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Why Are Bollywood Actresses Afraid Of The F-Word?


Lisa Haydon was the latest some time back to join the bandwagon of Bollywood actresses who say, “I’m not a feminist.”   Vidya Balan has said it too, so has Madhuri Dixit and many others.  So why are Bollywood actresses so scared of the F-word?

I do accept the fact that people could have different opinions on just about any subject.  The same applies to feminism.  If women were to just say ‘I’m not a feminist’, that would be their take. The grouch I have with public figures like Lisa Haydon is that they make statements like ‘Feminism is just an overused term and people make noise about it for no reason’ or ‘I don’t want to be a man’ and what have you.

While growing up in a patriarchal society that is India (and many other parts of the world too), girls, right from a young age are taught to conform and obey, no questions asked.  As a child, I came in for a lot of flak from the elders in the family for playing cricket with the boys.  Apparently, it was something “girls simply would not and should not do”.  I didn’t get the logic behind that statement then and I don’t get it now.  If that makes me a feminist, so be it.  And no, it does not make me a man.

Whatever anyone might say about the Indian society having changed its outlook, or its mindset towards gender inequality, the sad fact is that things remain pretty much the same.  Attitudes are the same, mind-sets, outlooks and approaches pretty much remain patriarchal.

Women should not have to protest, or hold up banners, or walk around naked holding placards, should not have to burn bras to be heard and taken notice of.  When a woman speaks, it is as much her right to do so as it is any man’s out there and when she does speak, giving her an ear is something that needs to come as naturally to us as when we hear a man out. That is what feminism is about.  Feminism does not ask women to holler and for men to be muzzled.  Equality – that’s what it asks for.

Being a woman has never been easy anywhere in the world, especially so in patriarchal societies like India.  Come to think of it, a woman is pretty much doomed the day those XX chromosomes decide to hang out together.  That is essentially when the struggle begins – a struggle for life, for existence, for identity, to have her voice heard, to have her opinions taken seriously.  For a woman, life gets down to being a struggle to simply survive with her senses intact, for she comes into a world, a society which values the XY chromosomes over and above the XXs.

Despite rampant cries for change, the cultural identity of an Indian woman is still looked upon, first and foremost, as being that of a wife, a mother.  The traditional female identity in India still pretty much places a woman in a very restrictive environment.  Education too, even now, is seen by society, not as much as a tool to gain independence but more as a means to improve a woman’s chance of finding a husband of a higher social status.

Irrespective of life in a village or a city, women are still expected to adhere to traditional expectations.  In many families, it is still considered necessary for a woman to touch her husband’s feet as a mark of respect, she is still expected to wear accessories that “mark” her as a married woman – her mangalsutra, her sindoor, her toerings.  Does society expect something on similar lines from men, now that we call ourselves an advancing society?  Sadly, the answer still remains in the negative.

Religion is still used to reinforce cultural stereotypes of femininity.  Sita is still embodied as the perfect Indian wife who sacrifices just about everything to follow her husband and does what is asked of her – no questions asked.  Patriarchy demanded that Sita walk through fire because her husband heeded the words of a washerman.  Feminism would demand the same from him, given that he was alone all the time Sita was held hostage or it wouldn’t demand it from either of them.

Equality – that’s what feminism is about.

The media is often found saying that sexism is on the decrease now as compared to what it was a few decades back.  There are countless articles which say the lines between male dominance and female submissiveness has blurred and that there definitely is a grey area which is growing.  Well, as things stand in society today, what we see is probably not the institutionalized sexism that one used to witness a few decades back.  But sexism in the modern society rears its head every single time a female is catcalled as she walks down a road.  Or when male colleagues attribute an argument to “that time of the month”.  Or when men deem it fit to mock women for their inability to do things which society has always considered “macho”, driving for instance.  Or when the so-called ‘educated’ men don’t think twice about making statements like “a woman’s place is in the kitchen, making rotis and cooking for her family”.

We still live in a society which defines woman-ness or femininity in terms of actions or dress codes.  We still live in a society that permits and makes sanctions for gender based jokes in workplaces or schools,  that ruled some time back that family owned businesses do not have to cover contraception in their workers’ health insurance.  We still live in a society where male members in the Senate and the Supreme Court get to decide on whether women should have control over their own bodies.

So when public figures like Bollywood actresses go out on a limb to avoid being tagged with the ‘F-word’, when they feel the need to speak out and make it clear that they are not feminists, they just need to think very carefully.  You have the choice to wear what you like, you would like to have control over decisions about yourself and your bodies, you would like to have the freedom to use birth control and decide when you bear children, you would like to have the freedom to decide whether or not you want an abortion, you would like to have the freedom to decide whether you want to marry or not.  If all of the above are true, truth be told, you ladies totally believe in feminist ideals whether or not you want to be called feminists.

Feminism is not about women wanting to be men.  Feminism is not about not wanting a husband or raising a family.  Feminism is not about not being able to show tenderness towards humanity in general.  Feminism is not about going around flaunting a bra strap.  Feminism is not about exposing your body.  Feminism is not about not taking care of your kids or not wanting to take care of your kids.  Feminism is not the belief that one gender is more powerful than the other.

Feminism is about moving towards a society which does not rebuke men for showing vulnerability just as it does not chasten women for wanting to be independent.

Simply put, feminism is nothing but a movement towards wanting an equal society – a society where man, woman, LGBTQ communities have an equal footing and all can express their opinions in the secure knowledge that their voices will be heard.  Feminism is a movement towards a society where the genitals one has, do not decide how much power an individual has or does not have, in society.  Feminism is a movement towards a society that does not discriminate, castigate or penalize people for who they are.
Like Kate Nash said Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a bitch or a dyke. It means you believe in equality.”


Gauri dons many hats. Of  a wife, a mom, a teacher and more.  Apart from working as a full time English teacher  in Hong Kong, she also raises and nurtures two children.  Her family means the world to her and life is a happy roller coaster ride. She blogs at http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/.  Originally intended as a means to preserve memories for posterity, Tiny Tidbits now plays host to a wide range of issues, thoughts, musings, raves and rants.

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