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Trapped in an image

If the National Commission for Women has its way, advertisements that stereotype women may soon be banned, writes Neha Sharma.

sex and relationships Updated: Aug 13, 2008 19:19 IST
Neha Sharma

If the National Commission for Women has its way, ads that stereotype women may soon be banned. In the line of fire are ones that show women playing the perfect homemaker, those that celebrate fair skin or show that marriage is the ultimate aim in a woman’s life.

The suggestion has gone down well with most who feel that many ads portray women regressively and overlook their dynamism and achievements. Fairness cream, detergents, pain-relieving ointments and oil/ghee are the most offensive advertisements, many say.

Actress Maninee De Mishra feels extremely under pressure when she watches these ads. “I tell my eight-year-old daughter, ‘Your mother cannot do all this.’ I don’t want her to feel that this is what an ideal mother should be,” says Maninee. “The Dhara oil ad, in which the mother makes pakodas for the entire family while the husband simply sits and watches, then the Moov advertisement which shows a woman working like crazy and then applying Moov so she can work more are ridiculous,” the actress says.

Fashion designer Anjana Bhargav feels that at a time when the dusky look is in demand in the industry, fairness cream ads are a step backwards. “The Fair & Lovely ad is demeaning,” says Bhargav. “The way it shows the skin tone becoming lighter within days and the girl getting a job and a bridegroom soon is a bad example.”

Fair portrayal
Even men feel that today’s women deserve a better portrayal. Actor Vinay Pathak says that ad makers should break the mould. “Why do all detergent ads show women washing clothes. Why not men?”

Ads using women meaninglessly are also drawing flak. “Why do we need a woman in a Gillette razor ad? She is just there to touch the man. It is clear objectification,” says painter Illoosh Ahluwalia.

Social activist Nafisa Ali is strident in her criticism of the Axe ad in which a man sprays on the deo and countless women run to him enticed by the scent. “It is such a stupid ad. It is visually disturbing. Why do we even need women in that ad?” she questions.

Get talking
However, not all women want a ban. Says actress Renuka Shahane, “People should see TV as fiction and not something to be taken seriously. I wash my clothes at home, so what is wrong in showing that?”

If holding up a mirror to reality is called stereotyping, so be it, adman Prahlad Kakkar says. “What does the NCW want us to do? Dress women as men and men as women, and that will be the end of stereotyping? I am all for it.”

Kakkar adds that even if the suggestions are accepted, they will be difficult to implement. “Who will chair this meting — babus and feminists?”

Adman Prasoon Joshi is open to changes, but says stereotyping must first be defined. “I don’t see how showing a woman as a housewife is stereotyping,” he says. “Men can also claim they are being stereotyped through ads showing them as people who go to work. For all you know, they might be washing clothes at home.”