Equality fight in an unequal world #Feminisn #bookreview #SundayReading


By Deepti Menon, New Indian Express

12th May 2013 12:00 AM

  • Protests by women fighting for their rights have been part of a long history of feminist struggle.
    Protests by women fighting for their rights have been part of a long history of feminist struggle.

Feminism is not being part of an organisation; rather it takes inspiration from past heroines, aiding women to feel a continued responsibility, explains Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist. The title is inspired by James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, where the state “seeing” is all powerful, compared to the marginal position of the feminist.

This is a book about women and patriarchy, and about how the feminist views the operation of gendered modes of power. It is divided into six chapters, which deal with vital, interrelated themes.

Efforts have always been made to shield the institution of the patriarchal heterosexual family. Couples who choose inappropriate marriage partners come under the scanner. Women have been relegated to domestic work, which is less valued and unpaid, despite the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976. Domestic work is more demeaning and exhausting than that of a sex worker, probably why 71% of ‘servants’ have moved voluntarily to sex work.

In North India, a woman has no rights in her natal home after she moves to her husband’s home. In Kerala, only vestiges of the matrilineal system are seen. The Hindu Code Bills empowered Hindu women to choose their partners, and marry outside their caste. The Hindu Women’s Right to Property gave widows rights to their husband’s property, but the Hindu Succession Act nullified the position of daughters under matrilineal laws, by granting equal inheritance rights to sons. The three interlinked features of the Indian family are patriarchy, patriliny and vivilocality.

Dowry has spread its tentacles almost everywhere, as women go to their husband’s homes to survive with limited rights, despite the Dowry Prohibition Act which deems both giver and taker guilty. Women, right from childhood, prepare for marriage, which sometimes leads to the ‘implosion of marriage’, when young girls refuse to conform to docile roles of wife and daughter-in-law. The author avers that feminists need to build up the strength to live in ways in which marriage is voluntary, and create alternate non-marriage communities.

In ancient times, the universality of gender as a social category was challenged in African and the North American countries, and even in the lives of the Bhakti saints. But the creation of a distinction between sex and gender is intrinsic to feminism, as from childhood onwards, girls and boys pick up gender-specific forms of behaviour, training to conform to set roles.

In the 1990s, the media began airing sexually explicit images, through cable and television channels. Questions on homosexuality and issues revolving around the civil liberties of eunuchs, bisexual and transgendered people have all been viewed through the lens of the feminist here.

Patriarchal forces call rape a blot against family honour, while feminists denounce it as a crime against a woman’s bodily integrity. The Pink Chaddi protest was a non-violent gesture of ridicule against intolerance. The modern slut walks are the latest chapter in a long, powerful history of inspirational feminist struggle.

Caste politics and patriarchy have stalled the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve 33% of seats in Parliament for women.

There is mention of the commoditisation of the female body, through advertisements showing scantily clad bodies and pornography. Feminists expose how this outlook can be transformed by thinking of women as consumers instead of victims.

Pregnancy and child bearing are the sole responsibility of the woman. The ideal feminist world is one in which women can control when and under what circumstances they deliver their children. Sexual harassment charges against celebrities, the ban of the veil in France, forcing women badminton players to wear skirts and queer politics have all been touched upon in this revealing book.

Thus, for Nivedita Menon, feminism is not about one triumphant moment against patriarchy, but about the ongoing shift that enables young women to say, “I believe in equal rights for women, but I’m not a feminist.” Many new positions, energies and challenges have transformed the feminist field over the years, and this book takes a bold look at these.

“It comes slowly, slowly, feminism does. But it just keeps on coming!”

 

#Delhigangrape-It’s Not about Patriarchy #Vaw


Linking it to the Delhi gangrape is an exercise in self-delusion
BY Omar Ahmad , Open Magazine, Jan 19,2013
MISHIT

And yet almost all men in India are products of a patriarchal culture. That doesn’t automatically make them sexual predators, rapists or murderers. I am from Uttar Pradesh, and from a culture that is so patriarchal that it is almost a caricature. When my circumcision took place as a child, my grandfather and his brother stood on either side of the cot with unsheathed swords. After the chop-chop was done, I’m told there was blood and I cried a little. My paternal grandfather, overcome, asked me if there was something I wanted. I requested his double barrelled shotgun, and hugging it, went to sleep. It would be hard to outdo such rituals of patriarchy, merging masculinity with sexuality and violence. Freud, eat your heart out.

