It's no secret that we as a nation are painfully opinionated. Anything and everything under the sun is open to excruciating scrutiny. However, sometimes (or rather most of the time), our piercing judgement is unfairly distributed. Let's take clothing choices for example. Men can wear whatever they want, however they want without anyone batting an eye, but when women enter the same arena they are subjected to almost double the slanderous critique as their male counterparts. From their character to their upbringing, their entire life is ransacked.
Case in point, Urfi Javed. Lately, the young actress has been gracing the pages of every major publication in the country. Rarely are any positive.
To a neutral eye, she is a budding actress attempting to experiment with her looks. But to the self-appointed defenders of our country's honour who are religiously safeguarding our heritage by typing vulgar, sexual replies on their six-inch, dim-lit phone screens, she is a wicked seductress set out to cast shame upon Indian culture. Why? Because a 24-year-old social media icon wanted to explore some quirky, unconventional outfit choices.
Let me bring your attention to another youth icon who frequently flirts with bizarre fashion trends:
The man straight up looks like a sperm here
Or whatever low-resolution version of Handmaid's Tale cosplay this is
Or here where he is literally one tiny piece of fabric away from going full commando
Ranveer Singh is hailed as an icon for his Avant Garde looks. At the worst, he is the butt of a few jokes. He is never sexualised (even when the man literally dressed up as a human sperm). But when Urfi Javed does the same she is subjected to merciless trolling, crass abuse and rape threats.
No matter how liberated we have become as a society, there continues to persist a searing double standard. The stakes are not the same for men and women. This is manifested in Bollywood's endemic sexism that fails to hold female actors at par with their male costars. Take something as simple as clothing for example. If a woman makes the same choices as a man, she is quickly branded an object of sexual desire.
Take a look at the difference in media headlines between Ranveer Singh and Urfi Javed:
Javed revealed that she is being unfairly sexualised by the industry and it irks her when people automatically presume that she is ready to do intimate scenes. She further divulged to TOI: “Recently, I met a casting director who told me it is so difficult for you now to get work, especially in television because your image is so bad.” The alleged casting director urged her to settle for adult-rated series. "I straight away told him that I am not going to do intimate scenes as I am not comfortable. I’ve made it very clear," adding that because of this mentality she is not doing any acting work.
The radical sexualisation of women for wearing what they want to wear strips them of their autonomy of individual choice. It reinforces a harmful ideology that female bodies exist primarily to please men, alongside anxiety about appearance, feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression.
According to UNICEF, sexual objectification also contributes to "harmful gender stereotypes that normalize violence against girls." This double standard not only has detrimental consequences on girls but boys begin to see how their bodies are portrayed in relation to girls and internalize the notion that girls are the inferior sex.
Given the entertainment industry's massive hold over mass opinions, it's high time Bollywood and its subsidiaries reject old frames of mind and do justice to young actors like Urfi Javed.