Sonam Mittal and Bruce Vain are hard at work, breaking gender stereotypes. It is made difficult by the fact that half of the population does not want this to happen. But Mittal and Vain have tasted success as one can find it on their Facebook page—The Spoilt Modern Indian Women. This social media campaign has ruffled feathers and irked some. At the time of writing this piece The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman has received 14,039 page likes and its growing steadily.
The popularity of the page is evident from the many articles that have already appeared in various publications. A meme series, first phase of which ran from January 8 to 22, run by the duo, received wide publicity and praise. The success was so huge that the creative minds behind it had to take a break from the flood of requests pouring in.
Vain explains that women who were interested submitted their photos which were then converted into memes. A text that sets up a stereotype is printed on top, but a plot twist at the bottom smashes the stereotype to bits. The shares and likes the meme series received surprised and elated Mittal and Vain. Vain says that they were flooded with requests after the initial few days of the meme campaign. "The response was beyond expectations. There were so many requests coming in. I was running out of ideas and realised I had to take a break," says Vain.
So they took a break for a few weeks and are now back again. On February 29, they started the second phase of campaign. "Excitingly, renowned hair stylist and gender activist Sapna Moti Bhavnani decided to participate in the campaign and endorse it. The first meme in the campaign's phase 2 featured Sapna herself," they said.
Both Mittal and Vain feel strongly about stereotyping as both have been its victims. Vain understandably uses a pseudonym after having faced abuses, both online and in real life, for supporting women. Once a man told him, "A man would only support a woman because he wants to sleep with her."
Vain describes himself as a “feminist, assigned male at birth”. He says he grew up with “an unconscious male privilege” which he started questioning only when he reached his 20s. “Stereotyping takes away opportunities and marginalises them,” Vain says.
“People do not take women seriously. They say women are emotional and cannot take decisions. This is what Sonam and I are trying to disprove.” He is also into development communication and is also a social change campaigner. He has worked on gender- and sexual health-related campaigns and branding projects.
Sonam is a writer. She has been with the NGO sector since 2009, and her primary areas of interest are environment and gender rights. She is passionate about feminism, women's right and LGBT rights. When not thinking about the next meme, both of them are busy working for non-profit organisations.
So how did The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman come to be? Mittal and Vain met at a campaigning workshop and got talking about creating an online platform where they could challenge the gender stereotypes and misogyny with sarcasm and humour. They decided to attack definite types of stereotyping, when they realised it was easy to come up with witty lines against such stereotyping.
The term is taken from a blog post against Sonam, who was then fighting for justice in a sexual harassment case at her workplace. "A misogynistic blogger had made an obnoxious post about how Sonam is a "spoilt modern woman", who takes the liberty given by the Indian (male) society for granted, and how India is full of such women right now," the duo recalled. "After reading it we thought the best way to respond to such misogyny was by embracing the identity and exposing how every woman, at some point of time, has been assigned labels like these—simply for doing what she wants."
"We figured that the best way to beat regressive, sexist humour was with empowering, inclusive humour," they explained. So the page was created and The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman became an identity for every woman who has been vilified, harassed, abused and threatened for having an opinion and standing up to injustice. "We embrace the identity and wave it on the face of people who think that labelling a woman will bring her down," said Vain.
The page is always based on humour. But the duo regularly call out offensive jokes by posting snapshots and shaming those who posted them. "But what was shocking was that the same people, who made these offensive posts, then reported us for “bullying and harassment” and got the snapshots of their sexist and abusive comments removed from our page," they said.
The team has faced many such backlash. Vain recalls a college professor, who was extremely abusive towards women on the page. He was brought to the notice of the principle of the college. But the professor got together with a renowned sexist personality and started a campaign to get the page mass reported alleging that Mittal and Vain were "trying to ruin his career".
But Vain and Mittal are excited about the success the page has reached. They hope, one day, to take the fight global audience. “We titled the campaign #SpoiltModernIndianWomen in the first phase but since then, we have got so many requests to participate from other neighboring countries that we are now calling it #SpoiltModernDesiWomen. Who knows the next leg could be #SpoiltModernGlobalWomen!” they hope.