Posted on 07-12-2014
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

When I was working with a European company that made different types of home cleaning products like sponge, cleaning duster, mop with stick and the like, I remember an accusation the brand got of being disrespectful to women. With the client we had devised a special mopping innovation where the handle’s manoeuvrability enabled easy cleaning and washing of the mop to reduce effort while increasing the comfort of home cleaning. It provided great consumer advantage. The advertising storyline used the tango dance. The stick represented the man, the mop the woman. The product achieved huge sales success within six months. Then one day, the client got a notice from the court that women were being abused as servants thereby degrading them. The ad had to be stopped within 48 hours. Even the product concept was questioned because in the tango dance, the woman, the mop here, does all the dirty work as a slave through complex dance steps, while the man, the stick, largely only provides the balance. However, the client could save the concept and the product while kicking out the advertisement. The big lesson we learnt was to be super-sensitive to not tamper on people’s sentiments and women’s dignity. The attack of women being insulted was not from activists, but the consumer forum. Just imagine the superior power consumers have in developed countries that the industry cannot do things any way they want.

Zapping the TV remote yesterday, I stumbled upon an edible oil advertisement on a regional Indian channel. The prospective bridegroom’s family was choosing the bride based on her cooking ability. Doubtful, scrutinising faces were shown to light up brightly when one by one they tasted her cooking. Great cooking quality was only happening due to the oil brand. The prospective bride’s family was shown surreptitiously paying thankful reverence to the oil brand for achieving this success. Isn’t it shocking how we socially ill treat our women to sell branded products? That the girl’s performance is judged as though a cook is being hired is bad enough. Add to this our unjust social system that debases the honour of women by accepting such a bride selection-elimination process. To top it all, here was this TV commercial blatantly demeaning the woman’s cooking competence while showing a heroic brand overcoming her shortcoming to make her a winner. The ad’s tone and manner may purport to be fun, but isn’t it a below-the-belt punch on women’s dignity? How can arranged marriages use women as merchandise to be selected on abilities that will provide comfort to the family choosing her?

I remember when I was about 10 years old, I was among my maternal uncle’s family who had gone to select a bride for him. The girl was very beautiful. I was the only child there, she was very attentive to me in another room. I quickly became fond of her and felt happy she would be my aunt. She was called to walk around and serve us all delicious food and sweets. I was looking forward to the marriage date, but after sometime I heard the marriage was not to be. I was very disappointed, but could not understand why. Much later, after I’d gone to France and was on a holiday trip home, while having some nostalgic conversation, I was shocked to discover the reason why she was rejected. When they had asked her to walk, it seems she took big bold steps which displayed her character to be very independent-minded. So it was assumed that she would not be a subservient daughter-in-law. You can’t imagine how ashamed I felt that my family could inflict such insult on women.

People in our country lack the courage to challenge scientific logic. They either fight, not debate or keep quiet. I squirm to see fairness cream advertising in India that disgracefully slurs women’s honour. Being the world’s most heterogeneous society with strong geographical change across the south, east, north and west, every Indian’s morphology and pigmentation obviously cannot be the same. Yet culturally, in every region, fairness is coveted. The ads emphasise how fair skin increases a girl’s confidence, lands her plum jobs and raises her marital fortunes. Skin lightening cosmetics have, year after year, played on the insecurities of people about their skin colour and created a R3,000-crore industry by 2014. As film stars are used to advertise these products, the film industry is largely responsible for propagating such social non-acceptance fears because of dark skin. How many heroines have you seen who are dark? Does it mean the role model for women in our country is fair heroines?

The earliest commercial fairness cream in India was made in 1919. In 1975, came an MNC whitening product that’s ruled monopolistically for several years to become a R1,000-crore brand. It seems 30% of fairness creams are secretly used by men, so from 2005, a special whitening product for self-doubting men promising them better prospects with lighter skin was successfully launched. Today many international cosmetics companies have joined the fray to entice women to become white. Millions of our people are below the poverty line or don’t have the money to take care of their skin through nutrition. Instead, they fall victim to such products for their skin troubles. Don’t whiteness promising companies realise how insulting their proposition is to women’s natural beauty? The Centre for Science and Environment says health is at stake, too, because about 44% of fairness creams marketed in India contain high toxic mercury levels that can eventually affect the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. By quoting this NGO, I am, of course, not raising any issue of creams protecting skin from the sun’s ultra-violet rays.

Frankly, we don’t require activists to rebel against such disgraceful money-making activities. The consumer forum can stop such products that feed on people’s unsure sense of worth and horribly humiliate women. There are so many different angles that women in our country have to face disgraceful insults from. It’s a shame.

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Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express


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Posted on 01-09-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Crimes of rape, gang rape, abuse and assault on women are being hotly debated on national TV, generally veering on 3 sets of opinions: that it’s made into a political issue, or its police inefficiency, and lastly it’s the growing rowdy-ism problem in society. Rarely have I heard anyone talk about the practical angle of who’s fuelling it.

Clearly, the mechanical, ritualistic, repetitive item numbers from Bollywood films cannot look so innocent. Repetition of such permissiveness, analogous to the affordable, non-distinctive chowmein selling on urban street corners, makes it become permissible to society. Such a social entry of repetitive item numbers has every potential of resulting in dangerous misdemeanor. The impact audiovisual cinema and TV entertainment have on society is tremendous. Even in the silent film era, American FBI’s J Edgar Hoover managed to expel renowned creative filmmaker Charlie Chaplin for making The Great Dictator. Although the film made fun of Hitler, Hoover accused Chaplin of “anti-Americanism,” saying audiovisual communication can be construed as influential to society, whether the information was good, bad, right, wrong. So let’s not undermine the power of audiovisual media in influencing our billion+ people. Simultaneously, I absolutely cannot support Hoover for banishing a genius like Chaplin whose creativity brought continuous newness in his every film.

