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Skimpily clad women cheerleaders at the IPL are just one of the ways women are put on display as sexualised objects for the male gaze, adding to the rape culture in India.
In an IPL T-20 cricket match — every time a male player hits a boundary or takes a wicket, skimpily clad women in his team colours, dance on a specially built stage in the stadium. These are the cheerleaders for IPL.
IPL is the Indian Premiere League, a T-20 tournament that claims to represent Indian Cities and states. But there is nothing cricket about the cheerleaders. Not their dresses, not the dance moves. Most are foreigners, most are white. But it is not their race or colour or dress that’s an issue. To me they are simply women, and they are on display in that cricket stadium. And I have wondered from day one, why are they even there?
The question that has bugged me for so many years. It is usually an IPL season issue, and friends and family are subjected to the investigation. The answers mostly range from a snickering “as if you don’t know” to calling it Indian men’s obsession with white skin, to a seemingly polished response of how they bring glamour to the event.
That glamour is synonymous with putting semi-naked women on display is a message we get from many channels. Leading auto-makers of the world put women on display when they launch their mean machines. Even Formula 1 has needed grid girls for so long. Hollywood, Hindi film industry, TV ads…well, let’s not even go there.
It is said if India had a national religion, it would be cricket. Our obsession with cricket is what has perhaps made the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) one of the richest sports bodies in the world. Billions of fans watch each and every ball that is bowled, each and every shot that is played. Every hit and miss, is watched, discussed, analysed, debated, dissected and beaten about. There is a whole industry that caters to the cricket obsession — TV channels, apparel, accessories, ads, websites, online games, commentators, talk shows, even news channels. Such interest in everything cricket, then where is the need to put women on display in that stadium?
Cricket, they say, is a gentleman’s game. An IPL match is no exception — 13 players on field at anytime, rest of the team in dugouts, umpires, commentators — it’s a male dominated, testosterone driven show. Except for the skimpily clad women in the cheerleading squad. The contrast could not be more glaring. While the men go about real business, women are the accessories. Their only job — look pretty and dance at cue in the middle of a noisy stadium. And of course, take the lewd comments, gestures and catcalls in their stride. What sort of entertainment is this? For whom? Why are they even there?
It is one thing to have to go through the blatant sexualisation of women in cinema in the name of art. We cringed when Raj Kapoor put Mandakini on display under a waterfall — clad in a sheer, white saree that made even a bikini look modest, every part of her body showing. The scene required it, we were told, and who were we to object to creative freedom.
We endured it when through most of the 1980s and early 1990s we were subjected to male oriented movies that showed the hero beating up goons. The women in these movies had little to do except look pretty, get serenaded, stalked, molested or raped.
Here’s how the storyline typically panned out…The hero would stalk the heroine and she would eventually fall in love with him. The sort of ‘teasing’ enacted was nothing but harassment except that the men writing, directing, producing these movies had us believe that the women enjoyed it. It was something to aspire for perhaps. The villain would rape either the hero’s love interest or his sister. The rape scene would be filmed in as much detail as possible, a long horror sequence that exaggerated the helplessness of the woman to such a degree that it would never occur to anyone that women can learn self defence and martial arts, and fight back. The raped woman, if not killed by the villain, kills herself. The hero would then embark on a revenge seeking mission while corrupt authorities either connive with the villains or twiddle their thumbs rather than work for justice. Hero gets his revenge, the potboiler gets the box office collections, everyone lives happily ever after.
And the message is clear — a woman is a beautiful and helpless object, either to be violated by the villain or protected by the hero. The lines between villain and hero are blurred and open for interpretation as convenient. So even heroes could stalk and ‘eve tease’, nothing villainous about that. It is now that women (and society in general) have awakened to saying that such objectification is not acceptable — not in reality, not in movies. And while we do see stronger narratives coming up, there is a lot more to be done.
In the garb of art and creative freedom, it is perhaps easy to get away with objectification of women in the movies and on television. But it is another thing to live with such sexualisation of women where none was required — in a sporting field. The message to all those watching, at homes or on the field, could not have been more crude — that women are decorative items. All they need to is look pretty, display their bodies and dance for the men.
It is 2018 — a time when the world is waking up to #MeToo! Even Formula 1 agrees that using grid girls as decorative pieces is at odds with modern societal norms. There are strong voices saying time’s up for objectification of women in sporting arena. It is high time BCCI takes cue and does away with this ridiculous practice of using women as props on a sports field.
While we slowly go about fixing all the wrongs that have been thrust on us over the last many decades, the least we can do is be more vigilant when we have ‘new’ ways of women objectification making way into our lives. Having skimpily clad women dance while the men play cricket in the stadium is one such gross objectification of women that has been thrust upon us by the BCCI. If cricket is a religion, and men are it’s Gods, they do not need semi-naked woman to rake in the moolah. This perversion that is enacted in the stadium and beamed on TV channels to families watching a sport, must end.
It should not have to take a political circus for us to take note of how unsafe women are in India and how they deal with the effects of objectification in daily life. As per a National Crime Records Bureau report, 4 women are raped every hour in India. If the enormity of this number doesn’t hit you yet, visualize this — the next time you head out for lunch, 4 women would have been brutalised by the time you are back. And this happens everyday.
The report separately gives us far higher numbers for assaults with intent to rape, incidents of stalking, voyeurism and other crimes against women. In short, the crimes against woman are so high that we have to seriously question what all are we doing wrong that is making men think women are objects to be violated on any pretext. Our conscious should be shaken out of its stupor every minute till we fix things, and not just when a rape takes centre stage because politicians find a way of milking the tragedy for their benefit.
Over the last few days, we have endured an onslaught of people giving labels to rape victims. Women who have been brutalised are reduced to mere symbols of their religion, community or caste as politically savvy intellectuals debate over the intensity of a crime, and the intensity of outrage over a crime, and then the difference in outrage over different crimes. While such debates provide business to many, the woman or the child who was brutalized is forgotten. It is easy to forget because everything around us smacks of gender inequality, insensitivity and crude sexualisation of women. It sure is difficult to stay focussed on the crime when the victims were considered ‘mere objects’ to begin with.
We have to put an end to everything that objectifies women. No indulging in whataboutery — questioning “what about” the other evils — the movies, the ads, the lyrics — why tackle this one. We have to take down each of them, one by one. We need an end to everything that objectifies women. Everything. And it won’t end by wrapping DPs in ribbons or updating social media status with a black dot. Or by scratching the seasonal itch that occurs during the IPL season or only when a rape becomes a political circus.
It will end when we say NO to each and everything that treats women like objects that can be played around with. Stop Objectifying Women. PERIOD.
Published here earlier.
Image source: YouTube
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