We didn’t really need science to enlighten us. Any woman who’s ever read a Mills & Boon or lusted after a Byronic hero (“that man of loneliness and mystery, scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh”), knew the truth a zillion years ago. Smiling men don’t make a woman’s heart go pitter-patter. That’s an area of expertise of arrogant, glowering bad boys or soulful, happy-only-when-they’re-miserable poets.
Still, it was nice to learn from an old article in American Psychological Association journal Emotion that even scientific research says that women are least attracted to smiling, happy men, preferring instead the “proud and powerful” or “moody”. Smiling apparently shows a lack of dominance, which is fine for “submissive and vulnerable” women, but is out of sync with the strong, silent image of the kind of man that most women fancy. The report goes on to say that men, in contrast, are most attracted to happy, smiling women whom they perceive as “approachable and submissive”, and least moved by the “proud and confident” ones.
The Emotion report may have cited an old, global study but its findings seem au courant with things in India in February 2017. I’m talking about the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refusal to grant a certificate to director Prakash Jha’s Lipstick under my Burkha. The film, which won the Spirit of Asia Award at Tokyo International Film Festival and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival, tells the story of four women who, stifled by everyone and everything in their lacklustre existence, take back their lives through small acts of courage and rebellion.
I can see how that would be a problem. Remember what the journal said? Men don’t like proud and confident women. At least, men like CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani don’t seem to. The CBFC denied the film a certificate on the grounds that it was “lady oriented”, had abusive words and “contanious sexual scenes”. Explaining further, Nihalani said: “We only have objection to the content of the movie. The treatment given to the issue of ‘women empowerment’ was the reason we didn’t give it a certificate.”
Oh dear, were the women having too much fun and sex, Mr Nihalani? The trailer does show one of the girls having shots and dancing at a club; another taking a selfie while having sex. The older woman dyes her hair and has phone sex with a younger man while the fourth, a harried mother of many, tries to persuade her mister to use a condom. All those things could fall under “fantasy above life”.
This is not a bromance film shot in Spain, dammit. Or even in Delhi, for that matter. These are middle-class women living in small-town India. Learning stitching or crying together after being beaten silly by the husbands would have been all right. So would picking up a sickle and slicing said husbands’ head off (but only if they had also threatened the children). That would be channeling Ma Kali, perfectly in step with tradition. But confidently going into the night and having a good time is certainly not what we want for our women in India. Leave the “proud and powerful” role to the men, ladies. And stay demurely within the U certificate line.