Sportswomen v/s Actors: Why Do We Pull Some Women Down To Celebrate Others?

With sportswomen compared to actors, more aggressive ways of promoting sexism emerge under the illusion of empowerment.

Tanvi Akhauri
New Update
What Empowerment Means
Sportswomen compared to actors: The ongoing Tokyo Olympics have opened an ugly gateway into sexist commentary that involves pitting women against women.

Painting women as rivals or judging their worth relative to others around them is not uncommon, rather fairly overused. The trope of infighting and catfighting has served as a stimulus for arousal to men and opportunities for grandstanding as the 'superior sex' over generations.

A rather peculiar brand of ">misogyny has, however, taken stronghold surrounding sportswomen in particular. Holding them up as the "real feminists" who are achieving things of "real value" in life, trolls are aggressively bringing down women working in other professions as entertainment, writing or journalism.

This for instance is the reaction of a certain section of people to archery sensation Deepika Kumari's breathtaking progress at the Olympics, as she inches closer towards a medal. Her namesake back home is being pulled down for her victories there. Photos of Deepika Padukone are being shown simultaneously to highlight the alleged differences between them.

Only when a woman achieves for the country - in the conventional way that traditionalists imagine - while achieving for herself, will she or her work be valued. Is that not what these comparisons seem to say? That only when a woman can speak of tangible world successes - medals, awards, laurels - got from professions deemed more "respectable" than others is she a true champion of women's rights.

There is, of course, no dispute that Kumari is a trailblazer and will hold that status regardless of her Olympic win. And keeping in perspective the rough roads she has taken through a Jharkhand village against Padukone's relative urban privileges, there is an obvious contrast in their success stories.

With Sportswomen Compared To Actors, More Roads To Sexism Emerge

Why can Deepika Padukone not be hailed as an icon equal to Deepika Kumari? Who decides the measure by which to decide if a woman public figure is worthy of praise or not? Can the identities of two persons from professional fields far different (in manner, not importance) ever be conflated with such oversimplistic comparisons?

Most importantly, what are such juxtapositions yielding if not a blatant promotion of toxic sexist culture?

Again, this narrative stems largely from the male gaze. For those threatened by women more vocal with art and ideas than those more vocal with skills society perceives as truly 'important,' a Kumari will always be lauded louder than a Padukone. But even when trolls seemingly celebrate a sports star like Kumari, they do so because she fits into their patriarchal dimensions of a good, virtuous, successful working woman. 

That there are multiple layers to this farcical moral righteousness is evident by how conveniently the narrative keeps shifting in favour of certain women over others. During cricket season, for instance, national women's team player Smriti Mandhana is showered with exclusive compliments from fans - not so pointedly for her skill as for her external appearances.

For this young champion who fits into the perimeters of society's beauty standards, her physicality takes precedence over her game. Simultaneously, no others on the team are as fawned over as "examples of true representatives of feminism" as she is because they look different. Double sexism.

Who are we letting decide what feminism stands for now? Should inflammatory speech setting women up against other contemporaries guide empowerment? Because when they do that, under sly illusions of praise, neither woman is benefiting. Both are ultimately being set up for oppression - one sooner than the other.

Views expressed are the author's own. 

deepika padukone Smriti Mandhana sexism in sports deepika kumari archery olympic sportswomen