Tag Archive | women in India

(And We Could Have It All) Our Empire of Dirt

My beef is not with Airtel, but with the recent advertisement they have out, promoting their mobile internet facilities.

 

For an introduction, watch here:

 

The new advert has people divided, apparently, over whether it is anti-feminist or not. While I think it is, several Twitter users have messaged me with names like ‘sad feminist bitch’ and some sexually suggestive comments. Itself an interesting insight into the perception of feminism in this country.

 

Advertisements need not necessarily be realistic, and so the obvious markers in this specific ad: the fact that spouses don’t generally report to each other in any sort of management structure, and *most* employees in India do not address bosses by their first names.

 

Bosslady (dressed, funnily enough, exactly like Priya Tendulkar in Hum Paanch)  is at her desk, looking very stern, or whatever she perceives as stern.  Employee complains about the workload. So far, so good-ish. Bosslady.

Cut to diligent employee at his desk, still complaining.

That  cuts to a yummy set of dishes filled with steaming, delicious looking food, being prepared by a disembodied phantom hand. (You won’t believe what happens next!)

 

The husband receives a video call, happening (presumably) in HD thanks to the superfast internet connection on dearest husband’s mobile phone, disembodied hand and yummy food in frame.

 

And it’s at this point you realise nobody but M. Night Shyamalan could have directed this ad…

“Wifey boss people.”  (to be said in a Haley Joel Osment-like fashion)

Frazzled husband is still at work, working on the work bosslady has left him. Plaintively, like every dutiful desi biwi should, she begs him to come home to eat.  He capitulates, they grin, and the ad ends.

 

Realism issue: What management structure allows spouses to be in direct managerial hierarchy? If there are some that do, this is the first I’m hearing of it.

 

I’ve read several arguments saying the wife ‘wanted’ to cook for her husband, so sweet, and that I was just a ‘rabid, unhappy, sexually dissatisfied feminist.’

 

Tackling the first of those statements first: I enjoy cooking, funnily enough. Mostly for myself, occasionally for family and friends. I do it of my own volition and own free will, entirely unencumbered by the expectation of having to have a hot meal ready for somebody. I was brought up independently by parents who cooked for themselves, me and each other (incidentally, my father is quite a magician with chicken) and if any of us was hungry, we cooked.

 

It would be utter folly to deny the expectations of an extremely patriarchal Indian society with regard to these bahus, however. Hindi films and Bollywood portray wives and daughters-in-law as such as well. Tea and food aren’t things you make. They’re things you are supposed to not only make, but have ready, and keep hot as you wait for your hubby dearest to finish whatever he’s doing/wants to do/following which he can sit and fart around.

And it is to these expectations that I take the utmost exception. I’m sure the agency that handled the ad thought they were being extremely ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’ by showing a female boss.

When it’s ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’ to show a female boss, and not just a normal thing, your society is VERY patriarchal.

As the daughter of an incredibly accomplished woman who has been on the boards of several multinationals, and a very accomplished businessman who also changed my diapers and does a mean grilled veg casserole, I was never brought up to believe that women belonged to certain roles, and men to certain others. I have unfortunately, while interacting with certain people, seen just how ingrained these retrograde expectations are.  Other women  have come up to my mother and asked her why she worked, ‘does your husband not earn enough money?’ ‘Do you have financial issues?’  as opposed to that wondrous, all too impossible possibility that my mum is very intelligent and good at what she does and wants to work. Fuck that, right?

To those who deny flat out that these expectations do not exist, have some empirical proof. Crunchy and nutritious.

Examine the press coverage of any intellectual, accomplished woman in the public eye in this day and age. 2014.

 

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook.

Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo.

Hilary Rodham Clinton, Senator, former U.S. Secretary of State. Potential candidate for 2016 Presidential elections.

 

All of them repeatedly asked how they ‘balanced home and work.’ How they managed motherhood and their high-profile jobs.

 

Has anybody asked Bill Clinton how he managed home and work whilst he brought up Chelsea? Has anybody asked Sheryl Sandberg’s husband if and how he managed to be a good father while still going to work?

 

Has any man ever felt guilty, as Indra Nooyi recently said she did, because of societal expectations to be a good parent and successful at work?

 

Why, in India, is  ‘housewife’ an extremely normal term and part of the daily parlance of the majority of the population, but nobody has ever heard of a househusband? And men who even live with their wives’ families are called derogatory slurs like ‘Joru ka Ghulam’ (the slave of the wife)?  Are the women who are forced to be glorified cooks and cleaners then not slaves of their husbands?

Trick question – yes they are. They’re cooking, cleaning, sexual-pleasure-providing, childbearing slaves.

