India Media & the Married Woman Ideal

Indian Woman_TraditionalThis diagram illustrates some of the most common items a traditional married Indian woman wears — this of course varies from area to area. If you watch Indian movies (see some I recommend here), knowing this information can be helpful. Below are wiki links to each item:

  • sindoor: vermillion red line up part in hair
  • bindi: the red “dot” on the forehead
  • mangala sutra: “auspicious thread” — necklace which varies by area and caste
  • sari: yards of draped cloth used as main covering
  • bangles: bracelets – it is inauspicious for a married women to have bare arms

Traditions in India have been changing and this article in The Hindu Business Line discusses informal research done by an Indian advertising firm to explore the disappearance of these tradition signals of “I-am-a-married-woman” in Indian TV and advertisements.  And low and behold, the bindi, the sari and the mangala sutra are fading.  This causes much grief and lamentations for traditionalist men who are even more upset by the rise of working women. I have illustrated these statistics below.  The research tallied how often these items appeared in advertisements.


The changing of traditions and upset traditionalists is a generic story and shouldn’t surprise anyone.  I’ve seen the image of women in America, Japan and China change much over the decades and observed the protests of traditionalists in all these cultures. People are the same everywhere with some cultures changing more slowly than others. So what I found more interesting were two points brought up in the article:

  • TV Ads challenges stereotypes faster than TV shows
  • Magazine ads challenge stereotypes faster than TV ad

So, are the ads trying to change us for the better or only catching up with changes that are happening and courting new markets. I wager the advertising companies could care less about directions of our cultures’ values and habits — they only care about consumption.  Depending on your perspective, the affect of adds can reinforce values you like or dislike. But one thing is certain, ads and TV shows are powerful.  Way more powerful than our blogs!

My daughter and wife have recently watched two shows where the main character is a heavy-set woman who would not be classified as beautiful by most standards.  Yet, the show you their actual beauty very quickly. Is this TV catching up with America’s obese culture, or trying to make us more tolerant?  Or is it all too complicated to untangle? Either way, I must say I like its influence on my not-too-dainty daughter who I think would look great with a bindi while wearing a sari!




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “India Media & the Married Woman Ideal

  1. Earnest

    Sabio, curious how you feel if Hilary Clinton wears a headscarf in Pakistan while on a diplomatic mission, which makes her similarly dressed compared to wealthy world-traveling Pakistani women? I personally see it as a sign of respect for local cultures, but she got some snarky comments from some about it back here in the US when she did that. Failure to stand up for progressive Western values, etc, etc.

  2. Sure, I think it is fine. But in an Afghan village, should she wear a burka and be led around by a male relative. Depends how far everyone wants to go, I guess. Depends on the possible gains. This reminds me of a post I should write.

  3. Earnest

    @ Sabio that may not be fair, as what wealthy urbanized Pakistani woman would be caught dead in such a village? It would be shameful to be known that one had even gone there, unless it was some kind of charity or local development event. But the class divisions are so intense over there it might never happen.

    It may be a data artifact, but it seems to me like the burqa and niqab requiring societies tend to have lame economies and not much a tourist would want to visit.

  4. No, I’m saying if Hillary visited Tribal warlords in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, should she wear a burka?

  5. Earnest

    I guess it would depend whether she was there to cut a deal for military cooperation or to cause a scene of social unrest which would be morally disturbing to local power brokers. One act gets your army some allies, the other might get the police to look the other way while you got car-bombed. Such difficult choices, how can one decide…..

  6. Earnest

    “Mr. President, I will be sending my male Assistant Secretary on this mission instead of myself if you don’t mind”.

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s