Impact of Covid on the Psyche of Women

Read Time:16 Minute

Covid has changed the dynamics for many. Women were hard-pressed to respond despite the prevailing sense of helplessness and despair. An interesting talk by Ms Anju Joseph, Partner, India Business Head, Quantum Consumer Solutions.

Any crisis impacts women and children more. Because of the pandemic, we have seen that a new future is being created across everything that we do. Today, the way how people prioritise, shop, decide and respond is undergoing significant shifts.

Covid-19 was not just a disease or a pandemic. It was seen by people in three different ways. Firstly, of course, as an external threat. There was a huge disruption and fear for one’s health. Our self-preservation instincts kicked in. There was a heightened paranoia for not wanting or not getting the disease. We all ran indoors like mice, shut our doors and windows and blocked the outside world from accessing us.

The second was the fact that even those who were not affected by Covid had their lives hugely disrupted. There was helplessness and pressure, and that impacted their attitude and feeling. The third, it led to a shift in their perspective. It made people question, reassess, reprioritize, prepare and adapt.

New Mental Models

Our mind was split and many mental models emerged during the pandemic.

The Panic Mind: We were in a constant state of panic. As soon as we interacted with someone from the outside, we’d come home and wash our hands with sanitizers all over.  One was masking and double-masking. The panic mind was clearly in focus because we have a basic survival instinct and we needed to survive.

The Distancing Mind: We all witnessed this, if not in our own neighbourhoods, in the news. We started to ‘other’ anyone who was not like us. If someone was not from our family or community, that person was deemed unsafe. We saw how doctors, people belonging to some religions and north-easterners bore the brunt of faith. Anybody who was not familiar was the ‘other’ and our mind, as a survival strategy, said, “Let me distance, because I need to protect myself from the external threat.”

The Victim Mind: People started asking, “Why poor me?  What have I done to deserve this and how can it be me?” We heard a lot of that during the pandemic.

The Infantalised Mind: This was, “Tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do.” When Prime Minister Modi said, “Light diyas,” we all lit diyas. When he said ‘bang,’ we all did that. We did everything that somebody was telling us to do. There were so many videos and posts on social media asking us to drink all kinds of concoctions. At that time, we all wanted to be led.

The Imprisoned Mind: There was a sense of imprisonment, because it was groundhog day. Every day was the same. Weekdays melted into weekends. Days melted into nights and there was a sense of stagnation and monotony.

The Deprived Mind: There was a sense of deprivation. We got deprived of our fundamental senses. Only visual and auditory senses were in play and mostly, the other senses were dormant. After the first lockdown, we saw serpentine queues outside alcohol stores because one was completely deprived of things that were taken for granted before the pandemic.

The Worrying Mind: The pandemic led to job losses and insecure futures. One did not know what was going to happen. So there was a lot of worry.

The Introspective Mind: There was also a lot of introspection and re-prioritization. People started asking, “What am I running behind? What am I working for? Why is it that I’m not paying attention to things that matter?”

The Self-Sufficient Mind: People felt that nothing can be trusted and therefore, they needed to take control into their own hands. Lot of upskilling, learning and equipping oneself for unforeseen things happened.

Human memory is short and we forget, but all of us went through these mindsets at some point or the other. Depending on the situation, we were either worrying or panicking or feeling a sense of stagnation. It is true that the pandemic is far from over. But it has already run its dangerous course.

Three Responses to Change

Each time there is a change, we find different kinds of responses across all categories. One response is to look at change as an opportunity: ‘A new world has been presented to me and let me see how I can make the most of it.’ Such a response makes people upskill, change jobs, move cities or go to a bigger home.

There is another mindset that says, ‘Oh my God! This is such a huge challenge. But I need to cope with it because I need to stay relevant.

The third is that change is danger. They look for things that help them to maintain status quo. For instance, during the pandemic, we ourselves saw or heard of people watching old serials, mythology series and all that, because when things are changing, we need a sense of anchoring. Seeking status quo is a response to change.

In India, we witnessed all these three mindsets. There is a section that said, ‘Let me grab the opportunity.’ Another section said, ‘I need to catch up and stay relevant. It is onerous, but I need to do it.’ Then the third set of people said, ‘What if I just don’t look at it! Maybe things will not change as dramatically.’

Far Reaching Consequences:

The consequences of the pandemic are going to be far reaching and we have many crises on hand which will continue for a while.

Crisis of Security: We see this across men and women. Everything that one took for granted was questioned during the pandemic. It didn’t matter even if you had money or you were a doctor or you lived near a hospital. There was nothing that was for sure.

Crisis of Health: The pandemic showed us how frail we are or how much of threat the human body is under. Health consciousness has become important.

