Shweta Menon, the former Bollywood actress and prominent Malayalam TV personality seen by many in Kerala as the ideal careerwoman, said she disagreed with the popular feminist portrayal of women as the victims of patriarchy.
Menon, the daughter of an Air Force officer and a self-described ‘fauji kid‘, said it was up to the person to fight for his or her rights, whether it was a man or a woman, and in this fight, it was pointless to think of oneself as a ‘victim’.
“I don’t think it pays to play the victim. Women are not victims. I feel women and men, both are hand in glove,” she told US-based writer/columnist Varghese Korason on Kairali TV’s Valkannadi, adding that she was ‘not a feminist’.
Menon has legions of admirers among young women in Kerala, who admire her tremendous success and for seemingly conquering almost everything she set her sights on.
She entered the world of showbiz at the age of 15 with Malayalam film Anaswaram (Immortal) in 1991 and went on to do several films in Malayalam before she turned 18. She moved to Mumbai while still a minor to chase a career in modelling.
Menon won the title of Femina Miss India Asia Pacific in 1994, which opened up more opportunities for her.
After the Miss India pageant, Menon has been active in both the modelling field as well as in Bollywood, where she was mostly cast in ‘glamourous’ roles, and has several item songs to her credit.
In all, she did about 30 Bollywood films, before returning to Malayalam industry for meatier roles in her 30s, starting with Keerthi Chakra in 2006.
While most actresses in Malayalam film industry ‘settle down’ with a family in their 30s, 43-year-old Menon continues to do prominent roles in Malayalam films, and is today arguably the most successful television presenter in Malayalam TV history and the host of several popular reality TV shows.
Due to her background, experience and success, Menon is admired as the ideal careerwoman by many women who follow her shows on TV. With her confident personality, Menon is seen by many as the ideal of women’s empowerment.
Yet, said Menon, she does not buy the popular narrative that women need to be empowered. She said each person has to fight for what he or she wants. This is true for both men and women.
“Empowerment.. I don’t understand what that means,” Menon said, adding that there have been both empowered and disempowered women at all times, much like empowered men and disempowered men.
Women can find greater success by focusing on getting what they want, instead of dwelling on how they have been wronged by the society, she pointed out.
“I’m a fauji girl. [I believe that] if we want something, we should fight for it. First; ask for it, and if you don’t get, fight for it. That’s something that I’ve always believed in…there are so many women who are empowered. All of us are empowered.”
Still, she said, she has come across cases where women are not allowed by their families to pursue their careers and dreams.
“It shocks me.. I’m amazed that there are such people also,” she said, confessing that she doesn’t ‘understand’ such situations.
Menon shifted lock stock and barrel to Mumbai before she turned 18 to build a career in modelling, without losing the support of her family in Calicut.
“Today, I’m able to say all this because of my family’s support. I can’t speak for the other side. I don’t know what is like to not have family support.
“When someone says, I don’t get support from my family [for my career], I don’t understand that, because that’s not how it was with my family, and I can only speak for myself.”
Menon’s comments come in the wake of more and more contemporary discussions about feminism and questions among young women about whether to pursue their careers, settle down with a husband and kids, or try to do both at the same time.
Menon has been married twice, and has a daughter who can sometimes be seen by her side at public events and TV shows.