Celina Jaitley and her band of corporate hoodlums have claimed to achieve what the combined force of dedicated feminists could not achieve in India since independence — women empowerment.
In February 1969, Carol Hanisch, founding member of The New York Radical Women, a radical feminist group based in New York, wrote an essay protesting against the Miss America Pageant of 1968. The essay was published in the book Notes From the Second Year: Women’s Liberation under the title ‘Personal is Political’. Since then (or maybe even before, as the origin of the phrase is still suspect) ‘Personal is Political’ has become a rallying cry for the feminists across the globe in their demand for equal rights and in the envisioning of a society free from discrimination based on gender.
In India too, Personal is Political is a popular phrase, used by the feminists to elucidate their politics and to fight for women empowerment. That was before Celina Jaitley and her band of corporate ‘well wishers’ gate crashed the party by boldly announcing that the key to women empowerment did not rest in the understanding of the history, sociology, politics or economics of a patriarchal society, but indeed, it lay in the biology and the physical construct of a woman.
18 again, a vagina ‘tightening’ cream, which Mrs. Jaitley has proudly hailed as the key to women empowerment, announces itself as “India’s first, most advanced, femininity restoring cream” which has “the power and potential to break the shackles of what so far has been marketed”. One is amused by the use of terms such as ‘femininity restoring’ as if conveying that most of the women in the country are on their way to dangerous proportions of masculinity until immediately rescued.
To properly demonstrate the sense and feel of women empowerment to the feminists and other broad minded individuals, Ultratech India, the manufacturer of 18 Again, has introduced an ad which steals the show from a spate of other such advertisements floating in the soap box universe through its degrading, disgusting, insulting, dehumanizing, flawed and twisted concept. I would not waste my words and energy to describe this ad, which has been slammed from one corner of Twitter universe to the other corner of Facebook news feed.
This is not the first time that such products, which claim to whiten and tighten someone’s vagina, have made an appearance on the television. In April this year, ‘Clean and Wash’ intimate cream for women, made a splash on the television screens across the countries and by the time it went off air, it was reduced to a blot on the face of the advertising agencies. Such commercials and products are a vulgar spinoff of the corporate mentality to legitimize every sphere — whether it is personal or political — for profit. Such a mentality has its roots in the deeply patriarchal view of the woman as a commodity — to be used for profit and pleasure. And oh, there are penile enlargement ads. Just not in India. Because apparently, Indian men are perfect in every god-damn way!
Every time such a product hits the market, it not only comes with a label of tightening and whitening your vagina or whatever, but it also carries the baggage of social understanding that women need to constantly subjugate themselves to the highest standards of ‘beauty’ and ‘feminineness’ and that failure to do so would not only make them a lesser citizen of this country — being doubly disadvantaged of being a woman and that too, ‘not beautiful’ in standard terms, but it would also incur enormous social and personal costs. It is this personal dimension which is both the originator and the sustainer of the patriarchal setup and hence it is this ‘personal’ which needs to be politicized and problematized. This is the feminist approach to women empowerment.
However, the corporate sector cannot be expected to lend a hand to the feminists as disrupting profit margins due to some social baggage has rarely impressed them. In such a zero game sum of profit and loss, it is pawns such as Mrs. Jaitley who play into the hands of their exploiters and lend a hand in the strengthening of the patriarchal setup. So, while the feminists may shout their lungs out again and again with ‘personal is political’, Mrs. Jaitley and her team seem to be fashioning another slogan for what they think is women empowerment — ‘just squeeze it a little’.