Crisis of Spontaneity: Even though we step out of home and go to shops, every now and then our mind stops and says, ‘Hey, should I be doing this?’ Earlier, we felt we could just walk into a neighbour’s house. But nowadays, we may be making a phone call before going there. Spontaneity is not safe, yet.

Crisis of polarisation: This is also the larger political narrative. Because of the pandemic, the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ narratives are becoming much stronger.

Crisis of Now vs. Future: Should I live in the now because I don’t know about the future? Or should I make sure that I plan so well that no matter what happens my future is secure? In every category, we see two kinds of responses. ‘Let me just live today, buy the most expensive jewellery and indulge in luxury brands. What am I saving for? I don’t know if tomorrow is going to happen or not.’  There is another set that says, ‘Listen, I need to get my act together. What I have is not enough. To ensure that my future is secure, I need to live prudently today. I need to save, work on my health and do morally right things.’

The Seven Shifts in Woman’s Life

How have all these crises impacted our women? Women always want to be super heroes. The pandemic has shown her superhero side as well. There have been shifts in all walks of our life. The new woman is emerging out of the pandemic and seven major shifts have happened in her life. There could be more but I think these are significant and interesting shifts.

From an ‘identity subsumed’ to a ‘self-crafted identity’: The pandemic has made her grow in her own eyes and in the eyes of others as well. Most importantly, she has re-evaluated herself. There is an amplified and renewed quest to reclaim herself and craft her own identity. She has faced so many battles like the husband losing his job or the husband’s business not doing well, her children, husband and everybody being at home- usually in cramped spaces, increased workload because maids are not arriving, schedules going awry, the demands not getting reduced, the need to prepare more food, wash clothes and keep the house clean. She has had to rise above all these.

What she discovered about herself has been extremely eye-opening. She has taken over the financial load along with other chores. Home premiership has come up in a big way. Lots of women have converted their little hobbies into professions and have been quite successful at that. She has upskilled. We’ve heard of many women who know about crypto and learn about investments and finances. They are getting into it running businesses and are upgrading in terms of tech, as they do their business online.

We did some research in a small town of Maharashtra. We asked a woman to introduce herself. She said, “I’m a businesswoman. I make Puran poli which is famous from Aurangabad to Shamli.” That was her introduction. She has discovered during the pandemic that she can do this. In social media, women have been posting their success stories and celebrate themselves. Their skill is their identity and it is a key to their success.  They have recognized that they have a lot of skills and potential, just waiting to be unleashed. There is a shift from an identity that was linked to a role to an identity where she has come into her own.

From Tech Intimidation to Tech Partnership: Women have generally been quite low on the pecking order of tech. Most mobile phone access is with men. Women often have to share a mobile phone or they don’t have a smartphone. Fundamentally, for women, tech was intimidating. Now we find that she has moved to a relationship of partnership with tech. It has enabled her to transcend time and space and become a force of knowledge.

Ambulatory restrictions have always been there on women but because of technology, she doesn’t need to go anywhere to figure out things. She is sitting there with this little mobile device in her hands and exploring the world. She’s exploring how to make decisions, how to purchase and how to choose. She no longer relies on her neighbour or husband, but on Google reviews and ratings to make decisions.

Retailers tell us that window shopping has come down because women have done their research. They know exactly what they want to buy and from which store. They do not go from one shop to the other. As a result, in a lot of high value purchase stores, the footfalls have reduced. When women come to the store, they are serious buyers. The way consumers purchase and decide has all changed. So for marketers and for people who attempt to talk to this woman, the important question is, ‘Where do you find her?’ Today, she is not necessarily relying on traditional media and traditional influencers like neighbours or mother-in-law. She has found her own way. She has the rocket in her pocket. On social media, women are proud to talk about themselves as the tech support in their homes. They are upskilling themselves so they can have better video call experience. Paytm, Google Pay, Big Basket, Swiggy have all become household words. The woman is using them quite effortlessly.

From Self Sacrifice to Self Love: This is a big shift. It is now okay to seek ‘me time’ and this significant socio- cultural shift has happened thanks to the pandemic. Earlier, ‘time for myself’ was completely mired in guilt. If you sought time for yourself, it meant that you were not a good homemaker or you were not doing your role well. Every time you pitched the idea of convenience, it was always judged and looked at as something that is negative. The ideal woman was somebody who sacrificed herself at the altar of the collective.

Now, she has learned that it not necessary to be perfect. It’s okay if things are not perfect. It is a journey that is not complete, but she’s been able to embrace her flaws and follies. She has been able to create windows of opportunity, where she has given permission to herself. For instance, we find today that women bathe for longer. The time in the bath is so important for her because that’s a time where she’s communing with herself. She is buying premium products or has become more open.