My mother’s side were no laggards in teaching me the tools of violence. My uncle gifted me my first air rifle at the age of three. I was too young to lift it, so for most of my life my sister was a better shot. For all I know, she still is; I haven’t been on a shooting range with her for years. When I was twelve, my maternal grandfather tasked my training to someone we knew, and I learnt how to use muzzle loaders, shotguns and my grandfather’s rifles. The piece de resistance was obviously his Holland & Holland .500 Express that he had picked up to shoot crocs in the river near one of our properties. It was also the rifle which was, no doubt, responsible for the tiger skin in the drawing room where he played cards with his friends in the evening.

+++

In 2000, I was returning from Banda, my maternal home and a bastion of patriarchy, to Jawaharlal Nehru University where I was (not really) pursuing an MPhil degree. It was noon when the train reached Delhi, and since I didn’t have much luggage, I took a bus to the campus. It was too crowded to find a seat, so I stood leaning against the guard rail behind the driver and in front of the bus conductor.

As the bus passed Bhikaji Cama Place, one of South Delhi’s busiest areas, I heard some commotion. A woman was arguing heatedly with an older man. She might have been in her early thirties, and he looked about ten years older than her. I could just about make out that she was accusing him of groping her while they were standing. It was very loud, and getting louder, but nobody intervened. The man yelled out an insult, and the woman slapped him. After that, he hit her so hard that she was knocked into the laps of those sitting in the row parallel to her.

No one did anything, so I dropped my bag and pushed my way past the other passengers to stand between the man and the woman, lying prone behind me. As I did this, one of the men, presumably with the older man, slipped a large foldable knife half out of his pocket, showing me discreetly that there was a cost to confrontation. I figured that nobody would use a knife in a crowded bus; anyway, I was just trying to calm things down, my hands up.

Unfortunately, the older man was too wound up to be talked out of his fury. He asked me if I was trying to be a hero, and then, frustrated that he couldn’t reach the woman, grabbed me by the throat. I punched him, and he fell. He had two companions, both of whom were willing to use their knives in a crowded bus at a little past noon in one of the busiest parts of India’s capital.

I lost some skin and flesh off the back of my right hand, and another knife bounced off a silver cigarette case I had in my pocket—a gift from a patriarchal great-uncle.

Then the three of them waved their knives, forced the bus to stop, and ran away. I got off at the next stop, although I could have taken the bus all the way to the university. I was a bit shaken, and bleeding, and would have to miss my German Foreign Policy class—in which I was one of two students, with the other usually not turning up—if I was going to get stitched up. I thought I’d take an autorickshaw so I could at least inform my professor.

The woman got down as well, offering to help me, get me to a clinic. I wish now that I had at least asked her name. From the snap memory I have of her, I can only guess that she worked at an office, but not at a highly paid job, one that would force her to travel again and again on buses where her safety was in jeopardy, and nobody would say anything. To this day, I remain in awe of her courage, and the courage of others like her who continue to drive this country forward while it dismisses their needs, safety and concerns.

+++

From my female friends who have studied and travelled in Delhi, I know that such cases are common. In the recent gangrape case, we have an extreme example. This cannot continue. We need a safer city, investment in safer public infrastructure, a police force that is accessible and capable of dealing with such issues. We need a political climate that protects the rights of its citizens, and not merely the privileges of its quasi-imperial rulers. We don’t need the crocodile tears of Jaya Bachchan whose political party fielded the highest number of criminals in proportion to any other, we don’t need the inanities of Sushma Swaraj whose political party saw the murder of pregnant women in Gujarat as a successful experiment in its Laboratory of the Hindu Rashtra, we don’t need the fumblings and mumblings of the Congress which continues to have those involved in the 1984 Delhi riots in high office.

We need a replacement for the Police Act we currently have, which was framed by the British in 1861 to keep Indians in check after the 1857 Uprising. We need a judiciary that recruits enough staff to try cases in time, instead of facilitating corruption by endless delays. We need a country where criminals are caught and crimes punished. These are political changes. Instead, we have the nattering of a civil society that prides itself on being ‘apolitical’ and whose major achievement so far is the cancellation of a concert by Yo Yo Honey Singh.

