Bollywood stars have a knack for giving opinion on issues they have no knowledge of, or on topics they do not understand at all. Look at all the bizarre statements these stars have made on ‘feminism’. They have either been poorly thought about, or given as a mere publicity statement. These statements  not only make us question their levels of empathy and sensitivity, but also get us to wonder how much they understand the concept of feminism. Do these stars even have the faintest of idea of how outrageous they sound? Maybe creating outrage is their ultimate motive.

For some reason, these stars have concluded that gender equality and equal pay, and feminism are different issues.

For some reason, these stars have concluded that gender equality and equal pay, and feminism are different issues. They want to stand up against female infanticide. They want to endorse educational rights of a girl child. But mention the word feminism and they become clueless. How have they derived that feminists are man-eating child haters, who would rather kill their husbands than cook for them?

Bollywood is notorious for stereotyping women.

Even in modern times, when the heroine is educated and financially independent, she seems to always be in the need of constant rescuing by the hero, from one trouble or another. In such times, we come to expect a lot from our film stars, especially female actors. They are now quite vocal about gender bias in roles and pay checks. Some have struggled through their careers for good roles, where the protagonist has been a feminist. Many have also discouraged item numbers in their body of work. Hence, it comes as a surprise when these women want to be associated with all the feminist causes, but just not the term feminism.

Lisa Haydon, who won our hearts as Vijaylaxmi in ‘Queen’ (2014) said in an interview last year that the term ‘feminism’ was overused.  She thought that people were making too much noise about it for no reason.

She is not the first actor to have misunderstood feminism. In an interview Madhuri Dixit resisted being called a feminist.

“I don’t think I’m a feminist. I am independent and strong, which is what women should be like.”

Actor Parineeti Chopra was also reluctant in endorsing feminism. “I am very often confused to be a feminist, but I am not. I am really not. Coming into Bollywood, I think definitely it has made me stronger and more responsible. I do feel proud of my gender, of being a woman. I do speak against gender inequality. I am the brand ambassador for Haryana’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ campaign. And I think it is very important for me personally to strive for equality, especially the industry that I come from.”

Even two-time national award winner Tabu felt that feminism was a label. “I don’t want to be called a feminist, but I don’t disown feminism. Our actions are more important than these labels.’’

The confusion over what exactly is right, when it comes to talking about feminism has not spared the male Bollywood stars either.

Just in the beginning of this year, Shah Rukh Khan made the following statement, when talking about his film ‘Dear Zindagi’:

‘I don’t want to sound pro-feminist and say that these girls have made a beautiful film, but they really have. I’ve always said that I enjoy making films with women.’

This misinterpretation of feminism goes beyond such senseless statements, and is seen in their actions as well.

Latest case being that of a certain superstar who, despite being married to a popular feminist, and starring in several socially relevant movies, felt it was alright to make inappropriate comments against a female comedian on national television. The flack that the comedian ended up receiving for protesting against such behaviour, reflects the casual attitude towards women, that films have ingrained into both the movie makers and goers.

Feminism is often conflated with militant feminism.

All ideologies have a bunch of extremist followers, who do more harm than good to the cause. This results in misrepresentation of the issue globally. Feminism is often conflated with militant feminism. The later kind propagates hatred towards men, children, bras etc, while masquerading as feminists. People find these feminist militants so repulsive, that they do not want to endorse any cause they associate themselves with. They are the reason why celebrities or public figures like Priyanka Chopra shirk away from endorsing feminism.

“I don’t think it’s (her show Quantico) feminist, but it’s empowerment. It’s got very strong female characters, and I don’t think it’s a bra-burning feminist show where you’re like, we hate men, but we have really strong male characters, too. It gives females an opportunity to be equal with the boys, and I think that’s really progressive.” She had retorted, when quizzed on whether ‘Quantico’ is a feminist show or not.

However, a star like Kangana Ranaut, who is walking the real feminist talk, is a welcome change. She is demanding equal pay for both genders quite vocally. She also said in an interview we shouldn’t have to emphasize on the fact that men and women are equals.

Bollywood stars should just stick to one simple straight forward concept.Feminism is the advocacy of equal rights for men and women.

They should take inspiration from Hollywood celebrities like Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, and Angelina Jolie, who have openly embraced feminism and have used their public standing to draw attention to various atrocities being committed against women.

Actor Swara Bhasker  summed up feminism beautifully in her recent interview with SheThePeople.TV

“I think feminism is a very positive and impressive movement. It has for several years fought for women’s rights, equal representation of women in public context.”

“Feminism for me is something that ideologically strives to create a society where gender will not dictate your choices in life. In that sense, we should all be feminists and my responses to people who say I am not a feminist is, why? she added.

There are a lot of people who look up to these celebrities. Hence for them, taking a stand or sides on any issue is like walking a tight rope. But with the power and influence that they have, it is essential that they show empathy with relevant causes. Equal rights is a battle which we cannot win in India if our stars shy away from endorsing it. However, first they need to understand what they are standing up for.

Also read: “It has never been as bad as it is today” Shabana Azmi on Padmavati

Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are author’s own.

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