The day women are free of the expectation that they have to have ‘chai’ ready, or lunch, or dinner, or any damn meal whatsoever, is when people can point fingers and say the ad ‘portrays sweet relationships where people cook of their own free will.’

 

Now to address some Twitter trolls:

Exhibit 1 – “Its a way of women balancing home and work”

I’d like to see a man balance home and work and THAT be portrayed on an ad. I’ll even write the ad if any agency wants to take me up.

Exhibit 2 – “Take it in a good way the woman does the cooking work which requires more finesse”

Sanjeev Kapoor. Marco Pierre White. Heston Blumenthal. If they’re not men, that’s news to me.

 

Exhibit 3 “You dirty feminist you must be sexually unsatisfied no man wants u and so u hate men”

And that is why we need feminism. When idiots measure a woman’s idea of self-worth by how desirable she is (or perceives herself to be) to the opposite sex. That is, of course, all that should matter in her life, right?

 

[P.S – Dear person who DM-ed me that on twitter, please explain why my sexual satisfaction is any of your business.]

Until the expectations go away, until feminism stops being a dirty word, until women stop feeling guilty for pursuing their dreams, we need feminism. Until we can break out of gender roles and stop following or believing in established gender tropes, we need feminism.  Until the day the media and the public either stop asking women about the work-home balance, or ask it of men too, we need feminism. And for every day after that.

To the anti-feminists I had the absolute pleasure of interacting with, with their ‘men’s rights’ persecution complexes, I leave you with Trent Reznor’s lines:

 

I wear this crown of thorns,

Upon my liar’s chair”

 

 

 

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Why is India obsessed with marriage?

There are a few things Indians (or at least Indian advertisers/TV show producers/filmmakers/corporates) seem to be obsessed with. Cricket, Bollywood and sex are the three that come to mind immediately, and lately, I’ve been thinking marriage is the fourth. [Be warned, however. I’m not particularly fond of marriage or weddings in general, so if you’re likely to be offended, I don’t really care.]

I’m one of those people who watches the IPL for entertainment. Sort of like a Hindi film where you already have a beginning and an end and you just go to watch how it gets from one end to the other. (Also like digestion.)

Anyone who watched edition 5 of the Indian Premier League (and really, even anyone who didn’t) has been besieged with ridiculous, ridiculous ads. There are at least a billion of them that are related/refer to marriage in general, most of them for products, but this one caught my eye, and not in a good way.

First, watch:

In the ad, a relative (I’m assuming the granddaughter) is giving her grandmother a pedicure as the woman sits comfortably in her plush armchair and munches on a bar of chocolate. The daughter-in-law is in the same room. Suddenly, the granddaughter/pedicurist suddenly pipes up, saying “Bahu gaai hai na” – which directly translates to ‘the daughter-in-law is like a cow’. I’m not really Prem Chand, so I had no idea what that meant. Neither, however, did anybody I knew for whom Hindi was a primary language.

Finally, somebody told me it meant the DIL was ‘decent, calm and quiet, like a cow’, which made ME the polar opposite of calm.

Anyway, before I go on my long-winded, extremely angry tirade, I should explain what the ad is about. So, granddaughter/pedicurist asks her grandmother WHY exactly it was that they were looking to ‘have the DIL married’ if she was, ahem, cow-like and ‘Krish’s choice’. The grandmother gives her a stern glare, the granddaughter wilts, and Miss Cow comes in with steaming tea for the poor old lady on the couch whose feet are being expertly pedicured, and who just happens to be munching on a massive, massive bar of chocolate. Poor, poor thing.

Then there’s another ad for this TV show:

This made me even angrier than the first one. Of course, the ever-dutiful Miss Cow is sari-clad and conducting prayers (the epitome of the perfect daughter-in-law in traditional, patriarchal families). The mother-in-law is standing around there somewhere with yet another woman, who I’m going to assume is a visitor. THIS vomit-worthy, absolutely abhorrent conversation ensues:

Visitor: “Doesn’t she take care of the home?”

MIL: “More than she ought to”

Visitor: “Oh, really? Then does she have any faults or shortcomings?”

MIL: “No, she’s perfectly OK”

If you want to know what they’re getting at, I have no idea, so I would be absolutely the wrong person to ask. What sickens me is that there are people who still hold these sorts of beliefs, the ‘dutiful daughter-in-law’, the woman whose only goal in life is to be married, take care of a home, and pop out a kid or two. Sure, a lot of urban India (my family and thankfully most of the people I know) find this sort of crap vile, but I know people who believe in this tripe, buy into the ideal, and then get sucked into the world created by these soaps, deluded into thinking they’re real.

