Women portrayal: Better days are emerging

MUMBAI: The debate over portrayal of women in our advertisements and soaps is ever going. Remember the recent Airtel advertisement which created a furor as people debated if a working woman should cook or not? Or even the last year’s Ford Figo advertisement, which saw people from creative agency JWT being asked to leave and not to forget the deodorant ads.

Many blame that the sexist or regressive portrayal of women in advertisements, soaps and movies is the reason behind the way they are treated in real life. While others say it just reflects the changing morals and values of the generation that consumes it. The advertising industry has been faced with a piquant situation, for many years now.

However, over time, steps have been taken to apply a healthy amalgam of scientific temper and good intentions to pursue the goal of gender equality.

Advertising is known to reflect societal norms and should be a torch bearer of change. Does advertising showcase the changes in women’s roles? The question is answered in a survey, of key personnel in advertising and marketing in the report titled, Changing Gender Frames.

In today’s connected and networked times, the role of media in shaping and forming public opinion and perceptions has been well documented. One such area is that of gender stereotyping.  So, one of the ways to change the attitude towards women could be through the change in portrayal of women in media and advertising.

The research, included marketing and advertising professionals spread across Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, to assess and understand the status of gender stereotypes, the perceptions of the portrayal of women in advertising and an understanding of the effect of communication that challenges gender stereotypes.

In the research, professionals resoundingly endorsed that it is education and financial independence that is empowering women, giving them more decision making power and helping them enter public spaces and conversations.

There was almost unanimous agreement that gender roles are less clearly defined these days, and stereotyping and accompanying social pressures are on the wane, especially for aspects like women working out of the house and men doing housework, both of which have become acceptable.  But women still feel that children are more their responsibility than that of the father.

However, there is some ambiguity on the whole sexuality or body image aspect. Women still report that men normally judge them on the basis of beauty and sex appeal.

Professionals are of the opinion that in advertising today women are being portrayed more as energetic, confident and modern multi-taskers than as ‘homely’. This then leads to the question of whether a new stereotype of supermom has arrived.

While most professionals feel that the changing trend is sustainable, it rests on the fact that marketers now look at women as a potential segment which will facilitate growth; thereby making it important to tap the potential of this segment which is now experiencing independence on the financial as well as decision making front.

Using women ‘provocatively’, in advertising is seen as a sure shot way to grab attention even today by both men and women.

The research also flagged advertising that has been noticed for its challenging of gender stereotypes.   Airtel with the wife as boss, the remarriage story of Tanishq and the mother who trains her child in the Bournvita commercial, have emerged as examples of moving to the new gender conversation with style.

However, there is still a majority feeling that advertising has not been able to portray the actual status of women in society.   While there seems to be a change in the portrayal of women in advertising due to her newer roles, there still seems to be a lot of opportunity to explore various facets of women and showcase them in advertising.

Click here to read the full report


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