Vikas Mehta: The sham we enact on Women’s Day

13 Mar,2023

With apologies to none at all


By Vikas Mehta


Vikas MehtaSomeone asked to do a review of International Women’s Day communication. And for once I flatly refused to do so. I find it ridiculous that for one day, just one day, the whole world seems to be suddenly sympathetic to all women. Millions are spent on creating communication for one day. Every brand worth its salt becomes a crusade for woman. Products which actually pigeon-hole women into beauty compartments do not feel ashamed to be proud to be associated with the day. There is this facewash brand which used Indian women cricketers (who incidentally are the talk of town due to WPL but let’s leave that for another day) with a headline saying #Not Fair and goes on to define beauty in the way the cricketers play. Neatly done. But then what is the product actually? Natural Glow. The current euphemism for fairness. Or to put it more bluntly, whiteness.


And then most of the communication is targeted at the upper crust of the society. Not necessarily the woman, but the peer group of those who create such communication. It’s like a pat on the back. Or more likely to win an award. And of course, the millions of women for whom March 8 just goes by like any other day, are not even thought of.


I am not criticising the rationale of International Women’s Day. Neither am I questioning its importance. I am questioning the way we celebrate it.


Personally, I think the day should actually be a start of a round-the-year  programme which helps to uplift the cause of women. And the big difference is that it should not talk to women, but to men.


Let’s face it: it is us men who still control women. It is us men who still make the rules. It is us men who decide the fate of most women. So, if anything has to change, the change has to come from the men.


We do not need to celebrate women. We need to liberate our women.


A good start for any brand could be to tell men what women are capable of. Not by preaching to them but by using examples of common women. Not just the cricket players but a housewife, a mother and a daughter too. In communication we always say that word-of-mouth or first-hand endorsement by a user is the best way to convince the target group. So why not use the millions of examples around us to tell the men that women can do little things which can make an enormous difference in everyone’s life.


Look around you. Look at the women in your own life and around you and you can see what they are capable of.


Let me give you some examples from the women I know.


My wife. Most know her as that. But not many know that she is actually a fighter. And she in turn was influenced by her mother. My wife lost her father when she was in Class 10. Undaunted, her mother sent her son to US for higher studies. For more than a decade my mother-in-law, my wife and her younger sister lived alone. Learning, earning and surviving. And then when I embarked on my international career, she sacrificed her dreams and work to allow me to grow. When I had a huge health issue, she stood by me like a rock. She helped me come back like a phoenix and sacrificed much more than just some materialistic things.


Just before 50, she decided to reinvent herself. She relocated to my hometown Dehradun, a city totally unknown to her and embraced it with open arms. She started from scratch in a new responsibility getting involved with boarding schools. She did a one-year online course and started etiquette management as a subject in some schools. Not only that, she ventured out on her own. Today, schools offer her assignments at her terms. Parents seek her out from cities far away from Doon. And I bask in her glory. Tell me which man will not be inspired by her story?


She has rubbed off on my daughter too. My daughter suffered from Vitiligo from a young age. This is a skin illness which leaves white patches all over the body. Daughter. Vitiligo. Indian society. You get the drift. We (read, my wife) started treatments from various sources. But what amazed me was the fighting spirit of my daughter. She actually became an extrovert. People would stare at her but she would hardly be bothered. In fact, she started wearing short pants and sleeveless clothes, just to make a point. Her maturity belies her age. Hey, men, isn’t that an inspiring story?


Then I heard about this domestic help of a common friend. Typical Indian maid sob story. Husband was a drunk who would not earn anything, snatch away the maid’s salary, beat up and abuse her and the children. She wanted her two sons to be educated. So, our friend helped her enroll into a adult’s school, where in three years she could read and write. She opened a bank account. Learnt to do digital transactions. Because she learnt to read, she discovered that her children can go to a good school under the EWS quota. I also must admit that with her confidence and financial independence,  we tried to influence her to leave her erratic husband. But she has refused to do that. She is confident she can turn him around too. Now isn’t that something men will be glad to know of?


Recently, I made a new acquaintance in my society. The lady is the wife of an army officer. She mostly stays with her children as the husband is posted in remote locations. A common story for most of our armed forces families. But what amazed me was her daughter. She is doing her UG in economics and I casually asked her what she wants to do next? I was expecting the answer to be on the lines of MBA, Teacher……but in a calm and poised way she answered unhesitatingly. She wanted to join the defence services. Here is a girl, who is spending most of the time away from her father. Who is seeing her mother bring up the kids on her own. And yet she is choosing the same profession as her father’s. Knowing that not only is it difficult but also unusual for a girl. And she has the option of doing almost anything else. Immense courage and strength of character in the mother too, for  encouraging her daughter to go ahead with her choice. This is the real discourse of a woman. Is there any man who will not admire the thinking of these women?


I am sharing just a few examples. Am sure, you readers have your own such examples. So why can’t some brands build a favourable opinion about women by taking such simple, ordinary stories? Not just on women’s day but the whole year round? Why pay lip service which will be forgotten almost immediately? Women’s day has to kick start a change in the men. It’s not about any aspiration. But it needs to be about inspiration. Inspiration from such everyday stories and truths.


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Today's Top Stories