Rant#10 – The Equality bandwagon

The thought came as I was sitting in an exam hall, for an exam that would decide if I make it into one of the many esteemed engineering institutions in India for post graduation. In that exam hall, there were thirty of us, and out of that thirty, three were women.

Perhaps it was an overbearing concern for humanity as a whole, or personal concerns about getting trapped in a dude-dominated classroom environment yet again, the 1:9 female to male ratio in the exam hall really got me thinking. What could fix this? I was reminded of the fact that the exam I was writing had different cut-offs for people belonging to different castes. Where there is discrimination, there’s reservation. It’s like this country’s alcohol – one sure shot solution to any problem. Theoretically, if every educational institution and subsequently every organisation that would employ these students had a strict 50-50 reservation policy for men and women, there will be equal number of men and women in all fields, right? That’s equality too, right? It felt right for a brief sixteen seconds and then there were more doubts. However…

If there are 100 openings for a position, rather than selecting 50 men and 50 women, selecting 100 people who hold the right skills required for the position irrespective of gender seems to be the smarter move. Maybe all 100 would be men, maybe all would be women, maybe there will be a completely random ratio depending on the talent pool of the total candidates but the purpose gets fulfilled – deserving candidates get selected. Reservations were instilled to promote equity over equality – you give different people different things, because they come from different backgrounds and have been dealt different opportunities all their life. The idea is that since women have been denied most privileges that men enjoy, we set aside a specific reservation quota for them. Yes, if you are fighting for rights to vote and contest in elections in the middle of the French Revolution. Domination by men in sheer numbers was ingrained in the brains of people to the point of it becoming the norm that no one thinks twice about when it came to fields like politics and sciences and hence setting aside positions strictly for women was portrayed to be an incentive, so that traditionalists can’t interfere or influence the changes to come. A thoughtful, bold, first move. However the world has come a long way since. Yes, equal representation of both genders is still isn’t entirely equal but the age old setting aside of seats won’t help. It has had its run, yet we’re still talking about this. The more holistic solution would have been to remove the need for equity at all. The 50-50 opportunity model, if it had been constrained at households, while bringing up kids, to teach them that their gender shouldn’t matter with what opportunities they get or miss, there would be no need for a reserved incentive for people to break out of their preconceived gender roles. It’s time we start respecting the brains and forget the fuzzy tenants from downstairs. That could go a long way in preventing the genders as seeing each other as competitors. Be more productive if we realize everyone is a competitor. This has to be really understood, appreciated and enforced because it will be the right plan for the long run, and not just taken on as a fad, like you see everyone in Hollywood do. Ah Hollywood, where do I even begin…

