Saturday, May 14, 2016

Damn Girl, Your Feminism Is Showing

I can’t speak for other professions but being feminist in Indian television is a weird science, practically inexplicable like quantum theory. In TV one can, at the same time, be and un-be a feminist. One can, simultaneously, benefit from & destroy the very foundations of feminism that generations of women (and some men) built with blood, sweat and tears.

…which is precisely how my boss prays I won’t speak as we walk into the conference room to present a “wow kickass jhakaas idea for TV program” to a group of suits.

Subconsciously I brace to be institutionally ignored by men in positions of power. If you’re a proper feminist, you’ve read up on all the ways in which you can be disregarded and made to feel small in such situations – you’re talked over, sometimes you’re loomed over by big-dick body postures and very often you’re subjected to half-smirks as dudes pretend to listen.

Where people sit at such events is key. My team is represented by myself and two men. One of them is my boss and he, automatically, takes the seat that would put him at the head of proceedings on our side. The other side is represented by three men and a woman. So far so #everydaysexism.

But then a slight woman with a big presence walks in and introduces herself as the high chair priestess. She parks herself bang in front of me, across the conference table, upsetting patriarchy's seating chart. She's a marketing suit and she takes lead (yes children, if you thought your television was made by creatives birthing sexciting ideas, think again – the head honcho is always the salesperson looking for profit). Off we go.

I don’t need to turn towards my boss to know that he’s straightening his back to up-talk our company and the work we do. She listens for a second and starts looking bored. A mousey guy to her right interrupts my boss and says, “Yes we know your work. Tell us your idea.” It’s over to me now.

I’m so excited, I tell them, to be presenting an idea that’s part humour, part emotional drama and always ‘life-positive’. Off we go, let’s present the fuck out of this. Three slides in. What wow. Such amaze. Look at their rapt---

High Chair Priestess: “I’m going to stop you right there. I think we’ve got the point.”

Me: Umm ok. (Initiate Sequence – Control ‘HELLNAW YOU DINT JUST INTERRUP MAH GRINDIN’ Face.)

HCP: This is great and all but it’s not right for our channel.

Me: Ok…?

HCP: There are women in each of your episodes.

Me: Yes.

HCP: And your anchor is a woman.

Me: Tr00 dat home gurl.

HCP: Our channel is more inclusive of other genders.

Me: Oh yay, like the whole spectrum of LGBTQ? (This was more a ‘face expression’ than actual words.)

HCP: No, I mean – shows that everyone can watch. And feel happy about.

Me: *nodding head vigorously* You do mean LGBTQ! (Again, face-expression)

HCP: Have you seen that Brooke Bond ad?

Me: Nuh-unh.

By this time, the world around us has dissolved, like in West Side Story, and there’s just me and her in the room looking meaningfully into each other’s eyes.
and mouths a little less agape

I can hear background dude-murmurs (‘yesyesyes') every time she says something. But not once has she made eye contact with anyone besides me. She ignores the men, she assumes the big-vag body posture and she resolutely interrupts any dude who pipes up from time to time. I’m a little bit in love with her.

HCP: There’s a young couple. And she asks him to make chai. Her mother in law comes in and there’s this cute tension you know because she expects the daughter in law to make tea? But then she takes a sip and approves of her son and daughter in law. Like that.

Me: Huh? (Initiate Sequence – Remove CONTEMPT from face)

HCP: We are not looking to push women’s programming. Or be perceived as ‘male-bashing’.

Me: But but but these are fascinating stories that happen to have women in the lead. We’re talking about women who do great things. There’s no male-bashing at all.

HCP: Exactly, there are no males.


HCP: If we get a branded slot like ‘L’Oreal Presents’ we’ll explore this further. Thank you for coming in. Keep in touch.

I reel out of the room, not quite sure what happened. I’m still high from having HCP engage with me so completely, to not be talked down to as is the norm. I’m appalled at my own desperation to not come off as a ‘card-carrying feminist’. I’m shocked at how this woman, whose talent & determination has allowed her to rise up the corporate ranks, is doing her job so well that it destroys any chances of non-cis-male narratives making it to the mainstream. I’m even more aware of how the ‘market’ is patriarchy’s bitch.


My boss is incredibly supportive. We’ve bombed, yes, but he believes in the idea and immediately starts making a list of other places we could pitch it. My other colleague is mostly quiet.

Then he says, “I’m sorry to say – and don’t take it the wrong way – but women in channels are like this only.”

Me: Like what?

He: Poor listeners. They interrupt constantly.

Me: So do men, yaar. All the time.

He: No they don’t. Not like this.

Me: Sigh. Ok.

He: And, anyway, did you see her body language?