The call to ‘End Patriarchy’ is a call to grumble about the ills of the world and feel satisfied with grumbling alone. The difference between that man on the bus and me so many years ago did not lie in our patriarchal upbringing. It lay in his criminality, in the passivity of his audience, in the lack of policing, and in the impunity that criminals enjoy. The rapists who killed the girl recently chose to do what they did. They made that horrible choice. They were not mere products of their culture. Nor do I think they were humming the latest sexist song as they did what they did. There is such a thing as individual responsibility. And governmental responsibility. There exists social responsibility as well, but if we focus only on the last, we will neglect the justice that is necessary and the reforms that have been delayed far too long.

We must find a new language of defining women #Vaw #Feminism #Patriarchy


All about my mothers

Monobina Gupta | January 5, 2013

 

We must find a new language of defining women because they can never be free, or safe, if we persist with old patriarchal notions of looking at them, says Monobina Gupta.

Driving to office the other morning, I heard a government commercial against sex selection  on the radio. It urged us not to kill female foetuses because men would soon be hardpressed to find wives. A few days ago, at the protests in New Delhi‘s Jantar Mantar, some among the protesters were heard using the widely prevalent mother and sister curse words to abuse the rapists;blithely oblivious to the vulgar dichotomy of their words and actions.

In that recent outpouring of rage and sorrow on the streets of the Capital, we heard repeated invocations to this land of ‘mothers and sisters’. Indian men, we were told, should learn to respect their ‘mothers and sisters’. But in cases like this, the redressal is also the malady. It’s part of our collective failure – starting right at the top of the political order and percolating down to every societal nook and cranny – to treat women simply as human beings. We are unable to think of women outside of their roles as mothers and sisters. This is the reason we keep reverting to that ineffectual conventional script.

The mother-sister platitudes, in more ways than one, convey a fixed patriarchal notion of women. Women are always perceived as existing in relation to somebody else, more often than not to the men around them. Seldom are they seen or portrayed as autonomous agents. Strangely, this perennial invocation hasn’t prevented us from coining abuses in the names of mothers and sisters. Some of the crudest parts of our mainstream culture of abuse, particularly in north India, hinges around our mothers and sisters. Consider the irony of singing paeans to maa and behen while stringing out abuses in their name.

You hear these abuses on crowded streets, in packed buses, inside homes, in casual conversations and during heated arguments. Public and private spaces are replete with the words. In fact, so common are these epithets, bandied about in day-to-day conversations, that they have almost been stripped of their poisonous misogyny. The curses have been transformed, as it were, into benign admonishments.

Take the latest case of the 23-year old paramedic student whose gangrape and subsequent death sparked off the nationwide protests mentioned above. The youngest rapist, a juvenile, asked the victim to board the bus, by calling her ‘sister’. That familial address must have evoked a sense of security.

There are countless cases where defence lawyers and even courts or traditional bodies have asked rape victims to marry their rapists. The implication is that by marrying the victims rapists perform an act of atonement and salvage the woman from sexual humiliation. Then there are numerous cases of domestic sexual assaults, sisters raped by brothers, daughters by fathers, wives subjected to marital rape. The last one isn’t even legally recognised as a crime.

In a society where rape occurs within families, violating the very relationships held up as symbols of sacred dignity and pride, we must find a new language of defining women. The absence of such a discourse is especially jarring when even our political class seems to make these relationships the reference points to condemn violence against women.

Such discourse valorises women as daughters, sisters, and mothers. Wives, though, are rarely mentioned in such invocations. Consider the manner in which our top political leaders expressed their anguish in the recent case of Delhi gang-rape. “I and my associate (Minister of State for Home R P N Singh) have three daughters each. . . we are concerned about their security. Such incidents can happen to them too, ” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters. Days later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly about this as each one of you. ”

This problematic imagination of women is adding to the present crisis. There is a clear refusal, deliberate or otherwise, to take into consideration the radical choices women are making in terms of relationships and how they live their lives. For instance, though the law has now recognised livein relationships as legally acceptable, our political classes and society still mouth regressive ideas. The victim of the Kolkata Park Street rape case, a single mother who was out at night, drinking in a bar, has been portrayed as a sex worker by West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress. Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a prominent party MP, has gone to the extent of saying the incident was not rape, but the result of a misunderstanding between the victim and her client. Do sex workers deserve to get raped?

