A reality TV show on a state broadcaster in Kyrgyzstan is raising hackles for what detractors assert is its demeaning depiction of women and their role in society.
Kelin, which roughly translates into English as bride, is a Kyrgyz spin on a well-worn format in the West, wherein a group of contestants must compete for the attention of a putative suitor. One such show in the United States, The Bachelor, would start out with a couple dozen young women undergoing a series of sometimes embarrassing tests to beat out their rivals.
In the Kyrgyz variation, it is not a prospective groom, but a stern mother-in-law, or kainenye, who the contestants must impress. The challenges include cow-milking, gardening, cooking and cleaning.
“A lot of people wanted to complete — we had about 30 women from all over Kyrgyzstan go through the casting process. Out of that, we selected around 10. We focused mainly on urban residents, as for many of them day-to-day tasks and housekeeping are a foreign concept. Some of them had barely seen a cow, let alone milked one,” show producer Hadicha Harsanova told the Sputnik news website.
Producers of Kelin, the first episode of which aired at the start of February, have dismissed the verbal brickbats that have been tossed at the show, saying the program is just a bit of fun and that the contestants participated enthusiastically and of their own free will.
Meanwhile, the founder of news website Kloop.kg, Bektour Iskender, has stood out as one of the show’s most unforgiving critics. A translation of an op-ed by Iskender is reprinted below with permission from the author:
Kelin is yet another masterpiece from Kyrgyzstan’s public broadcaster.
For those that do not speak Kyrgyz, the word refers to the bride, the son’s wife. That is the official translation of the word.
The unofficial translation is, basically, slave — the lowest rung in the family hierarchy — workhorse, servant, a person often regarded as barely human and that can be readily ignored.
The Kelin reality show is really quite revolting. I know what I am talking about as I watched the first episode attentively (as much as was possible anyway), and I even compiled a blow-by-blow account that you can read here (in Russian).
This show is nothing more than a bunch of offensive clichés. The women featured in the show compete in a series of tasks that have been performed by unpaid servants (AKA kelinki) over the centuries in Central Asian households.
And this all unfolds to the accompaniment of psychological intimidation from the actress playing the role of the “capricious mother-in-law.” (ugh!)
I do not have the words to tell you how objectionable I find this show, which is paid for out of my taxes, and how unsuitable it is for airing in the prime-time slot.
One contestant apologized to the mother-in-law for serving cold tea and offered to pour her a fresh cup, (which the in-law later complained had something floating in it.)
So how to react to this reality show? Maybe that is the more important question, so let’s try and find an answer.
First of all, we need to decide whether it is worth fighting for a ban of this show.
My opinion, strange as it may sound, is that we should absolutely not do that. Banning any media content could have a reverse effect. So many people will start watching it as a result that anybody who was in favor of the ban in the first place would soon regret it. Even in the unlikely event that Kelin was yanked off the air, there would be such a fuss that it would only end up attracting more attention, and then all records would be broken for the number of downloads for the episodes that had already been aired.
What is more, the show would find another channel on which to air. And there it would enjoy three times as much success as a “much-troubled” show.
The best thing you could do with a show like this is to inundate it with tons of spoofs and criticism. Cover it from head to toe. Let the state broadcaster, KTRK, be the one to pull the show itself — out of a sense of embarrassment and shame, not because of some court ruling.
So if banning is pointless, what then are the solutions?
Creativity and education. Involve as many people as possible in this process. Believe me, any of you out there can determine what the role of women in Kyrgyz society is to be, even if you do not yet quite know how you are to do it.
Speaking as a privileged cisgender, heterosexual man, I can never imagine quite how it must be to live amid constant sexism. And one of the most pernicious aspects of sexism is the denial of sexism, which we encounter a great deal in our society.
I have never had to pick up my pace in the street just because I was alone and it was already dark and there was a strange man across the road. I have never had to deal with the daily ordeal of crude, salacious jokes from, for example, taxi drivers or any other man with whom I have had to share a space. Nobody has ever wolf-whistled me in the street. Nobody has ever passed judgment on me for the length of my clothing. I have never been a victim of bride-kidnapping or raped on wedding night as relatives took no heed. I have never been forced to do the most unpleasant work around the house, and been deprived of the right to pursue my own career.
So it is not for me to tell you what to do. Do not listen to me. Do not listen to other men. Push us aside and do what you want. The only thing I would ask of you is that you teach other women this lesson too.
If you too are outraged by Kelin, become an example of feminism in your daily life. And yes, you can become a feminist even if you are a man, and it is not that hard.
Start at your workplace. Stop dividing labor into male and female. Address your female colleagues as specialists in their own fields, first and foremost.
Basically, stop giving so much thought to what is between people’s legs. You might find out, to your own surprise, that knowing how to do an awesome job and achieve results has little to do with gender identity.
Change your attitude to women in your daily life. Maybe you could stop sizing up women in the street, touching without permission and prying into their personal lives. And teach men the same thing.
The original commentary was posted by kloop.kg in Russian on February 6.