In this Sunday, Aug 4, 2013, photo Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone is seen at an event during the Delhi Couture Week in New Delhi, India.
Photo by Tsering Topgyal/AP

Bollywood actress’ video intended to empower women faces backlash

A new video intended to empower women starring Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone has gone viral, but is facing criticism online for being exclusive and hypocritical. 

The two-and-a-half minute video, titled “My Choice,” features images of 99 women of different ages as Padukone’s voice declares, “My body, my mind, my choice.” In the video, Padukone calls for people to open their minds and accept her choices on how to dress (“My choice to be a size zero or a size 15”), how to act (“My choice to marry or not to marry, to have sex before marriage to have sex outside of marriage [or] to not have sex”), and who to love.

“Remember the bindi on my forehead, the ring on my finger, adding your surname to my name, they are all ornaments. They can be replaced, my love for you cannot. So treasure that,” Padukone says in the video.

“My Choice” was released Saturday as part of Vogue India’s #VogueEmpower, an initiative launched in December to raise awareness about the need for women’s empowerment in India. “Today, the issues surrounding women’s empowerment have taken on a broader meaning in India: they touch and impact the lives of both urban and rural women, and encompass financial, sociological and emotional aspects as well as the issue of safety,” the website’s mission states.

Supporters of #VogueEmpower include Arianna Huffington, designer shoe brand Charlotte Olympia, and Amazon. 

Since the video’s release, celebrities in India have praised Padukone and Vogue India on the “powerful” and “inspirational” message, but many critics have also emerged. On Monday, an “unofficial male version” parodying “My Choice” was posted to YouTube, criticizing the Vogue video for its script and for suggesting all men are oppressive toward women. “Respect women & men. We don’t support cheating or adultery.” 

In an essay for Quartz, journalist Gunjeet Sra observed that both Padukone and Vogue are “fetishising, objectifying and reinforcing sexist standards of beauty on women. So when these two forces combined talk about women empowerment, one is left a bit confused, because, let’s be honest, the fashion and Bollywood do not empower anyone—women most of all.”

Others have argued that Padukone’s status of privilege makes her a detached spokesperson, and that “My Choice” gives a narrow definition of feminism. “So then, what does make a truly empowered woman? Having the right to have sex whenever and with whoever? And wear whatever and return home whenever? Where’s the woman who demands equal leadership opportunities at the work place? Where’s the woman who has had the guts to give up a well paying job to bring up a child?” journalist Piyasree Dasgupta of Firstpost.com said. “The most significant choices in life have had to do with education, financial independence and the power to support our families instead of sex, clothes and staying out.”

Requests for comment from Vogue India have not been returned.

Celebrities, Pop Culture and Sexism

Bollywood actress' video intended to empower women faces backlash