“I love strong, tough women, you know? Women who live lives on their own terms. [Like] Rihanna, just cause she’s so “I don’t give a shit” – I love that about her,” Priyanka Chopra answered, to a question about the most influential female-identifying icons in her life (W Magazine, 2016). In addition to Rihanna, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence also hold a place in her heart for the same reason – they are empowered women who love doing whatever they want. In fact, a similar description has been given to Chopra by Rafia Zakaria in her opinion piece published by CNN (Zakaria, 2018). Zakaria claims that Chopra’s feminism is a “feminism of not giving a damn,” supported by the how she makes decisions by leaving behind socio-cultural norms, both in her private life as well as in the public sphere.
Priyanka tenaciously holds on to her feminist status and her definition of feminism – “Feminism is just saying give me opportunities without judging me for the decisions that I make, the same freedom that men have enjoyed for so many centuries.” She makes sure her unwavering opinions and beliefs infiltrate her wide fan base and has even taken on powerful advocacy roles to empower a wider community of women. However, after peeling off this shiny and headstrong layer, it was not difficult to find many instances where Chopra has engaged in industries and activities that are a far cry from feminism and the feminist values that she preaches.
For instance, Priyanka played a huge role in the Bollywood industry, acting in dozens of films and singing along to catchy songs. On the surface, the industry seems like a carnival of colours, bright lights, and fairy-tale endings, but after digging to the roots, it’s clear that it was created by men, for men. Many of these chart-topping songs are about how men love women’s bodies. The worst part is, that they are often sung by women, including Chopra, unknowingly participating in self-objectification. Not just through music, but the plots for these movies are archaic and repetitive – damsel-in-distress has to choose between two hunky men, poor woman from village falls in love with rich man from city, woman ignores man’s advances and other broken-records. These stories have a huge impact on building the character of the common Indian male, making them into the misogynistic, patriarchal heroes they gawk at on their screens.
By acting in these sexualized and uninspired roles, Priyanka Chopra is perpetuating the idea that women will always submit if they try hard enough, generating cat-call culture, everyday sexualization, and the world-famous ‘creepy Indian man in my Instagram DMs.’ For example, in Dostana, Chopra’s character is being chased by two men, who only at the end realize that she loves another man. In the poster, the two men are seen gaping at Chopra, who is, of course, sitting front and centre wearing lingerie.
This is just one example, but countless others create the same idea that a woman is a possession for men to battle over and win. If this is “feminism of not giving a damn” then she clearly does not give a damn about the part she plays in encouraging the antiquated idea of gender roles, especially in India where the modern woman is still a novel concept.
Although the consequences of her role in these films are deeply negative in shaping the minds of the viewer, Chopra also acts in several unorthodox Hindi movies that highlight the strength and value of women, rather than bolstering toxic Bollywood culture. For example, Chopra plays Mary Kom, an Indian woman who defied her parent’s obsolete values to pursue her passion – boxing. Regardless of being told that boxing is a man’s sport, she trained day in and day out, eventually earning herself a bronze medal at the London Olympics. Her story is an inspiration to every Indian girl who is being constrained by gender roles enforced by her parents. Perhaps Priyanka Chopra’s real-life rebellious attitude was the perfect choice to portray a real-life Indian heroine and reviews raved about her ability to “convince” her audience throughout the perilous journey (Iyer, 2016).
Apart from starring in movies that feature women who resonate with her inner and outer feminist, Chopra has vocalized her hopes that more strong South-Asian female roles will be written to help increase representation for South-Asian women in both Hollywood and Bollywood. Since she became the first South-Asian lead in an American network drama, intersectionality has begun to play a huge role in her newly branched out career. “I’m digging my feet in and saying I will not settle for parts which are less, especially as a woman of colour. I want to be able to play mainstream parts without the need in the storyline to describe why an Indian is playing an American.” It’s no secret that Chopra has strong, and valid, opinions about the lack of inclusivity in the media industry, especially with the increasing population of people of colour in the United States.
She has continued to voice her opinion on equal opportunity; in a speech made at the Variety Power of Women event, she talks about advocating for the education of young girls due to the disparity in outcomes that still exists. As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Chopra has travelled to less developed countries to give young women the tools to empower themselves and, especially in India, jump over the hurdles that stop women from getting an education. Her philanthropic nature is powered by her desire to bring women together instead of bringing each other down. In an interview at Beautycon LA in 2019 (Illuminated with Priyanka Chopra | Beautycon LA 2019), Chopra breaks down why cat-fight culture is always associated with women; she says that because decades ago only a few opportunities existed for women, the competition would “pit them against each other.” She explains how “sisterhood” will grow when we create opportunities for each other and empower each other.
