Myntra's brand Anouk released a series of ads last month that garnered a lot of attention. In one of their ads, clearly the standout viral hit, a lesbian couple prepare to 'meet the parents'.
The ad, while well intentioned, has one deep flaw. 'Be bold', Anouk is saying. Be bold in your choice of relationships. Be bold in talking freely about those choices too. But what about being bold inside of a relationship? That's where Anouk's ad eventually loses the plot. Only one woman of the two is bold. The other is happy being forehead-kissed instead.
The ad is a sweet, wholesome approach in our fight for homosexual rights. It doesn't break open any doors, but does make sure to leave a Welcome mat outside.
It is an ad that will make aunty and uncle-ji more attuned to the diverse possibilities of love without making anyone uncomfortable. The couple doesn't engage in anything overt or sexual, yet manage to establish themselves as a couple. There is no defined 'butch' or 'femme' either. Heterosexual norms have been thrown out of the window. All good things.
The crucial flaw, however, lies elsewhere.
"I want your mom to like me," the first says.
"But Amma doesn't like girls with short hair," the second responds.
"But you only asked me to cut my hair!", the first contests, her face falling in dismay.
The second playfully whispers into her ears, "But I like you with short hair."
The first is mollified. The two hug, hold hands and move on.
It is a seemingly innocuous moment with deep patriarchal undertones. That one should embrace an identity, if only a haircut, on the recommendation of another is a troubling notion. It is exactly the kind of notion that the ad should be decimating, rather than brandishing with largesse.
Sure, we all do things for the ones we love. Wear a pretty dress. Sport a new hairstyle. Invest in ludicrous lingerie. Low-hanging fruit that make a bad day worthwhile.
But in an ad where the fundamental premise is 'Be Bold', the moment is cringeworthy. One partner comes across as fatally fragile, to the point of being disempowered. Her apprehensions are meek. Her anxieties need to be assuaged. She has cropped her hair at the behest of her partner and now seeks validation for it. She is not feisty. She appears to have little sense of self-determination. She is not the bold Anouk is campaigning for. She is not the brave we aspire to be.
If the ad is about self-determination, then it manages to fall flat on its own face. That crucial caveat, self-determination begins with self-fulfillment, remains compromised.
An eye-wink, some snark, an I cut my hair and your mom will like me anyway spoken with confident gumption, would have gone a long way in ensuring that both women come across as the lionhearts we want to be. What the ad was wanting most desperately, it failed to provide.
The sappy dependence Anouk has captured instead only makes the case that where one woman is bold, the other inevitably must be weak. Where one partner is spirited, the other must thrive off of it. This fundamental basis of patriarchy, one we may spend many decades undoing, remains sadly untouched.
Next time, Anouk, next time. We are counting on it.