Bollywood is known for a number of things. Shah Rukh Khan, shirtless heroes, extravagant sets, dance songs, and…sexism. Not just within the industry, sexism persists outside and in the conversations around people. One of the biggest topics of conversation, other than nepotism, is the notion of celebrity couples and ‘Bollywood wives’.
Fans are obsessed with real-life celebrity couples and one of the most popular celebrity couples is Shah Rukh Khan and Gauri Khan. In her recent appearance on the talk show Koffee With Karan, Gauri appeared with fellow socialites and businesswomen Maheep Kapoor and Bhavna Pandey. However, given the popularity of the Netflix show The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives, the trio was addressed as “the Bollywood wives”, and that, well, doesn’t sit right with us.
Khan even discussed her experience of being treated majorly as “Mrs. Shah Rukh Khan”. She opened up about the perks and cons of having the label and its weight. One must wonder about the meaning of the term “Bollywood wives” and its sexist undertones.
The three women, along with fellow reality stars Neelam Kothari Soni, Malaika Arora, and Seema Sajdeh are now called by the term. They are often perceived as less-intelligent women who do not do anything except live luxurious lives, sip martinis, spend millions and rub shoulders with the elite.
These “criticisms” are almost always loaded with sexist undertones, doing little to critique the show and more to critique the women themselves. The women are never described as socialites, businesswomen or actors. They are only called “wives”. Gauri Khan was even dubbed as “the original Bollywood wife” and applauded for starting the culture around Bollywood socialites. Despite her being an interior designer mogul and one of the most successful producers, she is only known as Mrs. Khan.
The term and culture are not new, many women like Jaya Bachchan, Neetu Kapoor, and Dimple Kapadia often have their successes overlooked. They are simply known as someone’s wife and/or mother. People often forget their iconic contributions to the Hindi film industry. Even Rekha, who is not even married, is largely talked about because of her alleged love life.
The culture has somewhat evolved, and people are aware that addressing a woman by her marital or familial relationships is inappropriate. Hence, sexism is microaggressive now.
This involves transcending her identity and including her opinions and even finances. Self-made actresses like Anushka Sharma, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Deepika Padukone are often questioned about their husbands’ opinions and even held responsible for their behavior. One of their common descriptors is their marital status but it is not the same for the men whom they have chosen to marry.
Priyanka Chopra was dubbed a gold-digger for the green card after she married Nick Jonas, despite her being more successful than her husband. This not only perpetuates misogyny but also promotes an unhealthy culture of comparison between couples where the man is the “breadwinner”.
She even famously shut down Wendy Williams for addressing Meghan Markle only as Prince Harry’s girlfriend and not by her accomplishments.
Anushka Sharma is perpetually blamed for Virat Kohli’s performance, even called “the former skipper’s wife” by commentators. She and their daughter are both blamed for Kohli’s game but scoffed at when he gives them credit.
A popular clip saw a sexist journalist questioning Deepika about Ranveer Singh’s opinion on Chhapak because it is “ghar ka paisa”. The actress retorted in a lighthearted way that it is the fruit of her hard work, not his. However, rarely is Deepika brought up by journalists…unless Ranveer does it himself.
She was even asked if Ranveer is comfortable with her kissing Siddhant Chaturvedi in Gehraiyaan. What…?
This is not restricted to relationships formed by matrimony. Businesswomen like Natasha Dalal, Sussane Khan, and Saba Ali Khan are rarely allowed to break the mold of being related to the popular men in their lives.
It is time we stop addressing and identifying women by their relationships. One would never identify Vicky Kaushal as “Katrina’s husband” so why identify Nargis as “Sunil Dutt’s wife”? It promotes the erasure of a woman’s accomplishment and is disrespectful. The culture either demands women to prove their worth by outperforming professionally and at home or mocks them for choosing not to do so.
To work or not to work is a woman’s choice, and it’s time we start looking at them as individuals – not shadows of men.