Like the title of the movie, Angry Indian Goddesses, (if you have not watched it – here’s a peek[1]), an increasing number of television advertisements in India are showcasing the struggle, resilience and success of women in professional spaces. While the larger part of advertisements involving women have been affected by product categories[2] wherein they are featured oftener with home products, baby food, cosmetics etc. that may emphasise the stereotypical “role” of women in Indian mainstream society, the last couple of years have seen a paradigm shift where, women are portrayed in a much more empowered role. Many Tanishq[3] advertisements (such as the one for “Mia – #BestatWork”[4])  feature a handful of female characters, one as an intern, one working mother, one pregnant, among others thriving at their workplace against all odds; “The Raga Woman of Today #HerLifeHerChoices”[5] stars Twinkle Khanna subtly yet poignantly not acquiescing a former partner’s request to give up her job to “settle down”.

Speaking of choice, it is interesting to compare the dissimilarities of professional women in reality viz-a-viz in Indian advertising. It is true that new age advertising often provides a feel-good factor to certain women. But has anyone noticed that almost all the characters in these advertisements are from a certain social class and target a particular population – young, unmarried, with or without a family, middle or upper class?

It must be acknowledged that there has been in an increase in the number of working women and educational levels in India[6].  However, gender itself cannot be considered, as a criteria, exclusive of other sociocultural circumstances. Part of the reason women in professional spaces do not is quite enjoy the status depicted in advertising, is because not as many women actually pursue these occupations, or indeed, succeed. Therefore, it is imperative to look at women’s educational choices (as oftentimes, these go on to decide their career choices) as well as gendered resource allocation within a family in relation to their male siblings.

In India, educational choices (such as the selection of subjects and streams) are determined by class, caste and other social structures[7] that offer cumulative access to and participation in higher education. Meenakshi Gautam’s study “Gender, Subject Choice and Higher Education in India: Exploring ‘Choices’ and ‘Constraints’ of Women Students”[8], reveals that all participants’subject choices at a secondary school level were mediated and influenced by family (particularly their fathers), and in accordance with the preference and availability of resources to their male siblings. Maximum participants who were influenced were those who had taken the science (physics, chemistry and biology/mathematics) stream at the XI, XII level. Girls were “instructed”, “encouraged” or “guided” by their fathers, especially in urban based, upper middle class families. Those having taken humanities or social sciences were left to do so out their own volition. Several participants declared that it was the ‘norm’ for their male siblings to take up science and pursue engineering, however they, the girls, would only do so if they were considered ‘intelligent and hard-working’.  This reveals that the nature and extent of parental involvement not only varies across families in relation to social class, but also that the decision-making process is mediated by gender.[9] Subject choices were determined by what was socially deemed as value-adding, analytical and casual, with fewer career options. Until today, in middle class families, boys are considered ‘faster learners’ and should therefore pursue science, while for girls, science is less of a norm and becoming a teacher is a good ‘second career choice’.

So while Mia, from the Tanishq advertisement working through the night at the graphics and animation company, wins our hearts fighting for the right pay and being self-dependent – the bigger question is, are we there yet? All data points to the rigid structural limits that have been placed on choices at a higher educational level, given that subject choices are institutionalised from a very early stage. Until marriageability and social safety take more of a backseat when it comes to girl’s education choices, we are yet to see Mia in real life, in every neighbourhood.

~ Nandini Ghosh
The author is a talent acquisition consultant and an economist.

 

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3368222/

[2] Working Paper on The Changing Roles Portrayed by Women in Indian Advertisements: A Longitudinal Content Analysis

[3] https://www.tanishq.co.in/

[4] Mia – #BestAtWork

[5] The Raga Woman of Today

[6] Gender, Subject Choice and Higher Education in India: Exploring ‘Choices’ and ‘Constraints’ of Women Students

[7] Chanana, 2007; Globalisation, higher education and gender: Changing subject choices of Indian women students. Economic and Political Weekly, 42(7), 590–598. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/ stable/4419259

[8] See Footnote no. 2

[9] Mukhopadhyay and Seymour (1994). Family structure and Indian women’s participation in science and engineering.

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