Traditionally men have held power in our society. The result of this is that traditionally male qualities and attributes have generally been seen superior to female attributes. This is often reflected in the media, as most media companies are run by men. A few decades earlier, almost all media companies were run by men but now a days women have started taking the charge, but still the ratio if far less and so women are often shown in roles that suit men and which keep them from challenging men for power. In other words, the media shows men and women how men want them to be.
From a very long time, Women have always tended to suffer from a rather narrow set of representations in the media. Traditionally these relate to specific domestic situations, such as housewives, mothers. The media associates women with washing machines and cleaning products. By creating these representations the media creates the norm that women will always take on domestic roles. Moreover, they are also shown with all the stereotypical feminine attributes of being submissive, passive, compassionate which leaves an impression that if a women is not so then she is not elligible to qualify as a good women. Today, around 30% of employees in the software industry are women. They are also distinguishing themselves as professionals in different walks of life, but over a period of time not many advertisements show her as an independent women, ready to take on the world. Mostly she is depicted in the age old stereotypical role, which keeps on reinforcing the idea of her place within the four boundaries of the house and where there are few developments in the portrayal of women, the representation of working women is also very stereotypical where the lady is mostly shown as a westernized oriented woman, wearing a formal office wear, driving a car and using a laptop computer. She is depicted as a go getter who has shed her traditional inhibitions in her single minded drive to become a successful achiever competing equally with men. Instead of forming a positive, independent women’s image, these advertisements portray them in such a stereotypical manner with the belief that working women will find these images of a self driven highly ambitious and western oriented women something to aspire is also fraught in extreme danger. Whereas the truth is totally oppposite. The women of this era though are becoming independent but they have not left their traditions and good values and it shouldn’t be thought that only women has to hold on to these values. It’s the equal responsibility of the men also but somehow men are mostly shown devoid of this.
The second type of portrayal of women in advertisements is their personification as sex objects. Now a days women are more sexually objectified in which they are represented as entertainment for males. The women are made to look alluring and appealing to attract sections of the audience. Defining women as sex objects has become the leading representation in the media. Women are presented as sexual objects to be enjoyed by men which in turn leads to false consciousness. False consciousness can be defined as- Usually male viewer is implied in the construction of the image but sometimes he is explicitly placed in the image. So the ‘male gaze’ presents women through the lens of male objectification. Women come to learn to view themselves and other women through the ‘male gaze’. This is ‘false consciousness’. One of the most apparent examples can be advertisements of cosmetics. In these advertisments women are shown as young,slim,overwhelmingly white, and conforming to a very narrow stereotype of beauty with perfect hair, skin and an alluring gaze so that a common girl who sees that ad falls prey to that product but being like that photoshoped women would be nearly impossible for her.
On this, Naomi Wolf who is an american author and former political consultant wrote a book known as ‘The Beauty Myth’ which suggest that images used by the media present a particular ‘ beauty ideal’ through which they transmit the ideological message that women should treat their bodies as a ‘project’ in constant need of improvement. ThiS is the reason the diet industry and cosmetic surgery thrive on exploitating women’s anxieties and insecurities.
Susie Orbach, who is a well known British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and social critic , in her book, ‘Bodies’ accuses the media of promoting an idea of perfection which creates anxieties in women. The feminine ideal is impossible to achieve as these themselves are made perfect by airbrushing them. The media as commercial organisations use stereotypes to sell us things we don’t really need. These stereotypes create a false sense of ourselves, who we are and how we should live.
In ads like Kellogs, which shows a women been appreciated by her husband only when she looses weight and appeals to him, the advertisers try to show that what matters is only the outer beauty of a person, especially women, no matter how the inner qualities are like. Moreover, the objectification of women is taking place day in and out in majority advertisements where they are not even needed. An ad using women’s bare body or clading her in skimpy clothes can be justified if the product needs it, but in products like Motorcycles, Deodrants where there is no sense of using them, it implies to being used them as objects only to sell a product. Moreover, some food products also use seductive image of women as if the food has something to do with sex. In the race to make more and more profit earning, advertisers are stooping to derogatory levels without giving a second thought.
