Women in India have had a very categorically defined role since time immemorial. Be it films, advertisements, or theatre, women’s roles have been defined on the continuum of being trivially significant to being absolutely worthless.
Most ads that featured women showed typical Indian housewives. Brands like Nirma, Dabur, etc made women endorse household products. You would either see saree clad women doing some household chore or buying some grocery items. Research showed that Indian ads reflected stereotypical roles like women’s place is in the home and they don’t take important decisions and they are not considered significant.
There has been a socio-cultural change in society over the decades. Traditional gender roles, despite certain revisions, are still standard and stereotypical in the large segment. On the contrary, a new segment that is cropping up these days – sensationalism. Sexuality in the media has been on a constant rise due to that.
Cadbury introduced a new image of a woman when it repositioned itself as a product that can be consumed by people of any age group especially youngsters and not only children. In trying to expand the target audience, Cadbury portrayed a woman in a way that was never seen in Indian Ads before.
The visual showed a cricket stadium where the match is about to end. When India wins, the lead female runs to the pitch, to hug the batsman. While she is running, she is sensually consuming Cadbury and the expression of extreme pleasure is evident on her face. This ad was a paradigm shift for both, Cadbury and the existing image of women.
Currently, Indian ads are a mix of traditional, sexual, and progressive. Traditional ads show women as the typical housewife and home-maker and wide. Sexual ads objectify women with a sexual focus. Initially, such ads were restricted to categories like perfumes and undergarments. But now, the horizon has expanded and sexuality has occupied an invariably important place in Indian ads.
For instance, the Gourmet ice-cream ad by Vadilal shows a woman in sensual nightwear. She is seductively licking the ice cream and relishing it with an expression of pleasure and satisfaction. The Maaza ad starring Katrina Kaif is another example of unwanted sexual appeal in the advertisement. The makers thought that the visual was not a disaster enough, so they added the tag line “Aamsutra – Pure Mango Pleasure”. The words like ‘Pleasure’ are an indirect comparison to sex.
Cosmetic brands are also instinctively using visuals that have a sex element in them. Progressive ads which show women as both, independent and sex object are still acceptable. But only women as objects to be obtained by men for their own sake isn’t really appreciated by the Indian mentality.
In contrast, showing women as only housewives or mothers can also have a negative effect. It might convey the message that Indians are still narrow-minded and are not open to working women and their changing lifestyles.
Thus, overall a combination of all aspects needs to be perfectly integrated into Indian ads for portraying the true and acceptable image of women. Ads like Double Diamond where they show an independent and confident woman, is the need of the hour. HDFC’s “Sar Utha K Jiyo” is an example of upgrading a woman’s image.
Airtel has a wife playing the boss of the husband which was not really accepted and appreciated in our society and culture. It still isn’t to a greater extent. So, yes media has played an important role in forming the woman’s image differently, time and again. And it will continue doing so.