Here’s Why The Media And Advertisers Urgently Need Lessons In Gender Sensitization

Posted on August 12, 2013 in Society

By Sharanya Mukherjee:

Discussions and debates over meals at the mess are one of the most awaited forums in the everyday hostel life we lead as law students. One such discussion at the dining table last week, triggered off when a friend started discussing about how she thought that the Axe Deodorant campaign advertisements are absolutely disgusting and that Unilever has been promoting the product line with commercials that depict women in a questionable manner. What had started off as a very general discussion of the television schedule that evening, eventually ended up as a debate on a very pertinent topic. I must admit that before this enthusiastic discussion, I did not realize just how much the sexism and objectification of women is portrayed in the media. Though I knew this was going on, but I did not give this enough thought to write about it.


Well, it is obvious that people want to sell their products, but there has to be a way to do it that does not say everything should always be about pleasing a specific set of hormones. That is the reason why we end up with advertisements of beer bottles designed to look like a woman’s midriff or the ones blending in an advertisement as the beer bottle. Not drinking one like “a man” but portrayed as the actual beer bottle to portray something that can be taken a hold of or rather taken advantage of. The same can be said about the image of Katrina Kaif posing with a bottle of Slice and drops of the drink going down her lips as the audience admires her attractive features. Why can’t the soft drink be advertised using its own characteristics instead of depending on a woman to do the same? I fail to understand why commodities such as building materials like cements, Pan Masala or tyres need a well dressed model to pose beside it in an advertisement. We find such advertisements in magazines where women’s long and slender legs are being used to sell mobile phones that have sleek features. Advertisements on the Internet are everywhere with women posing seductively. However, if men are made to mirror those same images, we would definitely laugh, we find the humor in the poses. But when women pose seductively, we just accept it as part of life and culture.

What is wrong with the deodorant advertisements these days? All of them follow a trend started by Axe and convey a message that deodorants are the only means to impress a woman and once a man uses the deodorant, attractive or “hot” girls throw themselves on these men just because they are consumers of that deodorant. It cannot be denied that women get attracted to men maybe because of the way they smell. However, the idea being propagated that women are ready to have one night stands because of the perfume is annoying. Even considering the latest Axe Blast advertisement starring Ranbir Kapoor who keeps counting the number of times girls “hit” on him and showing off his achievement. I remember Axe having a sales promotion “Call Me” campaign wherein one had to call the number and irrespective of their gender, the caller was assumed to be a man and the recorded voice of a female would talk seductively.

It is all over in mainstream media whether it is in advertising, calendars, pictures, movies, in magazines and so on. Most of these pictures are not those of women scientists, writers and thinkers but those of young stylish models pictured to sell products, attract attention and please the audience. They fail to portray a representative range of women’s real skills and occupations, particularly in positions of authority or even fail to reflect the increasing diversity and richness of women’s lives, or the range of women’s contributions and achievements.

Not only products but movies require the objectification of women in the form of what is popularly known as “item songs” to sell them. There are arguments saying that these are works of creativity. Admitting this nevertheless, a concept of a song and dance sequence showing a scantily dressed woman being stalked and wooed by a bunch of intoxicated men is ironically called popular entertainment. These sequences have no connection with the plot whatsoever.

Even in children’s books, television programmes and films, male characters tend to play more active, adventurous roles while females are portrayed as passive, expectant and domestically oriented. There is a tendency for women to be shown as secondary to men, as pretty objects. I am sure we would agree that Bollywood has also played an important role in creating this mind set. We have seen endless number of movies where the heroine is the damsel in distress when the villain misbehaves with her and teases her or maybe passes coarse remarks about her. Following this, would be a stunt scene where the angry hero would be saving the heroine from the goons again confirming that she is safe in his presence.

I believe that if women ever want to be seen as something more than an object to men in real life, the first step is to change how we view women in the media. I feel that until the media starts to take women seriously, not merely as objects but as people with real thoughts and feelings, realistic representation cannot be expected and women will always be portrayed as sexual objects whose main role is to entertain the society at large.