FIVE BOOKS WITH STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONISTS

 Article by: Sumona Chetia, Executive Content Development

Days seem longer nights feel stretched. The mundane routine of doing everything within the four walls of your house doesn’t always excite us. But we can add some pop to this lockdown work-life scenario by engaging ourselves in recreational activities. Reading is one such activity. And it can be made more fun by reading books based on strong female leads.

Since ages, the portrayal of women in literature was restricted to gender-biased roles. In Greek mythologies, women were identified as sexual objects rather than individuals. Undoubtedly female Goddesses had all the power, but it was the common woman that lacked. In the later stages, misogyny, and superiority of men took over the pages of literature. Even fairy tales chose to depict women as the damsel in distress in awe of their Prince Charming. It was only during the late 18th century when writers began to create female characters that surpassed the societal description. By the 20th century, a new wave of revolution swept across the world of books, and there was no stopping by. Women writers, female leads, and strong women protagonists flooded the field of literature.

Amongst those infinite gems here are five picks that depicted women in their true empowered self-

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

Swoon over Mr. Darcy all you want but, it’s our witty female protagonist Elizabeth Bennet who steals the show. A classic novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, picked on the social norms of defining a woman based on her marital status, manners, and upbringing. Despite the plot of the book set in the era of a patriarchal society, Elizabeth emerged as a feminine power. In an instance, when Elizabeth encounters a question on her relationship with the high-class Mr. Darcy, she replied, “He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal”.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

Another masterpiece classic, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, tells the tale of four diverse and well-defined personalities (sisters). Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are the four strong female leads of the book bound by their passion for writing, art, and music. At a time when women were oppressed to stay at home, Little Women gives us a glimpse of how wanting a life outside domestic life is normal and basic women’s right.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay based on a series of lectures she delivered at two colleges of Cambridge University. The narration uses an ambitious fictional character who is on a mission to find quality work written by female authors. What follows is a significant discovery. There are plenty of books written about women by men, while there are hardly any books by women on men.  Woolf points out that a room of one’s own is what a woman requires to write. A room being the space to grow, to learn, and to write. A room being the opportunity for education.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000)

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’ s memoir (in a graphic novel form) of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. An intelligent, high spirited, and outspoken young Marjane takes us through a journey of the dark side of society amidst a war. She questions the oppression of the regime, the silencing of her opinions, and the banishment of her ideologies.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A series of dystopian novels by Suzanne Collins, which follows the story of Katniss Everdeen, who is forced to enter into the ruthless fight and death game created by the government, with the aim of controlling the society. Katniss is a strong, independent, and smart woman. She is a symbol of rebellion against atrocities and a breaker of stereotypes. She exhibits girl power in her actions, thoughts, and words.

As society is progressing, the representation of women in literature, be it prose or poetry is evolving too. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet might now look as someone with many loopholes but undoubtedly those characters helped in shaping the creation of today’s feisty modern woman protagonists. The above list is only a small selection from the bigger lot. Please let us know in the comments section about more such books that you might have read.


Why are women film-makers scarce?

Article by: Sumona Chetia, Executive Content Development

Towards the end of 2019, Bang Geul Yi became the first female main producing director for a KBS (A South Korean television network) variety show. This news shouldn’t have raised eyebrows, but it did. The reason being South Korea entertainment industry displays gender disparity on both sides of the camera. So a female leading a show comprising of 6 male celebrities was bound to be a shocker.

It’s not just South Korea. In fact, all film and entertainment industries around the globe have accepted this as the norm. We have viewed great works of women directors getting side-lined at the Oscars n number of times. Despite a historic number of movies directed by women in the year 2019, not one female director got nominated for the Oscars 2020. What was supposed to be a banner year for women in arts turned out to be #OscarsSoMale

Let’s look at a few possible reasons of sexism in the world of cinema-

  • Lack of women (director) role model:

Directing a movie is a man’s job. That is the perception. And with that mind-set, women can’t imagine standing behind the camera.

  • Are overtly emotional:

Being emotional is an essential element in making art come to life on screens. But the notion is since men have been pioneers in carrying out this herculean task of making movies, the emotional aspect can’t be a good asset.

