“A stunning blue jacket and an equally stunning response! Watch one bold woman’s response to an issue that many Indian women face at their workplace.” That’s the tagline with which Myntra positions its new ad for the clothing brand Anouk, which stars actress Radhika Apte.
The issue that the ad highlights is discrimination against pregnant women at the workplace. Much like Myntra’s ad that showed two lesbians getting ready to do a ‘meet the parents’, this ad is already generating some attention on social media. On Facebook, it’s been viewed over a 130,000 times, and there are generous 2,000-plus shares.
The ad has Apte playing an architect named Shaheen who questions her boss Uma as she is overlooked for a promotion that was rightfully hers. The reason: Shaheen is pregnant.
Shaheen minces no words when she tells her boss, “You have a problem with my bump, don’t you. You’ve assigned Vivek all my clients, who I believe is getting promoted over me.” The boss tries to reason, saying Vivek’s promotion was a management decision and that once she returns to work, they can discuss her promotion too.
But Shaheen’s anger is evident when she tells the boss, “I’ve worked nights on this project and you’re judging me by my pregnancy and not my work.” It’s a fair point to make, and one that many pregnant women in India and across the world have faced. It’s also a conversation that many women both in corporate or non-corporate jobs might have had with their bosses or at least wished to have.
For most of us, the story would usually stop here. Even if as a pregnant woman, you could confront your boss over an unfair promotion, it would not go very far. After all, you wish to be back at some point in some job, baby or no baby.
But in Myntra’s bubble world, it doesn’t stop there. We see Shaheen drive her boss into her new and, may I say, gigantic office (the gate and huge driveway would put most corporate offices to shame), which is under construction. Shaheen tells her boss confidently, “That’s my new office. I’m starting off on my own. Thanks for everything Uma. I designed it, do you like it?” The boss, who is clearly stumped tells Shaheen, “Don’t do this, you’re the best we have.” But as Apte reminds her “they had”.
And lo-and-behold, we are presented with the new modern-age woman. The woman who is not afraid of her boss, who looks and dresses flawlessly even when pregnant, and won’t hesitate to start a rival firm the moment she’s been overlooked at her current job.
While it’s heartening to see Myntra talk about the trials that pregnant women face at work, its solution appears warped at best. Because, unlike Shaheen’s fairytale world, most of us don’t have the option of starting-off on our own. We don’t own swanky pieces of property where we can just start constructing a new office. Let’s be clear, no bank is loaning you that kind of money, when you’re a pregnant architect or for that matter a pregnant anything, looking to start a new business.
Myntra’s ad leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable simply because it is soaked in ‘privilege’ and appears to be clueless to the reality of most women in India. There’s only a few elite — possibly 1 per cent — women, who can afford to start off in style like Shaheen.
Forget starting a new business, even getting adequate maternity leave remains an issue in India. India’s Maternity Benefits Act (1961) offers only 12 weeks of maternity paid leave (which is around 3 months). To be fair, the government is currently planning to extend it to 24 weeks (around 6 months). If the new law is passed, women across sectors — public, private, even informal — will be able to avail the benefits.
But till it is passed, most working women in India will probably go back to their jobs three months after childbirth. And, if they can’t afford decent childcare options, they will probably quit.
Irrespective of whichever sector you work in, getting pregnant is not an easy choice for most women, more so if you are dependent on the job for making ends meet.
The fear that if you extend your maternity leave, you will be replaced by someone else, is a very real one. The fear that you won’t be granted that promotion because you’ve chosen to get pregnant is also real as the Myntra ad shows. The fear that you won’t find the right creche or childcare options should you decide to go back to work is also real.
Bad bosses aside, the Myntra ad only ends up talking down to its women viewers. The ‘bold statement’ that Shaheen makes with her blue jacket is bold simply because it comes from privilege, a privilege that most working women in India don’t have.
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