First, the good news. Indian admakers and corporate organisations which employ them seem to have finally woken up to the reality that Indian women are not people whose biggest achievements are finding detergents that will make their husbands' shirts glow like unicorns. Or their primary talent is to morph into man-chomping zombies at the whiff of a deodorant.
Now, the bad news. The same folks have discovered the 'empowered' modern woman. These Fab India-clad, English-speaking women are mostly shot in mellow lighting and stylishly sparse spaces, presumably markers of affluence and hence, economic autonomy. Yet, somehow they manage not to be a great improvement on the earlier trope that showed women in the throes of orgasming at the reflection of their own faces in kadhais scrubbed with a new dishwashing bar.
A new Amazon commercial is a case in point. Titled #WhenAWomanShops, the commercial attempts to show how women are misunderstood but itself ends up perpetuating the selfless 'adarsh nari' ideal that Indian society imposes on its women.
It begins with six men wondering what's with women and shopping. One's wife apparently has colonised one bedroom of their 2BHK for her slippers, another man's wife buys ten kurtas at one go, one's wife buys the more expensive of two similar things, another's wife buys 5 dresses, some of which she won't wear and one's wife starts 'glowing' at the mention of shopping.
They may seem like different complaints on the surface, but all the six men are basically complaining about just one thing: women spending a considerable amount of money on themselves.
That, according to them is unnecessary, and even strange. Really, why must a woman splurge on herself when she can spend money on more important things than what she desires? These men are at a loss, like they are at a loss about what could possibly be a more valid purchase than say kurtas.
Just when you were starting to marvel at Amazon's talent at sourcing fine, soft-spoken douches and wonder how they landed wives in the first place, their spouses enter the scene. These tastefully dressed women stride confidently across a fancy hallway and sit themselves at a counter where they are handed tablets. The ad goes on to say the Amazon has given them five thousand-rupees vouchers each and asked them to shop for whatever they want, from Amazon, of course.
As these women shop, soft, mushy piano notes reminiscent of cafes OD-ing on Valentine's Day play in the background. And with each delicate strike of the key, dread pools at the back of your throat. Yes, dread. Because you can already see where this is going.
The women are then shown the mean things their husbands said earlier. And the commercial ends when the women and their husbands open the orders together. The women had bought nothing for themselves. Clothes for the man, badminton rackets, household items. Amazon, therefore, concludes with saying that everything's right with this world, men have no fear, women are not shopping for themselves. They are sacrificial, still put man and family before themselves, and their adarsh-ness has not been defiled by either their ability or desire to spend on themselves. The men are suitably apologetic at having been proved wrong about suspecting that their women might like to buy jewellery, party dresses, ethnic wear, more dresses, cosmetics and other such weapons that threaten civilisation and the fine balance of the great Indian society. Phew, what a relief, isn't it?
Only, what do you do with the taste of patriarchy packaged in contemporary finery, that lingers in your mouth long after you have watched the ad? The commercial perpetuates the notion that the norm is for the woman in a family to be the person worrying about everything from her husband's trousers to tiffin boxes while forgetting about her own needs.
It's quite difficult to believe that a multinational online shopping giant couldn't come up with a more convincing representation of an economically independent Indian woman. In fact, they were so desperate to regurgitate the 'adarsh bharatiya naari' stereotype, that they completely left out the huge demography of single women who shop with equal frequency online. The campaign is titled #WhenAWomanShops and yet, the only women they found worth talking about are women married to men with a knack for hyperboles. Either, in their scheme of things, single, unmarried women can't possibly think about purchasing stuff for the family, or it is more convenient to show married women doing the same, bound that they are by the holy burden of matrimony.
Why do the great virtues of being a woman need to be underlined by pitting them against deliberately callous, clueless men?
That apart, why do the great virtues of being a woman need to be underlined by pitting them against deliberately callous, clueless men? And really, why can't a nice Indian woman splurge on herself?
Towards a conclusion of the commercial, a bearded man, who previously claimed to get by with 10 shirts a year, shakes his head and nearly falls of the sofa saying, "I was wrong."
As the wife stares at him with great affection, he retracts his words about her shopping sprees and says, "I told you she is a smart shopper." Only because he has now discovered the wife doesn't buy too many clothes. The wife giggles in glee. Love, like they say, is blind.
Also see on HuffPost: