What empowerment means: Pugilist Lovlina Borgohain secured India's third medal at the ongoing 2020 Olympics on August 4. So far, it is women athletes who have won the three medals at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. While these young athletes are being praised immensely for their achievements, their win has also sparked yet another row. Desi trolls have rolled up their sleeves and are now furiously working overtime to generate memes and WhatsApp forwards, that tell women what empowerment looks like. That's right, trolls as usual, feel they know what women need, what they deserve much better than women themselves do.
When archer Deepika Kumari was advancing through initial rounds of the archery competition at Olympics last week, we saw numerous memes that compared her achievements to those of her namesake, actor Deepika Padukone.
Dear parents ,— 3 (@Rebel_notout) June 28, 2021
If life gives u Deepika ...
Make her Deepika Kumari & Not Deepika Padukone 🙏 pic.twitter.com/1RpbtRzleB
And then when shuttler PV Sindhu bagged a bronze medal in the Women's Singles Badminton event, she was instantly hailed a role model "we" want. One of the most hilarious tweets that I came across showed a picture of Sindhu wearing a saree shared alongside an image of trolls' favourite soft target Kareena Kapoor Khan. The picture is a still from the film Heroine, in which Khan can be seen smoking. "Our role model, their role model," read the caption of the tweet. This is how journalist Asmita Bakshi served a delicious burn to the troll:
Neither can safely walk the streets of the national Capital unaccompanied after dark. https://t.co/Ly7onbUuBV— Asmita Bakshi (@asmitabee) August 2, 2021
This isn't the first time Sindhu has been made into a poster child for sanskaari Indian women, using her talent to push an ulterior agenda- that of dissing women who wear clothes of their choices and live on their own terms. It is amusing how the troll brigade, mostly comprising of privileged orthodox men, and people who think women don't know what's good for them, have the maximum amount of input to offer on what empowerment looks like.
We admire PV Sindhu..— ΛƧΉIƧΉЯΛЩΛƬ רואט אשי (@mav_rick12) August 1, 2021
They admire hypocrites..
Our role-model Their role-model pic.twitter.com/5eYlsGSnzQ
Real Women Empowerment is often visible through KARMA.— Akshay Sharma (@akshaysharmaab3) August 2, 2021
It doesn't ask for "SYMPATHY, ATTENTION or OUTCRY" examples are many i.e. PV SINDHU, Women's Hockey & Cricket team, IPS officers, Doctors, Entrepreneurs & self-made women from various feternity. #StopFakeFeminism #Olympics pic.twitter.com/8ado4OkHmt
PV Sindhu, Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, the Indian women's hockey team - are these ladies the most empowering figures of 2021 in India? Without a doubt, yes. But why must actors and celebrities be belittled in order to celebrate these young athletes? Their achievements have enough merit of their own, surely, so no one needs to be pulled down to propel them to greatness.
Besides, why must trolls get to decide what empowerment should mean to Indian women? What empowerment means, is also a subjective matter. Not all women would want to win Olympic medals or crack UPSC exams, and they shouldn't have to, simply to earn the respect and dignity that they deserve. One woman may feel that empowerment is being able to stay out late at night. Others may feel spending their hard-earned money on their terms is empowering. For a girl who comes from a village where women aren't even allowed to step in a room with a male presence, empowerment means studying in a co-ed college.
Wearing clothes of your choice, marrying the person you love, pursuing a career you like, being in control of your finances, not being held accountable for your sexual safety, walking on desolate streets without the fear of sexual assault - empowerment means different things to different women, and then some more. Empowerment also means having the ability to decide what you deem as empowering, instead of having its troll-approved definition forced down your throat.
So, dear trolls, all your ferocious memes celebrating our athletes completely miss the mark, because with them you hijack the narrative of empowerment, which needs to be written and rewritten by people who seek it, not by those who are privileged enough to think that they know better.
Views expressed are the author's own.