by Gulshan Banas
I recently came across a video on the internet, which has been causing much controversy across the world. The video, a highly sexist attempt by the European Union, has been made with the objective of encouraging young girls in Europe to take up careers in science and technology. A laudable effort, you would say right? I disagree. Why? Because this video, produced by a very responsible government organization, has something so wrong with it that I felt quite sick watching it – three young women, clad in very hip little clothes, cat-walking down a “science lab”, carrying off perfect pouts and make-up – the only kind of science they seem to be interested in is that of make up. They write mathematical equations on a board, using lipstick, while a dazzled man in a lab-coat watches on.
This attempt to promote science and technology in young women was not wrong at all, nor is it wrong to want to dress up and wear make-up – but what happens when you put the two things together in cheap attempt? – Objectification of women. The message I interpreted from this video was – even when we women are engaging in intellectual work, our prime focus is looking pretty, plastering on make-up and dazzling our male colleagues. This cheap attempt, was blatant marketing.
My first experience as a “woman” in a liberalized economy was at age five, when I asked my father for a Barbie doll. All my friends had them, and they were so pretty, so why did my father refuse to buy me one? Twelve years later I understand the implication of that refusal when I flip through glossy magazines filled with photographs of those perfect women – with perfect figures, perfect teeth, perfect skin – as if they were Greek goddesses descended upon the earthy to make the rest of us feel like fat potato sacks with horrible skin.
Is this the result of capitalism? Many people would disagree, stating that objectification of women has always taken place in society, irrespective of the economic orientation of a society. Perhaps so, but then how has capitalism – hailed as system that has brought about immense changes in the way a society perceives its women – brought about a change in society? It certainly has its positives, but there are glaring negative aspects of capitalism that have stood out in the last few years in our own country.
A major issue is the difference in the salary received by men and women – not just in the unorganized sector, but also in major industries like Bollywood. The differences between incomes of the most famous and best-loved actors and actresses have been highlighted for years. But this trend is indeed a changing one today – with an increase in women-centric movies being produced, perhaps in a few years the difference in incomes will not be as apparent. Is it because of an increasing influence of the market that Vidya Balan’s iconic role in “The Dirty Picture” struck a cord in the Indian society? Certainly.
Why is capitalism a laudable social phenomenon, and not just an economic one? If cleared of the corruption (what is otherwise known as “crony” capitalism) that currently overshadows its positives, it is potentially a social system where individuals are valued for the talents they have, not the money and political power backing them. What implications does this have for women? The slowly withering patriarchal society will eventually give increasing space for women to rise in all fields currently dominated by men, and gain respect for their talent and abilities- a phenomenon that has already taken its baby steps, with the increasing number for women CEOs, politicians, administrators and scientists (essentially positions of eminence and power) world over.
A shining example of a woman rising from the snares of poverty and oppression to a position of eminence, in a liberalized society, is Oprah Winfrey. Another great woman to do so is Mamta Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, who started out in the male-dominated field of politics with humble beginnings.
Are these women products of capitalism? Maybe not so directly, but they certainly are products of a society that is increasingly becoming liberal in its perception of women, where women themselves are free to create space for their voices to be heard.