Feminism is arguably one of the most important movements in the world today, with everybody having some kind of opinion on it, positive or negative. Simply put, feminism stands for political, economic and social equality of the sexes. In order for that to take place, however, it needs to be preceded by equity. Feminism as a movement started in the late 19th century and has grown ever since. Today, we’re in the 4th wave of feminism which came about with the advent of the internet and has helped propagate the ideas of feminism even further.
India has gone through a series of different phases. Women at first were glorified and respected in the early ages; this was however followed by a phase of extreme patriarchy wherein women were always deemed as inferior or invisible. Sadly this mentality is still prevalent in India till date. Since the 19th century however, feminism as a movement has been growing in India. Today especially with the growth of the internet, feminist ideology has been even more widespread within the country.
Feminism worldwide has had such a large impact that it is nearly impossible to ignore it. While a growing number of people applaud the ideology and wish to spread the movement across the world, a large number of people also think that feminism has gone too far and don’t wish to associate with the movement at all.
Brands have thus begun to realize the growing importance of the movement. While some brands try to steer away from feminism as a whole, a large number of them have also decided to use it in order to promote their own products, even if those products have nothing to do with feminism. This is why a large number of new ads such as the Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad campaign and Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign in addition to numerous others have sprung up in recent times.
Watching such advertisements makes one feel hopeful about a brighter future for the country since they try to change the perception of the society. However, most of the times they tend to portray feminism in the wrong way, taking the whole movement backward instead of forward. A 2016 Biba ad, for example, portrayed an arranged marriage scene wherein the man wishes to pay the girl’s parents dowry instead of them paying it since he’ll be taking away their precious daughter. Such advertisements try to make women look superior to men instead of equalizing them, thereby creating more ignorance and hatred towards the movement.
Most importantly, we cannot forget that even if they make a perfectly good ad, at the end of the day the motive of the company is not to actually help the cause of women empowerment. The same companies that objectified women a couple of years ago in their ads, now use a ‘femvertising’ approach to sell their products in order to increase sales. In other cases, such as that of Dove, even though the advertisement may be pro-feminist, it still falls under the parent company of Hindustan Unilever which also owns brands such as Fair & Lovely, Ponds, Lux and Axe. All of these brands propagate the conventional ideas of beauty among women such as fairer skin and thinner bodies, or they tend to objectify women’s bodies in their advertisements. It thus portrays the pseudo-feminism used by Dove in order to create a good brand image, even though the parent company by itself does not stand for any feminist values.
I believe that a progressive audience, along with progressive ads, are required in India today if we really want to see some change take place in the mindset of the people. At the same time, I also stand by the fact that such profit-driven ads lead to trivializing the whole feminist movement. According to me, using the struggle of millions of people over decades just to make profits for your company, reduces the whole impact of the movement and only ends up propagating a more capitalistic society instead.
-Zoe Vandrewala || PGP MR