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When Masalas Serve Us Gender Bias

dinner

The ad I am reviewing today is by Everest Masalas.
The commercial starts with a woman in her office, thinking of, or rather vividly picturing her daughter asking her “Aaj kya banega?” (What will you make today?). She goes home, looking mildly frustrated and asks her two kids and husband, “roz roz kya banaun?”(What am I supposed to cook every day?) Her husband and kids shrug, but worry not; Everest has 41 different types of masalas to make her job easier! The wife then effortlessly cooks up an array of dishes, no gender roles are questioned, and all is well. I am used to Indian commercials’ one dimensional portrayal of women. No matter what the product is, washing powder, cornflakes, milk, electronics-a woman is almost always shown to be at home, waiting for her husband to get back from work, getting her kids ready for school/ waiting for them to come home from school..It goes on and on. I will concede that things are changing, though not nearly fast enough.

Here, a woman was shown at work, in a public space- still fretting about what to cook for her family. However, what really got to me about this particular commercial were the nonchalant shrugs of her kids and husband. I mean, your wife just got home after a long day at work- it wouldn’t kill you to get off the couch and cook something- or maybe to have had a hot meal waiting for her at home!

The commercial ends with the wife serving an elaborate meal to her family, and all of them look unnaturally happy-and the male (obviously) voiceover tells us that, “Taste Mein Best, Mummy aur Everest”-because no matter what a woman pursues and achieves outside her home, her ultimate worth lies in cooking the perfect idlis on one day and rajma-chawal the next.

Commercials don’t just sell us products- they sell us ideas, aspirations and lifestyles. So generic, heteronormative, Hindu, well-to-do families sell us everything from instant noodles to life insurance- and women in particular are shown to find ultimate joy in serving their kids hot meals, washing their clothes, packing their tiffins.. even when they have hobbies and careers of their own. Taking care of kids and a home is a tough and undervalued job- and whether it be “working” women or homemakers- women have a lot more to them than their cooking and cleaning skills. So come up with an ad where a wife is reading the newspaper, and the husband is preparing breakfast. Where a husband cleans the house while the wife is at her language class. Or maybe where a wife is pursuing a PhD while the husband takes care of the kids!

It’s time Indian advertising started pushing the envelope- upper caste, heterosexual Hindus aren’t the only community that exist in this country, but maybe it’s too radical to expect any sort of diversity in that regard just yet. However, the last time I checked,sabzi masala didn’t come with a “to be used by women only” label- and mummy doesn’t always have to be, or even care about being “taste mein best”- because there are a lot of other things we’d rather be better at.

This piece is part of Conditioning is for hair, not minds,a new series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman to call out stereotypes and conditioning around gender roles.

Shamolie is a foodie and a feminist who finally worked up the courage to start writing! Through her blog, she hopes to make people question beliefs they’ve long taken for granted, and view the world from a different perspective. She blogs at  https://bicyclewithoutafish.wordpress.com/

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