A child falls over and scraps their arm. They are hurt, so they start crying. They are told to stop, because they are a boy, and boys don’t cry.
At least, this is a cultural gender issue which Vogue India point to. As part of their campaign #VogueEmpower, a video by Vinil Mathew shows a boy growing up, constantly scolded for showing emotion, because “boys don’t cry”. The video, which is one of many for the campaign, ends with a shocking portrayal of the man abusing his wife and the words “We have taught our boys to cry. It’s time we teach them not to make girls cry.” And to bring the message home, a hashtag of #startwiththeboys.
A still from the video “#Startwiththeboys”
This video addresses the issue of gender stereotypes and how they can lead to the abuse and oppression of women. It forms part of a wider social awareness campaign, which aims to challenge the inequality of women in India. #VogueEmpower was launched in October this year, to celebrate Vogue India’s seventh anniversary.
In India, women in both rural and urban areas face financial, sociological, emotional and issues of safety every day. In 2013, 309, 546 crimes against women were reported. This means that the actual figure is likely to be much higher, as many would have gone unreported. This is a shocking statistic, and movements such as this one are essential in ensuring that the problem is tackled head on.
This campaign aims to utilise social, digital and multimedia platforms to amplify the offline action. It also sells T-shirts and bracelets, to create visual representation of their message. The bracelet is red, to reference the bindi, which is being used as a symbol for the empowerment of Indian women. I think the cultural influence is genius and presents an unmistakable feel of culturally unity and strength.
It Starts With You
The campaign is simple, straight to the point and maintains its definite message throughout. The tagline is “its starts with you.” Which I feel is a great way to provoke readers and audiences into realising that they can have an impact themselves. Vogue India has cleverly used the most powerful communicative tool in their arsenal: twitter. By patenting catchy and meaningful hashtags such as #VogueEmpower and #Startwiththeboys a brand, of sorts, is born and the awareness of gender inequality will peak as people involved with the cause can easily connect with each other.
By focusing on the roles of not only women but also men in India is key to maintaining a realistic goal. #VogueEmpower realises that the empowerment of women will not come through shameless raising of that sex, but through education to dispel intergraded sexism. The video is suggesting a link between suppressing men’s emotions and domestic abuse, which may seem shallow. In reality, this shows how inequality affects men too. If we foster a culture that tells boys showing emotion is feminine we not only hinder male’s emotional growth but we instil them with the ideal that women are weak.
It still stands that the initiative is “women centric” and should be regarded as such. The inequality and mistreatment of women is at the forefront of this campaign and it carried an infectious strength. Headed by the powerhouse that is Vogue, this social awareness pledge is given a running start in terms of success and publicity; the company has the resources and the public presence to push change. Vogue India will feature interviews from a range of people, such as activist Gloria Steinem and Tennis star Maria Sharapova, and real life stories from women affected by matters they wish to raise consciousness about. I feel this is important, as this campaign has an embellishment of marketing and celebrities but this doesn’t distract from the raw basis of empowering women on which it is built. Also, there are a range of ambassadors which have pledged to donate money, time or expertise to the cause. The campaign has an aura of urgency about it; it really wants to mobilise and fuel the flames of change and urge people to notice the issue.
“Coduit of Change”
#VogueEmpower isn’t all talk, its full bodied action. It isn’t just armed with a vision of changing mind sets, but also with the ideal of helping others. Vogue India will be fundraising for “Give India”, and organisation which works improve the quality of women’s lives. Vogue’s firm stance in the fashion world means that designer Rahul Mishra and fashion houses Gucci and Louis Vuitton will be helping out also. It hopes that this will be a “conduit of change” to empower women’s minds, body, thought and actions.
So what makes this so different from other projects that revolve around equality of the sexes? This is the only of its kind, that being, one that is headed by such a large company, for women exclusively in India. The style aspect is unique and opens doors to effective and beneficial ways of promoting the cause, such as their range of merchandise. However, other campaigns such as the “Feminism in India project” have also aimed to dispel stereotypes about both sexes and prevent rape and harassment. The fact that similar movements exist is exciting; it’s proof that something is happening, people are working hard to change what needs changing in India.
#VogueEmpower shouldn’t be criticised for surface flaws or because you don’t agree with a certain aspect of the delivery or application. This campaign is crucial because it is alerting the western world to what is happening outside of their bubble. It is giving women a chance to make their decisions and be in charge of their own bodies. Vinil Mathew doesn’t place the blame on men, but on the way society raises them, by placing them box which teaches them they are not allowed to show emotion in a healthy way. This is important to me as I don’t believe feminism should be about female supremacy, and nor should it be about a division of the sexes. It should be about giving women the power, respect and opportunities they deserve as human beings, and also about freeing men from binding stereotypes which only further degrade women.
Simply, the question of “what makes this different” shouldn’t be asked. This campaign could have a million just the same, but it would still be a positive and practical step forward, which is significantly more important than the integrity of the initiative itself (which, to point out, is actually quite high.) Gender roles constrain and effect people every day and if a figurehead magazine can recognise and challenge that, we are moving in the right direction for a more equal future.