I’ll use film examples to make this Indian film related, but really just think of this as an extended dictionary post. I use these words a lot, and other film writers do to, but I’ve never really defined them for you.
UPDATE FIRST DISCLAIMER: I use examples from individual industries because these particular issues are what is most often pointed out/seem most present within those industries. The Women’s Film Collective in the Malayalam industry is to fight against violence and other unfair treatment female artists by male artists, Misogyny. The Telugu industry is constantly criticized for how it’s female heroines have nothing to do in action movies and are sexualized in songs, Objectification. And the Hindi industry tends to show the family as all important especially the Father, Patriarchy. HOWEVER, all 3 of these issues are present in every industry in India, heck in every popular culture source in the world. Don’t limit yourself industry by industry just because of the examples I use here.
SECOND DISCLAIMER: These issues effect women much much much much much more than men, which is why all my examples are female here. However, the second two (objectification and Patriarchy) can to a much lessor degree also affect young male characters in films and young men in real life. Male actors can be turned into sexualized objects, although usually not passive objects in the rest of the plot or described purely by looks, the other two criteria for objectification. And certainly young men can be victims of the patriarchy, forced to marry where they do not love or sacrifice their lives at the orders of old men, although not as consistantly as women and of course if young men survive their youth, they have the promise of becoming Patriarchs themselves where women do not. Misogyny only effects women, obviously.
Misogyny means, essentially, hating women. Not thinking that men are better than women (that is male chauvinism) but thinking that women on their own, not in comparison with men but just as themselves, are terrible creatures. That there should be no women.
This is not a sexual thing. In fact, sometimes sex, or more accurately “making love”, can be the solution to it. This is the purpose of sex, of marriage, of the whole making of a family. To force the two genders together, to force men to make an effort to understand women in order to procreate, in order to also enjoy the joys of sex.
(Randeep in Highway is a misogynist, he hates and distrusts all women. But being forced to spend time with Alia breaks through his walls and makes him see at least one woman as a person again)
If a man is a misogynist, you may see him abstain from sex with women altogether, preferring not to interact even that much. Or you may see him prefer to use sex workers, so he can control the encounter completely. Or run his marriage in such a way that sex and emotions and everything else are all carefully contained and regulated.
(Waheeda’s husband in Guide was a misogynist, he wanted her to be always controlled and contained, and even so he still preferred sex with sex workers. Waheeda in this song is discovering the joy of breaking through that control, remembering what it was like to be a person again)
You can also spot misogyny in the desire to remove the one thing that women can do and men cannot, control birth. A misogynist will try to take that away from a woman, try to take this most female of things out of the female realm and put it in the male. Through laws, through violence, through all sorts of things so that a woman has no choice as to whether or not she wishes to give birth, and how, and when, and why, and all the rest of it.
Misogyny on film tends to suffuse the entire narrative if it is there at all, rather than be limited to one scene or one character. Zachariayude Garbhinikal was a disturbing film because the hatred of women was through out the narrative. Our hero was a gynecologist, who felt he could tell his patients what was right for their bodies, who took the process of birth out of the hands of women. He treated women as something to be controlled, a sort of demon figure who was unpredictable and dangerous. The new Himmatwala (I haven’t seen the original so I can’t speak to it) had the same problem. The heroine had to be tamed and taught her place.
(Tamannah’s character is first established as a cartoon of stupidity and villainy, what happens when a woman leaves her correct place, and then she is whipped and punished and we all cheer)
This is why Pari was such a brilliant film, it did a perfect job of explaining misogyny. Rajat Kapoor’s character was never attracted to a woman, never molested or otherwise misbehaved with one. Because he saw women as literal demons, he enjoyed causing them pain in a non-sexual way, he wanted to eradicate them from the earth. This kind of person can seem harmless, because the sexual threat is not present, but that does not mean the larger threat of hating women to such a degree it overcomes sexual attraction is not present.
