Women in ads don't belong to this generation
Pallavi Pitla Advertising is being used not only to promote and sell products, services and commodities but as a vehicle to change attitudes,...
Pallavi Pitla Advertising is being used not only to promote and sell products, services and commodities but as a vehicle to change attitudes, promote new ideas and influence decisions. Some ads are so powerful that they leave a long-lasting impact on the viewers and audiences. For instance, the recent ad promoted by a leading English daily from the South shows a teacher in a classroom organising a 'mock' session of Parliament. Called upon to discuss an issue, the student-Parliamentarians indulge in verbal and physical violence, hurling objects at each other, preventing the business of the House. The catch line sums up the lesson: "Behave Yourself, India. The Youth Are Watching." The media house puts out a dire warning to the Parliamentarians against their unparliamentary behavior. The ad puts the politicians on the spot like never before. But, it is in the area of portrayal of women that advertising becomes one of the biggest culprits in exploiting women. There is another category of ads where women are shown as finicky housewives, doting mothers and proud wives, their presence forever in the kitchen producing tasty meals for the family. Another thing that forever occupies the attention of the woman is the upkeep of home, bathrooms, floors; she is cleaning, washing, dusting, cooking not forgetting serving, men particularly and everybody else. She is held responsible for making the happiness of her man and her children and all and sundry around her. This she does by keeping their clothes shining white and bright, by keeping toilets devoid of bacteria, of getting rid of cockroaches from the kitchen, of cleaning glass and floor and utensils and anything and everything that will add to the happiness of her family. Ad after ad shows women happily doing the soul-killing tasks of washing and cleaning, sweeping and swabbing, cutting and peeling, cooking and feeding. It is worse when celebrities endorse products that show women in stereotyped roles as housewife or as the home's unpaid maid servant. For instance, celebrities like Madhuri Dixit endorse products that claim to give women happiness, satisfaction and value for money by cleaning/washing/sanitising so well and so efficiently that the woman's life goal of having bacteria-free toilets, clean clothes, shining floors is fulfilled. When celebrities endorse such negative and demeaning roles for women, and such life goals as serving others to the exclusion of any meaningful activity, they legitimise such views and strengthen the stereotypes in the minds of the viewers/readers. Yet there is a silver lining in the dark clouds of anti-women world of advertisements. Of late, men and boys are being shown as showing consideration to women, being positive about women, sympathizing with their plight and empathising with situations and show the males exhibit sensitivity to women. Although there are ads which show men being sensitive to women, their number is low and hence low recall. Besides, these ads continue to stereotype the woman as a mother, wife, daughter �in-law and so on whose only purpose in life seems to be to serve her male relatives or the extended family. Her role still is limited to washing clothes, cooking for the husband and children and so on. Unquestionably, most of the Indian ads are male dominant and the play safe by not taking the progressive stance where women are concerned and hence are unable to or do not want to discard the patriarchal culture. Ads that are women-friendly, women empowering and which portray women as equals remain to be made. The question that needs to be asked is, who is the culprit for this situation of patriarchal culture in one of the most creative and influential sectors of the media? Is it the media / advertising or the society? The media cannot be totally blamed for commoditising women, and using images of women to titillate men, show them as mere props and as toys for men to play with or as trophies for women to acquire as an indulgence of their machoism. But the ad industry is not the only culprit. The entire media industry, whether cinema or advertising or the saas-bahu serials of television, is minting money by producing sexual entertainment. It makes huge profits at the cost of women. The worst thing about this is that the people have bought into it. The industry is so male-oriented, so revenue-oriented that despite decades of women's liberation movement against the negative portrayal of women in media, the media continue to show women as unthinking, attractive objects of lust whom the male desires and devours, in his mind. It is time for the ad industry to go back to the drawing board to find out better ways of selling products than using images of women that don't belong to the 21st century. (The writer is a lecturer in mass communications at Loyola Academy, Hyderabad)