The Prega News Women’s Day advertisement in 2022 manufactured as an essential part of what has now become a global trend by the corporates, especially those that specialize in the manufacturing of “women-centered” commodities – the production of cultural narratives in the form of advertisements on the occasion of the International Women’s Day – does not even pretend to be remotely inclusive, or superficially celebratory of any “diversity” in its understanding of womanhood whatsoever, writes Nandini Dhar.
There are some special burdens that women who choose not to become mothers carry. Of rarely seeing oneself represented in a complex manner anywhere. Of always being reduced to a stereotype. According to such stereotypes, a woman who has chosen not to be a mother is irresponsible, to say the least. She is supposed to be either too fun-loving, or too ambitious. Sometimes both. She is supposed to be judgmental – especially of women who have chosen to become mothers. And, of course, she cannot ever be confused with the woman who could not be a mother, since the latter, almost always deserves everyone’s sympathy, having missed out – inadvertently – the chance to enshrine oneself in that role which the world tells us, should be the ultimate goal of womanhood, irrespective of whatever else a woman does.
If the “infertile” woman, then, represents a lack, the woman who has chosen not to be a mother, represents an excess, precisely because she has made that lack into a choice. The former, then, deserves our compassion, the latter our disdain. That disdain, in some ways, is wrapped up with the fact that the latter is incomprehensible to most, because in her very decision to not to be a mother, we sense a rejection. A rejection of the hetero-patriarchal status quo, a rejection of the socially normative femininity, predicated upon a woman’s reproductive role, a rejection of the family the way we have known it, so to say.
It was precisely this twin pathologization and fear of the childless woman that was reproduced in the Preganews Women’s Day advertisement in 2022. The ad, manufactured as an essential part of what has now become a global trend by the corporates, especially those that specialize in the manufacturing of “women-centered” commodities – the production of cultural narratives in the form of advertisements on the occasion of the International Women’s Day – does not even pretend to be remotely inclusive, or superficially celebratory of any “diversity” in its understanding of womanhood whatsoever. As such, I remain hugely suspicious of words such as “diversity” and “inclusive”, operative as they have been in the institutionalization of a de-radicalized feminism (and other kinds of identitarian movements) within neoliberal multi-culturalisms. Yet, within an overarching parlance of “diversity” and “inclusion”, multiple forms of femininity could have sought representation perhaps. And that very act might have allowed for a certain kind of space to initiate and continue certain struggles, which the absolutist world that the advertisement under discussion, simply does not allow.
A cursory look through the visual archives of the advertisements of the period between late 1990s to the early 2000s, would demonstrate a response to some such efforts to represent “diversity.” A different kind of somewhat assertive women began to make space within the narratives of the advertisements, often bringing in a fresh set of problems for feminist writers, artists and activists, conversations, limited as they were, did happen around the issue of the representation of different kinds of women’s bodies within the visual texts. The Dove Real Beauty campaign comes to mind, where the “toxic beauty standards fuelling appearance hate and discrimination” was publicly denounced, and efforts were made to represent women with different kinds of body shapes, skin tone and weight. It would not be wrong to describe such representations as ideological attempts to appropriate certain kinds of feminist critique – often enacted and institutionalized through long and arduous routes and battles– into the capital’s folds. Yet, such attempts also demonstrated a political understanding that the market as an institution cannot, as such, operate without taking into account the knowledge and sensibility that have been generated within the spaces of the feminist movements in the last two centuries – both within India and the rest of the globe.
In contrast, the Prega News advertisement under discussion, takes the whole question backward. It would not be an exaggeration to describe the narrative as an example of what feminist activists and writers have often described as a “backlash.” That backlash has been performed in the ad text in many forms. But it is precisely in its representation of the supposed-childless woman that the said blacklash assumes its most pernicious form. So, if you happen to be a woman who is childless by choice, expect to be humiliated, as you continue to watch this ad. It does not matter that you have been told repeatedly by the media-machine that the International Women’s Day is an occasion to “celebrate womanhood,” and you have thought yourself as being included within that rather amorphous category. You won’t even see a nominal, tokenistic celebration of the kind of womanhood that you embody, on screen. What you would instead find, is a caricature of yourself. Along with much more, that would sometimes make your blood boil, and sometimes make you feel really truly scared.