This isn’t the only marriage-related thing on TV, though. Skoda came out with a ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ Campaign a while ago, where the car was responsible for really, really important things, like taking the bride and her giggling friends to the salon, the wedding planners, the makeup artists (wtf?) and other wedding-related people around. It was along the lines of the old MasterCard ads, where they mentioned the price of a couple of things and then ended with ‘Priceless.’

The final shot, before they told everybody how amazing the Skoda really is?  The girl, looking at her jewellery as her husband picks up and fastens her missing earring. WOW, how romantic. *Rolls eyes*

Speaking of jewellery, there are at least 4 advertisements on television specifically marketing bridal jewellery, with the Bollywood brigade dripping in gold and diamonds, and of course, as the typical North Indian bride is expected to look, demure, shy and to quote the pedicurist, ‘domesticated’.

On an average, for every 5 minutes of TV Viewing in India, you WILL necessarily see an advertisement for  a matrimonial website. There’s the stupid one that’s been on for a while now, where a father follows men around with a wedding turban (which, funnily enough, is not an all-India thing. In fact, it’s only in very, very specific bits of central and northern India). In the end, they find a picture on the matrimonial website.

At least the ending is funny. I don’t think the guys who edited the ad realised in time that the photo they used was, in fact, this certain hilarious, awesome guy named Matt LeBlanc. I still crack up EVERY time I see the ad. [ I also whisper a little “How YOU doin’?”]

Then there are the others, about ‘finding your daughter a groom within the community’ (someone please, please get me some medication before my rage gets out of control) and another I’ve seen not only on the telly, but in Reader’s Digest, too. [For shame.]

It’s about a privileged little girl, and how her parents want to ‘do right by her’ and find her a groom. You’d think doing right by her would be spending their apparent scads of money on a quality education, but no. According to these guys, ‘the best thing you can do for your child is give them a happy marriage.’

Watch the ad here(and try not to be absolutely scandalised):

Additionally, marriage is somehow associated very closely with sex in parts of India, because a) premarital sex is ‘immoral’, but female foeticide is not, and rape is ‘justified because the victim was “provocatively clad” ‘ according to these men

and

b) Marriage is the only way they think they have ‘access to unlimited sex’. That’s not just me talking, though – it’s every sexual advice column in every single newspaper.

Marriage, however, is not just two people who love one another deciding to spend the rest of their lives together- here it is a woman who marries not the man, but his entire family, whom she is expected to be a quasi-servant to, the rest of her life, all while looking gorgeous, of course.

There are at least a dozen television shows themed around the Big Fat Indian Wedding (a kind I especially hate), which I also think happens to be the title of one of these shows. It involves fancy, shiny designer dresses, professional makeup artists (like in that Skoda advert), and makeovers that include medical things like dental procedures.  Who cares about the actual marriage? The wedding is where it’s at, man. It’s all about an album full of pretty pictures, not the other human being you’ve been ‘fixed up’ with.

More importantly, according to Indian advertisers, marriage is a girl/woman’s ultimate goal, and that, her looks and her baby are her crowning achievements. [Not her education, her intellect, or anything of the sort, mind you. Because what does all that stuff mean if you’re not MARRIED? You’re 30 and not married yet? Oh, the humanity!]

In the meanwhile, I still cannot reconcile myself to the fact that I live in a country with two ‘types’ of marriages. ‘Love Marriage’ and ‘Arranged Marriage’, where a groom/bride will be ‘found’ for you, either in the pages of the newspaper, in disgustingly shallow specs, or, for the slightly more tech-savvy, all over the internet. I absolutely fail to comprehend why one should even have to marry someone they do not love, or MUST marry if they do not fall in love. If anybody reading this has any idea where the modern version of this system came from, I’d love to know. Please enlighten me.

It’s bad enough there are idiots out there who actually believe in these ideals of permanent servility, ones who believe nothing matters unless they have a marriage to show for it, ones for whom NOTHING in life matters unless it is pushing them in the direction of marriage, where marriage is being covered from head to toe and fetching people’s tea and biscuits. (Take a training course and waitress if that’s all you want to do, at least it’ll earn you some money.)

What makes it about a billion times worse?

This:

There are already enough older people with these ridiculous, patriarchal, outdated, sexist ideals. The morons that conceptualised this ad have now successfully managed to introduce ridiculously retrograde ideals of marriage to a new, impressionable generation, a generation I am genuinely afraid for, as I sit back and watch the idea of marriage (and mind you, marriage only for the beautiful, fair, or if you’re a guy, an MBA at the very least) aggressively marketed to anyone who will have it, and anyone who is watching.

So basically, everyone.

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