The gender factor:Indian TV commercials

Gender constructs suck big time. They just suck so much they boil my blood and make me hate every nice thing in the world. And I just wonder if they can make me,  one who enjoys all the freedom in the world, so agitated then how traumatic it must be for those people who are forced to live under these constructs.

They keep reinforcing such strong gender constructs at every step of the way that it becomes harder and harder to break them. Let’s take a look at few Indian Ad films as of now though gender constructs are rampant in all kinds of media, from movies to TV serials.

There is this new TV commercial by Aamir Khan that is taking rounds. It’s not yet revealed what product is being endorsed so I can’t be sure of the actual message, but as of now, I don’t like what I see. The ad opens with Aamir lost in activities like washing clothes, cleaning dishes when he suddenly spots the camera. Startled and annoyed he speaks at the camera, “apni wife ki help kar raha hun bhai, kya problem hai?” (I am helping my wife dude, what is the problem?)

I cringed at the message given out. First, cleaning, washing, cooking are not your wife’s ‘work’ and so you ain’t ‘helping’ her by doing them. They are bloody your work too so you better do them out of a sense of duty rather than favour. Second, why is there an assumption of guilt and therefore the defensive approach, ‘Kya problem hai?’ Without saying anything the ad says that a man lost in household chores would be embarrassed if he is suddenly caught in the action.

TV commercial for new Creamfills by Alpenliebe. Now, who would have thought that a candy can be sold by being sexist. The scene goes something like this: In a family / social gathering a small kid of about 6-7 years age is asked by his proud parents to do his father’s act, “beta papa banke dikhao” (son, act like your dad) somebody says. The enthusiastic kid immediately starts doing the acts giving punch lines to each act. Act I – “papa office mein.” (Dad at office), the kid moving around and smiling in style and attitude. Act II – papa party mein (dad in a party) and the kid starts dancing with super energy. Each time the kid puts up these acts, the father smiles ear to ear in pride. The third act – papa ghar pe (dad at home) and the kid takes off his shirt and starts moping the floor with it. The background music changes from applause to embarrassment, the smile disappears from father’s face as he picks up the kid in the middle of the act and leaves the room. A voice over is heard, “ho gaya na kuch alag” (There you have, something unexpected).

Why is it a matter of embarrassment that the kid revealed in front of a room full of people that his father mops floor? Why is it something unexpected?

TVCs for men’s formal wear Raymonds portrays the complete man. Who is this complete man? In an office party a saree clad young slender girl stumbles, but the man walking by her side quickly saves her from falling. An elder man standing at a distance witness this and he is reminded of his own young days when he would always save his daughter from falling. Flashback ends, we know the old man is her father, having found his daughter’s savior in this young man, he quickly gives her hand away in marriage.

The daughter was his goddamn property to give away. And girls are completely incapable of getting up on their own when they fall. And of course men don’t fall and break their damn bones. What is the need of having such silly portrayal of gender roles in a fabric commercial? Isn’t this attempt to evoke patriarchal sentiments in order to sell a clothing stupid?

There is no end to this list. Why do every damn detergent powder ad feature a woman that too a married one. The most annoying of them being the one where they show a certain ‘national no pasina commission.’ Bunch of female activist seen arresting husbands because their wives sweat it out while doing laundry. I feel like puking at the ad. Can’t they think of anything else than ‘wife washing clothes?’

Funny thing is the gender constructs might not even be so true anymore in real life. But by reinforcing them through commercials, serials, movies etc. what we are doing is keeping the rule / norm alive. So, even though in real life, I know more single men who do their own laundry than I myself do or some of my married female friends do, such men are only viewed as exceptions and never the rule / norm.

Since the norm isn’t changing a lot of these very men would switch their roles and start expecting their wives to perform these duties once they would be married. I am not saying all of them would but quite a few would.

I had once asked a male friend who has lived alone in Banglaore for 7 years and he never had a kitchen in his house. In 7 years he never cooked, only ate out or had those dabbas delivered at home. I asked, “when you’ll get married then also you’d eat out?” He said, “No. Then my wife would cook.

I just cannot accept any kind of role / responsibility / duty / expectation / image / behavioral standards imposed upon a woman just because she was born as a woman. I also firmly believe that no wise man with a broad mind and kind heart would accept them either.

As responsible human we must always speak against gender constructs. It is not enough that you have been able to break out of it. You must make your self heard and help others to break out of it too. It becomes a special responsibility of the educated people to take a stand against unfair practices and gender constructs. Because if they don’t, another not so privileged person would be shunned by his/her peers by citing such examples as, “they follow it even when they are rich and educated, why won’t you do it”

It is high time we stop using crappy lines like, “beti paraya dhan hoti hai”; “ekbar tere haath peele kar du”; “beti pe pitah ka haq hota hai aur pitah ke baad pati ka haq hota hai”; The later one I heard in some stupid Raveena Tandon-Sunil Shetty film.

