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Who Moved My Choice? Why Priyanka Chopra becoming Priyanka Chopra Jonas is Disappointing

When women with privilege and power don’t fight against these practices, it only reverses the fight every other woman has fought at their level.

It was when I expressed my disappointment at Priyanka Chopra becoming Priyanka Chopra Jonas to a bunch of my friends that I understood that for everyone, feminism has different definitions. In its essence, for me, the ideology is dismantling of patriarchy and patriarchal practices. However, when I started voicing out my opinions, I was told by some of my friends that she is right to do so because it is her choice.

Before I explain to you all how I feel about choice, let us explore the origins of this practice of changing names after marriage. The reason women took their husband’s name after marriage was solely because marriage was seen as a transfer of ownership from the bride’s father to the husband. The woman belonged to the husband’s family. The change in surname would also ensure the continuity of the husband’s lineage in all its glory.

In the course of time, a lot of women started seeing this as an oppressive structure and fought against this practice. Which makes sense because there is absolutely no plausible reason strong of enough to support a woman changing her identity. Though this argument has been thrown my way, I refuse to believe “love” is a reason for this practice. If that were the case, we would have seen men actively engaging in the practice.

In the US, with the feminist uprising and Married Women’s Property Acts, women gained individual legal status for purposes of assigning contracts, engaging in business and commerce in the mid-1800s. Now, a woman’s name had its own individual legal status and the number of women retaining their birth name started to rise.

Over the years, these practices have stopped being a norm and a lot of women have the option of not changing their names. One has to realise that this choice of whether to propagate patriarchy or not lies only with the empowered, educated and to a certain extent privileged women. And it is quite disappointing to see when these women — with the privilege and power — choose to remain on the side of patriarchy.

Take for example, our very own Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Not only was she portrayed as one of the strongest women in Bollywood, she also went ahead to become UNICEF ambassador, working for women and children in a lot of countries. Since she was a self proclaimed feminist, I was terribly disappointed at her choice of taking forward this patriarchal practice.

But that is thing with choice. Women are presented with choice. Women have the choice to leave their job after marriage to “focus” on family. Ask yourselves: How easy is this choice for men? Not so easy, because child rearing is solely a woman’s job — and therefore, the redundant “choice” to leave the job also lies with us.

Here are few other choices women are presented with: putting on sindoor; taking husband’s name; wearing Mangalsutra after marriage; leaving job after marriage.

Choices that should have been, but are not: whether to have kids after marriage; whether to move cities/countries after marriage; cleaning and taking care of the house; cooking.

You see, choice is not always empowering. Out of the 33 million followers of Priyanka Chopra Jonas (!), let us assume 50 per cent will be women. Along with that, take into account the millions of children she has worked for as an ambassador for UNICEF. So many women and young girls look up to her. For someone who stood for smashing patriarchy, this stance of siding with patriarchal practices, doesn’t necessarily help her case.

I faced a lot of backlash when I termed her feminism as only performative on my favourite platform — Instagram Stories. For some male friends of mine (including some whose wives have taken their names), my argument was a bitter pill. One of them even went ahead and made a nonsensical video about how feminism was anti-women and confused. My dear, feminism is only anti-patriarchy. Which gives me the right to call out any patriarchal practices I see. Just because it is chosen by a financially independent woman, it doesn’t mean it is any less patriarchal.

I also got questioned on my name. However, fate was with me because my name has both my mother’s and my father’s name along with it. Even if that weren’t the case, I feel it is an unfair attack. By the time we all grow up and realise why are we given the names that we are given, it has become our identity. We have embraced that identity and respond to it and our proud of it. I know many people who have added their mother’s name in order to undo the patriarchal practices. In any case, it is an unfair parallel drawn between the two.

What if empowered, educated women started to show their “love” towards their husbands by choosing to practice Sati? Wouldn’t suddenly turn out to be right, would it?

I would also like to point out here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with questioning your role models. It is disheartening when you cannot point at your role model for inspiration. Again, I feel a lot of these celebrities should walk the talk or just not take a stand on any issue. Like a friend pointed out — why shouldn’t we ask more from people we look up to?

There are so many women like us fighting against these same old battles within their families. When women with privilege and power don’t fight against these practices, it only reverses the fight every other woman has fought at their level. Not only am I not looking at her as a role model, I am also going to question this idea of choice continuously. No matter the amount of hurt male egos counter me or the savarna feminists come rushing my way to slam my arguments.

Because one has to understand that choosing to remain on the side of misogyny and patriarchy, is just paving the way for more misogyny and patriarchy and hypocrisy. It our duty and our right to call out these practices.

Going to end my argument by quoting Hannah Gadsby in her popular stand-up Nanette: Patriarchy doesn’t work as a dictatorship, but as choice! Feel free to choose between being a “whore” or a “virgin”!

Christie Maria James, having done journalism from DU and Masters in Social Work from TISS, has spent her time working in the development sector for the past three years. Her work has helped her travel to the grassroots in India, helping her interact with women and children. Currently, she is working in Pune with a Non-Profit Organisation.

Also read: Love In A Time Of Migrants: On Rethinking Arranged Marriages

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