Did Emma Watson's UN speech say anything that has not been said before? Does Deepika Padukone ask for something out of the ordinary when she asks for basic respect? Yet these words have not been heard enough
Last weekend, our middle child was sitting angrily with her Hindi homework. She had to write an essay on what she wants to be when she grows up.
“That’s an easy one," I said to her. “What do you want to be?"
“I don’t know, Mamma," she said.
“That’s fine," I said. “You can write that you are interested in a lot of things but have not made up your mind."
“I want to be a criminal," she said with much emphasis.
“Like Robin Hood?" I asked, hopefully.
“No," she said. “I want to be a real criminal. I will kill people."
I suspect that if Aliza had been a nine-year-old son, I might have plummeted into a parental crisis immediately. But Aliza is a very quiet and gentle child and the novelty of her expression amused me.
“I want to be a criminal because the good people are all bad people and the bad people are good people," she elaborated.
I think I know what she means. She is trying to make sense of the same world that we have become exhausted from outraging against. We switch on the radio in the car and we switch it off in disgust. Sometimes it is the RJ offering us entertainment by calling up unsuspecting people and humiliating them on air. Sometimes it is just the lyrics of a new song where a man says to a woman that “he’s the son of a Jat and he just doesn’t take no for an answer."
Before I began to write this column for Mint Lounge, I had submitted some ideas for future columns to the editor. Point No.4 reads like this: “It is safer to let one’s daughters play with Barbie dolls than it is to subscribe to The Times Of India (TOI). One day I want to offer myself for public slaughter by making this argument. One day, not today."
I never did steer in this direction and then came the events of the last two weeks where we had the TOI, India’s largest English newspaper stooping really low in response to being confronted by one of India’s most popular Hindi film actors, Deepika Padukone.
Padukone called out the newspaper’s “regressive tactics" and wrote, “…digging out an old article and headlining it ‘OMG: Deepika’s Cleavage Show!’ to attract readers is using the power of influence to proliferate recessive thought." The TOI responded by drawing a red circle around her cleavage in another photograph of Padukone and splashing more pictures of her in a collage in its supplement, Bombay Times. Headlines sought to diminish her argument by calling Padukone a hypocrite for insisting that she has a right to choose how she wants to be represented.
At about the same time, another actor, Emma Watson, delivered a speech on feminism and gender at the United Nations headquarters.
“I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and the decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men."
My husband and I used to worry about the world in which our children are growing up in our own separate, isolated ways for years. These days we seem to have found a way to talk about our conflicts and fears without our conversation necessarily deteriorating into a confused, emotional argument between ourselves.
Together, we watched the video of Watson delivering her speech at the UN. She walks up to the podium and takes her place with poise before she begins to address a room full of distinguished and accomplished people.
Our youngest child, Naseem, is six years old and often takes a day off from school to catch up with her personal life.
“Looks like Hermione to me," she said.
“It is her," I said.
“These rights, I consider to be human rights…my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day," says Watson in her speech that has now gone viral on the Internet.
One part of me is watching to see if she will refer to her written notes even once. She doesn’t. I am reminded of the earnestness I see on the faces of young adults speaking at their events.
“I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help, for fear it would make them less of a men—or less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men, between 20-49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease…Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either."
Did Watson say anything that has not been said before? Does Padukone ask for something out of the ordinary when she asks for basic respect? Yet these words have not been heard enough. They haven’t been validated enough.
“You might be thinking, Who is this Harry Potter girl," Watson laughs at the end of her speech. “What is she doing speaking at the UN?"
“It is Hermione!" said Naseem excitedly. “She said Harry Potter! I have to tell Sahar and Aliza when they return home that you two were watching Hermione alone," she declared.
Naseem’s sisters came home and listened to the speech too. Watson was using very big words so Sahar switched on the subtitles.
“What do you like about Hermione," I asked them later.
“She always thinks things through. She makes plans and is very organized," says Sahar.
“Hmm," I say.
“She is very hard working but she has her own sense of fun," adds Aliza.
“Plus she is very, very wise."
Natasha Badhwar is a media trainer, entrepreneur and mother of three. She writes a fortnightly column on family and relationships.