Editorial: Deepika Padukone’s ‘My Choice’ Answers Privilege With Privilege
Deepika Padukone’s new video My Choice is blowing up the Internet—and not necessarily in the way it intended. The PSA, part of the #VogueEmpower campaign and ostensibly about equal rights for women, has been much criticized on other media outlets. I’d like to weigh in, too.
First, the video: It opens with a seemingly topless Deepika, hair swirling in a studio wind, tribal chanting in the background. (Apparently, it’s about to get mystical.) The video goes on, melody and drums building to a crescendo, to feature 100 different women and Deepika, who take turns dancing, smiling, staring, and – in one odd clip – removing a bra for the camera. (I guess equal rights do not obviate the objectifying male gaze.) Over it all, Deepika’s monologue lists the choices each woman has: to wear the clothes she likes, to be the size she wants, to love and marry whom she wants, or not; to come home when she wants; to have or not have a baby.
Some have criticized these ‘choices’ as being applicable only to India’s privileged and wealthy. I disagree. Across cultures and socio-economic classes, women consistently struggle against societal and familial expectations around these issues. Pressure to have a baby (boy), to come home at a certain time, to marry a certain person—these are some of the very few common experiences that cross economic lines for women in India. Are there other women’s issues that could have been addressed instead? Sure—but how much time do you have?
No, my problem is that the video is lazy. It’s beautiful, true. It’s makes me feel good, yes, with all that music and lighting and brooding and swirling. It’s about choices for women, right? And about empowerment? Feminism, hell yes! But at the end of it, I’m left feeling a little empty—all charged up with nowhere to go. And then I start thinking about the actual message.
Kersi Khambatta, who wrote the lovely and whimsical Finding Fanny as well as this video, should perhaps stick to screenplays. The script to this video (transcribed here) is surely poetic, but its social message is about as nuanced as a piece of paper. It’s interesting to note that Khambatta, the writer, and the video’s director, Homi Adajania, are both men. This may explain why the video’s solution to male privilege is, well, privilege—only of a different kind. Despite good intentions, it’s hard to escape what you intrinsically know, I suppose. I wonder if a video by a female writing and directing team would have led viewers somewhere closer to actual feminism by its end. Because feminism is about equality, and this video certainly is not.
This video is about replacing men’s privilege with women’s. In the video, Deepika admonishes “you” (presumably men) not to get cocky, because it’s her choice “to pick you from 7 billion choices—or not.” This is literally placing the world at the woman’s feet, and replacing men’s privilege with her own. That’s not equality; that’s reverse oppression. Later, in the video, she warns men not to be upset if “I come home at 4 am. Don’t be fooled if I come home at 6 pm.” I’m confounded on behalf of caring fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles – as well as mothers, sisters, wives, and aunties – and friends everywhere. With equality as the goal, can women really expect a caring, respectful partner to be unconcerned about what hours she keeps? Isn’t the more likely outcome of equality that any caring partner – man or woman – can be concerned about such vagaries?
And the choice to have a baby—it’s been a while since eighth standard biology, but I’m pretty sure it takes two, particularly in a loving and mutually supportive relationship between equal partners.
Feminism is about equality, and equality isn’t about doing whatever you want, whenever you want, with impunity. It’s about having equal opportunities and equal choices—and then dealing with the same consequences of our decisions and actions as men do. Unfortunately, that’s not what this video seems to be advocating. It sees a woman’s choice as something to be used to thwart men. The response against this vision has been overwhelming. It’s even prompted a spoof from the male perspective, which hilariously shows how ridiculous the My Choice message really is.
Please don’t misunderstand—I’m not anti-#VogueEmpower. I like Madhuri Dixit’s Larke Nai Rotay (Boys Don’t Cry) video because it shows that we’re all complicit in creating unhealthy gender biases and that we all can and should be part of the solution. And I’m not anti-Deepika Padukone; I think she’s a talented actress and applaud her for trying to use her platform to draw attention to issues like depression and gender equality. But I dislike My Choice because it reeks of my favorite 21st century-ism: slacktivism. Everything looks and sounds nice, and it makes me feel good about myself as I watch and nod in agreement—but, when I try to dig deeper, I realize I can’t. It’s shallow.
(And, just to be petty, if a woman is “the universe, infinite in every direction”, she’s probably a bit larger than a “size 15”.)