A reputed car company is advertising their new model on television and it goes something like this, a young man wearing black leather jacket is speeding through a desert. His face is covered in a helmet and his maneuvering skill with the motorbike is world class. That is all fine before we see that as soon as our hero steps down from the bike, another young woman, clad in all black, jumps up from behind and hugs him tight as a token of appreciation for being an awesome biker. The thing is, regardless of the woman’s presence, consumers still would have understood how great the bike is, right? Was the company trying to send out a message that if men buy this­­ particular bike, women will swoon over them? Or that bikes are not for women? Or that the mere presence of a woman, as unnecessary as it is and regardless of the kind of product being advertised, is something audiences like to watch? Something to ponder.
Men and women both need to use soaps, shampoos, deodorants and every kind of cosmetic products yet the gender stereotyping in the advertisements are hilarious. Female models are seen using the products in a luxurious bathroom or near a serene spring where as men shower on an icy mountain top or a deep jungle. Since women are thought to be delicate, hence they have to bathe in safe places with flowers and tea-lights where as in order to look ‘manly’ you need to shower in dangerous places, preferably with a tiger or a python. Day after day we watch mothers and wives cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, running after the undisciplined child to force feed him/her some nutritional drink. We watch women being believed that although the husbands earn money, it is they, the “supermoms/wives”, who save the day by protecting the family from 99.9 percent of evil, germs, dust, you name it. Taking care of the family is solely a woman’s job or so it seems after seeing these advertisements.
The role of mass media is a very significant one when it comes to raising awareness against social issues such as gender stereotyping and objectification of women. Contrary to what we believe, it is not difficult to influence people through television and radio advertisements. The ministries and NGOs can only do so much but creating mass awareness against disease outbreaks, social injustice and gender inequality were solved in the past with extensive help from mass media. I remember back when diarrhea was a killer disease in the country, the recipe for a simple homemade ORS (oral rehydration solution) was advertised so much on television and radio that although I was quite young, I still remember it. “One glass of water, one pinch of salt, one fistful of molasses and mix’em all together!”. That’s what we need to do now to promote gender equality and make people understand that women must not be objectified as they are now. The companies need to really think beyond making just profits, as clichéd it may sound. Surely women in swimsuits or high heels selling everything from razors to mixed spice powders will earn big revenues but these companies have to be accountable when in the long run, the society is going to suffer from its consequences. Selina Khan, a corporate lawyer for more than a decade, shared her views on gender stereotyping. She said, “There was a time, say in the 50s or 60s, when mass media was representing the true state of women in the society, such as being confined within the kitchen walls or just being trophy wives, but the reality these days is far from what is shown in commercials. Modern women are taking on bigger roles and husbands are also sharing household chores.”
Improvement is in the horizon but the pace needs to be faster. Already we have seen some good works on workplace harassment, bullying and eve teasing but the number is small compared to the numerous advertisements which showcase women in inappropriate ways. An important thing for MNCs who invest millions and billions on advertisements is to realize is that women don’t need to be included in everything for the sake of beautification. At a time when our Prime Minister, Speaker of the National Parliament, Minister of Education are all women, we have received our first female major general and women in the country are continuously excelling in every sector, the mass media should be much more responsible in how they portray the female gender.

The writer works at
Bangladesh Post