Samsung's latest ad makes a point but raises debate about using patriarchy to fight itself
They say that in a patriarchal society, change occurs very slowly. They also say that expecting a radical change to take place is asking for too much; that orthodox ways of thinking take time to be completely wiped out.
When it comes to effecting an attitudinal change, Samsung's latest ad put out by its CSR initiative is a step in the right direction. It traces the success story of a girl born into a family that wished for a boy and how she achieves her dreams, despite all odds, with support from her father.
The opening scene itself is telling of the background of her family. The look of disappointment is evident on the faces of all the men in the family, when they discover that the newborn child is a girl, not a boy. In a particularly poignant shot, the father says, "You're my son, not my daughter." But this fervently said dialogue seems to come from a place of denial rather than fondness.
From the very start, she is discouraged from doing things which are considered "not suitable" for girls, whether it is flying a kite or pursuing an education outside the village. This discouragement takes the form of teasing and jibes at first, and later, even escalates to family members outright crushing her dreams. Still, she persists and so does her father; the duo disobey the family's wishes and she ends up getting trained at a technical school.
What makes this ad and its story endearing is that right at the end, the father acknowledges that he should take pride in his daughter being a girl when she manages to get the electricity to work at home.
It is a refreshing development from Aamir Khan's 'Nayi Soch' ad, which features a mithaiwala, who credits the success of his shop to his daughters. He even names it Gurdeep Singh & Daughters, an obvious change from the convention of naming one's business with the suffix '& Sons'.
Sadly, the screen space in the ad was dominated by Khan's star presence and character, rather than the contribution that his on-screen daughters had made to the business.
In fact, they feature in the ad for less than 10 seconds, making it obvious that they are not the focus of the add, Khan's kindness and pride is. On the contrary, Samsung's ad throws the spotlight on the girl and her hard work. Her father is an important albeit supporting character in the plot.
At the same time, it raises the debate surrounding a familiar but problematic strategy employed in such ads, which talk about smashing the patriarchy whilst (knowingly or unknowingly) upholding patriarchal notions. In order to convince himself about the need to educate and empower his daughter, the father in the Samsung ad calls her his 'son' until she proves her mettle.
You can guess that in his head, he's trying to tell himself that his daughter should aspire to ambitions that are afforded to only boys. In that sense, he is still subscribing to patriarchal notions.
A similar strategy was adopted in an ad featuring Vidya Balan, who stressed the need for rural homes to have bathrooms housed within them. At the wedding ceremony of a bride who is forced to hide her face in a ghunghat, Balan asks the bride's mother-in-law where the bathroom is and is appalled when she is told that she will have to go out in the open.
Balan's punchline in the ad is a dialogue where she says that if the bride is expected to urinate in the open, she might as well give up wearing her ghunghat too. The mother-in-law expresses surprise and undergoes a change in thought. But will she stop forcing her daughter-in-law to wear the ghunghat and threaten her when she takes it off?
The downside of using such a strategy is obvious; it will take longer to weed out discriminatory attitudes because such ads are not absolute in their rejection of patriarchy. Still, one cannot deny the good that comes out of such advertising, because it helps to make the messaging more familiar and palatable.