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"Femvertising": Reinventing Gender Stereotypes in Pakistani TV Commercials

For a long time in Pakistan, we have only seen advertisements showing women making a Rishta-worthy cup of tea for their prospective husbands or using 'Lazeeza Kheer Mix' to please their future in-laws. The way women are portrayed in advertising has considerably evolved, and while there may occasionally be overt sexism and misogyny, for the most part, ad firms have shifted towards a more gender-emancipatory perspective that addresses social issues. I will start by first providing an overview of the traditional gender roles portrayed in Pakistani TV commercials and will then move towards an analysis of how such conventional roles are being countered as part of the 'femvertising' in Pakistani media advertising.

An Analysis of Traditional Gender Roles Portrayed in Pakistani Media Advertising

This Tapal Chai TVC ad shows a young woman (Mahira Khan) transitioning her roles: as a student, a wife, and then a daughter-in-law - all of these roles are shown switched in relation to a 'cup of chai'. The internal misogyny is blatantly depicted here since instead of the family rejoicing over her academic accomplishment, they hurriedly give her a tray of chai and ask her to drape a dupatta over her head to serve her potential in-laws. After she gets married, she perpetuates the same misogyny when, in one of the scenes, her sister is shown reading a book, but she and her father think it's better to hand her a tray of chai and get her married instead.

The Laziza Kheer Mix ad also follows a similar plot, as the newly-wedded daughter-in-law is tasked with making kheer for the entire house. The issue with this, I feel, is that kheer-making is more of an act that she has to perform to prove her worth and credibility as a "good" and "respectable" daughter-in-law rather than an activity that she willingly engages in and undertakes out of sheer love for her husband's family.

An Analysis of Modern Gender Roles Portrayed in Pakistani Media Advertising

This HICO Ice Cream ad starts with the husband telling his wife that he misses the desserts made by her. However, the wife helplessly tells him how difficult it is to manage housework and studies side by side due to the immense workload of medical studies. The ad's turning point comes when the husband consoles her by saying: "shaadi tum say ghar kay kaam karwanay kay liyay nahi balkeh eik dusray kay khwaab puray karnay kay liyay ki thi". This marks a drift away from the conventional gender roles ascribed to women, i.e. the idea that women, after marriage, must actively participate in managing the housework and taking care of their husbands' needs and wishes. It also reflects how, instead of the wife, the husband compromises on his desires (the craving he had for the desserts prepared by his wife) just so that his wife could focus on what was more important for her (i.e. her studies). Hence, this ad not only shows that a woman's sole duty is not just restricted to performing household chores for her husband but also sheds light on the idea that compromises should be made mutually, i.e. by both husband and wife. Therefore, this shows how gender roles in Pakistani society are beginning to evolve and becoming more fluid.

This Shan TV commercial encourages mothers-in-law to assist their daughters-in-law and touches on the idea of 'doctor-bahu' instead of confining themselves to the housework and putting their education to waste. The former half of the ad also shows a marked contrast between the conventional and redefined roles of the 'doctor-bahu'. For instance, it says: "...meray mareezon ki sehat meri awaleen tarjeeh hogi" (redefined role) and then "iskay kitchen mein roz kya pakkay ga yehi iski awaleen tarjeeh hogi" (stereotypical role). However, by asserting that "khaana banana kisi eik ka kaam tou nahi" at the end of the video, there is an attempt to subvert the stereotypical gender binaries and incorporate the element of fluidity.

We, belonging to a certain privileged class and possessing the resources, are aware of the extent to which these stereotypical representations of women can be problematic. However, what about those who don't have access to such education? Do they ever get to counter these stereotypical representations and such overt internalized misogyny? It is high time that PEMRA takes action against such ads that coerce women to prove themselves by encouraging them to make chai of a certain colour or kheer in a certain way to look loveable to their in-laws. The message they are implicitly sending the audience is that unless a woman does not know how to cook or clean, she cannot be deemed a good enough woman. All she has to do to win the hearts of her in-laws and husband is to know how to cook properly. Interestingly, as pointed out above in the analysis of ads portraying traditional gender roles, this can come even at the cost of the woman abandoning her own ambitions (the Tapal Chai ad). However, with that being said, a lot of media adverts are starting to address this issue, and there is a shift towards 'femvertising', as done by Shan Foods, Walls, etc. This gradual change in the Pakistani media would have a lot of implications for the discourse on gender and education in our society, with the most significant one being the idea that a lot more people are willing to talk about the futility of the idea of conventional gender roles and are more accepting towards fluid gender roles.

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