What Men Can Learn From AIB’s Response to the Bechdel Test Video
You don’t become a feminist by saying you are one. You also need to act like one.
What happens to a criticism? It’s always faced with counter-criticism, and why not? The public sphere facilitates the exchange of all sorts of opinions!
But the real question is what happens when a woman offers a feminist criticism of sexist representations of females on Indian television or cinema?
Well, as usual there’s always counter-criticism, but the voices that ring the loudest always belong to men.
Have a problem with the glorified depiction of jauhar in Padmaavat? Sanjay Leela Bhansali will justify it as an “empowering thought”. Then his broseph Vivek Agnihotri will get defensive – and call you an “urban Naxalite”.
If you have criticised misogynistic dialogues in a film, say, Kasaba, a certain male director Jude Anthany Joseph will liken you to an attention-seeking monkey after which an army of bros will abuse you on social media.
And if you rip apart a senior male director’s obsession with midriffs of female actresses on films and hope that maybe he will take a hint and stop overly sexualising female bodies, you’re wrong. It is you, who will owe that very honourable and senior director an apology.
Why? Because paper beats rock and seniority beats criticism.
Which is why when All India Bakchod (AIB) didn’t jump to their defence as an innate male instinct after a video surfaced with a criticism of their “problematic” female representation in comedy sketches, it felt surprisingly refreshing like a whiff of minty fresh, non-polluted air.
Comedians and online content creators Aayushi Jagad and Sumedh Natu made a compelling argument on how most of the AIB sketches fail the Bechdel test, except for the ones that are specifically female-oriented and require women characters. They went on to say that even as a liberal, young, trendsetting comedy group, AIB mostly catered to a male audience in terms of their contact, and lacked the representation of women in an everyday space, doing everyday activities just as men would do.
In response, the comedy group which is run by four male comedians owned up their accountability for the skewed representation of women.
“So we just saw this superb, very well-argued video by Aayushi and Sumedh. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link. If you’re not going to watch it, the TL;DR is we don’t cast enough women in our sketches, and if and when we do, they’re either in a decisively “feminine” context (e.g. mother, sister), or put in situations that seldom pass the Bechdel test. We want to say that we hear you, we really do. We will actively work to fix this across our content, not just for the sake of social currency or likes, but because representation matters. We’d like to think we try hard to be inclusive, but we recognise that we fall short in some ways, and also that our own privilege stops us from seeing it. So thank you Aayushi and Sumedh for calling us out about this and forcing us to confront it. Creating more inclusive content is a constant process of evolution, and we’ll work much harder to tell stories that are representative of more”.
That’s how easy it was, and that’s how it should have been with Swara Bhaskar, Parvathy, Tapsee Pannu and other women who raised issues of the politics of representation on screen. But the responses to their criticisms weren’t mere disagreements, it took an abusive turn, with men hell bent on correcting them and showing them where they belong.
And why is it that when women have a problem over sexist or generalised representations of women that are unfair to them, men should feel the need to talk louder than women to invalidate their feminist thoughts or opinion, without ever having been a woman?
The fight for total equality which includes proper representation of all genders, (and not just paying Deepika Padukone as much as Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor) is not one where women are pitted against men, but where men and women together work for equality.
Having acknowledged that every action leaves room for a reaction, such as women’s outrage against the directorial approach to depicting jauhar in films, or AIB’s non-functional background females, it is best to take the dialectical approach to resolving disagreements.
And sometimes it means that men don’t get to lead but take the backseat and be led in a movement that is of the women, by the women, for the women.
Whether or not AIB lives up to their response will be a matter to judge in the future. But the kind of response they elicited with the great amount of responsibility of being a feminist mouthpiece in comedy, the male creators of AIB have allowed themselves to be led.
In the trickle-down effect, their response will hopefully teach their male audience to evoke similar responses to similar criticisms instead of taking the troll route. That is exactly what the duty of men in this movement is, to spread awareness of the injustices as women see it.
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