The ‘Fair and Lovely’ Woman – Anjan Behera, Asst. Professor, Department of English

It is great that we see so many smart and successful Naga women. However, we continue to have stereotypes of the perfect Naga women and debates rage regarding what they should wear and how they should behave. These stereotypes transcend into the family, the home and the work place even in this age. A lot of times we see marketing agencies inadvertently trying to reinforce these stereotypes at times. We take a look at marketing strategies which act like they are a woman’s best friend but are actually demeaning them when you look at it from a different angle.

The ‘Fair and Lovely’ Woman

It’s the same every time. The sad looking dusky girl is a failure wherever she goes. She can’t get a job, no man wants to marry her, and her parents are embarrassed. The parents feel ashamed of their daughter because she is dusky. And then, just as we start to feel sorry for the poor lady, she discovers some fairness cream which transforms her overnight into a fair and ‘beautiful’ woman, and everything falls into place. She gets the job, the most eligible man marries her, and she is for once happy.

In the world of advertisements, the story of the dusky girl isn’t a new one.  Only light coloured women are beautiful and successful. In India, there is a special ‘demand’ for fair women in the matrimonial columns of newspapers. One can attribute these fairness products’ advertisements as a contributing factor to people believing that only a light skinned woman is good and successful. Our society has been viewing these ads over and over again, creating the notion of a superiority based on skin tone. These ads create the image of an ‘ideal woman’, which acts as a suppressive force against women empowerment.
Advertisements, while entertaining, can contain several of these subtle messages that help carry around old and biased views about gender. Consider any of the detergent ads in India. Most of them will show a bratty kid who has gotten his clothes filthy, and a caring and nurturing mother soon comes to his rescue. It is always the women shown washing clothes, adding indigo dyes, and saving the day for everyone. Apparently, they can never make their own clothes messy, and the husbands or fathers never do laundry. Kajol Devgan, in the ad for Rin goes to various houses and attacks the women for not keeping the clothes sparkling clean. It’s almost a default, and no woman in the ad ever steps up and says “My husband washed these”. These reinforce the idea of a woman who is supposed to do household chores, while the men do not have to bother about these.
Washing clothes isn’t the end of it.  In the world of advertisements, women are always stuck doing household chores. Sakhsi Tanwar’s ads for Vim show a homemaker who is perturbed by the deplorable condition of her utensils. Using Vim, cleans up her plates and dishes, and makes her the perfect mother and wife that she is supposed to be. Yes, perfect not because she loves her family, but because she is able to do all household chores. All ads for kitchen related products, be it salt, chilli powder, or even utensils, always depict women in kitchens. We are exposed to these advertisements on daily basis, which make us believe that a good wife or mother must do household work and excel in them. The idea of a career woman is seldom explored in advertisements.
Women are also shown to be fickle minded and unstable in various ads. Analyze any perfume or deodorant ads for men. The man smells so heavenly that the woman leaves whatever she is doing and chases him. One of the most absurd portrayals of women, these ads however continues to be made and helps in selling products. These ads for deodorants like Axe show that women as such have no control or no will power, and are puppets at the hands of men. These ads do more damage to the notions that our patriarchal society have about the “fairer” sex, than the ads that show women provocatively. They justify men deciding for or representing the woman, rather than allowing her to come up and speak for herself.
The jewellery brand Tanishq released an ad that showed a family driving to an event. The daughter, who seems to be career oriented and believes in the fact that marriage is not the sole purpose of a woman’s life, is shown to be in the driver’s seat. The father talks about Varun, a boy who is settled in San Jose as a prospective groom for his daughter. The daughter sharply refuses. The mother then gets off the car and proceeds to a Tanishq showroom. She makes the daughter try on wedding jewellery. The daughter is mesmerized by the beauty and glamour of the ornaments, and is visibly upset about having to remove them. When the family gets back in the car, the daughter asks about Varun, showing that she is interested in marriage miraculously. And the mother sends an SMS to the father which reads, “It has been 25 years, but you have learnt nothing about women”.
This ad again shows women as being fickle minded. It shows that a woman must get married. It does not matter if she is career oriented, or wants to wait for a few years while she prepares herself for marriage. That should be her ultimate goal in life, to become a wife and probably clean shirts of her husband with Rin, and keep the house spick and span. The mother’s SMS shows that woman can indeed be persuaded to do anything by giving them pretty ornaments.
We live in a postmodern world, where stereotypes about women must be discarded. We cannot pass on these stereotypes to our future generations. We cannot put restraints on women only because of their gender. A woman can cook, sew, and clean, but that is not her only identity. She does not stay confined to removing stains from clothes, chasing men who smell good, doing anything for a few pretty ornaments, and cooking food for her family. Women are powerful, they always have been. Our patriarchal society has caged their strength for so long, depicting and understanding them as weak and frail creations of God. This led to the women themselves believing in the constraints they had been put in. The tragedy is that most of these ads make use of these stereotypes to sell their products, not realizing the damage they are doing.
The new world that we live in, has shown that women are, in no way lesser than men, if not superior. She can defend her country (Jhansi ki Rani), help the poor and needy (Mother Teresa), run governments (Sonia Gandhi), fight in wars (Eileen Nearne), write (Easterine Kire), cook (Tarla Dalal), preach (Joyce Meyer), produce TV shows (Tina Fey), and revolt against societal norms (Mukhtaran Bibi). They are walking hand in hand with the men, trying to make the world a better place to live in. I sincerely hope we get to see a glimpse of this in advertisements, instead of the same old ‘fair and lovely’ women.
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:”.

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