Tag Archives: gender stereotyping

Lady Doritos. There They Go Again.

lady-doritos

I know – a lot has been written about PepsiCo’s genuis idea on Lady Doritos. But, I cannot let this go without putting in my two pence. Also, it’s hard not to react. So, here’s the rant.

Am wondering how this went. There’s this whole capturing the market segment thing – and gender is hot these days. So, the process was probably like so – someone at PepsiCo (I really want to know who) has this bright idea and says – “let’s make heart-shaped chips for women, with pink packaging and rose-petal and lavendar flavour” (awww, how sweet – they should’ve added #wesupportwomen on the pack for good measure). The team then proceeds to pat themselves on the back for the novel idea, makes a quick presentation (no doubt, in pink) and gets several nods from several heads – and viola!, the product is on its way into women’s hearts.

It baffles me how companies like PepsiCo (and Kinder – because they do much the same with their pink and blue chocolates) think. And what they can pass off under the tag of “market survey”. Let me add here my basic problem with this decision – no matter what the survey says (am willing to give the devil its due and believe, if momentarily, that the survey concluded that women like chips that make less noise) the point is this:
You cannot paint all women with the same brush – sure there will be women who’d prefer low crunch chips, but then there may be an equal number of men who would prefer those too. There may be men who would dislike the salt messing their hands too (or those of their children – here’s another idea PepsiCo and I said it first remember – less mess chips for kids). So just make low crunch chips and let those who want to buy them, buy them. Why make this about women? All the product has done is tell women (and little kids who are easily conditioned) that it’s not ok for them to eat making sounds and get their hands messy – not so much for men – loud, crunching sounds emanating from mouths of men are really ok.

I am no MBA and I ain’t done no market survey, but the fact that this product went from an idea to the shelves is simply shocking. On the one hand there’s all this talk about equality and Planet 5050 by 2030, on the other there are so-called progressive organizations that still believe that the best way to sell to women is to paint the product pink and harp on pre-conceived notions of feminity – two parallel worlds.

What’s next? Soups you don’t have to slurp, that magically land in your mouth without sipping sounds?

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Be Careful What You Tell Little Kids Through Toys

nasa

 

I don’t much believe in women’s day – don’t ask, it’s a long argument – but suffice it is to say that for me, the fact that we need a woman’s day is unfortunate – will rant about this on another post soon.

However, there is one thing I do like about all this hullabaloo around Women’s day – the fact that there are these great stories that come out of every corner of the internet, and I make my girls read them – to drive home the point that they are no different from boys (they know that, but I feel the need to reinforce it in the face of so much inequality that women face today)

One such example of a story I read was about Lego – the toy company – making female NASA pioneers as Lego figures. I think it’s a brilliant idea and, refreshingly, moved away from the gender stereotyping the company has done in the past (Lego girls is pink with beach and salon stuff the boys one is blue with all the “boy stuff” to make – you know the typical). In my opinion, the company has redeemed itself a little bit.

This is what toy companies need to do – to make gender neutral toys (hear that Kinder?). Children have impressionable minds, and the toys they play with – or the ones people gift them – tell them something about who they are supposed to be. Sure, that’s not how it should be, but that’s exactly how it is – when you give a girl a kitchen set to play with, you’re telling her that this is what she’ll enjoy, because that’s really what should come naturally to her. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with girls playing with these. The problem happens when that is all they play with – the “girlie stuff” – that’s giving them a message, even if unintended. Anyway, I think I’ve made my point (and I’ve said it before – you can read more about it if you like)

So, back to Lego’s NASA women – it’s a great idea. And, I cannot believe I am saying this. Why? Because I have hated Lego Friends – it’s all that women stand against today and I look at it as exploitation for mercenary gain. But, this is more of  give-the-devil-the-due kin fog thing. Like I said, they’ve redeemed themselves a little – even if it is an overt way to compensate for their other follies.

The next time you want to gift a Lego, go for the NASA one – for both girls and boys. It’s equally important for boys to grow up believing that women are equal to men – in every possible way. They too need to question the inequality and help break it. So, if you have a son – go ahead and gift him a Lego female NASA pioneer set.

 

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No GAP, Your Ad is Not A Mistake. It’s Really More Than That

gap ad

A lot has been said about the UK GAP ad – how it not only made a fatal error but also disappointed many when it released its latest ad.

I look at it a bit differently. To me it’s not an “error”. The ad, quite clearly, gives away a mindset – one that cannot be termed as a mistake, an oversight or lack of judgement. These are mere euphemisms that gloss over the real truth, which is that for an ad campaign to be created at a company like GAP (or any other company of this size for that matter) must require several layers of approvals, from the bottom to the very top. This revels only one hard truth – that somewhere the ideas of men and women are so firmly entrenched that it did not strike anyone as wrong. And that’s really the unfortunate part – that the ad did not seem jarring to anyone who was involved in its creation and approval. For all the politically correct rhetoric about equality and gender stereotyping, at the end of the day the best of us like to put men and women in boxes – women shop, men do the cerebral stuff.  That’s what it boils down to – cutesy girl, little boy – wham you have an ad.

