Looking Back at #SexismKaPunchnama

by Gender Circle

Remember #sexismkapunchnama? As project deadlines and midsemester dates inch closer, and we delve deeper into the semester, we believe there is still some unfinished business from last semester that needs to be addressed. We, at the GenderCircle, have decided to tell you what we took away from this campaign that caught on in a way none of us had anticipated.

At around 11PM on a Tuesday night sometime last semester, the members of GenderCircle were sitting cozily in Room 602 of the Girls Hostel and brainstorming possible activities and events for the month. One of the members impulsively declared that she wanted to start something, anything that would call out the underlying sexism and misogyny in popular music. “Kind of like the book challenge,” she eagerly explained, “But I don’t want any limit to the number of people we nominate.” The idea was something that she came up with on a whim, but within 10 minutes all of us were engrossed in an animated discussion regarding what can make or break any social media campaign – the #hashtag. We made the task even more difficult for ourselves by deciding to give popular Bollywood songs a feminist spin. All our other tasks were soon forgotten as we racked our brains and blurted out mostly corny titles that one of us furiously noted down. The ones that were too weird were rejected on the spot, the ones that were mediocre but uninspiring were noted down, and the ones that we individually felt were great were debated upon. And then one of our most creative members came to our rescue and suggested a title that all of us unanimously agreed on – Sexism Ka Punchnama. For the uninitiated, the hashtag is a spin on the title of the movie ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama’. You know, the movie with that ‘iconic’ scene where one of the male protagonists regurgitates hackneyed stereotypes about female romantic partners in heterosexual relationships? The scene that went viral and made most of your guy friends go “Trueeee” and made all your female friends roll their eyes? Yeah, that one. The scene had resurfaced again and we decided to take something good out of that movie, even if it was only the title.

By the next night, the first song was up (Chal Pyaar Karegi from the movie Jab Pyaar Kisi se Hota hai) and the hashtag was launched. And it didn’t take long for it to take off. Within the next few days, dozens of people were sharing their views on misogynistic songs and tagging their friends from various colleges. We were thrilled by the response and religiously tracked the tag to see how far the effect reached. Many of us were disillusioned as we realized that songs that had filled us with nostalgia were in reality filled with objectification and dehumanisation.

Even if movies are moving towards a progressive future, sexism and entitlement continue to plague the industry. The ‘older’ generation grew up listening to songs like “Chumma Chumma De De” which had violent videos and lyrics with the woman being tossed around like a rag doll and coerced into a kiss. Most of us have crooned to Shammi Kapoor’s famous song ‘Baar Baar Dekho’ and internalized the idea that a woman exists to be ogled and that ogling can only be done with a man’s permission! The more recent songs were just as bad when it came to the portrayal of women with our beloved fast paced and catchy ‘Dilliwalli Girlfriend’ containing lyrics like “Refuse kara sau bari, phir bhi karna chahe yaari”. We had all been dancing to songs that actively encouraged stalking, voyeurism and sexual violence. When it comes down to it, Yo Yo Honey Singh is just a drop in this ocean of objectification and entitlement.

We did not want to miss out on the endless possibilities to analyse responses and created a repository to keep track of all the songs. We collected the names of 142 people who participated in the challenge along with the songs they had suggested and the problematic aspects highlighted by them. On a suggestion made to our Facebook page, we decided to count the number of women and men who participated in the challenge. It was shocking to see that out of 142 people, 108 were women and only 34 were men. This could be partly attributed to the fact that most of those who were nominated were also women. Even though the challenge was not restricted to Bollywood, out of the 156 songs analysed 112 were Hindi Songs with ‘Gandi Baat’ being the most picked (7 times) and ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast’ coming a close second (5 times). Out of 42 English songs, Jason Derulo’s ‘Wiggle’ was picked thrice. A few regional languages like Malayalam, Telugu and Bhojpuri were also analysed because sexism is pervasive across all film industries.

The movement seemed to have achieved its purpose which was to call out the misogyny in mainstream music and make us all aware of what we all have been guilty of singing or dancing along to at some point in our life. It is easy to hum the tune of a song whose lyrics you’ve never paid attention to, but the movement was intended to reveal how harmful concepts can be internalized by masking it with a catchy tune and clever dance moves.

We did face criticism for curtailing freedom of speech through a superficial campaign that would not solve sexism in the real world. It was pointed out that campaigns on Facebook are exclusionary and do not ‘educate’ those who do not have access to the internet. We would like to clarify that we never aimed at finding a solution to misogyny. The SexismKaPunchnama Challenge was simply an interesting exercise in introspection that we hoped would spark off dialogue. Freedom of speech and expression does not extend to the right to not be exposed to others discussing subjects such as sexism on a social media site. As far as the ‘educate the others’ argument goes, we feel that sexism is pervasive regardless of class, and instead of being patronising and assuming that some classes are simply above such archaic notions, we wanted us all to dig deep and confront our own biases and prejudices. The music industry is such that it has a grip on everyone, and all of us are to blame for perpetuating sexism, even if we meant no harm by dancing to the DJ’s mix.

We would also like to use this article as a platform to discuss why such songs are problematic at all. If we aren’t sexist, and are against harassment, surely it shouldn’t matter if we have them in our playlist?

These songs aren’t just ‘offensive’; they also cause social harm. They feed into the larger narrative of sexual harassment and trivialising women’s experiences. Such normalization makes it harder for sexual harassment to be discussed in a sensitive yet serious manner, and when it is so deeply embedded in our culture, any voice raised against it is silenced. We felt that there was a need to introspect upon something so intrinsic to our daily lives, because we are contributing to a culture of violence wherein harassment is not a crime – it’s fun, romantic and a part of the chase. Harassment in such songs is behaviour expected of men and is therefore acceptable when mimicked in real life scenarios. These songs are simply an embodiment of how we perceive harassment – as something that can be portrayed in a delightful dance routine with a catchy beat.

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