When Actresses-Turned-Politicians Had to Fight Off Sexism & Misogyny

Edited by: Aindrila Mukherjee

Last update: December 21, 2022, 01:32 IST

From former Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa to union ministers like Smriti Irani, many women actors who chose politics have faced deep-seated sexism and misogyny to navigate the system.  (Image: AFP)

From former Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa to union ministers like Smriti Irani, many women actors who chose politics have faced deep-seated sexism and misogyny to navigate the system. (Image: AFP)

From the late Jayalalithaa, the late Tamil Nadu CM, to union minister Smriti Irani and Lok Sabha MP Hema Malini, no one has been spared equally by their peers or internet trolls.

Bad remarks and comments against women politicians are not uncommon in a field still dominated by men, but India’s track record shows that female actors who choose politics as a career get the short end of the stick.

From the late Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, to a union minister like Smriti Irani and a Lok Sabha MP like Hema Malini, none have been spared equally by their peers or internet trolls. While many blame political parties for using actors to attract more votes based on their popularity, men in politics have rarely faced such public censure and ridicule.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Congress leader Ajay Rai’s ‘derogatory, sexist and misogynistic’ remarks on Iran, it is becoming more apparent that women politicians, actors or not, are the easiest targets of a deeply patriarchal and sexist political system.

Here are some actor-turned-politicians who have stood up against sexism and misogyny in Indian politics:

‘Temptress’ J Jayalalithaa

‘Temptress’, ‘tricking the fox’, ‘a woman with loose morals’ – words often used to describe the late J Jayalalithaa early in her political career, especially because of her close association with cultural icon and AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran. But the contrast between MGR and his protégé’s rise to power is stark: the man used his high profile to build a successful political career, but the woman, despite being known as the ‘Queen of Tamil Cinema’, faced challenges. It involves a woman in a male-dominated profession. When he was elected in 1991, he was the youngest Chief Minister and served for more than 14 years during six terms between 1991 and 2016. He despised political heirs a lot. One of the first instances was when he joined the AIADMK under MGR. The DMK distorted the statement of his entry into politics, telling the youth to “serve” to “use his body as he had given his body to the service of the state”. Even when MGR died and was pitted against his widow Janaki in a power struggle, her opponents used her unique status and background to portray her as a woman without virtue in films. But perhaps the most serious incident was the attack on the legislature in 1989, when a heated argument between the DMK and AIADMK escalated and shoes and other objects were hurled at Jayalalithaa, and a DMK leader lashed out. and pulled his prize.

‘Dancing’ Hema Malini

Lok Sabha MP from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh since 2014, BJP’s Hema Malini has been on the receiving end of numerous sexist taunts despite her considerable star power. The actor, who was at the peak of his career in the 1970s-80s, has also been criticized for not doing enough for his constituency and has been accused of appearing only in Mathura during elections. But that did not stop him from winning the seat in the 2019 general elections as well and the saffron party also used him as a star campaign for this year’s Uttar Pradesh elections. Congress leader Sajjan Singh Verma once described him as “someone who keeps dancing all over the country with the intention of garnering votes”. one of its leaders, “doesn’t want to be like Hema Malini”. The BJP approached Chaudhary in January, but he turned it down. In another instance, one of his colleagues in Maharashtra said he wanted the roads in his district to look “like Hema Malini’s cheeks”. To this, Malini responded saying that such statements were not in good taste and the trend was started by the veteran. Lalu Prasad Yadav politician.

“Underwear” by Jaya Prada

The sexism and misogyny thrown at women politicians somehow increases during the election campaign. An influential actress in the South during her time, Jaya Prada was targeted by Samajwadi Party chief Azam Khan at a public rally along with party chief Akhilesh Yadav and other senior leaders. Referring to his joining the BJP in 2019 and fighting the Lok Sabha polls in Rampur, Khan commented on his association with the RSS saying he wore “khaki underwear”. “What’s between you and me? The people of Rampur, the people. The people of Uttar Pradesh and India. It took you 17 years to understand his true face. But after 17 days I realized… he wears khaki underwear,” he said.

‘The Item’ Khushbu Sundar

Recently, BJP leader and actor Khusbu Sundar slammed DMK functionary Saidai Sadiq for making bad and derogatory remarks against women leaders of the Tamil Nadu BJP unit. In a video circulated on social media, Khushbu is heard taunting three other BJP leaders – actresses Namitha, Gayathri Raghuram and Gowthami – calling them “elements” and saying that the BJP was dependent on “actors” to advance in Tamil. Nadu Khushbu replied, “They are not shaming me, they are shaming the women in their families, their mothers. I am not even ready to accept an apology from the man who made the comments.” He also tagged Chief Minister MK Stalin, saying he was waiting for his response on the matter and wanted to ensure that no more. A party figure made derogatory remarks against women.Kanimozhi The senior DMK leader, however, apologized to the actress “as a woman and a human being” and said that Stalin did not condone such comments.

‘Babes’ Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty

Bengali film and television industry stars Mimi Chakraborty and actress Nusrat Jahan were among the 17 women candidates given tickets by the Trinamool Congress for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Both secured victories from Jadavpur and Basirhat seats despite their lack of political experience. However, social media went wild as soon as the TMC chief decided to cast Bengali actress Mamata Banerjee. A Twitter user called them “kids” for posting a dance video in the election campaign; one of the comments said: “Top khule nachleo vote debona (I will not vote for you even if you take off your tops and dance).” Such sexist comments – some far more abusive – make up a large part of the social media responses to their photos.

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