Fighting like a girl


December 2015

Everest Masalas- Don’t Serve Us Gender Roles with Dinner, Please

 Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman




Here is the second installment under the “Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds” series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman.

I am so thankful that the first post received a great response, as well as suggestions for the next advertisement to be reviewed- as a result, the ad I am reviewing today is by Everest Masalas, and was suggested by one of the readers on the SMIW page-Richa Agarwal.
The commercial starts with a woman in her office, thinking of, or rather vividly picturing her daughter asking her “Aaj kya banega?” (What will you make today?). She goes home, looking mildly frustrated and asks her two kids and husband, “roz roz kya banaun?”(What am I supposed to cook every day?) Her husband and kids shrug, but worry not; Everest has 41 different types of masalas to make her job easier! The wife then effortlessly cooks up an array of dishes, no gender roles are questioned, and all is well.
I am used to Indian commercials’ one dimensional portrayal of women. No matter what the product is, washing powder, cornflakes, milk, electronics-a woman is almost always shown to be at home, waiting for her husband to get back from work, getting her kids ready for school/ waiting for them to come home from school..It goes on and on. I will concede that things are changing, though not nearly fast enough.

Here, a woman was shown at work, in a public space- still fretting about what to cook for her family. However, what really got to me about this particular commercial were the nonchalant shrugs of her kids and husband. I mean, your wife just got home after a long day at work- it wouldn’t kill you to get off the couch and cook something- or maybe to have had a hot meal waiting for her at home!

The commercial ends with the wife serving an elaborate meal to her family, and all of them look unnaturally happy-and the male (obviously) voiceover tells us that, “Taste Mein Best, Mummy aur Everest”-because no matter what a woman pursues and achieves outside her home, her ultimate worth lies in cooking the perfect idlis on one day and rajma-chawal the next.

Commercials don’t just sell us products- they sell us ideas, aspirations and lifestyles. So generic, heteronormative, Hindu, well-to-do families sell us everything from instant noodles to life insurance- and women in particular are shown to find ultimate joy in serving their kids hot meals, washing their clothes, packing their tiffins.. even when they have hobbies and careers of their own.
Taking care of kids and a home is a tough and undervalued job- and whether it be “working” women or homemakers- women have a lot more to them than their cooking and cleaning skills. So come up with an ad where a wife is reading the newspaper, and the husband is preparing breakfast. Where a husband cleans the house while the wife is at her language class. Or maybe where a wife is pursuing a PhD while the husband takes care of the kids!

It’s time Indian advertising started pushing the envelope- upper caste, heterosexual Hindus aren’t the only community that exist in this country, but maybe it’s too radical to expect any sort of diversity in that regard just yet. However, the last time I checked, sabzi masala didn’t come with a “to be used by women only” label- and mummy doesn’t always have to be, or even care about being “taste mein best”- because there are a lot of other things we’d rather be better at.


Amul, Toys Have No Gender.


     Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman


The media is constantly bombarding us with images: billboards, commercials, films, sitcoms- all of which have a huge impact on the way we think, feel and talk about society. Among the millions of messages the mainstream media sends us every day- a particularly damaging one is of the representation of gender roles. Regressive, damaging stereotypes are reinforced through age-old and grossly sexist representations of men and women. To challenge this misrepresentation, BicycleWithoutaFish is collaborating with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman to call out these stereotypes that further the harmful conditioning around gender roles and point out its damaging effects, as well as to suggest alternative narratives.

With that in mind, here’s the first instalment in what I hope will be a long and mindset-shifting series os posts. Today, we look at a TV commercial by dairy giant Amul. The Amul we have all grown up to love and admire – not just for their products, but for their innovative, light hearted yet socially relevant communication. Sadly, the ad under review today is not one that falls under that description. Here’s a link to the video, ironically titled “Pyara bandhan”.

In the commercial under Amul’s Har Ghar Amul Ghar campaign, as you will see, a little girl is seen excitedly preparing for the arrival of her new sibling, placing two things in the new baby’s crib- a Barbie doll and a stuffed teddy bear. Her parents come home with a baby boy, and placing the baby in his crib, the father removes the toys, saying “Arre, bhai isse thodi khelega” (your brother won’t play with this)- replacing the dolls with a Spiderman.

Seeing his daughter visibly disappointed, he goes up to her with a glass of milk, and asks her what’s wrong. She replies saying since a boy isn’t going to play with dolls, she will have no one to play with. The ad then cuts to the father and daughter walking past her dolls’ dresses hanging on a clothes line, and he then remedies the situation by teaching her how to play cricket.

According to the Managing Director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, this “is a slice of life film which happens in every home”, and it does not “promote any gender bias”.

