Gender Stereotyping In Advertising
India is a growing economy and advertising is a necessity to increase consumption of goods and services. Consciously or unconsciously, ad makers make use of predominant images that surround everyone in society. Ads reflect society in a certain way but they also pave the way for forming new opinions. Advertising is highly responsible for large-scale generalising of people or ideas. Stereotypes in our societies result in people wanting to consume certain products and services to be able to conform to particular norms and to belong.
Traditionally, society has attributed certain tasks and behaviours to both genders. Common examples of gender stereotyping- Men are always supposed to be strong and macho; they must work outside the house, earn and support their families. Women on the other hand must always look good, be presentable, not loud, be good at house-keeping and raising children; they are not capable of hard physical labour, etc. These may be superficial examples but they are deep rooted in the psyche of the masses. When media portrays the same through advertisements, we find nothing unusual or shocking. Society continues to follow the traditional ideas of what gender roles are. Hence, men are part of ads for products and services like bank loans and automobiles while women are always portrayed in ads displaying household or kitchen appliances, baby care products or even perfumes and cosmetics for both sexes.
Women have been given an image of a “good” female who always looks pretty, toils around the house, keeps her man happy, and is always fit and fair, loves cooking, cleaning and looks after children. On the other hand, ads also portray women as a “seductress” who lures men, manipulates them, is a gold-digger, very attractive, wears revealing clothing, etc. Also, a woman is considered an unintelligent consumer who is dependent on her man for decision-making as well as for finances.
Men have not escaped gender stereotyping either. Men are never depicted as being soft or very emotional. They must always be strong, fit, and good-looking, be able to take responsibility, look after their parents, women and children. They are supposed to be wise consumers and expert decision-makers.
Ads generalize or rather standardize ideas of beauty, attractiveness, and role models and persuade society to consume goods in order to conform to these ideas.
One of the most serious problems of this standardization is that both sexes, especially women have internalized the specified roles to such an extent that they consider it natural to them. This kind of gender stereotyping has a deep impact on the psychology and image of the self. Thus, when women are not able to fulfill their responsibilities as prescribed by society and reinforced by media, they believe they have failed.
Ads of products such as water purifiers, toothpastes, cooking oil, detergents, diapers, etc. almost never depict men, as if showing to the society that cleaning, cooking and worrying about the health of the family is only a woman’s job. Baby product ads always portray a woman with the baby as though men are incapable or unwilling to care for their child. Though women are always shown to be cooking at home, restaurant ads depict only male chefs.
Let us look at a few recent ads that are classic examples for gender stereotyping in Advertising.
The chocolate bar Snickers ad that was released a while back portrayed a man turning into a complaining and fussy woman just because he is hungry. As soon as he has Snickers which is supposed to fill his stomach, he goes back to normal. This is an ad that shows how somebody who is cranky and crabby due to hunger is considered a woman as though those characteristics are seen in women only.
A certain McDonald’s ad shows two kids discussing whether they are girlfriend and boyfriend. The boy says that he doesn’t wish for a girlfriend as she is very demanding and keeps asking for things. When his female friend says that all she wants is a McDonald burger, he is suddenly happy because his pocket money is enough to afford that. McDonald wished to portray that they serve meals that are easy on the pocket but in the process they established the idea that women are demanding and it is difficult to please them especially when you do not have enough money.
Soap ads reinforce the idea that no matter at what age, a woman must look fresh, pretty and young.
Products like Fair and Lovely or Olay creams drive in the idea that only fair is beautiful and even though aging is natural, it must be hidden. Cereals like Kellogg’s or Dabur Honey insist that being slim is a sign of looking good and this can be achieved only by consuming the above products. Creams and razors like Gillette Venus popularize the idea that a woman’s limbs must always be smooth and silky, allowing her to wear short clothes which she otherwise will not be able to.
Nivea and Dove mainly have men falling for women’s smooth skins and constantly wanting to touch them.
A Jabong ad shows a hold-up in a bank where robbers ask everybody to be quiet and lay on the floor. As they do this, women notice one another’s shoes and can’t stop discussing it. Though the ad may be considered funny and light-hearted, one is surprised to see how even in a serious situation such as a bank robbery, it is shown that all women can think about is shopping.
Gender stereotyping is common in Banks ads for loans where home loans and education loans are generally shown to be needed for boys while a loan taken for a girl is mostly for her wedding; as though that is the only big event of her life.
Imperial Blue ads proudly flaunt the idea-Men will be Men. The entire series of these ads plays on the typical stereotypes against men.
The objectification of women in the media is a recurrent problem that has no definite end. As women help increase the attractiveness and retention of ads, ad makers use women as objects to achieve their goal. Whether one is selling chocolate bars, flooring tiles, bathroom fittings, breakfast cereal or sports apparel and equipment, women’s bodies are exhibited indecently to make the commercials more exciting.
Britannia Pure Magic biscuits claim that Dark is Desire and thus, show a woman in a sexy avatar in an ad which logically has no connection with the consumption of cream biscuits.
Similarly, a very seductive Katrina Kaif persuades the audiences to have Choc On chocolate bars or Mango Slice Aamsutra. What these ads show has nothing to do with the product they are selling and many times are not even appropriate for their target audiences.
The Axe deodorant ads have been notorious for highly objectifying women. Following their lead, most perfume and deodorant ads today have females swooning over the man when he uses the product that is being advertised.
Although Indian media is ridden with sexist, stereotypical ads, awareness has set in, somewhere. New, intelligent, positive advertising is created which also gives a social message. Sex roles in society seem to be changing; albeit at a very slow pace. Nevertheless, advertising has risen to a new level where we do witness gender-equal ads or even some that break conventional stereotypes.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a self-regulatory voluntary organisation of the advertising industry in India which has set certain rules and regulations with respect to advertising in our country. Established in 1985, its goal is to ensure the protection of the interests of consumers. The ASCI tries to ensure that advertising in India is honest, fair, non-offensive and non-harmful.
The Parliament of India has enacted The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act in 1986 to protect the image of women and their body from being exploited for commercial gains. This act lays down the rules for the depiction of women and the ASCI abides by these rules to go over advertising issues with respect to women.
Ads these days depict women as being less dependent on men, economically stable, pursuing careers. Certain ads also take the efforts to break preconceived notions about physical beauty and argue that it is more important to be fit and healthy rather than slim and fair.
The change has begun but we have a long way to go. On one hand, ad agencies have the task of satisfying their clients with impressive campaigns. On the other, clients need great ads made with the sole purpose of persuading consumers to buy. Thus the entire process is commercially driven. But its effects are far-reaching; radically altering society.
The advertising industry is a large domain and many factors affect the end product that audiences see on television or in print. It must be understood that large scale awareness about gender roles and equality as well as media literacy are the only tools that people must be equipped with, if they are to create responsible advertising.