I’m not against any form of liberty of creativity of a filmmaker, but we have to differentiate between originality of film making and copycat repetitive versions that exploit women’s self esteem. Sizzlers item numbers are digital industrial reproductions, they have no romance, and are accepted by society. Everyone watches them together unlike the hidden factor of pornography or B/C Grade films. The repetitive item numbers look alike in their lewd exposure of the frontal and backside of a woman’s torso. The uneducated, whether employed or unemployed, receive signals that these girls driving the men are beckoning them. Repetitive item numbers have purportedly become mandatory to catch the public’s eye, pull them into theatres, or dingy, sweat-smelling video shops in small towns and villages, or directly stream onto mobile phones of most of our 900 million users. Somehow Helen’s cabaret numbers in days of yore would fit a storyline; today’s item numbers pop-up with barely any provocation. In general, plenty of boys swivel around a single, generously endowed girl, who shows off her oomph with every possible body revealing movement she makes. Her steamy allure makes the boys go crazy, because she’s the heroine, not a vamp like Helen.

Shouldn’t Bollywood actresses help society by putting a stop to the repetition of the vanilla they are made to perform? The Bollywood concept took birth with India’s economic reforms in 1991 when business doors flung open to foreigners. Liberalization became an adrenaline rush for Indians living abroad as people started talking about possibilities in their motherland. That’s when Bollywood, the make-believe world of song and dance, co-opted the Indian Diaspora. Sitting in the Western world, “desi” children born abroad got a different taste from Western society. They took Bollywood as folkloric effect with diverse entertainment of fantasy and exhilaration. Repetitive item numbers became a basic natural rhythmic ritual.

Take a look at some suggestive lines of popular Hindi songs: “Jungle mein aaj mangal karungi bhooke shero se khelungi mein (I will have fun today with hungry lions in the jungle),” obviously insinuating “with desperate men” in film Agneepath. The film Dabangg has words like, "Amiya se aam hui darling tere liye (I have grown from being little to big just for you).” Dabangg2’s "Mein to tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkale saiyya alcohol se” talks of downing a tasty dish with a drink but means, “I’m really tempting, try me out.” In film Tees Maar Khan there’s a direct tease, “Sheila ki jawani, I am too sexy for you mein tere hath na aani (my fresh sensuality should not get into your desirous hands).” While film Rowdy Rathore provokes with, "Pallu ke neeche chupa ke rakha hai uthadu toh hungama ho (I have kept it hidden in the folds of my dress, people will go crazy if I reveal it).”

Such arousing audiovisual training makes the uneducated young boys from tier 3, tier 2, urban to metros take it all very seriously, they feel they are allowed to join in. Time and frustration hang on their hands even as they watch skimpily clad beautiful heroines ready for a collective session with the boys surrounding her. Of course, at the deep-rooted nadir of rape-reason is our cultural disrespect for women. It starts from favoring boys over girls at home. Boys in every strata of society grow up believing it’s their birthright to get what they want. They’ve observed that having power over others means nobody can touch them even if they’ve done something illegal. Rapists emerge when sudden opportunity makes them try to fructify power over others and win their birthright. We call it gang rape, but as boys they just want to exactly become that Bollywood dancer’s pet.

It’s true the media is more prolific nowadays that earlier. They have seriously brought this subject of increasing rape and horrific gang rape to public attention. When you are educated, you take repetitive item numbers as pastime or entertainment, and then forget about it. Such heady stuff is made to attract the masses to jangle box office collections. For them, melodious, gyrating girls are willingness personified because they are exhibiting their sexuality among a gaggle of men. They appear to be driving men as a group, the way they want to.

In conversation with young, educated, professional women, I discovered they’d never go for such films alone, and consider twice before wearing certain clothes. On an evening or night show, they ensure a male friend accompanies them. Rather than risk being the victim of gang rape, these young girls living away from home go with a gang of friends. If this is the city dweller’s plight, can you imagine the vulnerable situation for women in smaller towns or among uneducated people?

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Posted on 07-07-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

“I gave my beauty and my youth to men. I am going to give my wisdom and experience to animals,” said the world’s most enigmatic femme fatale, Brigitte Bardot, former actress, singer, now an author and spokesperson committed to animal welfare. She walked away from silver screen razzmatazz at age 39, at the height of her fame because, “Animals…are an easy prey, as I have been throughout my career. So we feel the same.”

Brigitte Bardot, 78, has withdrawn her threat of exile from France that I had written about last week. The French Government met her and other activists’ demand of not killing two unwell elephants at Lyon zoo. Monaco’s Princess Stephanie has offered to house them. Clearly, Brigitte’s unswerving dedication to the cause she’s committed herself to is quite remarkable. Let’s take a look.

Commitment to be herself, a femme fatale:

Bébé, meaning baby, is how the French articulate BB, that’s Brigitte Bardot. Her first husband, director Roger Vadim, projected her naïve, innocent spirit that’s resplendent with wanton passion in And God Created Woman in 1956. She’d been making obscure films with different directors since 1952, but Vadin was convinced his wife had inherent talent waiting to explode. Having lived with her, he observed her real character and wove it into a story in association with producer Raoul Levy. The film opened with BB lying naked on her stomach on sand, reading a book. It shook international box offices, triggering her recognition as the most beautiful, provocative actress of all time. The world’s first sex symbol was born; it established Vadim as a successful director. “I am not an actress. I can only play me – on and off the screen,” BB said later, “My wild and free side unsettled some, and un-wedged others.”

