OLX’s Aadhe Tere- Aadhe Mere ad is presumably a well-meaning effort, with an emphasis on empowerment through equal division of resources. But that’s where the equality takes the form of (maybe) unintentional misogyny (I’ll come back to this bit, it the end). For now, watch this example of empowerment-gone-wrong below.
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 enters her office with a nod. 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 exact time he was supposed to pick her up, to let her know? Does have no sense of time? Does he not 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 some more time has passed, Neetu receives another text from Nitin saying that “he can’t make it, and that she should take a cab.” To which, she obediently agrees. 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).
Annoying enough so far, right? However, what happens next will blow your mind! Or actually, it will leave you extremely underwhelmed. But isn’t this 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 instead. 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 or that I should just accept that Nitin is a nice guy who bought his wife a car. BUT here’s what people who told me this failed to see: a) Nitin took a major financial decision without consulting his partner. That’s not really ‘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 with her own money. Ok, maybe, but so what? Did she ask him for a hand in the first place? She just said she was more independent before marriage. So, whether she could afford a car or not, she was managing just fine. So why can’t she do it now? Since when did owning a car imply independence? 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 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 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 even 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, I want to come back to the ‘(maybe) unintentional‘ bit. There has come to exist a trend of such seemingly ’empowering’ ads which go horribly wrong, almost every time. I feel that the only reason these corporates make an effort to give an impression of any kind of (misplaced) inclusion is just out of the need to cash in on the current women empowerment fad in advertising (and well, in almost every sphere). It’s almost considered 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, how about hiring more women to be a part of and lead these teams? Maybe, lay more emphasis on recruiting people who better understand gender and sociology. Really, just one such person per communication or 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-hearted faux empowerment is getting really old. So OLX, maybe you should sell it on your own portal and focus on some real inclusion. And Nitin, thanks but no thanks! 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.
Disclaimer: This piece is co-written by Shamolie Oberoi and Bruce Vain and is a part of the ‘Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds’ series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman. The ad was suggested by a Spoilt Modern Indian Woman reader Mrinalini Bakshi Sengupta.
Featured Image Credit: A still from the video