Have you seen the most recent MTS ad? I just saw it this morning and I couldn't find it online so it must be really new.
For those of you who haven't seen it, here is how it goes: It shows a creepy young guy stalking another (supposedly handsome) guy and saying something along the lines of "can I have just one date with your sister?"
I thought I'd heard wrong. Can I have one date with your sister???
The macho brother is a little irritated because this creep is catching him everywhere: as he is waking up, when he's parking his car, while he's at the movies and going about minding his own business. Nope, he's not irritated because some random sleazeball is after his sister, but because this guy is just in his way all the damn time!
So the creep keeps showing up at random places, saying "one date?"..."just one date....?" Till one day he (well, believe it or not) runs out of talk time! And has to shut up... lucky for the harassed brother, non?
But as luck would actually have it, the creep gets on to MTS and suddenly he's back with his demand to have just one date with the sister.
And the most shocking bit of the ad is yet to come. It ends with the brother getting really annoyed and saying "just go, yaar, just take her!".
By this time I am so in shock, I am not even sure if I've actually seen this during a commercial break in the morning news.
And what worries me more than the absolute trash I've just seen (and I don't mean just the news) is that many, if not most, people would see this as just another ad. Some would find it funny. And there would be others who see nothing wrong with what's being shown. It's just an ad, right?
First of all, this happening in the real world would be harassment! And no, not of the brother! Women in India (especially in a city like Delhi) are cornered by men like this everyday for their phone numbers or because they want to make some "fraandship". Creeps are Never funny for a woman. And a creep, asking your brother if he can have you for a date is not funny at all.
An ad like this really shows deep rooted perceptions towards women in our country. As if the fact that a brother being asked permission for dating the sister is not bad enough, what is most infuriating is the idea that people think it is enough for a brother to give his consent. Whatever happened to this sister we hear about? Does she even know that there's a creep lusting after her and her pimp of a brother has just given his green signal to "just take her".
And what exactly does the brother think this creep wants to do to his sister on this one date? No prizes for guessing! It is quite apparent from the way the creep looks and acts that he's not meant to be attractive and if he would actually ask the sister out, she'd probably say no.
Is it, then, a mere coincidence that the brother eventually says "Just take her!".
So what MTS is essentially trying to say is: if you stalk or harass someone enough, they will surely give in to you. Better still, if you irritate the man who owns the woman you desire for long enough, it won't be long before you can "just take her".
Isn't that just a great message to send to the men of our country!!
This is, of course, not the only ad that is completely inappropriate. Seen the Airtel 3G Facebook ad? The one in which a grandson and grandfather use Facebook on their Airtel phones to hunt down a really old woman and sexually harass her in public? This because years ago her husband had kissed the grandfather's wife without permission.
Women's bodies have always been the public sphere that is used for men to play out their revenge dramas. And the absolute casualness that's being used in these ads is what is really scary. By accepting these ads or even by simply dismissing them, we are essentially making it ok for women's bodies to be the object of abuse, ownership and trade on television. Can it be any clearer that we as a society do actually believe that this is what women are for?
For those of you who say "chill, it's just an ad", you may need to think about what ads are for. Unlike films (esp Bollywood films that are often way beyond most Indians' realities), most ads these days are about the Indian middle class and what they give value to. Ads show you who you can be and who you should want to be.
This MTS ad shows a young, upper-middle class, modern man. But what we also get to see is this man's perception of his sister. In real life, he probably does not want to pimp her off to the first creep that comes along but he does think that she needs to seek his permission for all such matters and that she adhere to his rules. After all, he is her protector till she can be passed on to another man through marriage for safe keeping.
Let's flip the situation for a minute. Suppose the sister chose to date some random guy (or even the creep) the brother didn't' approve of? Would he respect her decision? Would a girl who has a crush on the brother need to seek the sister's permission to date him?
Similarly, in the Airtel ad, the old woman who gets kissed forcefully in public is paying the price for her husband's misdemeanors in his younger days. The message here is once again clear: men will be men and they have urges. And they can impose themselves on any woman as and when they please - be it for pleasure, revenge or anything else they bloody well fancy.
The brand names and contexts change but the bottom line remains the same: women belong to the men in their lives and their life choices, sexuality and bodies are controlled by these men who have the power to restrict and ravage them as they please.
Those who think these ads are just ads definitely are unaware of or are in denial of the power dynamics that are constantly playing out between male egos and female bodies all the time. At the risk of sounding dramatic, any routine activity outside of the house is sprinkled with various shades of harassment: be it going for a morning walk, buying groceries at your local shop, making casual eye contact with the guy in a car next to your auto or wearing what you damn well want to wear.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fix solutions. But I think as "educated" people we need to make an effort to engage with these issues. For starters, we need to stop distancing from them by treating them as unreal elements of our society and our lives. The minute we think "it's just an ad", we start trivializing the uncomfortable, the unfair, and oftentimes, the horrific realities of most Indian women.
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