Her commitment is absolute, without a fault: “When I love…I give myself entirely. And each time it is the grand love of my life.” She’s loved 4 husbands. Lovers she’s allegedly magnetized all happen to be creative persons, the famous ones being singer-composer Serge Gainsbourg, Mick Jagger, Sacha Distel, Gilbert Becaud, actors Jean-Louis Trintignant, Sami Frey, Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Sean Connery, artists Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, sculptor Miroslav Brozek, writer John Gilmore; even matador Luis Miguel Gonzalez Lucas. There’s a story about how, during her scorching affair with Gainsbourg, she had to fly to Spain for shooting Shalako with Sean Connery. Before her distraught departure, they swore eternal love with a blood pact, writing love words with each other’s blood. At first she was hysterically longing for Gainsbourg, but by the end of the film shoot she’d found another lover. Her innocent query: “Do you have to have a reason for loving?” She does not hesitate to change men, saying, “It is better to be unfaithful, than faithful without wanting to be.” She plays by her own ferocious rules, “I leave before being left. I decide.”

Actually Vadim’s film is reminiscent of the great Marcel Pagnol, the first filmmaker elected to Academie Française in 1946, France’s highest recognition in liberal arts. His films became my route to understanding rural culture in my adopted country, France. His artistic sense was extremely pictorial, embroidering village life and social system of French Provencal people. He chose local rural actors to get their real accent and culture. Using this style, Vadim threw Brigitte Bardot’s sexually liberated personality into Juliette, an orphan among the rich and the poor in the luxurious French Riviera surroundings of St Tropez. This distilled the local flair of French Provence. Juliette’s behavior and body language were true to BB’s character. Her Mambo dancing in the film made it evident that BB was a trained ballerina since childhood. To Vadim’s credit is converting BB’s upfront rural character into paradisiacal amorous scenes, making his film forever memorable.   

Vadim’s film revealed that BB’s extraordinary glamour is guiltless. “I am shocking, impertinent and insolent. That’s how it is,” she says. Reputed director Jean Luc Goddard, among others, has admitted that And God Created Woman was the beginning of French new-wave films. In fact it very sensitively captured BB’s affection for animals from an early age. When leaving her adopted parent’s home to elope, Juliette sets free her pet rabbit and bird. But when the boy ditched her, she lovingly recoups her pets. 

Commitment to animal welfare:

“I only live in the world of animal protection. I speak only of that. I think only of that. I am obsessed,” BB admits. Selling her personal property and jewels she’s formed Brigitte Bardot Foundation to campaign for animal rights. Using her fame she promotes animal protection through donations in over 40 countries: in India for street dog sterilizations and training of vets, conservation of Hainan Gibbons in China, care of donkeys in Tanzania, saving turtles in Madagascar, stopping sale of animal furs, animal tested cosmetics, foie gras, horsemeat in Europe and slaughter of whales in the Antartica, among many worthy causes. She even wrote to US President Barack Obama to stop seal hunting permits.

BB is criticized for not maintaining her beauty with age as Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve, Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale have done. But does she care? No; she has no stylist for her hair or make-up, and just wears black. The media often portrays her ravishing 18-year-old portrait alongside her current 78-year-old image. For me, her beauty is not plastic; it has inner depth. So whether 18 or 78, her personality remains the same; this icon’s commitment is the vedette (star).

Emerging just after World War II, sensational “sex bomb” BB had incredible influence over creative people in the Western world. This captured her genuineness, commitment, purity and expression of total creativity. During her artistic career she gambled with men’s love and sex cravings; now she’s raising the clarion call to protect animals, especially from cruel cultural practices. She summarizes herself, “I am really a cat transformed into a woman… I purr. I scratch. And sometimes I bite.”

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Posted on 30-06-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Can a woman’s beauty and sexual aggression cause people to hallucinate and compel a change of paradigm of a famed, centuries-old place to become synonymous with her? That place is Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, named after semi-legendary martyr Saint Torpes who was beheaded by Roman Emperor Nero in the first century. St Tropez is now tantamount to blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot, the 78-year-old silver screen siren turned animal rights activist who popularized the bikini swimwear in the 1950s.

Driving along the Mediterranean coast from Monaco earlier this week, the big news we heard on reaching Saint Tropez was that its most illustrious citizen, Brigitte Bardot, has threatened to quit her French Riviera home, the sprawling La Madrague property that overlooks the sea. She said she’d ask for Russian citizenship if the Lyon city zoo goes ahead with plans to put two sick elephants to sleep. Already French actor Gerard Depardieu taking up citizenship outside the country to avoid France’s high wealth tax laws has started a row. Brigitte wrote to French President Francois Hollande to rescue these elephants who were exiled from a circus for bad behaviour three years ago. Even an Internet petition has collected over 70,000 signatures to save the elephants. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals has offered to pay for their removal, expensive veterinary treatment, quarantine and upkeep in St Tropez.

The unpretentious fishing village of St Tropez was the first town Operation Dragoon liberated during World War II. Its agreeable, light-filled climate inspired and attracted writers and painters like Matisse, Pierre Bonnard and Albert Marquet. The painting styles of pointillism and Fauvism emerged at St Tropez. But it was the sex-kitten labeled Brigitte Bardot phenomenon that definitively changed St Tropez. Her coveted presence snatched away Monte Carlo’s glitterati image to turn St Tropez into the new jet-set destination for the world’s who’s who.

Brigitte’s family had a vacation home in St Tropez. At age 15 she was selected as cover girl of French Elle magazine. Film director Roger Vadim noticed, zeroed in to marry her. His 1956 controversial film “And God Made Woman” with Brigitte playing an immoral, small-town French Riviera teenage girl who had a sensational effect on men catapulted her into international stardom. Her luscious screen image with pouting lips, wild eyes and scantily clad flirtatious postures zapped the world. She won all-time global success, especially from the US. “I owe everything to the Americans,” she says although Hollywood never succeeded in luring her there.