Our clients tell us that alcohol consumption amongst women has indeed gone up during the pandemic. It has eased the pressure on her. There is a new woman in the making. If this is a woman who is journeying towards the idea of self-love, how do you pitch products to her? Earlier, it was about being a good homemaker. What is it that you say to her today will be significant for marketers.

We find a lot of conversation online about ‘me time,’ and ‘rewarding myself with things that I like to do.’ So be it photography, spending time with nature, spending time in a salon, getting your hair done or getting a lovely pedicure, ‘me time’ has become important for her.

From ‘Comfort in the Familiar’ to ‘Conquering the New’: The woman wants to upgrade and wants to move to the next level of success. She is into entrepreneurship as well as experimenting new goals. You were probably part of or at least privy to Dalgona coffee trend or people making all kinds of new foods or trying out new cuisines. Like that, women are now becoming entrepreneurs, sometimes because of ‘me’ factor or because of interest. They are forced to move out of their comfort zones. Loss of jobs, insecurity and lack of income have made her go on a new quest. A lot of hobbies have got translated into amazing opportunities for her. The pandemic gave birth to a lot of entrepreneurs, business women and part-time workers.

Women showcase their journeys of doing well in businesses and at work or learning a new skill. They believe in showcasing that to a larger world. For marketers, particularly the question is, ‘Is innovation a necessity today? How do you make her interested in your product?’ Innovation becomes significant in that aspect. During survey, women told us things like, “Oh, earlier I used to just sew so that I can repair clothes of my husband or my children. But during the pandemic, I learned how to tailor through YouTube and now I have opened a boutique.” That is so revealing as well as amazing. There was a need but also, she could do that.

From Pester Power to Generous Authority: This shift is focused on mothers. When the child wields influence, she’s way more firm in her negotiations today. So nutrition is undergoing a sea change. The turn of the century after liberalization saw a dramatic shift in parenting, because parents as well as children were exposed to the new world of chips and soft drinks and chocolates. Therefore, many ‘no’s had become ‘yes’es and kids were exerting their influence in a very clear way. But during the pandemic, the focus is back on health and immunity. If you’re immune or you don’t have co-morbidities or you haven’t got covid or recovered quickly from Covid, it’s a status marker. There has been a birth of new status markers, all of which are linked to resilience, impregnability and infallibility.

Therefore the mother has felt the need to take control back in her hands. Good practices have thus been dialled up- like eating of fruits and not eating junk food. If the child requests a pizza, the mother is ready to make it at home with home-made ingredients, to protect the family from Covid. The woman has gone back to taking charge of nutrition. We see lots of conversation online about eating healthy.

From ‘Work Hard’ to ‘Work Smart’: Time became the biggest currency we witnessed during the pandemic. We’ve seen that woman has been pressed for time. So her mantra has shifted from working hard to working smart. She is seeking hyper convenience. She doesn’t want to do steps that are unnecessary. One more extra step means wasting precious time. Her lens has shifted from money-saving to looking at the opportunity cost. ‘In that time that I save, what else can I do?’

The world of convenience thanks to technology is at her footstep and doorstep and she’s making the most of it, saving time and ensuring her time is spent in the best way possible and in the most productive manner. What some women told us was, “‘I’m a working woman. Therefore, I need to get my priorities right. I have made sure that I have a maid and a tuition teacher for my child. I need to spend my time taking care of myself, my family and my home as well as pay attention to my work.” This is smart work and being able to divide smartly and to choose wisely in terms of what is it that she needs to do and avoid doing.

From ‘Togetherness of Space’ to ‘Togetherness with Purpose’: The last one is the idea of quality time. Earlier, a family was together just because all were in the same space. Now when people are together, they must be working towards some purpose. The idea of quality time has become significant today. It’s not about the amount of time you’re spending, but what you are doing with that time that you’re all together.

The woman is actively designing experiences of joy, of love and of tangible affection. The pandemic has shed light on the unpredictability of life. So there is a growing emphasis on quality time, be it playing tambola or the whole family cooking a meal together. Many events are getting created so that the bond gets strengthened within the family and the idea of the family gets reinforced constantly.

There are lots of posts online about how people are designing family time. The question is, if she is living her life like this and designing for experiences, does the idea of products even exist? Does everything need to be imagined as a service and as a result of that, do we have to think of not just what we are selling but also the ecosystem? Not just the point of sale or how she’s going to use it is important but also what else she is doing? These are significant things to think of from a marketing point of view.

These are seven fundamental shifts that we are picking up in the work that we are doing. The woman post the pandemic is armed with new skills. She is armed with new confidence. She is someone who has taken charge of herself and people around her as well as her community. She is someone who has got heightened awareness now and is questioning the fundamentals. She is questioning things that were probably part of her conditioning. She is on a journey of identity crafting and above all, she is shaping a new world, one more time.