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From Make Up To Lingerie: Why Products For Women Are Eager To Impress Men

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When you look at yourself in the mirror, are you looking at yourself or is the patriarchal voice in your mind evaluating you?

We observe patriarchal standards in all aspects of our life – in our clothing, in the media we consume, in the education we receive etc. This leads us to the validity of the initial question – after growing up in a patriarchal society, are we capable of judging ourselves through non-patriarchal standards?

Patriarchal standards glorify the cis-het man – everything revolves around him. This leads to the objectification and sexualization of women. Commonly referred to as the male gaze, this has a large impact – it affects marketing of female products, clothing worn by performers on stage and most importantly, how women view themselves.

By consuming media that only portrays the perspective of men, women feel as though they have no place other than next to a man.

Representational image.

This coincides with the unreasonable beauty standards society places on women leading them to fixate on their appearance and use drastic means to alter them through harsh dieting and other means that can have lasting health complications.

The Media and the Male Gaze

The ‘male gaze’ is not a new concept. We can see historical examples for this. One is the iconic ‘We Can Do It’ poster associated with Rosie The Riveter that was circulated in the US during World War 2 to encourage women to work in factories.

The red headband with polka dots worn by the woman in the poster is reminiscent of the attire worn by ‘good’ housewives. It serves as a reminder that despite working in factories, women were still capable of looking after their home and hearth, that is, they were capable of looking after men.

The makeup worn by the woman is another example. It seems strange that a poster encouraging women to work in factories would make evident the makeup worn by the model. This seems solely to cater to men and the patriarchal idea that women were required to look a certain way at all times.

Advertisements are known for employing the male gaze in the marketing of their products. This raises questions regarding the inherent assumption that men are the only ones capable of purchasing the product and so the catering of advertisements to them.

A great example of this are all the ads seen for sanitary products. We observe that the ‘blood’ used to compare between two products is always a light blue or some variation of the color.

For an advertisement that targets mostly women, it seems to prioritize making the male viewer more comfortable through the use of unnatural colors to remove any reference to menstruation.

Another example is the #JustVeetIt ad for hair removal cream that displays evidence of the male gaze in the first few seconds with the statement, “You’re not a boy.” In context, this sentence would read, “you’re not a boy, why are you using a razor?” This immediately raises a question – why can’t women use razors?

Especially when given the historical context, razors initially only catered to men. To increase profits, manufacturers began targeting women to shave their legs to be more appealing to their husbands which, of course, is another example of the male gaze.

Further, why do women in such ads shave their already shaved legs? These ads prioritize the male viewer and his comfort since female body hair would, for unknown reasons, make him uncomfortable.

Ads for male deodorants, beers and any other male or associated-with-men products tend to show women in skimpy clothes present in the ad only to appeal to men. The characters serve no real purpose beyond catering to the male gaze.

Another tactic is utilizing stereotypes for women in advertising – as seen in the Snickers ad that displayed annoying habits as associated with women alone.

After eating the Snickers bar, the feminine female character is transformed into a masculine male character. This implies that feminine characteristics and women are both annoying and need to be changed.

Lingerie is another product that has historically catered to men. Victoria’s Secret was launched as a store to appeal to men – to provide a store where they could purchase lingerie without feeling uncomfortable.

What Harm Can An Advertisement Do?

It has rebranded since then, but it doesn’t appear as though the rebrand has changed anything. Victoria’s Secret as a brand has always been associated with pleasing men. Through the years, the only change it has brought in is convincing women that pleasing men meant pleasing themselves, and thus erased female pleasure.

Products targeted at a mainly female audience seem to either prioritize making the male viewer comfortable or talk about how their product would make women more appealing to men. The focus is always on the man. Women are forced to constantly view themselves through this lens.

The male gaze manifests itself in the form of catcalling and the inability to take no for an answer. The female body becomes something men are entitled to. This has huge consequences – it creates an imbalance in power and affects judicial systems, government policies, access to education etc.

We see that brands are taking conscious efforts to change the rhetoric through ad campaigns that are body-positive or body-neutral. Two Indian brands that are taking this step in the right direction are Urbanic and Zivame.

Urbanic’s ‘My Right To Wear’ campaign aims at size-inclusivity and provides all women with stylish clothing, breaking the stereotype that only women of certain sizes could wear stylish clothes.

‘Fit For All’ is Zivame’s campaign conveying size-inclusivity through the message that lingerie comes in all sizes and is fit for every woman. Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’ campaign displays the inequality seen in households through a powerful advertisement that emphasizes on sharing the burden of household chores.

The media is powerful and can affect the way we view ourselves and others. These ad campaigns are steps that provoke mindset changes in people. The male gaze is a result of the society we live in. The only way to combat it, is to combat the cause – patriarchy.

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.
Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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