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Varkala, India © EdwardDerule

Selling Womanhood at a Cheap Price

Women started raising questions about their rights and selves a long time ago. Yet not much has changed.

Why am I the way I am? Why can I not be happy with the idea of being a “homemaker,” as most of my friends can? I really do not understand how it is a woman’s responsibility to “make a home.” I hate it when my friends say, “Well, housewives are really very important. If not for them, other family members would not be able to go out and work.”

It makes me red with anger when such statements are made, especially by women. People forget that women’s potential gets crushed, minced, pasted, dusted and wasted inside the territory called the “kitchen.” Her whole life is concluded to being a shadow of other family members, looking after them and the house. That nameless and aimless shadow is stepped over by beings of flesh and blood.

Inside the kitchen, she becomes firewood, singes her own dreams, and with the heat coming from these charred remains she cooks meals and serves others, while losing herself forever, dusting away the ashes that remain of her dreams.

It is heartbreaking to see how much time has gone by since women started raising questions about their rights and selves. Yet not much has changed. “She” has been synonymous with free labor, a subject to be objectified. “She” has been a mother and a daughter but has not been considered a being capable of holding equal citizenship rights; instead, she has been given a status of a ratified being incapable of her own protection.

Today, “she” is still the same. “She” has become a commodity of the modern capitalized world, a sexual object and a bearer of a double burden, where she is not only responsible for the jobs she has taken outside of the house, but also the household that she is assumed to take care of simultaneously.

Overcoming Education

We keep saying that education changes the entire scenario. But we forget what is included in school and college textbooks. Once, a friend expressed her outrage on Facebook about her son’s school textbook teaching him that women are housewives and fathers are the ones who go out to work.

Similarly, the textbook pictures showed that even if women opt for jobs, they can only become nurses and receptionists to assist the male doctors and the male bosses. She was explaining how her 6-year-old son was not ready to accept that women can also become doctors because his textbooks only show men in that role.

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This is one of the examples that shows how education systems are part of the culture we live in, reinforcing the existing ideologies generation after generations. On top of that, print, electronic and social media keep exposing the patriarchal and discriminatory ideologies in more entertaining ways. What do we learn from these? What do the younger generations learn?

Lighter Beauty

We can reflect on the ads broadcast on Indian and Nepali television channels. Many of the items we regularly see advertised are beauty products, for example, Fair and Lovely beauty cream for women. In one such ad, a boy ignores a girl because of her dark complexion. As she becomes upset because of this, her sister-in-law suggests she uses Fair and Lovely. In a few weeks after using the lightening cream, she becomes “fair” and “beautiful.” When the boy sees her after this “beautification,” he not only talks to her but, mesmerized by her “fair” beauty, instantly falls in love with her.

There are many Indian ads for products that try to retain the social and cultural concepts of “beauty” defined on the basis of skin tone. As many critics have pointed out, such ads promote fair skin as a concept of beauty on the one hand, and reduce women to objects of beauty on the other. Many news items and articles express distress linked with complexion, showing girls not only being rejected for marriage because of their dark skin, but also psychologically tortured in different ways.

The phobia about skin color is not only limited to Nepal and India, but is prevalent in most South Asian countries. About a year ago, an activist from Pakistan shared her own experience of being discriminated in different stages of her life based on her complexion.

The concept of beauty as linked with skin color has predominantly been advocated by the capitalist market and the media through advertising and films, and has become an intricate part of today’s life. And the intersection between gender, race, class, nationality, culture and social structure has invented more innovative ways of giving sense to such gender insensitivities through media.

Similarly, food producers like Maggi showcase and promote traditionally-defined gender roles where a daughter-in-law, mother or a wife is shown working in the kitchen, while husbands, children and all the others order her to make lunch or dinner. Such ads always provide a false notion that a woman’s only responsibility is to feed her family, even if it means depriving herself of the same foods because family always comes first.

Likewise, when it comes to the objectification of a woman’s body, we can turn to products like Lux, Veet and Sliceperfumes, deodorants and soaps—that not only reduce a woman’s body to an object, but also put it at the center of the male gaze. The physical portrayal of women is limited to fair, tall and slim girls to entertain male audiences and limiting the concept of “beauty” to a physical body of women and marginalizing all the other qualities such as intelligence or any talent she may have.

Apart from strengthening the traditionally defined roles of women, a trend of item songs has made its own place in Bollywood (and recently Kollywood), where women become the spectacle of sexually hungry men.

The striving for size zero among celebrities and in the fashion world has started yet another kind of discrimination where women are sidelined to the periphery, outside the circle of slimline beauty.

There is a misunderstanding in this concept of beauty sold in the market at a cheap price. Despite the ongoing debates on these issues, such misconceptions reach households of every class and caste, embedding and taking a form of softened and entertaining version of discrimination, perpetuating its cycle.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: EdwardDerule