Turning the tables: How Netflix and pop-culture have become society’s new means to shackle women

This year has been unsettling no doubt. Not just because of the health hazards posed by the coronavirus. Over the past few months, injustices in all forms have been meted out to various communities causing outrage. Be it the Black Lives Matter movement or the growing rate of femicides in Turkey, women’s empowerment continues to be a burning issue topped by racial and religious clashes. The lockdown has not only posed threats to mental health but also caged in those in abusive relationships. Reports suggest that there might have been a 20 percent increase in the number of domestic violence cases during the global lockdown.

On the one hand, videos promoting awareness about domestic abuse and how to get help are being circulated online. On the other, cringeworthy, derogatory scenes from the movie 365 Days have been doing the rounds on Tik Tok and Instagram with the caption “If a man treated me like this, he’d definitely become a father.”

Amongst the various lockdown activities people across the world choose to indulge in, online video streaming is one of the most popular. In fact, Netflix generated a revenue just shy of six billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter of 2020 alone. During this period, its number of paid subscribers also shot over 180 million users worldwide. Given that this is how people choose to spend a major chunk of their time, the onus falls on platforms such as Netflix to curate the kind of content it showcases. The ideas propagated by shows and films such as Indian Matchmaking and 365 Days go beyond “harmless fun”.

For those watching with their thinking caps on, this raises questions about the line that separates reel and real life. The need to bring to light the stark realities of life is a trump card often used by those in the media industry who are put on the stand for controversial content. However, the devil is in the details. It boils down to how these atrocities are depicted. In the aforementioned productions, one would notice an element of insensitivity towards the portrayal of women’s issues. Sensationalism and entertainment overtake the potential such media holds to spark debate and promote women empowerment.

Despite the outrage unleashed against 365 Days, with Welsh singer Duffy leading the charge, the Polish film continued to trend on Netflix for days on end. The feature film blatantly glamourized the Stockholm syndrome while championing ideas of toxic masculinity and the “taming of the shrew” trope. A nightmarish version of the already problematic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

This diabolical trope resurfaces in the Netflix series Indian Matchmaking, where young individuals of Indian origin are put through the grind of finding their life partner with the “help” of their families who join hands with an overbearing matchmaker. The series reinforces oppressive, patriarchal ideas associated with the arranged marriage system in India. It undoes all the efforts made under feminist movements that allowed women to retain their individuality and agency. Moreover, the show seems more of an exploitative means for the matchmaker Ms. Sima Taparia to gain fame and wealth off the backs of other people.

While both the movie and the series make half-hearted attempts to depict true life instances, what is lacking is a critical perspective on both the subjects focused on in them. Instead of steering the conversation to a more constructive solution, they reaffirm the prejudices, misogynistic and chauvinistic ideas held by society. Netflix’s failure to disenfranchise such productions on its platform also reflects the ignorant and rotten system within the entertainment industry fueled by voyeurism.