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Dear Sona Mohapatra, By ‘Washing Her Dirty Linen In Public’ Kangana Ranaut Is Helping Feminism

There’s nothing more feminist than a woman boldly sharing her life’s narrative.

08/09/2017 8:50 AM IST | Updated 08/09/2017 8:50 AM IST
Stringer India / Reuters

Kangana Ranaut has been a hot topic of conversation ever since she did what few other women in the history of Bollywood have ever done—speak her mind, speak about herself, and bring a woman's lived experiences into the public domain. When Kangana was busy hiding from an abuser or making rounds of the police station, the film industry was conveniently silent. But once Kangana started speaking out about the blatant sexism, nepotism and violence in the film industry, everybody has had an opinion. Singer Sona Mohapatra joins the list. In an open letter on her Facebook page, Mohapatra accused Kangana Ranaut of doing a "disservice" to feminism by washing her "dirty linen in public." Here's my open letter to her.

Sanjukta Basu

Dear Sona Mohapatra,

Who made you the spokesperson of feminism? If you are not the spokesperson then what business do you have in questioning a woman's decision about what she wants to say, where she wants to say it, and at what time of her life she wants to say it, whether it's before or after a movie? Particularly when Kangana Ranaut has nowhere claimed to be representing feminism through her actions. She is living her life, being herself. Question is, what are you doing?

Why are you so concerned about Kangana's take on her feud with Hrithik Roshan? Or are you a stakeholder because you think you somehow own "feminism?" As if feminism is your personal project and you will decide which action is a "service" and which is a "disservice." What makes you think you can decide for other feminists? I am a feminist and I think Kangana deserves applause for talking about her life without being apologetic about it. Are you going to tell me you understand feminism better than me or any of us here who call ourselves feminist? If anything, labelling a woman's life narrative as "washing dirty linen in public" and a "circus" is a Himalayan disservice to feminism. What do you have to say about that?

Throughout history, women have been discouraged from writing their autobiography or presenting any self-portraiture. Women have been told to not talk about their lives, their pain, their hurt.

When I was studying for my MA degree in women's and gender studies, one of the papers in our course was titled "Gender and Life Narrative." In this course, we learned how throughout history, women have always been discouraged from writing their autobiography or presenting any self-portraiture. Women have been told to not talk about their lives, their pain, their hurt. They have been told not to do "drama," to not bring attention to themselves, to basically remain invisible. Women's lives are supposed to stay indoors. If at all women are allowed to talk, they must stick to safe topics. Even achievements are deemed OK nowadays, but not their pain. Sharing a life narrative means talking about lived realities, inner feelings and thoughts and this goes against the gender norms of chastity, silence, self-effacement, sacrifice, endurance that women are supposed to follow.

Sanjukta Basu

Sanjukta Basu

Do you know Ms. Mohapatra, what women who tried to break these gender norms were told? They were told, "Do not wash dirty linen in public." You see what you have done there? You made this exact regressive retort to Kangana Ranaut in the 21st century.

Women's attempts to express themselves and bring their private lives in public have been abhorred so much that Bengal's first published autobiography writer, Rassundari Debi, packaged her desire to read and write with religious overtones, as she said she had a dream about reading Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's biography. Following that, she learnt to read and write and wrote her own biography, Amar Jiban (My Life).

Do you know what women who tried to break gender norms were told? They were told, "Do not wash dirty linen in public." You made this exact regressive retort to Kangana Ranaut in the 21st century.

Women's life narratives, self-expression and self-representation have been among the most important and empowering tools of feminism. By talking about their lives women have been able to break the public and private divide that pushes them back to kitchens and keeps stories of violence behind closed doors. In her famous essay "The Laugh of Medusa" Hélène Cixous gave the single greatest calling to women, to write their bodies with white ink and reclaim their selves.

Brave women like Kamala Das, Amrita Pritam, Maharani Gayatri Devi have written boldly about their lives, laying the foundations of feminist consciousnesses in India, and trust me Ms. Mohapatra, many of those writings might be dubbed as "dirty linen" by hygienic readers such as yourself.

With time of course, the forms and medium of women's self-portraiture have changed. What our ancestors did via diaries, letters, memoirs and books is now being done in real time by television, social media, interviews, blogs, vlogs. Even selfies are a form of self-expression. Contrary to what you think feminism is Ms Mohapatra, Kangana Ranaut is actually doing a great service to the Indian feminist movement by boldly sharing her life narrative (with whatever intentions), thereby breaking the culture of silence around women's experiences of pain and violence.

Now, do you realise Sona Mohapatra, how ridiculous you sounded when you accused Kangana of doing disservice to feminism, and in the same letter you judged her for sharing too much of her life's narrative?

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