Women are tired of being boxed into traditional roles. They are angry at being told what to wear, how to behave and lead their lives. Along with the maa-behen abuses, the streets of Delhi recently also reverberated with a revamped version of “Azaadi, ” one of the strongest legacies of the feminist movement of the 1980s. As women and men sang “din mein bhi azaadi, aur raat mein bhi azaadi, ” they helped break the barricades of patriarchal language. Its time to ensure that women’s freedom be guaranteed because they are women, not because they are mothers and sisters of men.

#India- The Power of Shame #delhigangrape #Vaw


 

December 31, 2012, sarai.net

 

By Saroj Giri

‘National shame’, lajja – this is the sentiment most Indians feel, now that the raped girl has died. The rape has so far been essentially portrayed as a heinous but aberrant crime, a deviant behavior which apparently did not follow from the kind of society we inhabit. So, why should we, the entire society, feel the shame? This only means that shame has burst through exposing all the denials and attempts to contain the enormity of the problem and just make it a case requiring strong laws. Shame has come upon Indian society in spite of itself. Society as a whole stands implicated – this is what the sentiment of shame entails.

Shame, said Marx, is a revolutionary sentiment. Shame is introspective, loosens the inner resistance one can put up against looking into oneself. Now Indians might be willing to look into their society, their family, their institutions, their day to day life, their values, their civilization, their ethos, their human relations – and locate the recesses of patriarchal domination in them all. Indian society today, that real society where violence against women is normal, almost casual, and where love towards women is deeply patriarchal, seems to have loosened itself up a bit. It appears far less confident about its claims, its self-lauding proclamations. Its defences are down – a rare occasion. It is caught offguard today. It cannot act as though violence against women is only an external problem, exceptional and a deviation from ‘our’ social norms.

When Frantz Fanon revealed the horrors of French colonialism, Sartre pointed out that the French, even the liberal and humane ones, should feel shame. Feel ashamed. Similarly instead of pointing the fingers to this or that minister or the police or some such particular agency or authority as responsible for rape, society should open itself up for introspection. What will be revealed is simple: an out and out patriarchal society, male domination and female subjugation.

This shame has forced a realization even in the mainstream media. Here is the Times of India: “The Delhi gang-rape victim succumbed to her injuries at a Singapore hospital on Saturday morning. The death of 23-year-old Nirbhaya (a name given to her by TOI) not only leaves us sad and heightens our sense of outrage, but also makes it important for all of us to focus now on the real reason behind her agony — the lack of respect for women in our patriarchal society” (Dec 30, 2012).

‘Lack of respect for women’, ‘patriarchal society’ – the right noises are being made. The right noises are being heard. From this ‘real reason’ of course the media being media goes on to suggest that people take a pledge to individually refrain from engaging in violence against women. There is a problem here. For this ‘pledge thing’ again tries to turn the focus away from the internal power relations that constitute this society, the relations of domination through which most men relate to women in this society.

So people are introspecting. They are on their own making all the connections – putting two and two together. They seem to be secretly sensing that the capital punishment and death to the rapists will only serve to shield society, cover up its true character. ‘India’s daughter’ precipitated a process where the accusing finger can also slowly turn towards ‘India’. Every family, every bastion of patriarchy, every woman within the family, every ‘victim’ of patriarchy, is following ‘the news’ – and getting inspired to raise new questions and not just provide ready solutions about ‘preventing rape’.

‘India Rising’
So the question: will shame be the signage, the starting point for the movement against patriarchy? Or will it be, in the name of ‘fighting rape’, another addition to the Indian nation’s list of ‘fighting untouchability’, ‘fighting poverty’, ‘fighting communalism’.

Indeed ‘fighting rape’ might, I fear, soon enter the lexicon of the ‘tough administrator’ Narendra Modi vying to be Prime Minister. In surmising this I thought I was only being a slightly paranoid leftie – till I saw some placards at the protests.
Stop Sexual Terrorism, it said. Rape as sexual terrorism, like a bomb blast! Rape is here externalized, like terrorism from across the borders, an evil enemy which attacks your good society.

I can already hear those like Chetan Bhagat saying how this is ‘new India rising’ – how the youth are not willing to take all this lax laws and all this disruption of life in a decent society, this kind of barbaric treatment of our upwardly mobile women. ‘New India’, ‘India Rising’, by invoking the hyperbole of capital punishment against rape, secretly reinscribes the myth of an essentially good society – ‘Indian values’. After anti-corruption, is ‘fighting rape’ the new cause of the self-righteous, self-aggrandising upper middle classes? This moment of shame will provide the long overdue antidote to the self-righteous middle classes and at least lessen their confidence and aggression, slow them down.

