A sludge of sexist outrage surrounds Congress candidate Archana Gautam who has won a party ticket for contesting Hastinapur in the upcoming high-stakes elections in Uttar Pradesh. Gautam is a model and beauty pageant winner, professional qualifications many are finding inconsistent with the demands of the political field. While valid to an extent, this argument is being overshadowed by another that is bent on slut-shaming the 26-year-old.
Photos of Gautam in bikinis and other clothes that show skin are being circulated on social media platforms that are firing up with remarks that reveal the misogynistic toxicity that runs deep within all of our social discourse. From namecalling her to objectifying her, all that is definitive of patriarchal hypocrisy is on display online.
Ridiculing her and completely assassinating her character, many netizens are questioning Congress, in particular Priyanka Gandhi who is pushing the party pedal for UP elections, for their choice of a ‘woman like Gautam.’
“#Bikni_Girl #ArchanaGautam is just invited for mujra in victory celebration,” one tweet reads. “Mazze hogaye Meerut walo ke,” another says. “Voters ka manoranjan free me hoga,” one user wrote. “I will vote her if she dances with me like this bcz she attracts voters by this dancing and I’m the voter… Jo Noida me film City Kiya jarahahe na ye ushki naachnewali ambassador honi chahiye,” another wrote.
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Reacting to the noise around her bikini photos, Gautam told ANI, “I represented India in Miss Bikini 2018. I was Miss Uttar Pradesh 2014 & Miss Cosmo World 2018. I request people to not merge my profession in the media industry with my political career.”
Such is the condition of our mainstream narratives that a political candidate has to come to the mic and implore people to not size up her abilities on the basis of her old swimsuit photos. It’s a brave move from Gautam but, unfortunately, there is little hope that the trolling coming her way will stop at the behest of a sincere sounding request.
I request people to not merge my profession in the media industry with my political career
Social media is far too gone into the spiral of normalising sexism that comes in the form of slut-shaming that its users now do not think twice before hitting send on an abusive tweet or derogatory comment.
Plus, the settings of the situation – in Hastinapur, where the Mahabharata played out with the honour of a woman at its core – are too dramatically coincidental for people to give up the gleeful opportunity to come full circle in disrobing Gautam’s respect.
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It appears Gautam will have to face up to more than just political rivals in UP since she finds herself at the centre of a sexist storm that is laying siege to both her capabilities and dignity. This would not be the first time a female actor is trolled in a similar capacity though, unfortunately.
Women with their feet in showbiz or other entertainment, when they become politicians or candidates fielded for elections, are forever at the receiving end of misogynistic attacks reserved exclusively to degrade them. Hema Malini’s cheeks have long been a popular point of analogy for ministers promising smoother roads. Nusrat Jahan‘s position in West Bengal politics is consistently scrutinised for her parallel life as an actor.
Why are showbiz and entertainment considered dishonourable and women engaged in it, unworthy of respect?
It is common practice in India’s political arena across party lines to induct starry faces into the fold, especially around elections, to amp up glitz that will attract voters. A contentious brand of politics, it is understandable that people grumble over the selection of debut performers diametrically opposite to the field to important decision-making seats.
But are slut-shaming, abuse, objectification the answers to demand accountability from our political supremos? What do these tools do beyond affirming the dominance of misogyny that creates a culture of disadvantage for women across fields?
Views expressed are the author’s own.