India is known for its cultural wealth, and enriched art forms and industries of culture and performance. The creative or cultural sector in India seems to represent women a lot more than compared to other professional sectors. But does it really offer equal opportunities to both men and women?
The answer would be no. This is because creative and cultural sectors are not segregated from economical, social, political and historical dimensions that shape the country. It is true that culture is never static, which also means that ‘power’ as a cultural reality also changes. But in India, men have always been and are still ‘controllers’ of power hierarchy, even in cultural industries.
In dominant discourse, women are found to be associated with this sector more than others because art is considered to have ‘low-skill’ requirement. This is even more evident in the fact that in the arena of education, science and commerce streams are preferred over arts since there are more opportunities, more respect and most importantly, more money in science and commerce.
Bollywood is one of the leading film industries in India and perpetuates patriarchy and inequality in every aspect of filmmaking — be it casting, screen appearance, characters, script-writing, giving due credit, payment and even safety. “When it comes to gender disparity in terms of wages, Bollywood leads the pack despite being one of the biggest industries globally and minting millions of rupees each year. According to most surveys, A-list actresses get paid 40-45% of what their male counterparts make (Doshi, 2020).”
It is no surprise that male stars dominate this industry — this phenomenon can be attributed to centuries of internalised patriarchy and misogyny. Before liberalisation policies swept across the country in 1990s, this process was not questioned as such and after liberal policies were included in the functioning of India, the issue of unequal pay started to come up. People were exposed to global ideas and members of the industry became more aware of the international industries.
In general, producers and scriptwriters are blamed for male actors or members of the industry being preferred over female professionals. Their justification is unacceptable but undeniable. The principle of “whoever attracts the crowd is more important” becomes significant. The concept of market, which was supposed to liberate individuals more, has in turn stagnated the career of women. Market justified social inequalities. “When male stardom accounts for a massive portion of the money a film makes, as compared to the contribution of female actors towards the box office, it only seems fair that men are paid nearly twice as much as women (Doshi, 2020).”
Maximum films are centred around men who are the ‘heroes’ of films, acting next to female actors who are less important than the male actor, irrespective of whether they are prominent in the industry or not. This hierarchy is evident in the actors’ fee, dialogues, screen presence and even during promotions. Even when films are focused on women, male actors in them are never the ‘conventional’ heroes or men who usually dominate Bollywood. Women-led films never make as much money as those starring male actors.
Commercial films are created based on the assumption that women’s strength to attract the crowd is based on their physical appearance and sex appeal, and not talent. These filmsc are segregated from ‘art films’ where ‘unconventional’ beautiful women are cast based on their talent.
However, in both instances they are underpaid as compared to their male counterparts. There are very few female directors in the Indian film industry — a reflection of how producers are reluctant to trust a woman with the money they put in a film. The most evident gender inequality is seen in the increasing sexual harassment and casting couch incidents that are mostly faced by newcomers in the industry who don’t have a large network yet.
In case of performing or fine arts, there is a clear majority of women. “There are large numbers of female actors, dancers, musicians, arts managers, producers and creatives on the whole. But, in big decision making roles, prize winning works, names hitting the largest stages and recognition, more often than not the winners are men (Kaur, 2017).”
In India, only prominent famous women who come into the limelight through reality dancing competitions, run mostly under the Bollywood industry, can be said to be somewhat economically affluent based on their profession. But dancers across India, who are into other modern dance forms or even classical dance styles, are known just in name — they never get their due.
The reason is the transitory nature of Indian society. Since liberalisation, with the influx of global influence, the demand of the society or the market of art is inclined towards Western styles. This is another reason why even in this space, where men are less in number, they continue to dominate. It is because they easily imbibe the western art forms unlike most women, who find it difficult to break away from traditional societal culture based on the patriarchal practices of controlling women. This restricts their occupancy in the public sphere, which in turn restricts their liberty, recognition and economical independence.
Dance groups led by women are paid less than those led by men. In India, the already weakened reputations of arts as something to be associated with leisure has resulted in payment discrimination as compared to other professions. It is not taken ‘seriously’. This position of the field acts as an added disadvantage for women. Thus, discrimination in the arts becomes layered — it is perpetuated through layers of patriarchy, inequality, hierarchisation of professions, oppression and question of capability.
This is also seen among painters and artists. Art critic Deepanjana Paul stated, “Despite the fact that we have so many women gallerists and artists, the ones who are taken more seriously are the men. As a society, we take women less seriously. When you look at artist couples — Atul and Anju Dodiya, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta — both might be taken equally seriously by critics, but for a long time, the pricing has been completely different. It’s an unconscious bias.”
Anjali Purohit, a renowned artist, explained it in this way: “Men are seen as professional from the moment they start working as artists. Women have to prove their credentials because they’re seen to have other competing priorities — children and family. A gallery thinks before investing in a woman artist: how seriously does this woman take her art? Will she last?”
We hardly know or remember any female magician in the country. It is another industry or part of our culture that is automatically assumed to be a ‘men’s thing’. Women are never active subjects in magic shows, but are displayed as objects. Thus, it is no surprise that they are immensely underpaid. The same goes for women who are in the other visual arts sectors- photographers, cartoonists, illustrators, sculptors who are female are not given their due recognition and remuneration unlike their male counterparts.
According to the World Economic Forum, there is no country at present where women make as much as men for the same amount of work. It predicts that this gender pay disparity that is a global reality may take up to 170 years to change. Gender and culture are interdependent, so there needs to be a change in both for gender equality (Bielby, 2009).
‘Solution’ is a very problematic term when we speak about inequality, since it is a reality, a social construct that itself is a solution to the patriarchal structure. It can be argued that the situation is improving and pay gap is decreasing, but we still need to go a long way to experience actual ‘real’ equality.
It will only be possible when underlying structures and the core of India becomes dynamic, and not emanate images that reflect mere concepts of inclusivity, cosmopolitanism and ‘progress’. Art needs to be seen as an essential part of people, and not an external reality associated with leisure or luxury. Artworks need to supersede all kind of distinctions, especially gender.