The concept of masculinity and femininity is changing at a scorching pace. While women are becoming bolder, men are experimenting with looking beautiful and being gentler. All around us we are witnessing a blurring of the traditional ideals of the two sexes.
Today, though, I'd like to focus on the redefined Indian woman.
She is independent, confident and assertive, finding satisfaction in the world of work and recreation, seeking excitement, adventure and fulfilment. A distinct change from her earlier image of a passive, submissive and marginal performer of a limited number of secondary and uninteresting tasks confined to domesticity.
But hold on... it is not as black and white as it sounds.
This new woman is an assimilation of western influences as well as her traditional culture. She is a hybrid who despite of all kinds of changes is able to strike a balance among diverse spheres of her life.
"Samajhdari, or practical smarts, she has in spades. Add to that a sophisticated and discerning eye for style."
What implications do these trends have for marketers, products and brands? With gender being the most common form of segmenting and targeting used by marketers in general and advertisers in particular, the multi-dimensional personality of the new women is posing to be a big challenge for brands.
While one facet of the Indian woman consumer reflects her "dutiful" side the other side equally flaunts her new-found independence. And the fact of the matter is that she is, in equal parts Lalitaji and Lolita. Samajhdari, or practical smarts, she has in spades. Add to that a sophisticated and discerning eye for style. And you easily realise that as hard as Lalitaji is to fool, Lolita is that much harder to please.
And that's the evolutionary truth that marketers have to grasp very quickly. Where Lalitaji is all about respecting traditions and discharging duty, Lolita isn't afraid to indulge her individual self, without cost or damage to others around her. And in doing so, she's fine-tuning her balancing act into an art that few of her contemporaries around the world can match.
Lolita takes the traditional and contemporises it. Lalitaji takes the new into the pallu of her sari easily. And she's able to do this because of a few unique things about her generation. She's the first to grow up without the baggage of the Raj era. She's grown up grooming the internet generation, and has seen all the advances first hand along the way. And she's grown up without bottling up her own aspirations.
Most importantly, whether she belongs to the elite class in South Delhi or the middle-class in Bhatinda, she has a certain mindset. Call her the Affluential Indian Woman. She will not settle for anything less than the best that her money and time can get her. And she populates her home and her life with not just one or two but multiple things, along the spectrum from traditional to contemporary. After all, she plays out multiple roles daily. Why shouldn't her choices reflect all these roles?
From classy Kanjeevarams and Banarasi silks and the ubiquitous salwar-kameez to the casually chic jeans and t-shirt, her wardrobe straddles her myriad moods and roles.
From hair oils to conditioners, from henna to streaks, from Chandan and haldi to moisturisers, she grooms and preens as the occasion demands.
"The Indian woman consumer isn't a moron. If anything, she's an oxymoron."
From whipping up dosa batter to serving up steaming pancakes with maple syrup on the side; from navratan korma to fettuccini alfredo; kitchen shelves where sambhar powder and garam masala rub shoulders with oregano and vinegar; from crafting exotic dishes at home to being at home in new restaurants around town. Nowhere is reverse-McDonaldsation more visible than the effect that Lalitaji /Lolita has on what we eat. There's a reason why Haldiram is as popular as Pizza Hut. It's the same reason global food giant Frito-Lay (a PepsiCo company) proudly proclaims rajma as a flavour influence, alongside sour cream, jalapenos and French onion.
From upholding traditions such as Karwa Chauth and Diwali to celebrating new ones like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, she has embraced diverse ways to indulge herself and the ones she loves.
And as much as non-urban women are taking to "western" products like shampoos and fairness creams, urban women are discovering the joys of going back to the basics with organics.
The truth in all of this clearly underlines what was said at the beginning of this piece. The Indian woman consumer isn't a moron. If anything, she's an oxymoron. And one who is completely at peace with the many paradoxes that are her life. Lalitaji and Lolita both reside in the same person. Happily.