Her love life of 4 marriages and famous liaisons including with artist Pablo Picasso, sculptor Miroslav Brozek, singer-composer Serge Gainsbourg was as colourful as her eventful 47-films career, many musical shows and 50 songs. She’s starred in films by renowned directors Jean Luc Godard, Louis Malle and acted with notable actors like Jacques Charrier, her second husband, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Alain Delon among others. During her torrid affair with the celebrated Gainsbourg, he wrote for her the erotic, love-making song Je t’aime mois non plus. But she begged him to not release it as her third husband, German millionaire Gunter Sachs, was livid. Later when Gainsbourg recorded the song with Jane Birkin it became an international hit, and Brigitte was furious. In another Gainsbourg composition she wore tight leather pants, high boots, a flimsy top revealing her perfect body, gripped the motorcyle handlebars, threw herself onto the big machine in a riding position and sang illustratively while moving sensually, “I don’t need anyone on my Harley Davidson… I push the starter and immediately leave the earth for heaven nonstop… the vibrations of my machine make me feel desirous deep inside… I go faster than 100 and feel like fire and blood…”

Then suddenly, just before she turned 39, she abandoned her sizzling career and menagerie of men to fight the cause of animals from her secluded St. Tropez country home. When I asked Tropezians at the local creperie restaurant, there was long gossip about her wearing only black jeans and her sincere obsession with the animal rights cause. The chef described how she’s turned into a vegetarian and lives in a kind of lost paradise with her 4th husband Bernard d’Ormale and lots of dogs and cats.

To support the animal-rights campaign, Brigitte raised 3 million francs in 1977 by auctioning her dresses, souvenirs and jewelry. She’s backed efforts to end baby seals being killed in Canada, opposed the transport and slaughter of horses, bullfights, hunting, wearing of fur and industrial animal farms such as over-feeding ducks to make foie gras. In 1999 she wrote to Chinese President Jiang Zemin accusing the Chinese of “torturing bears and killing the world’s last tigers and rhinos to make aphrodisiacs.” She’s donated over $140,000 for mass sterilization and an adoption program for Bucharest’s 300,000 stray dogs. In August 2010, she wrote to Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, to appeal against the killing of dolphins in Faroe Islands. She’s asked French foreign affairs minister to pressurize Japan against whale hunting, and French agriculture minister against the horrors of slaughterhouses. She’s thanked Russia’s Vladimir Putin for protecting wolves and banning the sealskin trade.

In 1970, sculptor Alain Gourdon used Brigitte Bardot to model for the bust of Marianne, the French national emblem. She’s been idolized by the prominent too, including Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while singer Bob Dylan mentioned her in his song, “I shall be free.”  Existential philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir paid her the ultimate compliment in The Lolita Syndrome in 1959. She described Brigitte Bardot as a “locomotive of women’s history,” and declared her the first and most liberated woman of post-war France. Indeed, a fitting tribute to a legend. By wearing a mere bikini and revealing her entertainment skills, Brigitte Bardot has transformed the economy of seaside town St Tropez, making it a playhouse for the wealthy elite and tourist haven for millions of global travelers.

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Posted on 09-06-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

My curiosity spiked when my favourite French TV channel featured a
60-year-old French woman who, on her granddaughter's advice, went to Tunisia
to iron out her wrinkles. France has long been known for aesthetic surgery,
but Tunisia? 
Credit rating companies Standard & Poor, Moody's and Fitch have all declared
a negative economic outlook for Tunisia. Unemployment at 14% is building up
pressure as 55% of the population is under age 25. But when it comes to
medical tourism, this North African country is booming. An estimated $2
billion is spent annually by about 6.5 million tourists for plastic surgery.
Price is the biggest draw. A facelift that costs between 4,000 to 6,000
pounds in UK, is less than half in Tunisia. Similarly, breast enhancement
would cost about 15,000 pounds in UK whereas together with airfare and
5-star hotel accommodation, you'd spend just 5,000 pounds in Tunis. For
liposuction in a sophisticated, out-of-the-box Mediterranean coast aesthetic
surgery holiday camp in Tunisia all you need is 2,000 pounds. 
There's risk in any surgery, cosmetic or otherwise. The French grandmother's
attempt to remove "crow's feet" at her eyes' edges with botox injections was
a failure. It deformed her facial features. She was so depressed and
disappointed that she went on to analyse how women can be so fragile and
vain. She chastised herself that she bore self-inflicted pain and spent an
enormous amount in the hope of regaining youthful skin. She bewailed how
others totally alter their looks with plastic surgery, say with a nose job
or removing bags under the eyes, to conform to some standard archetype of
how women should look, as dictated by men. 

This conforming tendency became very apparent in the Reddit website pictures
of 20 beauty queens contesting for Miss Korea 2013. Readers were hard
pressed to differentiate them; almost all had slender figures, pointy chins,
narrow noses, eyes flat below and rounded on top. Speculations are rife that
cosmetic procedures have made the contestants all look alike. When her
school pictures emerged where she's looking very different, last year's Miss
Korea Kim Yu-Mi admitted to going under the knife, "I never said I was born
beautiful." In fact according to released reports, South Koreans have more
plastic surgery done than any other nation, with one in every 77 choosing
the knife or needle. Last year, 20% women aged 19 to 49 in Seoul admitted
they wanted to look more "Western." Double eyelid surgery that makes eyes
seem bigger while reducing excess upper eyelid skin is the most popular.
Cosmetic surgery has become so common that even singer Psy, whose "Gangnam
Style" song became a global hit, had said his recording company was urging
him to undergo plastic surgery.
The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS) showed that
15 million people worldwide underwent plastic surgery to enhance their looks
in 2011. The US tops the list with over 3 million procedures, 21% of global
total, done by 5,950 licensed plastic surgeons. Brazil comes second, with
1.5 million procedures, highest number of male breast reductions, women
buttock augmentations and vaginal rejuvenations, among others. China with I
million procedures is third, mostly with nose rhinoplasty. Cosmetic surgery
is also done to increase sexual pleasure as is evident from the numerous
spam ads on the lines of "Enlarge your tool" that's viral and aggressive on
every computer. Men say they go for phalloplasty not just to appear more
macho in front of women but because a small size bothers them when they go
into the swimming pool. 

