Why I felt HT Brunch's coverage of national women's football team was sexist

I wonder if its next issue will feature the men’s football team interviewed and 'groomed' by a lifestyle journalist.

 |  5-minute read |   22-02-2017
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I am an ardent reader of HT Brunch, but last week's cover story about the national women’s football team threw me off.

Normally, this should have been a story that would fill every woman's heart with pride. This should have been be a story I would want to recommend to parents of little girls looking for a bedtime story that would make them believe that any dream can become a reality, if they choose to work hard. This should have been a story of grit, determination, blood, sweat and sheer girl-gumption.

But the moment I picked up the issue, I could see from the cover image that it was no "normal" story. The cover page featured two images of six "super-talented women" from the national football team. In the first picture, all of them in their jerseys, posing with footballs. However, it's the second picture that shocked me — the magazine team made the sportswomen "swap their jerseys and cleats with dresses and heels, and prepared them for an all glammed up cover shoot". The first photo was tagged “3k views” and the second “301k views”. Below the two images in bold letters was written: “It must be the make-up!”

My heart sank as I took in the monstrosity that was this cover image. Even without opening the magazine, I felt let down by this publication that is supposed to define current trends.

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 Image: HT Brunch

Here it was portraying women, sportswomen at that, in a light that reduces them to objects to be dolled up, and reduces their worth to “views” based on their looks and make-up.

I'm shocked that this horror passed the editorial process.

In this day and age, where feminism is finally becoming a point of discussion at Indian family dinner tables, a magazine could still present a picture of women that sets their legitimacy as professionals back once again to being pretty little things valuable only because of their aesthetically pleasing bodies.

While some in popular culture are making an effort to celebrate stories of parents encouraging their daughters in female infanticide-ridden Haryana to pursue sports, here is our national team being objectified on the front page of a leading pop-culture magazine.

The inside of the story offered no redeeming features. It is frankly depressing that the magazine did not deem our national football team worthy of being covered by a sports journalist, and instead sent a "beauty journalist" to cover their stories instead. The "beauty journalist" did what "beauty journalists" do — gave the ladies a makeover and spent time discussing their skincare regimens, while glossing over their struggles and journeys as sportswomen in passing at best.

And then there was the risible section in the article where they brought in Baichung Bhutia to comment on the girls’ makeover. It is a deeply awkward piece, where Bhutia is clearly uncomfortable with what he is expected to comment on.

There is a picture of him in the magazine, where they have him shrug his shoulders in that “who are these women and what did they do to my players?” kind of way. Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the self goal there.

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Image: HT Brunch 

I am sure Bhutia must have felt far more comfortable talking about the game these women happen to play, and spoken about it at length as well. But here is the pearl of a quote the journalist liked enough to include in the article: “As a former FIFA chief once said, Indian women dance and move their bodies so well that they can definitely excel at football.”

Downright educational to read Indian women’s sporting talent being traced back to gyration at wedding baraats. If this isn’t demeaning and belittling their respective struggles and the hard work it must have taken to rise to where they have, I don’t know what is.

Someone I discussed this article with pointed out the responsibility of the women featured in the article and the role played by them in the angle the magazine chose to cover them with. To that, I can only respond by placing myself in their shoes. Mere 20-21 year olds, many from rural backgrounds, being covered by media “professionals” cannot be blamed for trusting them to know their job. 

When I was their age, I was far behind them in terms of accomplishment (heck, I still am far behind them in terms of accomplishment) and cannot say that if someone asked me to put on some make-up and pose for a cover story in a leading magazine, I would have noticed anything terribly wrong with that.

Which is why I feel that the responsibility for the irresponsibility shown by the Brunch team in the lens through which they covered this story lies squarely on their shoulders. Perhaps shared, in part, only by history and the way women — even exceptional achievers like these girls — have always been portrayed by it. Which is where one looks at the media of today to move forward and bring about change, rather than repeat and reinforce the mistakes of the past.

I am eagerly awaiting the next issue of Brunch with bated breath. I wonder if it will feature the men’s football team.

I wonder if they will send a beauty journalist to cover it too. I wonder if we will read all about their favourite hair gel and exfoliating skin care routine after a hard day of running around at practice too. I wonder if a senior female football player will be brought into the room after the makeover to comment on how pretty the men looked, and how Indian men are naturally good at footer, given the practice they get by dancing at weddings.

I would give these men, a thousand times more views! It must be the make-up!

Also read: A woman calls out sexism on WhatsApp groups (and how do the men respond?)

 

Writer

Mahima Vashisht Mahima Vashisht @mahimavashisht

The author is an ex-civil servant and currently works in the development sector. Generally though, the Harry Potter fan solemnly swears she is up to no good.

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