  • Where are the women?-the excuse:

An article read that many studios question, “Where are the women?” This excuse has been going around since forever.

  • Fewer opportunities to direct a second film:

A research-based report shows that women directed just 4% of the top 1200 films from 2007 to 2018. Of those female directors, only 17.4% had gotten to direct another movie beyond their debut feature (13% directed a second, 2.2% a third, and 2.2% a fourth).

Source: https://time.com/5763937/oscars-2020-female-directors-shut-out/

  • Women genres movie:

A prevailing idea that men make universal themed movies, whereas women’s stories are just for women rules the film-making domain. And this belief leads to distrusting a woman director’s vision.

There are many other societal and structural reasons for the under-representation of women in the film making industry, and those reasons will resonate with every working woman. Lack of opportunities, fear of prejudices, and the denial of acknowledgment further leads to the invisibility of the few female directors that the world has seen. The common key here is to break the glass ceilings and dominate your way through the role you deserve to achieve in a man dominated industry. And more and more female role models are the need of every hour.

A silver lining which failed to get recognized at the Oscars platform is still an inspiration of revolution for many aspiring and present female directors around the globe. With regional names like Sudha Kongara, Manju Borah, Rima Das, Anjali Menon, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, etc… making their mark and adding numbers to the previously single digit is in itself a positive sign. Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma producing a hit series and a movie back to back on an OTT platform is indeed going to set an example of the power of diversity. Irrespective of her gender, the audience enjoyed the two sources of entertainment and, that’s what weighs more.

A shift can be seen post the Oscars 2020 backlash and new D&I norms in the filed of art and culture are possibly coming into force by the end of this year. The picture might not be rosy all of a sudden, but there will come a time when hearing about a film directed and produced by a female will be ordinary and mainstream. 

“Sometimes women can’t ask for control, so they have to take it. Ok? I want you to remember that”- Alex Levy played by Jennifer Aniston on the Morning Show.


Movies made by WOMEN for WOMEN

Article by: Sumona Chetia, Executive Content Development

Following the death of George Floyd, a black man at the hands of a white policeman in The United States, massive protests against institutional racism rose to attention. The impact was such that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced to introduce new initiatives to address diversity and inclusion objectives within the film making industry. The proposed new rules constructed to offer more importance and recognition to people of colors and, women are all set to open up a new chapter of education and endorsement of all strands of diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the Global Film Industry.

With this shining ray of hope, let’s take a look at these awesome five movies by and about women. No spoilers ahead, for sure!

  • Mulan- Niki Caro

Acclaimed filmmaker Niki Caro brought Mulan (the epic tale of a brave heart Chinese female warrior Hua Mulan) to life on the big screen. This Disney production is the projection of a righteous, fearless, and empowered Chinese maiden taking herself to the forefront of a battlefield to save her father.

A must watch for your young daughters.

  • Lady Bird- Greta Gerwig

A coming of age drama for teenage daughters and their mothers directed by the fantastic Greta Gerwig is a delight to watch. Lady Bird is a story of anguish and love surrounding the delicate relationship between a rebellious teenager and a passionate mother.

Greta Gerwig’s second solo directorial venture, “Little Women” adapted from the classic novel of the same name, is another name to include in this list.

  • Chhapaak- Meghna Gulzar

Chhapaak is the sound of stamping your feet on a muddy water puddle but, in this Bollywood movie, it refers to the sound of acid splashed across someone’s face. Inspired by the true events in acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal’s life, Chhapaak by Meghna Gulzar is a recreation with a few embellishments, but leaves room for facts face up-front.

  • Misbehaviour- Phillipa Lowthorpe

In 1970, the grand stage that celebrated beauty witnessed the crowning of the world’s first black Miss World moments after being invaded by Women Liberation protestors. The feminist protestors took the stage by storm to bring in a wave of change. Now the story of that night is being retold by Phillipa Lowthorpe in Misbehaviour, inspired by the memoir of Jennifer Hosten, who won the beauty pageant and made history.

  • Panga- Ashwini Iyer Tiwari

Panga is a Bollywood sports drama by Ashwini Iyer Tiwari. It follows the story of a former Kabaddi player and, now a working woman trying to make a comeback to the Kabaddi ground with the support of her husband and her son. Male allies in gender advocacy, indeed!

