March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a holiday created to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. And predictably, the film industry has been overflowing with pro-woman sentiments all day. Some of the biggest superstars and most influential men in the industry, from Shahrukh Khan and Karan Johar to Akshay Kumar and Farhan Akhtar, have tweeted out praise and appreciation for the opposite sex to their millions of followers.
But, while their hearts are undoubtedly in the right place, their words feel hollow. What have these men actually done for female representation in films?
Take, for example, this tweet from SRK:
Often I wish I was a woman…then realise I don’t have enough guts, talent,sense of sacrifice, selfless love or beauty to be one. Thk u girls.
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) March 8, 2016
It’s a nice thought, right? Except if Shahrukh Khan were a woman, his career would have been over two decades ago. If marriage and babies hadn’t done him in, the inevitable signs of aging would have. After all, wrinkles only look distinguished if they’re on the face of a man; for a woman, any deviation from her appearance at the age of 25 is a strike against her, no matter how talented she is or how popular she once was. Perhaps that’s why SRK is still sitting pretty on the top of the Bollywood food chain, while the heroines who worked with him at the beginning of his career like Urmila Matondkar, Juhi Chawla, Raveena Tandon, Manisha Koirala, and Mahima Chaudhry are lucky to get any mainstream film roles at all.
These men may not have created this horrible inequality in pop culture, but they certainly have the power to balance the scales a bit for female actors…if they were so inclined, that is (and they’re clearly not). There’s something terribly ironic about the fact that the men who are most vocal on days like International Women’s Day are the same men regularly acting opposite girls who are not only young enough to be their daughters, but who are also often portraying characters that are half-baked at best and offensively misogynistic at worst. Where does their respect and admiration for women go when they’re not only starring in, but also producing projects that deliberately give actresses (especially actresses of a certain age) absolutely nothing to do but look pretty and prop up the hero?
On International Women’s Day, I have what seems like a perfectly reasonable request for the men of Bollywood: if you truly want to make a difference for women, put your money—and your influence—where your mouth is and give women the space in pop culture they’re more than worthy of. Give your female costars real roles to enact, not just a pretty dress and an upbeat song to dance to. And for the love of God, stop discarding beautiful, talented women for younger models every few years like an old pair of shoes that have suddenly gone out of style. Don’t you think we women deserve better than that?
It’s easy to respect women one day out of the year, but the true meaning behind International Women’s Day extends far beyond a hashtag trend. It means taking action to give us the representation we need, even when it’s not convenient to do so. So to all the men in Bollywood celebrating this holiday with their social media followers, thank you for your kind words today…but please don’t forget about us tomorrow. A woman brought you into this world, a world which has given you fame and fortune and more love than most human beings will experience in a hundred lifetimes. It’s about time you gave something back to us, wouldn’t you agree?