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Give Mommy a break: TV ads and the supermom you can never live up to

by Sharon Fernandes

Sirf ek Maa hi achhi aadaton ki ahemiat samajhti hai. This advertising line for a children’s health drink, that only a mother can teach a kid the value of good habits, is enough to make me feel awkwardly cornered. It is all up to me now. The mother on the screen races her young son to teach him good values. Fitness and well, winning. She mentions in a calm tone “only when he defeats me I shall win.” I am sweating watching her sprint as my toddler plays with his crayons, doodling away unaware that there is a race on.

 Give Mommy a break: TV ads and the supermom you can never live up to

Representational image. Reuters

Fairness ads get their share of flak for making women look like objects that need to be made whiter, lighter and blemish free. But what about the benchmarks that advertisements and even TV serials put up for the ‘mother figure’ of today? The standards are high and no one says “Hey...give the woman a break.”

The energy drink company is not the only one that says the mom has to have high sporting standards. Food brands selling everything in the cabinet, from soup to ketchup have a mother who has “made the right choice.” The mother can never let hunger go unnoticed. She offers fruit juice while the word ‘nourishing’ materialises on the wall behind her. She nods approvingly as her kids tug at a heavy dining table, swinging it right under the astonished father’s nose. The peanut butter she served them has worked, and made them strong. All is well with the world. Even celebrity moms know how to instantly fry potato smileys to keep their kids’ tummies full. A mother has to be there if there is food involved. The mother worries whether her child is getting the right food that will make sure he gives the right answers in class. The mother worries if her child is having the right breakfast or using the right toothpaste. Who has ever seen a man worry about his child’s nourishment?

If Indian advertising is to be believed then only family insurance and saving for education loans is the father's responsibility. The worried dad, who is always zeroed in as a source of capital, fiddles with a calculator trying to think hard of how to pay for his daughter’s wedding or the son’s college degree.

Sure, times are changing, Hema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma do not just extol the virtues of washing powder. These days they are all MPs in Parliament. Even in the washing powder ad they no longer just compare the luminosity of their saris but help push ambulances out of dirt. But the mother is still the one who has to wash any dirty clothes that come home. Even chucking a shirt into a washing machine will only happen if the mother can load the clothes, and then hold them aloft, sparkling like the values her kids have just learned -- mommy does the washing. The father joins in when the car advertisements have to show a family being driven around. The mother sits snugly in the passenger seat.

The mother doesn’t get a real break in ads on Indian television. What about a mother who actually makes mistakes? Who learns slowly what works best for her child? And where is the father when it comes to giving the baby a bath? Maybe the men also need to be shown picking up the dirty linen and worrying about what to whip up for the family dinner. About time, the right values are sold.

The young women have found freedom. The ads say they can fight for themselves, can party as hard as they want. They strum guitars on rooftops, find themselves worthy of hair colour and invite you for boat parties. It is a new world out there. But after the jewellery ads are done decking up the bride and sending her off into the sunset in a fancy car, her next outing as a mother will be only according to golden oldie standards of Nirupa Roy’s bangle-breaking characters. Self-sacrificing and poised in the kitchen with a ladle or bent over the washing machine. At least she does get a washing machine now. That’s a smidgen of progress and gives her the time to go racing with her son to teach him all about winning.

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Updated Date: Jul 20, 2014 09:26:35 IST