Sunday, September 7, 2014

Boss and wife?

The Airtel Boss ad had attracted a lot of response, both positive and negative. If you look at the ad as a simple piece of communication it shows a loving couple who happen to be working together in the same office with the husband reporting to the woman. Good to see a man accepting and being comfortable with his wife being the boss at the workplace. The ad definitely deserves credit for breaking the stereotype. The woman boss asks her male colleagues including her husband to stay back to meet a deadline. She herself goes home much later than the regular office hours and cooks a great meal for the man which she shares on the phone and asks him to come home early. Romantic, soft and absolutely adorable - if we take it at face value. I am sure many people see it just as that and love it. However, the communication gets problematic when we look at the sub-text, the nuances and the layering. It is important to look at those as well because certain images and messages get internalized by the audience without being conscious of them. For instance, while it can be assumed that she is cooking because she wants to cook as she is a woman who had obviously made her choices to be the boss in the office, it comes across as absolutely normal, natural and as if she is used to the routine. Her choice, her agency is assumed and not explicitly stated. The bigger question is why did the creative director choose to juxtapose the boss with the caring wife? Is it to soften the earlier projection of her as an assertive, demanding higher official in the office? Why could not the boss be shown as a caring woman and why was she shown only as a caring wife? Was there any way in which she could have been shown as a caring person? Like ordering some great food to be delivered in the office for her husband and his colleague who is also working late? The message that lingers in our mind is “Wow! She is such a good wife even though she is a boss at work”. The focus does not rest on her being a successful career woman but shifts to her being a good wife. This is reinforced in a subtle manner by the way her number is saved on his mobile – it just says WIFE. Though meant as a joke, there were comments on line saying that she bosses over him in the office and at home by asking him to come home early after having given a lot of work to him. This is again a very popular stereotype reflected in the jokes that circulate on WhatsApp. More importantly by showing her coming back and cooking a lavish meal, the ad somehow glorifies the double burden of working women and sets an image of an ideal working woman which is quite stereotypical and sets expectations that are difficult to meet. The Ad, once again tries to project a more liberal image of gender equations but inadvertently ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes.