Selling The Idea Of “Women As Property”: My Problem With Dabur Honey’s Ad

Posted on November 9, 2015 in Culture-Vulture, Media, Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Taboos

By Rangashree Thirumalai:

I write this now in the hope that most of you reading it would have watched the recent Dabur ad about a married woman making her husband ‘jealous’ when she goes out (upon her transformation after consuming Dabur honey) and having to show her Mangalsutra to reassure him that she is still all his!

Of course, at the first instance, you would think this is one cute married couple still trying to make each other jealous, yet proclaiming their love (aka loyalty) for each other. So, he takes a strand of her hair and brushes it away to makes her Mangalsutra visible. How cute, right?

I’m afraid not. So, what’s wrong here? This is just another ad in the long list of ads that sell the idea of women as property. Yes, to be protected and possessed by someone and in this case, the Mangalsutra, is her identity proof, or proof of ownership.

Let me begin by telling you that I am not against the idea of a marriage. It’s a loving partnership between two people and a cause for joy and celebration. However, I do believe that such ads take away the real sense of how marriages ought to be. Encouraging the entrenched patriarchal idea of having to show her husband (and the world) how committed she is to him, time and again, just goes on to show how little we have progressed as a society. Is he insecure because his wife looks good? Well, that’s certainly his problem, and does not mandate that he expects her to prove her loyalty to him each and every day. Private property, eh?

I know a lot of people who are very much in love with their partners, in happy marriages, but do not find the need to wear ornaments or any of the countless symbols to show this to everyone, including the obligatory sindoor for a married woman or the ceremonial details of Karva Chauth entailing the belief that going hungry for a day will aid the longevity of your husband (of course, it has become fashionable for men to keep a fast too, but I’m not sure if they go to the extent of touching their wife’s feet and seek her blessings as many times as a woman must do during her lifetime). The countless Bollywood songs perpetuate such beliefs and have enabled my understanding of what all of this really entails.

Oh, but what if she decides to show her commitment on her own? Have we heard of ‘free consent’? After centuries of subjugation and subordination, maybe the Chomsky-an idea of ‘manufactured consent’ may not be too far a reach. The mass propaganda done by all forms of communication, including ads, point to a deeper issue in our society – the lack of equality between women and men in the domestic realm. No doubt, we have countless achievers in various walks of life, many of whom are women, yet, they face discrimination and unequal treatment at home. Male privilege all the way, right?

Before jumping into thinking that I’d ask for a ban on such ads (if I had my way, I would- considering they propagate some or the other form of discrimination based on gender which is outrightly contemptuous), I’d like to think that it’s high time each of us, in our personal capacity, reconsider what public perceptions of women we carry and what needs to be done about it. Not just this particular ad, but there are countless others which push the stereotypical notion of girl-boy roles in society (including the obnoxious one that says that a particular candy in blue is for boys and pink for girls). It’s time things changed. For advertisements play a crucial role in shaping public opinion and must seek to take a step forward by being progressive and encouraging social change, even when favourable conditions do not exist. How else do we assert the norms of equality at home and breakdown deeply entrenched ideas of patriarchy and private property? This must seem like a small beginning, but, it is a beginning, nonetheless. Better late than never, don’t you think?

There are many others who feel the same way, and I’m glad they’ve decided to talk about it!

Disclaimer – I don’t mind if both women and men wear love bands or chains or any other ornament/object of their choice to proclaim their love for each other, as long as it is not a part of a centuries-old propaganda of furthering archaic and stereotypical gender roles which violate their right to dignity and autonomy, especially when we are trying to push for reforms that uphold the dignity and freedom of all women, irrespective of their religious, cultural or social backgrounds.

Here are two tweets from Dabur’s  ‘#jealoushusbands’ campaign, as well as an audience reaction to the ad: