Happily Ever After?

I must confess, I am a regular ad observer! I believe that ads improve my GK as it were! They give me a sneak peek into “what’s hot”, “what’s cool” and where its “raining discounts!” Ads add to my vocabulary, introducing words like Swag (!), and now KDM. Ads paint me a world where the swag and gloss of the PYTs is never to be touched by the seven signs of aging; the housing schemes that promise “paradise on earth”; and dhamaka deals that will make it feel like Diwali every day! The world is your oyster–Just choose, click and add to cart!

Pardon me if I sound like I don’t relate! In fact I don’t want to, in this make-believe air-brushed world, while the mad, bad rest of the world continues to grapple with the daily business of survival–water shortages, spiralling prices, blatant corruption and abuse of power, and the horrors of every kind of atrocity that humankind can unleash.

But I digress. Coming back to the ad ad ad world. A long-time item of my ‘ad education’ is a scan of the Sunday paper’s matrimonial pages (another confession!). This is in some ways a tiny window into what society considers “a suitable match”, and how things are changing (or not). Some years ago girls were ‘wheatish’ complexioned and ‘homely’ (wonderfully Indian use of the word which in British English means cosy and comfortable and in American English means unattractive!) Of course we use it to mean home-loving and, perhaps, skilled in domestic duties! The other attribute highlighted was the “cultured” family background.

A quick look-over of last week’s page revealed that ‘Beautiful, slim, fair’ were the main adjectives used in almost 80 per cent of the ads. Somewhere in the fine print is revealed that the girl is also well-qualified professionally. Another interesting, though curious, point was the highlight on the “successful business family” angle. A case of lucre over culture? On the same page are also some Elite ads in which everyone, without exception, is ‘looking for a like-minded and well-educated/well-read match.’ I would love to know how these very noble-sounding words are interpreted!

On the very same page was the proud announcement by the newspaper that it has started a BooksOverBeauty initiative through which the intention is to change the format of matrimonial ads so as to put education over looks. The paper promises to highlight every ad that puts education first. I am flummoxed—are looks and books so irreconcilable? Does it always have to be one or the other? Are we continuing to reinforce the comic-book stereotype of the frothy beauty vs the geek? I thought we had moved beyond that?

It would be interesting to see how that initiative unfolds. At a time when our society seems to be at the lowest ebb of basic human values and respect for dignity and life, are we merely paying lip service to the notion of respect for women? Or are we merely playing with words? Will the mere order of words change the way we see women, we treat women, and perhaps even how women see themselves?

–Mamata

 

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