A man in the 250 strong audiences got up to say this to our panel. “I have left a session with Shashi Tharoor and come to listen to you. He is talking of the past, while you all are about our future. For the sake of my daughter I want to listen to the new thinking of women.” This was at the Times Literature Fest, at our discussion titled India@70 : The Future Is Female.
In what can be called a firebrand, fierce and fearless conversation, we spoke of everything from success to sexuality with Mallika Dua, Sapna Bhavnani and Kanika Tekriwal. Their experiences, though shocking and stereotypical, have forced these women to give a damn about what people around her say. Kanika fought cancer at 22 when her family was already scouting a Marwari boy for marriage. “Fortunately cancer saved me and let me follow my dreams,” she says. She runs an aviation-tech company that function like the uber of private jets. For long she fought the perception of people who questioned her. “You run an aviation company?” challenging her as a woman at the helm of it. Sapna had three failed marriages and a tumultuous relationship with her mom because never wanted to ‘settle.’ Today she runs MadOrWot – a hair saloon that’s frequented by many. Remember Dhoni’s crazy hairdos? That’s Sapna’s talent. But beyond that she has adopted a village and is a champion of Stop Acide Attacks, something she passionately works for. Mallika Dua, grew up in a liberal home and pretty much did what she wanted to. She never knew of another way. Until she picked being a comedy star and actor where she faced and discussed horrific stereotypes and stayed amused about the way people made assumptions about a digital incarnation on instagram and snapchat.
It’s fantastic to see women who are empowered, have a mission and don’t care about others. But the last year showed, whether you are a burqha wearing woman, a saree donning one or someone wearing short skirts – nothing stops body shaming, or eve teasing. The ridicule is underscored. There must be some ‘other’ reason for her success, for her guts and glory. In 2016, Simone Biles took bodyshamers head on. Serena Williams said it straight. If she was a man she might have been a global star at least 6 years ago. Madonna said the industry remained surprised that a woman her age was still in business and how age added to gender made for a really nasty plate of discrimination. “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.” It makes you wonder, just what does it take? Studies after studies show the skewed numbers, the bizarre conclusions for why women are held responsible for mid-career breaks, for trying to achieve a work life balance and for rearing their ambitions. Women are made fun of for trying to walk a tight rope but never rewarded for it. What does it really take for women to get their space.
Shaili Chopra is the founder of SheThePeople.TV and these are her views