Fighting like a girl


January 2016

Mother Dairy- Milk with a Dash of Misogyny

Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman



Under the 4th instalment of the Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds, my series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, I am taking up yet another commercial rife with regressive clichés about Indian women and their “place”. This one, a part of Mother Dairy’s “Ma Jaisi Koi Nahin” campaign almost made me barf harder than a glass of sour milk. Watch the ad here (and try not to cringe, I dare you).

It begins with a woman nervously watching her office-returned husband relish the delectable dinner she prepared for him. He compliments her cooking (“Pulao bohot badiya bani hai!”), and sensing that the time is right, she confesses to breaking his trophy (catch the sad pun-play here, for you’ll see how she is presented as not much more than a trophy herself) while doing the dusting earlier in the day. He suddenly looks like he’s going to choke on the badiya pulao, and yells- “Haven’t I told you a thousand times never to touch my things? Why don’t you ever listen? Don’t I always stay away from yours? So why did you touch it?” She whispers a meek apology; he scoffs derisively, pushes his plate aside and walks away. Serious douchebag alert here. I have to say, either the actor who plays this is an actual asshole in real life, or he deserves an Oscar already. That was as real a jerk impression as I have seen, and oh, I have seen quite a few!

Meanwhile, here is the plot twist. There was one coming from a mile away. The son has been hiding behind a door and has witnessed this entire episode through a small crack. The mother then walks up to him and gently (because sanskari Indian women can never get angry, not towards their boys anyway, duh!) asks him never to play cricket in the house again. He nods and says sorry. She walks away and cleans the plate of food her husband abandoned.

To end this abomination, a male narrator (because evidently only men can explain things to us) spews some tripe about the sacrificial and giving nature of mothers, asking us to drink Mother Dairy milk so we can be healthy and take care of our moms. Oh sorry, not all of us! He’s only talking to sons, because from what I make of Mother Dairy’s campaign, no matter how much milk daughters drink, we’ll never be big and strong enough for the job. We’ll always be limited to being the demure, submissive, pulao cooking wife who sits quietly as her obnoxious husband (who by the way she could do so much better than, the woman is an absolute hottie!) berates her over a lifeless object. Sigh! I suppose there are some things even Mother Dairy’s milk can’t do!

This led me to wonder what milk brands have against women…Amul tells us that “girls” toys aren’t good enough for boys, and Mother Dairy is telling us (among other things), that a mother will take the fall for her son’s mistakes, because, you guessed it, “boys will be boys”! Also, apparently, little girls are only good for ads about hair oil and shampoo.

Great job, Mother Dairy, really. In a matter of a minute and 16 seconds, you have managed to convey, firstly, that a husband flipping out and yelling at his wife is a totally normal and acceptable part of a marriage. Secondly, you’re telling us that it’s women who need to be cared for all their lives, by their fathers, sons and husbands (didn’t expect Ogilvy and Mather to be taking inspiration from Manusmriti .i.e. the manual on misogyny) Finally, you’re telling us that boys don’t need to take responsibility for their actions, because their mothers are simpering, subservient beings who will take the fall for anything that goes wrong with the world (and we wonder why men don’t “respect” women). Face, meet palm.

This campaign was conceptualized to “pay tribute to the mothers of the country” (though it seems to imply only Hindu upper caste mothers, but I digress. Maybe that’s a topic of another post, another time). However, the sad part is, I didn’t see a tribute at all. I saw a commercial where a little boy watched his father shout at his mother. He will thus grow up believing he doesn’t have to be accountable for his actions. He will grow up believing that a woman’s place is in the home- and worse, the little boy who was powerless in front of his father, hiding behind a door because he was too afraid to confess his mistake-will in all probability grow up to treat his wife/ partner the same way.

So yeah, screw you Mother Dairy and the people who served up this piece of regressive bullshit. Maybe, come out with a milk packaging that does not contain added flavours of misogyny.

mother dairy

Whisper- Now 5 Times More Regressive!

Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman



The ad I’m taking up this time as the  3rd instalment of ‘Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds’ – a series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman – is by Whisper Ultra. The ad review suggestion was made by award-winning blogger Sheena Dabholkar, who is also the co-author of this post.

So let’s begin. I was sent a link to this ad, that’s currently just available online and runs for a few seconds only. We are shown a package wrapped in newspaper- which is carefully torn away to reveal the new and shiny Whisper Ultra Clean- five times better than the earlier Whisper Ultra (not-so-clean?)! The ad ends there.

