Quick test. Are they doing?
(a) Household chores
(b) Dolling up kids and/or their husbands
(c) As teachers or principals being insulted by kids armed with the latest candy
(f) All of the above
In case you were wondering, the correct answer is (f).
It is puzzling that our ad makers belong to the supposedly ‘enlightened’ segment of society. They pride themselves in being liberal. Yet, when I see a woman or girl in our ads, she is usually a hapless creature devoid of any intelligence or feelings; in fact just another appliance to add to the fridges, vacuum cleaners and toasters.
Starting from the kids. Boys are shown playing soccer, riding bicycles, doing their homework and generally everything cool. Girls are shown preparing rotis in front of tearfully smiling moms (hello, Mom, she is too young to be so near fire), pushing trolleys and smiling vacantly while their brothers and fathers come home.
Take insurance. Every ad for a savings scheme tells you that it will help your beta to acquire a higher education and it will help your beti …. get married, of course! I have seen a ton of them and I have yet to see a variation on this theme.
According to our ads, this is the typical biography of a girl:
I was born with a belan in my hand. I learned to cook rotis when I was three (see the Guinness Book of Records for details). At five I was cooking complete meals. At eight I learned how to clean the bathroom, set up a trolley and to embroider which I used as a bribe to extract a decent meal out of my mom. At 12 I used a whitening cream which meant that in three years I got married. However I was killed off by my saas one day when my husband smiled at me in a dish-wash bar ad with my saas looking on.
The most recent example: An appliances company (Homage) is running a campaign which equates women to ovens (ha-ha). The kids, the saas, the devar and the husband, all request the oven to heat a meal or make popcorn because the wife has fallen ill or has gone over to her parents. I mean, seriously? A sick wife/mother can be replaced by an oven? Hello, everyone: a woman is a human being, not a substitute for the thousand of appliances at your home.
It has been decades since we have been seeing cooking oil (Dalda, Habib) advertising themselves as the surest way for wives to gain acceptability with their in laws. In all these ads a humongous meal is prepared by one lonely woman, while the rest of the family chatters, claps and dances. Side note: according to our ads wives never need eat.
One ad for a kheer mix, made several years ago, takes the literal cake. It is an epitome of sick thinking, and a paragon of myopic vision. A bride is cooking kheer for her new household. Her husband’s kid bother warns her that this is a tough exam. Her saas looks on while declining to guide or help her. It is her father-in-law who gets to decide her fate based on the quality of the kheer. He takes a bite, then teases by first giving a terse reaction before endorsing the quality of the kheer and imploring the bride girl to cook more next time. And what does the husband do? He smiles and claps! As if it is completely normal to let your father determine the fate of your life partner based on her cooking skills. Laziza kheer mix is still running this ad today, and we are sopping both the ad and the product up (why, my mom used it on Eid), instead of damning it with Chris Brown-like levels of disdain and contempt.
In our society, women are still homemakers primarily (and no harm here; it is the most important job in the universe), but they are also educated, intelligent human beings who often diagnose their kids’ illnesses at home thanks to the internet. They prepare gourmet cuisine, assist their husbands and very often juggle full time jobs along with all this. They are equal partners in everything.
Yes, there have been some ads which have broken the mould. HBL’s campaign with Samina Baig comes to mind (little as it has to do with banking). Ufone, in its drive to create funny situations, shows wives in hyper-aggressive mode thereby solidifying the ‘bossy’ stereotype awarded to every strong willed woman. A few years ago, Telenor postpaid ran a campaign which showed a female engineer working in the field and sending and receiving blueprints via her cell. I personally was quite impressed with how accurately it depicted some of the female professionals I knew.
My message to the ad makers: please think of women as human beings, not appliances or objects.