Milind Soman, on his 55th birthday was turning up the health quotient at the Goa beach. The nude picture of him running at the beachline became the overnight #FitnessGoals and rightly so! His chiseled body and radiating energy is considered a coveted scale to map one’s own fitness journey. Cut to the following Thursday, a picture of Indian actress and model Poonam Panday taken at Chapoli dam floated around on social media. Needless to say, she was not just mercilessly slut shamed but was also retained by the Goa police for trespassing into the government’s property and shooting an “obscene video”.
The skewed Indian morality that is more often than not applied only to women did not flinch from calling her a dubious model who is desperate for a day’s worth of fame. Emancipation is a word which is often thrown around on topical days like women’s day and mother’s day. But it does little to hide the blatant hypocrisy of the double standard people who otherwise perpetuate misogyny at every opportunity. It is alleged that feminists are always “angry”. The question repeatedly comes back, “Why are you not?”
When a woman’s nudity is latched on to nothing but sexuality, it reinforces the regressive idea that the purpose of a woman’s body is nothing beyond appearing sexual. The idea of liberty does not apply to women. Therefore, if she decides to feel the skin in the sun without her clothes, she is baselessly considered “asking for it”. The dystopia of the society that grants “permission” to men to express themselves and their sexuality takes away the bodily agency of a woman. As a result, when she acts against the instructed values of society, it immediately becomes a scandal.
It is worth noting that performative activism screams capital punishment when a woman is sexually assaulted. A number of social media outrage tides up and everyone unanimously wants DIY justice. However, when it comes down to addressing the structural problems that have plagued every aspect of a woman’s life, the engagement seemingly falls flat.
The stark difference between netizen’s respective reactions to Millind Soman and Poonam Panday’s nudity is just a pixel embedded in the bigger picture tainted with misogyny. It was not long ago when a South Indian actor Samyukta Hegde was assaulted for working out in a sports bra at a public park.
A woman in control of her sexuality is a threat to society. But why? Through histories and cultures, women’s lives devoid of any agency whatsoever have been dictated by the patriarchal moralities which assign them certain code of conduct. Over the years, these differences turned into norms. The normalisation of how a woman is supposed to conduct to remain respectable in society worked in every way against their freedom and liberty. As a result, women who expressed their desires were categorically shamed and assaulted into conformity. Even history has carefully documented the witch hunt of women who tried to break away from the social values piled upon them.
Cut to present, not much has changed, when a Poonam Panday is called pornographic and obscene, when vultures of self-proclaimed guardians of constructed patriarchal society come to feed on the carcasses of a woman’s body, it is an assault on the collective emancipation of all the women fighting to guard their rights and agencies in life. Like they say, “we will be born a thousand times from the ashes of witches you try to burn.” After a huge protest by another set of internet users who not just identified the gender disparity but also vocalised it, a case was then registered against actor Milind Soman under IPC section 294 (obscene acts and songs) and section 67 (punishment for publishing/transmitting obscene material in electronic form). But the question never ceases to haunt us, will society begin to look at women without its prejudiced gendered gaze?