Have Shorts, Will Smoke.
It sounds easy, but isn’t, for an Indian girl. For many of us, such actions bring with it the heaviness of judgment, the heaviness of social stigmatisation, the heaviness of victim-blaming and slut-shaming.
And that can crush the souls of many girls, especially in small cities. For being bad is a label that is quick to be attached to a girl, but extremely difficult to get rid of. Our patriarchal society has many definitions of bad, but the best suited can be: one that doesn’t fit with a man’s idea of what a woman should, or shouldn’t do.
It is this idea of rigorous moral policing that the campaign #HaveShortsWillSmoke aims to fight. Started by Bruce Vain, the co-founder of Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, an inter-sectional feminist initiative that attempts to fight gender related stereotypes, the campaign invites women from all over the country to send them stories of wearing shorts and smoking and collates them on its website and social media channels to present a narrative of the societal bullying that women go through, simply for exercising choices they are legally eligible to make.
The issue here is not about smoking, or wearing short clothes; It is that anyone who is an adult is permitted to make life and lifestyle-based choices. It is no big deal if a man smokes, or wears shorts, but if a woman smokes (legal at designated places in India), or wears shorts and skirts (legal anywhere in India), suddenly everyone’s all boo freaking hoo!Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman, a contributor to Spoilt Modern Indian Woman
Stories of slut-shaming and catcalling pan across regions, countries and socio-cultural backgrounds. A SMIW contributor writes of an Indian waiter in Rome judging her, a solo traveller, for ordering wine!
Another campaign contributor, Subha Nivedha tells The Quint, of how she was labelled the bad girl, as early as in Class 8, and how the label affected her psychologically.
The confusion from early on was, what ‘bad’ is. I didn’t have a boyfriend in school (which was a huge bad thing then), I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. I don’t lie to my parents, I don’t steal. But then I was constantly called the bad influence. Today I understand being different is usually equated to being bad, but the confusion kind of leads to a lot of negativity within a person. It kills the confidence and very often you feel alone. It is hard on a teenager to understand that being different is not wrong. You waste a lot of your energy and time on not feeling left out and depressed.Subha Nivedha
The campaign, as Bruce Vain, tells The Quint was “a response to a string of outrageous incidents that were reported in the media in quick succession — where women were policed, abused, harassed and molested for wearing shorts, smoking and doing other things that, if men did, no one would care”. Some of these were; a law professor shaming and insulting a female student for turning up for class in shorts; a woman in Kolkata being harassed by a mob for wearing shorts and smoking; and a woman wearing a dress and traveling in a car with her friends being chased and beaten up by a group of men in Pune.
The idea is to highlight how certain things are okay when one gender does it but become unacceptable to society for another. Last but not the least, the campaign also aims to break the apathy and reclaim the narrative to emphasise that such harassment, violence and moral policing is not okay — something that may seem like a normalised reaction after you see and hear about a string of such incidents.Bruce Vain, Founder, Spoilt Modern Indian Woman
About how Indian girls can start embracing their badness, the Founder says,
The answer to that question lies in how we define ‘bad’. If the word is defined as something that goes against rights, equality, values and the law of the land then it is not okay and not cool to be that way. However, as one of our contributors wrote in her story, we believe that if someone is labelled ‘bad’ simply for doing what they want to do and pursuing their independence, then it’s a reflection on the hyper control-based system we exist in — where any kind of act of independence is seen as a moral negative.Bruce Vain
The Quint, too, supports the idea of ‘the Spoilt Modern Woman’. Months ago, we’d done a campaign on being a Buri Ladki.
You can catch our campaign here: Dear Moral Police, We’re Happy to be a Buri Ladki #NoMoreNirbhaya
(Disclaimer: Neither the campaign, nor The Quint promote or defend smoking)