The initial outrage

The protests however were initially not in a mood to feel this shame, not in a mood to introspect. They started off dominated by the feeling of outrage.
Outrage has a target – Shiela Dixit, the Home Minister, Delhi Police, private bus operators. It functions with an accusing finger towards something external. It is essentially non-introspective. To start with, the protests against rape had this basic tendency to regard rape as having nothing to do with the patriarchal power relations that constitute society. Instead rape is located in something external, external to an essentially good society – it is a deviation, a crime, a criminal act to be explained by say the rapist’s ‘psychology’ but not by the tissue of social relations. Rape as a result of a criminal and sick mindset rather than what would follow from the gendered power relations that constitute this society we inhabit.

So the ‘prevention of rape’ does not involve transformation of society. It can be achieved by delegating responsibility to an authority which stands at a remove from society. So ministers and police must fix this problem for the smooth functioning of this society. This delegation meant exoneration of society, of precisely that society where patriarchy is felt and sensed every moment. Rendering this society invisible! To achieve this feat, it had to generate its own histrionics, high drama, extreme emotions, extreme everything – the smokescreen of ‘death to the rapists’. ‘Hang the rapists’ and leave society as it is – this is the motto. The mythical good society must be left unquestioned.

So here violence against women is not always already happening, not already foretold. It ‘takes place’. It is an incident – when, where, who. This is the way violence against women is rendered contingent, exceptional, forever an aberration – it just so happened. It took place on that night of Dec 16th 2012. It takes place every other day, or the same day some other place, or perhaps every hour – but each is a separate case. Each can be explained by referring to the ‘background’ of those individuals involved. ‘They were from the slum area’. The bus in which the girl was travelling did not have proper licenses. They were ‘those types’.

Society here sits as the judge and takes the moral high ground – it exonerates itself. What is rendered invisible is the thousand and one ways in which the rape and violence against women are mandated by ‘society’ – from female infanticide, to bride burning, to dowry deaths, to sexual harassment, to getting groped in the metro, to rape within marriage, to honour killings… The list is endless. Not just the violence – even the love and care reserved for women is laden with inscription of male power. The ideal wife, the ideal daughter, the respectable woman, adarsh bharatiya nari, the super mom – these are notions, tendencies and inclinations that constantly push women towards precarity, a lack of confidence, a fear, an anxiety. These are indeed sometimes more dangerous than the committed ‘crimes’.

So the outrage overlooked all of this. And yet this outrage gave way to shame. This shame might inspire a movement which could irrigate the veins and arteries of resistance against patriarchy in the street, in the family, in the bedroom. It might lead to social critique. It might allow women to go beyond merely fighting for basic safety and security. It might, indeed must, allow them to freely assert their powers and desires, their thoughts and their sexuality.

Today women are on the defensive, seeking to be the beneficiaries of protection accorded by an essentially male dominated society. This is extremely infantilizing. Even if this movement might succeed this might not change. In fact it might actively contribute to this infantalising – women might be ‘safe’ and infantilized. For example, if Delhi Police gets better in protecting women from sexual attacks then will women also be obliged to follow some of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ put up by the police? Will this enhance or lessen women’s agency?

Social evil?
So how will this shame be mobilized? Should feminists now work with the government to help make good laws? Feminists might proceed by laying the statistics of so many other kinds of violence against women: bride burning, dowry deaths, sexual harassment and so on. Feminists might provide the inputs to good policy formulation. But will these inputs only mean that in this era of targeted policy making, patriarchy would start getting ‘measured’ in terms of ‘affected groups’ or stake-holders and the benefits they should get? If we demand so much protection from the police, then will women also be obliged to abide by some of the rules ‘for your own safety’ that Delhi Police might frame?

 

Too many voices are calling for ‘strong laws and speedy justice’ to deter rapists, a call for a strong state. Perhaps a technocratic or security-centric solution is in the offing. If not this, another bad option that might impose itself is to adopt an approach of something like ‘the unfinished task of social reform’ carried over from the 19th century. So, like fighting sati, or widow remarriage, or untouchability, violence against women will be identified as a social evil. Yes it is a ‘social evil’. But is violence against women, like untouchability, a malignant growth in an otherwise healthy ‘social body’, as Gandhi would have it? Or is it intrinsic to the ‘social body’?

