Indian Advertisements and the Portrayal of Women

indian ads

Back in the 1980’s, when televisions were switched on and advertisements used to run, we saw a stereotypical image of woman – one who can take care of her family, is well mannered and empathetic, hard working, polite, beautiful, slim, pleases the members of the opposite sex quite easily, and the list goes on…

And now, let’s cut to the advertisements of today – the era that represents the fairer sex as a stronger entity, somewhat at par with their male counterparts!

Even though the progress made in this arena is visible, still it is often debated that the progress that has been made is quite a slow one, as compared to the progress we have made in other spheres of the society that we are a proud part of!

Indian Advertisements – Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes

For decades we have been watching advertisements that portray women as submissive caregivers who are involved in rearing children and performing the usual household chores. If we revisit the history then we will find several advertisements of the 80’s which endorsed the stereotype that a woman’s life is dedicated to the well being of her family alone, and that she feels successful when her husband or in-laws acknowledge and appreciate her efforts.

Coming back to the present era. Even though we can see advertisements of the like that girls are now equal to boys and can make their parents proud with the catchphrases like ‘Jiyo sar utha ke’, there are many advertisements which, while portraying women as strong and independent, still reinforce the stereotypical role of the women – being the home managers.

A recent advertisement for a leading telecommunication company is a prime example.

In the advertisement, a woman is shown resolutely giving a work deadline to a man in the opening scene. After showing a warm disapproval, the man silently moves out of the woman’s cabin to finish the assigned job and works late into the night. On the other hand, his boss – the assertive woman, leaves for home. After reaching home, the woman then calls up her husband, who is nobody else but the same man from the office (her subordinate) and persuades him to come home, telling him about the delicious four course meal she has cooked for him.

The debate lies intact that if a woman is smart, successful and confident enough to lead her way, then why is it necessary for her to cook for her man at home after spending almost as much time in the office as her husband or other co-workers do?

Thus, even when we say that Indian advertising has witnessed a noteworthy transformation in the manner women are portrayed, it somehow still supports the orthodox image of a female. There is no denying the fact that a woman has a role as a mother, a wife and a daughter, but till what time can we enforce these roles even when the scenario has changed significantly?

So, instead of pushing the clichés, marketers should present their product strategically, simply because such ads knowingly or unknowingly affect our daily life and play a very crucial role in shaping a society’s outlook.

Today’s Indian woman is no longer confined to the kitchen walls, and this approach should be encouraged as well as applauded in the contemporary advertisements.

Objectification of Women – Then & Now!

It goes without saying that the role of Indian women in the real life has changed significantly over the years. However, advertisers continue depicting eager-to-please, male dominated females in order to reach out to the end consumers.

There is one famous soap brand which has always been the talk of the town owing to the ads that it runs. When we think about those ads of the company, the first thing that comes to our mind is a girl frolicking under a giant waterfall, careless about her safety and singing ‘La, lalala, la, la, la…’, which seems to be the brand’s trademark since the 1980’s.

Another advertisement of a well-known fairness cream brand from the yesteryears, depicted a very flimsy image of women. The ad featured a leading actress who used to apply the cream for a fair and flawless complexion, and grabbed awes of others as well as of her husband, who claims “Meri Sheela kitni gori…kitni pyaari…” towards the end of the ad.

Even though the modern advertisements of such women-targeted brands promote women as confident, smart and career oriented, the bottom line remains the same – being beautiful to please others either to get the much coveted job of an air hostess, to become a successful singer, to be a top actress, or to get settled in the end with a nice groom.

Such advertisements not only affect the self esteem of women, but also influence how men perceive them. The never ending portrayal of women as objects in order to sell products has led to nothing else but the objectification of women, and it continues doing so.

Talk about the hyped ads of a renowned deodorant brand which has persistently told the masses that women are easy to get – all that is needed is a seductive body spray that makes men more attractive to women.

Is this the real portrayal of our modern society? Do women really appear from nowhere and get attached to men, based on what deodorant they use? Well, not in the real life for sure!

Throughout the years, we have seen ads which have very well adopted the western ideals of beauty – being thin, tall, fair, and blemish free. Women who do not have these traits (majority of Indian women) think of themselves less of a beautiful woman, and spend enormous amount of time, money and efforts to look like the models and celebs in such ads, who are themselves airbrushed, photoshopped and edited on the screen so as to achieve that ‘perfect look‘.

The ripe time is now, when the audience is not as dim-witted as the marketers perceive them to be. Thus, a much better portrayal of women is extremely essential to stop the advertisers from typecasting women.

Progress Made – But Is It Quantifiable Enough?

We understand that advertisers have started representing women as a strong force, but is it really the actual depiction of the changed mind-set that the modern generation possesses? Even though the fact can not be contested that an advertisement is not a means of moral guide, but then this is also true that it has certain responsibilities towards the society merely because it reaches millions of homes and influences people, directly or indirectly.

Today, violence against women is already at an all time high, and with the objectification of women through these advertisements, the men psyche that women are mere objects and can be used as per their wants, continues to be reinforced.

Marketers need to understand that the incessant exposure to such messages does have an impact on the viewers and the society at large.

When we will raise our voice against the undue bias being done towards women through such ads, and we make this a public topic and a concern that demands high priority of the nation we live in, only then we will be able to neutralize the negative portrayal of women in Indian advertisements – for a woman is not an object, but a human being, just like a man!

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