The opening shot of the advertisement film is that of a young woman walking down a railway overhead bridge, speaking on the phone – presumably to a friend. She is a model, has married early, and now happens to be pregnant, about which she happens to be extremely anxious. “Not ready for this,” as she puts it. This pregnancy, she confides to her friend, will spoil her “rising career” in modelling. A moment that embodies much of the gendered nature of the capitalist production process where women’s bodies and their attendant functions are looked upon as unnecessary impediments to the continuing process of production, the anxiety of the young woman on screen, also brings to the foreground the fact that in some professions, women’s bodies are policed more than in others, and in qualitatively different ways. Models and performers, often, have to bear the brunt of public sexualization of their bodies far more than women in some other professions.
A model’s body is one that has been put up on display – literally. As a worker, what she produces is not a tangible, quantifiable commodity, but an affect, and effect. Her body is literally assumed to be the “blank space,” “the hanger,” on which the commodity that is to be sold, assumes shape. Yet, because no human body in actual reality is a “blank space,” her body also contributes to the production of a form of desire – often sexualized. Pregnancy, in that regard, represents a crucial threshold – the passage of a female body from the status of an object of (sexualized) desire to the reproductive (desexualized) role. And, in this process of the passage, an individual woman’s body is rendered unsuitable for the production of public sexualized affect. Unsuitable, and, therefore, disposable.
However, what the film also refrains from showing, is the fact that pregnancy has long been considered to be a disruption in the capital’s production cycles for all women workers, and not just the ones engaged in the production of a certain form of cultural-sexual public affect. In fact, as early as 1883, Emile Zola, the great French Naturalist novelist, in his novel Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise), had made the firing of a pregnant salesgirl from a departmental store a central element of his plotline. The right to attain paid leave during and after pregnancy, remains one of the centerpieces in the charter of many labour and women’s movements’ demands. Within the specific institutional forms that capital attains, the issue of the women workers’ right to paid pregnancy leave, remains, at best, a partially resolved issue – addressed in a non-uniform manner within institutions, when addressed at all.
However, the elision of such a larger material reality, against which the pregnant bodies of the women workers need to be seen and contextualized, transforms the very issue of giving birth into a “problem” for individual women. A problem, which needs to be resolved at an individual level. In a way, then, the film privatizes the very issue of pregnancy and mothering, while placing the issues within the public realm. The dramatic narrative that constitutes the film, takes place almost entirely within the public spaces, after all. And, in an interesting narrative move, even when the private-domestic space becomes an object of representation in the film, it does so indirectly, in and through the stories that the characters in the film narrate to each other. I would argue, this is not an accidental choice at all. The text of the film, undoubtedly, is about the emplacement of women’s bodies in the public spaces, and then juxtaposing such locations with the private-familial roles that they must play.
Note that the majority of the drama in the film unfolds in the waiting room of a train station. The train station, which has appeared, all too often, as the symbol of modernity in both mainstream and alternative Indian films. The waiting rooms of the train stations, too, have operated as the locale of both public and private drama in too many of such films. What this film does then, in a move that is not quite so common in Indian films, is that it turns the waiting room into a microcosm of a women’s space. A space for women who are irrevocably modern, a space for women who are aligned with the motion of capital, which is what the train, oftentimes, has classically stood for, in cultural representations. In other words, the very idea of a “women’s space”, in this film, is wrenched away from its feudal-domestic interiors, and capitalized. In fact, what the women talk about while they are at the waiting-room, in this film, happens to be the subject of capital. A mediated conversation, for sure, but never for a second, does the conversation veer away from the ways in which capital manifests itself in these women’s everyday gendered lives.
