Gender equality is something that India has a very tenuous grasp on. While we may thump our chests and brag about being the descendants of an ancient culture with an enlightened value system, present day India is a horror show for the female half (well, less than half thanks to gender selection) of the country.
It's a reality we live with on a daily basis, but one that only gets highlighted in the periodic viral video inevitably starring Kalki Koechlin or some other, usually indie, female celebrity.
Now though, a reality show from Arre, wants to change that. Called Arre Ho Ja Regender!, it's meant to "breaks down the rules of gender perception and challenges gender stereotypes".
There's just one problem though - it fails miserably. It began on Saturday and, if its first episode is anything to go by, it will improve gender relations in the country the way spray tans on Jersey Shore improved mainstream acceptance of Mexicans in the US.
Reality TV in social experiments' clothing
From Roadies to Splitsvilla, reality shows continue to plunge the depths of human idiocy. However, despite their trashy content - usually airheads competing for title of king and queen airhead - they always pretend to be about something deeper.
With Roadies, it's about finding yourself and testing your limits (as well as the limits of human stupidity.) With Splitsvilla, it's about finding true love (as well as the nearest medical centre with medication for herpes). We know this "mission" is bullshit with a ribbon on it. A pathetic excuse to stage spectacles to rob participants of dignity and viewers of brain cells.
Ho Ja Regender! though, takes this to another level with claims of being, not just a reality show, but a 'social experiment'. And, in a sense it is. Just like how a man trapped in a room with a mouldy banana is a social experiment. Except a man with a mouldy banana makes no pretense of social change. Ho Ja Regender! does, before going on to serve up the same reality show garbage that's normally the bastion of MTV and Colours.
The problems with Ho Ja Regender!
As with most terrible reality shows, Ho Ja Regender! begins with a house and a group of carefully selected caricatures. These caricatures are our protagonists. Over the course of 20 days, they will, hopefully have their attitudes on gender changed through Arre's revolutionary social experiment. It's so revolutionary it even has an exclamation mark in its title.
The big problem with the show, however, is that it promises one thing and then proceeds to do or reinforce the exact opposite. Here are some of the more trivial examples.
Rannvijay, the host of the show, puts on his best intense voice to tell the participants that the show is not, in any way, meant to be funny or a spoof. The show on Arre's site though, is marked with a satire comedy tag. But that's just me being nit picky.
Rannvijay waxes eloquent on how women are more than just objects, yet when contestant Farrah Kader is introduced, the shot used is a slow, sensuous one of her opening the curtains having, presumably, just gotten out of bed. She's needlessly sexualised.
This same treatment isn't applied to the men. It isn't even applied to the other woman, presumably because one is too young and the other is a mother. Kader, who falls in the in-between zone, being slightly older but unmarried, is the de-facto sexual object.
Similarly, when Rannvijay's wife, Priyanka, is introduced, the music suddenly changes to something 'sexier' with the only discernible words being 'give me that love machine'. Yes, it sounds trivial, but this is a show with a sanctimonious tone and aim, and that calls for scrutiny.
Ho Ja reinforcing gender stereotypes
But these are the smaller things. The real problem with the show is far worse. Arre thinks the show "breaks down the rules of gender perception and challenges gender stereotypes." But what they actually do is the reverse.
For the 20 days that the participants take part in the show, they're made to reverse roles - the men are made to do "womanly" things and vice versa. Which is inherently problematic.
Participants are repeatedly told that women and men have very particular roles and traits. The men are told that a woman's place is in the kitchen. The women are told that a man's job is hard labour (electrical work, in the case of the show).
The men are reminded that women are expected to be soft and gentle. They're told that if they go outside dressed as women (yes, the change involves clothing as well), and they're cat-called, they cannot react from a position of strength, but rather feel insecure and weak, because obviously, a strong woman is no woman at all, right?
them and, through the show, make men and women appreciate these stupid limitations.
The first episode on its own was horrid, but the teaser for episode two looks set to surpass the shitshow that was the first, what with its added dose of fake reality show drama. Clearly the conversation on gender equality and empowerment will need to start somewhere else.