On smoking ,gender and privilege

Shucheesmita Simonti:

Before a day or two, I woke up to find a facebook notification that a friend of mine tagged me in a post. She declared that she wants to file a case against the maker of a video. I was curious and clicked on the video. And……….I could not finish watching at once! I felt disgusted and managed to watch the video after my third attempt to tolerate this misogynist piece of crap.

So, this video shows a girl who is sitting alone and is smoking. People are giving her curious stares and whispering that she has no shame, that she is smoking in a public place. And, on another table, a group of guys is seated where all are smoking, except ‘one’- the ‘holy character'(pun intended) in the story. He is angry at the fact that this girl has the audacity to smoke in a public place. He goes up to her and confronts her. When she retorts back that what is the problem, he tells her that being a guy, he can take off his shirt and walk, but can she do it? She can’t. The story eventually shows that when he is unable to stop her from smoking, he records her without her consent while she is smoking, and the video becomes viral. The act becomes widespread and the story ends by showing that young men start recording women who smoke in public place.

Confrontation scene from the film

By the time I finished watching this disgusting video, I could feel myself burning, in disgust and anger. First of all, smoking is an act that is injurious to health, irrespective of gender. Smoking is considered as ‘cool’ by many youngsters. However, whether it is ‘harmful’ or ‘cool’, it is not any different on the basis of gender. If we are ok with men smoking, then why do we think it is ok to shame women who smoke? If something is ‘wrong’, it should be wrong for men as well and the whole burden of being good and maintaining decency being imposed upon women is just not fair! Personally speaking, I do not smoke. But I don’t think that categorizes me as a ‘good woman’. It is just a choice I made for sake of my health. Just because I do not smoke, it does not give me the right to act as a moral police and shame other fellow women, and categorize them as “bad women.” Smoking is a habit that is unhealthy, but it does not define an individual, irrespective of gender.

Furthermore, what is problematic in the video is what the ‘holy guy’ preaches. He declares Bangladeshi women as ungrateful, towards the ‘privileges’ that we all enjoy.

Towards the end of the film where it shows guys randomly recording girls who are found smoking in public places

I would like to ask the filmmaker and the lead actor and everyone else involved in the production, did you just call us privileged? Privileged because we have reserved seats for women in the public transports? Well, do you also call us privileged when those of us who have no other option but to use public transport get groped in the bus and mostly, women have to suffer in silence because you have also decided that good women do not speak up. It has not even been a year that the rape and murder of Rupa happened. She was using public transport as she could not afford a luxurious life. She was fighting hard against poverty and other obstacles but before her hard work could bear fruit, some low lives snatched her life from her because they could not control their desires. Yes, it is true that recently  Bangladesh has been found to have the lowest gender gap in South Asia, but it does not imply that violence against women does not occur or that all women are equally empowered. There are girls who still drop out of school while their brothers continue to study as the family cannot afford it. There are still women who quit their jobs after marriage or childbirth and give up on their career. There are women who face sexual harassment at workplace and struggle to voice their issues. There are women who are killed for dowry. There are women who are forced to end their lives due to domestic violence, rape, mental abuse and so on. So, think twice before you call us privileged. A Violence Against Women (VAW) in  Survey 2011 identified that as many as 87% of currently married women have ever experienced any type of violence by current husband and 77% reported any type of
violence faced during the past 12 months from the survey time.

This video is alarming because it is instigating misogyny amongst the youngsters. We need to protest against such videos because these are trying to imply that it is ethical to record someone without her consent, and such ‘moral policing’ on women is acceptable. The responses to the video also need to be paid attention to, as many youngsters, both boys, and girls, are supporting the video and think that there is nothing wrong with the video. It only reflects that patriarchy is deeply embedded in our mindset. This video also reminded me of a childhood incident that I would like to mention. Once I was returning from school with my father and we came across some women laborers smoking. I immediately pointed out and yelled “Look baba! these women are smoking!”. My father immediately told me to shut up. Looking back, I feel ashamed of what I had done. But the question is, from where did a 10-year-old child learn that the act of women smoking is ‘not normal’? Why I did not do that upon seeing a man smoking, just like the little boy in the film who is taken aback by seeing a woman smoking in a public place.In my case, it was the movies and serials I grew up watching where often the negative female characters were shown to smoke whereas the heroines never did. It is embedded in our subconscious that women are not supposed to smoke. But we never publicly ostracize men for smoking!

Let me make it clear, what is wrong in the video. Smoking is harmful to all, irrespective of gender and it is the act of shaming a girl for smoking in public and taking this habit as a tool for moral policing while the men continue to smoke blissfully is what is discriminatory and the filmmaker and individuals involved in the production of it need to realize that. Indeed, the film has been titled perfectly, “Boishommo” in Bengali, which means discrimination. Yes, it is discriminatory to be ok with men smoking, while ostracizing women for the same act. And many of us need to realize that supporting this film entails to supporting misogyny.

Link to the controversial short film, we need to protest and report this:


Update: The video has been removed from youtube.

The writer is working as editor of Women Chapter’s English site, and Researcher and Social Media Manager at Safety First for Girls Outreach Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Zambia. She is also working as a research volunteer at Unity in Diversity, an NGO that works on the socio-cultural integration of refugees in the Netherlands. Her passion also includes inter-faith peacebuilding and she has assisted in organizing inter-faith workshops and conferences in India and the Netherlands. 



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