Using slang language for aesthetic surgery perhaps takes the scare out of a
serious medical procedure. "Fat removal," the most prevalent invasive
procedure, is easier to accept that lipoplasty. The second most in-demand is
"boob job," or augmenting the breasts with fat grafting, saline, or silicone
gel prosthetics. The next popular surgeries are "eyelid lifts" and "tummy
tucks" or abdominoplasty where the stomach is stitched up to take in less
food so it can reshape itself out of a paunch. "Brazillian butt lift" is
buttocks enhancement using silicone implants. Brazilians are so obsessed
with plastic surgery that it's offered free or discounted to poor people in
220 clinics. Dr Ivo Pitanguy, Brazil's celebrated plastic surgeon pioneered
the notion that like psychoanalysis, beauty treatments can act in much the
same way to help free patients from crippling neuroses. He says, "The poor
have the right to be beautiful, too." 

New kinds of problems are surfacing for cosmetic surgery. "Computer face" is
wrinkles that come from working too long in front of the screen. Peer in
longer at the computer, and you can get "turkey neck" or loose skin around
the jaw and chin, with wrinkles around the forehead and eyes. Deep creases
stretching from mouth to jaw line is "marionette lines" while "frown lines"
or "elevens" refer to between the eyebrows wrinkles and "smoker's lines" are
creases bordering the lips. "Banana roll" is the buttocks with excess fat.  

Such names may take the fear off surgery, but the fright that can grip us
all is what the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery is saying,
"The constant downward gaze caused by smartphone use may be causing some
individuals to experience more lines and creases on their neck than would
appear naturally. Even if your face maintains its youthful volume, signs of
aging on the neck can give you away." The only cure for not looking
prematurely old is giving up your smartphone. But can you afford to do that?

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Posted on 28-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

I Spit on Your Grave” is a shocking, rape and vengeance film that confronts you with many questions in the context of last week’s slew of violence reported against minor girls. In East Delhi, a 5-year-old girl was locked into a room for 2 days and raped by 2 men. Small glass bottles and candles were found in her vagina. Another abandoned 5-year-old girl, raped and lying unconscious was found outside Delhi’s AIIMS Hospital. Flown to a Nagpur hospital was a 4-year-old girl, kidnapped, raped and in a coma. 

This new happening of child rape in India is excruciatingly painful. But people tell me it’s not new, it merely sounds new because TV channels flashing it noisily. When toddler girls and other women are being raped across the country, what conclusion can we come to for the reason why? Is it lack of sex education, lack of on-time sexual experience, frustration from unemployment, illiteracy or poverty that’s making underprivileged people desperately advance towards sexual violence? There’s a school that believes women dress “indecently” which provokes men, so its women’s fault that they get sexually abused. Should we then say that 5-year-olds also dress to sexually provoke? Or is digital technology advancement ultimately responsible as pornography proliferates through the Internet onto mobile phones, instigating men to seek immediate release of their sexual energies.

Perhaps our social law and order system is too lenient and lax. Rapists are somehow becoming national heroes, widely discussed. Remember the question about what will happen to the rapist who was still a minor, although he was the cruellest of them all, who shoved an iron rod into the private body part of the 23-year-old fatally gang-raped girl inside a moving New Delhi bus last December? In the classic Hindi movie Sholay, there’s the good man hero Vijay, and the bad man hero Gabbar. But it’s Gabbar’s dialogues that are more remembered, enacted in school functions and quoted even today.

How long will women remain victims of sexual ravage? Newspapers report of rapes committed every single day. I seriously believe that rapists should be subjected to mass humiliation. They need to experience psychological trauma before being handed over for justice to prevail. If rapists are forced to see and experience horrible, vicious rape inflicted theatrically on them by brutes, and women made to torment them, there may be some chance of reforming their misdemeanours. Applying the ethic of reciprocity, “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7.12) is the best cure. The film "I Spit on Your Grave" shows the victim’s revenge to be rightly reciprocal. 

In experiencing raw brutality, “I Spit on Your Grave” by Meir Zarchi will churn your stomach in disgust. The protagonist is senselessly desecrated by 5 rapists, one even films the debasing rape in graphic detail, then she’s chased, naked and bleeding into the forest, raped, assaulted, raped at gunpoint, raped again and left as dead. Even the local police are in league with the rapists. Her endless victimization makes you despise the male species and seek pure revenge. The girl actually escapes and returns in cold-blooded fury to avenge her perpetrators. We see her cleverly take the rapists off-guard and in equally explicit scenes of vengeful assault on male genitalia, she gruesomely makes them perish in agonized torture. So is this a feminist film? Supposedly not, because too much sex is revealed, the kind that’s made for men; it’s an attack on male sexuality and infatuation with their virility.

Another victimization of women is the unborn girl child who’s snuffed out before birth. Boys are more valued socially, so if parents illegally find out the foetus is a girl, an abortion is done. Do women have the right to abort? Yes, India’s law allows abortion as a fundamental right for women to take control of their own bodies. In France it was only after writer-philosopher Simone de Beauvoir protested with “343 sluts” who signed a manifesto for it, did Health Minister Simone Veil get the law enacted in 1975. She had to fight protests from males and the Catholic Church, which to this day does not allow abortion.

Even with abortion having no religious barrier, India lacks trained paramedical personnel and facilities. So every two hours a woman dies because of abortion-related complications. In the 6.4 million abortions taking place every year, almost 3.6 million are unsafe, performed in unhygienic conditions by untrained providers. It’s pathetic that poor health services make pregnant women die.

