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"From Screen to Society: Decoding Gender Stereotypes in Pakistani Advertising"

Marketing through advertisements is one of the most successful strategies. It is a powerful medium with a large audience that affects not only our consumption habits but also our views, values, and opinions in everyday life. It might, however, act like a double-edged sword because it has the ability to both challenge and support societal norms. However, it is commonly noted that by reinforcing gender stereotypes, Pakistani ads support traditional roles and responsibilities for both men and women.

In Pakistani advertising, one of the most prevalent gender stereotypes is the portrayal of traditional roles for men and women. Women's responsibilities as mothers and spouses are highlighted by the media by portraying them as loving, obedient creatures who like housekeeping. On the other hand, patriarchy is reinforced by the assumption that males are more powerful and the primary breadwinners. Commercials for cooking oil, dishwashing soap, toilet cleaner, and washing powder emphasize that women are the only ones who use these products and are responsible for them.

In this specific advertisement, a noteworthy example can be observed where the man, upon handing a box of washing powder to his wife, uses the term "your kaam", reinforcing the notion that certain household chores, such as laundry, are exclusively designated as women's responsibilities. This portrayal perpetuates the traditional belief that women are primarily responsible for domestic duties, while men are excluded from participating in such tasks. On the other hand, males are more likely seen in commercials for cars and motorbikes and for financial services like banking or investing. These advertisements frequently show males as the providers and the ones who make important financial decisions. This kind of product placement explicitly links products to certain gender roles and obligations, which has a big influence on society.

In terms of appearance, women shown in ads are usually fair-skinned, skinny women possessing feminine features and long hair. This sets unrealistic beauty standards and pressurizes women to look a certain way to be desirable. The ads often use attractive females as a magnetizing tool for their advertisements, exploiting them for their looks. In 2015, an ad was released by 'Jazz' casting Nargis Fakhri, the actress was photographed in a highly seductive and alluring pose that was shown on the main page of the "Jang" Urdu newspaper for many days, as well as on billboards in parts of the country. Her curves are unrelated to the 3G phone. This is a classic example of how women are portrayed as a showpiece and how the ideal body type is promoted.

We all can remember ads for toilet cleaner where a woman is distressed about how dirty her toilet is, and suddenly a man in a blue cap shows up and hands her a Product of her dreams, and all the problems are solved, these were the advertisements that dominated our TV screens for a while. However, in recent times there has been a shift to some ads now challenging gender stereotypes. These ads focus on how a woman's job is not limited to the kitchen and it is normal for men to work in the kitchen and help their wives. Some ads such as that of Shan promote an inclusive and progressive approach.

The following Shan ad shows a wife coming home from work tired and her husband then cooking for her, the ad perfectly ends by saying, "khana banana yah ghar chalana kisi ek ka kaam nahi." breaking many gender stereotypes. Even while a lot of ads have helped promote progressive ideas, it is regrettable that they occasionally receive criticism. When a 2019 Ariel ad promoted women empowerment "yeh daagh hamay kiya rokhien gy", it received huge criticism. The ad was stated as 'controversial' and many said to boycott Ariel as it went against Islamic beliefs and promoted liberalism. Meanwhile, when an ad breaking male gender stereotypes is challenged, it regards them as being the ideal figure who possesses diverse qualities. When Fawad Khan made chai for his wife in a tapal ad, Pakistani media went crazy calling him the 'perfect husband' and Dawn News went to the extent of saying 'You'll wish to be married to Fawad Khan.' This shows the duality that exists in the Pakistani media.

The advertising in Pakistan reflects the country's overall social landscape. Even though the winds of change have been blowing in society for long, it still struggles with deeply embedded gender stereotypes. It will take teamwork and dedication to questioning and changing long-standing norms, but the change is achievable.

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