This list falls short in many ways. You are welcome to jot down a few more movies made by women and not necessarily for women in the comments section. But the actual problem lies in the question, “Why aren’t there more women film directors?” To find answers, wait for the next week’s blog article.


Empowering Women Starts Young and with You

Article by: Sumona Chetia, Executive Content Development

I vaguely recall myself as an eight-year-old practicing a group dance choreographed by our English Ma’am. This dance wasn’t any typical group dance. A twist accompanied it. We were supposed to sing on our own and match our steps to the song. And the song was penned down by our Ma’am. The 8 of us who were part of this extravaganza for our annual parent’s day celebration weren’t much happy about it. The prime reason being it wasn’t a song of our choice. The first stanza of the song went something like this, “Hum hain nariyan…jalti chingariya. Desh ko karenge roshan…”(Hindi lyrics).

Our tiny brains couldn’t grasp a word of what we were singing or dancing to, but our Ma’am focused on making us look brave and smart as we sang at the top of our lungs. On the day of the event, we were excited because we were allowed to wear our pretty ghagras (back then, Bollywood had a huge impact on us). But what followed left us embarrassed. Ma’am had put chart paper cut-outs of a shield on our blouses. And we had to carry similar cut out of swords as we perform onstage. I was hoping for a miracle to save me from this possible prospect of being the fun talk of the school. And so it happened. I secured the second position for showing academic excellence in that year. As I was a sub-junior, a teacher instructed me to queue up with the other winners so that I don’t get lost during the prize distribution ceremony. That means I didn’t have to perform that funny group dance. My English Ma’am looked dejected, but she had to let me go. And off I went happily to stand with my peers and laugh at my friends doing the silly dance.

Years later, I understood the meaning of that song. The lyrics translated to the feelings of a brave woman wanting to make her country proud. Women Empowerment, in particular. And those paper shields and swords was to visualize the warrior in us. I let out a deep sigh of despair. Did Ma’am not explain the context of the song to us? Or I didn’t pay attention? Whatever that was, one thing was for sure that our English Ma’am wanted to instill the impression of a smart and independent woman from our early school days. Such a humble yet, powerful attempt!

Do you have a daughter? A young sister? Or any girl child within your family? If so, then now is the time to reap the seed of “You are a wonder woman!” in their hearts and minds. As they say, change begins within the home.

Let’s look at a few feasible ways on how to empower a girl at an early age and transform her into an empowered woman for the future-

1) Boost her self-esteem

It works like a charm! Be it her first dance recital or her first work of art. Every little creative work that she does appreciate it for the way it is. Make her value her worth. Build her confidence.

2) Celebrate her self-expression

Let her dress the way she wants. She may prefer princess outfits or opt for something like jeans and tee teamed up with a pair of sneakers. Don’t force on her the ideology of how a girl should dress up.

3) Shun the negativity

The truth about body shaming and beauty standards should be laid out for her to differentiate between the right and the wrong. Teach her to combat negativity by introducing her to the healthy notions of body positivity, race, colour, and creed.

4) Lead by example

Show her how you treat your female colleagues, relatives, friends, or acquaintances. Be the role model that she deserves at the early stage of her life.

5) Incorporate gender education

To empower young girls, make gender education compulsory. Guide them in understanding the basics of gender equality and disparity. Refrain them from the evil social prejudices.

6) Enhance their communication skills

Let young girls voice their opinions on every little thing that matters. Offer them the chance to recognize and develop leadership qualities. Over time as parents and guardians, you can mould a girl’s unique abilities and transform her into a respectable and responsible citizen of society.

7) Provide education

Last but definitely not the least, provide girls with education. That’s the most basic but also the most important. Let them pursue their studies to the extent of their capabilities. No one has ever regretted by presenting a girl the gift of education.

As a child, I lost my chance to understand the power of women taught by my wonderful English Ma’am (forever guilty but more than that grateful for her visionary approach), but I was lucky enough to be surrounded by learned parents, supportive elders, and inspiring role models who showed me the right way to empowering myself. You can do it too for the girls around you. Lead a good way and they will follow you.