I wonder why Amul chose to focus on the misogyny rampant across Indian homes, when it could have used this as an opportunity to subvert the dominant culture that tells little girls they aren’t as important as their brothers, that tells little girls their brothers deserve the bigger glass of milk, that tells little girls that they need to sit, walk, talk in a certain way, while “boys will be boys”.

Instead, it chose to show us that boys can’t play with “girls’ toys” (especially when a teddy bear is identified as a “girl” thing because of years and years of patriarchal gendering and conditioning in the first place.), but it’s okay for girls to play cricket (only till they grow older and are made to conform to traditional gender roles, of course). Obviously because anything related to femininity is to be ridiculed, isn’t worthy of being done by a “man”, while a girl doing a thing which traditionally only boys do, makes her head and shoulders above and “stronger” than other girls – something obviously to be aspired

Now don’t get me wrong, girls playing cricket is great and I wish more girls played not only cricket, but also other sports, but I want to see an ad where a boy is playing with dolls. Where a boy is wearing pink, where both brother and sister are playing dress up. I want to see an ad where a man is in the kitchen, where a man is using a washing machine (not explaining its functioning to a woman), where a husband/ brother is buying sanitary napkins.

It is a known fact that Indian advertising is aimed towards the middle/upper middle class, upper caste consumer, and these are the families we get to see on TV.Is it too much to ask for though, that ads stop selling us regressive gender roles under the guise of advertising milk? That they stop telling us what boys and girls can or cannot do? Amul, you’ve got it spectacularly wrong! So, maybe next time, don’t reinforce the social constructs of “manliness” and “womanliness”, and let both the baby boy and girl play with the doll- it might just do them more good than drinking that glass of milk.

amul ad.jpg

No, I Won’t Stop “Sounding Angry”

When a friend of mine asked me to review Angry Indian Goddesses, I was quite apprehensive. I don’t have what is generally considered “good taste” in films. I’m a little ashamed to admit that my films of choice are cheesy chick flicks that end with confessions of love and kisses in the snow. However, I was instantly intrigued by the trailer of AIG- I loved the soundtrack, and being Women’s Studies students, my friends and I HAD to watch this movie that called itself “India’s first female buddy film”.

I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it wasn’t going to be without problems-and there were a few- slightly clichéd characters, a rather dramatic second half and a somewhat utopian conclusion.  Either way, I’m not in a position to review the film because I launched into a full on sob-fest ten minutes in. I’m not sure what it was. I saw myself in some of the characters- laughing, sipping cocktails, and talking about boys-and each going through her own existential crisis- something I have on a pretty much daily basis. What am I doing with my life? Do I love what I do? What if my career goes nowhere…it’s constant and relentless.

I think my tears were those of sadness, confusion, and in part, a strange kind of happiness-it felt personally liberating to see women being so unabashedly themselves. So unapologetically brash. Checking out that hot shirtless neighbour washing the Ambassador (a scene I particularly enjoyed). Getting sloshed and talking about men, sex and love. Shedding inhibitions and just, dancing. Barging into the “men’s restroom”- because when you really, really need to pee, gender doesn’t matter (as it shouldn’t in most situations). I loved how these women didn’t have to be “masculine” (Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani, anyone?) in order to be strong. Whether it was the typical upper class Delhi housewife, the struggling musician with feathers in her hair, or the aspiring actress- each was tough in her unique way.

While I was reading up a little on the movie for this post, I stumbled upon some predictable reactions- MRAs .i.e Men’s Rights Activists (yes, apparently that’s a thing now) going on about how the film advocates “reverse sexism” (LOL), how the definition of equality doesn’t imply women going into men’s restrooms, how the solution to men harassing women isn’t women leching at hot shirtless men.

I don’t want to get into a detailed rant with regard to this but can we please stop acting like women checking out men are the same as men harassing women? I’d like any man reading this to think back to the last time a woman on the street made you uncomfortable- when was the last time a woman on the street flashed you? Touched you without your consent? Or maybe touched herself while sitting next to you in an auto? Called you a pataka/ phuljhari/ asked you to perform sexual acts on her while you were walking down the street? Yep. Didn’t think so. However, for a lot of women, our first introduction (?) to male genitalia was not in our biology books- it was that creepy man at the bus stop, outside our schools, outside our homes who decided we had to watch him unzip whether we liked it or not.

I read somewhere that director Pan Nalin is receiving death threats for the “objectionable content” in this movie. I’m sadly not surprised. The problem, or rather the “objectionable content” in this film isn’t those women going into male restrooms- it’s what that action represents- that these women are behaving in a way that is not expected of them, in a way that defies our conditioning. Conditioning that tells us we need to apologize for taking up space, for speaking loudly, for dancing uninhibitedly, for being angry, for being ourselves. Well, enough of that. It’s time for women to be absolutely enraged- so maybe skip Tamasha and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo this week, and catch a show of Angry Indian Goddesses- you won’t regret

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