Mumbai: “I’m not a kitchen appliance,” smiles a young woman as she subtly retorts to a prospective mom-in-law who wants the girl to faithfully make coffee for her husband, post marriage. A beautiful dusky bride is gearing up for her saatphere, during which a young girl calls her ‘mama’ revealing that the bride is remarrying. The first is an ad for Havells Appliances and the second, a commercial for Tanishq. There’s also the Bournvita ad showing a super mommy competing with her son. A number of ground-breaking TV ads are breaking gender stereotypes and portraying independent and empowered women.
But there are also numerous regressive adverts that put women in categories like the submissive unambitious wife, the woman who doesn’t get sport or a lady being rejected for not being ‘fair enough.’ Let’s not forget their objectification in ads. A campaign by Head and Shoulders uses the ‘Stop before you stop being a man’ caption and shows men doing ‘feminine’ things, during which a ‘manly’ shampoo hits their face and brings them back to the ‘macho world.’ A Mother Dairy ad shows a husband yelling at an ‘obedient’ wife. An outrageous print ad by Ford Figo showed skimpily-clad women gagged in the boot of the car, while 18 Again vaginal tightening cream is supposed to make a woman feel like a ‘virgin’!
A wave of change
Filmmaker Gauri Shinde, who directed the Tanishq re-marriage ad, says, “I got positive and ecstatic reactions. Someone in the UK said ‘OMG, India has become progressive. Second marriages are no big deal. I want to consider moving back.
There’s so much we still have to change for perceptions to change. Ads cannot afford stereotypes anymore because women rights and equality cannot be overlooked. So people in the business better be careful or get trashed.”
A significant section of the media is supporting women, believes Amer Jaleel, National Creative Director, Lowe Lintas, the agency behind the Havells and Tanishq campaigns. “There are stereotypes of all kinds and their portrayal depends on the kind of brand and where it fits best. I don’t think anyone deliberately makes a woman appear weak or timid. Sometimes, the pressure of wanting something for a brand takes their eye off certain things.”
By and large, there is an effort being made not to consciously objectify women in ads in India, echoes Sneha Iype, Executive Producer/Partner, Nirvana Films. “However, what gets reflected in the media is a reflection of society, so it’s a manifestation of the times. The woman now has a voice and is represented fairly and is clearly the discerning intelligent person in most cases. It helps that advertising has a large number of women employees
and hence, filtration happens automatically.”
Stop that stereotype
It’s time to treat men and women as counterparts, believes Sneha. “Both can be empowered and independent. So if women can cook , clean and feed the kids, so can men. And if he does it, it’s no reason to celebrate. It should be treated as the norm. Why must all little girls be pretty and in pink? Why must a dark-skinned girl feel like she has to become fair to become successful or find a suitable match?”
Amer believes that men shouldn’t be typecast as well. “Post the Nirbhaya incident, men were feeling so low about themselves. So, we came up with the ICICI ‘bandhe acche hain’ campaign.”
Dhruv Arora, founder, GotStared.At says, “The Head and Shoulders campaign ticks me off. By showing ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things’, they are promoting stereotypes. There’s a rainbow of genders out there and if you reach out to everybody, it’s a good thing. Don’t sell stereotypes, but sell what you’re selling.”