Learn how you can sell without being sexist in 30 seconds*

*Reblogged from Khurpi.com

Sex sells. And so does sexual objectification of women. Which is why the advertising industry, in particular, is full of sexism and sexist stereotypes.

Cars are sold by placing scantily clad zero figure women next to them (and in some cases, by curvy women gagged up in the car boot with Silvio Berlusconi in the driving seat – shame on you, Ford). Then there’s the selling of ‘lady products’, such as hair removal creams, that shame women for not taking care of our stubble (I’m looking at you, Veet).

But one of the most frequently recurring images is that of the mother in domestic situations – the mother washing the clothes after the kids have a fun day at school, the mother frying pakoras and jalebis for the evening snack while managing to look good for the husband, the mother choosing Horlicks/Bournvita/Complan so her children grow up quicker and so on.

So, it is refreshing to come across the latest ‘Respect women’ advertisements by Havells Appliances in India which not only refuse such sexist stereotypes but turn them on their head. The appliances Havells are trying to sell – juicer, mixer, iron – all belong to the ‘domestic’ sphere. The target market for these domestic appliances is largely made up of women which says something in itself. But, quite cleverly, Havells have kept the conventional settings and changed the woman – it’s no more the traditional mother figure, say hello to the new woman who is articulate, clever and does not wait on her husband and children.

One such setting is that of a visit by prospective in-laws to arrange a marriage. The boy’s mother quips about her son who lives in USA, “Ek cup coffee ke liye bhi bahar jana padta hai.”(“He has to go out even for a cup of coffee.”) The implication, which is very common, is that he needs a wife to do this for him. The girl puts the Havells coffee maker in front of them and suggests that the boy settles with it – “No visa problems” – and adds, “Kya hai na aunty ji, I’m not a kitchen appliance.”

There are many more such delightful advertisements, including one in which the wife gives a steam iron to her husband when he complains about the state of his shirt. She says, “Ek general manager ye bhi nai kar sakta to kya sochenge employees?” (“If a general manager can’t even do this, what will the employees think of him?”)

I can’t decide which one is my favourite but I think the juicer advertisement is worth a mention too for showing a woman going out jogging after putting the juicer, a carrot and orange in front of her husband and his friend: “Hello, I’m his wife. He thinks I’m a kitchen appliance.”

These 30 seconds advertisements are brilliant for showing that sexism is not the only way to sell and that the women in the target market are no longer taking it lying down, so the strategy needs to change. Much as I’d like for these adverts to not be unusual, we know that sexism still prevails in advertising. One can only hope that these herald a wave for a new kind of advertising in India and elsewhere.


Long queues at Heathrow – racism or no racism?

…the experience I was referring too and the anger I was expressing was not merely for the wait in the queue. It extends to the rude interrogation at the check points. I was asked how long I had spent in India, what I was doing there, what I do in the UK, and what policies I advise on in my job (“Equality and diversity”, I said with a hint of irony).

I recently travelled back from India to London. I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 after a nine hours flight and had to queue for two hours to get past the immigration check. My swollen feet, lack of sleep and a queue that extended from the arrivals hall to where the aeroplane exit was prompted me to some angry Tweeting. I saw lots of white people file past me to join the considerably smaller (almost non-existent) queue for British/EU passport holders while it took me over 45 minutes to inch close enough to the arrivals hall to be able to see the long snakey queue in there. Ironically, big LCD screens in T4 were playing videos of the Kate-William wedding kiss, the Queen and Buckingham Palace, I assume, as a way to welcome foreigners to Britain.

As I tweeted,

I got a couple of responses asserting that white British and white Americans/Australians/Canadians get held up in long queues at airports too, so what I was complaining about wasn’t racism per se. There is no denying that white people also have to sometimes to go through nightmare waiting times at airports too. But the experience I was referring too and the anger I was expressing was not merely for the wait in the queue.