Women victims now have tough new laws to use to punish sexual crimes against them, but savage rape attacks on young and old alike prove that law implementation is not perfect. When the legal system is not quick and responsive, should women take up radical action themselves? Obviously, no law-abiding citizen can ever advocate that. It’s only when men sensitize other men through the window of "Respect, and Save Women" manifesto that I’m promoting can the rape-revenge cycle get broken. A correction of societal attitude towards girls and women is the need of the hour.

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Posted on 21-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Queen bee syndrome (, my last week’s article about women national leaders not fighting the female cause got me impassioned reader responses. Among them was, “Lifting women, liberating them is not a liability of women leaders. The responsibility of changing the way the world works lies with those who have enjoyed privilege because of gender, namely men. Why throw the problem back at women and wash male hands off the crimes that have been committed?  Why must women compensate? Why do men always require a mommy to clean up after them?”

Women national leaders are a rarity; the other extreme is subservience and crimes against women that continue unabated. Perhaps this dichotomy raises this unjust expectation from women at the top. Similarly if you look at women corporate bosses, you’d get equally contradictory perspectives on their managerial quality. Again, because there are few of them, they catch the eye.

I’ve personally worked with quite a few women in powerful corporate positions in several countries. Their subtlety and inquisitive, engaging approach have induced me to ideate very differently leading to ecstatic moments of creative professional life. One such experience was with Frenchwoman Patricia Turck Paquelier. I met her in 1986 when P&G had bought Pantene, a small local European brand from Richardson Vicks and she was made to drive the brand. Our most spectacular work together was the reinvention of old Pantene to make it a global success.

Rarely do I disclose to the corporate world that I paint, but Patricia discovered my canvases and was enthralled. She was always curious about the ideation platform of a creative person, how a white canvas can take an amazing creative route through the painter’s mind, brush, colours and palette. Pantene’s transformation from hair lotion was very intense work. Patricia would inspire me to make Pantene an aspirational piece of art, beyond boundary like my canvases, for the consumer’s daily life. From P&G Patricia went on to YSL, then became Managing Director of L’Oreal’s Prestige and Collections International division. Her performing prowess made her a role model for men and women alike. Unfortunately cancer snatched Patricia away in 2009 at age 51. I’ll never forget her incredible insight, patience and overwhelming soft skills while being rigorous and disciplined at work.  My professional creative relationship with Patricia will remain like a piece of painting canvas which forever grows in my mind.

Last month the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics published a study by two professors, from Canada’s McMaster University and the US AT Still University. After surveying 600 company board members, it concluded that women-influenced companies were more successful than male-dominated ones. Women directors appeared more open to using initiative and fair decisions that retain the interests of multiple stakeholders. They more effectively use consensus-building conduct vis-à-vis male directors who decide taking rules, regulations and traditional business ways into account. The study concluded, “Women representation in the boardroom leads to better organizational performance, higher rates of return, more effective risk management and even lower rates of bankruptcy.”

Corroborating that, a 2012 study by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid found, “Women in top posts lead in a more democratic way, allow employees to participate in decision-making and establish interpersonal channels of communication much better than men.” The obvious result is more well-informed decisions using employee feedback, and employees getting better bonded as their voices are heard at work. Sharon Meers, co-author of Getting to 50/50, says what’s best about women managers is that they fight harder for their team members to get a raise, and they give forthright, implementable feedback.

In contract, the queen bee boss also appears to exist. As per the American Management Association, at some point in their career, 95% women have felt undermined by other women. Psychologists at University of Cincinnati found women bosses can be an obstruction to ambitious women reportees. But men who report to a woman manager tend to get better mentoring, job-related support and promotions. Researchers attribute this to women over-compensating to blend in with men counterparts, so that nobody accuses them of favouring women.

TeamLease, an Indian HR services company did a nationwide survey among an equal number of men and women employees of average age 28. Very shockingly, their finding was that corporate India considers women to be “poor planners, bad bosses and ineffective managers.” The most decadent were Kolkatans where 84% said women are no good in business, which 62% Delhites agreed to. Cities with progressive views were Ahmedabad and Pune. The telling revelation is that Indians believe, “Women don’t make good bosses or colleagues because they go more by their instinct and emotion than cold logic and reasoning.”

Actually, women managers worldwide are natural relationship builders yet are routinely undervalued. They have to be extra-competent to be recognized as effective. Getting people to accept their authority is a challenge although women use a collaborative approach unlike men who scold and reprimand to have their way. Another opinion was that women don’t get promotions faster than men because they are not pushy enough to ask for it. They believe their hard work will be rewarded, but it never is.

In the patriarchal milieu, from childhood women absorb an understanding that their value comes from being young and attractive. Once that youth fades, they can become anxious that someone smarter and younger will replace them. It’s their personal, unarticulated psychological problem. I’ve several times heard that women in corporations, after reaching a certain level don’t want to advance further. They say senior corporate women become like stones, stop the social gear and sacrifice family life to become careerists. I absolutely disagree. I admire the subtlety and adroitness with which top management women balance their family, social and business dealings.

Men on the other hand have never faced any problem with age, gender or size of family. That’s because in patriarchy they are always valued, under every circumstance.

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Posted on 14-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

"In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman," remarked Margaret Thatcher, UK’s thrice elected Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, who died last week. Yet she didn’t promote a single woman from the Commons to her Cabinet. In her 11 extraordinarily powerful PM years, she dominated over all men and the political landscape. Is it too much to expect from such women in power that they help other women rise out of their subservience?

Take a look at India’s very own Indira Gandhi, the world’s longest serving woman Prime Minister for 16 years. Addressing Delhi’s Indraprastha College for Women in 1974, she narrated how in childhood, she was never allowed to walk Delhi’s streets; women then had to be carried in a covered doli. She was aware that, “Women are not weak… it’s because they are handicapped from birth by customs and social attitudes that they have no chance of developing their innate strength.” Yet she did not undertake significant paradigm changing projects to uplift the lot of women. Instead she said, “I am not a feminist. I do not believe that anybody should get preferential treatment merely because she happens to be a woman.” In a country where women are so suppressed, could she not have considered bringing them upto a certain level of equality?

