This post is a continuation of my previous blog on daring the advertisers to join the conversations by being proactive and stop perpetuating the stereotypes by offering alternative storyline to sell us their products.
The recent article in Slate asking for Ford India to fire its advertisers after autoblog highlighted the “downright lascivious” sensibilities at Ford India’s marketing partners. This is a breath of fresh air given that often such a criticism is levied by women’s rights or some activist group and not industry peers. It is an opportunity to be reflective and I hope this is not just about sacking the marketing partners (though that would be a good start) but self inspection within the marketing and advertising folks on their role in perpetuating stereotypes and even objectification of women in their pursuit to sell products and appear “in” or cool. There needs to be a redefinition of cool in marketing. It should be someone who is socially conscious. It is someone who will challenge the deeply entrenched biases that make them the norm.
In the most recently concluded Commission on the Status of Women’s Agreed Conclusions (PDF) state (emphasis is mine):
(vv) Recognize the important role the media can play in the elimination of gender stereotypes, including those perpetuated by commercial advertisements, and in promoting non-discriminatory and gender-sensitive reporting, including by preserving the confidentiality of the identity of victims and survivors where appropriate; and, to the extent consistent with freedom of expression, encourage the media to improve public awareness on violence against women and girls, to train those who work in the media, and to develop and strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms to promote balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of women with a view to eliminating discrimination against and the exploitation of women and girls and refraining from presenting them as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities and instead present women and girls as creative human beings, key actors and contributors to and beneficiaries of the process of development
There needs to be a move to building greater “self-regulatory” mechanisms that would hold the advertisers accountable and perhaps even make them stop and reconsider the way women are presented in the stories they weave to make us buy their products.
This week has started with questions and more so than any other week of the year. And no this is not a PMS post or a pre-post-PMS post. Most people don’t know/care but the first biggest conclave of women’s rights has started in new york city this week. It brings together every year 100’s (in the past even 1000’s) of women (and some men – mostly as part of country delegations) to the big apple to talk about “A” subject matter that is of import to women’s well being in the world. It lasts 2 weeks and is a very busy hectic time for all those involved and here, its a networking event for women’s rights organizations, international NGOs and donors, government representatives and those select few who are representing the voice of the voiceless women in their countries who go about their daily lives with no knowledge of this meeting.
I have looked at this meeting with awe and despair. I go back and forth with everyone who cares to talk to me about why… why not. I can not find an answer in their reasons that satisfactorily answers why. I can not satisfactorily respond to their question on why not.
What I do know is that the status of women does not change significantly enough every year. What I do know is since everyone who comes to this is already working in changing the lives of women for the better it does no one any service if they continue to just talk to each other. What I do know is changes do not occur over a meeting in a closed room where a privileged few talk to a privileged few about how to help the unprivileged. What I do know is that this is not a celebration of women. What I do know is that there is no tooth when it comes to implementation of what we discuss and even if rarely agree on some recommendations. What I do know is that advocacy is an important strategy but advocating to the converted is a waste of resources. What I do know is that advocacy laced with political correctness is worse than no advocacy. What I do know is that this leaves us feeling that we did something meaningful when in reality we didn’t. What I do know is when we look around us we find others who are skeptics too but none of us have the courage to act to change the skepticism – and we are speaking of empowering women of the world here?
I do not think boycotting is the answer here. We need to engage and engage with reasonable periodicity that will allow us to meaningfully reflect and analyze. We need to engage to hold others to account, to ourselves to account. We need to allow people to say honestly the status of women today not to talk about fake realities that they have created for the sake of the meeting. We need to remember we are the privileged and when we speak on behalf of others (especially since they did not ask us to represent them) we bear a great deal of responsibility and accountability.