I recently received an email from a reader (a white woman from the US with an Indian husband). She wrote to me with concern about the way white women are portrayed in Bollywood. In particular, she feels that the stereotype of white women as disposable sexual objects is a key factor in the problems that white women face in India.
She wrote this letter to an editor of a newspaper after her first trip to India a number of years back.
Bollywood has been engaging in a disturbing trend. The Indian film industry has propagated harmful stereotypes of Westerners (especially white women) in almost all films set in America and the United Kingdom. Caucasian women are consistently portrayed as scantily dressed dancers, crazy, drug addicts, deficient in some other manner, or even as prostitutes. Westerners are rarely presented as suitable or desirable spouses. During my entire lifetime in the United States I have never witnessed a group of American women spontaneously start dancing in revealing costumes.
Americans prize their freedom and exercise this right to make personal decisions to be chaste, monogamous, or promiscuous. Indians make these same sexual choices. A key difference between these two cultures is that Americans often are more open about their decisions than Indians, who usually choose to keep their sexual behavior private. However, it is unfair and inaccurate for Bollywood to portray all Caucasian women as always promiscuous.
As the wife of an Indian emigrant, I have visited India and anticipate many more future trips to my husband’s homeland. While I appreciate and enjoy several aspects of Indian culture, I am dismayed by my frequent encounters with negative stereotypes of Americans held by many Indians both in India and abroad.
No one likes to be treated as a stereotype, including Indians.
I respectfully ask members of the Indian community to reject stereotypes of Westerners portrayed by Bollywood films. It is my fervent hope that when my Anglo-Indian daughter visits India she will be treated with the same dignity and fairness that every person should receive, regardless of the fact that she has a mixed Indian and European-American heritage.
Now, you might want to jump in and say that Hollywood also portrays white women as sexual objects. However, my reader makes the counter point that Hollywood usually portrays Indians in a positive light. Indians in American films and televisions shows are usually doctors or techies. She says that she would much rather have her ethnicity and gender portrayed as computer geeks than prostitutes! She also goes on to say:
I think Bollywood perpetuates harmful stereotypes of white women because this is what the Indian public wants to see and it helps sell more movie tickets. This negative impression of western women is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche and may have something to do with a colonial mental hangover of the white woman previously being unattainable during the days of the Raj. How fun to transform an unattainable woman of the conquering elite to a inane sexual toy readily available to the Indian male for pleasure but not commitment!
So, what do you think? Since I'm engaged to an indian man myself, I felt this is a relevant and hot topic for discussion.