 

It is not to a cool and calm deliberation for policy formulation that this shame must lead to. What we need is a much more enriched rage, now carrying the moment of shame, of social critique. The narrow focus of the rage – ministers, police, strong laws – must now give way to taking account of how this rage must also be directed against the manner in which rape and violence against women is routinely deployed by none other than the state itself. Just check out the reports coming from the North East, in Kashmir and elsewhere. Or the rape of over 30 women by the Rajasthan Rifles in Kunan Poshpora. Or the gruesome rape and murder of Dalit women in Khairlanji. This list is very long. These are neither the result of an exception, bad policing nor a social evil. It is instead a well calculated strategy to inscribe the power of the state through patriarchal violence.

” Women empowerment” linked to ‘ Healthy Hair ‘ ? #WTF advertising


 

Advertising’s new poster girls: Feminists

Malini Nair | August 11, 2012, Times Crest

TRESS BIEN: Male bashing and hair care in one go

zoom

TRESS BIEN: Male bashing and hair care in one go

An ad campaign for beauty products links empowerment to healthy hair – and sparks off a mighty ruckus.

As ads go it managed to do what ads are meant to do – made most of Kerala and Malayalees outside sit up startled. What was this? A feminist with all the trademark traits – big red bindi, cotton sari, a strong face and long, lovely hair – stands at what looks like a crummy small town bus depot ranting about men who harrass women in buses by pulling their long hair. Should we, she fumes, give into this and start sporting short hair like men? Come sisters, she exhorts, let us stand up for our long hair and fight eve-teasers. ‘Ulkaruthu mudikkyum manasinum (inner strength for hair and heart), Indulekha hair oil, ‘ intones a mellow male voice.

Feminism to push a beauty product and that too starring a feminist theatre actor Sajitha Madathil? How was this supposed to work? Wasn’t feminism supposed to be antithetical to long hair-fair skin stereotypes? Indulekha wasn’t done yet. Its second ad featured a harried housewife fed up of daily beatings at the hands of a drunk husband. “I took it for my two children, ” she tells you at home on a depressing evening, kids glued to television. “But now I won’t. ” And proceeds to bundle up her thick dark hair into a bun, looking ready to beat up the brute when he came home. Said brute is standing tottering at the gate, but then takes one look at wife looking a dark cloud and quietly slinks away.

What followed was a storm. 

The ads opened up a barrage of views and counterviews among Malayalees so forceful that Indulekha says it is now releasing a conventional set of ads – pretty faces, medical claims, surveys and so on, standard issue beauty advertising to be precise. But the debate has yet to die down. Can women’s empowerment be used as a tool for advertising, and to hell with the ideological issues? Or is it that angry, rebellious women make for more sexy models?

Indulekha and the creative heads behind the campaign are clear about what they set out to do, the flak notwithstanding. “The idea of any advertising is to break the clutter and we managed to do that. To that end it was a successful campaign whatever the reactions, ” says Sunil G of the Firewoods creative team that put the campaign together along with V Eye. “We were targeting ordinary middle class woman in Kerala, and maybe men as well. ” An Indulekha executive says the campaign wasn’t taken in the right spirit. “So we have decided to stick to the tested pattern, ” he says.

Ironically the campaign got flak from both quarters – feminists as well as Malayalee men upset at being portrayed as leches and wife-beaters. The latter let loose a stream of furious, sometimes obscene, tirade against the women in the ads. And, there were Facebooks spoofs. Feminist and scholar J Devika, whose blog post on kafila. org set off the debate on Facebook and the internet, says the campaign was patronising. “This whole brainy-despite-being-beautiful thing is driven by men who find it a very engaging idea. This woman figure is still controlled by them because for all her anger she is still hanging on to the long lustrous hair, ” she says.

Feminism has been used as an offbeat strategy before. In her essay for the New York Times, The Empowerment Mystique, writer Peggy Orenstein, says few feminist ads have any real substance. What they revel in is the “feeling of ’empowerment’ : an amorphous, untethered huzzah of ‘Go, team woman!'” Verizon, Sarah Palin‘s Mama Grizlies, Dove’s True Colours are some of the celebrated campaigns that focussed on ‘real’, strong women. There was our own Surf’s Lalitaji and now, Anushka Sharma‘s spunky Scooty gang. Rousing feminist rhetoric, however vacuous, is a tried and tested way to sell a product, says Orenstein.
“The so-called strong women, career women, superwomen who run businesses and households with the help of the magic mixie and magic cooker are a modern version of the karyeshu mantri, karaneshu dasi…prescription, the eight noble virtues of an ideal wife. The old Sanskrit poets stated it baldly, the modern man is more circumspect !” says Prema Jayakumar, writer and translator.

