Indian women are setting the global stage on fire at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Even before the celebrations of Mirabai Chanu’s silver medal victory had waned, Lovlina’s assurance of a medal in Boxing has set the social media ablaze with excitement. P.V. Sindhu’s bronze has won the hearts of 1.25 billion Indians, the second time in a row in the history of India at the Olympics!
It’s a common observation that whenever there is something to do with high achievements and women, the netizens assume the role of giving a lecture on ‘What is real women empowerment?’ Amidst Mirabai Chanu’s celebratory social media posts, netizens have also clenched this opportunity to ‘educate’ women about so-called ‘real’ women empowerment and ‘real’ feminism.
Continuing the age-old narrative of pitting women against women, Mirabai Chanu’s sumptuous achievement is shamelessly being used to disrespect other women based on their profession, careers, political inclinations, family backgrounds, and even religion.
Memes carrying pictures of youth icon Mirabai Chanu next to award-winning Bollywood actresses have been taking circles on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn. This particular set of memes has questioned the dignity of actresses branding them as fake models of empowerment- encouraging girls to be more like Chanu and less like the mentioned actresses.
— Devesh kale देवेश काळे (@DeveshKaleDM) July 26, 2021
Such memes are problematic because they not only instill ill feelings between those in the frame but also ruthlessly degrade an entire line of profession. Such memes are the product of the narrow mentality of people who support women empowerment only till it fits their boxed definition.
While the film industry was the prime target, it was not the only career path that took the bullet. Comedians, models, influencers, sex-workers, transwomen- faces of any and every woman whose career choice did not please the general mentality can be found on similar social media posts.
Even strings of political inclinations and religion have been pulled. Fierce women who are vocal about their opinions such as Taapsee Pannu, Saloni Chopra, and Swara Bhaskar can be found being pitied against the athlete. Women who do not share Chanu’s religion and ideological bend too are being disgraced.
This phenomenon of pitting successful women against women is not new.
In a patriarchal setting, the lack of opportunities for women naturally ends up making women elbow each other for the sake of personal attainment of the limited opportunity.
Moreover, the patriarchal society that thrives on giving a superior status to men, shapes itself in subtle forms to adjust within the arena of the changing political climates. Hence, such a society has a half-hearted approach towards bridging gender gaps and creates token inclusive spaces that have token representation of women.
For example, one-third seats’ reservation for women in panchayats and very limited availability of lead roles for women in films. Limited opportunities create a sense of competition making women unnecessarily compete against each other to grab the limited resources.
While this phenomenon of pitting women against women has been historically conceived because of lack of opportunities, in the contemporary world it has taken more complex forms. Irrespective of the content, such unnecessarily ignited feuds are highly dangerous for society.
— Div (@div_yumm) August 1, 2021
In this particular case, such social media posts incorrectly condition women and young girls in believing that certain professions are wrong or looked down upon. Such derogatory information about certain women, conditions young girls to be ‘ideal women’ as per the societal standards of empowerment which itself is a façade.
It is one thing to encourage women to pursue sports as a profession and it is another thing to demean other women who are successful in their careers. Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, PV Sindhu, and the entire Indian Team at Tokoyo Olympics 2020 are indeed making us all proud.
However, drawing such baseless comparisons between different successful women benefits no one. Pitting successful women against women is an age-old phenomenon, one that should not persist in 2021. The narrative of setting women against women only helps keep patriarchy in power.