Putting on make-up is generally considered to be a women’s thing. But not so in the looking-glass world of Indian commercial cinema. Make-up artists for film actors are almost always men, and they protect their turf zealously from the entry of women. A well-qualified female make-up artist has now challenged this orthodoxy by filing a petition to the country’s apex court alleging discrimination against women practitioners by two associations of make-up artists and their unions. Her application for membership had been rejected by one of the associations. She was told in no uncertain terms that the profession had to guard itself against women because once they are allowed in, the men would not stand a chance and perish professionally. So, not only are women barred entry, but when they do manage to get membership — as one of them did, with help from an iconic and politically powerful actor — they are also harassed on the sets. And this seems to be happening in spite of a directive from the National Commission for Women asking the associations to grant membership to women.
The legal technicalities of such an outrageously discriminatory scenario will, of course, be determined by the court, in accordance with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But what it plays out — in microcosm, as it were — is an explicitly gendered drama of professional insecurity and resentment that is (almost too patly) representative of the larger situation of women’s entry into professions and markets in which men are used to having the monopoly. That the association could explain its reasons for barring membership to women so lucidly, and with such a sense of the rightness of things, is, in itself, a marvel of unabashedness. The funny thing, in this particular case, is that the men’s fear of being rendered redundant by women is based on a further stereotyping of women being ideally, and naturally, the best make-up artists.