This week the Indian Twittersphere was up in arms in defence of Deepika Padukone, who tweeted her outrage at a Times of India article about her cleavage and ultimately spurred a tidal wave of support and ignited a passionate discussion about the objectification of Indian women both online and off. In “The Cleavage of Consent Between Bollywood’s Leading Ladies and Their Voyeurs,” BuzzFeed India‘s Rega Jha argues that “objectifying Deepika Padukone without her consent… endangers every single Indian girl and woman,” a sentiment held by many but not all Indians. Journalist Pooja Bedi responded to critics in a Times of India piece that blamed the very Bollywood women who dance in item numbers for the attention they receive, aptly pointing out that the objectification of Bollywood’s male stars like Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan is never criticized. The objectification of women is a global phenomenon that has particularly dangerous consequences in India, however it’s unclear which roles India’s national publications, Bollywood stars and Twitter users play in safeguarding the nation’s women.
In this morning’s Times of India, Pooja Bedi made the argument that Deepika Padukone, along with the rest of Bollywood’s leading ladies, has herself to blame for the culture of media-driven objectification that she is now vehemently protesting.
“If admiring and focusing on a woman’s assets is a crime, all item numbers should be banned,” Bedi wrote.
This comes in response to Padukone’s livid (and now famous) assertion this past weekend that the media’s objectification of her is disrespectful to women. This was specifically with regard to the Times of India article “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s Cleavage Show!” that highlighted Padukone’s cleavage in a surreptitiously taken video from a trailer launch event. “YES!I am a woman.I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??” Padukone tweeted. “YOU don’t know how to RESPECT Women!”
This isn’t to say that item songs, a still problematic mainstay of Indian cinema, are absolved of their many, many flaws. They glorify objectification; they are a shameless money-making assault on good storytelling; they are usually just terrible music. But, for all their shortcomings, they have absolutely nothing to do with how the women starring in them should be treated when removed from their very particular context. To argue otherwise is to make the very dangerous assumption that every minor provision of consent can be extended to universality. That just because a woman has shown you her body in any capacity, she is “asking for” whatever else you choose to do to it.
In a nation where the gravity granted to female consent is already absent to a terrifying and life-threatening degree, this isn’t an argument to which we should be attaching any credibility.