Saturday, January 9, 2016

The BIBA ad-- Challenging some stereotypes while staying mum on the rest!

Every attempt at changing minds or challenging stereotypes is ridden with its share of criticism. That is what happens in our country mostly, where everyone has an opinion and a facebook or twitter account. Of times I wonder as to when we really be happy. Finding a grey hair in a black mane had become our favourite passtime, all thanks to the social media revolution. I agree that healthy criticism is very important, but should it always overlook the spurt of changes we are aiming to see in our society infected with patriarchal mores.

A few days ago while checking my emails I happened to come across this post, mentioning BIBA's new advertisement that was claiming to question a stereotype. The stereotype discussed here was the cooking skills a woman should posses in order to find a groom, whether that happens through her family or if she happens to make the call. 

The advertisement brings into picture a coy girl who is wearing over-sized earrings in an effort to bedeck herself and look pretty in front of the suitor arranged by her parents. Her worried father barges into her room where she dares to question him about how could she magically take a decision about how can she spend the rest of her life with a guy by feeding him a plate of samosas? The father gives her a stern cold look and asks her to come soon. Next, she is shown sitting impassively in her drawing room where her parents and the guy's parents are taking a decision about her future. I wonder what qualities were taken into consideration which inspired the groom's mother to give a green signal to Payal, the quiet shy girl who was shown to be the mute mannequin in this advertisement. At this instance, the father decides to take the matter in his own hands and tells them that they will be visiting their house soon. The guy's mother aghast at this idea asks why are they considering a visit? To which the father replies that his daughter wants to know as to how adept their son is when it comes to cooking or taking care of a household, so that they could give away their daughter.The mother laughs off the proposition by saying that her son can't even boil water and can only make noodles in a microwave. The girl's father apologetically conveys to them that their daughter can't live on noodles alone.At this juncture, the groom intervenes into the conversation and invites the girl's family to their house after ten days, trying to buy time to learn cooking. The frame closes with smiles spread on the faces of everyone present there.

How the critics of this ad reacted?

Most critics of this advertisement were believers of love marriages or choice marriages, which according to them is a life time affair, since both the guy and girl know each other. I wonder if the life of a marriage ever depended on whether two people have known each other or were introduced to each other by their parents.Here, the defendants of love marriages or choice marriages seem to be selling the idea that a woman also doesn't need to embrace the traditional tyranny that she is subjected to in an arranged marriage, come what may. 

The second most raged criticism was that most arranged marriages preserve the caste system and hence this advertisement is trying to propagate the idea of marrying within one's caste, thus keeping the  caste divide intact. I am trying to count the number of love marriages that defied these oddities? 

The third critical question that was raised was why do indian ad makers choose brown skinned models and typecast them as "good girls"? Oh, so a decade ago the criticism that ruled the roost was about why were fair models preferred over darker browner skinned models?

What I think about this ad?
Of late, I also understand the criticism behind this ad. Why was the girl not allowed to speak or discuss her choices with her parents? Why the hell did she sit there coyily and stuttering to utter words? The only time I heard her speak was when she tried to question her father, the decider of her destiny about how can a plate of samosas help her to decide if this is the guy she wants to spend the rest of her life with. To add insult to this injury, nowhere is her furture plan discussed or any conversation about her educational qualifications happening. As though the guy and his parents were going to make a decision solely on her homemaking abilities.
I remember the times when this hunting phase began and everyone was going berserk at my pathetic cooking skills, especially since I could not cook dead animals, which most men in our community consume. I remember the many times I told my parents that I wasn't born to cook for an NRI and live on a dependent visa in some foreign country, wearing expensive clothes and jewelry and making babies I had no will to birth, which is again a choice that a free woman should be allowed with or without a marriage, the choice to spend time in a kitchen.
The one thing I liked about this ad is that for the first time an Indian father is willing to speak for his daughter, asking for something more than security doled in dowry, house, job or such materialistic possessions. Of course, he was not ready to ask for his daughter's opinion since in our country a father is considered to be the daughter's guardian and decision maker, until her marriage where he change hands with his daughter's husband.

This ad scores points on the fact that it will instigate people to think that cooking is an important life skill that both men and women should know and be proficient in. In a generation where we are allowing men to grow and rise up the career ladder, a woman is considered a failure if she is not armed with homemaking skills, her educational qualifications or job not holding any importance. Perhaps ads like this will change a few minds and allow a few Payals to take a decision about a guy based on his life skills and not his yearly income, although our society defends its patriarchy with a watchdog's vigilance.

Other than that yes, this ad fails because indian arranged marriages are still breeding grounds for patriarchy and misogyny, with women considered as invisible or inferior in a marriage. Also, very importantly, the idea of giving away a daughter is spelling patriarchy, in a country where a daughter is considered someone else's property or "paraya dhan". A daughter is a human being, a person much like a son and not a living human body that walks out of one household to enter into another.

But for those poor girls like me, who have always had a tough time explaining people why our "out of the world" choices are as human as theirs, this was like a "tweeny weeny" step towards hoping, thinking and expecting that we would one day find a guy who would be as as self-reliant as us not just in terms of managing a career or job but also with household chores.

Here is a link to the ad. Watch it and decide for yourself :-)

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