Sorry to break it to you, Priyanka Chopra, but you're a feminist

Sorry to break it to you, Priyanka Chopra, but you're a feminist

The initial desi pride I felt after seeing her on a billboard in New York diminished significantly.
Updated 28 Sep, 2015

This month, while walking along a subway stop in New York, I saw something rare: The face of an Indian actress on a billboard. It was an advertisement for Quantico, a drama which premieres in the US on Sept. 27 on ABC.

The TV series has been making news in the Indian press for several months now exactly because of that face I saw: it features Priyanka Chopra as the lead character, making her the first Bollywood actor to headline an American show.

Not only is it unprecedented that an Indian actress is the face of a major American TV series, 33-year-old Chopra is also breaking several stereotypes with her role.

She plays Alex Parrish, a young FBI recruit who is half Indian and half Caucasian. In the teasers, her character seems modern, vivacious and thankfully devoid of any ethnic stereotypes — think Apu-type accent.

But the initial desi pride I felt when seeing the billboard diminished significantly after I read this interview by Chopra in Refinery 29, a lifestyle website.

Asked by the interviewer if the show is feminist, the Bollywood star replied:

"I don’t think it’s feminist, but it’s empowerment… It’s got very strong female characters, and I don’t think it’s a bra-burning feminist show where you’re like, we hate men, but we have really strong male characters, too… It gives females an opportunity to be equal with the boys, and I think that’s really progressive."

With these statements, Chopra has joined the ranks of educated, urban Indians who shun the word “feminism” like the plague. Many of them appear to believe that feminists are women who hate men and sex and go around burning bras whenever they are angry.

Anyone who has looked up the word in a dictionary would know how horribly inaccurate this assumption is. For the record, this is how Merriam Webster defines feminism:

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

Or, in other words, the movement is about “empowerment” and social “progress.” It is about “strong” women and equal opportunities. Basically, everything that Chopra says Quantico is about, while balking at the word feminism.

I expected Chopra to know better.

Apart from being one of the most successful contemporary Bollywood star, she is also a champion of United Nations Girl Up, a campaign whose mission is to promote health, education, safety and leadership of girls in developing nations. She is also a very vocal critic of the huge gap between what male and female actors earn in Bollywood.

And, yet, Chopra chooses to distance herself from a movement that has, for decades, fought those very battles.

In the West, several prominent female actors have done their bit recently to promote feminism. Harry Potter‘s star Emma Watson famously said in her speech at the UN last year:

“The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” Watson said. “If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

More recently, American actress Connie Britton released the following video:

Perhaps Chopra, who not only has her heart in the right place, but also millions of young fans, should take a cue from her Hollywood peers as she makes her TV debut in the US, and overcome her allergy for the f-word.

This article originally appeared on Quartz India and has been reproduced with permission.

Diksha Madhok is the Ideas Editor at Quartz India. She likes writing about gender, popular culture and business.


