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Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds

Tanishq, You Can Keep The Jewellery. I Prefer My Freedom.

Conditioning is for Hair, not Minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman

PART 8

Hello, hello! After a rather long absence (thanks to lit review submissions and a minor writer’s block), I AM BACK with the 8th instalment of “Conditioning is for Hair, not Minds” – a series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman! This one has been co-written by SMIW’s very own Bruce Vain.

** Pauses to soak in the imaginary applause**

Okay! You’ll excuse the theatrics. The ad I’m choosing to rip to shreds this time is by a jewellery brand – repeat offenders when it comes to regressive portrayals of women. This piece of abomination is by Tanishq – who at one time, made an almost ground breaking ad. Looking at their latest offering, that was obviously a one-off. Watch it here and let a treasure chest full of disappointment come crashing down on you.

So, as you’ll see, there’s a family- parents and a daughter, travelling in a car. Out of nowhere, the father says: “Varun. Good boy, good family. Why don’t you meet him? The woman clearly says she isn’t interested, but the father goes on: “Settled in San Jose…America!”(As though living in the west automatically turns any man into the perfect husband…colonial hangover, much?) The woman repeats that she is not interested in marriage, when the mother, sitting in the back seat, asks her daughter to stop the car and enters what is presumably a Tanishq store.

Father and daughter follow the mother into the store, where an employee quickly puts an ornate necklace around the daughter’s neck, and then, weirdly enough, a dupatta over her head (wtf?) I had no idea that was a part of a Tanishq salesperson’s job description. “Toh, shaadi kab hai?” probes the saleswoman. The mother quickly replies, “Oh, wedding jewellery! We are not interested. Chalo beta, utaar do.” The daughter looks rather disappointed, and once they are back in their car, she asks her father, “Kya naam bataya?” According to the mother, “25 saal ho gaye”, but her husband hasn’t understood a thing about women…you know, that we can be tricked into making significant life decisions through the lure of gold jewellery!

A voiceover then says: “Jewellery that makes you want to marry…Tanishq.”

So, yeah, my immediate thought is that I’d love to get my hands on this stuff. No, not the jewellery! I mean the stuff the ad makers were smoking when they came up with this piece of regressive horseshit (no offence to horses btw, heavens know they have been in enough trouble of late). Because, that can be the only possible explanation for why they thought stripping a woman of her agency over her own life was a good idea.

Unless, they REALLY think that it’s okay to promote the notion that a grown woman, who seemed absolutely sure about not wanting to spend the rest of her life with a total stranger – who lives half way across the world – can be made to change her mind with a visit to a Tanishq store. Well, I guess they do – that’s probably also why most brands believe that the best way to celebrate International Women’s Day is to offer women discounts on jewellery. Jewellery that most of us wouldn’t be able to afford anyway, but I digress.

Also, maybe I’m wrong, but I thought we could wear whatever jewellery we wanted to whenever we damn well pleased. It seems though that we’re only allowed to buy jewellery if we’re getting married – and once that’s done, we’re only supposed to buy stuff for our husbands and children, as Amazon reminded us a while ago (notice once again how single women aren’t really considered women at all).

I’m sure your collection is all pretty and golden Tanishq, but your mindsets still seem to belong to the Iron-age! Maybe someday in the VERY distant future I’ll be able to afford something you sell, but if you keep making ads like this, I’ll go to a competitor instead (there, you just lost a prospective customer. There’s a motivator to mend your ways, if you still needed one). But even when I do, I think I’ll just keep the jewellery and stay single, thank you very much! Because, there is no way in freaking hell that a necklace will “make me want to marry” a person I barely even know!

tanishq ad

Amazon, Women Can Shop for Themselves, and That’s Okay

Conditioning is for Hair, not Minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman

PART 7

Well, hello! Wow, what a week it has been! Students are protesting, nationalists are outraging, the Police is pulling a Modi and lawyers are doing a Salman Khan. While Salman Khan himself is still not in jail, but those who shouldn’t be, are. With all that going on, plus classes, assignments, a North Indian wedding and a rushed trip to Delhi (full of clandestine meetings and secret plans to take over the world) thrown in, it has taken me forever to come up with this post! But I promise you, I’ll make it worth the wait. So with that in mind, here’s the next edition of ‘Conditioning is for Hair, not Minds’ in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman

The ad I am taking up under the 8th instalment of the series is Amazon’s new groundbreaking (not) social experiment, titled “When a Woman Shops”. Check it out here.

The ad begins with a group of men, in a generic, posh, urban living room type area (?), talking about their wives’ shopping habits. One says, “If you wanna make her happy, you just say ‘let’s go shopping’, and her face glows!” Husband of the year award goes to you, sir! *slow clap* “Who shops for ten kurtas at a time? I don’t shop for that many shirts in a year!” exclaims another. Yup, that’s right; you don’t- because you haven’t been subjected to years of patriarchal, sexist conditioning that tells you your worth lies in the way you look.

They go on and on about how their wives are shopaholics, only shopping for clothes, make up and shoes (“we live in a 2BHK..one bedroom is full of her slippers”!), – but of course if a dudebro were to convert an entire room in his house to a video game den, or comic book library or a work-out zone, he would automatically become a hero in the male-realm. Incidentally, that is something that actually happens, while the room full of shoes is obviously an exaggeration. But it does say something about how you would react if a woman REALLY created a space in her house dedicated to something she enjoys collecting / using. Even though men doing it is not only acceptable, but revered.