The thing is, the waiting room of a train station is a transient space. A transient space, where individuals, henceforth unknown to each other, can interact with each other, without any expectations of long-term commitments whatsoever. And, because there are no expectations of long-term emotional commitments, one can presumably be more honest to each other, while erasing each other subsequently. As this essay would show later, the ideological backbone of this film stands upon such an erasure. In that regard, the waiting room is a convenient narrative choice, to begin with.
Indeed, one can say, inside the waiting room pictured in the film, there is no dearth of honesty. The women who have congregated there, speak to each other in single sentences, go straight to their own agenda without any trace of social nicety whatsoever, and often dismiss each other either through looks or words, or both. One can say, this is the most stereotypical representation of the “women’s sphere,” replete with a kind of bitchy competitiveness, which the dominant culture would have us believe is how women interact with each other.
The waiting-room in the film, also happens to be a “contact zone” of sorts, where women of different classes meet and interact with each other, while remaining strictly confined to the roles proscribed by each of their class identities. It is within this world that our protagonist, the pregnant model, enters, only to be greeted by a wailing baby, and an apologetic youngish mother, who appears to be so overwhelmed by the crying baby, that she cannot help dropping the baby’s milk bottle on the floor, spilling the milk in the process.
There is also another woman, sitting right across from her, working on her laptop. The camera would take a lot of care to show, the laptop that she is using happens to be an Apple, thus establishing her upper middle-class identity. She throws an angry glance at the young mother, visibly irritated with all the hullabaloo being created by the crying baby, and the mother’s failure to put a stop to that chaos. To the discerning viewer, the two women would appear as stark contrasts. The mother, dressed in a red-bordered purplish pink cotton sari, appears as the sanskari Indian woman – almost a perfect embodiment of the Bharat Mata. The “other woman,” clad in a Westernized top, her shoulder-length hair loose, and black-rimmed glasses, appears almost as a vamp-like figure, reminiscent of the binary invented by the classic Bollywood movies of the sixties and seventies.
It is within this somewhat every day, somewhat benign but ideologically charged environment that our protagonist walks in. From the outset, one must admit, given what she is wearing, and her on-screen admission that she is “not ready” for this pregnancy yet, she is – ideologically and affectively – closer to the woman with the laptop. And, this has been corroborated by the fact that just like the woman with the laptop, she, too, is visibly annoyed by the crying baby.
Into this unfolding theatre, walks in a female janitor, who had so far been working silently in the background, captured by the camera in off-focus. Unlike the other two, she is clearly not rattled or annoyed by the baby’s crying. Instead, she looks sympathetic, and lifts the bottle up from the floor, hands it back gently to the mother, and sweeps the floor clean. She also suggests to the young mother to massage the baby’s feet gently, to make it stop crying. This is what she does too, to her own children, she tells the mother. An amiable conviviality follows between the two, during the course of which the young mother gets to know that the janitor-woman is a mother of three. The young mother is in awe – the camera focuses on the expression of admiration on her face, as she asks the most obvious question : how does the janitor woman manage being a mother after doing her job? The janitor-woman, in turn, responds: Manage ka kya hain? Das ghanta iha pe duty khatam karne ke baad, baaki ma hone ka duty (What is there to manage? I work here for 10 hours. Then my duty as a mother begins.) Meanwhile, the woman with the laptop rolls her eyes. There are close shots of the young model eavesdropping minutely on the conversation, intrigued – her earlier antagonism gone.