This spiel would have been inspirational if she had not, around thirty minutes later, gone against everything she claimed she stands for. During the question and answer session at the very same Beautycon event, Ayesha Malik, a Pakistani influencer asked Chopra whether she supported nuclear war against Pakistan, referring to a Tweet that said “Jai Hind1 #IndianArmedForces.” In response, Chopra took up a patronizing tone and told her to stop yelling and stop embarrassing herself. Feminism in India, a publication website that focuses on intersectionality, put out a piece labelling this as gaslighting, according to Psychology Today is a term used to describe when “a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality (Sarkhis, 2017).” By telling her to calm down and stop overreacting, she was shaming her for the emotional manner in which she spoke, which is understandable given the courage it takes to stand up to someone who is so widely adored about something so personal to you.
Although at the time she received applause from the audience, her condescending words were subject to much scrutiny on social media and many petitioned to strip her of her UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador title. Although she made an apology, her displays of hypocrisy did not begin at Beautycon. Priyanka Chopra earned her fame and celebrity status by winning the title of the Miss World beauty pageant in 2000. For years beauty pageants have received criticism for pageants perpetuating the concept of the ideal woman – her looks, femininity and constant appeal to everyone around her, especially men.
Even though several people argue that beauty pageants can be empowering for women and the participants aren’t judged solely based on their looks, realistically viewers are still scrutinizing everything about their outer appearances as well as how they themselves look. Watching beauty pageants can be damaging to one’s self-esteem as well as create the “cat-fight” culture that Chopra 1 Long Live India apparently despises. Moreover, Bari Weiss in the New York Times (Weiss, 2018) wrote an opinion piece about how removing the bikini contest in the Miss America pageant does not stop us from judging appearances. She exposes the ways in which we have gotten better in pretending that “our culture has stopped objectifying women.” She says that “while men pretend not to judge women for the way they look, we [women] go to great lengths to pretend we don’t care, either.” Drinking nauseating green juice, spending hundreds on cosmetics and following beauty routines laid out by influencers are just a few of the examples of ways in which women work hard on their outer appearances, but convince themselves that they are not. Beauty pageants only help preserve these strange and damaging values that we hold as a society, and by participating and winning them, Priyanka Chopra is only building on her repertoire of hypocrisy.
It is clear that Priyanka Chopra leads quite a carefree life, even if it means going against her alleged feminist beliefs. Although this is one way of being a “feminist of not giving a damn,” the CNN article was going down a different route. Rafia Zakaria spoke about how by taking control of her marriage to younger man Nick Jonas show-stoppingly proved to the world that women should be allowed to take charge of their own love lives. Although an interesting take on why Chopra is a feminist, the article relies on her beauty and 70-foot-long veil to carry its argument that she always gets what she wants – whether it be Hollywood fame or her boy-band beau – and this is what shows her true feminist power. Although her marrying a white man is still quite unconventional in India, it shows that Chopra is indifferent to a pair of judgemental Indian eyes that have seen centuries of pristine marital values.
Unfortunately, Chopra’s fortune is one that comes with wealth and status; there are many areas in India where child-marriage and forced marriages are customary. These women cannot afford to be feminist. These are the social implications that are deficient in Zakaria’s article and would have made for a more vivid topic than the wave of feminist power Chopra is riding after her grand wedding.
Even if the article does not address these issues, Priyanka Chopra does. One of the areas of her multi-faceted philanthropic activity is helping young girls escape child-marriage so that being married at 16 is no longer an excuse not to go to school. It is clear that Chopra’s feminism is not perfect, but she does use her platform to make a change and speak her mind, which cannot always be said about other A-list celebrities. Whether it is feminism or “feminism of not giving a damn,” Chopra seems to be preaching, but not always practicing.
Illuminated with Priyanka Chopra | Beautycon LA 2019. 2019. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzFODTNWfDA.
Iyer, Meena. “Mary Kom Movie Review.” Times of India 13 Apr. 2016.
Sarkhis, Stephanie. “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting.” Psychology Today, 2017.
W Magazine. Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra on Miss World, Getting Bullied, and Tom Hardy | Screen Tests | W Magazine – YouTube. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdUp02RUyc4&t=1s.
Weiss, Bari. Opinion | The Bikini Contest Is Over, but We Are Living Inside the Beauty Pageant – The New York Times. 5 June 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/opinion/missamerica-bikini-contest.html?searchResultPosition=3.
Zakaria, Rafia. “Priyanka Chopra: The Complicated Feminist.” CNN, 6 Dec. 2018.