That experience extends to the rude interrogation at check points. I was asked how long I had spent in India, what I was doing there, what I do in the UK, and what policies I advise on in my job (“Equality and diversity”, I said with a hint of irony). I know I will get “…but security is important” responses to this but consider this – I have lived in the UK for four years, I have travelled to India three times and to several other countries during this time. Every time I have come back, my fingerprints have been recorded and details verified and cross-checked through questioning. Of course, UKBA holds this data on their system and yet, every time I come back, I face the same level of scrutiny. Proportionally, this makes no security sense.

The airport experience of ethnic minority people is an extension of their everyday experiences of discrimination and abuse. As this Tweeter said,

On the day that I landed, I came across the news that the Home Office has been offering to reward staff with gift vouchers, bonuses and extra holidays for fighting off asylum cases. Asylum cases are about people’s lives, about countries where they may face persecution, even death, and about vulnerability. It is quite clear from their crass incentivisation of staff that the Home Office’s starting point when investigating these cases is how to make people leave the UK. This attitude extends to immigration checks at airports where ethnic minority people are interrogated in the hope that officers can find a stutter, a confused answer to detain them for further questioning. All the times I have travelled, I have never come across one friendly immigration office, the tone is always accusatory.

If there was anything more appalling than that report, it was news that an 84 year old suffering from dementia died in handcuffs after being detained at Harmondsworth detention centre. Alois Dvorzac was a Canadian national. He was detained at Gatwick and sent to the hospital where the doctor noted: “UNFIT for detention or deportation. Requires social care.” Yet he was taken to Harmondsworth detention centre; when his condition worsened, he was transferred to the hospital again where he was kept handcuffed. He died wearing those handcuffs. 

Is this an issue of racism? Yes, it is. That Alois Dvorzac was a Canadian national does not change the fact that his detention is yet another example of Home Office’s imperialist belief that all immigrants are here to live off benefits and steal jobs. Alois Dvorzac’s case makes my standing in the queue for two hours with swollen feet sound like a triviality. But it also goes to demonstrate that violation of human rights of immigrants is an everyday reality. You know something’s not quite right when Alistair Campbell and Olympic athletes waiting in queue at Heathrow makes news but it doesn’t matter to anyone if people like me have to do the same.

#Racistvan: “Go home or get arrested”

“Go home” is not a gentle reminder or suggestion to go home, it is simply saying that black and brown people don’t belong here and should “go back to where they came from”

It’s taken me a while to collect my thoughts on the van that has already become a hashtag on Twitter – #racistvan. It’s not taken me a while because I was trying to make up my mind about it but because I was appalled. I was appalled at how openly racist this government is and how little protest (in proportion) there is about it. The van in question is a new pilot by the government to scare illegal immigrants into handing themselves over to the authorities. “Go home or get arrested” is what’s written on the big billboards on these vans which are now being driven/paraded around six boroughs of London.

Defending the vans, Immigration minister Mark Harper said, “We are making it more difficult for people to live and work in the UK illegally…But there is an alternative to being led away in handcuffs. Help and advice can be provided to those who cooperate and return home voluntarily.” Now that it’s been three days since the vans were first introduced, Lib Dems have come out and said the posters on the vans weren’t agreed within the government. They’ve called this particular campaign many things – “disproportionate, distasteful, ineffective”. But they haven’t called it what it really is – racist.

Besides the aggressive tone of “Go home or get arrested”, the fact that the phrase “go home” has a history of racism and lived experiences associated with it can’t be ignored. “Go home” is not a gentle reminder or suggestion to go home (where is home, anyway?), it is simply saying that black and brown people don’t belong here and should “go back to where they came from”. It invokes memories of discrimination, abuse and marginalisation.

When I was once told by a white girl that I’m “not even supposed to be in this country”, I assumed that everybody would think that that’s an outrageous and racist thing to say. Now, with this government being openly racist itself, I’m not so sure. It almost feels like a downright denial of the history (and the continuance) of racism in Britain. And that’s scary because such denial validates what that white girl said to me even though she said it only because of my skin colour.

