Dr AL Sharada
Mar 07, 2024

Creative critique: Tokenism in advertising- a reflection on International Women's Day

The author provides a critical analysis of the portrayal of women in this year's International Women's Day campaigns, advocating for genuine representation and empowerment

Creative critique: Tokenism in advertising- a reflection on International Women's Day
As International Women's Day approaches, it's crucial to reflect on the portrayal of women in advertising. While the celebration of strong, empowered female characters is commendable, there's a growing tendency to include a few women-centric narratives to create an illusion of diversity without truly addressing gender steretypes and biases.
One recurring theme in films released to mark International Women's Day is the focus on 'superwomen' – characters who possess extraordinary abilities or overcome insurmountable odds.
While these characters can be inspiring, there's a risk of them becoming caricatures or unattainable ideals, overshadowing the everyday struggles and triumphs of real women. Advertisements like Equentis Research and Ranking and ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund, portray women who try to please everyone and are epitomes of sacrificing, selfless superwomen.

Instead of perpetuating the myth of the superwoman, films should strive to provide authentic representation and practical advice for women. Rather than solely focusing on extraordinary achievements, they should emphasise the importance of self-acceptance, self-investment, and self-respect. Women should be encouraged to embrace their individuality, pursue their passions, and value themselves for who they are, not just for what they achieve or how they meet the societal expectations. The Body Shop and Sugar cosmetics ads nudge women to invest in themselves without guilt and are empowering.
A positive shift in focus can be seen in the ad films of Urban Company and Preganews, which highlight the stories of working women in everyday professions. By showcasing characters like a masseuse and a teacher who are committed to their work and find fulfillment in their careers, these films break away from the general tendency to obscure the commitment and passion of women for their work.

However, it's important to acknowledge that these portrayals often cater to a specific demographic – urban, educated women who meet the beauty standards perpetuated by the advertising industry. While it's encouraging to see their stories being told, it's essential to ensure that representation in advertisements - especially on occasions like International Women's Day - is inclusive of women from diverse backgrounds and experiences, particularly the disasvantaged and marginalised. 
As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's demand more than token gestures of representation in advertisements. Let's advocate for authentic storytelling that celebrates the diversity and complexity of women's lives, while also empowering women to be true to themselves, invest in themselves, and respect themselves, regardless of societal expectations. Only then can we truly achieve gender sensitivity in our communication.
(The author is advisor, Population First. She provides a weekly creative critique column for Campaign India, where she reviews ads on the basis of gender sensitivity)
Campaign India

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