Really, would the global banking collapse of the last decade have looked very different if Lehman Brothers had been run by the Lehman Sisters? That was Christine Lagarde, then France’s finance
minister, who made the snap comment when the crisis broke, but frankly, this obsession with genderising the boardroom—women bring caution, prudence and thoughtfulness, while men are brash, risky, adventurous—typifies the way the Indrani Mukerjea scorcher of a scandal is being hashed by the media. All of a sudden, when it comes to the woman, being ambitious, grabby, craving for money and the good life becomes a bad word. And it’s not just the sexist misanthrope male-gazer who is making these jibes; even feminists find it setting their teeth on edge when such descriptives are attributed to women.
The script is unfailingly predictable and constant when a woman allegedly commits a crime—it’s her wanton ambition, insatiable greed, lust for the good life and social climbing that got her to rob, steal, cheat or kill. Now, how does having a perfect sense of knowing what you want, of being desirous of intoxicating power and heady fame, a fascination for a ritzy lifestyle and eye-popping glamour lead to crime? Why are these addictions or personality quirks the must-have props when you construct an outlaw woman? There are countless girls and women who have chased the El Dorado of fame and fortune, through careers or soliciting lovers or husbands, who have not only been successful and triumphant, but are luxuriating in their victory; it has not led them to crime and murder.
Conversely, can a woman in public be caricatured by her lifestyle and personality without her being a criminal or convict? It was a debate this magazine threw up when I wrote a profile on the late Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor, when feminists and the sisterhood accused this magazine of being sexist, elitist and chauvinistic. The accusers fell into the same trap as the misogynists. Being ambitious, pushy, lustily aspiring, on the make—these were seen as character flaws, not a provocative insight into Sunanda, or the ability to capture her personality and grit. The main accusation was that Sunanda was “not virtuous”, as my article had stringed her life with her various husbands and business partners, her make-up and fashion victimhood, and then went on to pillory her. Sexism clearly lies in the eyes of the beholder, and, as I argued, why should anyone judge or become puritanical about sexuality and appearance in an age when women feel good about making their own choices about sex, shopping or kickass empowerment.
Not surprisingly, the media has brought in Victorian terms to portray ambitious women of varying notoriety as seductress, femme fatale, social climber, money maniac, words which have all been liberally used to describe Indrani Mukerjea in mainstream media, from newspapers, news TV reports, websites, and that too shamefully by well-known editors, commentators and reporters. How all these traits lead you to crime is unfathomable, but is it also a sly ruse to protect the man in her life? The male media has conjured up a picture of a manipulative, scheming psychopath who killed her first-born and plotted to kill the brother because of, hold your breath, incest allegations, sexual predatory from “close relations”, the daughter’s unwanted pregnancy and Indrani’s own sexually-abused childhood, even rape by her stepfather!
One can’t help bring in the Sunanda article, for it must be said that Tharoor was made to pay for his alleged corruption in IPL when he was asked to resign from the cabinet until investigations were over; in the case of Peter Mukerjea, Indrani’s husband, there seems to be a collusion of propaganda to keep Peter out of the muck. Yes, Indrani allegedly chose her ex-husband as an accomplice to kill her daughter, but wouldn’t he be privy to all the money that must have gone to her partners to carry out the crime? How come he’s coming out unscathed, untarnished, spotless? Already there are pitched rumours that Peter was on the brink of setting up a new, multimillion-dollar media venture. So, are the many hopefuls keen to see he does not end up in the jailhouse?
Perhaps it’s time the local media saw the world for what it really is in the present century of Comedy Nights with Kapil-brand feminism to Slutwalks and in-your-face women’s empowerment. It’s time to see that class worship (you know those laments from self-appointed arbiters of style who moan about social climbers who crash into their passe lifestyles) is now replaced by brand worship, and anyone can buy it; clubby network is replaced by PR savvy; a racy past can be reinvented, rebranded and marketed. Ambition is now a dream factory. And anyone can have it.