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Dear Indian Ads, Reverse Sexism Does Not Help Feminism

The latest campaign by Biba may attempt to promote gender equality but ends up falling flat on its face.

Published
Women
4 min read
Reverse sexism does not help feminism at all. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

In the heady din of progressive messages, an Indian advertisement got away with a sexist message this Women’s Day.

Biba, an ethnic wear brand for “the modern Indian women” planned to make a comment on a social evil called dowry through an advertisement. It was the second advert for its progressive campaign ‘Change is Beautiful’ and it was released on March 8, International Women’s Day.

Dowry is a social inequity practice in which a bride’s family gives a huge amount of money and/or expensive items and property, to the family of the groom during marriage.

Shared on social media using the hashtag #ChangeTheConversation, the ad shows the conversation between a groom’s father and the groom’s grandmother.

The grandmother asks the father – who has just returned from a meeting with the bride’s family – about where he’s discussed dowry. The father – in what serves as the ‘twist’ – tells the grandmother that he certainly has, and wonders if all the amount he could possibly ‘give’ the bride’s family would be enough. When the grandmother looks surprised at the question of ‘giving’ rather than ‘taking’ dowry, the boy’s father smiles and asks her, isn’t it appropriate that they be the ones paying since they’re getting such a ‘precious’ girl in exchange?

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The Misguided Attempt to Level the Playing Field

Ignoring, for a moment, the good-intentioned twist where giving dowry is justified by simply swapping the gender roles, the advert somehow manages to reinstate the traditional idea that a girl is “taken” by the groom’s family.

The advert somehow manages to reinstate the traditional idea that a girl is “taken” by the groom’s family. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)
The advert somehow manages to reinstate the traditional idea that a girl is “taken” by the groom’s family. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

The worth of the bride has been conveniently reduced to the worth of the dowry that the groom’s family would manage to give.

It came as no surprise that the ending received no flak at all – instead, it was celebrated as a progressive stance on dowry! Dowry – the burden of which weighs down many a girl’s family and is the prime cause for innumerable cases of female foeticide – has been callously represented in an under-2 minute advertisement. The latter bizarrely makes the use of reverse sexism, rather than responsibly promote the end of the practice.

It reminds me of a Reddit post that asked if we need reverse sexism to level the playing field between the two genders.

We need male, female, the third gender, the gender neutral, and everybody else to be equally liberated. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)
We need male, female, the third gender, the gender neutral, and everybody else to be equally liberated. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

I’d say, of course not. We don’t want men and women to be equally oppressed. We need male, female, the third gender, the gender neutral, and everybody else to be equally liberated.

Some might argue that reverse sexism is mainly used in pop culture only as a commentary to show how ridiculous the original sexism is. Even if that were what the advertisers had in mind, it could have been developed with clearer structure.

Why Reverse Sexism Actually Aggravates the Problem

Reverse oppression – that is, oppression against the otherwise dominant majority – rarely works as intentioned. This is particularly true of a 2-minute advertisement, during which time, punchlines are remembered – while meaning and context are soon forgotten.

Perhaps Biba got away with it because of the launch date coinciding with Women’s Day – the one day when everyone expects media and creatives to be progressive.

Their previous ad for the campaign had similar problems:

We are shown an arranged marriage scene featuring a middle class Indian family. The girl discloses her apprehensions to her father about marrying a stranger. Cut to the two families meeting, and the girl’s father asks the boy if he can cook (again, the attempted swapping of gender roles). Ten days later, the boy invites them to his house after he has learnt to cook.

Not only does the ad never answer the question it introduced in the beginning – on whether it’s okay for two strangers to marry each other after one meeting – it seems to say that it is absolutely okay for the girl (who was apprehensive earlier) to marry the stranger, as long as the traditional roles are reversed.

Femvertising, or feminist advertising, helps brands make a profit, and the issue of gender justice being discussed in advertisements and media helps the cause of gender equality. It is a win-win.

The ad seems to say that it is <i>absolutely</i> okay for the girl (who was apprehensive earlier) to marry the stranger, as long as the traditional roles are reversed. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)
The ad seems to say that it is absolutely okay for the girl (who was apprehensive earlier) to marry the stranger, as long as the traditional roles are reversed. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

However, it is funny when creative advertisers who don’t understand what equality means try cashing in on the trend. How has no one from the advertising agency noticed the blip in both adverts? How have they not realised that the message it sought to put out was only being thwarted at the end?

Perhaps the ones with authority to do so were all men (hello, glass ceiling!) who cared less about the distorted message and more about the kind of profits they raked in?

Good call, that.

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(Shaifali Agrawal is an India-based freelance journalist, specialising in art, culture, and gender. She can be reached at shaifalihere@gmail.com.)

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