An American woman’s magazine did a pictorial cover story when Indira Gandhi first came to power in January 1966, taking a full page advertisement in New York Times. She appeared displeased, “I do not regard myself as a woman. I am a person with a job to do.” Her idea of Indian women’s emancipation was, as per Eve’s Weekly magazine, “An honourable status in life. She should be able to exert her influence for the good and benefit of the community.” Isn’t this a statement with no actionable point?

Both the Indian and British Prime Ministers were separately nicknamed “Iron Lady” for successfully taking tough decisions. Their outstanding leadership undoubtedly deserves a cheer; it’s aspirational for women across the world. Mrs Gandhi abetted Pakistan’s break-up, nationalized banks, donned dictatorial robes by declaring Emergency, then staged a spectacular comeback. No Indian leader since has connected so effortlessly to people. Mrs Thatcher broke the UK’s trade union hegemony, thawed the USA-USSR Cold War, denationalized industries, fought and won a war faraway in Falkland Islands to re-establish Britain’s supremacy as a world power. Unlike Mrs Gandhi who entered politics in a dynastic relay race, Margaret Thatcher courageously struggled to win in a male preserve, believing she “owed nothing to women’s lib.” However, I cannot admire some of her brusque characteristics such as dubbing Nelson Mandela and African National Congress as “terrorists” in their 1980s fight against Apartheid. PM David Cameron later admitted that was a big mistake and apologized.

Of 196 countries today, only 15 have woman heads of nation. They are Bangladesh, Germany, Liberia, Argentina, Iceland, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Denmark, Jamaica, Malawi, South Korea and Slovenia. Historically, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world’s first woman PM in 1960 when her husband was assassinated. Israel’s Golda Meir, the world’s third woman PM, was chosen to avoid a power struggle between two men when PM Levi Eshkol suddenly died. She didn’t identify with women either, nor helped in their development. She was referred to as “queen bee” for pulling up the ladder after climbing to the top.

Rarely have women wielding political power used their high political office to advance women’s causes. Is it because they’ve been too busy fighting, surviving and retaining positions in male dominated societies? Or were they reluctant to open the “woman card” for fear of displaying a hint of weakness and bounty of emotion?

Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is a clear exception of not shying away from promoting women. Openly declaring she’s lesbian, she’s made her 320,000-population country world leader of feminism. Almost 50% Parliamentarians are women. Feminism essentially is consciously creating a social order that’s free of inequality, domination and injustice that characterize our contemporary world. Iceland, fourth after Norway, Finland and Sweden in the international gender gap index, has passed a law to ban the sex industry and criminalize purchase of sex. There’re no strip clubs, lapdancing or brothels; there’re strong campaigns against rape and domestic violence. In a 2007 poll, only 10% Icelanders were against this law.

It’s a unique contradiction in women’s history that a woman who’s acquired a commanding position can be both inspiring and disappointing; a source of immense pride for other women yet of deep frustration for feminists trying to advance gender equality. Having suffered from centuries of brutal patriarchy, women’s condition is an offshoot of insecurity. Unfortunately, patriarchy shows no sign of getting wiped out in a hurry, so women leaders always feel compelled to act like men. Women’s survival as leaders can only be propped up by chauvinistic male society when defeated by a strong personality. So women leaders become like all-pervasive queen bees who never uplift other women.

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Posted on 07-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Returning to France on professional work, friends and business associates suddenly bombarded me with questions on how outrageously dangerous India has become for women. I’ve always heard them say India is a country they’d love to visit, but now that’s radically changed. Since last December’s fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in a Delhi bus, and several sexual assaults on women including the 15 March gang rape of a Swiss woman on a cycling holiday in Madhya Pradesh, the French embassy in India has warned women to take “extra caution” when visiting India. Many French tour operators are issuing travel advisory alerts; one has refused to book women travelling alone or in pairs. India’s image of spiritual serenity is clearly fading out. Industry body ASSOCHAM surveyed 1200 tour operators from different Indian cities and found 72% had cancellations from Western women visitors in this busy winter season. Irrespective of their fear, does it mean all is well “back home” for Western women? Let’s take a look at my adopted country, France, and her deeply rooted patriarchal culture.

Vanessa, the 27-year-old daughter of my friend said French women want to study, earn well, travel the world, get established as professionals or entrepreneurs, and buy an apartment, all by the age of 30. A higher proportion of women than men (28% as against 25% according to Eurostat) have higher education qualifications. Independence is their aim; marriage is on stand-by. Career is Vanessa’s top priority. When her boyfriend’s dominant attitude and lifestyle got in the way she asked him to leave. Not ready to accept emotional blackmail or pity, women who are bringing up children alone or with a boyfriend are facing a stressful life. Children tend to be very demanding on the mother’s time, time which she has very little of as she handles a fulltime professional job too. When she tries to discipline them, they accuse and blame her for the divorce. The father pampers the child during his periodic visits that were agreed upon during the divorce. Actually the children resent a stepfather, considering him an outsider who’s stolen their mother’s affection. So the woman has to take the entire brunt of being the central villain between the children and her 2nd or 3rd husband or boyfriend. It can become a nerve-racking situation, quite cynical and tense.

Women’s rights, gender equality and combating gender-based violence have been actively promoted and defended by the French government as key human rights priorities. France has been the instigator and implementer of several UN resolutions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and “Women, Peace and Security.” In January 2013, Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani human rights campaigner seeking girls’ right to education was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom. Yet till the first week of February 2013, women were legally forbidden from wearing pants in the French capital since 1799. This law, which came after the 1789 French Revolution when women renegades wore long trousers, read: “Any woman who wants to dress as a man must come to police headquarters to get permission.” In the 19th century, France amended the law to accommodate horseback riding and bicycles, saying “pantalons” would be allowed only if women were “holding the handlebars of a bicycle or the reigns of a horse.” Although not enforced in the 20th and 21st centuries, the French government finally, after decades of outcry from feminist lobby groups, revoked the 214-year-old law that had banned Parisian women from wearing pants.

