If you haven’t yet watched Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone’s compelling #MyChoice video, it’s time to do so now (scroll down). The two-and-a-half-minute film, directed by Homi Adjania and produced by Dinesh Vijan for Vogue India‘s #VogueEmpower campaign, has garnered almost 4.5 million views since it was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
And it’s easy to see why. The clip shows imagery of 99 women from all walks of life who all have the same, simple message: a woman’s choice is her choice. It’s her choice to marry or not, to have sex before marriage, to not have sex, to love a man or a woman, to have a baby or not, to take her husband’s surname or not. Padukone’s voice booms over the imagery: “Remember, you are my choice. I’m not your privilege.”
I was totally enthralled while watching the video and with every line Padukone uttered, the feeling of just how different women’s plights around the world really are deepened. “Don’t be upset if I come home at 4am. Don’t be fooled if I come home at 6pm,” she says, and while this comment may not ring important with many women growing up or living in the West, they certainly do in countries like India or Turkey (where I live) or a plethora of others, where for many women it is not only unthinkable to come home at 4am, it is impossible.
Unsurprisingly with a video like this, it has had backlash. A journalist based in New Delhi, Gunjeet Sra, writes in her op-ed for qz.com that the video is not empowering but hypocritical, saying that both Padukone and Vogue (which was launched in India in October 2014) come from an industry that is based on “fetishising, objectifying and reinforcing sexist standards of beauty on women.” “So when these two forces combined talk about women empowerment, one is left a bit confused, because, let’s be honest, the fashion and Bollywood do not empower anyone—women most of all,” Sra continues.
There is merit in what Sra is saying, but it is part of a deeper, much more encompassing issue that has to do with globalization, capitalism, and consumerism (and this is not what this post is about). This post is about a video made by a fashion magazine starring a Bollywood actress about women and choice. Just because Padukone is an attractive woman, does it mean she is automatically using this for her gain? Is she objectifying herself? Beyoncé shakes her booty while on stage and calls herself empowered—can she not be/do both? And just because a fashion magazine releases a video like this, should we condemn it? Isn’t the whole point of female empowerment for women to have and make their own choices in the first place? I haven’t seen many Bollywood films to truly comment on whether and how much they objectify women (but I’m sure it’s not far from Hollywood’s standards) and the fashion industry is too big of a fish to fry here, but are these arguments good enough to discount a video which highlights just how little choice women have in a country like India? A country where almost 60% of marriages are still arranged, where sex before marriage is condemned (and films made about rape are banned), and where child marriages are legal. I don’t think so.
One Twitter user said about the video: “#VogueEmpower ad is amazing. But if a man would’ve said the same things about affairs outside marriage and walking naked, he’d be lynched.” But the point is, a man doesn’t have to say any of those things because the choice—in many countries, households, and boardrooms—already lies with him.
Title image source: YouTube