Recently, e-commerce firm Snapdeal released a new TV commercial to announce its weeklong sale in August. The ad shows a man breaking into rapturous dance moves while yelling, “party, party.”
The reason: His wife is away for a week.
While he is still celebrating, a stern voiceover informs telling him to not misuse his “azadi,” or freedom.
The implications are clear. Marriage is a prison for a young man, and the wife is an implacable jailer. While the Snapdeal ad is a new one, the hackneyed stereotypes of the warden-wife used in the storyline have been the subject of countless Whatsapp jokes, movies, and TV serials.
The assumption that wedlock suffocates men and forces them to live under the thumbs of their dominating wives has become commonplace among a certain class of educated, urban Indians.
But how much truth is there in these clichés—especially in a country where marital rape, dowry deaths, and domestic abuse are shockingly common in both rich and poor households?
The premise of these jokes—that women gleefully marry while men grudgingly go in to be lassoed—also needs to be deflated today when more and more women are delaying marriage, even while many men are happily willing. These women often prefer to defer initiation into the institution until they can ensure that they would not be getting into the unequal situations their mothers and grandmothers did.
I have spent most of my adult life in Delhi and most women I know seem to reasonably respect their partners’ privacy and friendships. On the other hand, I know many men who dictate what their girlfriends/wives should wear, whom they should meet, and where they should work.
Why is it that popular culture does not ridicule men who dominate their partners in ways that invade their privacy, inhibit their social lives, and destroy their individuality?
I am not denying the existence of women who keep a close watch on their spouse’s social lives. But even a cursory examination of gender roles in India would explain why they are forced to become such killjoys.
To begin with, a lot of these “guys’ nights out” actually end up taking place at home. After an evening of drinking, eating, TV-watching, and other merriments, how many men actually clean up their own mess? Well, if data is anything to go by, not too many. An average Indian man spends 19 minutes per day on unpaid housework. This is much less than their counterparts in other male-dominated societies such as China (48 minutes) and Japan (24 minutes).
So, later in the evening or the next morning, it is usually the poor grouch of a wife who has to take care of the dirty dishes and the cigarette stubs—likely without getting a thank-you in return.
I often hear a lot of young men complaining about having to completely change their social life soon after the beginning of conjugal life. But I wonder if any of them ever pause to think about the fact that, in India, a woman is almost always expected to leave her childhood home, her neighborhood, and friends, and accept her husband’s home and family as her own. Centuries of marital disputes might have been avoided had this been a fairer arrangement where both partners were expected to take care of both their natal and marital families. Meanwhile, in an alien environment, it is understandable why most women would want their soul mates of seven lives to be by their side during the initial months.
The Snapdeal ad isn’t the first subtly misogynist ad from an e-commerce firm. A sulking, demanding wife and a helpless, clueless, busy husband struggling to please her have become common tropes in commercials by several other online retailers.
The founders of these startups are role models for almost every tech graduate in India. Perhaps they could use their immense power to combat everyday sexism and help build an equal country. And if that seems too idealistic a reason, then perhaps they should tweak their marketing strategy simply because urban women outspend men by nearly two times when shopping online.
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