[Danny Arnold] Purchase…Wait…I Mean, Save the Commodity!
We begin with commodities. The Indian women, former prostitutes, who produce PUNJAMMIES, sleepwear for American women, are named as such “to be used for other’s gain.” To be clear from the beginning, forced prostitution, this commoditization of women, is unequivocally wrong. PUNJAMMIES is offered, then, as a way out. However, despite this moral imperative we should critically examine how the umbrella organization for PUNJAMMIES. the International Princess Project (IPP), narrates this project of liberation. A short video captures the organization.
Photos in black and white mark Indian women in prostitution, women without choice. Black and white turns to color, to hope, as women choose to come out of sex slavery. Happy Indian women are shown before the product slogan, “Wear PUNJAMMIES. Wear Hope.” The video ends with a photo of two young white women sitting on a windowsill wearing PUNJAMMIES looking comfortable, able to choose, the image of princesses, princesses able to “raise a princess.” Indeed, throughout the IPP website, the movement towards becoming a princess, defined by the ability to choose and possession of dignity, freedom, and self-worth, guides the production of PUNJAMMIES. This movement, however, is predicated on the notion that there are already princesses modeled by the free white women, that women forced into prostitution are not, and that their choices to produce luxurious sleepwear for white women will empower them to become princesses through her choice to purchase PUNJAMMIES.
This progression to become a princess is further modeled in a striking sequence of photographs on the IPP website. The first is a black and white photograph of Indian women, the same aesthetic used in the video, which marks women as sex slaves (The Universal Injustice). The second is a vibrant photo of traditional Indian clothing, the sari, a product not being produced by the women (The Ability of the Traditional to be Beautiful). The third is a color photo of Indian women sewing PUNJAMMIES (The Women Realizing They Can Be Princesses) . The fourth is the culmination of the movement, a beautiful Western woman (the first model on the website whose skin color is not obviously white) is gracefully shown jumping in midair wearing PUNJAMMIES, a princess especially because she has chosen to wear hope (The Transformation of Universal Injustice into Royalty by Way of Purchasing the Traditional). By wearing PUNJAMMIES, the Western woman is able to show her status as already-princess. What, then, are PUNJAMMIES? We are told they are hope, the hope emerging from Indian women choosing to come out of forced sexual slavery. However, hope, each pair of pants, is also the skills-training, the production process, the actual sale, the rehabilitation center, the micro-loan, and even the narratives of women in prostitution. If was not for the demand, the aesthetic desires, and some sense of justice amongst Western white women, each woman would remain a prostitute, a non-princess. Indeed, each pair of PUNJAMMIES is the woman who produced it. Are we not simply looking at the same commoditized market of the international sex trade with the commoditization moving in a different direction? Are not the same women who were enslaved in a market of sexual slavery now enslaved in a market subservient to the aesthetic and humanitarian preferences of wealthy white women? The Indian woman is now re-commoditized not only in a pair of pants but in the sale of Hope. To push farther, as it is narrated by the International Princess Project, for the Western white woman to retain her status as already-princess, she should purchase PUNJAMMIES, the re-commoditized Indian woman.