Fun Foods, with its latest advertisement leaves us with plenty of room for thought. The advertisement reiterates that domestic labour is unimportant. The advertisement did use a male protagonist in the domestic space, but in the final analysis his work was undervalued simply because it belonged to the domestic space.
The traditional imagination of household work in India is often restricted to women. It is taken for granted that it will be women who will be at the center of almost all types of household chores—cooking, washing, cutting, cooking, collecting water, fuel, fodder—that ensures the smooth running of the household.
This is a limited view of domestic labour because a woman’s diurnal chores do not stay restricted to only the ones stated above (which are largely menial). In addition is the burden of emotional labour which binds women to their roles of nurturer and preserver. So women persevere to hold the family together, raise children with love underlying every effort and put up with the patriarchal expectations and constructions designed for them.
Ironically, for this 24/7 work performed day in and day out, women’s labour is still not recognised in the GDP accounting and employment metrics. Economists do not account for it since it does not technically ‘ produce goods and services’. Domestic work is dismissed as unskilled work, ignored and rendered ‘invisible’ by the accounting parameters and patriarchal lens. Hence, the domestic worker slogs and never gets due recognition.
The advertisement did use a male protagonist in the domestic space, but in the final analysis his work was undervalued simply because it belonged to the domestic space.
Much has been written about it. Much has been explained—from existence of a discrepancy between child care and home based activities, lack of institutional will, lacunae of policy, political will and continued hold of deep seated patriarchal attitudes often upheld by women themselves. The feminist discourse has voiced itself forcefully on the issue leading to attitudinal changes within the domestic space. No longer do we use terms like “housewife”; instead the go-to term is home maker/home manager/house engineer. Plus we have catchy phrases as ‘Share the Load’ which ring loud and clear!
However, have we really addressed the issue of domestic labour as being important enough to be accorded due respect? Have we expanded our idea of what constitutes labour and not limited it to work that only produces a good or service? Have we woken up to the fact that domestic work is really the bulwark of almost all economic activity that takes place in society and that this work ties the unit of family together and makes it a functional unit?
One of the ways to assess changes in attitudes is to view media constructions and representations. The changed attitude towards women’s work and constructive sharing of the domestic labour has been captured by many brands. Now viewers are subjected to caring husbands bringing morning tea to their wives or shots of a single parent and rooting for a certain washing powder or sensitive men offering to cook up a meal for the wife. Again in several advertisements, women are shown in professional roles as doctors and teachers and even corporate managers.
So is it time to rejoice? Have gendered spaces given way to spaces that are based on equality? Have we begun to accord more respectability to domestic chores per se? A closer examination leaves us in no doubt that most of the representations are cosmetic. They are smart and in keeping with the mood of the times. However, most of them do not manage to bend normative behaviour. They do not address the key issue. Instead some light hearted, cosmetic efforts are bandied around as ‘ feminist’ offerings.
Take for example the brand new Fun Food advertisement which has Diya Mirza playing a prominent role. Mirza follows Sonali Bendre as the face of the brand.
It’s a clear message; so clear that it’s hard to miss—that cooking skills, care, concern, drive, labour etc., in the kitchen are inconsequential. The hero really is the jar of mayonnaise.
In its recent display, the mother is no longer in charge of the kitchen. The advertisement runs this way:
The doorbell rings and the man opens the door. The wife and children are back before the stipulated time. The man looks flustered. The house is in a mess.
Thereafter the children announce that they are hungry. The mother offers to rustle up something, but the father sends her in to freshen up while he takes the responsibility of fixing up a meal (although he would have loved to order in a meal). A brownie point to the father and well, to the advertiser. Except that after things take a not so tasteful turn.
The woman comes out. The father in the meanwhile has fixed up potato mayonnaise sandwiches and red bean and rice mayonnaise rolls. The children squeal in excitement. The father looking as pleased as a punch looks for the congratulatory words of praise from his wife. At this point the camera closes in on the wife and follows her gaze which finally comes to rest on the bottle of Fun Foods Mayonnaise. The man looks sheepish.
It’s a clear message; so clear that it’s hard to miss—that cooking skills, care, concern, drive, labour etc., in the kitchen are inconsequential. The hero really is the jar of mayonnaise. So the lip-smacking food was the result of the product. So anyone, just anyone, armed with just that jar of mayonnaise can turn out food of such superlative taste.
Domestic Work, whether done by a man or a woman is hardly respected. It is still not recognised as labour in real terms—in terms of economic parameters or through the societal gaze. The camera presenting the story board and the characters work as a mirror holding up to viewers the social reality. Official statistics point out that more women than men are involved in household work. This makes the space gendered. Also women put in 352 minutes of work as opposed to 51 minutes put in by men. That’s a wide discrepancy; and yet this work is slighted upon, the participants rendered ‘invisible’. Nearly 49 percent of women are not accounted for in National statistics since they belong to this invisible space.
Why must ad makers showcase the skills and not just the product used in the kitchen? Why give more points to the masala and less to the labouring hands? Why must society moot for a change on this front?
For one, it will give a certain kind of recognition to women’s household work. Second, it will lead to better negotiation in power equations within the house which incidentally is the primary seat for gender inequality. Third, women themselves can negotiate for themselves a parity in work hours and seek more involvement of other members. This assuredly will open up the doors of empowerment and give due credence to domestic work which has at its core love, affection, compassion and sacrifice. After all a society that slights upon the work of nearly half of the population can’t really claim to be on the great path to progress.
Featured Image Source: Hungry Forever