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Guest Column: Woman at the core: Sangeetha Aiyer

28-December-2015
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Guest Column: Woman at the core: Sangeetha Aiyer

Sangeetha Aiyer, Vice President and Head Marketing, A+E Networks|TV18 writes about how politics, advertising agencies and movies are placing women on the forefront:

Being an independent woman in a nation that is at the cusp of change, one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed both as a woman and a professional is the changing trends in society with the woman at the core.

Saudi Arabia has allowed women to vote for the first time. Closer home, the women’s vote swung the fiercely contested Bihar elections. I was amazed to hear vox pops by women from a backward state where patriarchy is embedded in the mindset, clearly voicing their opinions. Anyone who has followed elections in India knows these are clear tipping points in our public discourse. What is even more interesting to note is that in the last few elections, development has been the key issue when women have yielded the power to sway elections with their unprecedented turnout.

Another place where change is clearly evident besides the ballot box is the marketplace. The Indian market place has always been something that would make Darwin proud: if organisations and brands don’t evolve, they will perish. Examples are abundant in media on women’s changing roles in society. I was particularly struck when I saw an ad for Lloyd washing machine where a wife gets back at her husband for saying the decision to buy the machine was her department. The ad made ‘patriachy’ - the underlining thread of our society - look ‘uncool’ and that’s what struck me. Advertising is brutal. It involves months of planning and investment and if the ROI doesn’t show, heads would roll. Which is why advertising is always on the fault lines of change - the messaging has to be new, relevant and must hit the bulls-eye. I cannot imagine a client or a creative director giving such an idea a green signal a decade back.

Another media platform at the cusp of radical change is cinema. And here too, the ROI is instant. A look at the movies which did well without star power this year holds a mirror to women’s changing role in society. Tanu Weds Manu was one of the biggest hits in the first quarter. Like Kangana Ranaut’s earlier role in Queen, the success of the movie can easily be attributed to the female lead. The content itself portrays the woman of today – ready to claim the world and complete on her own. Even a cursory glance at new movie posters indicates this wave of change. The movie poster of Pyar ka Punchnama 2 showed girls holding a leash around their boyfriends’ necks. While I agree that the film actually doesn’t show women in the best light, can anyone imagine such a poster in the 70s or 80s? Even in the ultra competitive small screen market, I was amazed when a relative recounted that a popular daily soap saw its lead protagonist – a woman IPS officer – rescue India from a nuclear holocaust.

Consumerism is also placing women at the centre of their marketing campaigns. E-commerce and online fashion portals predominantly talk to women as a direct consequence of women with more purchasing power embracing technology. Moreover, fashion, makeovers and grooming are a very big segment of YouTube consumption; increased exposure to technology and media have instilled a sense of self-confidence and better decision making.

I remember growing up in an India where the woman’s vote never really mattered so politicians never cared to address them. Movies across the spectrum in the 80s seemed either too regressive or fight regressive behaviour in society, where the woman was portrayed as a destitute in a compromising situation.

This thread of feminism in a more meaningful, inclusive and empowering way has encapsulated all aspects of our lives, so much that we have now grown accustomed to it. The guard of honour for the President of the United States was a woman. Hell, the Indian airforce announced recently that it would allow women to be fighter pilots. What next? A woman in aviators playing Tom Cruise’s role in a film like Top Gun? Wouldn’t that be fun?

There will always be exceptions. In a country of over a billion people there will be crimes and acts that shame us. We have many miles to go before we become a society deserved of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Where the head is held high…” but real change is happening all around us if we care to see.

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