Check it out here if you haven’t already seen it.
Now, let’s look at the positives first. Thankfully, we aren’t shown any exceptionally happy women in ungodly white pants jumping fences, running through busy streets, dancing in the middle of a gym, etc… Because you know, those are the things we love doing while we’re on our period. It’s not like most of us are lying in bed with our hot water bags, wishing we were dead. That’s where the positives end for me.

But what’s wrong with this ad? Well, for me, what’s really disappointing is that a powerful corporate entity chose to cash in on what is clearly a regressive practise. Yes, I know what you’re going to say – it might be commonplace, BUT it is born out of the shame and secrecy attached to a natural monthly occurrence almost all women go through. An occurrence that, on an average, lasts for three decades of adult female life.

If you’re a woman reading this, you know what I’m talking about. Every time you go to a medical store and ask for sanitary napkins, the (always male) shopkeeper gives you a look which I can only describe as disgust mixed with a kind of sanctimonious pity. Then comes the entire process of procuring the package (“Stayfree ya Whisper?”- what is with these names?), putting it in a paper bag and then in a black (ALWAYS black) plastic one. God forbid the world finds out that women menstruate! OH, IMAGINE THE CONSEQUENCES! The pandemonium, as millions of men across India – who had stopped briefly by the roadside to practice their piss-writing skills – run to shield themselves from this disgusting revelation, would be off the charts! Men interrupted rudely as their brick mortar canvases constructed primarily for this purpose are suddenly and heartlessly abandoned! It’s only fair then that female hygiene products be handed out with secrecy befitting national security ops.

But even more remarkably, it’s Whisper driving this corporate cultural appropriation that I find saddening. The fact that they adopt the stigma as they see fit / when they can benefit from it. In 2014, Whisper launched the #touchthepickle campaign in order to break out of period related stigma, and now, so conveniently, they choose to use another aspect of this very stigma as a promotional tool to market their Ultra Clean product.(Also, their obsession with clean, clean, clean, irks me. Do they or do they not think periods are the dirtiest thing in the world?)

The newspaper thus represents what the brand feels is a routine, acceptable practice when it comes to sanitary goods, further validating that periods are something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden (I wonder if the ad- makers had been in touch with the priests at Sabarimala).

So here’s some shocking news for Indian advertisers- women menstruate and you know what, those few days aren’t pretty – a lot of us aren’t always cheery (yes that’s right, women are allowed to be snappy too), wearing white and saving the world as your ads might have people believe – but guess what? We aren’t ashamed either. We’re proud. We don’t need newspaper covered packages, your dark plastic bags and hushed whispers. Because maybe you haven’t heard, Whisper, but you know what? We are happy to bleed.




You Are Not A “Male” Feminist. You Are A Feminist.

“Men who want to be feminists need not be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist”.

-Kelley Temple

For some reason, this year began with a number of my male friends accusing my writing of being “alienating” and “scary”. I was told (by a man), that I’ve got feminism all wrong, and apparently, male bashing is a hobby of mine. I found myself holding back on my immediate expletive-laced response, instead convincing them that feminism is for everyone. That I don’t hate men. That of course, not all men are misogynists.

It did get me thinking about this post. I realized that yes, my writing is confrontational. It is angry. It is hostile. I also realized that I really don’t care.

I don’t care that men feel alienated. I don’t care that they think I hate men. I don’t care that they don’t feel included. I don’t care if it was “just a joke”. I don’t care that it was “just a compliment”. And I definitely don’t care that “not all men” are “that bad”.

I was told that I need to “be nicer”-so that feminist men– men who respect women (“I would never hit a woman!”), who believe in equality, can be given a real space within feminism. Obviously, my tone needs to be more amiable, so that men can be convinced that feminism isn’t just “reverse sexism”, and can be sure that they have “nothing to be scared of” (I am seriously not making this up).

So I just want to tell the men reading this (if any), that if you find an article on the internet scary/ intimidating- you wouldn’t survive a second as a woman in India-where your mere existence puts you in a state of danger. Where someone can walk into your home and molest you. Where you take it for granted that you will be leched at, or worse, every time you step out of your house. Where you always have one hand in your pocket holding on to your pepper spray on your way home from work. Where you can get raped and murdered on the way back from a movie. Where you can be killed, just for being female, even before you are born.

Yes I am livid, because you and I inhabit two very different worlds- one where I am asked why I am “so easy” and advised to “play hard to get”, while you are slapped on the back for being such a “stud”. I live in a world where my friends come back from a walk at 7 pm, telling me how they were stopped by a policeman and asked why they were walking outside at “such an hour”. I live in a world where I am called a bitch for voicing an opinion and you are lauded for your outspokenness.

