Mannequins. This is what our battle for women’s rights has come to. Mannequins.
As a nation, sometimes we must ask ourselves, where would we be without the Defenders of Our Morality™? (Answer: In the 21st century like everybody else) This week, these very defenders carried out two surgical strikes against the forces of evil that seek to destroy the honour of the Indian woman. The first strike crippled the deadly nerve centre of all evil against all women everywhere ever: Comedy Central.
This dastardly organisation used its comedic clout to broadcast a stand-up show in which a comedian made jokes that are derogatory to women. Now, comedians have been making jokes at the expense of women since the dawn of time, when (as the Bible tells us) Adam “went unto Eve and said ‘we may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but chal na, make me a sandwich.’ And so it came to pass that God invented the couch and the phrase FML, and Adam slept alone.”
But the jokes on Comedy Central infuriated the I&B Ministry so much that they banned the channel for 10 days and sent it a notice that is funnier than anything Comedy Central has ever shown. The notice said things like “the man was shown uttering dialogues denigrating women, indecently and crudely referred to sex organs of men-and women and the sing-song rendition by the man sought to pornographically describe the male lust, depicting women as a commodity of sex.” Going by that description, it is unclear whether the I&B Ministry was watching Comedy Central, or every 90s Govinda movie ever.
In their second strike, the Defenders™ decreed that Mumbai must ban the display of bikini-dressed mannequins outside lingerie (pronounced “pentys”) shops in the city. The reasoning here is that skimpily clad mannequins affect the mindset of men, and may encourage them to commit ‘wrong acts’. According to one news report, Ritu Tawade, the corporator behind the ban, said “especially two-piece clothes which barely cover the body are polluting the minds of today’s generation.” We must first applaud Ms Tawade’s dedication to this cause. She’s clearly worked hard to get this ban passed; she’s canvassed her fellow corporators, she’s built consensus, and she’s invented time-travel to go back to 1963 to retrieve the word “two-piece”.
We must accept one of two possibilities here:
Possibility 1: The BMC is correct, and mannequins make men want to commit sex-crimes. If this is the case, we’re doomed and should probably nuke ourselves, because if a mannequin can turn me into a sex-offender, how long before my toaster turns me into an arsonist or my use of bleach turns me into an Aryan supremacist?
Possibility 2: The BMC is wrong, but has a better drug dealer than you do.
As a comedian, these moves by the Defenders™ leave me in a dilemma, because what’s left for me to do when our leaders have already scripted farce as reality? This would be funny if it weren’t damning. There was one teeny-tiny, singular hint of a silver lining (if you could even call it that) to be found in the aftermath of the Delhi incident last year. It created a window of opportunity, for the first time ever, for us to discuss our sexual attitudes and problems, without our usual coyness. We had a chance to debate everything from culturally-ingrained sexism to perversion, an opportunity to redraw lines both legal and social, to go in a better direction as a people. Instead, we just turned on Apple Maps and drove off a cliff.
We’re pulling triggers on huge weapons, but only after we’ve aimed them squarely at the wrong targets. Two weeks ago, someone online accused me of being “a woman basher” because I said (I kid you not) “Actress XYZ is really annoying in this new ad.” (XYZ’s name isn’t relevant to the story, so let’s call her something generic like “Parineeti Chopra”). My annoyance had as much to do with her gender as the BCCI has to do with transparency.
We’ve dropped this ball so spectacularly that it looks like a bookie ordered us to do it. Somewhere in this debate on sexism and our attitude to women, we skipped sublime and went straight to ridiculous. And once this ridiculousness hits critical mass, this debate is going to fold in on itself and implode, scaring off anyone who genuinely wants a reasonable solution. But as long as we keep those evil sex-pest, zebra-print-two-piece wearing mannequins off the streets, who cares, right?
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo.