The Times of India reports that activists in Tamil Nadu are trying to press charges against Bollywood sex bomb Mallika Sherawat for showing up to a red-carpet event in skimpy attire.

A glimpse of the crazy:

[A] splinter group … lodged a complaint with the police on Thursday, saying that Mallika’s attire at the function to release audio-CDs of Kamal Hassan’s new film Dasavatharam in which Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Jackie Chan and Amitabh Bachchan were present had “hurt the sentiments of Hindus.” The actress was accused of wearing transparent and skimpy clothes … activist Kanirajan, in his complaint, also said Mallika sat cross-legged on the dais where Karunanidhi was present.

Cross-legged! The horror, the horror! Imagine if she hadn’t been so circumspect and pulled a bit of the classic Britney magic

Joking aside, my thoughts, in no particular order: 1) damn, she looks good; she might as well capitalize on her looks while she has them; 2) is contemporary Hinduism really so fragile that a bit of leg could threaten the very core of its philosophy?; 3) if Jackie Chan hadn’t been present, would it still have been such a gaffe?; 4) is women’s sexuality so threatening that men must try and outlaw it and/or shame those bold enough to revel in their fecundity?; and 5) seriously, don’t these fellas have better things to do?

And, for your entertainment, the trailer for Dasavatharam:

I kid, but it isn’t funny: women in India face significant challenges, and too often, it seems, issues like gender parity fall by the wayside as the country focuses on its spectacular economic growth, etc.

It’s probably just lip service, but it is heartening to hear the country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, thrusting the issue into the public eye. In a speech Monday, Singh said, “We are an ancient civilisation and we call ourselves a modern nation. And yet, we live with the ignominy of an adverse gender balance due to social discrimination against women built into our societal structures. … Our record in female literacy is far from satisfactory as the last Census recorded only 54% female literacy in the country. The last Census again showed a declining child sex ratio. This is a national shame and we must face this challenge squarely here and now. It indicates that growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation of the problem.”

For a good primer on the social status of women in India, I’d suggest the Bridge “India Gender Profile” (PDF). The Wikipedia page on women in India, though of debatable quality, also surfaces a number of issues and provides a bit of historical context.

Just stocked up at the library; also digging into Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth for my book group. But read an intriguing review in the Times, and so my list grows to include Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignanesi.

The reviewer, Kathryn Harrison, writes:

One of the consistently fascinating and disturbing aspects of [the book] is Lisa Appignanesi’s assiduous tracking of the modishness of what might be mistaken for a sui generis discipline. Of course, as anyone who has visited a psychiatric hospital — or ridden the subway — can attest, crazy is what we call people who refuse to conform to accepted norms of behavior. And the definition of nonconformity must change in step with styles of conforming. …

As Appignanesi observes, “Patients could well find themselves the victims of a doctor’s prejudice about what kind of behavior constituted sanity: this could all too easily work against women who didn’t conform to the time’s norms of sexual behavior or living habits.” That diagnoses conceived by male doctors would be subject to men’s changeable views of women — romantic, patronizing, idealistic, misogynistic: the choices are limited only by the imagination — comes as no surprise; it’s the meticulous and exhaustive account of these theories offered in “Mad, Bad and Sad” that is sobering.

(“Cozy Donkey,” Swati Kurana, 2007, via NY Arts.)

From NY Arts profile of Swati Kurana:

I see myself as very loose, disorganized, and cluttered with my artistic process. I’m a collector, so I have too much stuff, too much music, too many tear sheets, too many journals, too many plastic flowers, too many hard drives with too many images and movie files. But I keep it all, because I hold onto a piece of text, a source image, or song that I want to incorporate in a piece. It often gets shelved for a while, until another text or image or song comes up that complements the first one, and then I ferociously work to complete it.

Although I respect artists with a singular vision, artists that paint from life or doggedly pursue a discrete theme expressed in a wash of watercolors, variations on one idea, I’m much more an eclectic; I always love reading about other artists working across media, jumping from branch to branch as the wind blows through the trees …

Description extracted from a Providence Journal profile of Jhumpa Lahiri, whose third book (Unaccustomed Earth, another tome of short stories) recently came out. Every profile of her seems to center on either her ethnicity (Bengali) or on her calm demeanor in the face of what some explain as a chaotic family life (how does she do it, kids chorusing in the background as she pens her prize-winning pieces?).

womens-mariachi-band.jpg

From the New York Times: “A Women’s Mariachi Band Sings Its Way Across Traditional Male Turf.

Recent woman-friendly news from the subcontinent:

  • “Female condom for Rs 5 in India” (Times of India) — “Union Health Minister A. Ramadoss said: ‘When a male partner refuses to wear a condom, women need self-initiated methods to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.'”
  • “Women force liquor shops closure” (Times of India) — “The women folk in Akurdi had a reason to rejoice on Sunday as their long-pending demand of closing down two liquor joints — one a country liquor shop and the other a wine shop — had been granted by the district collector. The women had been conducting relentless campaigns against the shops as they were causing nuisance in the area for the past several years. Their efforts bore fruit when the two shops were sealed by the excise department on Saturday night on the directives of the district collector.”
  • “Indian families offered cash to stop abortion of girl foetuses” (The Independent) — “India has launched a dramatic initiative to stop the widespread practice of poor families aborting female foetuses by offering cash incentives for them to give birth to the girls and then bring them up.”

I don’t normally turn to the Times for my pop culture news, but I found “Boys Will Be Boys, Girls Will Be Hounded by the Media” a rather interesting take on the media circus surrounding Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Paris Hilton, and the like — as well as the noted lack of said circus around men spiraling out of control.

I fully support women fixing things themselves. I have my own hammer, screwdriver, and pliers, and I have a few odd boxes of nails and screws in case anything is amiss. I mounted my own curtain rods and installed some shelves in my kitchen and bathroom. If anything, I’m ferociously self-sufficient.

I guess I just sort of assumed that we were past an era in which we had to call attention to the fact that women are capable of slinging the old hammer around. But apparently not: according to the Wall Street Journal, tools as accessories, that’s the trend:

The home-improvement industry has always been a no-woman’s land known for its drab aisles lined with nail bins and mysterious steel objects whose purpose was understood only by grunting guys in flannel shirts. Now it is going designer pink. Companies such as Tomboy Tools, Barbara K Enterprises and Girlgear Industries are offering the female do-it-yourselfer fabulous pink hammers and saws in stores and on the Web. These items usually fit snugly inside a smart satchel of the same hue, the tool box as it might be interpreted by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Now, WSJ’s never been known for its progressive views, but this is so …. hackneyed? Lazy? Old-fashioned? Toward the end of the article, she gets so heavy-handed that a crushing blow to the crown would be preferable to the stodgy, regressive preaching:

The only thing to give pause in the pinkhammer revolution is the occasional whiff of ideology that emanates from its leaders. Hang around the movement’s Web sites and before long you’ll hear rhetoric that implies that learning to install a dimmer switch is not simply a practical means of increasing domestic pleasure; it’s a Radical Statement for Women’s Progress. “It’s more about Empowerment with a capital E,” reads the toolgirls.com manifesto. Most of the rhetoric is more Oprahesque heavy breathing than Steinem-style fuming, but it still may not be the most suitable tone to take around people preparing to take up potentially lethal tools. “My true desire is to inspire women to become more self-reliant and confident in their abilities,” Barbara K! writes on her Web site. “We all have ‘it’ within ourselves to do things we never imagined we could.”

Well, maybe. But the truth is that while women may want a lovely home, most of them would also like a good man to share it with.

Self-confidence? Quelle horreur! Wrest that power drill from her disgusting feminist hands! And get me a man with six figures who can patronizingly indulge the little woman’s whims! I don’t know what’s more obnoxious: the fact that we’re supposed to think it’s quaint that women are finally taking to tools, or the fact that a well-regarded paper would print such myopic tripe and pass it off as news.

Today’s rec reading is, inevitably, Gloria Steinem’s piece in the New York Times, in which she argues that “gender is the most restricting force in American life.”

I’m not sure I agree with her assessment (nor do others; my favorite critiques are at Slate and Feministing); I’m not sure you can isolate elements of an individual (race, gender, age, physical ability, wealth, appearance, etc.) and say unequivocally that, by mote of sex, a woman can never be a political front-runner, but I am glad that Steinem is continuing to challenge the subtle pervasiveness of sexism. Because, let’s be honest, Obama getting misty-eyed would be considered genuine and winning, while Hilz’s “emotional” answer to a voter’s question about how she manages everything made four front pages, all musing on the continued viability of her campaign. Harumph.