Sexism in Bollywood

By Faria Athar
August 7, 2015

MUMBAI, India – Bollywood, the sobriquet for India’s $3-billion dollar Hindi film industry, is filled with immense colour, vigor and light. It has vociferous dance sequences, tear-jerking dialogues and a whole lot of sexism.

Lyrics from some of its famous musicals like ”Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast” and “Fevicol se” include calling the female protagonist an “awesome thing”, a firecracker, a piece of meat and such. But the lyrics seem banal when compared to the music videos that accompany them, men dancing along to music, while the hero abuses, catcalls or physically mishandles his “girl”. And in the end the hero ends up getting the girl and they live happily ever after.

Plotlines like these have thrived in this 100-year-old business of the rich, the pretty and the privileged. While Bollywood’s massive appeal is astounding, it is also incredibly scary. With its objectification of women and portrayal of an always win-win situation for men, Bollywood is criticized for being chimerical, unrealistic and an instigator for the rapes and sexual atrocities committed in India.

So recently when Deepika Padukone, an extremely popular Bollywood actress stood up for feminism, hearts ignited. Her message was released as a video in collaboration with Vogue India. It was a viral hit. Men and women began sharing it all over social media, and in the span of a couple of days it had millions of views on YouTube. It was being lauded for its independence and power, but slowly criticism rolled in.

The video titled “My Choice: Women Empower” shows the actress talking about how it’s her choice (or rather a woman’s) to wear the clothes she likes, to be a size zero or a size fifteen or to have sex outside marriage.

This is all wonderful. Of course it’s a woman’s choice to do want she wants with her life, but was the video fair to all?

In a country where, according to UNESCO, the female literacy rate is only about 50% and an alarming gender wage gap is present across all sectors, the actress’s problems seem to be the last on an Indian woman’s mind.

Being a woman is difficult in India. If you manage to escape female foeticide (the act of aborting a foetus because it is female), its takes only a few years before you are married off as a child bride with a significant amount of your parents’ income given to your groom’s family as dowry. When you get older, your education is your parents’, your husband’s or his family’s will. In urban India, you may not face these difficulties, but constant prejudice and fear of harassment follow you around like a shadow. These issues form major impediments to women’s empowerment.

India’s version of feminism, as portrayed in the media and in this ”empowering” video, never sheds light on female empowerment. Rather the focus is on liberation from Indian forms of clothing, music and customs, which translates to Westernization. This feels shallow and superficial. It creates negative stereotypes about the modern and conservative woman that harms feminism more than benefiting it. And while body issues are important, they are not central to feminism. Empowering women has great potential in India with some serious implications for the country’s economy, politics and progress. It is great to have celebrities with such mass appeal endorse feminism, but it would be even more powerful if it focused on issues to educate women about their rights, health and professional development, eventually helping promote equality and female leadership in Indian society.

And now the hypocrisy: The video shows actresses with beautiful hair and skin and fails to include size 15 women or even those that are close to a size 10. The star herself endorses products to promote weight loss and skin lightning (in accordance with the Indian belief that dark skin is inferior to light skin and thus should be altered).

The video is also over-sexualized. Pre- and extra-marital sex are taboo in India. And while it’s a woman’s choice, there is nothing particularly empowering about either. This type of feminism is flawed and doesn’t resonate with the average Indian girl’s wants or needs. Yes, breaking the rules is necessary to empower women, but sometimes it may result in losing friends and family. Young girls and women must instead be encouraged to bring about change within their societies. Confusing feminism with nudity or excessive Westernization repels women who want progress for themselves and their daughters. It presents feminism as a monolithic facade, which further alienates women from their culture and creates a long-lasting negative stereotype that fails to empower India’s women.

Feminist movements, however, haven’t completely failed in India. After the gang-rape of a student in Delhi in 2012, various organizations started to focus on women’s issues. While some took to the streets to protest rape, others have made long-standing contributions to women’s rights

One such movement started in Bundelkhand (Northern India), a place rife with domestic violence, child labour and widespread female illiteracy. Women of the region gathered to form a gang called “Gulabi (Pink) Gang” to fight their detrimental patriarchal culture. They call themselves “Rural Women In Pink Saris, Wielding Broomsticks In Pursuit Of Justice”. These women who themselves come from poor families or the lower castes (Dalit), have successfully stopped several child marriages, overcome corruption in several levels of administration and worked to eradicate the dowry system and violence against women. Since their movement has gained momentum, they’ve also participated in local elections and won.

“For the People and By The People” has worked splendidly in India with regards to feminism. And this is the model that seems to garner the most attention and bring about change.

