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What Karan Johar’s ‘Woman Card’ Comment About Kangana Ranaut Really Means

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In the continuing face-off between actor Kangana Ranaut and Bollywood director Karan Johar, Ranaut has earned the favour of many a young outspoken woman, with her take-no-prisoners attitude during the February 19 episode of “Koffee With Karan”.

The 30-year-old actor came to slay, calling out host Karan Johar’s years of snobbery, his elitism, and penchant for playing favourites when it comes to casting for roles.

Johar retaliated by accusing her of “playing the woman-card”, and suggested that if she found it so difficult to work in the film industry, she ought to leave. But the “Rangoon” star wasn’t one to take this lying down. Speaking to Roshmila Bhattacharya of Mumbai Mirror, Ranaut shut down Johar and his jibes.

These exchanges over the last few weeks shine a light on several things that are amiss in the film industry, and this time, we’re actually talking about stuff that goes on behind the camera.

In Bollywood, Men Tell Women Where To Go

Johar’s unsolicited advice to Ranaut is painfully familiar. “If you don’t like it here, just leave!” You see it in workplaces, where men in positions of power get to set the conditions under which women employees work. You see it when a case of sexual harassment or violence emerges in a workplace, and the woman survivor is compelled to leave, or transferred. You see it when a woman’s professional success depends on how unobtrusive and adaptable she is in a male-dominated arena. It’s the whole system of conditioned attitudes and behaviours that allow Bollywood bigwigs like Karan Johar to call the shots. Everyone else is either expected to fall in line, or fall to the wayside.

In Bollywood, Women’s Struggles Are Erased

Johar’s remarks about “the woman card” completely disregard the massive structural inequalities of gender. It kinda comes with being a rich, powerful cisgender man – you tend to invalidate any experiences that aren’t yours.

When Johar accuses Ranaut of playing the woman card or the victim card, he’s also implying that her success has nothing to do with her talent or hard work, but because she has preyed on the few concessions society makes for the “weaker sex”. This is nothing more than a diversion tactic.

Today, she is one of the highest-paid actresses in the game, but the whims of directors like Johar significantly reduced the kind of work actresses could get. Like corporate workplaces, women in films are also up against a lack of opportunities, of roles and an alarming pay gap, both on and off screen.

In Bollywood, The Patriarchy Is Benevolent

In the same league as ‘The Nice Guy’ who thinks you owe him sex, and guys who want a cookie for not assaulting you, there is the benevolent patriarch without whom us women would never have rights anyway. Or so they say.

Johar falls into the last of these categories, by claiming that he gave Ranaut a platform for her views. He was clearly trying to come off as the good guy by “allowing” his female guest to have one of her “hormonal outbursts” (thanks, Maneka Gandhi!) on his show, and “graciously” not editing it out. Ladies, this is what freedom looks like!

But Ranaut is way too woke for that. She responded: “To say he helped me voice my opinions is to discredit me as an artiste and a public personality.” And we couldn’t have explained it better if we tried.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

This is hardly the first time Ranaut has embodied the spirit of “speaking truth to power”. She is a fierce defender of women’s right to equal opportunity, to respect, and to being a self-actualised and independent human being.

Let’s not forget that she was, for the longest time, accused of literally practising witchcraft, which has historically been patriarchy’s way of shutting women up. Not Kangana Ranaut, though. In badass feminist fashion, Ranaut brushed all this off by talking about how she thinks witches are cool.

While a lot of media outlets are trying to spin this as a personal fallout, Ranaut has stressed that “I am not fighting Karan Johar, I am fighting male chauvinism.” Her voice and opinions are among the few that could well launch Bollywood into a more progressive phase.

When the actor warmed all our hearts playing the titular character of the 2014 blockbuster “Queen”, who could have imagined she would be such a firebrand? But hey, no complaints there.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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