Sexism Against Women in South Asian Cinema

Movies are something we all watch, regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of our roots. We see movies as a way to communicate stories, perceptions, and feelings. We would expect movies of actors and actresses from different backgrounds to express their image and culture powerfully. However, this isn’t always the case. Stereotyping, sexism, and inequality in South Asian cinema, specifically Indian cinema, has become very common.

Indian cinema, or Bollywood, has been around for a long time now, but some concepts have been prevalent throughout. Since the very beginning, Bollywood has not only justified sexism but promoted sexual harassment, molestation, and objectification of women.

One major flaw you’ll see in Indian movies is its portrayal of women, which is highly stereotypical. Female characters in these movies are almost always painted as dumb, mindless, and lost. They are shown with the only intention to get married to a wealthy man and the only thing they offer back is sexual gratification. In most of these movies, women are objectified as manipulative and selfish, while the men are seen as nothing but perfect. In a recent mainstream Hindi movie, Kabir Singh, the lead character – played by actor Shahid Kapoor – is a man who belittles his girlfriend, Preeti Sikka, attempts to control her life, and objectifies everything about her. In one scene, he is actually shown to threaten a woman at knifepoint when she refuses to have sex with him. Many people have also said that the movie glorifies abusive relationships, rape, and violence against women. Obviously, the women in the movies are shown to be in the wrong, and the man becomes their “hero”. The misogyny is explicit throughout the film, and plays a big part in the deception that the male character has this sort of entitlement, which makes all his wrongdoings “okay”.

Although this industry still has a lot of work to do, there have been some movies that have tried to convey the right messages. For instance, the film Pink, released in 2016, questions society’s mindset on women and clearly emphasizes “no means no”. Gender-based violence in Asian culture is extremely common, as well as toxic masculinity and authority. However, the film goes against this and proves that in no way does a woman have to exist perpetually in a man’s control. The film criticizes society’s silence regarding the problems faced by women on a daily basis such as male privilege, slut-shaming, and misogyny. It conveys these issues of gender inequality and patriarchy and, thus, a sign of undergoing societal changes.

The problem with the films that display any sort of form of prejudice towards women is that they

cause a lack of self-worth in women viewers. Many women may be left with the idea that the actions shown in these films are okay when, in reality, they are not. In countries that are already battling huge numbers of sexual assault, sexist stereotypes, and patriarchy, Bollywood needs to wake up and discontinue to justify these characters they display on the screen. I believe that for the future of this industry to improve, instead of ignoring these issues and suppressing them, women need to speak up. Society needs to hear and understand what is wrong. While watching these films, I encourage you to look out for any signs of prejudice or hatred against women. Understand why it is unacceptable and why these ideas should not be put out for anyone to see. It’s the only time we address it.


Display cover image: Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photos by FOX, HBO, ABC, CBS, and Hulu

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