Speak Up / Speaking Out

What Esther Duflo, Nirmala Sitharaman and Anushka Sharma have in common

. 5 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
What Esther Duflo, Nirmala Sitharaman and Anushka Sharma have in common

No, this is not a battle of the sexes but the battle of A Sex and A Culture. Welcome to 2019, where esteemed institutions that dictate cultural and societal norms are still not able to grapple the concept of a woman having her own identity – one that is not linked to the men in her life.

So here’s what Esther Duflo, Nirmala Sitharaman and Anushka Sharma all have in common – they’re influential women, married to equally influential men and are dealing with the casual sexism that makes it okay for their marital status to overshadow their achievements.

Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first female finance minister, and Esther Duflo, the second woman and the youngest ever to win the Nobel Prize found out, almost on the same day, that their marital status will impact the nature of the public commentary they receive a lot more than what their own accomplishments will.

When French-American MIT Professor and Researcher Esther was awarded this honour, the popular news headlines went something like:

  • “Indian-American MIT Prof. Abhijitt Banerjee and wife wins Nobel in Economics” – The Economic Times
  • “Indian-American Abhijit Banerjee, wife Esther Duflo and Micheal Kremer win 2019 Nobel Economic Prize” – Firstpost
  • “Indian-American MIT Prof Abhijit Banerjee and wife Esther Duflo win Noble prize in Economics” – Business Insider

While the idea was to establish the fact that it was a married couple that won the title together, equality would have been in mentioning the term ‘husband’ in the title. Or a married couple. Or how about referring to the former as the latter’s husband? No! Because that is not what feminism propagates.

In this equation where the achievements of both are on an equal pedestal, the male counterpart of it gets over four words of descriptive adjectives while the woman is done away with “and wife”.

Abhijit Banerjee has indeed contributed much to the research and is certainly very deserving of the honour, but his marital status in no way clouding his success.

Similarly, the fact that they happen to be married should not make her contributions inferior either.

While Duflo faces the brunt of her achievements being undermined by her marital status, Sitharaman hits the spotlight for the classic “if she can’t even get her husband to listen to her then how can she expect a whole nation to” critique.

Sitharaman’s encounter with this unrealised, intrinsic sexism originated from an opinion column that deconstructed and tore apart the current ministry’s grasp of the economic slowdown. And this critique for Sitharaman’s government came from her husband Prakala Prabhakar, a celebrated economist in his own right.

Now, of course, every individual is entitled to their opinion and thriving in a democratic almost digital setting, the concept of expressing institutional concerns on public platforms is not lost on any one of us.

So there can be several valid reasons to disagree with the finance minister of a nation, but her husband should not be one of them.

A lot of influential women took to twitter and social media to call out this sexism and demand that Sitharaman be judged purely based on her performance. The unanimous response? That her spouse is a “well-respected economist in his own right.”

While no one is disputing with that, the notion that somehow seems to get lost in this debate is that Sitharaman too is an influential individual in her own right. And that is something that Indians have trouble accepting when it comes to women in general.

A yet another influential woman who happened to be caught into this web of nonchalant sexism very recently is Anushka Sharma. A celebrity in her own right, she has been caught in this media-generated wind of controversy several times before – the kind of trouble that stems from having a famous cricketer as your husband.

Anushka’s repeated lugging around as a potential cause for Virat Kohli’s performance as a cricketer bears the perfect testimony for how women cannot be viewed independently of a man.

Cricket in itself is a heavily loaded term when it comes to this country, and any impediment in any cricket-related performance very easily transpires into something unforgivable. And time and again Anushka has been blamed for distracting and being the reason behind her husband’s poor performance.

The ‘wife’ as a concept for the longest time, has been defined as an institution for the man. The kind of institution that determines the man’s failures as well as his successes. Marriage, in the Indian context, especially, is considered to be the solution and the end to all of a man’s problems.

We’re living in 2019, and the dictators of patriarchy still deem women and marriage as institutions and rehabilitation centres for badly raised men.

Because if a woman cannot ‘control’ the misbehaviours of her husband, she is an incompetent wife. Similarly, the success of a man is heavily equated with the degree of stability that his wife brings into his life.

This sexist sentiment was apparent in the way Farokh Engineer – who was looking to target MSK Prasad and Co.; casually ended up dragging Anushka into it. He came down heavily on the senior national selections’ committee. In an attempt to target them and their perceived incompetence he happened to casually mention that all that they chose to do during the world cup this year was getting the cricketers’ wives’ (incriminating Anushka in the process) “cups of tea”, according to a report in the Times of India.

While this was not the first time that Anushka was pulled into a cricket controversy, not of her making, this certainly was the first time she took to a public platform and issued a statement that condemned this repeated unnecessary blaming.

If you want to have a comment on the selection committee and their  qualifications, please do so as it is your opinion but don’t drag my name into it to substantiate your claim or sensationalise your opinion,” Anushka wrote on her post.

This inherent misogyny even comes out in the nature of the questions that the media asks the women versus what they would pose to a man.

While the men face more favourable questions that target their work, their careers and their work challenges, the women are more often than not asked about their relationship status, their marital relationships, or even their future family planning quests.

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. And for the record, I drink coffee,” Anushka further shared on her post.

I guess it certainly is a long way to go for women everywhere to be acknowledged as independent coffee drinkers.