‘Harlem Shake’-Up

By Steve Helmeci
July 5, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – So lets suppose we’re bored tonight and want to watch some YouTube videos. More than likely, one of the “Most Watched” videos will be a Harlem Shake video done by some professional sports team, television show cast, or just a group of random people. We don’t watch YouTube videos often, so we don’t know what a Harlem Shake is, but it looks interesting–let’s click the link. Immediately the video starts playing, and we see a room full of people working diligently or otherwise occupied while one person is repeating the same motion over and over in the center of the room to a techno beat. After about 15 seconds of this, a man’s voice says “DO THE HARLEM SHAKE!”

Then the bass drops, and all hell breaks loose.

Suddenly everyone comes alive, gyrating in his or her own special way to a more prominent techno beat. Let’s just say most of the motions wouldn’t be allowed at a Mt. Lebanon school dance. Despite the provocative nature, we share a laugh and our night continues on as before, leaving us rather unaffected by the video in the long run, and certainly not upset with the people in the video.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the reaction that school administrators at Brownsville High School in Pennsylvania, Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools in New York, Milford High School in Michigan and countless other high schools throughout the United States had when they saw that students from their schools made Harlem Shake videos.

Students all across the country are being suspended for creating Harlem Shake videos, whether in school or after a school event. Although they are not the only cases of suspensions connected to Harlem Shake videos throughout the U.S. or even the world, the suspensions at three schools mentioned above have garnered national media attention for various reasons. Despite the precedent being set by administrators regarding the Harlem Shake, however, the schools could be violating the students’ constitutional rights by censoring their ability to make the videos.

As each of the three scenarios is an entirely different case study, it would be a disservice to them to lump them all together. Therefore, they will each be individually highlighted below. With the help of Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., the constitutionality of each school’s respective actions was examined. At this point, none of the schools has given any statements on the nature of the suspensions.

Brownsville Area High School, Pennsylvania

“We were given permission to [make the video]. The sub watched us do it about four times.”

Senior Whitney Ptak expected zero blowback after she and 12 other students in her Photography class made a Harlem Shake video during a free period with a substitute teacher.

“One of my friends was talking about it then they were like ‘let’s make one!’ I’m not one to just sit there and say no, so I did it,” Ptak said.

Therefore, it came as a shock to Ptak and her classmates when they were called down to the principal’s office and told they were suspended.

“[The principal] called us down and said ‘Don’t talk — listen. You have two days out.’ then left,” Ptak said. “We were not given any reason for our suspension. None at all.”

Upon hearing Ptak’s description of the events surrounding her suspension, LoMonte couldn’t help but chuckle. “You have to know what it is you’re accused of doing and have a chance to respond before serving the punishment,” he said.

LoMonte feels that, assuming the principal acted as he was described to have acted, the students’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process were clearly violated.

“If the students weren’t given basis for suspension, then they’re violating basic due process,” LoMonte said.

Another issue LoMonte had with the actions of the school was the apparent violation of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code by the Brownsville administrators.

“Under Pennsylvania regulations, you can’t be punished for the content of your speech unless it disrupts the school day,” he said.

The regulation LoMonte is referring to comes from Section 12.9b of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code on the Freedom of Expression. The Code reads: “Students shall have the right to express themselves unless the expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual’s rights.”

Based on a cursory overview of the video and the events surrounding it, LoMonte feels that unless the students were punished for jumping up on desks (which not all of the students did), the school would have trouble making a case for the suspensions. Even if the students standing on desks caused the suspension, LoMonte said that the school would “have a hard time making [a case for the punishments] stick.”

“If you’re doing something under teacher approval, it’s hard to make the case for disruption,” LoMonte said.

Ptak and her classmates, meanwhile, still had to serve out their suspensions, and despite pressure from the ACLU and NCA, the school still stands firm in their decision.

“I’m trying to get a scholarship for track, so I’m hoping this doesn’t mess up my future,” Ptak said.

Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools, New York

After working incredibly hard all season and skating to the best regular season record in team history, a compilation hockey team from Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools in New York state was forced to forfeit their first round playoff game after the schools suspended 11 team members for their participation in a Harlem Shake video in the locker room after practice.

“My whole team and I were definitely disappointed because we had such a great season,” Senior Corey Aronson said.

According to Aronson, the video was identified by administrators as having “crude and vulgar gestures,” thereby making it punishable by suspension.

The suspensions and the forfeit were definitely lumped together, according to Aronson. “[The schools] said 11 in the video, 11 suspended. So, that’s not enough players on the roster to play by the league rules,” he said.

Like Ptak, Aronson was greatly surprised when the suspensions came down. “We created the video to follow a popular new fad,” he said. “We didn’t think anything would happen besides our school getting a good laugh.”

The suspensions were even more surprising for Aronson and his teammates due to the fact that they posted the video online anonymously, with no team name or player names attached. What makes the suspensions more problematic is that the video was shot in a locker room that is not on school grounds.

