Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman



Hello again! I am back with another instalment of Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds, a series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman. It’s been an incredible few days or so for me, with a couple of renowned media outlets covering or mentioning this series. First, Huffpost India ran a story on The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman’s recent crowdsourced meme series (which, by the way, is the most brilliant concept you will see and something you should participate in for sure) and mentioned THIS blog-series as part of the story. Then, just a couple of days ago, the wonderful folks at Feminism in India featured two blog posts (on Whisper and Amul) from this series on their website! So yeah, you can say it’s been an exciting time for me and I want to take a moment to thank all my readers, as well as the people behind the SMIW page for the support. Incidentally, today’s post has been co-authored by Bruce Vain aka Feminist Batman of the SMIW! So without further ado, let’s get this bad girl on the road!

The ad we’re taking up today was suggested by SMIW reader Mrinalini Bakshi Sengupta – it’s a TV commercial for online classified service OLX and has been titled “Aadhe Tere Aadhe Mere”. Presumably a well-meaning effort, with an emphasis on empowerment through equal division of resources. But that’s where the equality takes form of (maybe) unintentional misogyny. I wanna come back to this bit at the end. For now, watch this example of empowerment-gone-wrong here.

The ad starts with Neetu waiting for her husband Nitin to drive her to work. Once he drops her, he says, “Shaam ko 6:30 bajey?” Neetu nods and enters her office. Cut to 6:30 pm, and Neetu gets a text from Nitin telling her that he’s going to be an hour late. At this point, I wonder why he had to wait till the precise time he was supposed to pick her up to let her know? Does have no sense of time? Does he know how to tell the time? Does he work a minute away from her office? If yes, then why can’t she walk to his office, get the car and drive home herself? Why does he get first dibs on the car anyway? Why can’t she drop him to work and keep the car with her? OMG! I NEED ANSWERS!

It gets worse though. After a little more time has passed, Neetu receives another text from Nitin saying he can’t make it, and that she should take a cab. Which, she obediently does. The next morning, poor Neetu tells her husband, “Pata hai Nitin..shaadi se pehle main zyada independent thi”( If someone kept me waiting for two hours and then asked me to take a cab, I think I’d have a LOT more to say than that, but then I’m just an angry feminist.).

Bad enough so far right? However, what happens next WILL BLOW YOUR MIND! Actually, it will leave you extremely underwhelmed. But isn’t that what all such click bait-ey headlines end up doing anyway? So yeah, Nitin decides to play the knight-in-shining armour and grants his damsel-in-distress her lost independence-by selling off his big fancy car, and buying two small ones! Marital problems solved! Oh the shenanigans! Cue eternal happiness music now. Oh wait, maybe get a barf bag first.

Okay, so this is where I was told I’m being overly critical / that I should just accept that Nitin is a nice guy who bought his wife a car. BUT here’s what people who’re telling me this are failing to see: a) Nitin took a major financial decision without consulting his partner. That’s not very ‘equal’ or ‘empowering’ b) Since he meant for it to be a “surprise” I am going to assume he got both the new cars registered in his name (unless, you know, he procured her ID and financial documents without her knowledge and forged her signature). So, more capital assets to Nitin. Yay! So you see, selling one car to buy two cars is not exactly a sacrifice for him. It’s merely reassignment of his own capital from one form to another. His sacrifice, if any, is that he will LET her drive one of his cars. OH BUT THAT IS A BIG SACRIFICE BECAUSE GENERIC WOMEN DRIVERS SEXIST JOKES! At this point, you could go on and tell me that maybe she was not financially able to buy a car on her own money. Ok, maybe, but so what? Did she ask him for a handout in the first place? She just said she was more independent before marriage. So, whether she could afford a car of not, she was managing just fine. So why can’t she do it now? Since when did independence imply owning a car? I can even live with the husband having dibs on the car because he owns it. But what kills me is why did she have to wait for him to tell her to take a cab anyway? Why, for the love of me, could she not just have texted back “It’s OK, I’ll take a cab. Maybe next time let me know a little ahead of time” or something, right at 6.30 when he first told her he’s running late? No, obviously not, because a good wife is one who is makes sacrifices in a marriage and WAITS for her husband till he tells her she can do otherwise. Oh good! I’m glad we clarified that!

I wonder why advertisers are so terrified of portraying real change. Would it kill them to maybe show the wife driving her husband to work? Or, show her participating in the financial decision to sell the current car and buy two new ones? Maybe make the down payment herself and if she does need him to help her out with money, offer to pay him back? Will that be so bad? Or is it so hard for us to think of a woman taking charge in any way whatsoever?

Now, here’s where I want to come back to the “(maybe) unintentional” bit. I’m seeing a trend of these seemingly “empowering” ads which go horribly wrong almost every time. You saw it with the Biba ad and you saw it with Whisper’s new campaign. The feeling I get is that the only reason these corporates make an effort to have any kind of misplaced inclusion in their communication is the need to cash in on the current “women empowerment race” in advertising. It’s almost like a mandate in the creative brief from the client to the ad agency which says (cue dreary middle aged male voice) “TVC must show women empowerment to make the brand seem progressive and appealing to urban women”. Well, if that’s really why they’re doing it, then maybe hire more women to be on and lead these teams. Maybe pay more emphasis on having people who understand gender and sociology on the teams. Really, just one such person per communication / brand team will go a LONG way in improving the quality of the advertising we see on a daily basis.

I hope someone who has a say in hiring at one of these corporate is reading this, because this half assed faux empowerment is getting really old. So OLX, maybe you should sell it on your own portal and upgrade to some real inclusion. And Nitin, thanks but no thanks, dudebro. You don’t need to save us. You can keep your big fancy car, because we can go to work, and come back, on our own.