Sandeep Dutta
Guest Article

"Indian men have come some way from being couch potatoes to potato peelers"

An essay on the 'domestication of millennial men' - and what marketers can do differently.

Fortunately, conversations with consumers continue even in lockdown times. With people are forced to stay indoors we are finding that they are more inclined to talk about their lives than before. As a consumer researcher I am using this opportunity to connect with the millennial couples online to understand the impact of lockdown on their lives.

Despite the barrage of jokes about ‘lazy husbands and their no-nonsense wives’ doing their rounds in social media, the reality is different. The millennial couples that I spoke with believed that there has been a shift in real life – people are more patient and more sensitive to other’s feelings. The wives spoke with a sense of smugness about their husband’s unexpected involvement in household chores and doing a good job of it. As one wife from Mumbai said “I am discovering that my husband is not only a better cook than me but also an efficient home manager. I am hoping that he continues to do some of this in normal times too”. The husbands gave the impression that it is likely to continue!

Did such men exist in India earlier? Yes, they did. I had met them much before COVID19 but many of them remained closeted and unsung. A few years back I was involved in a study to examine the lifestyles of urban middle-class millennial couples and it was encouraging to hear about the husband’s role in the domestic sphere. Sceptics may argue that men shouldn’t be canonized for contributing their wee bit, but the truth is that Indian men have come some way from being couch potatoes to potato peelers, so they need a bit of applause.

“The days I am back home by 7 in the evening, I make the main dish for dinner, actually I quite enjoy doing it and, in the mornings, I help my kids to get ready for school”, said an investment banker who also added that he loved gaming in his spare time. Some couples admitted that they had to keep certain things under wraps. “My husband cooks regularly but when we have people home for dinner, I am never sure if I should tell my guests that he cooked most of the dishes as then both of us will be judged”, lamented a millennial wife who felt that society is not kind on people who dare to break stereotypes. I had named this tribe the Domestic Dudes.

"Despite the growing trend of millennial men’s involvement with domestic chores for some time, most marketers seem to have ignored this and continued to look at men as stereotypical helpless idiots in the domestic space."

This small tribe has grown exponentially during these times. COVID-19 has catapulted men, who till now had a fleeting connect with domestic sphere, right at the center of it. While ‘wife happiness’ has been the main motivation for these men to jump into the domestic arena, they are realizing that it could be a source of personal happiness. It allows them to be creative, naïve and sometimes self-indulgent. Weary of achievement pressures all the time, domestic chores offer them a sense of respite and simple enjoyment. By getting involved in domestic matters, men also derive a sense of indispensability and self- importance at home.

It’s time that marketers took notice of this. Despite the growing trend of millennial men’s involvement with domestic chores for some time, most marketers seem to have ignored this and continued to look at men as stereotypical helpless idiots in the domestic space. Stupidity in men, in the domestic sphere, was kind of cute at one time, but perhaps not anymore. Millennial women, who are sharing the financial responsibilities with their husbands, are not very happy to put up with men who are sloppy at home.

According to Kantar’s report “Getting Gender Right” released in early 2019, 76 per cent of female consumers and 71 per cent of male consumers believe that the way they are portrayed in advertising shows that marketers are completely out of touch with reality. The report revealed that most domestic buying decisions are made jointly by men and women; however, ad targeting for categories like child nutrition, laundry, cooking aids and cleaning products continue to be heavily skewed toward female audiences.

COVID-19 is a watershed moment in our lives bringing with it seismic changes in the way we look at wealth, health, relationships and gender roles. This is the time that brands associated with housekeeping move away from over simplistic target assumptions, challenge the status quo and opt for progressive gender portrayals. Some brands in India have attempted to do it successfully in the past (Ariel’s ‘Share the load; Havell’s ‘Hawa Badlegi’ are noteworthy in their effort to break stereotypes) but they are few and far between.

Men’s participation in domestic sphere will certainly not be the same post lockdown but there will certainly be remnants of it. Any effort made by marketers to portray the domestication of men as an evolved form of masculinity is likely to help the brands stand out, be seen as liberal with a larger purpose at heart.

(The author is vice president at Kantar, a market research, survey and business consultancy firm.)