It is therefore not my job to make space for you, and it is not my job to make you feel welcome. You are not a male feminist, you are a feminist, plain and simple, and it is your job to empathise ( and never start a sentence with “not all men….”), and understand that you lead a highly privileged existence as a straight, cis gendered upper caste man-and you do play a part in the systems of oppression you are challenging. This is what feminism needs from men.

So it’s great that you are “not like other men”. It’s great that you respect women and believe in equality- but that shouldn’t be something special. It should be the norm- so no; you don’t get a cookie for being a decent human being.

not all men.png

BIBA- Same Old Samosas With a New Chutney

Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman



Here I am with the third instalment of the “Conditioning is for hair, Not Minds” – a series challenging gender stereotypes in media – in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, and the ad I’m taking on today is actually one that’s being hailed as progressive and gender inclusive by many on social media. That’s right; I’m talking about BIBA’s new “Change is Beautiful” ad. However, I’m disappointed to report that it’s not as ground breaking and stereotype changing as the makers would have you believe. Here’s a link to the video for those of you who haven’t already seen this.

The ad starts with a woman sitting at her dressing table, putting on a pair of ornate earrings. Her father enters her room, scolding her for not being ready yet. “Everyone is waiting downstairs”, he says. Without making eye contact for the most part, she asks meekly, how she is supposed to choose a husband over a plate of samosas. The father has no response, and only tells her to hurry up with a definitive and conversation ending “Jaldi karo!”.

The meeting goes well, and Aunty ji is impressed with Payal. “Toh main yeh rishta pakka samjhu?” she asks, and I’m left wondering what qualities of Payal she assessed to deem her the perfect bride for her son. Was it her academic and professional success, or her impeccable conversational and social skills? Was it the immense contribution she was making to the society through her work, or the widespread critical acclaim which the books authored by her had received? I’d never know, because while Payal could have any one or more of these things to her claim, she is neither asked, nor does she get to speak a single word about herself. So I’ll assume she based it solely on how Payal looks and her culinary skills (?) because that’s what the  conversation that follows is largely based around. Meanwhile, none of this has bothered Payal’s father who responds with “Of course! BUT..” and here comes the supposed ‘conversation changing’ plot twist. The father announces that he wants to visit the prospective groom’s house as well to check whether the he knows how to cook! Oh the drama!

Aunty Ji laughingly says that her darling son can’t even boil water, and can only make noodles in the microwave (at this point I’m thinking it’s really strange that the two people who are supposed to get married haven’t said a word to each other…also, I had no idea noodles could be cooked in a microwave). The father is unimpressed, saying his Payal can’t live on just noodles. Seriously uncle, let HER say that! Let her say SOMETHING! By this point, I’m channelling my inner Ross and thinking / begging “ANY words would do!” But wait, here comes the apparent double twist (cue ominous music) -– someone else FINALLY speaks up! Alas! It’s not Payal, who by this time could be mistaken for Narendra Modi during the intolerance debate. Instead, it is the groom-in-waiting, who asks uncle ji – not Payal – to come over to his house after ten days, promising he’d have learnt to cook something by then!

So let me get this straight, the girl is by default expected to cook and spend a major portion of her life first learning and then doing it, but if the guy promises to spend ten days watching Masterchef Australia to throw together a half decent plate of food, it is revolutionary?

Here is my problem, I couldn’t really tell what’s the real change.. What is different? The woman still had absolutely no say in whom she marries, and her doubts are nonchalantly dismissed by her father. The entire conversation is conducted and controlled by the father, the woman in question doesn’t say a word and I barely even see her mother. The prospective mother-in-law seems rather proud that her son doesn’t possess the basic life skills required to sustain himself, and the entire discussion takes place as though the woman whom he is hoping to marry isn’t even in the room. So much so, that Payal isn’t even acknowledged by the boy at the very last second of the film.

So basically, the “change” is represented through the man who asks if his future son-in-law can cook and the man who says he will learn how to cook -– TO PLEASE HIS FUTURE FATHER IN LAW! That’s great, really.

Except it’s not.

Know why? Because women and men should both know how to cook. The ability to feed oneself shouldn’t depend on one’s gender. So are we really expected to be thrilled about the fact that a grown man decided to figure his way around a kitchen and cook something other than instant noodles?

I’m sorry to find that the “inspiring” ad film doesn’t question what really needs to be questioned- a woman’s complete lack of autonomy over her life, her decisions, her body. Payal could have done so much more- maybe had a conversation with her father and her mother (!) about her doubts. Or maybe had an actual conversation with the man she was supposed to marry. Maybe she could have said no altogether. Perhaps that is too drastic a change for Indian advertising to consider – but you know what, it’s 2016 and instant noodles are probably on their way out anyway.


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