In some ways, the scene is compelling, and politically evocative. It shows, the experience of motherhood can indeed enable the formation of bonds between women of different classes (and castes, remembering the fact that historically the majority of the safai karmacharis in India have come from Schedule Caste backgrounds). At the same time, it also shows, the experience of motherhood is rarely enough to transcend such class and caste boundaries. In the film, thus, even as she continues to chit-chat about her experiences of motherhood, the janitor-woman keeps on servicing the young mother, thus reinforcing both of their class-caste identities. When she is not servicing the young mother in particular, she keeps cleaning and sweeping the floors of the waiting room. The camera catches her, as she stoops to clean the remote corners of the room, bending down at the feet-level of other women, who merely lift their legs to facilitate the cleaning. And, as she keeps doing this, she also does not cease to put a smile on her face. Arguably, it is also in this particular sequence does the film perform one of its most vital ideological functions.
For any viewer, aware of the political significance of the International Women’s Day – or, rather, the International Working Women’s Day, which is what the day was originally named by the German Communist-Feminist and trade union activist Clara Zetkin — it should not come as a surprise that here, in this film, it is precisely the janitor woman who should have been the ideal historical subject of the International Working Women’s Day. It would not have been an exaggeration, then, to expect her to be a protagonist and a vocal champion of her rights both as a worker and as a woman, which would include, but not be limited to, her rights as a mother. Yet, what we get in the film is not only a de-radicalized working woman subjectivity, but a working woman who speaks, without any resentment whatsoever, about the expanded work- day.
Yes, keep note of the fact that she works for 10 hours every day at her workplace, and the offhand way in which she shares that information with her audience, both on and off the screen. A moment that possesses an extremely significant larger political ramification, what is being undone here is precisely the eight-hour work-day, and along with it, the legacy of the very political struggles that instituted that eight-hour work-day to begin with. To put it simply, it is the very legacy of the International Working Women’s Day that is being undone in this film. Needless to say, here March 8th becomes that symbolic day upon which the corporate capital launches its own cultural class war, attempting to snatch it away from its left radical history, and thus re-shape the very significance of the day on its own capitalocentric terms, through its own narratives of capitalist-patriarchy’s hegemony.
And, in this class war, motherhood plays the single-most important role. The overworked female worker is happy. Because, in lieu of an expanded work-day (or decent wages, one can presume), she has the pleasures and glories of motherhood to fall back upon. That is why she does not even think of motherhood as “managing” – it comes naturally to her! Through such a narrative, then, what has been legitimized and normalized, is the very idea of what many feminist activists and writers have described as “double shift.”
In fact, this is precisely what the woman working on the laptop brings up – Yeh double duty karte karte life mein jo peeche rahe gaye ho, uska kya? (what about the fact that this life of double-duty has kept you behind?) If the working- class woman in this film has been made to legitimize an ever-expanding work- day, the upper middle-class career woman has been made to utter a complicated truth in an over-simplified manner. In the latter’s enunciation, therefore, the poverty in the working-class woman’s life, is an individual malaise, her own fault. A fault that can be traced back to her choice to be a mother. Absent from such an enunciation is the political understanding that the janitor-woman’s decision to be a mother cannot be made responsible for her poverty. An attempt to do so, obscures the structural realities of her public labour, letting both the state and the forces of capital shirk off their responsibilities to be accountable to such questions. Additionally, providing her with adequate resources to do the work of mothering, remains the responsibility of the state. In the career woman’s words in the film, therefore, we hear a reiteration of a precisely neoliberal notion of labour and gendered selfhood. Of course, in the context of a post-Labour Code India, both such an utterance, and the normalized 10 hour work-day, become a mediated public legitimization of the Labour Code itself.
In lieu of the protection from the state of her rights as a worker, what the working-class woman has, as I have already cursorily mentioned, is the prestige and social respectability of motherhood. And, that is precisely what she asserts in this conversation – Aap ke hisab se aage badhna kisko bolte hain, malum nahi. Lekin mere bachon ki hisab sein, main hamesha hi aage hoon (I don’t know what advancing in life means for you. But, for my children, I am always ahead). In the same way her earlier utterances had normalized a ten-hour work-day, and a life of “double-shift”, without the slightest trace of dissent, her retort, this time, brushes aside the very material questions of labour, and class mobility, in favour of a discourse of the joys of motherhood, couched in vague, idealistic terms. And, she is rewarded for that, as the young mother, from her corner in the room exclaims, “So sweet.” What if the janitor-woman is engaged in round-the-clock back-breaking exploitative work? She has public approval!
