'When advertising glorifies mothers as martyrs, they add to gender inequality'

Guest Author: Anupama Ramaswamy, National Creative Director, Dentsu Impact, says women are never going to get to equality in office until they get to equality at home

e4m by Anupama Ramaswamy
Updated: Jul 2, 2020 8:46 AM

Women are not goddesses with eight arms, nor do they have superpowers! They are as human and as normal as men. During this pandemic, women are juggling work-from-home (WFH), work-at-home (WAH), and a “(WTF) am I doing?” thinking.
Before this global crisis, WFH always felt like a privilege and like a little treat, being looked at with envy by others less fortunate. But now, it has all changed. Women are working even harder at home, taking care of the children and the home, while all the virtual work on their laptops does not show any sign of shutting off. And thanks to the pandemic, the usual support structures that they could count on—neighbours, house helps, cooks, nannies, babysitters or even grandparents—are unavailable, which puts on the pressure much more.
Domestic chores have started wars, and we seem to be going back in time where traditional gender roles are slowly crawling back in many so called ‘modern’ homes. Women are supposed to happily do the bulk of housework, while also working their day jobs. More childcare. More domestic chores. More home-schooling.
The pandemic has exposed the inequality which exists in the urban domestic landscape. Online presentations, meetings, emails and WhatsApp messages have led to the unfortunate conclusion that employees are available all the time. The fact that the mother is home, means she is available all the time. This double shift during the single shift is killing every working woman’s ambition to the extent that she starts feeling being a homemaker is better.
Women are never going to get to equality in office until they get to equality at home.
The work-life balance was anyway a long shot for women, but now, it is even further away from being attainable. After a long day of work, domestic chores and home-schooling sessions, when the husband makes that coffee, a lot of women feel blessed, and guilty at the same time. The keyword here is ‘guilt’. Women need to learn to forgive themselves. Forgive themselves if they woke up late. Forgive themselves if the toast got charred. Forgive themselves if they missed the first few minutes of the meeting, or forgot to wear makeup. Forgive themselves if they hugged their child in the middle of a meeting, and oops, everyone saw! Forgive themselves if they made only ‘arhar dal and bhindi’ for lunch. Forgive themselves if the rotis were not soft and the rice was overcooked. Forgive themselves if they took a nap in the middle of a boring meeting. Forgive themselves if the email didn’t sound cheerful enough. Forgive themselves if they forgot about the holiday homework submission. Forgive themselves, because they are not what everyone always expects them to be - a ‘superwoman’.
This is a society where femininity means caring, where everyone is taught that girls are supposed to play with dolls and kitchenettes, should wear pink, only want to get married when they grow up, and become queens of domesticity.
Advertising plays a huge role in this. When we thank moms and glorify them to level of martyrs, we are adding to this exploitation. The only difference is, we as marketers and advertisers layer this with enough frills to make it look more appealing. We glorify Lalita ji, the Whirlpool mom and the Horlicks mom – we are either selling products to the overachiever mum, or to the husband-worshipping wife, or to the glam girl. Technically we aren’t selling to the woman CEO, or the self-assured woman who drives an SUV, or even the female NASA scientist, are we? We must step back and look the cultural and marketing cover-up squarely in the eye. We as a society make women believe that this is their actual self-worth. Therefore the day that women refuse to be superwomen gloating in guilt, equality may find a new meaning.

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