Look, I love a good fashion show just as much as anyone else. When Sonam Kapoor steps on to the Croisette dressed in a feathered monstrosity, giddy like a little school girl, I cheer for her. When Aishwarya Rai walks resplendent in red, with matching perfect red lips, I let out a small breath of envy. But when the two women get many (many many) more reams of coverage than Richa Chaddha, who actually acted in a film that received a thunderous applause at Cannes, I can't help being a bit disappointed at the double standards that exist when it comes to female celebrities. As long as women continue to be celebrated for how they look and how well they fit into a dress alone, feminism will never win.
But there are other problems with the way we celebrate women celebrities: notice an egregious quote in a recent Aishwarya Rai interview .
"I have brought Aaradhya here with me every year. It's important, so that after the whole day of work, you get to snuggle at night. In the past three-and-a-half years, I haven't left her alone even for a single night."
To be fair, it is not just Aishwarya Rai who is at fault here, but our expectations from motherhood and celebrities on the whole. Here's what's wrong with them.
Mothers as Saints
As any mother would probably attest, motherhood is messy, complicated, challenging and rewarding in equal measure. And as any mother's Facebook Timeline will attest, mothers only capture the most perfect moments of this imperfect existence for others. So we can't blame the celebrities (a narcissistic bunch to begin with) for parading those little vignettes which display how wonderful they are as mothers. But at the same time, because of the vast reach they have, they can't help sounding a bit judgmental of the thousands of imperfect mothers out there when boasting about their superior mothering skills. Where is the celebrity mother who admits to occasionally pinching her child, or the one who admits that the best five minutes of her day are right after the little one is asleep? By sugarcoating and glossing over a complicated relationship, we are creating a legion of young mothers who continue to feel judged for their inadequacies and real emotions, not to mention making those women who choose not to (or are unable to) have children-feel inadequate.
Choice as a Privilege
I know of women who want to spend more time at home with their child but can't afford to lose that extra salary. I also know of women who want to go back to work but can't because of the prohibitive cost of childcare. If you are in an actual position to choose which of these two extremes work for you, then recognize your privilege. Your ability to travel around the world with your child, or to take three years off, or to feed her only organic handmade food, or to send her to the best schools--these are all privileges that many mothers can't lay claim to. Celebrities talking about their perfect motherhood often wilfully ignore this fact.
Amy Poehler, in her recent Fast Company profile, mused:
"I have these meetings with really powerful men and they ask me all the time, 'Where are your kids? Are your kids here?' " she says with a sneer. "It's such a weird question. Never in a million years do I ask guys where their kids are. It would be comparable to me going to a guy, 'Do you feel like you see your kids enough?'
Why does the media and its readers care so much about how their favourite woman celebrity is as a mother? Why are male celebrities never subjected to the same level of scrutiny for their parenting decisions (I for one think that an IPL box is no place for a three year old and wish Shah Rukh Khan will leave his son home). Why does Aishwarya Rai, who is clearly having a moment between the exciting new films she's signing and the lovely photos she is taking, have to talk about her relationship with Aaradhya in every interview she gives? As a journalist, wouldn't you rather ask her about how it feels to be adored and loved all over again, or how it feels to change the paradigm for the 40+ heroine in Bollywood? Isn't she a lot more interesting as a career woman who has survived the dirty Bollywood waters in spite of coming from a "civilian" background than as the mother of one of the millions of three-year olds in the world?
The truth is Aishwarya Rai is vastly more interesting as a study in image control and Sonam Kapoor in her desire and ability to court the teen girl audience than either of them are as fashionistas or mothers or someone's significant others. And Richa Chadha probably had the best Cannes of all.
But by expecting women to talk about their children all the time and celebrating their perfection as a mother, we create an atmosphere where women are little more than clotheshorses and wombs.
It's time we demand more - both from our female celebrities and the people who write about them