Over the last couple of years, a lot has been said and written about the increasing role of women in the workforce of most developed and developing countries. Such statistics make one hopeful that though slowly, surely the world is becoming better. However the captivation of such spells is easily broken. A recent advertisement I watched on TV, considered to be “sweet” by certain friends had that effect on me.
The advertisement begins with an office scene wherein a female boss is seen allocating some work to be redone by two employees. After a while, the boss leaves for the day, gets home and prepares dinner. She then calls her husband, who is incidentally one of the two employees to whom she gave work, and asks him to come home. The advertisement is meant to show the integration of Internet in smartphones and promote the ‘fast’ Internet service of the particular company.
But what the advertisement does, most unequivocally, is convey that while a woman can be the boss at a workplace, she still has to come home and cook for the husband. Although the woman is shown as being assertive in the initial scene where she insists upon the work being done in a limited time, it is followed by her asking her husband what he wants to eat and cooking that. The advert further plays on the stereotype of ‘wifehood’ when she calls him and says, ‘ghar jaldi aao’.
This advertisement portrays the double lives that women lead when they seek to have a professional as well as a personal life. It promotes, without apology, the widespread notion that though a woman might be a highly competent professional, she is still the ‘woman of the house’ and incurs certain responsibilities by that alone.
The concept of separating professional and personal lives seems to be the cause of the double faced stance that society takes towards working women. While we have learnt to recognise that women can be full participants in the (visible) economy as capable executives and technical members, our view hasn’t changed much when it comes to domestic responsibilities. A woman who works but shows slight difficulty in managing household affairs and children is seen as abdicating her key responsibility – an accusation that is almost never levelled at men.
Lately, particularly from my home state Karnataka, I have been hearing a lot of news through family about how young men (mostly engineers) prefer to marry women who have not got fancy professional degrees to avoid giving them too much say in decisions regarding relocating to different cities, countries etc. Even if such women are able to enjoy a brief working career wherever they are settled, it seems to be dependent on their significant others’ professional choices and other family situations.
We have seen several successful ad campaigns – Vodafone with its Zoozoos, Idea with ‘walk and talk’ and even Hutch with the pug that followed the boy – that are such great examples to show that an advertisement can produce great business whilst not relying on social stereotypes, let alone actively fighting them.
An advertisement is meant solely to create impressions and affect the psyche of the audience in favour of the product/service. In such a situation, due to their very nature, ad makers have a moral obligation to create campaigns that do not propagate stereotypes or reflect negative social realities in a positive or desirable way.
Online critics of the advertisement have got several responses by way of ‘She cooked because she got home early.’, ‘She wasn’t forced or asked to.’ etc. But these responses don’t take into account the message being sent to the hundreds of thousands of viewers who will subconsciously register the approval of the expectation that women know how to cook and be ready to take on such chores. Moreover, the advertisement does not indicate in any way that the day depicted is deviating from routine. The message of fast Internet service could have been conveyed as seamlessly with an alternate scene where the same woman, being the boss, is working in office, and the husband reaches home earlier and cooks dinner for the two of them.
All I can say is that it is easy to appreciate the rising statistics of more women managers, more engineers, more doctors, by putting a dark cloak over the personal lives of these women; but the reality portrayed by this advertisement is even more insidious than the reality that existed earlier when we were not fools about the pathetic level of women emancipation.
On a barely related note, I’d also like to say a big thank you to thatvada for sticking with on a difficult day.