Anyway, to make life easier for these miserable, sad men (catch the irony), Amazon gives their wives vouchers worth 5000 rupees to find out what women really shop for- are they actually selfish, self indulgent women who like buying stuff for themselves? Or are they the perfect Bharatiya Naaris who will put everybody else’s needs and wants before their own?
The couples then sit together, and the husbands go through all the shopping their wives have done – one man pulls a lipstick out of the box, the wife hurriedly snatches it from him saying “That’s just lipstick, but it’s okay, that’s just a small thing!” He then finds a new shirt that she bought for him. Phew, that was close – Goddess forbid a woman shop only for herself! Even if it’s just a “small thing” like lipstick!

One woman adds that you have to think about your husband and your kids while shopping (here’s the thing though – you don’t!). The next one says that since her husband is oh-so-busy with work, and she has so much time on her hands, she does his shopping for him (I’m just happy she doesn’t change his diapers for him too. Or maybe she does but they didn’t include that in the ad). The men then sheepishly admit that they were wrong. Women shop for their husbands too. Their wives are good women after all – they never put themselves first!

“Men think women love to shop….truth is, they shop to show love”, the commercial proudly proclaims, as I throw up a little in my mouth.
What’s even more incredible though is how Amazon’s definition of “women” didn’t include any single women. I guess we hardly even qualify as people if we don’t have husbands, huh?

Listen up, Amazon – women aren’t just wives – we are individuals with wants and desires, and we can shop for whatever the hell we want. We can be selfish and indulge ourselves. We can go shopping and come back home with bags full of clothes, shoes and make up. Hell, we can dedicate an entire room to our shoes and another one entirely to our bags and you don’t get to shame us for it! Maybe it makes me a bad woman in your archaic, sexist and regressive world, but what the hell; at least I have some great shoes!

 

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Kapil Sharma – We’re Tyred of Your Misogyny

 Conditioning is for Hair, not Minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman

PART 6

 

Hello again! The ad I am taking up under the 6th instalment of the “Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds’ series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman is by TVS tyres- watch it here and cringe once again at Indian TVs favourite misogynist, Kapil Sharma.

The commercial starts with Sharma offering a lift to a young man holding a bouquet of flowers, on his motorcycle. He’s late for a date it seems, and Sharma graciously offers to drop him. Sharma asks if this is his first girlfriend- the man replies saying she’s his 4th, and that the last two left him in five months. They reach their destination after a rather bumpy ride, and Sharma offers him this gem of advice- “Yeh date-late ka chakkar chhor, aur kisi ek pe tik ja”. When asked to explain, he says, girlfriends should be like TVS tyres, because “Bura waqt ho ya sahi, acchi sadak ho ya nahin, tikey rehte hai”.

I really shouldn’t expect anything better from a man who has made a living out of degrading pretty much any community that didn’t fall under Upper-Caste-Heterosexual-North-Indian-Male. Watching Comedy Nights with Kapil was a nightly ritual at my house- watching him mock “Pinky Bua” for being an unmarried woman in her 40s, who in turn tries to entice all male guests on the show into marrying her (What kind of respectable Indian woman stays unmarried after 25? The horror!). Watching him insult his “wife” because her lips are too big, her father is too poor (I call my wife ugly and demean her family, ha ha, hilarious!). Listening to him ask Hema Malini if her husband understands “South Indian” (I don’t know if that’s any better than being asked multiple times, as I have, if we speak “Madrasi”). I could go on and on- racist, casteist misogynistic jokes are always a plenty on Comedy Nights.

Thankfully my parents got tired of the show pretty soon-and I was hoping to get a brief reprieve from his “jokes” when I heard Comedy Nights was FINALLY going off air, but I guess that was too good to be true.

So according to Sharma, “bura waqt ho ya sahi”, women should stick by their boyfriends through thick and thin- because any woman who leaves a man out of her own free will is a bad woman- Bharatiya Naaris just don’t have that luxury! We can get mocked, humiliated, insulted and beaten- but we can’t walk out of a relationship, since we have to be “totally tikau” like TVS tyres!

Comparing women to objects is definitely not a new practice in advertising, but comparing a woman to a tyre…that’s something I’ve never seen before. Maybe there is a layer of metaphorical irony there considering how women in India are expected to be the wheels that run a man’s life smoothly while running themselves into the ground, eventually burning out. But, then what do I know? I obviously need to “lighten up” because it’s “just a joke”! Shouldn’t be such a killjoy, eh?

The Director of TVS tyres says that this ad is “ushering in a new era”, using Kapil Sharma’s “charm” (!) and “humour”. Someone needs to break it to him that the only thing that’s “new” here is the low that Indian advertising has hit with this commercial.

Oh, and one more thing. Kapil Sharma, your comedy sucks, dudebro. Just fade away into oblivion already. Sorry, not sorry.

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Dekh Dude, Apni Faux Empowerment, OLX Pe Bech De!

Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman

PART 5

 

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.

okx

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

PART 4

 

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

PART 3

 

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.

 

periods

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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

PART 2

 

 

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.

dinner

Amul, Toys Have No Gender.

                             

     Conditioning is for hair, not minds

A new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman

PART 1

 
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

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