Even though 2016 is nearly over, it seems as if Indian advertising is still labouring under highly sexist strategies to market and sell products. Yes, we’ve had quite a few progressive ads this year, but unfortunately, these have been far outnumbered by the ones that have objectified women, reduced women to gender stereotypes, or portrayed them in a terrible light overall. Throughout the year, there have been many ads that made us facepalm, but here are seven that really got under our skin:
Beginning with a bunch of men complaining about how their wives are ‘shopaholics’, this ad tries to ‘break stereotypes’ by showing that women don’t just shop for themselves, but for their husbands too! Except, this isn’t a breaking of stereotypes at all. It ends up gendering the act of shopping – which is ridiculous in the first place, because it is completely valid for a person of any gender to love to shop. But not only this, the ad endangers a woman’s agency when she’s shopping – because it implies that splurging on oneself is ‘vain’ while splurging for the man in your life is a means of ‘showing love’.
Speaking of ridiculous stereotypes surrounding women and shopping, here’s another ad which ends up reinforcing the same. It portrays a lying husband, who is ‘made to’ make up for his errors by taking his wife shopping and buying her clothes. Disturbingly enough, the ad ends up attaching a price tag to this, calling it the ‘cost of damage control’ – as if a woman’s self-worth and value in a relationship could be reduced to a monetary amount.
“Give Your Kid a Makeover”, this ad proclaims, as it depicts a young girl initially dressed in conventionally ‘masculine’ clothes and, post-makeover, in ‘feminine’ clothes. To have binaries of gender, femininity and beauty imposed on a kid this young (and by a brand that sells children’s clothing) shows how deep patriarchal conditioning goes and how severely we need to question it.
— Nishtha Satyam (@SatyamNishtha) March 26, 2016
This particular print ad by Nando’s India blatantly objectifies women – comparing parts of the female anatomy to meat – and in doing so, it promotes rape culture in disgusting ways. It reduces female bodies to something edible, something up for display before the male gaze, and the imagery used is distinctly reminiscent of assault. Even though Nando’s ultimately issued a public apology after the significant outrage surrounding the ad, that, in no way, dilutes how messed up the ad’s message is.
Matrimonial ads in India have never been the most progressive, but it seems like ads for matrimonial services aren’t either. This ad for ‘HT Classifieds’ – the matrimonial section of The Hindustan Times – goes to show that a ‘fair, convent educated Brahmin girl’ is still the ideal standard of beauty in India. This is not only casteist, classist and colorist (i.e., privileging fair skin) but, also reduces a woman to her physical appearance even though, ironically, the point of the ad seems to have been to assert the opposite.
— Imaan Sheikh (@sheikhimaan) September 2, 2016
Honour killings have plagued Pakistan for a while now, and the recent murder of model Qandeel Baloch only served to illustrate how terrifying the reality still is. In light of this, to have this Karachi-based pizza joint, The New York Pizza, use honour killings to advertise their product not just trivialises the issue, but is in ridiculously bad taste. More than a thousand women have lost their lives to honour killings in Pakistan alone, and that’s only a fifth of the global figure – hence, to reduce this issue to a marketing strategy is deeply problematic.
Not only does this billboard ad objectify women, but it normalises sexual harassment in the workplace – an issue that too many working women face in India, and it doesn’t help that it had Ranveer Singh’s face on it, who is one of the most recognisable and impressionable figures in India. If our public figures continue to gloss over sexual violence, and disregard consent, then it sets a disturbing example indeed. Though Ranveer Singh eventually issued an apology, and the billboard was taken down, that doesn’t make this ad’s message any less sexist.
What does it say about us as a society when the media that we consume on an everyday basis can be so deeply misogynistic? Since advertising is something that has such a widespread reach, it needs to become more responsible, needs to stop pandering to the heterosexual male gaze, and needs to start giving women and minorities the respect they deserve – and we hope that in the coming year, we are able to see that happen more often.