Indian Parents Want Modest Daughters for Honour and Item Girls for Entertainment
The hypocrisy of a cultured nation
My parents watch item songs with women in skimpy outfits moaning to lyrics about the different ways men could violate their bodies. They wonder why I don't watch TV with them.
My parents skip scenes of kissing between couples, but sit through five minutes of a woman pole-dancing in a song, surrounded by men with beers in their hands. They teach my little brother that being in love is bad, but using women for entertainment is okay.
My dad doesn’t mind watching another man's daughter wearing shorts to dance for these songs in films and competitions, but gets mad at the thought of his own daughter wanting to wear shorts to beat the summer heat. He forbids me from wearing a sleeveless dress, but doesn't mind watching women with saris pulled down to show their jacket and cleavage. He teaches my brother that it is okay to treat other women like items, but a woman from his own family should be a pure goddess who carries the family's honour.
I once made a film analysis video that garnered a lot of appreciation. When I tried to show it to my very-backward, misogynistic uncle, he said he’d much rather see a video of me sweeping the house because that’s what he would be proud of. I remember his awe when he learned that Silk Smitha started her sexual acting at a young age of 14 or 16. He admired that quality in her. He also listens to item songs on full blast in his home theater, but has no intention of appreciating his niece’s non-sexual, non-domestic hard work.
My mom thinks watching item songs makes her artistic, bold, cool, when all she is is a victim of internalised misogyny.
In fifth grade, when my girl friends and I went to buy hats for a dance, one of the mothers got furious at her daughters for crossing the street and walking to a nearby stationary store. She couldn't believe that a bunch of girls had the audacity to go out on their own. She asked her eldest daughter if she was audacious enough to do this, then if she would also go around sleeping with men. On the same day, she continued to choreograph the steps for her younger daughter's dance to the infamous item song, Sheila Ki Jawani. When the little girl grew nervous about performing on stage to the song, her mother's response? "Katrina Kaif dances boldly with so many men around her. What is your problem to dance on stage alone?" She was in 4th grade. The mother taught her daughters that autonomy is shameful, but dancing to an item number is an act of courage.
When parents enjoy item songs and encourage their children to dance to them, their sons grow up to be filmmakers who think the equation to a successful commercial film is to sexualise women, while their daughter's grow up to be actresses who believe that one of the highest honours of their acting careers is to be called an item girl.
When parents in India sit through item songs or any songs that use women as sexual props for male leads, they create a society where sons grow up to be playboys and daughters grow up to be their toys.