• Antara Basu


I remember turning on the TV to watch scripts painted with internalized gender roles playing on loop. And my eyes try to peep through the tightly drawn and non-existent blinds of gender-neutral advertising. I see a woman cooking for her children, another waiting for her son to come back with his muddied shirt as if she couldn’t wait to get started on laundry. And another complaining about her aching hands after making chapatis as the scene cuts to the magical roti maker that seems whisk away all her problems.

Women in Indian advertising are portrayed within the circle of domestic duties, family obligations, and child-rearing, while men have never stepped beyond sports, finance, business, and industry. According to a Kantar report, 58 percent of ads on-air target women exclusively, and only 35 percent are targeted towards both genders. The lack of a gender-neutral approach to advertising serves to reinforce patriarchal stereotypes of two socially demarcated segments for the genders. With extensive exposure to young children, these ads target a mindset that incessantly screams that a woman cooks and a man chauffeurs. A country where the youth grows up watching females in submissive roles and men in authoritative characters tends to find it challenging to separate deep-seated patriarchal gender norms and look through a feminist lens.

Today even children’s advertising is stereotypically targeted, which is disconcerting given the rise of the feminist movement and the fight against profound inequalities. All young girls don’t like sipping tea in miniature cups and saucers, adorned in fancy tiaras just as all young boys don’t like kicking around a football in the blazing heat or playing cricket. But the question of likes and dislikes comes into the picture when they are given a choice in the first place. Being surrounded by inherent gender roles deprives them of the chance to explore, and they are so quick to internalize these that it conditions them to identify with a specific side; a barbie or hot wheels.

A contrast to this is the announcement of Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority. In 2018 December, after the release of an ASA report on how gender stereotypes in ads “can lead to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people’s lives,” they had declared a ban on gender stereotyping in advertising, which could cause a widespread and adverse impact on the public.

Despite the fact that there is now growing awareness about internalized patriarchy and the need for equality, this arena does not reflect a sign of change. They have become quite comfortable in the known and would instead contribute to this harmful notion under the façade of avoiding disruption rather than confronting head-on the problems that lie in their own industry. Maybe Britain’s way is the way to go for India and the rest of the global community. For innumerable people are inevitably waiting for the day they can turn on their TV’s to watch both men and women cooking and managing finances.