Are you listening to the emerging counter-cultural stories?

‘So how long before we see a “women-aren’t-always-the-victims” narrative emerging in media?’ I asked my (incidentally all girls) team over lunch some time ago. We were discussing the gender diversity workshop attended in the morning and the conversation had moved to women empowerment and the #metoo movement stories.

Amongst them, some of the instances were also of women exploiting the movement and misusing the support/sympathy they were getting. Interestingly, the people calling these cases out were almost always women. Journalist Tavleen Singh got trolled viciously for suggesting that not all #metoo victims were as helpless a victim as they claimed.

At a more conceptual level – we were discussing the emergence of a counter-cultural response to what becomes a dominant narrative in the society. As a sort of backlash to perspectives going too far in one direction.

From stray episodes and tweets, this viewpoint is now evident in mainstream media. As it turned out, the evening of our conversation I saw the movie Badla and Made in Heaven soon after. The latter, a creation by two women.

This took me back to a research with housewives we had done a decade and a half back. Women were pointing out that they were tired of the silently sacrificing archetype of a Tulsi like character in Hindi soaps. A certain wickedness, and ability to manipulate were qualities they truly admired in characters they related to more. We decoded this as a means for women to deal with the lopsided power balance in a patriarchal world.

These new stories today, however, do not offer any ‘justification’ for legitimising such behaviour. They are unabashed women-as-badass stories being lapped up by both genders. What does this signify? Does it have implications for brands targeting women?

As a brand, when you go looking for insights, these emerging blips are often more meaningful for strategy than the dominant picture you get. The dominant is almost always too late to use. As the emerging signals are weak and sometimes counter-intuitive, it requires joining the dots between what you hear people tell you with what you see around. There is an element of subjectivity involved too. So, picking them up for strategy takes boldness.

But then, in a world of snowballing cultural shift, if you are late, you are in all likelihood, dead.


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