Movies patting themselves on the back for having a ‘diverse’ cast, people raising banners over white washing of characters – its all a part of the bandwagon mentality. Its as if they are doing it for fear of being left out, to feel like they are making a difference, that they are ‘in the now’. The idea of a female James Bond or Doctor Who isn’t wrong, its actually quite exciting, however the character’s gender shouldn’t become a sole marketing ploy and must add something towards the narrative as well. Almost every new change in the comic book world revolves around gender swapping legacy heroes, or giving them new ethnicity or flipping their sexual orientation. The audience eat it up as well, so well to the point that a mere rehash of characterization or story arc barely feels like a major change anymore, however ingenious the idea might be. Representation matters, but the current trend feels too forced.Representation for the sake of representation trivializes the problem and would just be phoning in a solution. When it comes to the creative arts, the choice lies within the creator. A character is the creator’s brainchild and they may chose to give it whatever traits they want to. The consumer’s role is not to ridicule the creator for how they choose to tell the story but rather to pick whatever suits their whims are just not look the other way. A writer or director might have a hundred justifications, probably a million unconscious triggers nudging them in that direction, of why they chose to write a character male or gay or white and that shouldn’t necessarily anger you – the audience. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Wonder woman, that gem of a movie, was lauded for its portrayal of women, and again criticized for not having much women of color. I find fault in both directions. The movie is about a clan of warrior women, of course they are going to be portrayed as bad-asses. The story demands it and the maker delivered. “Thank you for the true-to-heart portrayal of Amazons”, should’ve been the compliment and not the fact that it showed women being brave. And again, the movie is about a fictional clan of warrior women living in fantasy land, for whatever reason, they are all pale as Dr.Sheldon Cooper next to a chicken, why is that a problem? If every director sat down to include every different sect out there into the cast without fail, who will write the story. La La Land’s received flack over having a white Ryan Gosling passionately save Jazz, a genre that’s predominately associated with black people and a black John Legend not appreciating the art and going modern. So what? If the roles had been reversed there would be criticism over how the movie stereotypes Jazz to be the black man’s game and white people as the threat. I bet you that would’ve happened. Ask anyone from the multiverse. Avatar was criticized for being the typical story of a white man saving the inferior tribe of colored people. They were blue aliens for God’s sake. I’m pretty sure James Cameron didn’t sit down to pen a story that symbolizes the superiority of the white man over people of color through a story of glowy trees and flying mountains in an alien moon. People of Earth had better technology and weaponry and a man who couldn’t bear the selfish destruction of an entire world chose to help them out. The story symbolizes the twin sides of humanity – one that would destroy anything in its path to survive and one that would turn on its own kind out of compassion even when its survival is at stake. Why can’t we just focus on the content and the skill and not the gender and the color? Natalie Portman calling out all the nominees of best director in this year’s golden globes being all male was savage. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that all the nominees were male and she so deftly pulled it into view. As long as she’s asking whether the female directors were not nominated because the board thinks they are not worth considering at all, she’s accusing the selection board as being sexist and the question holds some serious weight. But if she’s just asking why weren’t any female directors chosen even though they made some pretty good movies, she’s merely questioning the board’s choice of nominees and it becomes a whole other question joining the ranks of “Why wasn’t Logan considered for best picture?” or “How could James Franco win ‘best actor in musical/comedy’ over Hugh Jackman for The Greatest Showman?” We all have our preferences, unfortunately we don’t get to nominate. The former question signifies a deeper problem in the industry, the industry being inherently sexist and that’s why women directors don’t get the recognition they should and that it has become an accepted trend. However the latter just resembles the 100 jobs example I had discussed earlier. Maybe the gender didn’t factor at all. Maybe all were men this time just because whatever movies were directed well this time turned out to be made by men. It seems too simplistic now, but most ‘Social Justice Warriors’ who were appreciating Natalie Portman don’t seem to understand the difference between the two viewpoints on the question and neither do they care. The instant there is a male-female question, pitting them against one another, everyone just blindly hops on the bandwagon never pausing to figure out what it is they are actually fighting for, if it’s worth fighting for at all.

Black Panther is five days away. A black superhero movie that has majority of black characters. This is good representation. A movie that’s based in a technologically advanced country set in Africa is of course going to be filled with black characters. Choosing to bring this movie to life, as a way of empowering black people was a good move. The story asks for it, it feels authentic. Say, if they had rebooted the Batman series and made Bruce Wayne a black guy, they would’ve made him a black lesbian female who identifies as a bat considering how insanely inclusive Hollywood wants to be these days, that would’ve been a publicity stunt. Yes, I meant African-American, but as long as I mean black to denote the color of their skin and not as a condescending stereotype, it is okay. It should be. It is okay to talk about ‘that dude in the pink shirt you saw in the supermarket the other day’ but it is not okay to talk about ‘that dude in the gay pink shirt you saw in the supermarket the other day’. Get it? The words themselves don’t hold any effect, the prejudice that tags along does. The prejudice needs to be gotten rid of and not the words. It is just as easy to look down upon an ‘African-American’ adult male as it is to look down upon a ‘black’ guy. The fact that there have been not many mainstream black heroes on the big screen and that black panther finally gives every black kid out there someone like them to look up to and relate to will be extensively appreciated. What about the girls though? But we wouldn’t have truly accomplished anything long lasting until every kid is able is able to relate to whomever they wish to be, looking past the color of their skin or their gender ; not until a casting director is able to pick who fits the role instead of sifting through every variation mankind has come up for itself just to be inclusive, just so that someone out there doesn’t criticize the movie of being too white ; not until a woman can feel comfortable being a stay-at-home mom without feeling like a failure who’s letting down her fellow sisters even though it makes her happy, just because it is seen to be conforming with stereotypes. Let there be people doing what they want because they like it, because it is the right choice according to them, instead of men and women locking horns trying to reverse stereotypes fighting over a non existent crown.

Fight me.