Some of us will remember the ‘racist tram woman’ and her slur of “get back to your own countries” or the pub landlord who told the TV cook Lorraine Pascale to “go home” (even the Daily Mail called the pub landlord ‘racist) or many other similar incidents. Many of us were, quite rightly, outraged about them. But how do you react when the government funds a campaign to do exactly the same? If Labour’s silence and Lib Dems’ mumbling is anything to go by, you call it ‘unpleasant’ at the most.

Of course, the usual what’s-wrong-with-driving-out-illegal-immigrants argument has been doing the rounds. But this campaign is only yet another in a series of measures to drive out existing immigrants and discourage new immigrants from coming to the country with the target of bringing down the number of migrants from hundreds of thousands to “tens of thousands”.

The discouragement appears to be not only for long-term immigrants, but, and this might sound absurd, for tourists as well, with the government hoping to introduce a requirement for a £3000 bond for tourists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ghana and Nigeria (‘high risk countries’, according to the Home Office).

There have also been proposals to make lives difficult for migrants in the UK. Landlords, health sevices and schools may be required to check immigration status of people before providing them their services. It might sound like something straight out of The Thick of It, but Sarah Teather MP revealed that a group called the ‘hostile environment working group’ was created on the explict direction of the PM to look into ways to deter unwanted migrants. The group was later renamed the inter-ministerial group on migrant’s access to benefits and public services.

As I wrote some time ago, such measures may be targeted to eliminate illegal immigrants, but they affect a lot more people than just illegal immigrants. They create an environment which mistrusts anybody who is non-white/speaks with an accent.

So, the vans campaign is not an isolated act, it’s one of many racist measures that this government has been openly talking about, it’s vile and shameful. We should protest against it and send out a strong message that racism is not acceptable, even if it comes from the government.

India’s Western problem*

*Originally published on The F-Word

The BBC’s recent India: A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman documentary follows a familiar pattern when it comes to Western reporting on violence against women in India says Asiya Islam

Content note: Contains non-graphic references to acts of violence against women, with some links containing further details.

When a young student was raped and murdered in New Delhi, India, in December 2012, a wave of protests gripped the country. Simultaneously, perhaps for the first time, the international community sat up and started talking about sexual violence in India. The discussion quickly veered towards India’s ‘woman problem’ – blame was placed on Indian culture, tradition and values for horrific (and ‘non-horrific’) crimes against women in the country. At that point, I found myself facing the dilemma of either siding with or refusing to participate in the problematic culture-specific criticism of violence against women in India.

I was faced with that choice again when I recently watched India: A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman, a BBC Three documentary on violence against women in India, made in the wake of the uproar following the rape and murder of the Delhi student. Presenter, Radha Bedi says, “As a young British Indian and journalist, I wanted to go to India to uncover the reality of life for women there, six months after a young medical student was brutally gang-raped on board a bus in the Indian capital Delhi.” I am not convinced that a brief stint making a documentary in a country, even one you are familiar with, could “uncover the reality of life for women there”.

Though Radha has spoken to many people, including her own friends and family in India, as well as women who have been victims of gendered violence, the radius of the documentary is limited to Delhi and Punjab, except for one case of a woman who was molested and stripped in Guwahati in north-east India. This is not to say that Radha should have gone all over India but it would have helped if the documentary was then not sensationally titled India: A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman.

There is also an element of writing and speaking for a particular audience. BBC is not available to watch in India, so the main audience of the documentary is British residents. Some situations portrayed seem to be not exactly invented, but definitely exaggerated. When Radha goes to a market in Delhi, she is warned by her friend to keep her arms folded over her chest because men are walking around groping women. While I don’t want to deny experiences of women being sexually harassed on the streets of India, I have to say that I have been to those markets and I haven’t felt the need to cover or protect my breasts.

Risking being called a cynic, I think there is an element here of “This is what our audience would want to hear, so this is what we’re going to say.” There seems to be a growing appetite in the West for stories of horrific violence and tragedies from the ‘developing world’ but little demand to see what people within those countries are doing, as a collective, to counter social injustice and inequality.