Upon hearing that kids were suspended for behavior not occurring on school grounds or physically at a school event, LoMonte was adamant that the school’s actions are not in line with what power schools truly have.

“Engaging in vulgar speech is absolutely, positively not punishable by a school unless it is on school grounds or at a school event,” LoMonte said with clear conviction.

“If that were the case,” he continued, “a student could be suspended for having sex with his girlfriend or cursing at his parents. School authority cannot go that far.”

LoMonte went on to say that the administrators at Nyack and Tappan Zee were “pushing the outermost boundaries of school jurisdiction.”

With regard to both Brownsville and Nyack/Tappan Zee, LoMonte said that the administrators were “treading on thin ice” considering the students’ First Amendment rights as well as their right to due process.

Milford High School, Michigan

Senior Alex Yono and a large group of his friends from Milford have been creating videos for a year under the name “WhiteBoysMakingNoise” before they got the idea to make a Harlem Shake video. They often use a school classroom to shoot their videos, which they make as entertainment for their classmates and the community.

Therefore, as in the two other case studies, Yono was very surprised when, a week after posting the video to YouTube, he and 35 other classmates were called down to the office and given suspensions for their roles in either the Harlem Shake video, another previous video which has since been taken down or both.

“I think the suspension [we] got was very unfair because we had permission and we didn’t harm anyone,” Yono said. “We did all our videos with no intent to hurt anyone and we are sorry if we offended people.”

Yono said that the teacher who granted the group access to the classroom “didn’t care because we had shot videos in there before.”

The issues the school had with the video, according to Yono, were the use of a live animal – a duck — in the video, the lack of shirts on some of the boys and overall conduct during the video.

Kim Root, Director of Communications and Community Relations for Milford, gave another reason to The Oakland Press. “With the increase of social media … these things can lead to copycat videos and kids trying to push the envelope,” Root said.

LoMonte does not see Root’s statement as a valid reason for suspensions. “You definitely cannot suspend people just because you anticipate people copying them in a disruptive way,” he said.

However, LoMonte does feel that Milford has the most valid case against the students of the three cases presented. “If [they shot the video] on school grounds and without teacher supervision, there is at least a question of whether [they’re] violating school rules,” he said.

Milford has a rule against animals on campus other than service animals, and the kids were technically in violation of that rule.

“If [the suspensions] were about the pet, then that’s not the content [of the video]. If it’s not about the content then it’s not a first amendment violation,” LoMonte said.

LoMonte did say that, because the students had permission from a teacher and did the video after school hours in an empty classroom, it is hard to say that they were disruptive and the content of the video is protected by the first amendment. However, if the suspensions were as a result of rule violations such as the animal rule or a dress code and not the content of the video, then the school has a solid case. In essence, it all hinges on what the school suspended the 36 kids for. As the administration has not given any statement regarding the suspensions, it is impossible to say.

While LoMonte is hardly arguing that schools cannot suggest that students take down videos that they deem inappropriate, he feels that granting suspensions is “very harsh,” especially when the videos could possibly be under the protection of the first amendment.

What we can all take from these three Harlem Shake case studies is that it is vitally important that students know their first amendment rights. Schools cannot violate your First Amendment rights unless very stringent criteria are met. Unless you threaten someone, encourage unlawful activity, disrupt the school day or violate school rules, there is very little schools can do.

While I’m hardly suggesting that everyone make Harlem Shake videos, it is important that we are informed. Without the knowledge of due process and our first amendment rights, we could either be unnecessarily pushed around or unknowingly act in ways not protected by the Constitution. Let’s make sure no more students are suspended for funny videos.


College Campuses Turn Harry Potter Sport Into Reality

By Lynda Lopez
December 29, 2009

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – When JK Rowling debuted her Harry Potter series, the sports world added a new game to their list: Quidditch. The sport has often been regarded as a game only imaginable in the mind of the author. However, several college campuses across the U.S. have transformed Qudditch into a real sport. Without the flying, that is.

collegecampusesquidditch2David Bridgman Packer, a sophomore at Vassar College in N.Y., has been playing Quidditch for a few years now and has fallen in love with the game. “Quidditch tends to start out as a hobby and quickly consume your life,” he says. “Our team started out with 2-3 hour practices twice a week and then grew to include team dinners (lovingly titled quinner), movie nights, bake sales and matches with other schools.”

College Quidditch is played almost identically to the Harry Potter version. Students must stay on a broom throughout the game and play their position of beater, seeker, or chaser. Juan Pablo Munoz, a beater on Harvard’s Quidditch team, explains his role in the team. “As a beater, you’re playing against the opposing team’s beaters for control of the bludgers, against the chasers and keeper of the other team for control of the quaffle,” he says. “Being a beater is tough, but it is so much fun.”

