Second guesses

May 24, 2015, 06:00 IST | Paromita Vohra

What happens when you keep second-guessing? You usually guess wrong. Ask Sonam Kapoor. Sonam Kapoor is a style icon

What happens when you keep second-guessing? You usually guess wrong. Ask Sonam Kapoor. Sonam Kapoor is a style icon. Here's a woman who really gets the meaning of form, understands how to combine the essence of one aesthetic world with another. Her fashion sense is full of delight, play, intelligence, confidence, poetry and individuality.

Why then would she suddenly appear in an outfit that looked like a rejected zombie costume from Game of Thrones? Well, that's what can happen when outsiders step into bastions of power. Cannes may be about movies but it is also, overwhelmingly, about power. This year, a woman was turned away from a film screening because she was not wearing high heels. Because you know, high heels are crucial to appreciating cinema. Unless you're a dude.

A bastion of power functions not by diversity — all kinds of people will come here — but by hierarchy. Insiders uphold those rules 'effortlessly'. The structures aren't explicit but unspoken so it often messes with your mind, makes you doubt yourself. It's easy to get things wrong when you feel you are wrong.

It happened to Sonam Kapoor in her workplace. It happens to many women in their workplaces as was clear from an article in a business daily last week, which explored why there were so few women in the top rungs of advertising. The unsurprising answer being, advertising is a sausage fest, a boy's club.

Sonam Kapoor at the Cannes. File pic
Sonam Kapoor at the Cannes. File pic 

Bole toh, men in this industry interpret informality to mean frat-house behaviour: like all that bad stand-up around us, they want to swear, make sexist, sexual jokes (just a joke yaar) and rate women on their appearance and not understand how women are. If you are uncomfortable with this then you can't hack it, or you're too uptight. It's always you — not them or the way the workplace is organised. It's confusing — because overtly people talk of equality or being bohemian. But the structure covertly reinforces tradition.

If you weren't confused though, the article decided to help by ending with six commandments. You'd imagine these would be for men, na, on how to behave more professionally in a multi-gender workspace? Main bhi kitni bholi hoon. Akhir aurat hoon. (The word commandment should have tipped me off — they're usually issued by bearded gents.)These commandments were instructions to women on how to behave better at work.

So: don't use your gender to get preferential treatment (meanwhile boys, please carry on upholding male privilege via the bro-code yaar). Don't use home to justify leaving work early (yaniki, on time). But don't ignore home for work. Mentor other women. Because why should men mentor women just because there is a men in mentor? Woah dude, that's discrimination.

Oh and be assertive, but not too much. Sorry, no one in the entire spreadsheet producing number-crunching nation of corporatistan can tell any woman (or Dalit or gay person) what the correct level of assertiveness is. It's something you just know, unless you don't belong.

How serious are we about diversity, if we're not willing to question structures the reproduce old hierarchies? For that, businesses have to let workspaces be restructured by multiple gendered identities. Yes, this does mean that crying is only a big deal if you make a big deal of it. So what if someone needs to have a good cry to let off steam so they can work well? It's just perspective, dude. Meanwhile fashion writers should stop focusing on the Sonam Kapoors and call out the hierarchies of the red carpet. No need to second-guess this. It's solidarity with diversity over power.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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