This spontaneous outbreak into English by the young mother establishes the issue of class difference amongst the women in the room more firmly. Yet, at the same time, also becomes a mitigating gesture, predicated as it is upon a public performance of exalting motherhood. If, for the career woman, the janitor-woman’s decision to become a mother can be dismissed, precisely because she happens to be “uneducated” and “poor,” the other woman’s decision to embrace motherhood cannot be treated exactly in the same way. The conversation that follows between them, thus, is eye-opening in many ways. I am quoting it at length for our readers’ convenience:
Career Woman : Aachha tum batao. Tum to parilikhi lagti ho, aur iha par tum he judge karna wala bhi koi nahi hain. Sach batana.Jab se yeh bachha tumhare god mein aaya hain, tum ma bani ho, tum he nahi lagta ki tumhari freedom, tumhare apne sapne, tumhare individuality, sab khatam ho gayi? (Ok, you tell me! You looki educated. No one will judge you here anyway! So be honest. Ever since this baby entered your life, don’t you think, it took away your freedom, aspirations and individuality?
Mother: Nahi. In fact jab se yeh meri zindagi mein aayi hain na, meri freedom, meri individuality, meri pehchan ko jaise aur ek pahechan mil gayi. Maa ki. (No. In fact ever since she came into my life, along with my freedom, individuality and my very identity, she added one more identity – that of a mother).
Career Woman (with an acerbic smile): Aasan hain tumhare liye yeh sab filmi baatein kahena. Housewife ho na…agar ek baar bhi life aur work balance karna par jaye, tum he duniyadari samajh mein aa jayega ( It’s easier for you to say all this filmy stuff, because you’re a housewife. If you have to think of the work-life balance even for a day, you’d have a reality check).
Mother: Asan nahi tha is nanhe sein shaitan ke sath sath is puri district ka law and order samhalna (It hasn’t been easy to look after this naughty little one along with maintaining the law and order of this entire district).
To begin with, as is the case with this film, much of the way in which this conversation flows, is way too simplistic, unilinear. Almost like a bad agit-prop drama. The woman with the laptop is overtly rude and arrogant, as the feminists are supposed to be in much of the popular cultural texts. The mother is polite, sweet, full of smiles, even as she enunciates her opinions firmly, yet again reinforcing the fact that she is the perfect embodiment of sanskari Bhartiya nari. Yet, there are complexities in here that the film – propagandist as it is – does not quite know how to handle.
For example, when the career woman asks the mother in the film if motherhood has taken away her “freedom, aspirations and identity,” there is a deep honesty in that question. Yes, motherhood does take away from women all three of these things. It shouldn’t be that way, but in a social environment, where motherhood often becomes the sole responsibility of the individual mother, women are often compelled to tailor their lives and individual choices around their children and the demands of motherhood. To put it simply, the specter of the horrors of a privatized motherhood haunts all independence-loving women, whether they admit it publicly or not, and it’s precisely to that phenomenon that the career woman hints at.
However, when the career woman in the film couches such a common knowledge amongst women, in the form of a question, what stands out, is the way she prefaces her question – yaha par tumhe judge karne wala to koi nahi hain (here no one is going to judge you). As much as the film then attempts to glorify motherhood in overtly simplistic terms, through deployment of binaries, what emerges is the reality that women who decide not to become mothers, are socially judged. And, because the decision of a woman to not be a mother is forever under social scrutiny, a mother, too, cannot ever express her apprehension and resentment about motherhood. Needless to say, within such a context, the expression of a woman’s regret regarding her own decision to become a mother, is even more unthinkable.