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Nana Sep 28, 2015 01:42pm
I think you're right. She does have her heart in the right place. I do hope she feels less scared to use the 'f' word. I think that quite a large number of Indians believe in equality between sexes and hence are feminist, yet they just don't know it or want to acknowledge it.
Tman Sep 28, 2015 01:53pm
Every sane person hates feminists and what they now stand for .. it has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with special treatment A definition in Webster means nothing and it is how the people associated with this movement behave is why most females are turning against feminism .. I for one am happy she has distanced herself from this cult of man-hating females
Amina,Kerala Sep 28, 2015 02:00pm
I'm a strong woman who is not a feminist. I'm not allergic to the f word, it's just that I'm not...You're being disrespectful to Priyanka n her choice.
Urvashi Sep 28, 2015 02:03pm
What an obsession it should be with words that a whole column should be written on this. Words can wreak havoc in myriad ways.
Parvez Sep 28, 2015 02:33pm
She's a Bollywood actor, for the love of mike............she's not representative to the UN......give her a break.
NANI Sep 28, 2015 02:51pm
I think You are right! What Priyanka thinks of feminism doesn't matter at all
Razi Sep 28, 2015 03:45pm
She is a very talented woman!!
Tamilselvan Sep 28, 2015 04:34pm
Half Indian and half caucasian? One is nationality and the other is a race. Please there are three distinct races Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negroes. All humans are classified only into three groups. It is now they are mixing races with country or continent. Asian, S. Asian, African American, American Indians etc.
Sam Roy Sep 28, 2015 04:38pm
Priyanka Chopra is a very smart girl and that is why she is at the top. Feminism is a 70's thing. Equality is the 21st century term for progressive feminism. She knows that and Diksha, you don't!
Harisingh Sep 28, 2015 05:42pm
If being a feminist means believing that men and women are equal then I am a feminist as well. No need to get defensive about such a good cause. Its been thousands of years of oppression of women and its about time the wrong is called out and rectified.
Naveed Sep 28, 2015 05:49pm
Well, Dictionary does not necessarily give the right meaning of the word. Sometimes hypocrisy seeps too deep
Pervez Khan Sep 28, 2015 08:03pm
What Priyanka said was not offensive at all. She said it in accordance to what millions of people think of feminism in the sub continent. Criticism has become cheap and hence every one finds a way to find some thing wrong in someone. Priyanka is a symbol of beauty and intelligence, its just not fair to throw her down to the shallow levels.
No Sep 28, 2015 09:02pm
@Tamilselvan You've no business lecturing people if you think "negro" is an appropriate term to use in this day and age. Try saying that to a black person's face and see where it gets you.
RM Sep 28, 2015 09:04pm
To everyone who claims to be a strong woman but not a feminist, let me remind you that all the privileges you enjoy today are courtesy of strong women historically who embraced the mantle and title of feminist to fight for things like a baby girl's right to live, a woman's right to vote, to her own body, to equal wage and employment opportunities. Unfortunately, we shy away from the label but want to reap all the benefits. Don't fall for the stigmatization of the word courtesy of the patriarchal capitalist world system we inhabit.
AD Sep 28, 2015 10:17pm
"The initial desi pride I felt after seeing her on a billboard in New York diminished significantly." Why??? Seems like you envy her. She is too good.
RainIsHere Sep 28, 2015 11:15pm
I am really strong supporter for women empowerment but I don't like feminists. I personally believe, there is nothing wrong with that. Another example - I like Modi but I am not a big fan of BJP. The idea is you can stand by a principle or idea without associating yourself with a movement or organization.
MS CYNIC Sep 29, 2015 01:16am
Sorry to break it to this Indian writer Diksha Madhok that per Priyanka Chopra, it's "unprecedented that an Indian actress is the face of a major American TV series,". Actually Vera Mindy Chokalingam of The Mindy Project show is ethnically Indian since both her parents are born and bred Indians. Mindy is first and foremost an Indian Hindu/American - not of mixed heritage so she qualifies in this category far more then Priyanka since Mindy is multi-talented who writes, produces, directs and acts in her own series which she's been doing for quite a few years now. As for the feminist statement, many of us females believe in equal opportunities and breaking the glass ceiling, yet we don't call ourselves "feminists" which is considered archaic in today's progressive societies. One can't take the statements of a Bollywood actress to heart since every PR move they make is for the purpose of "glamming" up their image, and thus would view what they say with some amount of cynicism.
PL Bakhshi Sep 29, 2015 03:38am
Inspite of the exact meaning of "feminism" as per Webster dictionary referred by the learned author, there is a sense of some kind of prejudice feeling emanating from word "feminist"vis-a-vis males. If the dictionary meaning is made public repeatedly there is every likelihood that in days to come the odd feeling of hate-male coating to the word might vaporize. So literateur author keep up your Desi pride to satiating level, don't diminish it.
FM Sep 29, 2015 04:48am
By definition putting a label like feminism would mean that gender equality or what the movement is about is a moot subject. I for one am against anyone who wants to label themselves as a feminist, and what Priyanka chose to say in her interview is absolutely the right thing to say. You don't need to label it as a feminist character or show, why can't it just be normal without being feminist?
MS CYNIC Sep 29, 2015 07:06am
Recently saw Quantico, and Priyanka Chopra's role from the start was one of her playing the opposite of a successful professional, dignified female. In fact, the first part of this show focused on this Indian actress as a desperate overly sexed female who jumps into the back of a car with a total stranger she met on a plane and let's loose any inhibitions for the sake of her newfound "success" in Hollywood?? So this is the pinnacle of stardom for a bollywood actress when she plays a skanky, superficial women desperate for sex with some random guy? Not surprised really ... and yet she talks of evolved females who are "empowered" ??? Even playing a role requires some sense of responsibility which is certainly not reflected in Quantico by this Indian actress who could be mistaken for playing a prostitute.
rashi Sep 29, 2015 07:42am
They burned bra for a reason.still in many parts of the world women are considered just an object of sexual more no ladies please at least you show some respect to those great women who fought for us.its easy to be a feminist today but not centuries ago when a female was burned if she wanted to study or to be equal to a man.
sudhir Sep 29, 2015 09:23am
@Amina,Kerala I adore such women. They don't talk about feminism, but are as capable or in some cases more capable than many men you would have known. Very independent and hands on, multifaceted. I am lucky to be married to a woman like that.
Ramesh Nakhwa Sep 29, 2015 09:24am
The author raises a issue which is " misunderstanding of the meaning of feminism" by Chopra and then answers it by saying exactly that this is a common misunderstanding made by many and gives examples. Proves that she wrote the title to only get attention and nothing more. Well she did get my attention
Ramesh Nakhwa Sep 29, 2015 09:32am
@RainIsHere Nice thought rain Is Here. Never thought of many things in this respect.
Dinesh Mehta Sep 29, 2015 09:50am
We hate to break it to the author that the word 'feminist' has become loaded with certain negative connotations that many feminists do not like. But unfortunately, it is so! Citing Webster is just semantics. Priyanka has it right.
Shery Sep 29, 2015 10:10am
Feminism goes beyond equality among genders. It has strong political and social connotations. It purports to redefine and resize the contemporary world in its own terms. The real definitions is in the feminist literature. Merriam Webster is certainly not the right reference.
Siddhartha Sep 29, 2015 10:13am
It is okay to become a feminist. Women need a voice too.
Syed Ahmed Sep 29, 2015 10:33am
@Sam Roy way to go Sam. You said it!
Anum Sep 29, 2015 04:25pm
Diksha is just jealous. Priyanka is making every south asian woman proud.
Anum Sep 29, 2015 04:27pm
@Tamilselvan , all human beings came from one MOTHER, from East Africa. Google - Journey of mankind or borrow the tape from British Library, or download online.
Anum Sep 29, 2015 04:28pm
@Pervez Khan , so true. Thanks Brother.
Dalvi Sep 29, 2015 04:51pm
I saw the first episode, was a very non-feminist to say the least. While all other female characters were presenting there acting, PC was busy displaying her cleavage in every shot. Yes I know after the Deepika controversy i shouldn't point this out- but making more of a statement with your acting in a thriller would have been a better way to stop the "anti-feminist" bandwagon.
Mac Sep 29, 2015 07:17pm
In reality, she is all Indian and proud of it.
Seemal Sep 30, 2015 06:07pm
She could have been more careful, but rationally speaking she followed the social definition of the word. It might have a slightly different meaning in the dictionary we all are well aware how the word 'feminism' is taken by the masses