Accept Collateral Damage?
To flush out the Vietcong, American B52 bombers carpet-bombed vast tracts of land. The scorched earth policy culminated 50 years later with the US President apologising for the ruin he had caused
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Why do you want to educate me if you will not hear my point of view? Education makes me think, makes me aware, makes me see the world from the standpoint of women, because education did not do that before!”
All that happens around, visibly, loudly, educates children, particularly in the early stages of their life, and leads to questions that young people like Isha are today asking themselves and the world they live in. Good educators try to build discernment into the learning process, to slow down the first impressions, to examine the assumptions and to carefully look at the world from many perspectives. This is a difficult task, one that Isha’s college may not always find possible to take on.
However, clichéd as this may sound, it isn’t the schools/colleges alone that ‘educate’. It is also perception of ‘what, why and how’ of adult and peer behaviour and discussion at home — the ‘norms’ that adults consciously and unconsciously set for what is right, acceptable and wrong. There seems to be a ‘culture of silence’ in Varun’s home around things that would impact not just what Isha wears, but her views on sexuality, relationship and identity as a young woman; and would certainly inhibit ‘meaningful’ discussion on lingerie and Varun’s stand on his ads.
I am trying to find honesty in my life. I am seeking to build a career where I will not have to say one thing, mean another and preach yet another…
Perhaps the bigger challenge for Varun is the ethos he has built in Kora. Should a lingerie company concern itself with the views that the male and female employees have on gender and women’s rights? The sad reality today is that such a suggestion would be seen as ludicrous, though creative ad companies manipulate just such areas of our minds.
Media is a powerful influence, a far bigger educational influence than the content in the textbook or the project in a subject.
Is an advertisement, billboard support to inform, educate, attract, appeal to reason, appeal to the male, appeal to the female, sell a lifestyle? Do advertisements speak to the unconscious?
If one wants attention in a crowded room, one needs to shout loudly! With sexualised messaging crowding the sensory ambit it is a bit like carpet bombing. You strike hard at a wide population, and in it are the people you need to buy your product. The rest are useless, part of the failed percentage, and if they don’t like it, too bad — collateral damage.
Unfortunately in this case, the collateral damage is 50 per cent — all women and girls who have to endure the public sensationalisation, sexualisation of their bodies.
This impacts not just what women do to promote lingerie. The blitzkrieg is virtual — not the provocative ads alone but the age-old patriarchal and stereotypical assumptions that underlie them and are promoted as desirable — the persona of the assertive, virile male and the nubile, submissive female.
‘I am not like those girls!’
Unlike Lata, who asks, ‘What woman wants to see this?’, many young girls might actually feel the need to aspire for such a look, but also be ashamed of the part of them that wants to. So, girls become ‘good’ girls and ‘those’ girls. Men are made fun of for their size and lack of muscle. The problem is not with the feeling — it is with the way it is contextualised, itemised and objectified, forcing one into an unreal and fragmented choice. Self-care and sensitivity are pitted against courage and adventure.
Leslie C. Bell, in her book, Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom, while exploring lives of successful young women with infinite opportunity and choice, filters the need for tuning into the individual, to find what might be truly fulfilling, in life and in love.
There is an urgent need for dialogue and enquiry around sexuality and identity, both within the home and in educational spaces — otherwise, it becomes the elephant in the room, having to be addressed only when problematised. Neither would value judgements and didactic action — they always cause collateral damage that is difficult to contain. We have evidence of this in other areas of life. Today, many prescribed medicines cause collateral damage, called ‘side effects’, called iatrogenesis. People suffer for short or long periods of time.
To flush out the Vietcong, American B52 bombers carpet-bombed vast tracts of land. The scorched earth policy culminated 50 years later with the US President apologising for the ruin he had caused.
‘I find it disturbing to look at explicit content. It’s a choice I make. And I am troubled that someone can ride roughshod on my choice uncaring of my feelings.’
Choice is the Catch-22 here… what if my choice takes away yours or undignifies it? Am I responsible? Does one need to adopt a different strategy, like Tara, who simply ‘deletes’ from her life that which she does not care about?
Marketing strategy — it does not matter how — uses all means to keep in line and compete with others. If the soap and car ads use attractive women in their ads, go one better for clothes, perfume, TVs, cellphones and shoes. And lingerie, personal and private, of course, it cannot be advertised without the woman’s body! Suffusing the public sensibility with images of scantily clad women, feeding the male gaze, is justified as advertisement.
‘I would say the consumer’s demand has been consistent all these years — quality. And when times changed, the quality-demand did not change…’
Has it been that way? Vance Packard, author of The Hidden Persuaders, says in a well-known quote, ‘In the field of marketing . . . the trend toward selling [has] reached something of a nadir with the unveiling . . . of so-called subliminal projection. That is the technique designed to flash messages past our conscious guard.’ Sell, sell, sell! But who are the sellers? Corporations or the people working in them?
What choices are men and women making, the corporate employees, meekly, boldly, and what sensibilities are they drowning, what questions are they refusing to ask? We do not know who Abhishek Dara really is. We are not even in a position to find out what concerns him beyond keeping his job and his good impression with the CEO. The world of work today seems to require a quality of inner numbing, a fragmentation of inner consistency that has assumed the proportions of an epidemic. In this world, there seems to be little room for the vulnerable quest for a workspace where Isha’s vision of saying, meaning and preaching are one. Perhaps the young need to be supported in exploring what it means to have such a workspace, so that they become change agents, and not splintered and accommodated by an all-pervasive, money-driven system, that teaches one to mask, compete and prevail, in the name of success.
But then nothing succeeds like success, however short-lived… once established, once the money is rolling in, then adjustments can be made — to the product, to the advertisement, to improve brand image, whatever the cost to one’s inner wellbeing, to one’s personal life.
‘Please understand that I have personally gone through your e-mail and would like to inform you that I have arranged a call for you in this regard and you would soon be contacted by one of my team.’
Why would prominent shoemakers treat workers in poorer countries worse than in the US? Why would huge pharma companies sell drugs banned in the first world to third world nations with poor regulation? Why would computer and cellphone and car companies not adopt recycling standards, till pushed, embarrassed and cornered?
American political activist Ralph Nader said in 1997, “A struggle different than any before in world history is intensifying between corporations and parents. It is a struggle over the minds, bodies, time and space of millions of children and the kind of world they are growing up in. Year by year, parents are losing control over their own children to the omni-penetrating hucksterism of companies. Driven by tens of billions of dollars in sales, profits, bonuses and stock options, the men driving giant companies are in a race to the bottom with their competitors — always pushing, pushing the range of violence, sex, addiction, and low-grade sensuality through evermore manipulative delivery systems.”
Sales and profit are recognised by numbers. Decency is like the quality of the air we breathe, difficult to measure. If it exists the air nourishes. If it is polluted, it kills, debilitates, sucks out the energy, unseen, lethal. Surely for unbridled hoardings and ads there is a price. Just because it cannot be counted, it does not mean that women don’t pay the price, or our children.
Gautama G. was principal of The School KFI for over 18 years ushering in new structural and pedagogic initiatives and in launching the new KFI school Pathashaala where he serves as Director-Secretary.
Sumitra M.Gautama guides academics and Outreach at Pathashaala since 2013 (The School KFI 1988-2013). Her work has enabled various pedagogic initiatives and contributed to Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse programmes in schools
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.