Feminism in India has uploaded a few little comics by graphic artist Harini Rajagopalan today – beautifully done – some of them really funny – like the take on right-wing-enforced marriages promised by politically backed-up moral polices all over India on Valentines Day. But then comes one on ‘parlour aunties’ (groans…) and it is problematic.
Rajagopalan writes: “Parlour aunties have this amazing talent of shaming you by asking you the simplest questions. It’s just one of the examples of everyday sexism. Though you can’t really blame them for thinking that only married women should have sex (or only women who have sex get Brazilian waxes). It’s so intrinsic to our patriarchal society.”
What does a cartoon do to our mind? Among other things, it stereotypes. For example, a typically misogynist cartoon that depicts a woman driver screwing up is ‘funny’ because it stereotypes the notion that women cannot drive. If it was simply about the cartoonist’s aunt, it wouldn’t have been ‘funny’. In Rajagopalan’s case, she chooses the ‘parlour aunties’ to mouth the voice of patriarchy (or in other words, to demonstrate the symptoms of the disease named patriria – coined by a friend). Why choose them in particular for a cartoon theme? There is a certain kind of ‘vulnerability’ that customers are exposed to in the hands of a beauty parlour-worker attending her. When it comes to waxing in particular, it is probably even more so – given her submission to the (wo)manhandling of her helplessly and awkwardly exposed body and also the sheer pain involved in the process. Is it a form of not-so-passive aggression that leads us to looking at such a parlour-attendant as a foe, who we then have an easy right to stereotype?