Meet Shah Rukh Khan. Actor, 50-years-old, relentlessly cast opposite women half his age, often part of films that endorse and propagate unabashed sexism. Did you just gasp and roll your eyes at the last bit? Sample his dialogue from the film Happy New Year (2014): "You are breast-taking." (I still can't decide if one should feel pity for or be angry at Deepika Padukone to agreeing to be the subject of such a dialogue.)
Now, meet Chetan Bhagat. Writer, 41-years-old, currently writing a novel from the 'perspective of a woman', guilty of several statements that screamed sexism, steadily maintains he has never uttered anything sexist. From 'rape' of the rupee to women's phulka duties, here's a helpful list to show you that he may be living in denial.
Like most people with access to social media platforms, Khan and Bhagat took to Twitter and Facebook respectively, to add their two bits to the 'women are awesome' revelry that unfolds on International Women's Day.
Shah Rukh Khan, tweeted this:
Often I wish I was a woman…then realise I don’t have enough guts, talent,sense of sacrifice, selfless love or beauty to be one. Thk u girls.
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) March 8, 2016
So, he had wished he was a woman and he then realised he was lacking in the following departments: 'sacrifice' and 'selfless love'. Some may say that sounds as authentic as the spelling of 'thank you' in his tweet.
Chetan Bhagat on his part, rained his 'love' and a plug-in for his new novel, on a longish Facebook post. Just when you spotted a rare glimpse of self-awareness in his post - 'I don’t like to be preachy, and I am no one to advise women' he wrote - he went right ahead and did what he said he does not like doing. In his long post, he listed out ideas that he thinks will make women happier people.
His thoughtful self-help listicle for women who apparently know nothing about being happy can be clubbed into five broad points - don't crib about other women, don't 'obsess' about how you look, have goals, find balance and 'unite'. The last two points sound like they were meant for the Congress, but turns out, they weren't.
Now apart from the problematic idea of Bhagat lecturing women, there are some broad and disturbing assumptions the author makes in the post.
Firstly, how does one react appropriately to the assumption that bringing each other down is typical to women or is so toxic when it involves women that we need a Bhagat pep talk to cool off? The fact that Bhagat chose women's day to talk about squabbling, reveals the great love for stereotypes lurking behind all that 'love'.
Following that, not only does he make a sweeping generalisation about women losing sight of their priorities over magazine covers, he says that the 'pretty' women on them are not real. It's make-up and lighting that makes them look like that. That line translates into this - without make-up and lighting those girls are not 'pretty'. 'The pretty women you see in magazines are not real' to quote him exactly. There's a fine line of difference between saying 'you're beautiful the way you are' and 'don't obsess about beauty'. The latter actually acknowledges that there is a standardised definition of beauty. Ironically, that's precisely the root of all body issues.
Let's look at Shah Rukh Khan's tweet now: he says he cannot be a woman because a person needs to be gutsy and selfless and sacrificial to be one. Well, one cannot be sure how 'sacrifice' and 'selflessness' are pre-requisites to be women, but he is right about the guts bit. You need guts to be woman in India and not resent being one, every day. If you are a woman and have taken crowded public transport even in Indian cities, you'll know what I am talking about.
Khan's tweet, despite its problems, is an admission of the fact that some men will never know what it's like to be a woman, especially in India. And a man sermonising them about what's good for their ilk as a whole would be slightly weird. Especially if the sermon doesn't come from a place of empathy and Bhagat's doesn't sound like it has. That apart, Khan's admission that he cannot be a woman, also underlines the unrealistic expectations so many men have from women. Khan's admission doesn't purge him of the sexist nonsense he has been party to.
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