Friday, March 08, 2013

All Indians Are Patronising Women Today

Women should not be equal to men, says a Tata Tea ad featuring Shah Rukh Khan. “In fact, they should always be ahead of them.” The Bollywood star then goes on to say that he will always put the names of his women stars ahead of himself in future movies.

Sure, who’s stopping him? But was this necessary to proclaim from the front page of the Hindustan Times? And does it help his women co-stars to shine better or is this merely intended to let SRK show how benevolent he is towards women?

“She sows values that reap respect”, reads a woman’s day ad of the Life Insurance Corporation. Almost every major nationalised bank has an advertisement out for Women’s Day. It is good to discover such values in women, but it is necessary to tom-tom it in an ad?

Not to be left out, some real estate firms who are unable to sell their properties at high prices have hopped on to the bandwagon. “Woman, you’ve always had your feet firmly on the ground”, claims an Indiabulls ad for Golf City in a distant-distant suburb Mumbai called Savrolli. What better way to banish women to the boondocks than by trying to sell them overpriced flats some 40-45 km away from Mumbai? In any case, why target women with this ad when every builder knows their earning power is nowhere near men as of now?

Advertisers, from Hero to Ranbaxy have clambered on to Women’s Day to sell their wares, from scooters to even pain relief sprays. They are entitled to use every opportunity to sell, but one needs to understand that this is not about women.

As for newspapers, the less said the better. “India Inc gets more women in top management” reads a Times of India headline today. “She is the one, Raise a toast to her”, reads an eight-column headline in the Hindustan Times. Going one better, it has even composed a musical ode to women. DNA in Mumbai has “eight pages of articles, interviews, special offers and more for women”. And it’s not about these publications alone. Every newspaper or TV channel is into this game for revenues and a degree of self-glorification.

For example, it has become mandatory for newspapers to talk about women entrepreneurs, women CEOs or women who are doing good deeds on 8 March. Not that this shouldn’t be done, but the outpourings on one day leave one unconvinced that change is underway.

And, of course, the ministry of women and child development has to put out its usual ads with Sonia Gandhi and others to celebrate Stree Shakti. Last week, the Union budget added a dash of further tokenism by announcing the creation of a public sector women’s bank and a ‘Nirbhaya’ fund.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no misogynist, trying to run down everyone’s efforts to give women a leg up.

But what all these ads and editorials signify is not the decline of patriarchy, but its strengthening. Women themselves don’t realise how they are being taken for a ride. Most of these ads are about the people, companies or organisations behind the ads, not the women they claim to celebrate.

When unctuous ads are created and copies written to glorify women, one can be sure that it is meant to con women into a false sense of comfort rather than really empowering them. In fact, one wonders why men have to go around trying to be so gooey on one day when they are going to be beastly for the remaining 364 days to some or all of the women and girls in their lives.

I have no objection to celebrating Women’s Day, but can one ask for something more sincere and more enduring? It seems the day is about loud praise of mythical women, even while we disrespect the real women we encounter in our personal and official days.

Women’s Day is currently more about symbolism than real content. It is about offering crutches and creating a sense of victimhood among women instead of letting them find their own destiny free from the shackles of the mind and society.

Maybe, women should abandon this kind of Women’s Day to create a celebration of their own.

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