Demythologize Women In Ads, Films & Society

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Brands, for whom housewives are very important target group, weave smart stories of multi-tasking housewives under the garb of emancipated women.

Demythologize women in ads, films & society

I was sitting at the confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini a couple of months before that great flood of Uttarakhand. Suddenly I heard shrieks of a woman. I found a married woman bathing in the confluence and was struggling with a couple of male member of her family to break free to go to the depths of the forceful current of the rivers. Soon she was lifted bodily from the water and she stopped shouting and turned into a coy bohu covering her face under her ghunghat. On enquiry, the in laws proudly told me, during full moon the river goddess became visible to the grihalakshmi (housewife) and that’s why she was struggling to break free for a divine commune. She needed to be forcefully brought back from her holy bath! For the next one hour I saw woman after woman coming for their divine bath and struggling to break free. Ritualized deification of women! God help those women who did not scream and struggle!

In a recent conversation with The Wire, post the launch of his book, Incarnations, historian Sunil Khilnani said: ‘We find it so difficult to treat them(women) as remarkable individuals. They either get deified or vilified, or they turn into … supra-human figures. I really wanted to fight against that. I wanted to ask all of us see them as complicated people…….’. Mythologisation it seems is an old ploy of patriarchy to deify woman and subvert any effort on her part to take up the reigns in the society. Patriarchy deifies women selectively. Women are deified as Dasabhuja   Durga (ten handed goddess Durga) because patriarchy wants her to multitask in the family but her  Dasapaharandharini (adorned with ten deadly arsenal)image is not encouraged . Marketers subvert arsenal with gadgets and reinforce her multi-tasking image. Combat weapons are substituted with slog tools. Devi is domesticated by patriarchy  by  another myth of  ideal goddess   Sita – docile , enduring , not complaining ; a  devi but  incapable of defending herself.

Two decades have gone post globalization and one way of defining the effect of globalization is to discuss about women emancipation during this period in India. Lot has changed; women have made considerable inroads in the male bastion. In the corporate, especially in the banking sector, they are adorning leadership positions. Women commandos are showing themselves up in good numbers. Army, navy and air force – in all three disciplines they are now holding positions which were only yesterday were in the domain of the male cadets. Has Indian women really taken the lead and established girl power.  Has Sita finally morphed into Durga ? What is the contemporary portrayal of women in popular culture?

Every morning I wake up hearing screams of women being thrashed in one of the Doordarshan ads on domestic violence. We may be in the state of the art tech enabled age but the reality is, behind closed doors women are routinely beaten up. We listen to their cries and ignore. The ads beseech – do something, please do something, intervene, if not, at least ring the bell. In office, workplace, restaurants, clubs, markets, discotheques and on streets amongst hundreds of mute spectators a lone shout from an unidentified male voice stops the predatory paws of people in power. In the social networking site the video of a girl being protected by a number of   unknown youth is getting viral. Positive attitude  as these unrelated media videos project  also highlight the fact that women safety is grossly dependent on the old world chivalrous male, playing his knight at shining armor role . Safety of women is a byproduct of flaunting the marchioness of male in the patriarchal society. What has changed from the male point of view about women safety and freedom? Not much, raising voice is raising a lone, anonymous protest which highlights rarity of such actions in reality. Bell Bajao is a protest by a pretext- the mood is like well I am not transgressing into your personal affair but have to press the button, a cushioned blow.

Women safety is a still a personal and family issue. Papas are worried every moment their daughters working in unknown cities and staying alone in hotels or returning home alone in the middle of the night. Majority of the society think if your daughter takes risks of working at odd hours she is inviting problems. Blame is still squarely put on women for any attack on them – why has she dressed provocatively, why has she gone out at wee hours considering men will be men and under temptation they would likely to commit chota mota galati.

Girls finally are left to fend for themselves. Railways have apps and so has Mumbai Police where the system can take action provided the girls dare to dial the emergency numbers. Don’t depend on men; even government seems to say in ads. The one on women and child welfare openly says more girls coming out of home and working   would make the world safer for all of them. The female taxi driver would tell a worried father to relax as she would assure safe passage of his daughter in the middle of the night. The other image that is emerging in the popular culture is masculinization of women. A bunch of popular movies showing girls in the position of power are bashing anti-socials, wearing pants making male constables do the dirty jobs like applying third degree treatment to suspected criminals almost usurping the Singham / Gangajal construct in the female form. To me these movies are like Amitabh Bachhan movies of 1980s where he expressed the protests of angry, marginalized youth seeking social recognition. The current genre of women- in- power movies are, it seems, hyperbolic expression of feminine masculinity trying to break the so called stereotyping of women and thereby connecting with youth. Some film reviewers predict that, the soon to be released, Priyanka Chopra starrer Jai Gangajal would not do badly at box offices.

Brands, for whom housewives are very important target group, weave smart stories of multi-tasking housewives under the garb of emancipated women. Moov commercials talked about her bhaag daur and extreme workload but did not offer any solution to her overburdened life. The brand only worked as an enabler for her to bear more burdens. Gadgets – washing machine, freeze, microwave and mixer- grinder all joined the fray and conspired with Surf Excel to keep intact the das haatwali (ten handed) laboring woman image.

Its only recently commercial communication started talking about a new breed of women who are finally denouncing the forever multi-tasking, stereotype. One look at the Havells “respect women” series seem to confirm this .In a series of four ads women refuse to be the coffee maker, juice-wali , press wali or chatni maker of their better halves and drove   home the point it’s time to show these raja betas of patriarchy to do their own homework. But till such time patriarchy takes up her case it would be difficult for her to bring in changes in the age- old family system where women are selectively deified and made to slog like slaves.

I find a recent Ariel commercial significant in this context. This is a patriarch’s, not a woman’s point of view. A father pains at seeing her accomplished daughter working nonstop for every member of her family as soon as she has come back home from her work .Everybody, including her husband, is an onlooker. The father sadly realized that it is the patriarch like him who is to be blamed for her overloaded life. Patriarchy taught her that it was her duty to do the entire household chore in as much as a patriarch in her husband’s family taught her husband it was ok for a male member to be an onlooker. In a touching letter the father apologizes to her daughter and says that a girl’s liberation starts with the liberation of her mother. The person who should lead the liberation of her mother is none other than her father by helping his wife do household chore and setting examples for children in the house about the joint responsibility of man and woman in the domestic life. The narrative is now reflected in a series of new ads like Mother Dairy whitener where a husband surprises his newly wed wife by cooking a breakfast which the wife thought she would do and had set a wakeup call for that purpose. In the recently released film, named Ki & Ka, Arjun Kapoor decides to play wife to his high powered corporate wife and enjoys his differentiated role.

Are these signs of a new, emerging trend of women’s role in the family or just mere fabrics of fiction?  Or is it another ploy of patriarchy to make woman believe that at last her liberation has taken the final shape. Let’s wait and watch.

This article was first published in the Asian Age. 

Independent Brand consultant & former Vice President Consumer Insight &HFD (Human Futures Development)
Prapti Elizabeth (Guest) The Ariel ad was very well done. Actually, most of the Share the Load ads were well done. As many of them have men realizing themselves that women are not machines, but human beings. And it is the duty of the men of the household to share the load.
14 Apr 2016 Reply
Kamini Bora (Guest) It's quite ironic, where on one hand a woman is treated as a goddess and on the other she is treated like scum. Two polarities for the same person.
14 Apr 2016 Reply