If you ever plan on going on a cringe-fest, head my advice: type in ‘Vintage Fashion Advertisements’ on your google search bar. What will follow is a bombardment of blatantly sexist and misogynist caricatures which should hopefully make you go:
“Heck! The world has changed!”
But has it?
Clearly, if one of those Van Heusen advertisements were to be published on the front page of a leading daily in today’s world, we all know what would follow. A huge outcry, fierce debates and #boycottVanHeusen trending on twitter. Yet, even today most of the media platforms share a hate-hate relationship with the concept of equality. Advertisements have played a huge role in reinforcing gender roles. Their number one aim is to influence potential buyers. And how do you do that? By appealing to the norms and trends that already exist in society.
We live in confusing times. On one hand we have people backing a list of 72 genders and on the other hand, we have parents who buy truck toys for boys and dolls for girls as a rule of thumb. Then we have people who commit infanticide and treat women as nothing more than mere objects.
In this article, I want to focus on the people on the other hand and the subtle sexism that society forcefully feeds us, shaping our identity, views, opinions, and perspectives.
Analyzing advertisements is like opening a can of worms. Falling down a rabbit hole. It is problematic at so many levels yet so ‘in your face’. From Kinder Joy demarcating its eggs into pink and blue to Snickers tagline “Bhukh Lagi to tu ladki ban jata hai” (You harp on like a girl when you are hungry), there’s no point in calling out brands about their fundamentally skewed outlooks. Yet, it is interesting to note some of the clichés advertisers so deeply believe in. And they are not entirely at blame. Sexism sells. Society assumes the role of the friendly Indian host at the dinner table who just can’t stop themselves from saying “Have a little more” proceeding to shove down dollops of prefixed gender roles down your throat
While biology determines your sex and is fairly clear cut, gender is a concept that lies more in murky waters. This is what makes gender roles a tricky subject but that is only if you like to believe that your reproductive organ should determine your role in society. Otherwise, it’s safe to say that “Gender roles” should be a term that is better off being extinct as the dodo.
But that would be an ideal society. The truth is that the socializing agents which include immediate family, school, peers, and media shape one’s understanding of identity and how they perceive themselves as members of this world. And this, in turn, leads to the shaping of the world they live in and the world they see in print and virtual screens. A world that represents ideas that are a false yet honest description of our understanding.
Here’s a compilation of a few sexist tropes that are so pervasive in our ecosystem, that we turn a blind eye to their existence. Or sometimes we recognize them and roll our eyes all the way back. Whatever be the case, here’s your guide to stereotype 101:
(Disclaimer: this ONLY represents the general scenario and clichés. There are many examples of advertisements as well as storylines that are refreshing and deviate from the mentioned archetype. Having said that, such examples are far and few and even when they try to promote equality, some wound up failing miserably, read: Gillette)
1. Does the kid have a problem? Trust the woman on her rescue mission.
It’s the mother who is concerned. Worried that the child isn’t eating enough, isn’t learning properly, is being bitten by mosquitoes, is rolling in the mud, failing school until another ‘woke’ mother comes up with the messiah cum product that changes their lives.
He is there. But mostly in the background.
2. The woman is an eye candy
Commercials will like us to believe that spraying a ton load of perfume will have women falling head over heels. Driving through dusty roads in your uber-cool car? Guess who’s waiting for you with a lasso in her hand and red smeared on her lips. And let’s just keep the problem with beauty standards away. That’s another dirty puddle altogether.
3. Cars? Alcohol? Power? You know it’s the dude who’s got to do the talking.
Men are encouraged to be tough, invulnerable, sexually precocious with absolutely no other goal in life. The cooked up “acceptable” version of manhood seems to forget qualities like thoughtfulness and rather bank on aggressive passion and conclude that looks, power and money are all that matters in the end.
4. Females in the kitchen, Males in the in restaurant
Anything that deals with household matters seem to fall on the dainty shoulders of women who strive to be perfect housewives. But what happens when the cooking gets paid and the cook becomes a chef? The script drops the first two letters of female.
5. Bringing peace through war
These are a specific breed of commercials that believe they are dismantling stereotypes but only do the opposite. There really isn’t much to say.
As consumers, as viewers, as people who are being directly impacted, the responsibility of discerning what is acceptable and what is not falls on our shoulders. Marketing is all about connection and controversy. Succeeding in either one will help to bring in the dollars. But if this is happening at the cost of sabotaging our identity, maybe we need to think twice. The U.K banned companies from using depictions of gender “that is likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offense.” Projects such as #llikeagirl seek to redefine gender roles and stereotypes. Teens are raising their voices against the use of excessive photoshop and unrealistic beauty standards.