Quidditch first became a viable sport within the college community when the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association was founded by Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe of Middlebury College in Vermont. It officially began when the first Quidditch match took place between Middlebury and Vassar in 2005.

“We worked hard to emphasize that this game is not just for Harry Potter fans,” says Benepe. “Anyone can enjoy it, whether they love Harry Potter or have never read a single word of it.” Over 300 colleges in the country participate in Quidditch in some manner.

Despite Quidditch’s popular appeal, some people don’t think it’s a serious sport. “My problem with the rise of Quidditch in real life is simply with the brooms,” says David Lee, a 2007 graduate of Vassar College. “With the singular exception of making its players look like idiots, there is no athletic or sport–related function to running around with brooms between their legs,” Lee says.

Molly St Clair, a sophomore at Middlebury, says Quidditch is not supposed to be a serious sport. “That’s what makes this sport so different from any other competitive sport, and I think people are starting to catch on to the good-natured fun of it,” she says.

Looking for the Ultimate Ride? Try Your Nearest Desert

By Ans Khurram
July 04, 2009


MUSCAT, Oman – Looking for a new vacation site? How about trying your nearest desert for some dune bashing, which involves driving 4x4s SUVs over 30-80-feet-high sand dunes at around 50-60 km/h?

Dune bashing has become one the most popular activities that people in the Middle East plan over weekends and holidays. I was in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when I got a chance to to go for a desert safari. (In Oman, the premier location is the Wahiba Sands.)

“It’s an amazing ride. The adrenaline rush one gets during the drops is unparalleled,” said Mark Stein, a 35-year-old accountant who had traveled from New Zealand to go on a desert safari. “I was sitting on the front seat and mind you there can’t be many scarier scenarios than to see a vehicle going into a nosedive,” said Ali Cheeda, a 22-year-old Pakistani engineer.

Dune bashing requires a lot of skill as, maneuvering in these sandy terrains is easier said than done. There are also strict safety standards that need to be followed. When our ride began, our driver, Nair Sidhu, first reduced the tire pressure. “This is done to improve traction on the sands,” Sidhu explained.

He said that he been driving tourists out for desert safaris for five years and was passionate about it. He had been specially trained to drive on these terrains. “The vehicles are equipped with roll cages to prevent the roof from denting inwards into passengers in case the vehicle turns over,” he said. We were asked to put on our seat belts before we started. “Unless you want your head sticking out of the roof,” Sidhu said, grinning.

“It’s an insult to be driving one of these 4x4s on asphalt roads,” said my cousin, Salman Jameel, who drives a sedan. “Their power is incredible.”

Another safety procedure is that dune bashing is always done in a group. This way, a single 4×4 car does not get lost, and in case a vehicle break downs, other drivers can help.

While dune bashing usually is the star attraction of a desert safari, it can also include sand skiing, hennaing (temporary tattoos using a dye made from a plant) and other activities. “In the evening and overnight safari packages, dune bashing is accompanied by traditional barbecues served with classic Arabic coffee to make it a true Arabian Night,” said Sidharth Basu from the Desert Safari Dubai agency.

People of all ages enjoy the experience. “I want more,” was all a 10-year-old member of our group screamed. “It was amazing to see the sand spraying on the window as if we were driving through water,” said Jane Townsend, a teacher in her 40s from Britain.

Dune bashing is, however, not for everyone. People who get carsick are advised to stay away. “We do not recommend anyone below the age of three to take part in dune bashing” said Basu. “The same goes for pregnant women.”

“It’s a great tourist puller. We will pick you up from your hotel or wherever you reside in Dubai. You can go for a desert safari either in the morning or evening. If you are a little bit more adventurous, we also offer packages that include night stays in the desert,” he said. “And for people who would rather just enjoy the desert rather then bumping around in it, we have packages which do not include dune bashing.”Plenty of tourism agencies offer a variety of packages, with prices ranging from $40 to $60 depending on the expedition type.

According to a recent study on tourism effects, dune bashing barely has any environmental effects because the deserts in Middle East are sandy and therefore there is no plant life to damage. However, the report, “The Ecology of Transportation: Managing Mobility for the Environment,” states that CO2 emissions and sound pollution do remain a concern.

After the ride, we were taken to a camp where the aroma of barbequed chicken and freshly baked khoobs (traditional Arabic bread) made our mouths water. “The barbecue under the stars in the middle of a desert is a fine example of the famous Arabian hospitality. I enjoyed a truly unique cultural experience. The Arabic salads and sweets were delicious,” said Rabi Al-Saleh, who had come from nearby Saudi Arabia.

So, if you are planning to visit the Middle East, the desert and dune bashing are just around the corner.