Debate

Video promoting women’s choices in India draws some criticism among praise

Why the video that instantly went viral is now at the center of controversy

Screenshot from video

Vogue India’s #VogueEmpower initiative via the short film “My Choice” is an attempt to give Indian women an opportunity to voice and define the choices they make. At its core, the video centers on women’s empowerment and has been widely applauded on social media as being inspirational. But there has also been some backlash from various corners. Some have criticized it as “shallow,” elitist and one-dimensional.

https://twitter.com/nepaliketa77/status/581911201803739136

One key aspect of the video being questioned is the selection of women used to portray the social awareness message. The use of celebrities to advocate for a cause is often very effective, as they are seen as role models by many, but some critics say the elite and urban women who appear in the “My Choice” video don’t represent society in India at large, where class and caste play a part in determining an individual’s opportunities.

A columnist at Firstpost wrote, “the Vogue video only speaks for a small group of women for whom education, healthcare, money are privileges they can take for granted as birthrights.”

This analysis is spot-on. The video doesn’t begin to take into account the point of a view of a girl from a lower middle class conservative household in India, where the luxury of independent thinking and a burden of choice might seem far-fetched. There’s not even a hint of suggestion that a woman might have to put the reputation of her family and society’s expectations and old-fashioned values ahead of her own choices. The sophisticated aesthetic addresses only a few sections of society. This point is reiterated in the article. “Where are the women who have chosen to work, perhaps all day as domestic helps, because they want their sons and daughters to finish their education and have different lives?”

Another feature that has been overlooked is the male inclusion in the narrative. According to a columnist at  Scroll India, “any discussion of women’s empowerment is incomplete without questioning the structures that allow men to dominate our society. A mere emphasis on ‘choice’ does nothing to dislodge male privilege.” The social media world is abuzz with a opinions, too.

One reaction, perhaps simply a parody, is a video that surfaced online, titled  ‘My Choice — Male Version’. The video is aimed at expressing a male perspective on the statements made in the original, namely to counter the idea in the Vogue video of a woman asserting her choice to have sex before, or outside of, marriage. The male version puts forth a masculine narrative and the choice for men to do the same when it comes to sex.

It also brings to light the issue of sexual freedom and choice, where it is undermined if the structures of male domination are not dismantled. The emancipation of both sexes needs to go hand in hand and  Scroll India says this is key, “otherwise, it merely perpetuates the existing hypocrisy: That men enjoy the “choice” of sleeping around but women who exercise the same sexual autonomy are ‘sluts.'”

There’s also some skepticism about the words spoken on screen during the original video. A columnist at Newslaundry wrote,” While I appreciate Adjania’s ode to stream of consciousness scripting, what do these words mean and why are these women saying these words to us? And why does this look like a poor man’s version of Madonna’s Vogue video?”

Watch the “My Choice — Male Version” video below:

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