To take this a little further let me add that it’s not about being politically correct either, or how GAP “let it slip”, because being politically correct means that there are compulsory checks and balances that ensure an organization does not make blunders. Call it utopian, but I believe that a company that looks at men and women equally should not, in an ideal world, need such checks.

But it’s not an ideal world, we’ve seen this before, and sadly, we’ll see it again. GAP is not the first company to have revealed its narrow-minded outlook though an ad. Nine West did it two years ago when it released a campaign showing animal print stilettos with captions like – ‘Starter Husband Hunting’ and text that read: “It’s hunting season. Whether you’re looking for Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, we have a shoe for that” . Again, it was an inadvertent giving away of a mindset, not an example of a “mistake”.

hunting

Like in the GAP ad, then too many said that the outcry against the ad was an overreaction. They asked women to “lighten up and take a joke”. Except it’s not a joke – this is about constantly reinforcing deep seated stereotypes that manifest themselves in intangible ways and feed regressive ideas about women and what they should be like. Such parochial ideas percolate deep into our psyches and contribute to creating the barriers women are finding hard to break through today – barriers that are created because of mindsets about women, mindsets that are fueled by ad such as these. So no, it’s not a joke and it cannot be taken lightly. It’s the reason why women are still not accepted into many so-called cerebral roles at work (finance, coding, IT, to name some); it’s why prominent world leaders continue to make derogatory remarks about women and get away with it – ads like these do nothing to help rid society of regressive stereotypes. And they must stop.

In my humble opinion, what GAP did was far worse than many other such ads and thus, unforgivable. By featuring children it’s basically telling every girl who sees the ad that she’s really a social butterfly at best, and must dress to be like one and it’s telling every boy that he is meant for all matters cerebral and must aspire to be like Einstein (which he would probably need to spell first, because GAP sure can’t). Unforgivable and revolting.

I’ve said this before, on too many occasions, that campaigns that feature women in stereotypical roles do irreparable harm and must be checked. Only last month I wrote about something similar I saw at ICICI bank when I saw a poster that showed a father saving money for this daughter’s wedding and son’s graduation – again – women social butterfly who aspires to be married, son – the Einstein who’ll go to a good university.  We don’t even realize the flaw in that thought, because we do it repeatedly, and worse, not many even notice it.

Brands have no business telling children what they should play with or wear or think like. Kinder Joy loves to tell boys that blue is their colour and that they must play with boy-toys and that girls must stick to dolls which are found in the pink Kinder eggs. Again, they are impervious to disapproval and continue to be irresponsible in the blind pursuit of sales. Another example of an unforgivable act by a company.

There will be more such ads, which will be termed as “mistakes”. No, a mistake is a spelling error (which GAP also made in the same ad). The ad, in itself, is a reflection of the real problem with our society today in its ideas about gender roles. I am not sure an apology can change that attitude.

 

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My Daughters Are Not My Sons. They Are Daughters. They Are Not Tomboys, They Are Girls.

daughters

I have three daughters. Yes, three. And no, I wasn’t “trying for a son”, as most people ask me, a question that only reveals their supreme narrow-minded stupidity than anything else. Why else, implies their tone, would anyone willingly have three daughters. I don’t know, but wanting to have them could be one obvious reason. Not sure if the obvious is obvious after all, especially those who walk around the world with “to-let signs in their eyes”, to steal a dear friend’s phrase.

I don’t bother replying to these questions, despite the fact that my silence is taken for consent, even lament. Also, the truth is that even I do answer, in some misguided sense of wanting to educate the world, it would be wasted breath. Such deep-rooted parochial ideas are not about to change with any answer I can give them, no matter now persuasive. So I’ve learned to ignore the questions, the prying, and the commiserative looks I get from people – which I find amusing more than angering.

However, for all my fortitude on the matter, there are days when I my patience wears thin – especially when I am told that my daughters are “going to be like my sons”. That gets my goat. What does that even mean? What can a son do for me, that a daughter cannot? I once asked this to an unsuspecting lady who probably said this to me with the expectation that I would proceed to unburden my worries onto her and express my deep gratitude for her understanding. Instead I asked her what she meant by that remark. She was taken-aback, but recovered quickly and added that they would “do what sons do”, and beamed as if she had shed invaluable light on the matter.