Misogyny, this overriding hatred of women, can come from fear. Fear of their power to incite sexual desire, fear of their power to procreate, fear of the unknown and the different. I suspect the level of misogyny I am seeing in Malayalam films (not all of them, but a few) might be a reflection of how much power women have in Malayalam society, the education which lets them live on their own, be able to divorce, get jobs, and so on. It makes the male audience’s desire for films that give them a fantasy of control even stronger.
(Check out 5:30 when the leg restraints go on the woman in labor. And just generally the way the male doctor is controlling and directing all the women, from the one in labor to his wife comforting her, to the nurses)
Objectification mean turning a woman into just a body, a thing with which to have sex, rather than a person. There are three parts to this process (thank you wikipedia!):
- Reduction to body – the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
- Reduction to appearance – the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
- Silencing – the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.
All of these are very common in Indian films, especially Telugu films. Notice in item songs how often the camera shows just a waist, or a bare shoulder, or a leg, detached from the whole person. How the face is often not shown at all, the person in side of the body is taken away, and only the body parts remain.
(Ignore the greater context of this song, just look at how often Tamannah’s waist, back, hips, breasts, are shown in isolation)
The second item is a bit trickier since there is a general cultural acceptance in India of the outer appearance relating to the inner person. A man may fall in love with a woman at first sight, but the opposite could just as easily be true. The difference is when it is applied universally, not “I love this girl because of her beautiful face” but rather “That girl is pretty so I want to get to know her, that one is ugly so I do not”.
And then the third element, which you see in almost every wedding or engagement scene. The woman is just an object to be decked in jewels and silks and handed from her father to her husband. She does not speak, sometimes she does not even move, her mother will lift her hand and pass it over to the husband.
(The bride is sitting there, being adorned, holding fruit, being an object more than an active person)
Objectification is often sexual, the woman is turned into a sexual object, like a doll there for male enjoyment. There is no thought of her enjoyment, her desires, her presence at all, just an empty vessel. Women only matter because of their bodies, and their bodies are only there for men to use as sex receptors.
What is tricky is that a sequence of sexual objectification can look very similar to a sequence of sexual confidence. You can see that between the two “Ek Do Teen” songs. In one, Madhuri is smiling, her face is almost always shown, and her full body. The focus is on the grace of that body and the joy in her face, she feels like a real person who is present on screen.
But in the new version, like many of the recent item songs, Jacqueline’s body is constantly chopped up into different images, her face is lost, her personality, all that is remaining is the body. This is partly because Jacqueline isn’t as good a dancer as Madhuri doesn’t have the same level of facial control. But then, that’s the point, rather than hiring someone who could dance to do this song, they just hired a body to be looked at.
For the second point, the trick is identifying when it is an example of “Darshan”, that is, the concept of feeling a connection with an image. Like falling in love with a picture. Or if it is reducing all people to just their appearances. Like looking at 500 photos and sorting them into pretty and not pretty rather than considering them as unique individuals. In Koyla, Madhuri fell in love with a picture. In the “Neeli Aankhen” song in Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna, Abhishek is reducing all women to just their eye color and skin tone.
The other trick is recognizing that objectification is NOT necessarily sexual. A woman with no sexual attraction to other women is perfectly capable of sorting through a stack of photos for her son and saying “too dark” and throwing half of them away without bothering to look at anything else, without thinking of these women as people. And a father seeing his daughter in a non-sexual way as a possession to be handed off is also objectification, just as much as a man seeing a woman as just a sex toy.
This is the over-arching structure built upon the grounding of the two previous concepts. Misogyny, hatred of women. And Objectification, turning women into possessions. But being part of the patriarchy, either as a person or as a film doesn’t necessarily mean that you/it are a misogynist or objectify women. It just means that you follow the norms of your society, and reinforce those norms, without interrogating where they came from.
