Gender representation in Indian society is one of the prominent issues that we are encountering today. The need of the hour is to focus on stereotypical gender representations in contemporary media.
“The ISIS death cult threatens the people of Iraq, the region, and the wider world,”
-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Social media has managed to pervade all aspects of our life. It is not surprising then, that radical extremists from all corners of the world have begun to make use of it. It offers interactivity and reach unlike any other medium, besides being cheap and easy to use. While Al-Qaeda, set the precedent for using social media to propagate its violent messages, it is ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] that has emerged as the pioneer in the field of harnessing social media to make its presence known and felt. So much so that governments and intelligence agencies across the world today are realizing the need to ‘win the internet’ in order to succeed in their fight against terrorism.
It is ISIS’s unique use of social media as a recruitment strategy that makes it a particularly terrifying enemy. Its mastery of online communication and its skilful use of social media has managed to gain itself an audience with not only people from the Middle East (who would be more likely sympathizers) but also Muslims in the Western world. ISIS has thus realized the need to go virtual in order to make itself relevant and its presence felt. Its media initiatives are tailor-made to the propaganda it seeks to spread. Primary among them being its recruitment of young Islamists into the ‘Caliphate’. Its foray into ‘Western’ social media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter as well as its proven capability of developing complex coding [as seen in ISIS created Twitter app called the ‘Dawn of Glad Tidings’] have ushered in a new unique form of Electronic Jihad.
Their sleek social media strategy thus appeals to the disillusioned Western youth. Whether it is plain curiosity or a need for validation, ISIS seems to have something for everyone. They understand the power of information and the compelling use of powerful imagery in social media; and they aren’t averse to using it to inspire their recruits as well as instil fear in their opponents. Images of gore, beheadings and violence have appeared side by side with images showing foot soldiers eating Snickers bars and nurturing kittens. ISIS has thus managed to construct and control its narrative on social media, and is perhaps why it has been more successful in recruiting foreigners into its fold as compared to other extremist groups. Their recruitment strategy is not limited to males alone. The small but disturbingly rising network of female supporters have left governments across the world worried. Despite the reality that they will be subjected to the harsh Sharia law and be delegated to traditional gender biased roles of mother and wife, young Western women are risking life and limb to travel to ISIS-controlled lands in addition to using social media themselves to promote support for ISIS.
ISIS realizes that in order to be viable in the long term, there is a need to establish a state. And to do so would require the establishment of basic services for the population and the creation of a revenue system, which would not be possible without an educated workforce. Their social media recruitment strategy now seeks to engage successful professionals that include doctors, engineers, and teachers, in addition to fighters. The internet is not the only tool for radicalisation, their monthly magazine Dabiq [that serves as glossy guide to terrorism how-to] in its August 2014 issue appealed to this audience to come and aid in the formation of this nascent Islamic state. Furthermore in an attempt to control their narrative, besides using social media ISIS is now looking to recruit professional media personnel. In a way, ISIS seems to be redefining Global Jihad. As opposed to Al-Qaeda, that used social media to proliferate affiliate groups and regarded America in particular as the enemy, ISIS uses social media as the key to developing a Muslim state while branding the entire West as the enemy.
We can therefore conclude that ISIS has not invented any new strategies of violence but has merely redefined and enhanced it to create a modern brand of terrorism. Its sophisticated use and understanding of social media, executed with sleek, Hollywood style action has made it a threat that at all costs must not be taken lightly. Governments will need to unite if they intend to win against ISIS. Efforts will need to be focused on dismantling this group in order to eliminate its presence. Unfortunately, to do so, it would be necessary to fight fire with fire in order to win the war against terrorism. However it would be imperative that we calibrate the narratives, themes, and messages accordingly in order to prevent disastrous after effects.
Almost a century has elapsed since the inception of Indian cinema; however, the status of women continues to remain elusive. We have traversed a long path in virtually every aspect of filmmaking and the journey has been linear for almost everything. Perhaps the statement which best summarises the debate surrounding the status of women is, "things have changed..." The ellipsis will be filled depending on which end of the spectrum one belongs. From where I see, Indian cinema, when it comes to the representation of woman, is "regressively progressive", or "progressively regressive".
Almost every genre in mainstream cinema has reflected a change in the underlying dynamics for women. There has been a change in the way a woman's role is being approached, but the changes are generally more akin to the phrase mentioned above.
While on one hand, the quintessential liberated urban woman is being celebrated, on the other hand, she ultimately has to either modify her modernity to conveniently suit the tradition or face ostracism. A movie like Cocktail simultaneously applauds the liberated female (Deepika Padukone as Veronica), who chooses to stay true to the flavour of the land she has inhabited, and also lays bare the double standards, whereby the liberated woman is ultimately rejected for the girl (Diana Penty as Meera) who stays close to her roots across shores!
The archetypal masala movies make us wonder whether there’s always something worse coming up. While today women are offered more screen space in these misogynistic movies (Sonakshi Sinha in Rowdy Rathore, Dabangg and R...Rajkumar), they continue to be portrayed as cardboard characters, and reinforce the myths of damsel in distress and femme fatale.
The spy movies apparently have improved the status of women, by allotting them equal roles as spy or assistant, an improvement over their sheer objectification in the past; but many of these female characters just end up being collateral damage. For instance, Agent Vinod and Hero-Love story of a spy. Surprisingly Ek Tha Tiger is more optimistic about their fate.
The female desire today is receiving more recognition and respect, even though male chauvinism continues. While Aiyya sounded like a mockery of the female desire, Ishqiya and Ramleela were more balanced in their approach, though in the latter, the male protagonist hogged the limelight. This year’s release B.A. Pass on the other hand is a very unapologetic presentation of female passion.
Adultery also continues to be the domain of men in Indian cinema and even today they are graciously pardoned by their loving wives. The wives take the detour of dating another guy for the sole motive of bringing their philandering husbands back on the “right” track; for instance, Thank U, Shaadi No.1, Masti and Grand Masti. Strangely, Karan Johar’s hotch-potch Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is more gender equal with respect to adultery! And surprisingly, they gross a huge amount. Case in point, Grand Masti is a part of the hundred crore club. Astitiva (2000) and Arth (1982) prove to be exceptions to the rule by examining the underlying complexities of the phenomenon. In fact, interestingly, the female protagonist played by Shabana Azmi in Arth, takes the bolder step of turning the tables on her husband and leaves him for good. And the 21st century woman, the so-called “educated, liberated, independent” woman believes that her adherence to traditional belief triumphs her self-respect.
In contrast, women centric movies seem to be a mixed bag. While Kahaani, The Dirty Picture, Fashion and Heroine celebrate the unabashed liberated woman, these women reinforce stereotypes rather than breaking free from their clutches. Movies like English Vinglish and That Girl in Yellow Boots on the other hand, propagate the belief that the problem is too complex to provide any simple answers.
However, there is some ray of optimism with respect to the genre of romance, which while predominantly heterosexual in its approach, is indeed exploring various dimensions. Here, women have a greater say in relationships (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu); age differences in courtship are being explored in both ways (Cheeni Kum, Wake Up Sid, Dil Chahta Hai); single motherhood is respected (Paa); and romance in old age is being explored in non-stereotypical ways (Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, Baghban and The Lunchbox). And perhaps, it is ultimately this genre that is going to redeem Bollywood.
The problem thus, with Indian cinema is that it is straddling between tradition and modernity. With the new wave of feminism and globalisation, gender dynamics have changed at the home and the workplace. What we are witnessing today is a tug of war between the reformist zeal and the status quo conformists, and who shall win the battle shall ultimately be determined by us.
Chaudhury, S. (2012, August 4). Editor’s cut. Retrieved from http://archive.tehelka.com/
Kashyap, A. (2011). That girl in yellow boots, IndiePix Films.
Ramnath, N. (2013, August 10). Women film heroes. Mint Lounge. Retrieved from http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/XfWNIgDsODud5pkP0c7AyL/Lounge-Loves—Women-film-heroes.html