I didn’t press any further, because it was evident that she would be unable to articulate what she meant, and continue to make generic, seeping statements which would irritate me further. Besides, patience is not a virtue, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I let it go.

But the truth is that she’s not alone in thinking this way. I get only two kinds of reactions when people discover I have three girls. Actually, make that three kinds– shock, sympathy and reassurance. I am pretty used to it by now. I know the look. Mostly, though I don’t let it get under my skin, but there are times when I want to shake the people out of their idiocy and tell them to take off their blinkers.

My daughters are my daughters and they will remain so- they will not turn into sons if they do “what sons do”. It’s infuriating how the world wants to put people in boxes.

Think about it – if a girl wears shorts and plays sports, she’s a tomboy. The dictionary meaning of that word is – “a girl who enjoys things that people think are more suited to boys”. That says is all – people think. So we are saying that if you do boy things (someone please define those for me), you’re a tomboy. I reject this outright. My children do “children things” – play in the park, climb monkey ladders, swim, play sports, chase each other around the house. They are kids and this is what kids do – they play. Who decided what activities are “more suited to boys”? Give a kid a ball and he of she will play with it – it has nothing to do with the gender.

As a mother, I see my kids play with girls and boys equally, and they do everything. There are boys who come over and play with kitchen sets, does that make them “girlie”. I don’t think so.

It’s all in the conditioning. We do it from the time they are born. We think a child would be inclined in one way or the other and we make those decisions for them. We hand cars to boys and dolls to girls, and then we hold up statistics to bolster our arguments on gender. As I have said before in a making a case against gender-based toys that Kinder Joy puts in their pink and blue chocolates, that we think we know better. But we don’t. My girls like the “blue-for-boys” Kinder Eggs, because they prefer the toys in them.

And no, they are not tomboys, they are girls, they are children who love to play, to create, to not want to be told what they should do. They are my daughters. If I had had sons, they would have been my sons. It’s as simple as that. Why is this so hard to understand?

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The Thing About Gender Stereotyping

gender

I was standing near a teller’s counter in my bank the other day, waiting to be served. It is one of those so-called new-age banks that make a big deal about service and customers, and adding value to peoples’ lives.

As I waited, I noticed big, cheery posters behind the counter extolling the various virtues of the bank. As is typical of such ads, they trumpeted their superior expertise in helping people achieve their dreams, whatever those might be.

One particular poster caught my eye – not for any design brilliance, because in that it was much like the rest (they pretty much merged into each other), but because of the message it sent out. I can’t remember details about the exact financial product this ad offered but, in essence, it asked you to plan for the future – to put away enough money for your kid’s requirements when they grew up, the time that you’d need it. It showed a father with his grown-up son and daughter. They were all beaming with joy at the camera – the son in his graduation attire and the daughter in, you guessed it, a wedding one. So while the son’s aim is to graduate from a good college, the daughter’s is to get married. I wondered if anyone else around me had noticed the blatant stereotype. Of course, no one had. They were keen to get the teller’s attention and get out of there. I did too, because waiting at a bank is stuff of people’s nightmares (unless you are my father, for whom it is a social outing, and who would never go a bank like mine where he could not exchange details about his grandchildren with the teller). But that’s beside the point.

The truth is that to the people who created this ad and the ones who approved it,
this did not strike as odd. Nothing in the image looked incongruous to them, which is why it made it to the walls of the bank, and many others. If, however, the images had depicted the reverse – that is a delighted father flanked by a daughter in a graduation hat and a son in a groom’s dress, it would have seemed inconsistent – inconsistent with the reality that is. And reality is a matter of perception.

Toe me, this is a typical example of how stereotypes seep so deep into our psyche that we fail to notice it, or imagine any other truth. A daughter must get married, a son must get a job – that’s essentially the message that this ad is sending out. And everyone seems to be alright with it. Not quite new-age if you ask me.

Let me take this a little further. If you look at the other advertisements of the bank in question, or most banks or financial institutions for that matter, notice how they depict men and women. If it’s an ad about net banking to pay shopping bills, you’ll have a jubilant woman celebrating the fact that she can hereafter shop from home. However, if it is one about paying taxes online, there will be a content looking man quite chuffed at the convenience – again, women shop, men pay taxes (because women don’t get numbers)

To take this even further, I now come to the much-talked about Rajdeep’s question to Sania Mirza about motherhood and settling down. Did he think about what he was saying? I doubt it (if he had, he would not have asked it). Which is my point – stereotypes creep into your being and influence your thought process in ways that you don’t even realize.

The ad at ICICI and the question that Rajdeep posed have one thing in common – they equate womanhood with marriage and children. Such are the perils of falling for stereotypes – you stop thinking, even as you believe you are.

And only when this changes, will perceptions about women change. Only then will women will be treated as equal.

It’s a long road.

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