Friday, July 29, 2011

More pernicious ads

In my continuing tirade against bad, misogynistic and pernicious advertising (click here for more), I have two more that i have discovered that enrage me as a woman, and worry me as a parent.

Picture this. Harried wife and mother, presumably a homemaker, is rushing around in a dressing gown, getting the child ready for school while the father gets dressed for work off-screen and upstairs. He suddenly starts calling down to her for his black socks. The woman grumbles her way up the stairs, goes to the chest of drawers right in front of where he is sitting, pulls out a visibly well organised drawer, picks up the rolled up socks which are sitting right in front of the drawer, and hands them to him. The voiceover takes over at this point telling the woman how a fiber rich bran flake breakfast will clear her system and stop her from being irritated with such “small and trivial” things, and make her happier. What’s wrong with this picture?

A fully grown man, (35 according to the ad) can’t, or won’t, find a pair of socks out of a highly organized drawer right in front of his nose, expects his wife to drop everything, stop whatever she is doing, neglect her other work in order to come all the way upstairs and retrieve them for him, and it’s the WOMAN who has to change????? It is HER problem that her husband is a total incompetent and so callous he cannot be bothered to even TRY to do his own work for himself? SHE is the one who is irrational to be irritated at this obvious display of self centered nincompoop-ness?
She is the one who is unhealthy to be angered by this display of a total disregard for her and her work/energy/comfort?

What a horrible country I live in, and what a horrible place to bring up a daughter! The message is clear. It is a woman’s place to serve, and a man’s to demand, no matter how meaningless and over the top that demand may be. It is perfectly fine for him not to bother to lift a finger to open that drawer in front of him and pick up a pair of socks, but it is irrational and horrible of her to complain or even fume to herself (as she does in the ad) for having to drop whatever she was doing and to come all the way upstairs just to take them out and hand them to him! SHE is the one who has to fix herself, with an all bran breakfast of all things, so she can continue to serve his every whim with a smile! Good lord! Now THAT’S a message I definitely don’t want my daughter to learn, because these are the messages that have, for centuries, forced women to be mere slaves or chattel in their marital home, to be taken advantage of, abused, tortured, and even killed.

And here’s another picture. Mother constantly on her feet, doing all the housework, running errands, going vegetable and grocery shopping, suddenly groans aloud with severe backache. Her pre-teen son snatches the heavy shopping basket out of her hands and runs on ahead. At this point you realize that the father is with them, and the son goes up to dad and says, “dad, why does mom have to do all the work.”  So far so good, one would think. More power to the son for noticing mom’s pain, and recognizing all the work she puts in, and curses on the father for not being MAN enough to at least carry the heavy shopping basket for his wife. The voiceover says something like “don’t let your pain hurt your loved ones” and I am warming to this ad! Seems to be going the right way, I think.

Cut to, the child and the father – later that night – massaging a popular pain relief cream into mum’s back (enough in itself to get the father branded as Joru ka Ghulam – or slave of his wife, a highly denigrating insult in India). And then, the ad joins the ranks of all those brainwashing, misogynistic subliminally conditioning ads with the mother back to shopping with the same basket the next day, albeit with a spring in her step. So, the message is, its ok to be metrosexual and apparently caring, in the privacy of your bedroom where no one except your wife can see you, because that’s a nice way to keep the woman functioning, so she can do all the work everyday. Don’t have to help her in public, don’t have to stand up for her or share her chores where (god forbid) people can actually see you, don’t have to carry her burdens, definitely don’t have to share her workload, simply have to be “nice” enough to massage pain relief cream into her aches every night! Five minutes of comfortably private effort to ensure that you don’t have to make ANY extra or public effort to improve her life all day! How convenient!  

What does it say about our combined national values and ethos that these ads pass muster, that no one even notices that there’s something wrong in the basic premise? What does it say about our ideas of a woman’s place and her social role that these are seen as not just normal but “good” ways of selling popular products? And what (I shudder to think) is my five year old girl subconsciously absorbing about what is OK and NOT OK for a woman? 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Solitary by choice -- but not lonely

I have often been accused of overanalysing everything, including my own emotions and motives, and of being an insufferable know-it-all whose only aim in life seems to be to appear Different, and to be contrary to all accepted and received, traditional and popular, thoughts and opinions. It used to irk me, hurt me, bother me substantially, especially when a lot of people I cared for and loved seemed to be of the same opinion. Over time, I have come to realise that these accusations spring from places of blindness, weakness, and refusal to think, even in those whom I had thought of as fairly rational and “thinking” as human beings. As I grow older, and more assured, more sure of the basic rightness of using the brain I was given for the purpose it seems made for, I have come to take these accusations as badges of honour. To me, someone flinging this at me means I have made a dent, that I have made them uncomfortable with their “this is how it is because this is how it always was” lives, and shaken or at least made them question even if only in passing, their opinions gleaned solely from popular media or received from TRADITION (or both).