This is evident in Radha’s documentary too. Though she talks to a few individuals who are fighting back, I am very surprised by her lack of interaction with the protesters of January 2013. There is an interview with a woman from the UN, who vaguely suggests that Indian culture needs to change, without indicating how, but none with, say, Kavitha Krishnan, who has been involved in working on the ground level in India against violence against women.

There is, however, some good journalism, particularly in the story Radha covers on acid attacks in India, and I wish there could be a more in-depth account of that. Acid attacks are a very particular form of violence against women in India and are facilitated by the lack of regulation on the sale of acid. I think we all need to hear about it more, with a view to campaigning to regulate the sale of acid as well as to recognise acid attack as a gendered crime and punish it accordingly.

One particularly disappointing aspect of this programme is the unnecessarily long air time given to the lawyer defending two of the accused in the Delhi student rape and murder case. This lawyer has been known to say unacceptable things (including that no respectable woman would ever be raped) but has been widely criticised (and ridiculed) in India. It is therefore surprising that his view is portrayed in the documentary as the general opinion in India!

The other point that has stuck with me is Radha’s repeated assertion of her good fortune for having been brought up in the UK. Not only is expression of such a sentiment insensitive, but it also glosses over the harassment and violence women face in the UK. Such minimisation has already been highlighted in the discussion following the Delhi rape case of December 2012.

India: A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman certainly seems to have been made with the good intention of highlighting violence against women in India. I don’t want to undermine the work and effort that must have gone into it (especially because it’s not very often that mainstream TV channels screen documentaries on gender issues), but I would say it is a case of more of the same. Violence against women in India is not a new issue; nor, sadly, was the rape and murder of the Delhi student. What is new is the international attention it’s getting.

However, such international attention comes with its own set of problems. The global community’s judgement that India has a ‘woman problem’ not only ‘others’ sexual violence but also undermines resistance within the country. As a feminist, I’m uncomfortable with criticising those who are highlighting the issue, but I’m also uncomfortable with the dynamics of the Western world passing judgement without challenging gendered violence on an international level.

Drumroll please: Tweeps to follow and blogs to read

I recently wrote an article on experiences of ethnic minority women writing online. I started by sharing my own experiences, as an ethnic minority woman, of writing for the Guardian’s Comment is Free. I discussed how I had felt dismissed and ignored based on both my sex and race. I wanted to find out if other ethnic minority women had had similar experiences when writing online.In the process, I came across some excellent writers and blogs – sharing the list here!

Writer, critic, broadcaster and 2013 International Reporting Project New Media Fellow. 4th book, Beyond the Wall: Writing A Path Through Palestine, out now.
Twitter: @bidisha_online
Blog: http://www.bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk/

Huma Qureshi
Freelance journalist. Stuff in Guardian mostly but not always. Hear me on the BBC Asian Network every Thursday.
Twitter: @Huma_Qureshi
Blog: http://www.herlittleplace.com/

Huma Yusuf
Pakistani columnist, policy analyst and media researcher. Made it to @foreignpolicy’s list of top 100 ‘Womerati’.
Twitter: @humayusuf

Ritu Mahendru
Sexual Health Researcher, Founder of SASH (@sash_forum), Activist, Feminist, Opinion Writer and Avid Cyclist
Twitter: @ritumahendru
Blog: http://mishtimli.wordpress.com/

Sam Ambreen
Empowerment. Tried to give peace a chance.. It was just a dream some of us had #FemBloc #OnlineWimminMobAndProud
Twitter: @SamAmbreen
Blog: http://samambreen.wordpress.com/

Soraya Chemaly
Writer of feministy things. Usually about gender absurdities in media, religion, pop culture & politics. Rather laugh than cry while doing it! HuffPo & others.
Twitter: @schemaly
Blog: http://sorayachemaly.tumblr.com/

Stephanie Phillips
Twitter: @Stephanopolus
Blog: http://dontdanceherdownboys.wordpress.com/