Actor Tisca Chopra recently opened up regarding her casting couch experience. There is a constant notion that a woman’s body is public property.
Tisca Chopra’s articulate way of sharing her story might have been breezy, light-hearted and may have even brought a smile on your face in appreciation for the way she speaks. But what she shared was definitely a sock in the stomach. It takes tremendous courage to share such painful, triggering stories, and that too, with a smile on the face and the aura of a fighter to boot.
Even as we speak, there are many young women who are misbehaved with in the entertainment industry through the casting couch, or as Author Nandini Krishnan recently wrote, through abusive misdemeanour and sexism in the name of getting carried away by the script.
That sexual favours have often been sought – nay, expected – of women is not confined to the film industry. We often hear of, read or, and even watch portrayals of women being harassed and approached with inappropriate sexual advances, in the work place, in exchange for promotions, salary hikes, roles and what not.
Laws have been drafted to respond to sexual harassment at the work place, but beyond being band-aid legislations, there has been precious little in the form of returns on the legalese investment.
While it is arguable that it a woman who finds herself in this situation can stand up for herself and fight it, we also need to set that argument in context. In an ideal case scenario, it is perhaps capable of holding water. But import it into an equation where there is power, and the unpacking takes a different tone.
A director, a corporate big wig or any equivalent in a fairly high position does not operate in isolation, but with a chain of command that carries power with it. This power can take virulent forms, and has often been used to silence dissidence or anything that is not acceptable. Thrown in the mix, it can make things difficult for one who chooses to speak up – much less openly, taking names and such.
There is more to what Tisca Chopra’s story suggests. Anyone can tell you that it is an outright exposition of the casting couch. But scratch deeper, and there’s more.
What her story reflects, is a greater undercurrent of misogyny and patriarchy which holds the entitlement to a woman’s body as a norm of sorts. There is a constant assertion and reassertion of the notion that a woman’s body is public property, and that any man can hop on the bus of entitlement and lay claim to it, offering “sops” in exchange for it.
What her story also reflects, is that the onus is repetitively always on the woman to get out of these situations, to avoid these situations and to save themselves. To this effect, it remains clear that a man seems to be absolutely unrestricted and that he can do what he wants, making inappropriate sexual advances included, while it is for a woman to avoid being subject to it.
With these messages constantly being repackaged and sold to us, we continue to allow a cycle of impunity, where the predator-prey dynamic is not an oversimplified rendition of reality.
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