by Devika Mittal
One of the most typical topics for research on media and advertisement has emerged to be the commercialisation or objectification of women. Women being the eye candy, with the main task of smiling, dancing or being caught by the villain, the axe revolution or the “oomph” factor to sell a mango drink has filled pages after pages. Women are being depicted mainly as a show piece, they are in a subservient position, the ‘liberated’ men and women would argue. It is true and should be condemned. However, is this objectification restricted only to advertisements or the auto expo?
Way back in my all-girls’ school, any programme would involve selection of some tall, long-haired and beautiful girls to be dressed in sarees for the guest of honour ceremony and to present the bouquets. Here, I must admit that it was definitely an honour for someone to be even considered for it. In my all-girls’ college, girls in sarees still dazzled but the length of the hair and the looks varied. Here, I must mention that saree is seen as formal attire for women in India, the politics of it would be discussed later in the piece. Girls, more specifically beautiful girls, in sarees to receive the guests, present bouquets or to move around are a widespread phenomenon in North India. But to a student trained to be sceptical and question everything, it disturbs me a lot.
Saree is formal attire for women in India. However, is there a politics with it? Saree is a dominant attire but there are many different traditional attires in India and it includes salwar suit. But an attire that draws a thin line between being graceful and sensuous has been chosen. It is not to condemn the attire. I personally like it a lot. But the way it is generally donned, especially by young girls, it is more sensuous, a more moderate word is attractive. It is to note that a programme, if it has enough content, should not require people to look attractive, in order to draw attention. Formal or smart attire should be enough. And when I say formal, I would also ask that who decides what is formal and what is not. Any dress can be formal if it is not too attractive but graceful enough. A saree can be that but we must ask, why only saree?
Such programmes also have men in the formal Indian wear, again with the same politics of cultural dominance involved, a sherwani or kurta is selected. However, while men are also expected to dress in a formal way, it is still the women dazzling in sarees to handover the bouquets and make short but more appearances on the stage to say a line or two. It will be women in sarees who would be asked to accompany the guests. Why can’t a man handover the bouquet instead? Why can’t he handle the not-so-important tasks on the stage?
Men and women in their traditional attires do represent the tradition. But why are women, more than men, expected to represent this culture and in an often sensuous attire? Why are women dressed in the traditional attire given more visible but often subservient tasks?
Yes, women do get “empowered” as they are making appearances, they are getting noticed but at what cost? Beauty is a gem, it is not a crime. But do you want people to look at you only because of your looks? Do you want people to look at you, rather than hear what you have to say?
I would like to conclude with what Prof. Pankaj K. Jha, my teacher in my graduation college had remarked, “When it comes to representing culture, we often push our women in front. But when it comes to challenging it, men come forward. We(women) need to make the choice.”
Devika Mittal is a 4th semester student of M.A. Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, South Asian University, New Delhi, India.