But even when the majority of ads are made objectifying women and portraying them in stereotypical roles, there is some ray of light with some such ads which are made a wholly different attitude towards women and have showed them in an altogether different light. Now more recently, feminism has challenged patriarchy, seeking to gain equality for women. Now feminity has also become associated with a stronger more independent and confident women. To name a few ads which have tried changing their and audience’s perspective towards women, here are some of them:
The femina ad- This brand’s ad came out in the year 2000, where a young girl dressed like a bride walks around and as the viewers think of her as the bride, they find that the whole ‘marriage atmosphere’ was for her mother’s remarriage after the death of her husband. With the release of this ad, many people were of the view that it elevated the position of women on small screen.
HDFC Standard- Then came in 2008, HDFC’s ‘sar utha ke jiyo’ campaign. A new difference was seen where a young daughter writes a cheque for her dad’s new car with her own savings and her dad accepts after an initial hesitation with a look of pride on his face. In this ad the stereotype of the mentality of people that girl’s earning cannot be taken by the parents or say that girl’s are not capable enough to support parents was challenged.
Tanishq Remarriage ad- Same way Tanishq remarriage ad also sends out a bold message, where a dusky lady with a child is getting remarried. This ad was so much loved because of it’s new thinking that it garnered almost half a million hits on YouTube in the first week of it’s release.
When we talk, about the presentation of women in ads, we need to look at the difficulties an ad agency has to face while creating one ad and how difficult it is to revamp the image because looking at one side and start blaming the other without understanding the problems leads to only imaginary solutions and self satisfaction of writing or talking bad about it.
It’s not easy for an ad company to break a particular stereotype. The whole money of brand is at stake and in case they come out with an idea which people do not accept, that will proove negative for the brand image of the product. Moreover, the agency has to show the blue print an ad strategy to the company on whose product it is working on. I only they accept the idea, the process can go further and so instead of blaming the ad agency, it is more important to question the company owners who have a far greater priveledged life and broader mind than any middle class family they make the ad for, but with this, the fact that the investors money is at stake is also true. Not all brands are rich that they can continue an all season ad as advertisements are too costly, they have only the budget to invest in one season which keeps them away from risking into ideas.
But how much we argue in the favour, the fact that these ads are destroying the society for worse cannot be neglected. If not the small companies, atleast the bigger ones can risk their money for once so that when other’s see the idea getting accepted which surely will as above all stated ads who broke the stereotype of the society were successful, so they too will start working for the better.
One brand which took the daring task of change it’s positioning is the Tanishq remarriage ad. Tanishq changed it’s positioning from focussing only on first time wedders and fair women which was not at all an easy task, as changing all together the positioning of an ad is not easy. It could have serious risks of not getting accepted and it’s consequences could be drastically negative on the brand image of the product.
But as ads are something everyone sees, it has the capacity to effect the psychology of people with its visuals and message it wants to deliver, so it tends to have some social responsibility as well.
So, there is change in the nature of ads we can see. Women portrayal is changing for better.The 360 degree concept of ad which completely surrounds a person with ads on tv, newspapers, radio, outdoor ads which consist of hoardings has more impact on the minds of people. When the same thing is repeated before someone again and again, that tends to be stored somewhere in the subconscious mind due to which people do get affeceted indirectly as that tends to influence the mentality of many, especially the children and uneducated people. People are so much exposed to ads that it automatically should become the responsibility of the brands to try and make some advertisements which should have some positive change on the minds of people.
Reinforcing the stereotypes and objectifying women have already spread quite a lot evils in d society. So, it would be better that with thinking about the product and profit, they think about the society as well because there is no doubt that if they change their attitutde towards women, the brand value of the product will also rise more. Afterall, there are examples we have seenin the past like Femina ad, Tanishq’s remarriage ad, the HDFC ad. All these brands when they changed their positioning didn’t suffer a loss. All the more they were appreciated for their unique and different thinking. The mindset behind forming ads has already started changing but still it has a long way to go.
Advertising has a huge role to play in the everyday life of people. To increase the status of women in society, they can play a very important role. They need to recognize her as above a housewife and a doting mother. They need to show her as an independent working women who doesn’t have to rely on someone for her every single need and she has a place beyond the boundaries of her house. But in showing so, the advertisers need to keep in mind that they do not show the stereotypical presentation of a working women who does not look after her house or she is ambitous and is devoid of all the traditions. Advertising needs to show her as a woman who is HUMAN and not always able to balance the work and home in the near perfect manner. She can fail at times, she is not a superwoman but her efforts are always 100%.
The least advertising can do is recognize that she is human after all and go beyond the stereotypical portrayal of a working mother, a superhero who can easily sail through the work demands of her external world while ensuring a smooth functioning of the home without any hiccups.