Rattled by the flood of criticism, Indulekha quietly wound up the campaign. Would it have worked if it had stuck to its guns? Kiran Khalap, co-founder of chlorophyll, brand and communications consultancy, believes that feminism is a tricky advertising tool. “There are other layers of retro sexism, reverse sexism etc that come into play in more aware societies and it is difficult to separate labels from reality,” he says.

 

Whiter, tighter and what else? Diamond-encrusted vaginas ? # Vajazzling #WTF advertising


Feel like a Virgin

Shrabonti Bagchi | August 11, 2012, Times Crest

In a country that places an illogically high value on virginity, can a gel that promises ‘vaginal tightening’ be sold as a sexually empowering idea? A new advertising campaign for a product that promises to give Indian women tighter vaginas is headed for probable YouTube superstardom.

In a household straight out of a Priyadarshan film set or a Tamil TV weepie, where various family members keep appearing on screen, urging you to play a kind of spot-the-relative game (guy shooting the proceedings on camera phone is the pesky but cute brother-inlaw;young girl in jeans and kurta is the college-going sister-in-law ), a shapely young wife in a pink sari is about to hand over a steel dabba to her headed-to-work husband (who is touching his parents’ feet). But instead of leaving the scene after exchanging the mandatory coy look full of sexy promise with the husband, she grabs him by the hand and starts dancing the salsa, crooning “I feel like a virgin”. “Oh yes you do, ” replies hubby encouragingly.

The other V-word at the core of this little drama – vagina – doesn’t come into the picture till the end, when a sophisticated voice announces that the product that has made this revirginated woman and her husband so happy, 18 Again, is a “vaginal tightening and rejuvenating gel”. In a country that places an illogically high value on virginity, a product that promises to make women “feel like virgins” is quite likely to have them queuing up outside medical stores to buy something they believe will miraculously restore their hymens. Feminists and web commentators are already questioning the ‘women’s empowerment’ argument put forth by the company behind 18 Again. While it may enhance sexual pleasure for both men and women, isn’t it feeding the patriarchal view that women need to be perfect and ‘virginal’ – because actual virginity is frustratingly for one-time-use-only, curse it – for men to find them attractive? It’s a toss up.

On the one hand, if you believe the stuff about tighter vaginas making sex more pleasurable for the woman, it’s easy to go with the empowerment argument and say this is a product women can buy for themselves to enhance their sex lives, and what’s not to like about that? On the other hand, the ‘virgin’ bit is clearly aimed at men.

Ultratech India Ltd, the Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company that has launched this patent-pending gel after three years of research, clinical trials, market studies and an FDA approval, is convinced this is a revolutionary product that falls in the feminine hygiene category. Rishi Bhatia, chairman and MD, Ultratech India, is firmly taking the good-forhealth route. He believes 18 Again is a “vaginal health” product that addresses several needs like preventing infections and toning vaginal muscles, which in turn has health benefits like preventing adult incontinence and vaginal prolapse. “We are not saying this will restore virginity. The name indicates that this will make a woman feel young, as she did at the age of 18 when she was just entering womanhood. Our market research, including interviews with gynaecologists, shows many women want non-surgical vaginal tightening, ” says Bhatia.

Priti Nair, director of ad agency Curry Nation, who created the TVC, has a lighter take. “We didn’t want to take a negative route, showing a woman cringing and crying over her husband losing sexual interest in her. We wanted to show a woman celebrating her sexuality and revelling in her womanhood, ” says Nair. Yet, coming right after a certain muchdiscussed product that claimed to create fairer vaginas, 18 Again is definitely in for a hard time from those who believe there is much too much pressure on women to have perfect bodies.

“Leave our vadges alone!” says Nikhila Sachdev (name changed on request), a 32-year-old Bangalorean who just gave birth a year ago. “First you’re supposed to be really thin. Then you’re supposed to remove every bit of hair from your body. Then you’re supposed to do something about those sagging boobs. And now you have to get whiter, tighter vaginas? What’s next? Diamond-encrusted vadges?” she asks indignantly. You’re not too far out, babe. Kim Kardashian, that possibly plastic goddess of frivolity, has already been heard boasting about her Swarovski-studded labia

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