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Anushka Sharma posted on Twitter about women achievers being called ‘difficult’ and ‘divas’, after former Indian wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer said he had seen Team India selectors “getting Anushka Sharma cups of tea” during a 2019 World Cup match.
Anushka Sharma’s statement calls out the various false incidents of ‘difficult’ behaviour that she has been accused of. Successful women have always been called ‘divas’ in an attempt to take away their personhood and discount their achievements.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be part of a team of volunteers organizing a dance show by a well-known actress and dancer. For personal reasons I shall keep the who, when and where of the incident vague.
On the day of the show, the actress was unwell, but she still decided to go ahead with the performance. Unfortunately, while dancing, she was hurt by a stray nail, deepening her discomfort. As a result, she refused to participate in a dinner with the VIP ticket holders. Understandably, the ticket holders were disappointed, but one could hardly blame her. A senior member of the organizing committee however, still cannot let this ‘insult’ go. Every time we meet him, and the topic comes up, he is sure to comment on how “headstrong” and “arrogant” the actress was.
It was this incident that came to mind when I read Anushka Sharma’s statement today.
— Anushka Sharma (@AnushkaSharma) October 31, 2019
— Anushka Sharma (@AnushkaSharma) October 31, 2019
Referring to many false rumours about her ‘difficult behaviour’, she has written, “My name was used for false stories to make it look like the board was being bothered for my security or tickets etc. When in reality, I bought my own tickets for matches and flights and I still kept quiet.”
Her statement follows comments by former Indian wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer that he had seen Team India selectors “getting Anushka Sharma cups of tea” during a 2019 World Cup match in the UK.
Anushka, while denying that this particular incident was especially hurtful, has written, “It’s not like this last piece of ‘news’ has upset me more and that’s why I have decided to break my silence. They have all been as regressive and horrible and malicious and vicious. So don’t take this letter as my retort to this news. Today, I have decided to speak up because someone’s silence cannot be taken as their weakness.”
“I have led my life built my own career with utmost dignity and I am not going to compromise that for anything. Maybe it’s hard for some to believe that, because I am a self-made, independent woman who only happens to be the wife of a cricketer,” she has added before concluding with a sassy, “and for the record I drink coffee.”
Anushka certainly isn’t the first successful woman accused of such “starry” behaviour. Earlier this year, Jaya Bachchan was called “rude” and “arrogant” for getting angry at a man who took her photo without her permission. She might be a celebrity, but even celebrities have a right to privacy, so her demand that they be respectful of her consent was perfectly reasonable. But the actress, who guards her privacy fiercely, has repeatedly been called “snobbish.”
Priyanka Chopra too is ridiculed for her ‘fake accent’ and lifestyle, even more so after she has made her mark internationally. Meaghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and Piyanka’s friend too has been at the receiving end of several nasty rumours about her ‘difficult behaviour’, and a video of her tearfully acknowledging how much they affected her, recently went viral.
Take any successful woman, in any field, and someone has called her a ‘diva’ at least once. It is the next best move when calling her a ‘slut’ hasn’t worked to discount her achievements and shame her.
The word ‘diva’ is not an obvious slur. Some may even argue that it has positive connotations. A closer look at what the word is associated with however, brings to the fore how problematic it is.
Calling someone a ‘diva’ presumes that they consider themselves above other people. It calls to mind privilege, snobbery and starry tantrums. It is a word designed to distance a woman from her personhood. It invites the ‘common man/woman’ to hate the person it describes.
Attributing ‘diva’ like behaviour to successful women works to delegitimize them and their achievements precisely because of this. It indicates that they are not ‘good women’ because they do not fit the stereotype of what a good woman should be –docile and undemanding.
This is not to say that some stars are not unreasonable or rude. However, it is also a fact that such rumours are spread more about female actors than male ones, and that people are quicker to criticize the women more than the men.
If we believe so easily and willingly that a female actor behaved badly, without proof, and on the basis of hearsay, then perhaps we must question our biases a bit more deeply, and wonder whether the fact they are so successful hasn’t made someone (especially a man!) green with envy.
Update: Farokh Engineer has since apologised for his words.
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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