Mira Rajput may not need feminism, but most Indian women do
"The new wave of feminism is aggressive and destructive. There is a term called 'feminazi' which is now becoming the female equivalent of a male chauvinist." – Mira Rajput
Bollywood celebrities are larger than life. Their lives, relationships, kids, public appearances, decisions and comments, are all closely observed, dissected, and flashed across media for public consumption. Their visibility is heightened by the pedestal the aam junta puts them on.
Like the public though, they too are a collective formed by distinctly different individuals, from varied backgrounds, families, value systems. They also enjoy different points of connect with the public through these differences.
Mira Rajput's connect stems from the fact that she was an ordinary student attending a Delhi University college who married Bollywood actor Shahid Kapoor, and received fame gift-wrapped as a wedding present. Whether she desired it or not is immaterial, for she is using her celebrity to express her view. And whether that agrees with the feminist movement or not, her insistence to not stay quiet and speak her mind is commendable.
But while we're all wrapped up in the voice, the influencer that is getting to speak, obsessing over the celebrity and her views, we're overlooking the listeners – the influenced, the women who aspire to be her, the men who desire her, and the families who look up to her as the ideal daughter, ideal bahu.
Mira Rajput isn't an actor herself. Her work isn't consumed by the public, so there's no room for her to be an influencer through popular culture. However, not unlike Kim Kardashian, her life itself has a strong selling point – her marriage. And the consumer doesn't enjoy her privileges.
Not every homemaker
To understand this pattern of consumption, let's, for a second, imagine another 22-year-old Mira, married, but not to a celebrity, with a child, and one she can't support on her husband's daily wages alone. Her husband insists that she stay home, raise the kids. He would rather they skip a meal or two than have to bear with society shaming him for allowing his wife to work.
This Mira, also a homemaker, doesn't have the privilege of choice. Her mother-in-law, also a dependent, isolates herself in front of the television, consuming lives that have no point of intersection with her own. On good days, she tells Mira that it's okay to have a baby girl, look at girls going to space. Today is not a good day.
Because today, while surfing channels, she saw a celebrity who, despite having the means to do whatever she wants with her life, chose to stay home and raise her kids. She saw this celebrity speak disdainfully about women who choose to work.
Today, she called out to Mira and told her even celebrities understand the values of a good homemaker, and she must never ask her husband if he needs help again.
According to National Sample Survey (NSS) data released in 2016, most young women in India fall under the second Mira's category. And what's more alarming is that the percentage of women in the labour force, especially, has steadily dropped over the years.
India ranks 120 among 131 countries as far as our female labour force goes. In 2005, the participation of women (aged 15 and above) in the workforce was at 49%, by 2012 it had fallen sharply to 36%. This is alarming, to say the least, because work provides women autonomy, financial independence, and the empowerment that we so often talk about.
Note for Ms Rajput
“I am a housewife and wear that label with pride," Mira Rajput said on International Women's Day. "Why can't you be an accomplished homemaker? Accomplishing could mean anything one has their heart set on. I had a tough pregnancy, bringing Misha (seven-month-old daughter) into this world. Now, I love being at home and spending time with my child. I don't want to spend an hour with her and then rush to work. Why did I have her then? She is not a puppy.
“It's not that I am not a woman of today. You don't have to compromise on traditions and ideals to be modern.”
It is easy to shut Mira Rajput down, call her ignorant, unthinking, patronise her. But that will be a completely useless exercise, for she is undoubtedly positioned at a level in society where even when she speaks at her lowest tones, it would still be a decibel higher than the public screaming themselves hoarse.
Besides, patronising another woman does not a feminist make.
Her use, and therefore endorsement, of the word 'feminazi' is undoubtedly harmful to the many women fighting patriarchy to simply stay afloat. Moreover, the analogy she draws between a child and a dog can be verbatim used as yet another phrase to attack working mothers.
It is essential that Mira Rajput realise the harm she's capable of causing, and may have already caused with her choice of words. Yes, she must exercise her own brand of feminism, be it in raising her child, in her understanding of arranged marriages, and whatever else she might address in the future.
But she cannot afford to forget the pedestal she speaks from. By insinuating that a woman who doesn't follow patriarchal traditions is in any way akin to the people behind the holocaust, she sets their struggle back. For her to not consider herself a part of it is her own business. But to try and smear a movement that is wholly necessary shows neither awareness nor empathy.
Her words may just be words to her, but they could translate to other women being denied opportunities. Women she'll never see or hear of, but women who will undoubtedly never stop hearing of her example.