This story was originally published on September 7, 2016.
“For eons, women have been told how to be or think or dress. I come from a part of the world where this debate is so heated, especially because we’re a country that has goddesses. We pray to women. But at the same time, we prey on them.”
Priyanka Chopra and I are sitting on leather couches in a basement dressing room full of female solidarity. It is a late weekday afternoon in August, and she is on break from filming scenes for the sophomore season of her hit ABC series, Quantico. About to head to makeup for a touch-up, she offers another opinion about what it’s going to take for women to get what we’re owed in this world. Spoiler: It’s dudes doing their fair share. “Feminism needs men to understand that we don’t want to berate you or kill you or hate you,” she says. “We just need you to stand by us.” Insofar as it is possible to nod enthusiastically, I do.
Like the rest of the internet, Chopra and I are both momentarily obsessed with a 1975 Helen Mirren interview that resurfaced and went viral in the waning days of summer. In it, a TV host basically calls Mirren a slut. (He actually quoted a theater critic who said she has a gift for telegraphing “sluttish eroticism,” but don’t let his posh English accent trip you up). Mirren pushed back perfectly, one insulting dig at a time.
“How epic was she?” Chopra asks, an obviously rhetorical question that I respond to anyway. (Sooo epic.) “That’s what feminism is. Don’t judge me for being me, just like you don’t judge the boys. That’s all we want — equality in treatment.” I am on board with this broad-stroke definition of feminism, as well as most of the other pro-woman party lines with which Chopra shores it up. We are a two-person consciousness-raising group, Chopra and I. Gloria Steinem would be proud.
Except. A decidedly un-Steinem-like thought keeps popping into my head while we are talking empowerment and equality and the overall boss-ness of Helen Mirren, and also eating meatballs. (Chopra likes an afternoon meatball.) That thought is this: Chopra might be the most stunning person I’ve ever seen in the flesh. While Priy — that’s what people call her — is thoughtfully answering my questions, I am distracted by the way her lips move, the shape of her eyebrows, how unfathomably shiny her hair is. A shameful corner of my brain is trying to work out a scenario in which she might let me examine her pores at close range, perhaps with a magnifying mirror. In between bites, I scan her face to evaluate its symmetry. Even in crappy lighting, she is basically a goddess herself.