What it means, realistically, is that I am more and more alone, more and more often. My close friend circle has shrunk, from nearly 30 or 40 people, to a select handful, as I weed out the ones most persistently bothered by the fact that I have strong opinions on practically everything, and that I insist on being vocal about them. To me, disagreement, even healthy argument, is the elixir of life. What I do not, and will not tolerate is the twisted barbs, the sarcasm, and clear denigration, even from people I love very much. I know that it is very much a part of the Indian mentality, and especially Bengali mentality, to deal in what is called “friendly insults”. The closer friends or cousins are, the nastier they seem to be to each other. Now, while I am a great fan of honesty and straight forwardness, I do require (as I give) basic respect, and an absence of wilful nastiness and sarcasm from people close to me. If I care about someone, I may pull a leg occasionally, but will do my utmost to avoid being hurtful and insulting, and I expect the same from my people.

Some people, who genuinely care about me, are getting worried at my seeming sanyas. Here’s a woman, they seem to think, who could hardly survive without being constantly surrounded by hordes of people; someone who was constantly throwing or going to parties; someone who HAD to get out of the house every evening, even if it was for an adda at the neighbourhood cafe, or would go mad. And, over the past few years she has become increasingly home bound. Parties have become less and less frequent, the huge numbers of friends have dwindled to just a very few, and pubs and going dancing and coffee addas are nonexistent. Surely she must be unhappy? And this perceived unhappiness makes them want to FIX things; to draw me out of my shell, to get me to DO more again.

Do I miss that life? Those evenings? Sure I do, sometimes. It’s all a lot of fun. But it is a question of choices now. I’d rather have a quiet evening with a few people with whom I can talk and exchange ideas and argue and debate in respect and without acid, than have a roomful of people bent on proving how much superior they are to everyone else, mainly through the twin alleys of denigration and sarcasm. This, obviously, means less contact with the outside world in an attempt to avoid all the sheeples in it. So, do I miss the intellectual stimulation of searching for, and finding, other people with half a brain and a conscious and rational approach to life? Nope, I don’t, because the internet has filled in quite efficiently. Blogging is a fine way of letting off the steam I would otherwise have let off in ranting to so-called friends, and I have found far more interesting people on chat than I seem to meet face to face these past years.

After all, when one is in college, or at the university, the very nature of campus life ensures a certain amount of worthwhile contact. People from all over the country, sometimes from all over the world, from various backgrounds, socio economic strata, upbringing, all in one place – it’s like having a specially created pool of people likely to provide some new opinion or experience. Also the fact that they are young, at a stage barely – if at all—out of their rebellious phases, and many of them are likely to be as open minded and iconoclastic as one would wish. Ten or fifteen years down the line, unless you have emigrated, chances are that no such pool is available to you any longer. If you work outside the home, things are marginally better, for you at least get to see a few new people every once in a while, and there’s always your colleagues. With luck, you can have almost the same kind of a group as you did on campus. I say almost because by now everyone has work and personal commitments, significant others, spouses, kids, bills, mortgages, and so on, all of which tends to drag even the most “interesting” of people into the morass of living, thinking, and being like the “typical” bunch.

If you work from home, like me, or are a stay at home wife and mom, access is virtually zero. The only new people I am ever likely to meet at this stage in life are nosy neighbours and the obsessive, helicopter parent mothers of the other kids in my daughter’s class. I could strike up a conversation with any of them at the daily pick the kid up from school vigil, get pally, introduce the men to each other, and for a “social circle”. Truth be told, the idea horrifies me. From what I have seen, the only thoughts these people seem to have is “school school school-work test exam exam books notebooks marks” interspersed by “in laws in laws” and a little bit of clothes, popular movies, and so on – none of which is my idea of regular brain food. I am totally un-obsessed about schooling and exams, (she’s five for god’s sake!) and none of the other topics I have heard bandied about so far has left me anything but totally disinterested.

Me? I’d rather be searching for, reading, and commenting on interesting blogs that I can share with my fellow searchers after meaning and thought in the cyber world. Come to think of it, I’ve met  lot of people really worth knowing, people I m proud to know, people who help my own mind keep evolving, right here in cyberspace, over the last few years. The chances of meeting them in my limited day-to-day circumscribed life would have been impossible. They r spread all over the world, some new acquaintances, some friends of friends, and some total strangers I’ve bumped into through their blogs. I feel a lot more connected with most of these people than I do with many of the people who surround me every day.

The flock mentality, the flock lifestyle, and the common and daily concerns of the flock, whether small or large, leave me cold. And while I may have the occasional passing pang for a wild night of partying and pub hopping, I am much happier with the fellow non-sheeples, some of whom I have never met, and may never meet.