Is Marriage Where Feminist Dreams Go To Die?

POV

Is Marriage Where Feminist Dreams Go To Die?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

W

hen you watch Veere Di Wedding this weekend, you will meet Kareena Kapoor as Kalindi Puri, an Urban Indian Woman who doesn’t view commitment through the prism of a marriage. The very fashionable and intensely independent Puri balks at the prospect of becoming the Great Indian Sacrificial Wife, fully aware that her individuality and independence are both at risk.

Kareena Kapoor in this progressive avatar is enjoyable if you can forget the fact that a few weeks ago, she had done a U-turn on her character’s seemingly feminist stance. Kapoor had declared that she is “proud to be known as Saif Ali Khan’s wife”. She also topped it up by the most tone-deaf statement of the year: “I believe in equality, I’m not a feminist.” At this point, it becomes clear that the eugenics of Taimur Ali Khan are not in safe hands.

What’s most striking about Kapoor disowning feminism is the fact that she’s actually been one of Bollywood’s female trailblazers. She’s come from a deeply patriarchal filmi family and became an actress even while her family was against it. She’s acted in films that are both critical and commercial successes and has been the role-model for countless younger actresses, if not younger women. Kapoor is possibly India’s first mommy IRL who has no qualms with onscreen sexuality and doesn’t think that she needs to prove her maternal instincts. Most importantly, in an industry that thrives on pairing 50-year-old male actors with women half their age, Kapoor is one of the rare actresses who has managed to bridge the age bias and be cast opposite younger men.

It’s interesting to note that while Kareena Kapoor behaves like a feminist, she insists she’s not one and her costar, the newly-minted Sonam K Ahuja, insists she’s a feminist but doesn’t behave like one. In the past couple of week, she’s gotten a lot of flak for being an outspoken feminist who took her husband’s name. While Sonam defended her decision by pointing out that her husband has also taken her name, other actresses have not been quite as cogent. Lisa Haydon, of Queen fame, who refreshed the nation with her almost manly sexual appetite, thinks her desire to cook for her husband and son bars her from the feminist club.

What happens to these women after marriage? Indeed, what happens to all feminists after marriage?

The question is not an idle one for me. As a woman in her mid-20’s, I have  arrived at that familiar point where the idea of marriage is being gently shoved down my throat on a daily basis through a newsfeed filled with kneeling men proposing to “surprised” women as the world celebrates them with terrible emojis. Does one diamond ring do all this damage?

According to the truth of Nicki Minaj’s gospel, girls do fall like dominoes. Women who had dreams of being entrepreneurs give up their hard-earned businesses to have babies. Others who have spent the past decade slogging through college and grad school quit work so as not to cause friction with their in-laws. My friend, who before being presented with the diamond, followed a Columbia Law degree with an exciting job at a Mumbai tech startup, decided to fuck it all and become a housewife in Surat.

All this for a married life that, according to Time magazine and me is actually quite a miserable thing. Especially for young, independent and educated women like me who are still trying to figure out what we’re getting in return for everything we’re giving up. Marriage can mean no more living in your own home, no jobs except those in the family business, no surname of your own, no mini skirts or daaru-sutta, and no carefree evenings without household responsibilities. Through each of these forced choices comes a paring down of women’s once-unique identities, chipping away at who they are, just to fit with someone who never has to change at all — their husbands.

As a woman in her mid-20’s, I have arrived at that familiar point where the idea of marriage is being gently shoved down my throat on a daily basis through a newsfeed filled with kneeling men proposing to “surprised” women as the world celebrates them with terrible emojis.

There’s no taking away from the fact that despite marriage, Kareena and her peers, have managed to retain their identity. They’ve continued taking on meaty roles that don’t shy away from portraying realistic womanhood. They speak out for girls’ rights as they challenge their male counterparts at the box office, but they don’t like “speaking feminism”. Apparently, there’s a reasonable explanation for this bizarre and widespread phenomenon. According to Quartz, Bollywood celebrities avoid being called feminist so that they can maintain a vague pro-women stance without scaring away fans …. they’re strong, independent women, for the fans who like that sort of thing, and completely nonthreatening for those who don’t.” In other words, their feminism is alive and kicking, except they just don’t want to put it in your face.

It’s this same reasoning that leads many a modern woman into a strange purgatory between finding love eternal and losing themselves in the impossible ideal of what a married woman is supposed to be. They bend over backwards to fit into this limbo, paradoxically hoping to find an equitable life partnership in the process. As for all the Bollywood fans, potential suitors, and in-laws who can’t fathom the idea of a woman living by herself? Let them eat rotis – just as long as they agree to wield the belan themselves.

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