CulturePop Culture How Advertisements Perpetuate Sexism & Gender-Based Violence

How Advertisements Perpetuate Sexism & Gender-Based Violence

Indian advertisements are serving the agenda of neo-liberalism by falsification of feminist discourse, and strengthening classist differentiation in society.

This article is part of the #GBVInMedia campaign for the 16 Days Of Activism global campaign to end gender-based violence. #GBVInMedia campaign analysis how different kind of mainstream media (mis)represents/reports gender-based violence and broadens the conversation from violence against women to violence against people from the queer community, caste-based violence and violence against people with disabilities. Join the campaign here.

This year on Diwali, the women of India were reminded of their position in our highly moralistic and ethical society by, an online professional site, which advertised that this year all husbands should ‘gift’ their wives, a ‘reliable’, ‘safe’, ‘background verified’ bai (maid) so that the wife ‘never needs to enter the kitchen again.’

The advert portrayed the man as the bread winner who ‘gifts’ his wife a maid, instead of ‘useless diamonds’, and did not dare challenge the misogynist ideologies that succumb women to the position of a reproductive machine. It made women believe that centuries of patriarchal oppression can be ended overnight by a magical wand of The site also has a specific column for choosing ‘religion’ and ‘region’ by which it reinforces the hierarchical model of caste, and religion.

This advert reveals how neo-liberalism appropriates feminism and creates a discourse of utopian liberation of  a specific section of women from the shackles of household slavery, while it consciously conceals the perilous conditions of women who work in the unorganized sector; thereby legitimising economic disparities. The advertisement is only an illustration of how media represents gender-based violence, and how it opts to end it.

Advertisements do usually next to what movies/daily soaps do in creating cultural representations of society, by slyly passing through perceptive stage to that of conception in human mind. Thus, what they represent essentially manifests repressive ideologies that society engenders. Let us consider the case of a Dabur Honey advert, whereby the wife looks elegant, and the jealous, insecure husband takes out the mangalsutra hidden beneath the wife’s top to make it visible.

This advert openly recognizes the violence in society where women are regularly subjected to sexual harassment and rape, but opts a reactionary solution of it by giving women a safety valve in the name of sindhoor, manglasutra, among others. It dehumanises women by objectifying them as private property, which must remain under the surveillance of men, and their price tags. A lot of other adverts like Saffola Oil Life whereby the housewife buys Saffola oil to take care of the heart of her working husband, Harpic toilet cleaner whereby a tense housewife is suddenly gifted an excellent toilet cleaner, so that she may better take care of her family, Vim utensil cleaner whereby women are shown doing the dishes etc, instill patriarchal notions of ideal wives in women.

Such advertisements are not merely representations of discrimination, but also conscious attempts at hiding violence which is manifested in the rigid sexual division of labour. Domestic violence which women face in the form of compulsory free labour of doing household chores, and of rearing children and the elderly, is deliberately interpreted as either women’s duty, or choice. It is important to talk about yet another advert which objectifies women, that is Wildstone Deo Ad 2014.

In this advert, a young man is shown flying kite on his home’s terrace. Since he has applied deodorant all over his body, a woman adjacent to his home smells it, goes wild, and approaches him sexually. This advert is significant because on one hand, it breaks the orthodoxy of chaste women, but on the other it creates objectified women.

A similar advert runs in the US, The Axe Effect, whereby billions of women in bikinis are shown running across the forests, swimming in oceans, only to have sex with a man who is continuously spraying deodorant all over his body. When women reach the island, the title reads, “Spray more, get more“. The advert and the slogan demonstrates women as objects, and men as customers who buy them at a price of a deodorant!

Along with women oppression, advertisements also legitimise the gender binary logic, and mock at transgender, cisgender tendencies. In a WildStone Talc advert, the man picks up a women’s talc but the background voice asks, “Are you using a ladies talc?” and continues, “Nowadays I see that men look like women, behave like women, react like women, again react like women. If you smell like women, you will become women, but God has already created women, beautiful women…“.

This advert instills behavioural procedures that humans must follow in order to fit into one of the two constructed genders, and makes fun of those who do not accept these roles. It also uncovers patriarchy that is implanted in humans right from the choice of colours to clothes, which creates a prison like atmosphere for all genders to act only in specified ways. In the end the voice says, “In the interest of mankind.” Here, mankind arrogantly means welfare of men, anatomically men, and not humans, which unveils the misogynist atmosphere of society, in a striking manner.

In this sexist atmosphere, we also encounter an exception in the form of Havells fan advert, whereby a man objects to the U certificate of a movie since it has a scene where a man removes his shirt, and when asked upon, he answers, “If men do this, they are dude. If women do, they are nude.” This advert breaks with the stereotypical notion of nudity and art, and raises questions at the role Indian Censorship board plays in hailing patriarchy. But, since these adverts are only exceptions, and do not resemble to the material circumstances of differential handling of genders, they fail to remain in people’s minds for long time.

Art, media, cinema are all innovated within the society, and not on detached islands. They contribute in manufacturing consent about the society, by attacking the human sub-conscious, and the ideas projected by them rule over human minds for a long time. In this context, Indian advertisements are serving the agenda of neo-liberalism by doing falsification of feminist discourse, and challenging patriarchal forms (not content) but strengthening classist differentiation in society. They are putting up a concept of idealized, illusionary equality where women will not have to enter kitchens, men will also fast on Karvachauth, but at the cost of highly dangerous exploitation of working class people, and peasantry. Arundhati Roy contemplates,

There is no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.

In advertising media, gender-based violence is projected as justified division of labour, and the voice of oppressed genders is silenced by using liberal-patriarchal discourse which pictures that nothing like gender oppression exists. Thus, such cultural characterization by advertisements bolster the already existing violence, and become nuts and bolts of the treacherous machine that initiates gender-based violence in the first place.

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