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Indian ads may seem to be evolving, they still sticks on to some stereotypes towards women. Though ads makers are trying to change, we are far from change.
Among the dime a dozen advertisements that come up on YouTube or on TV, there is a recurring pattern of embedded sexism and gender stereotypes in them. Whether it is the ad for a toiler cleaner or corn-flakes or even candies, ad have always had a skewed idea of women.
In some ways, advertisements have generally evolved from showcasing women at the beck and call of their husbands. The depictions of blatant sexualisation and suppression of women has also seemed to reduce. However, we still have a long way to go.
Social marketing continues to predominantly focus on gender norms for their selling points. This is done mostly as an inordinate amount of the advertising tends to focus on family life and similar settings.
‘Femvertising’ has aimed to subvert gender roles through role inversion, script restructuring and shedding light on important and sensitive issues. However, seemingly inclusive and even progressive advertisements that initially appear liberating and social-commentary worthy, still cross the fine line between empowerment and sexism.
This is now commonly referred to as ‘benevolent sexism’ in the advertising and television industry. The entrenched patriarchy and discrimination on TV still casts a shadow on the genuine attempts to realistically and positively portray women.
Here are some advertisements that attempted to show feminism and empowered women but failed subtly.
This advertisement portrays an incredibly regressive notion of marriage. A young newly-wed wife is seen cooking for her in-laws to prove her ‘worth’ and value as a wife and to be accepted into the new family. She appears nervous and only receives contempt from her mother-in-law and no support from her husband. In the end, the family bursts out laughing and tells her that she ought to cook more often since she cooked so well.
At first, this could be taken as a light-hearted advertisement. However, it accentuates the fact that a woman’s worth is restricted only to the kitchen. The ad goes on to highlight that as a wife or a mother, her primary job is to serve the family.
Wasn’t there another way for us to appreciate cooking oil rather than regressing into a warped vicious cycle of gender perception?
At a first glance, the quips between the married couple can make get some laughs. However, the appeal of the advertisement doesn’t sit well with most of us and even sparked a frenzy on Twitter.
The slogan, ‘so easy even your husband can use it,’ does not subvert, but in fact, seeks to reemphasise gender roles. A woman walks into a shop with her husband who appears distracted as the washing machine is supposedly his wife’s ‘department.’
He is left tongue-tied when she patronises him affectionately for now using it and pitching in. She then, jokingly calls it a ‘unisex’ machine as she is made to do all the work. Will this really encourage all men to pick up their slack and do their part?
The term ‘unisex washing machine’ is not only lazy writing, but a rather failed attempt at representation. It underscores and even trivialises the problem in spite of its comical mood. Women are still seen as the ones leading domestic work and men are not held accountable. Sharing the load simply does not end here and goes further than simply pressing a few buttons.
Despite the fact that this advertisement depicts women as God-like, it only seeks to reiterate the domestic roles of women in their household. A woman is seeing jugging work and cooking a variety of dishes on the requests of her children. She efficiently does so with six hands and no help from anyone in the family.
Even though she may be portrayed as being strong and capable, this is not ventured past a domestic setting. She is equally capable if she is at the workplace, fighting for her rights in addition to being a good mother. Why is she only god-like when serving her family?
BBDO India created a series of advertisements as part of the #Sharetheload campaign. This aimed to crumble gender norms and emphasise how laundry is not just as mom’s job by any stretch.
Released in 2016, this particular advertisement definitely does aim to challenge previously held gender norms. It portrays a strong working independent woman coming back home to her children and doing all the housework. Meanwhile her husband fails to pitch in.
The voice-over is done by her father, who observes the goings-on and wishes things were different for her and that boys were raised differently. He then makes a conscious effort to change this by helping out his own wife, especially with laundry.
However, the woman is still seen fulfilling a large domestic role in addition to her work life without much help from the rest of her family. This is a wider representation of the equity in the division of household chores that have become so widespread in urban cities. Even though working moms are represented, they are still not separated from conventional family roles.
Over the past few years, however, the #ShareTheLoad campaign has made strides to improve its depiction and portrayal of women and by even raising pertinent questions about how people should raise their sons. Men and boys are seen taking equal charge of household chores.
Released in 2011, the purpose of this ad appears to be incredibly convoluted. Actor Abhishek Bachchan is seen explaining why India has an overpopulation problem. He attributes it to the increasing number of power cuts and how men are overcome with an incredible sexual appetite. This is accompanied by scenes of men pressuring their wives to have sex with them and finally somehow impregnating them.
It appears to be a rather family-oriented advertisement depicting husband-wife relationships. Yet, in a thinly-veiled way, it obscenely portrays women as ‘baby machines’ and ‘child-bearers.’ They raise their children devotedly but are victims of their husbands’ power play.
These advertisements only seek to stall our current attempts to promote inclusivity and representation and even trigger a retrogression of sorts. It is important that we recognise and call out some of these discretely as well as openly sexist depictions. And no, it is not ‘simply an ad’ or ‘marketing strategy,’ it is a very clear question of dignity and respect.
Mother’s Day 2020: Let’s look at Mom as a human being, with a persona more than just the mother that takes care of you, of the home, or also a working mom who tries to walk the fine line of work-life balance. Let’s look at the woman she is, and celebrate her this Mother’s Day, whether she is with you or staying away from you, during this period of lockdown. Let’s make Mother’s Day 2020 memorable for your mom, or if you are mom.
Picture credits: YouTube
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Shivani is currently an undergraduate political science student who is passionate about human rights and
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