Rani Mukerji is all set to reprise her role as the ruthless and heroic cop Shivani Shivaji Roy in the Mardaani 2. It is ironic that a franchise on female courage and empowerment is called “Mardaani” which loosely means brave like a man. But then mardaani is not a new term being used to describe female bravado. In a society that strongly identifies courage as a masculine trait, a woman needs to shed her femininity or be christened a “mardaani” to have her valour validated. Do we even realise how this stereotyping affects both men and women? Can’t women be both feminine and courageous?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Mardaani is a word commonly used to describe a courageous woman.
  • But must women have to trade femininity in order to be valorous?
  • By labelling courage as a masculine trait we mandate it for men to be gutsy, whether they want to or not.
  • It is high time we accepted that courage has nothing to do with gender.

How many women display stark valour, who pick up arms, or physically stand up for their or their loved one’s rights today? Even when someone does, what is the perception of such a woman in our society?

Like me, perhaps most of you have been introduced to this word “mardaani” from a Hindi poem on the great female freedom fighter Rani Laxmibai. “Khoob ladi mardaani wo to Jhansiwali rani thi,” wrote Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. Here mardaani is a compliment to Laxmibai for her display of valour, and it makes sense in the context that this poem was written in an era when it was not common for women to pick up arms and fight. Or let me rephrase, the stories of women picking up arms and fighting for their rights were rarely celebrated with such fervour. Has much changed today? How many women display the true-blue stark courage, who pick up arms, or physically stand up for their or their loved one’s rights today? Even when someone does, what is the perception of such a woman in our society?

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Let us be clear that one is not endorsing violence here, but is merely questioning our perception of courage and valour as a society. The said traits largely remain associated with masculinity, and our films remind that to us on weekly basis. Every fortnight, we get blessed with a hero who is a courageous “mard”, who will fight twenty goons with his bare hands, to protect his lady love. The woman is expected to run into his arms at the first sight of danger and then stand rooted to her place, while our hero displays bravado in slow motion, flexing biceps and jaw.

Any woman who takes up martial arts or kickboxing, etc. is still taunted by one or the other person of being manly as if it is an insult.

Although both our films and society seem to be now opening up to recognising female valour. We have women protecting our borders, flying jets and training to undertake missions that were deemed beyond their capacity just a few years ago. In Bollywood we have a handful of films which do not shy away from toying with the idea of women in “action” roles. However, as a society, we still seem oblivious to the fact that women can be brave and feminine too. A woman doesn’t have to shed her femininity to embrace courage or look a challenge in the eye. The word mardaani actually further reinforces the stereotyping that correlates courage to masculinity and it is everyday Indian women and girls who bear the brunt of it.

Not a lot of parents are keen to let their daughters embrace masculine traits. Any woman who takes up martial arts or kickboxing, etc. is still taunted by one or the other person of being manly as if it is an insult. Such stereotyping keeps girls from realising their strength, and forces boys to be physically strong and brave, sometimes against their wishes. Doesn’t such conditioning last a lifetime? Doesn’t it set a person for a lifetime of playing the role of a saviour or the one needing to be saved, purely on basis of gender, and not personal integrity and potential?

There is a lot to being a man or a woman, and none of that has any correlation to being courageous. Find your inner strength and champion it, no matter what your gender. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman or more of a man, it just makes you a better person.

Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

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

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