waiting in a car. She refuses to accept his apologies and his proposal to 'right' his 'wrong' by 'accepting' her (you see, he is good at heart even if he was overcome by 'emotion'). This time, the entire movie is about how her family and friends persuade her to reverse her 'foolish' decision. Of course, she turns 'wise' in the end.
Effect: More confusion! Yikes! How can she let him near her ever again?
And now, for the cherry topping - I believed all this without knowing what rape meant.
I also have to wonder what went on in my male friends' minds while watching such representations of sexual violence.
Is it any surprise that our society still blames the rape victim? Sometimes, I wonder if the increase in rape incidents is a result of such blatant glorifying of the perpetrator. Thankfully, heinous crimes against children are not given such tender treatment in the movies. But, women? You need to 'adjust'.
Our movies are a reflection of our society. But it is also the other way around. Movies have the power to influence minds, and it is not an exaggeration to say that they can help shape a generation.
What goes on in your children's heads is a function of what they are exposed to. Beware!
What did you believe while you were growing up? Let us know in the comments below.