As I said this list can go on. But thankfully we do have people who think differently. There are many heartening TV commercials which have completely broken these gender constructs. 1) An investment commercial where the daughter asks her dad to buy a bigger car and offers to pay for it is one such brilliant ad. 2) An hair oil ad where a slender girl with long beautiful hairs turns around and we see she has a camera in hand and the background changes to that of a difficult situation implying she is a journalist or photographer, the voice over saying, “sirf khubsoorat nahi mazboot bhi hun” is again a very thoughtful ad.

In the recent film, ‘Laaga Chunri mein daag’ there is a scene where an angry Raani Mukherjee talks back in a loud tone to her sister in presence of their parents during dinner time at the dining table, then throws her plate away and walks out of the room. What follows next is simply one of the best scenes I have seen in Bollywood. The father (played by Anupam Kher) is left wide eyed and speech less with admiration for his daughter, with a faint smile he said, “baabuji ki yaad aa gayi, aawaz mein wohi ruab, aur gussa aata to woh aise hi khana chhor ke chale jaate the” (I am reminded of father, same strength in the voice and he too used to leave food like that when angry)

A middle class man from Banaras with two daughters and his elder daughter reminds him of his father –  respect to the person who wrote this scene.  We need more of these please.

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The post above has got some amazingly moronic comment on Mutiny. I request all my blog reader to please join the debate on Mutiny, voice your opinion on this topic on the same platform where these opinions have come. I am closing comments on this post here, please comment on Mutiny so that the debate can stay at one place.

Here are some samples from the comment thread

“There are different responsibilities for the 2 different genders. That is why god created them with different strenghts and weaknesses.”

“In my opinion, however, there is nothing wrong with a woman doing the household work – it’s what they are best at. If it were left up to men, we’d probably end up making a thorough mess of the entire situation, and a woman would have to sort out the mess that we would have left behind.

Having said that, there are certain things that men can do better and will continue to be good at it. That doesn’t however mean that only men can do it – no. Women are more than welcome to try their hand out at certain things.

[Emphasis added]

7 thoughts on “The gender factor:Indian TV commercials

  1. Nice posts, very valid points. Not only is it required to break out of gender constructs for the present generation but also so that future generations, when they refer to popular media to know what the society was like, do not get a biased picture. There are so many others, almost all of them. But are these ads being made by MEN necesarily? I am sure a lot of girls work in ad film agencies. May be if they sell a new idea or deconstructed image it won’t be well received? Apart from Gender constructs the ads in general represent a lot of stupid notions. I find them in general very silly, many a times not even related to the qualities of the products they promote except a few exceptions. What’s the deal with Hero Honda desh ki dhadkan? What the hell is “yeh toh bara toyeng hai” suppose to mean? Let’s not even consider fairness cream ads. BTW do you think the ads about FAIR and Handsome- for men is a gender deconstruction?

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  2. Oooh.. for the first time in her life, sanjukta is speaking against the “perfect” aamir khan!

    All the mentioned points are absolutely valid and you are right.. it is still a very narrow minded perception that the woman is subordinate to the man. This is the view of a MCP.

    IMHO, the ads are made that way coz they are supposed to reach the masses and if you see anywhere in India, most of India / Indians have that perception and it is in vogue from time immemorial. That is probably in the minds of these ad makers and for the basic want of a mass reach, they prepare the ads in that way.

    If we are talking about ads here, we can always speak against Santoor / Fair and Lovely / Fair and handsome etc which show the racist in us and say that being fair only would be the way to beauty!

    If we are talking about the gender discrimination here, this would slowly happen. The mutual fund wala ad, the hair oil wala ad etc are just the beginning steps. We still have a long way to go!

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  3. @Swagata

    I know that yeh to bada toyeng hai is just so ridiculous, not funny enough, not raunchy enough… Fair and handsome ads are gender de-construction yes, in the sense that even men have to be good looking and their fat pay cheques are not enough anymore to get girls.

    But then they are racist ads as suksy said. I am a bit unsure about how to judge fairness product ads. The message they give is beauty is power. Which isn’t such a bad thought after all, I think beauty and sex appeal is a powerful too in woman’s hand by which they can get their way in the world, ala Charlie’s Angles.

    Swagata, when did I say ads are made by men. They are not made by men or women, they are made by ad makers. This is where we go wrong. We must learn to see a professional as a professional beyond what reproductive organs they are born with.

    @Suksy

    I know why the ads are made, I am saying people have a responsibility to not make them.

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  4. “I am not a feminist. I love men. Its just these few.” I could relate to you on this level bang on. :)
    Men (Assuming so), who have created these ads are archaic (at least in their head) and their work just speaks volumes about their insecurities.Its they who need a reality check and I think this post of yours surely hits the right chord.
    By the way.. A few friends of mine are the proud owners of a community called ‘Women Against Unwanted Men(WAUM)’.. Are you too game for it? lol. :D

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