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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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There is no doubt that the shift towards 'femvertising,' as seen in Shan Foods' commercial, is a step in the right direction. It challenges the stereotype of women's roles, encouraging empowerment and education rather than conforming to household expectations. However, the worry remains about the reach of these messages and whether they truly penetrate the societal fabric beyond urban or more privileged circles. Even though these issues persist in urban spheres as well, but I feel like they are more pronounced in underprivileged areas. Don't you think that more effective measures need to be taken to cater them?

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Thank you for raising this point. My take on it is slightly different - I feel that it is in urban spheres that we need to focus on the most due to two reasons: first, because of the trickle-down theory (a sociological theory I studied during my A levels sociology), according to which the lower classes will follow in the footsteps of the middle/upper class, hence the changes occurring at the level of the middle class strata have a 'trickle down' effect on the lower strata; secondly, due to fact that personally I have seen that the tendency of men to help their female partners is greater in the case of people belonging to rural backgrounds as compared to urban…

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Great post and the point of the saas and bahu commercials stood out for me, we have seen constant themes where saas and bahu are at odds and many dram serials feed on this kind of drama. The diversion from this typical stance is both intriguing and concerning since Asian media focuses on making bahu lives hell by a torturous saas, this advert highlights how they suddenly agree on a washing powder and how this mere convergence of ideas leads to a happy family. I feel like media changes their stance for their own agendas and this can be seen her. They cannot show a saas and bahu fighting over a powder so they reversed their ideologies to be capitalistic.

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That's an interesting point, Zoha. I agree that the media changes its approach where and when it sees fit. And of course, capitalism plays a huge role in this. That also explains the advent of gameshows, such as 'Jeeto Pakistan' where we see a confluence between capitalism and the media industry.

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Mahnoor Nasir
Mahnoor Nasir
30 nov 2023

I completely agree with your assessment regarding the portrayal of gender roles in advertisements and the associated stereotypes, particularly in the stigmatization of women. There does appear to be a shift in this representation, with increased efforts in depicting men more thoughtfully. However, it seems that even when male figures are included, it's celebrated as a significant victory, drawing disproportionate attention, despite it being a commonplace occurrence. Moreover, our television dramas continue to emphasize traditional gender roles, and even in unconventional scenarios, there's a noticeable absence of regulatory action from PEMRA, as you pointed out. Do you think there's a connection between the gender portrayal in our dramas and the patterns observed in advertisements?


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That's a really good question, Mahnoor! Firstly, yes, it would not be wrong to say that we still see a lot of ads on TV that represent traditional gender roles; however, the purpose of this blog is to show how there is a beginning towards change in our society. For sure, we have a long way to go before full-scale and complete change can be seen. That being said, I have only attempted to outline the ways in which there is a shift in the overall representation of male-female power dynamics in Pakistani ads. As far as your second question is concerned, I think I would argue that the gender portrayals in both Pakistani dramas and ads are very different…

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This was a really good analysis. I cannot help but think how these small advertisements that we see on television daily can greatly impact young minds, especially that of girls to internalize such attitudes. Even though, I feel it is really nice to think about how these ads are evolving and the newer generation can now be exposed to different representations, it is still not enough and not progressing in line with the way it should, given the times. All washing powder ads still only show women in traditional gender roles and even when they try to incorporate a new idea it seems to be a little forced. All of this is happening despite the fact that these ads receive…

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Yes, I agree with both of your points, Reesha. The washing powder ads, especially the ones showing Wasim Akram and Fahad Mustafa (I suppose it's Ariel Washing Powder), represent stereotypical gender roles. In addition to that, the Lemon Max ads, as Naimol has pointed out, also portray such traditional gender roles to date. However, the purpose of this blog isn't to show that change has occurred in our society. Instead, I have only attempted to illustrate how there is a beginning towards change. Change is a gradual process, and it will take a lot of time before we see such evident and full-scale change, considering that traditional gender roles and norms have remained dominant here. As far as your second…

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Thank you for sharing this. It is a really detailed blog post. I like how you have talked about how advertisements used to show stereotypical gender roles, where you mentioned the Tapal Chai advertisement and how it showed a woman making chai and giving chai to her potential in laws, showing the stereotypical gender roles in our society. Then you also mentioned how advertisements have evolved and changed, with advertisements like Hico ice cream where the roles are seen changing, where the husband is understanding of his wife and doesn’t expect her to do the housework, drifting away from the traditional gender roles. However, I believe that there are still advertisements being made that show traditional gender roles, where women…

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Thank you for engaging with this post, Naimol. I believe that change is a gradual process and as the Pakistani society where there has been a stronghold of traditional gender norms we still have a long way to go. However, I feel that a lot of advertisements recently have shown men engaging in housework (e.g. in Shan ads) and men making chai (Tapal Danedar and Lipton tea ads). In terms of the Lemon Max ad, yes, I agree with you that often always, the wives are shown washing the dishes, while the husbands are merely shown standing and watching them happily as they do the dishes.

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