Kool Kanya News / Speaking Out

Of Women's Clothes, Morality, And Media Trials

. 5 min read . Written by Sanjana Bhagwat
Of Women's Clothes, Morality, And Media Trials

A news flash on Times Now showing actor Rakul Preet Singh in a bikini, with the words “Used Drugs” stamped on the image, has gone viral. The news flash concerns Rakul Preet’s alleged involvement in the drug allegations against Rhea Chakraborty. People online are enraged at the way the news about women is being reported, and are accusing news channels of showing pictures of women in “skimpy” clothes to portray them in a more negative light.

I was probably around 5 years old when I watched Munnabhai MBBS in the theatres, laughing along with a roomful of people at the jokes, and tearing up at the “jaadu ki jhappis”. It is also my first concrete memory of watching a man be visibly repulsed by a certain “type” of woman on-screen.  As Munna sees the (spoiler?) fake Chinki in a club, wearing a backless cropped top with halter-neck straps, and dancing uninhibitedly with another man, his face shrivels up in confusion and disgust. “Tu bohot badal gayi hai re (You’ve changed a lot),” he tells her disappointedly.

He goes on to tell her father that, “Haath se nikal gayi hai chori (Your daughter has gone out of hand) I know she grew up without a mother, but you should keep her more in control.”

He then, of course, goes on to fall in love with the simple, “susheel” real Chinki, who wears desi clothes and has no particular inclination to go clubbing. 

Image caption: jeremyrenners.blogspot.com

This was just the first of my many on-screen encounters with the Indian good vs bad girl stereotype – a stereotype that I like many other girls couldn’t help but internalise through all the years of watching tHe mAn eventually deem the bold and stylishly dressed girl vying for him unworthy, and pedestalise the quiet girl with the chunni draped around her.

Both these stereotyped women are imbued with sexist traits, right from their attitudes and interests, to their makeup and attires.

The “vamp” needs to be identifiable as the antagonist, and visibly distinct from the “good girl”. This has almost always been done through the “good girl” wearing traditional, “decent” attires with minimal makeup, and the “bad girl” wearing garish make-up, and “modern” outfits.

This was all done in reel life of course, to appeal to, and subsequently fuel, a cultural mindset that already existed about how women should project themselves in real life.

The sexist correlation of women’s clothes with their qualities and worth, has extended beyond the screen as well. Female celebrities have constantly been trolled wearing “skimpy” clothes. They are accused online of having no “sharam”, and being a taint to the Indian culture.

Image courtesy: bollywoodbubble.com

Almost all my female friends as well, have separate social media accounts, devoid of family members and strangers, where they can post pictures of themselves more freely. “Haath se nikal gayi hai” is a common phrase to hear in our everyday life, quite often inspired by the woman in question wearing clothes that show more skin than Indian tradition deems necessary.

Women’s clothes are constantly connected with their character, modesty, and morality. For men, on the other hand, clothes are often a marker of status and power, or the lack of it, but are removed from how society perceives their character and morality. 

The Media Continues To Propagate This Sexist Vilification Of Women, With Rakul Preet Being The Latest

Munna Bhai and other films from that period, with their sexist scenes and characters, at least have the (flimsy) excuse of almost being 2 decades old.

Media channels continuing their sexist villainising of women in 2020, have none.

A news flash showing actor Rakul Preet Singh in a bikini, with the words “Used Drugs” stamped on the image, has gone viral. The news flash concerns report of Rakul Preet’s involvement in the drug case against Rhea Chakraborty. 

People online have taken issue not only against the ongoing discussion on the channels, but also against the way the news is being reported.

Journalist Abhishek Baxi, wrote, “Times Now specifically uses pictures of Rhea and Rakulpreet in skimpy clothes. Usually, these photos will be avoided on news shows, but there is a deliberate intent to ‘characterize’ these women. It’s creepy, regressive, and very pathetic. And this show is helmed by a woman.”

“I mean, I’m sure there’s ONE other photo of her and others that could have been used. It’s an obvious ploy to play on regressive tendencies of viewers, to further villainise the women in this case,” Andre Borges of Buzzfeed fame tweeted. 

This news reporting comes, not only in the midst of the media putting out news in a way that portrays Rhea Chakraborty in more antagonistic lighting, but also just a week after the public slandering and ridiculing of Kannada actor Samyuktha Hegde, for wearing a sports bra in a park. As the woman chastising Samyuktha talks of the need to arrest her for doing “nanga naach” in public, a crowd gathers and starts chanting slogans of taking “promiscuous” actors like Samyuktha down because they use drugs.

When reporting news on Ragini Dwivedi, another Kannada actor involved in a drug case, Kannada news channels have allegedly been playing all her item songs while reporting news on her.

This linking of the woman’s sexuality and boldness to drug usage, to further villainise and convince people into thinking negatively of her, is not only regressive, but unfortunately very effective.

The negative linking may be subconscious but exists deeply. I mean, imagine if they’d used an image of Rakulpreet in a silk saree, bindi, and gajra. Immediately feels off, doesn’t it? The news story might just have gone unnoticed by the entire nation if that had been done, and the news channels are especially aware of that.

The media knows exactly what to do to appeal to the nation’s generations of deeply ingrained patriarchal conditioning, and collective sexist imagination. And it is using that knowledge in the some of the most harmful ways possible, while raking in the TRPs and ad dollars. 

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