On October 23rd, Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ritesh Sidhwani, Aanand L Rai, and Mahaveer Jain met with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the film industry’s contribution towards the country’s economy. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the industries contribution to the economy and the issues concerning the fraternity. The meeting also discussed Bollywood’s wide reach outside of the country.
Unsurprisingly though, no women from the film industry were present in this meeting. The percentage of women actors and directors might be lesser than male artists in Bollywood, but the industry has seen some quality female artists, who aren’t just good at their trade but also have a strong voice that extends to all matters social and political, but these women were conveniently excluded.
It’s routine for women to be omitted from discussions and panels, because of the sexist trope of the ‘unintelligent woman.’
This instance of women being excluded is unexceptional, though. It’s routine for women to be omitted from discussions and panels, because of the sexist trope of the ‘unintelligent woman.’ Patriarchy dictates that women have nothing of quality to contribute to intellectual conversations and discussions, and perpetuates the idea that matters of wit are solely the domain of men.
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Last year, Anupama Chopra’s panel discussing comedy saw the five men present talking over the sole woman of the panel when sexism prevalent in comedy was being discussed. When Chopra brought up the fact that Amazon had signed fourteen comics for hour-long comedy specials, none of which were women, the discussion steered towards sexism in the Indian comedy industry. Almost all the men spoke over the sole female comic on the panel, with one of the panellists, Vipul Goyal even saying that women don’t have an hour’s worth of comedy content.
This is all too common outside of the country too. In 2014, the Global Summit for Women saw an all male panel discuss gender equality in the marketplace. Six men, without a single woman present on the panel, discussed how to create a marketplace that promotes the principles of gender equality and is free of sexism.
Women being omitted from these panels isn’t an outcome of the lack of availability of female speakers or a lack of women experts across fields, women being excluded from panels engaging in intellectual discussions or even discussions about the cause of women is because of the historically prevalent sexist idea that women will have nothing to contribute, entirely due to the fact that they are women. The idea that women talk about nothing of value and only enjoy gossiping or engaging in meaningless banter about domestic life is an idea prevalent in pop-culture, as well. Women are portrayed as only interested in discussing domestic life, chores, fashion, and the kitchen, while the men talk all things that ‘actually matter’ like work, politics, economy, world events.
The idea that women talk about nothing of value and only enjoy gossiping or engaging in meaningless banter about domestic life is an idea prevalent in pop-culture, as well.
This sexist trope and its far-reaching history can be noticed in the case of female authors. Women authors have often been forced to use pseudonyms that mask their gender, to avoid the stereotype that women can’t write. In the start of their writing careers, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, both used male pseudonyms to convince publishers to consider their books. This was due to the fact that publishers often overlooked books written by women and were quick to dismiss them. Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pseudonym of George Elliot to be taken seriously as a writer and to circumvent being lost among the few women writers, who only wrote about love and often were dismissed without a fair shot.
This has continued in modern times as well, Joanne K. Rowling of the Harry Potter fame is an example that stands out. Her publishers anticipated that she wouldn’t be able to sell many books as a female science-fiction writer and asked her to use only her initials to conceal her gender.
The fact that not one woman from the film industry was considered to be capable of discussing an industry they are a part of and having a conversation about the economy, are telling of the deeply entrenched sexism in Bollywood. It also highlights the stereotype that actresses should refrain from having strong opinions because its assumed they are unintelligent by virtue of being actresses, and also because they are women.
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Women have just as much to contribute as men, and making them a part of discussions isn’t only paramount to the cause of women, but even to the discussion and conversation at hand. In an increasingly hostile socio-political environment as ours, diverse opinions and contributions that come from disadvantaged groups can be essential to creating an atmosphere of inclusivity and social sensitivity. All male panels that are the norm are a result of centuries of patriarchy attempting to force women away from public life by declaring them capable of only domestic conversations or asinine banter, and making all things important to a society or a nation and their progress exclusively for men to discuss.
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