When will women truly come of age?

How I wish women said this poem aloud as they waltzed through life. But the title above is the reality, especially in Indian advertising. And that coming from a woman, i.e. I, me, myself. says a lot. Not about me, but the scores of learning that I’ve gathered from so many women chat ups across India. Big towns, small towns, metros, urban corners of cities, suburbs… Of course women have progressed in leaps & bounds. If you slot them in the ‘being independent’ & gaining confidence’ arena, there is tangible difference for the world to see.

But when it comes to comfortably co-existing & even flaunting their feminine power, the stereotypes play truant all the time. Why is femininity always depicted as the docile or then belligerent or then vampish or then independent woman only? I agree, that this in itself a shift from her submissive avatar of the past. Nevertheless, with changes happening in the digital age in nanoseconds, shouldn’t it be correct to expect some changes in an entire decade at least? If you nod in agreement, then you’re in for a surprise.

I always felt like many others, that there is beauty in balance, rather than being a victim of two extremes. So when it comes to expression of feminine power, it could be caring/gentle AND demanding/sensual too. It could have the humility to give in YET have the courage to withdraw, when it seemed right. Contradictions you’d agree.

A few Indian movies captured these emotions well & even saw box office success. Like Love Aaj, Kal for instance. Or then from the South a Tamil film titled Vinnaithandi Varuvayya, with the protagonist pretty much having her mind of her own despite being subjugated by her father. And finally doing exactly what she was most comfortable with (& being happy) i.e. leaving the man she so intensely loved. If that doesn’t whet your curiosity, then let’s rewind to what adorned the gates of many temples (places of utmost sanctity), where the woman was beauty personified with little inhibitions (as defined these days).

Why is it then that advertising in India today, shies away from an overt or a flamboyant expression of femininity? Take a simple research on a shampoo brand (done in 2007) that revealed what women want. Apparently they still want to be chased and wooed and find it quite demeaning & non-cultured to be a sensual woman who uses (even playfully mind you) her beauty to attract the man. What still works, rather gets in the good feelings with respect to the man & woman is ‘husband admiration’. I know for a fact that hasn’t changed in at least 15 years. Atleast from research data. But then how much can simulated environments reveal?

Maybe I am being too optimistic. Maybe it is true, and advertising merely reflects the truth as insight practioners would say.

It’s possible there is plenty of  dryness in life’s emotive content & the state of relationships in the real world is quite stereotypical. Little wonder that women in simulated or home environments demand that over & over again. Look around and much has changed, except the male-female dynamics. So yes, it is true.

However, there are some women (who are growing in numbers incidentally) who are creating new expectations, faster than their male counterparts. Women who are comfortable & coming to grips with the power of their femininity. Not by wearing cleavage-showing clothes etc, but by being this dichotomy that I believe femininity truly is. Best expressed in one of my favorite songs from times of yore by Billy Joel.

Billy Joel – She’s always a woman to me

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I hope to see tons of that in the near future in Indian advertising. After all advertising can celebrate future trends too, rather than just hold a mirror to prevailing consumer truths!! By flaunting women comfortable in their skin. As beautiful, mischievous and magnetic sparks. With male-female dynamics explored in more exciting & fulfilling ways for both genders. Not reserved only for ads that show condoms & lingerie/innerwear, but regular personal products.  Maybe real estate, automobiles, microwaves…too. How about cooking up romance in the kitchen, besides of course 2-min Maggi noodles for kids!! Anyone??

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9 Comments

  1. I personally welcome all the grooming ads because an average Indian woman pays least attention to that. I mean how many average Indian women even take a 2nd look at their skin or hair? Now, if the lure of the ad is a praise from husband or partner or family – then for the moment, so be it; maybe it’s the only language a majority of Indian women understand. Let them first discover physical feminity in themselves, the emancipation will follow.

    The true essence of a woman – i think whenever a woman does what she `believes’ in – aggression, submission, demanding, delicate, career-girl, housewife, activist, mother, nun – any damn thing, but as long as she `believes’ in it & `wants’ to do it, it comes across as beautiful, desirable, feminine, attractive… because she has put her soul in it. And when she `forced’ to do things she `doesn’t want’ to or `doesn’t believe’ in, then somewhere her feminity wanes, and it shows.

    I think we owe it to women to let them decide what they want to… and give them a chance to do it.

    • Sandhya Srinivasan |

      I agree anu. In the real world, let the woman just be. In the world of communication where brands like movies have an opportunity to define a progressive role for themselves, we need a fresh take. Yes, advertising does reflect the reality & aspirations of the woman as she is today. But a self aware & feminine woman (w/o being provocative or just independent in attitude, both of which are two ends of the new woman) is a rarity. As a student & practitioner of this glorious biz, i was hoping to see more exciting dimensions of our species. Because she is quite a stunner when she breaks out of these stereotypes.

      Thanks much for your take.

  2. Anirban Roy |

    Nice one Sandy – one observation: we have always approached this ‘woman’ from the role she plays – mother, wife, daughter etc. Perhaps that’s the greatest reason why we fail to, as a community, and as a nation, breakthrough the stereotypes. I think it’s time to talk to the woman as a ‘woman’… :) Oh, and thanks for sharing the Billy Joel number – classic!

    • Sandhya Srinivasan |

      Couldn’t agree more. There really has to be a change in our terminology when the ‘target’ is getting defined. There must also be a way to beat obvious research potholes. Collective feedback often dwells on women playing safe. So an execution fails for being too bold.

      Besides all folks in our craft must experience the changes, rather than be victims of creative briefs. Which means know, talk, believe in fine tuning the story telling. I still admire Yash Raj for that. He was a fine insight miner & story teller.

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