Consequently, what the film reveals and clearly advocates is that, a woman’s work as a mother does not end with the actual labour of mothering. She must also engage in the cultural and ideological work of performing the state of being a mother through endless representational work of glorification. Because, in lieu of the actual material benefits and structural changes that should accompany both mother-work and the public job that women do, it is only the repeated public deification of motherhood that can ascribe upon women a form of social respectability and respect. It is precisely this public exaltation of motherhood that can unite women of all classes, the film tells us. A social-ideological work of immense cultural coinage, such acts of public glorification of maternity must also be staged upon a routinized and ritualized humiliation of women who question and reject the very institution of motherhood, who are not afraid to speak about its pitfalls and bitter realities.
In the film, that moment of the humiliation of the woman who is supposedly not a mother we are led to believe as viewers, comes when the mother declares – with obvious pride – she maintains “law and order” of the entire district along with being a mother. If the assumption of the career woman of the mother’s status as a housewife was based upon the latter’s embodiment and “modest” attire, she was proven wrong. Along with being proven wrong, she was also humiliated for her short-sightedness, which was predicated upon the stereotype that sari-clad women can only be housewives. At this point, the young model, who had, so far, been closely watching the exchange between the other three women, asks the mother who she is. The mother responds that she is Seema Rastogi, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Jhansi. Just then, a female constable arrives at the door of the waiting room, informing Seema that the train has arrived.
What is imperative here, then, is that the mother must also work in the public sphere. Both her material status as a mother and her cultural labour to glorify motherhood must also co-exist with her status as a “productive” member of the society. Amongst women often having to handle the pressures of both motherhood and a public life with very little assistance, and feeling victimized for their very decision to become mothers, it is often discussed, and with lots of frustration, this world does not want children. Women who are more politicized take it a step further – capital does not want children. But, here’s the glitch. It is not that the capital does not want women to become mothers. Neither is it that the capital does not want children, who become its future workforce anyway. What the capital does not want to do is to create special provisions and conditions for pregnant women or mothers, and their children. Or, for that matter, anyone. Because, creation of such special conditions cost money, and impinges upon the very founding principles of capital – profit motive.
However, a deeper look into what the mother of the film does as her job, is also politically resonant. A high-ranking officer in the police forces in the state of Uttar Pradesh – a region and state that has increasingly come to be identified as the site of the Sangh Parivar’s recent political and cultural Hindutva-centric experimentations – the mother, then, is also deeply entrenched within the activities of the security state. Additionally, the highlighting of her surname reinforces the North Indian upper-caste – kshatriya, to be specific – identity, establishing on screen, a symbolic, quotidian performance of the Bharat Mata figure. A fact that has been exacerbated by her red-bordered cotton sari, reminiscent of many of the iconic representations of Bharat Mata. The state, then, remains absent in the film as an institution to protect and safeguard popular interests, women’s interests. When it does appear within the visual text, it does so as a repressive mechanism, which must also co-opt Hindu, upper-caste women’s aspirations to step into the public sphere, while making such stepping out conditional upon her becoming a mother.
The film ends with a temporal shift – six months after the waiting room events. We see Seema Rastogi in uniform, in the courtyard of the police-station, instructing her staff. One of her juniors at work, delivers a parcel that has arrived by mail. Inside the parcel, is a glossy magazine, on the cover of which is the young model woman she had met at the waiting room of the railway station. She is now heavily pregnant, and proudly showing her baby bump, while posing for the cover image of a magazine titled Moms To Be, published and sponsored by Prega News, highlighted in bold. Seema throws a proud smile, and leaves in her car.
As we get closing shots of the police station in the background, the voice-over offers a small poem: “Tu dariya ki wo dhara hain/ jo dono rah behte jaye/ Aaina tu aisa, jo naya nazariya dikhlaye” (You’re like a stream of a river/which can flow in both directions. A mirror that can show a new reflection.”) The film ends, and on the black screen we find an inscription — #shecancarryboth. The voice-over tells us, “This Women’s Day Prega News celebrates the boundless spirit of womanhood because she can carry both.”
The closing shots of the film, then, operate as a conversion narrative of sorts. If the beginning of the film showed the young model to be apprehensive of motherhood, the sequence of events in the waiting room has taught her an important lesson. That she can become a mother, and not only can she become a mother, the visual appeal of her pregnant body can be monetized. What if she is pushed out of the industry as such? There is always the burgeoning mommy industry, where her pregnancy and experiences of motherhood can always be cashed in. Seema and the young model, then, come to represent the two forms of the ideal twenty-first century Indian femininity : the Bharat Mataesque figure enmeshed within the structures of the nation’s security state, and the post-liberalization “new woman,” uncritically submissive to capital’s imperatives, conjoined through their reproductive roles, as is normatively expected.
There is, then, a symbolic continuum here. The representatives of the state and the capital mirror each other in a way that re-harnesses the cultural logic of the neoliberal fascist state, re-defining the very social meanings of both femininity and motherhood. On the other hand, the woman who questions motherhood, is erased from the narrative. Her story has no aftermath, no continuity. We don’t even know if she has rejected motherhood or not. And, in being erased thus, she becomes the embodiment of a form of political resistance to the circuits of compulsive maternity that the state-capital nexus advocates. Needless to say, hers is not the kind of womanhood that Preganews (or, for that matter, the larger state-capital nexus) plans to celebrate. As is made evident in the concluding tagline — “This Woman’s Day Prega News celebrates the boundless spirit of womanhood because she can carry both.” Note the presence of the word “because.” Note the spirit of the conditional celebration. What if a woman decides to not engage in either of those two things that the tagline identifies as the foundation stone of modern womanhood? What if she engages in only one, and not the other?
Also, let’s note, while we are at it, the complete absence of men in the narrative. Where are the fathers in this story of children, pregnancy and burdens of motherhood? The absence of the fathers ends up gendering and feminizing the very site of parenthood, no doubt. The absence also makes both motherhood and the attendant management of her public labour and maternity only a woman’s concern – privatized, individualized. But, one is also prompted to ask, is the absence of the father, especially in the case of Seema Rastogi, an effort to represent on screen a specifically twenty-first century immaculate, pristine embodiment of Bharat Mata – essentially desexualized?
However, where the text does not leave any doubts, is in establishing the fact, without naming it as such, that this is indeed, the blueprint of a new twenty-first century fascist reconceptualization of womanhood, the one that has been celebrated throughout the ad as the “naya nazariya”—the new perspective. If the classic Fascist imagination had wanted women’s lives to be restricted to “kinder, kuche, kirche” (children, kitchen, church), there are obvious resonances of such a philosophy in the advertisement. However, the church where the women are required to pay their deferential spiritual visits, here, happens to be of a different kind – the church of capital. At the same time, one must also recognize, the advertisement remains a profound nod to the revamped gender politics of the Hindutva fold, where even as an intensely patriarchal imagination of state and society is being forwarded and advocated, women have been encouraged to take up space within the public sphere, an issue which while needing careful attention, remains beyond the scope of the current essay.
That this whole theatre is being played out on the occasion of the International Working Women’s Day on March 8th, remains an issue of immense significance. As we have known, capital survives on appropriating the left and feminist radical traditions and imaginaries. Fascism survives on demolishing them. In a spooky combination of both of these strategies, what this advertisement does, is to move the whole question of women’s rights backwards, undoing the very gains made in the last century by the leftist, women’s and labour movements. Needless to say, this is a form of political and cultural affront. The question is, are we – those of us who claim to belong to a different camp – prepared to confront such an affront through bringing on to the forefront a different politics, a series of different cultural representations.
(The author is a teacher, writer and social activist.)