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. Boss lady. 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 super fast internet connection on dearest husband’s mobile phone, disembodied hand and yummy food in frame. And it’s at this point you realize 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.
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 were 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”
Disclaimer: This article has earlier been published on the author’s blog here.
Featured Image Credit: A still from Airtel Boss ad