Patriarchy is what pervades almost every film. The men sit at the table and the women serve them. The hero has a better job than the heroine, or else he doesn’t and it is a problem. The father is the head of the family. The son is the hero and the daughter is forgotten. The perfect family has a son or two sons, but no daughters. All authority figures are male. All wise advisers are male. And so on and so forth.
The trouble with Patriarchy on film is that it exists outside of film as well in almost all societies in the world. If you show a family with men and women eating together, are you being realistic to what would actually happen in that particular kind of family in real life? What about a female police chief? Or a couple where the husband stays home and the wife works and no one comments on it? You can’t just pretend that is how the world is when you are making a movie, you have to acknowledge that patriarchy exists in reality.
(This is what Ki & Ka struggled to handle, and ultimately failed in. Rather than fully breaking patriarchal patterns, it just flipped the genders but kept the overall structure)
But, if you look at Hindi film, you can see how the patriarchy was managed to be removed until very recently. Love stories between young men and women where their fathers had minimal or no influence. Love stories in which the authority figures (universally older men) were overthrown and that was the triumphal happy ending. Films in which the basic structures of society were questioned, youth triumphed over age. Not corrupt age, but simply slow to change age who had outlasted its authority. Awara, in which the Father was shown to be utterly in the wrong, while the Mother and Children were in the right. Bobby, in which the young lovers defy their fathers and eventually the fathers learn the errors of their way.
(Prithviraj is a father, and a judge, the Patriarch of both the family and society. And he is wrong, he brings about the misery of all the other characters and himself, not through evilness but through the essential weakness of the Patriarchal structure and the failure of the Patriarch)
But starting in the 90s, as Indian society in general started its slide towards conservatism, the Hindi film industry in particular became more and more Patriarchal. Suddenly a romance wasn’t right unless the father approved of it. Wise older men popped up out of nowhere to give advice. The female characters faded more and more into the background. And then we have DDLJ in which the Patriarchy is interrogated (you can’t set aside the Farida-Kajol conversation that easily) but ultimately upheld. And all the films that came after DDLJ following the same pattern, right up to Badrinath last year in which the “happy ending” involved winning over and continuing to live in the same household as the old man who ordered the heroine’s murder, because he is the Father and you cannot survive without the Father.
It may not be misogyny, having a strong male authority figure doesn’t mean women are hated. And it may not be objectification, having the focus be on a father giving his daughter in marriage doesn’t always mean the film itself is treating her as an object. But it is Patriarchal, it is reinforcing this pattern within society in which the older man has the power and authority and that is a good thing. A pattern which opens itself up to abuses by those who do objectify and are misogynistic.
So, there’s your little vocabulary lesson! And tiny film lesson. “Misogyny” is that fear turning to hatred of strong women which pops up in the Malayalam industry both on and off screen (the recent accused sexual attack was explicitly because an actress had stepped out of line and needed to be controlled. Whether or not the accusations are true, the fact that some people believe them within the industry indicates that this kind of threat to strong women is not uncommon).
(For instance, outspoken Rima Kallingal being banned from films for no particular reason for two years)
“Objectification” is turning women into objects, of sexual desire or otherwise, rather than people with souls. Which at the moment seems to typify the Telugu industry, with the item songs that cut women up into body parts and the constant plots revolving around a woman as a prize to be won.
(This is fanmade, but it can only exist because so many directors have objectified her like this)
And finally, “Patriarchy”. The structure that supports and allows the other two sins to flourish, and the greatest sin of the Hindi industry. Teaching us that a father is in charge of his family, for good or bad, that disappointing a father is the worst sin one can commit. That the old male mentor is the one to listen to, that old men should run everything and women should just stand and be quiet (objectification) and take their punishments (misogyny).
(He drove his daughter to suicide, but by golly Amitabh has to be redeemed not punished, because he is The Patriarch, and we can’t survive without The Patriarch. Young innocent women, they are a dime a dozen, their deaths are meaningless)