Recently, a section of right-wing social media chose the occasion of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s birthday to malign her as a ‘bar dancer’. While being a bar dancer is a perfectly legitimate career, this allegation about her is a flat-out lie. It is as absurd as Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracies casting liberal politicians as child sex traffickers. But truth is besides the point for the misogynists who have long tried to pass off pictures of movie stars like Ursula Andress and Reese Witherspoon as Gandhi in her youth. Instead of countering her politics, reasonably opposing her ideas with their own, they resort to the equivalent of bathroom graffiti.
Women in power and those who aspire to power often face such slander, and the systematic degradation is even worse when they come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. But the ‘bar dancer’ charge reveals more about those who peddle this idea – their heated imagination about western women and their contempt for women who don’t fit their sanskaari cage.
Patriarchy neatly divides women into two types – ‘good’ domestic angels or ‘bad’ temptresses. For it the idea that an adult human has many facets to her personality which may include nurturing and also sexual agency is too subversive. Ironically, Gandhi as a dutiful daughter-in-law and wife who has committed her life to her family’s values, fits conservative ideals of a woman’s role perfectly. This also helps explain why the rest of the country dismisses the sexist troll attacks on her as the fake news they are.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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