LIFESTYLE

Dear Brands, Here's A Gift You Can Actually Give Women Today: STOP. FAKING. CONCERN.

ICYMI, women's day is not a cross between Valentine's and Mother's Day.

07/03/2017 11:11 AM IST | Updated 08/03/2017 11:31 AM IST
Screengrab from Youtube

Dear brands,

Stop. Please, just stop.

I know the temptation to treat women like a sub-human form of intelligence might be a tough one to resist. And I understand that you spend sackfuls of money each year in training your fresh-faced, eager, mostly male MBA recruits in the art of "understanding the female market", "capturing the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the quintessential modern Indian woman" and "not selling a product, but telling us a story", albeit with poignant background music and a husky voiceover by that woman who seems to be in desperate need of a pack of Vicks ki goli. Seriously, why doesn't she just clear her throat, already?

We make it almost laughably easy for you to emotionally manipulate us, with our insecurities, doubts and countless guilt-trips.

We get that we're a market, a vast demographic of not-fully-tapped potential and seemingly endless reserves of disposable cash. We get that we make it almost laughably easy for you to emotionally manipulate us, with our insecurities, doubts, guilt-trips and propensity for self-flagellation. Another layer of BB, CC, LMNOPQ cream to erase future wrinkles and make the skin as smooth as a baby's bottom? Hell, yeah! You want to take away my ghar ka mirrors for a fortnight and wash half my face with one soap and the other half with your soap beauty bar as part of your radical social experiment? Now, we're talking. Where do I sign up?

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All year round, you get away with all kinds of pseudo-progressive, wannabe-feminist advertising stunts by playing our insecurities like a fiddle; and we let you, despite all the exaggerated eye-rolling and sardonic smiles. Not because we don't see your carefully choreographed version of empowerment for the bull it is, but because we have jobs to do and (lesser) money to make, while all the time gnashing our teeth and putting up with casual sexism and discrimination.

But not today. No offence, but just stay the hell away from International Women's Day, will you?

No, seriously.

Women's day, also known as the day of the giant circle jerk in advertising circles, is about women everywhere banding together and finding solace in each other's support. It's about solidarity and quiet contemplation — about all the work that's been done and the massive mountains that still remain unmoved. So could you please stop treating it like the unintelligent love child of Valentine's and Mothers' Day? We don't need the romanticism or soppy sentimentality. It's embarrassing and insulting.

Screengrab from Youtube

If you think hastily scribbled annual odes to our "strength", "compassion" and "selflessness" make up for the gross ways you objectify us for the rest of the 364 days, you're sorely mistaken. Don't know if you noticed, but in Indian advertising, salwar-kameez-clad women are made to worry about everything from toilet cleaners and washing powders to ketchup, jams, toothpaste and health drinks for children. Now ad-makers will argue, since that's what women do 'traditionally', they are only, harmlessly, trying to appeal to the right demographic. No sexism vexism here, yaar.

So basically as brands, you are spending crores to endorse and promote traditional gender roles — It will, of course, put a massive dent in a man's ego and sense of self-worth if he is called upon to worry about gharelu concerns such as which mosquito repellant to buy for the house or what oil to cook with. What will it take for you to, every once in a while, show a man worrying about a woman's health and well-being instead of the other way round? How about putting your money where your mouth is and not absolving men of the responsibility of behaving like decent human beings and partners with gender-normative advertising strategies? We hope you realise that by pandering to stereotypes, you're basically saying what our politicians are — boys will be boys — just in nicer words.

You're absolving men of the responsibility of behaving like decent human beings and and partners with your gender-normative advertising strategies.

Dear brands, I'm not saying all of you are blood-sucking leeches who see lurid purple 2,000 rupee notes every time you see us. But it is incredibly difficult to believe you're not being disingenuous with shining examples of hypocrisy like when Dove, a brand that desperately wants to make us believe it stands for real and diverse beauty, comes from the same stable (HUL) that allows its Axe team to shamelessly objectify and fetishise women, and the Fair & Lovely team to tell women that their worth is tied to the whiteness of their skin. How do the good folk at Gillette expect us to participate in their "powerful" #ShaveYourOpinion women's day campaign when their pesky sibling Olay is determined to tell women that looking their age is possibly the worst thing that could happen to them?

How do the good folk at Gillette expect us to participate in their "powerful" #ShaveYourOpinion women's day campaign when their pesky sibling Olay is determined to tell women that looking their age is possibly the worst thing that could happen to them?

But we'll still give you the benefit of doubt. Maybe some of you do care about doing the right thing, despite the inherent rottenness of the company you're forced to keep. Even so, if you care, truly care, do something that makes an actual difference to our lives. You're not just your TV commercials, so practice what you preach. Set examples of equal pay, maternity benefits, equal professional growth and harassment-free workplaces. Let your organisation's principles speak for you, not just sappy commercials.

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Stop the painfully oversimplified, black or white characterisation of women in your campaigns. Stop portraying us as simpering, oblivious dingbats whose only motive in life is to keep stoking the male ego. Do you realise that even when you're being feminist, you never deviate from a homogenised ideal of beauty? Your heroines are almost unfailingly tall, thin and mostly fair-skinned; god forbid that you ask a short, fat, dark woman to feel the same emotions as your heroine.

Do you ever wonder why campaigns like the Jack and Jones one with Ranveer Singh and Ola Cabs' girlfriend ad, that likely went through multiple channels of approval, get shot down as disgustingly sexist the day they are launched? If you do puzzle over these questions, take a long, hard look at the faces of the people in the boardroom making and approving these pitches. How many women do you see? My guess is, very few, if any, at all.

Dear brands, fix fundamental ideological fallacies within your own hallways before throwing obscene amounts of money at groups of men to tell women their stories.

It is little wonder then that ads like the one below by Bank Bazaar keep getting made. Anyone who has done any kind of housework for a single day in their life will know what a tough, thankless job it is and would be appalled by the suggestion of caricaturing anyone — woman or man — who does it. Why exactly, should a man or a woman, as the ad suggests, be anxious, afraid and apologetic to their partner because the latter has a job? It is unsettling that even in 2017, so many advertising head honchos are too tone-deaf to recognise that this attempt at piggybacking on the cause of women's empowerment is actually a particularly obnoxious way of demeaning the housework that so many of us do.

Dear brands, fix fundamental ideological fallacies within your own hallways before throwing obscene amounts of money at groups of men to tell women their stories. And if you can't do any of that, at least don't piss us off by trying to convince us that the answer to our life's problems lies in a revolutionary new washing powder.

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