Have you heard of the saying “A woman is woman’s worst enemy?” When I Googled to see if I am using it correctly I found so many articles written on the same topic. That just showed how many people believe in this saying. I do too. Yes, there are male chauvinists who try to make sure that women don’t rise above them or don’t rise at all; there are sexual predators who destroy us physically, mentally and emotionally. But most often, the most painful kick in the gut comes from other women who conform absolutely to the overly patriarchal conditioning that they have been subject to all their lives. Those who believe that any woman who tries to break out of these patriarchal stereotypes and have her voice heard, stand up for herself or others is a threat to be snubbed, degraded and killed.
We come across so many such women in our daily lives – women who victim-shame other women who are molested in public, women who judge and pass snide comments on other women who follow their passions and live life on their own terms, mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law feuding with each other, women who cannot even stand another girl born into the family, mothers who judge other mothers saying “She goes to work leaving the baby because she wants luxury and can’t be satisfied with whatever she has.” Every time I met such women, I have wondered why women find so much pleasure in trampling down other women. I have never found an answer, but I have come across more and more instances of this ‘phenomenon’. One of the most recent examples of this has been the ongoing feud in the Malayalam movie industry.
For those who are not aware of the happenings, it all started when one of the top heroines of Malayalam and other South Indian languages was abducted, molested and filmed in a running car by a group of men led by her former driver. The brave girl did not hide fearing the shame that victims of such attacks have to face in our society. Instead, she filed an official police complaint following which the men were arrested. There was a meeting of the Malayalam actors’ association A.M.M.A. at the time extending ‘heartfelt’ support to their ‘sister’ who had to go through the tragic incident.
However, in a matter of days the ‘heartfelt’ support turned to “Victim? Who?” when one of the most followed heroes of Malayalam was named by the police as a prime suspect who had hired the assaulters to get even with the actress against whom he had a personal grudge. Obviously, the association with next to no female members in the leadership came out with unanimous support for the accused, the fans exalted him to the level of a saint, a ‘Being Human’ sort of campaign inspired by the Bhai himself started bringing up every act of kindness and charity that he was part of, half the actors in the industry spoke up – sadly, angrily, as if hit by a thunderbolt – about how their innocent and loving colleague was framed for no reason. The accused actor himself went on a TV show right before his name was added to the chargesheet to make sure that he proclaimed to the world his innocence and how ‘girls who are friends with bad men end up in such situations’. When he was detained for 85 days on the basis of irrefutable evidence against him in the case, leading actors, producers and directors competed with each other to see who reaches the prison first to meet him, give him Onam gifts and justify him yet again in front of the press.
All of this was more or less expected, considering the power and influence of this actor within the industry and outside. But what wasn’t expected was how a huge number of the female members of the association would act like complete opportunists and not just stay quiet, but come out with the kind of comments any woman would be ashamed of. There were several actresses – a lot of them who were crying inconsolably at the meeting to extend support to her on Day 1 – who chose to take the path of victim-shaming and questioned her character. There were many who took not-so-subtle digs at her by saying “I have never faced any bad experience in the industry because I don’t put myself in such situations”. Another top actress said without any shame that when a woman gets into trouble, “somewhere she is responsible for it” and she “would have entertained some part of it (the assault or abuse)”.
They did not stop at glorifying themselves and the tainted hero as righteous beings incapable of thinking, doing or inciting any evil. When some, very few in number considering the total number of women in the industry, decided that enough is enough and formed Women’s Collective in Cinema to stand by the victim and stand for the cause of women in the industry – things that A.M.M.A was never able to do – it was the other women who spoke against it the most. In addition to saying that they did not find the need for a separate body for women, they mocked and degraded the noble cause in every way possible.
The best example for this was a skit performed by certain female supporting actresses at an A.M.M.A. festival – a skit graced by cameos from none other than the two big ‘M’s of Malayalam. I watched it just to see how bad it could be. And what made me worried the most was that these women were using age-old stereotypes and misogynistic tropes to demean the women who were part of the new association – their clothes and the area they covered, their ability to speak their minds which apparently made them attention seeking rebels, their determination to come up with an association against the overly patriarchal and downright sexist A.M.M.A. (an association which brought about a rule that no actress should travel alone so as to prevent other similar incidents), which made them nothing but troublemakers. It was disheartening and absolutely alarming to see that in this age where we talk about women’s rights and progressive thought process, women themselves shame other women who stand up for that and in the process, stand in the way of any improvement in the situation.
What this incident and its aftermaths brought out was not just the ugly side of the industry and the women in the industry who decided that their survival and career depended on being in the good books of the supermen in the industry by humiliating their female colleagues. What it brought out was also the ugly side of women in general when it comes to standing up for one of them. There have been so many women commenting on every link about the incident that being ‘a shameless actress’ who has ‘no doubt been immoral’, it was okay for this to happen to her. They tried to sanctify their claim by making statements like “She is getting importance only because she is an actress. What about other poor girls who undergo such abuse?” – as if being an actress, this was just another workplace hazard to be foreseen and avoided.
They did not spare the brave actresses from WCC who chose to literally throw away their career by resigning from A.M.M.A. in support of the victim who got no support whatsoever from the association, or the ones who spoke up against the sexism that is so obviously present in the industry. Among the cyber bullies that branded them show-offs and sluts, a great number were women who came up with such logical arguments like “You had no shame acting with only a bed sheet on. What right do you have to talk about sexism or sexual harassment?”
It’s sad. It’s just really sad that one woman would want to bring down another woman only because she is a woman. It’s true. We are indeed each other’s worst enemies.
Also published on Medium.