Ok, ok I’ll admit it — from time to time I have been known to peruse the Indian matrimonial website Shaadi.com.
Ok maybe more than just “from time to time.”
Ok fine I’ll confess, I’ve considered paying to become a registered, paying member.
This week, I’m very glad I never took that step. Here’s why: Shaadi.com recently released a new app called “Angry Brides.” If this sounds like it’s about to get really sexist . . . it is.
Before reading a single sentence of the Gawker article that first called my attention to this new app, I was already holding back tears, just by looking at the accompanying graphic.
As a primer for my non-desi readers, the word “shaadi” refers to a South Asian wedding, and Shaadi.com is the leading Indian matrimonial website. “Angry Brides” is a Facebook game developed by Shaadi in which the player is an Indian wife beating her husband with frying pans, shoes and rolling pins. The game, Shaadi says, creates awareness for dowry-related abuse, in which a groom abuses his bride to blackmail her family for a larger dowry. This gruesome video game turns such abuse on its head.
I commend Shaadi for being proactive and trying to create awareness of a very serious social issue. Dowry deaths, bride burning and other dowry related violence is still quite an extensive problem in India. As was recently reported by Reuters, there were 8,391 cases of dowry-related deaths in India and 90,000 cases of torture and cruelty toward women by their husbands or family as recently as 2010.
I’m proud that this for-profit business started thinking about social justice problem that affects their audience and is somewhat connected to their industry and purpose. But the thought that went into this app was misguided and ultimately, offensive to the very community it targets.
Before I start my feminist rant, let’s begin with what’s right: the words. ”A woman will give you Strength, Care & all the Love you need, NOT Dowry.” If you just replace “a woman” with “your spouse” the words are quite good, actually. If they had left it at this, I wouldn’t be so enraged.
It was the graphic that set off all the alarm bells for me. My first thought was “why are we addressing a very serious issue of dowry deaths by promoting violence?” The best way to eradicate gender-based violence is not to react with a different kind of gender-based violence, I can assure you.
My next thought was “why are women beating their husbands with pots, rolling pins, and sexy red heels?” Why is she holding a tomato and a broom; where is her briefcase, book or even car keys — anything to show independence or even ability for independent thought? Now yes, it’s true less than a quarter of the workforce in India is female, but how is that ever going to change if all the images of women include frying pans and ladles?
Other initial reactions include annoyance of the hyper sexualization of the lady depicted and an eyeroll- because — of course — she has Barbie-like mythical proportions. I guess the sociology and gender classes I took in college aren’t required courses for or app engineers or computer science majors. Too bad.
And then finally, my thoughts shifted to one of my personal pet peeves: use, or rather misuse, of goddess imagery. I’m infuriated when I see mainstream media twist images of an elephant or woman, add 6 too many limbs and then casually place in an ad. Can you imagine the uproar if a fast food chain hyper sexualized Jesus, mischaracterized him with the wrong attributes and then had him eating a burger? But do that to a Hindu figure, and no one bats an eye. Furthermore, how many times are these sexist god imageries depicting men? Yeah, I can’t recall any either. This misuse of goddesses in advertising is disrespectful to women and just plain religiously intolerant.
I generally write it off as corporate marketing buffs being culturally ignorant, but this time I can’t use that excuse. Shaadi’s execs are not ignorant white men, they are Hindus – both in India and across the Indian Diaspora. The worst part is so are their customers. That’s what I find so hard to understand — why they would use maligned imagery characterizing a religious figure of almost their entire consumer base? Of all people, they should get it; they should be setting a good example, not perpetuating the bad one.
Now in all fairness, I should probably point out that I am particularly primed to be outraged on this particular item, probably more than most people reading this article or viewing this app. I am a young professional South Asian female who works at adomestic violence prevention nonprofit and am a particularly progressive, strong-headed feminist. But at least the first half of that also makes me Shaadi.com’s target audience. Which leads me to wonder, who could have possibly thought this was a good business decision?
Even worse for a business is sexism or promoting violence in any form, even if intentions are “good.” While I can’t confirm it from their website, something tells me there aren’t too many women in executive roles at Shaadi. Hiring women at all levels of your organization is the best business decision you can make, and hopefully will also help you avoid making bad business decisions that alienate or even deeply offend your target audience.
Nicole Varma currently works for a national teen dating violence nonprofit. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a specialization in public affairs and a minor in sociology. Nicole has previously worked with many local and national non profits and campaigns including the Hillary Clinton Campaign, Democratic National Committee. Nicole currently serves on several boards including Women’s Information Network and Asian American Action Group. You can request to follow Nicole on Twitter at @varmanator.