Are our ads finally breaking gender stereotypes?
There seems to be a new wave of advertisements, that purport to “empower” women by showing them as ambitious, outgoing and hard working. But why? To impress the men in their lives!
Let us rewind a little. I bet everyone has seen the Laziza Kheer ad where a bride cooks kheer and her fate is decided by her father in law. The ad is so wrong on so many levels, yet it is a treat to watch every time (go figure). Here are all the ways I Iove this monstrosity which refuses to leave the TV screen.
The visuals, the getups and the acting style subscribe wholeheartedly to the Indian school of soap, complete with over-embroidered saris, exaggerated expressions and flat lighting. The kids seem to know that their chachi is being tested, thus making them part of the examination panel and adding to the woes of the bride. The mother-in-law refuses to comment on the kheer, conforming to all the three key negative stereotypes: non-committal, entirely dependent on her husband’s opinion, thoroughly unwilling to help her daughter-in-law. Finally, the patriarch tastes the dessert and gives his approval, causing the husband to clap in relief.
Lesson: A woman HAS to be a good cook if she is to fit into a new household after marriage. Tasty!
There is another stereotype perpetrated; the one whereby two spouses cannot in any way express their love in front of a parent or elder. No, we are not talking explicit PDA here; we are talking about a smile, or nod, or just dining together. There is a Max ad where the husband sneaks biryani into the house in an attempt to avoid having to eat at the family table. Instead he and his wife consume the treat late night, and then use Lemon Max to wipe away any signs of this sin. Similarly, there is the Bonus ad that shows a mother sternly ensuring that her daughter does not express any admiration for her supposed suitor. Sadly, we haven’t travelled beyond these stereotypes. The Harpic ads depict that it is a woman’s duty to clean the toilets in the house. Same goes for washing powder ads.
However, lately there has been a wave of ads that aim to change that stereotype. The first one that comes to mind is Lemon Max Long Bar. Here the husband is contributing to the effort of washing the dishes. That said, the message is kind of lost due to the ad’s sticking to the “dumb/clueless man” stereotype. Two wrongs do not a right make.
All is not lost. Tapal is running an excellent campaign called “Mein, tum or aik cup chai” (“You, me and a cup of tea”). In one ad, the husband comes home early from the office to the surprise of his wife, who inevitably assumes that she must now do her wifely duty and brew up a cuppa for her husband. Instead, the husband surprises her by doing so himself.
In another ad, a man is leaving for a meeting while his mother looks on helplessly, hoping to have her morning tea with him. He almost leaves, but then comes back and has a cup, because he says this is the most important meeting in the day. I cannot praise these ads enough, stating that this is the most important meeting of all. They are immaculately made and acted and do not compromise the message through forced humour or gimmicks. They show empathetic men (not blubbering idiots) and that women’s contribution as homemakers rivals or exceeds anything that men typically do.
Compare and contrast this with Shan’s most recent ad, depicting a sophisticated urbanite meeting his prospective in laws and failing all the conventional tests of masculinity and saving the day by cooking biryani for the household, thereby reminding them of their late mom. What is wrong with that, you ask? The late matriarch’s portrait shows her holding a plate of biryani. It seems the entire purpose of her existence was to feed her family; her cooking is the sole point of remembrance for the entire family.
So there you have it. Most of our ad makers think that women’s only purpose is to take care of the men in their lives. Some of them do try to break this stereotype but they find it necessary to wrap it in pointless slapstick. “Every ad needs to be a joke” is the kind of flawed thinking that we seem to have fallen for.
There are good signs. Let’s hope that the change continues and tolerance and appreciation of “the fairer sex” means that they are shown as contributors to society rather than as objects that look pretty or serve the men in their family.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. firstname.lastname@example.org