In fact, in a bid to end a form of discrimination that’s demeaning to women the term "mademoiselle” (Miss) was officially struck out from French government documents last year. Even "maiden name" and "married name" were removed so that women are not forced to reveal their marital status. Instead, the honorific "madame" is used for all women, equivalent to "monsieur" (Mr) for men. Yet as per a World Economic Forum gender equality chart, French women rank low in political empowerment, earn 26 percent less than men but spend double the time on domestic tasks. Among European women, they have the most babies, the Government encourages them to do so, but they consume anti-depressants the most. France spends 1.5% of GDP to provide among the best facilities for childcare, education and health to help reconcile family and working life. French women get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, parental education leave, and are guaranteed the right to return to their jobs after a period of time they themselves chooses. France legalized abortion since 1975 (see how it happened at this link and declared the state will reimburse 100% the cost of abortions from April 1, 2013. Also, 15 to 18-year-old girls will be offered access to free and anonymous birth control.

French philosophers and writers like Simone de Beauvoir and Helene Cixous have influenced the acceptance of feminism in developed countries, yet French patriarchy makes sexism an attitude that men live by. French women are traditionally demure and poised, never coarse and vulgar, yet in contemporary society they hunger for liberty. French men hold the door for women to pass through and pour the wine at dinner. This finesse is cultural, but it forments male chauvinistic behaviour. In spite of having 50% women ministers in President Francois Hollande’s government, French society is still pro-men, as summed up by Elsa Dorlin, associate professor at the Sorbonne, “In civil society, there is a hugely anti-feminist mentality…."

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Posted on 31-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Nostalgia enveloped Jose and me when we met for dinner at his home in Paris after 20 years. He was my colleague at the French design firm we worked as art directors in towards at end-1970s. We’ve became extremely close friends for all time. I’ve learnt a lot from Jose. We heartily recalled our young Parisienne days, the ideas we shared at work, in art, music and life in general, then chronologically arrived at present times including my latest series in this column on women. That’s when Jose’s wife Christiane laughed ironically saying that if France was not patriarchal, I’d never have met with Jose.

After nearly 34 years I discovered from Christiane how male dominated the French workplace can be.

Jose and Christiane studied at the same art college in Paris. The firm I was working sent a vacancy requirement to the art college, and the college sent Christiane. But the firm refused to take her saying they were looking for a male candidate. Later Jose came to know that just one woman was working there, and in their speculation, if another woman comes there will be a clash. Christiane told Jose to take this opportunity. Jose, of course, got the job easily. So Christiane smiled saying it’s fortunate that Jose went to work there instead of her, otherwise I’d never have met Jose. True enough, but this displayed naked discrimination against women.

In sharing this flashback, many other experiences also fleshed out. Jose narrated how being the only son in his family, he saw and experienced great privilege as opposed to his two sisters. After finishing a family meal, it was taken for granted that he could just leave the table. But the ritual his sisters were compelled to follow was to clean the table and dishes.

Christiane came from a farming family in Southwest France. In her 1960s childhood, she remembers that her grandfather was all pervasive, the total boss of the family. Handling the family’s money, he was the sole decision-maker for any spend. Her parents and her grandmother worked in the farm all day, tending animals and doing physical labour required for livelihood generation. Christiane used to see that after walking barefoot in the fields as was his habit, her grandfather would always ask his daughter-in-law to wash his feet. Christiane’s mother also supported the farming job from morning to night, but she was not entitled to any pocket money. Christiane’s mother and grandmother didn’t have the courage to revolt, but they always encouraged Christiane to go for a job where she could independently earn money. This is the way Christiane could leave her French village home 700 kms away and come to Paris for further studies in an art college.

Since the 1968 revolutionary movement, the social situation in France has changed dramatically. Along with students and working classes, the status of women acquired a new recognition. For example, another friend in the Ardishe region narrated that before 1965, in her 1500 population village she was among two women who studied upto Baccalaureate, the school leaving degree. Children went to school from age 6 to 14 only, there was no pre-primary education. Most girls would tend to domestic chores and become farm helpers while the men joined factories. In 1975, the Veil Law allowing abortion rights to women was introduced by Simone Veil, France’s Health Minister, after much opposition from male Parliamentarians. This facilitated a liberal approach towards male-female partnerships.

The patriarchal system had long suppressed French women. Today when women are breaking free and society is not casting aspersions on their desire for liberty, they are facing different kinds of logistics. A large number of girls prefer to stay in live-in relationships rather than marry. They are afraid to marry because of divorce hassles; an unconfirmed social understanding is that two out of three marriages end up in divorce. Divorce is such a messy and expensive court procedure that everyone wants to avoid it. Divorced women would rather live alone, even if they start a new relationship with a new man. A very common situation you now find is a woman living alone with her children. But not all her children are from the same father, nor are the children necessarily born within wedlock. At the time of the couple’s separation of “concubinage” which is what living together is called in French, the judge at the court decides which parent will pay how much for the child’s upkeep depending on their economic situation. The judge also assigns visit rights to the parent the child does not live with.

Social acceptance of anti-Catholic ways such as abortion, divorce and illegitimate children is giving a new face to Catholic France. In fact the First Family epitomizes the new social mores: the President has four children out of wedlock and lives in concubinage with a woman who’s divorced twice, and not the mother of his children. Clearly French women are taking their own relationship decisions. Yet it’s a double-edged freedom because psychologically and socially, women ask for and take responsibility for childrearing while the men are free to co habit, planting seeds in different gardens.

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