The new Netflix show relies too heavily on stereotypes and age-old traditions that need to be rethought.
f you can see it, you can be it. As a young girl in India, I remember writing an essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up: the Prime Minister of India bringing positive change for the country. I didn’t think twice about it because I had seen a woman be prime minister before. Representation and role models inspire young women to positions of leadership. And, lack of representation or imbalanced representation has the opposite effect: under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. In this context, the new Netflix show “Indian Matchmaking” is a major setback as it propagates stereotypes of the Indian woman by normalizing caste and colorism and glamorizing the role of the Indian woman as “a suitable wife.”
Yes, it is true that these egregious practices still exist, and one could argue that this show should be acclaimed for shedding light on the ugly matchmaking practices underlying arranged marriages that are still prevalent in India. Some critics have praised the show for exposing age-old oppressive traditions, including colorism, and the ridiculous circus that goes into being a perfect Indian bachelorette. But what saddens me is the lack of balance in also showcasing and portraying stories of the many families and women who have rejected this tradition.
For every story of women who have succumbed or been forced to succumb to these traditions, there are a hundred stories of others who have broken the chains of these oppressive practices and blazed the trail in creating a new reality for the modern Indian woman. The lack of representation of this other reality is what I find problematic.
Culture and tradition are a key part of empowerment and achievement in modern Indian women in the United States and has led to their success in all aspects of life, as a survey conducted by SEEMA found last year. The drive to achieve has resulted in a multitude of successful Indian women who are leading and breaking barriers in many fields today, from politics and STEM to fashion, film, food, philanthropy, and more. But despite their multifaceted triumphs, it is disappointing the mainstream media has failed to adequately showcase and represent Indian women, their contributions, or the culture that makes them unique and strong. Where are the stories of the Indian women in leadership positions, those who are blazing new trails?
The majority of Indian women feel stereotyped and underrepresented by TV, movies, fashion, and beauty. In fact, four out of five (81 percent) Indian women we surveyed want content that gives them more prominence in the media. Indian and non-Indian women surveyed want to see more respect for Indian women characters, less stereotyping, and better portrayal in positive and prominent ways.
Think about it: When was the last time you saw a South Asian woman depicted in a leadership capacity, as a head of state or as a business woman or as a technology maven? And how many times have you seen her associated with Bollywood dancing, or as a matchmaking auntie or a young girl waiting to find the right guy Indian guy with the right pedigree to be married off to?
The lack of visible representation or strong role models in the mainstream is one of the biggest obstacles that leads to minority women not aspiring to certain careers or self-selecting themselves out of them.
Which is why we at SEEMA launched a platform to showcase the other reality, of South Asian women breaking barriers, of shaping their own futures and destinies. We are determined to tell these stories and ensure there is fair balance when it comes to representation of the modern South Asian woman. We also want to increase representation of South Asian women.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, in a famous quote in the 2011 documentary Miss Representation. The Sundance film exposed how media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence and the importance of showcasing role models who break stereotypes. At SEEMA, we believe in empowering and celebrating those who are blazing the trail and shaping and showing a future to young girls that is better and brighter — and not legitimizing the old and oppressive practices and showing a new reality that is real.