Where is the handyman?

Sep 06, 2013, 07:22 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar

Whether it is rape, abuse or ill treatment of women, both society and media have a big role to play. As a society, we have spent a lot of time bringing up women to believe that they are capable of anything

Vanita Kohli-KhandekarWhether it is rape, abuse or ill treatment of women, both society and media have a big role to play. As a society, we have spent a lot of time bringing up women to believe that they are capable of anything. They can fly planes, build a company or run a restaurant among dozens of other things. But we have spent very little time bringing up men to live with this new woman.

Some sensitised parenting across society will help. Let your son learn to cook, indulge in his softer side, make him help with housework, never let him think that only his mum or girlfriend/wife has to do stuff around the house. To my mind just having a family life where both the man and woman and boy and girl bear an equal burden will go very far in changing the male attitudes towards women. The primary responsibility for this therefore falls with parents — especially mothers who have to give up their ‘Raja Beta’ attitude to sons.

Can popular imagery around what men and women do, change to reflect the new reality?

But for this message to sink in, some of the popular imagery around male-female relationships has to change drastically. This means advertising, television and films have to pitch in. Dhanush is the most incredibly talented actor I have seen in a long time. But his Hindi hit, Raanjhanaa (2013), carried the wrong image. Using a female friend to implicate someone in a false sex abuse scandal is in bad taste. So is forcing a woman to pay attention to you, by slashing your wrists. This happens so often in real life that you can’t blame director Aanand Rai for using it. But by showing that it works, the film does condone it.

Or take the advert for a pain balm recently. The mum is working at home and gets a bad headache just when the milk is about to boil over. She applies this balm and is able to become superman doing everything from switching off the gas to fixing breakfast to dancing while the husband and son watch her.

Could she have told her husband to switch off the gas while she lay down for a bit? Maybe the son could have applied the balm on her forehead? Why do all adverts show a woman as this mad multi-tasking person, who can do a full-time job, run the house and look after the kids? A woman is expected, even in her new avatar, to do the work of three people. Her reward — the applause of her family.

This is counterproductive. By making it look happy and cozy, all the imagery around us makes being a workhorse at home and in the office seem effortless. It isn’t. Ask the women who bear this burden. It is tiring, saps you and leaves you with zero time for yourself. And it is not half as fulfilling as it is made out to be.

Advertising has done a great job of changing social thinking on daughters and women — the movement across product categories to show the girl child instead of a boy child was a big turning point in how people look at daughters. It is advertising that moved beyond the saree and kitchen before films followed with the imagery of a woman as a working entity too. Why not move the envelope a little further. Can we show homes where the man is cooking? What about a man changing nappies in the Huggies or Pampers ads or a man trying to feed children in the Kellogg’s or Boost ads.

These things do happen in real life. My better half takes over half the load with the brat, feeding, bathing and doing all the things that I may not have the time or energy to do. But there are some real issues when this desire to help gets extended to the outside world. Take birthday parties for instance. As a society we are now so geared to women accompanying their kids for everything that when a man does land up, like my better half did a couple of times, things get awkward.

It is a bit chicken and eggish. We need to change before the imagery changes. But we will change on a large scale only when the imagery does. But we need to change… and so on it goes. Eventually though I do hope like we have managed to create a good independent minded generation of women, we should manage to create a sensitive, house-trained generation of men.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik 

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