Do Indian Ads Deepen Gender Stereotypes? Let’s Find Out!
Do you ever look at TV/newspaper ads and realize how sexist and stereotypical they are? Doesn’t this fill you with rage and make you question where we are heading as a society? Well, we have all been there.
Advertisements are an influential means for product/service promotion for the Indian consumer market. They make a lasting impression on us, and we frequently purchase the products as a result. However, Indian advertisements often serve to reinforce societal gender stereotypes. The portrayal of female characters in the advertisement is problematic and sends out the wrong message.
A study titled Gender Bias and Inclusion In Advertising In India released by UNICEF and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDI) concluded that although female characters are prominent in the Indian ads, their roles are highly stereotyped. As per the study, women are likely to appear 49.6% in ads with 59.7% screen time and 56.3% speaking time. These numbers sound impressive, but if we talk about the roles they are limited to, the real picture unravels.
The advertisements represent the women either as ideal housewives or as the object of desire. They are seen as married women working in the kitchen with kids running around or cleaning. Women are mostly shown in household settings advertising domestic or beauty products. They are less likely to be a part of ads in public spaces or shown in paid occupations. Their roles are limited to that of a caretaker or being responsible for childcare and grocery shopping. Many detergent ads only show women washing the clothes, and men are nowhere to be found. Is washing clothes only a woman’s “hathon ka kaam”? The infamous “Hema, Rekha, Jaya, Sushma” jingle that we all grew up watching and even singing also contribute to this stereotype.
It’s not like men are completely absent from all these ads. They are there as a “guiding light” for the woman teaching them about the product. It represents the idea that men are wise beings who are there to direct naive women to make the ‘wise’ choice. Even as a voice-over, the man’s voice “alludes to the didactic attitude of dominant males who are constantly watching women perform roles within their assigned purview and directing them to make fair choices because apparently, women don’t have the brain to think for themselves”.
The female characters are also portrayed as sex objects, as physically attractive and dependent on men in TV commercials. They are predominantly thin in comparison to the male characters that appear with different body types. Then, there are commercials for weight loss products like green tea/supplements, in which we only see women desiring a slimmer body. Curvy body types are always looked down upon, especially in women. This is clearly reflected in these ads.
The study stated that “the most common gender tropes/stereotypes for female characters are ‘The Subservient Wife’ and ‘The Pushy Aunt’, and for men, the ‘Domineering/Controlling Male’ and a man who does not help with domestic activities”. You can even find celebrities perpetuating these stereotypes where a female celeb is busy in the kitchen frying poori while her male counterpart sits at the table waiting for the meal to be served. Why can’t we reverse the role? After all, cooking is not a gender role but a life skill. But they probably won’t because that’s not how real life is. In a way, these advertisements mirror the traditional Indian households where women are still confined to the four walls of the kitchen. Women are limited to promoting ghee or flour brands and beauty products that are supposed to make them glow.
Another phenomenon deeply reflected in Indian ads is that of colorism. It takes after real life when we uphold bogus notions like “fair is beautiful” and “dark is ugly”. This stereotype doesn’t only grapple India but many other countries in the world. The characters with lighter skin are considered attractive in comparison to the ones with darker skin. Colorism is gendered in the commercials, affecting women more than men. This has an adverse impact on the psyche of young girls and women who consume these ads. It sends them into a downward spiral of insecurity and depression. Brands and ad agencies need to understand this.
Times are changing, and we also need to appreciate the fact that many brands have taken a gender leap. Male characters are now advertising domestic products and female characters are beings shown in professional spaces. There have been ads in the past that have urged the men to “share the load”. It questioned the notion of considering laundry a woman’s job. We are still a long way from shattering these deep-seated stereotypes, but these small steps have presented a ray of hope for us all.
These commercials and ads are both influenced by and have the ability to influence society’s rules. Therefore, the brands should choose their concepts/ideas carefully. This responsibility also lies on the shoulders of marketing/advertising firms. They can come up with new and out-of-the-box ideas that do not promote erroneous gender stereotypes. Therefore, it’s high time these stereotypical ads are put to a halt.
Besides, did you know that gender stereotypes do not end here? According to a survey, most women we know do not get a pay raise due to their gender. Read this blog to know further about it!
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Originally published at https://www.fuzia.com.