Even today, a lot of advertisements, for instance, show boys getting clothes dirty and women doing the washing. Women, supposedly never go to the market or look at ads, because men tell them which washing powder or toilet cleaner to use. If she does not use a particular hair colour or cream, her husband will lose interest in her.
In Meg Wolitzer’s novel, The Female Persuasion, a character called Faith Frank, a second wave feminist, gives a speech to students at which she says, “Whenever I give a talk at colleges, I meet young women who say I am not a feminist. By which they mean I don’t call myself a feminist, but I want equal pay, and I want to have equal relationships with men, and of course I want to have an equal right to sexual pleasure. I want to have a fair and good life. I don’t want to be held back because I am a woman…What do you think feminism is other than that? How do you think you are going to get those things if you deny the political movement that is all about obtaining that life that you want.” Whenever another celebrity says with a sneer, that she is not a feminist, this is what she should be told.
Jessica Hamzelou, in a report in the New Scientist, quotes studies that found that “feminists are more keenly aware of gender stereotypes, even when they are presented subliminally, and automatically react to reject them…These women are more sensitive to and aware of gender-based cues…Feminists are able to access more coping strategies.”
This is important because a Stanford study found that well-meaning remarks can actually reinforce gender stereotypes. To quote, “While saying “girls are as good as boys at math” is meant as encouragement, it can unfortunately backfire. The statement commonly expressed by parents and teachers can subtly perpetuate the stereotypes they are trying to debunk, according to said Stanford scholars Eleanor Chestnut and Ellan Markman in a paper published in Cognitive Science. On the surface, the sentence tries to convey that both sexes are equal in their abilities. But because of its grammatical structure, it implies that being good at math is more common or natural for boys than girls. Markman and Chestnut tested the effects of the sentence, as well as variations like swapping “girls” with “boys,” on a group of English-speaking adults. They found that most people associate a natural math ability with the gender written in the second part of the sentence – what grammatically is known as the complement…Considering that several fields with large gender gaps like computer science and physics value raw talent, statements that imply that boys are naturally more talented could be contributing to women’s underrepresentation.”
So when there are efforts to break stereotypes whenever possible, examples from popular media in India here seem to suggest that women are getting dumber by the day. Apparently, a high-rated comedy on TV is Kya Haal Mr Panchaal? In this serial, by a quirk of fate, a man is married to five women. His meddlesome mother Kunti prayed to Lord Shiva to give her a daughter-in-law with five qualities — beautiful, religious, a good cook, loving and intelligent. Instead, she gets five daughters-in-law with one quality each. The assumption being that one woman cannot possibly be all of the above. Even today, a huge stereotype is that beauty and brains cannot be combined, in spite of enough evidence to the contrary.
Not having seen the origins of the serial, it is not clear how the parents of the women actually agreed to their daughters marrying the same man, and why the law never comes into play, but now, the five, their mother-in-law, sister-in-law and neighbour (called “football” because she is fat) shriek through episodes all decked up in garish saris and jewellery (a must in Indian serials, it seems), and do all they can to please the husband called Kanhaiya.
In a country where the saas-bahu problem is a major one and continues to dominate television soaps, in Kya Haal Mr Panchaal?, the five women do nothing but please the husband and mother-in-law. (To its credit, the sitcom does not peek into the bedroom). At one point, Kunti tries to create a rift between the daughters-in-law just to remain in control, but the five are slavishly obedient and seem to have no other goal in life but to be super submissive.
This is the picture of the ideal woman that is presented to Indian audiences so that if a woman is seen wanting a career outside the house, she is branded a home-wrecker and vamp. In real life, it means that educated and skilled women are quitting the work force in droves.
Even today, a lot of advertisements, for instance, show boys getting clothes dirty and women doing the washing. Women, supposedly never go to the market or look at ads, because men tell them which washing powder or toilet cleaner to use. If she does not use a particular hair colour or cream, her husband will lose interest in her. In the TVC of a scar removing cream, a woman craves for her husband’s attention, but he doesn’t even look at her. She uses the skin cream, he still ignores her. She smiles and says, “He hasn’t changed, my skin has improved.” Why does she live with such a man and accept his disregard? Because that’s what the ideal Indian wife is supposed to do, right?
In a particularly annoying juice ad, a mother is hand squeezing sweet limes for her brat, who gives her a superior smirk and places a tetrapack on to the table. Mansplaining was bad enough, but now boysplaining too? Can a homemaker stereotype get any worse? Might as well stamp M for Moron on their foreheads!