How Vijay’s 'Sivakasi' Taught Me That Sexual Harassment was the Woman’s Fault
Has the scene changed since then in his new film Beast?
It was a fine summer day in the late 2000s. As a seven-year-old sits on the floor watching the big Onida box TV, a scene from Vijay’s film Sivakasi is going to teach her a concept that is going to make her fear rape as a child, forces her into taking precautions to prevent abuse, then blame her tiny, little self after getting abused by old, perverted men, and takes years to unlearn and grow confident and courageous to dress the way she wants, and still be burdened with carrying the trauma of the past.
The scene in discussion starts with the heroine (Asin) getting out of a rich, sports car with her father in a busy shopping street. She's wearing jean shorts and a sleeveless top that looks like a bralette stitched together with a net to show her entire hips. An outfit that screamed the male director wanted to prove his prejudiced, “intellectual” point about a gender he knew nothing of.
As the heroine walks into a sari store, a creep notices and follows her inside. While she's shopping, there are close up shots to her skin accompanied by annoying sex noises in the background. After each of those shots, the creep touches her where the camera was focusing. The heroine then calls him a rascal and starts hitting him with her slippers.
Great. Let's stop right here. Let's teach women to stand up for themselves and men to not be predators.
No scene is complete or even remotely worth without the hero in it. So Vijay enters the scene. As the heroine hits the pervert in the middle of the road, the hero grabs the creep's hand, brings it to the heroine's hand and rubs them together aggressively, much to the heroine's disgust. He then asks the creep, "Is this enough for you? If you want to rub against something, there'll be kilos of meat hanging in a butchery, go rub against it."
And then he turns to the heroine.
Now, I don’t have the tolerance to translate each one of those senseless, misogynistic, arrogant mansplaining lines to you. So here’s the gist:
"There's no sari, no jacket. Why have you come out like this? God created men for women, and women for men. So show yourself to one man. If you show yourself to the entire world, every man will think of you as his and will want to touch you. If you drape yourself in a sari and cover yourself well when you come out, men will see you not as a woman, but will worship you as a goddess."
That day, I learnt that sexual harassment was a woman's fault. From then on, I've always tried to dress appropriately, to not wear clothes or act in a way which might make men perceive me as a woman.
I was a seven-year-old, trying to protect myself from rape by trying my best to not be accidentally perceived as an adult woman. I acted more childish than I wanted, felt uncomfortable even with the slightest slit in my childish tops. But nothing stopped men from harassing this six-year old, ten-year-old, fourteen-year-old, twenty-year-old—basically my whole life, nothing I did or didn't do has ever stopped men from doing whatever the fuck they desired.
Has Time and Activism Changed Minds?
These days, I see Vijay acting in "feminist" films. I want to laugh. He's considered the “Hero of the Youth.” And he did shape the minds of a lot of youth with that one scene. You'd think male filmmakers will have the sense to write better dialogues after feminists have fought their asses off for so long to bring awareness. But no. In Vijay's latest movie, Beast, he tells the heroine (who is not yet his girlfriend), "You're standing here looking so beautiful. Might kiss you or something."
And throughout the movie, the director has made the choice to dress up most of the young, female, background actors in short shorts. I honestly have never seen a woman in Chennai wear short shorts at any mall. I wish we had the freedom and comfort to do so, given how fucking scorching Chennai is. But all this shit happens only in films where men want to see more of our skin.
Sexual harassment inflicted on you is never, ever, your fault. You do not carry the blame for the actions of another. A woman’s body is hers, and hers alone. No matter how naked she is, her skin isn’t yours to hunt. She isn’t a goddess. She does not need your sinful self to worship her. She isn’t one to forgive. She’s the fucking devil who wants you to kneel and burn in hell if you dare to touch her without her consent.
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