Why can't you sell burgers in Pakistan without sexualising women?

Why can't you sell burgers in Pakistan without sexualising women?

We speculate on the nature and origins of grossly sexist advertising in Pakistan.
17 Feb, 2016

Have you seen the latest advert by popular burger joint Hardees?

Of course you have. It's the one where a woman invitingly opens her mouth only to have it sized up by a tape measure. The caption running across the image reads 'Big Enough?'

This advert adds to a long list of other, similar promotions by Hardees and other brands that sexualise women and co-opt their bodies for commerce.

Remember the ad about Hardees' 'perfect buns,' where two buttery soft burger buns were on the verge of being squeezed by a feminine hand? Or the one where the words 'Have me now' are spliced over an image of a woman's face? Or the one that made ingenious use of the word 'swallow,' also plastered right next to a decidedly female mouth?

And then we can't forget how eatery Table No. 5 used a decidedly sexist agenda to push their products too.

Ads like this have been out of vogue in international markets for decades — their unabashed sexism made sure of that. There's hardly any reason for me to wax on about how these ads are heavily gendered and that too in favour of a heterosexual male audience, to whom sexual innuendos that hint at a woman's near-constant availability may appeal.

Why, then, do these ads continue to persist in Pakistan?

Naysayers will say these ads aren't sexist at all.

So we thought it best to preempt such comments and offer up our own speculations as to the ads' true nature and intentions.

Here are our thoughts:

1. These ads are an attempt to bolster the male ego and compensate for shortcomings, imagined or real

Case in point: this most recent Hardees ad reveals the frailty of the male ego and also, its misplaced optimism. What we mean is, look at the tape measure. The ad indicates that the size of the er, sandwich being referred to is 10 inches. Now, has anyone seen a Pakistani sandwich ten inches long? No, right?

We think it's safe to say this ad is your average Pakistani male's pipe dream (no pun intended) brought to life. And can't we all forgive a little (no pun intended) hope?

Of all our speculations, we think this is the only one that may stand on its own.

2. Women find these ads funny too

Yep, we totally giggle when we're being objectified and we find it just hilarious when we're being sexually taunted through billboards all over the city. Hahahaha.

Actually, no. The 1950s called: they want their sexist "humour" back. Why must eliciting laughter be done at the expense of women?

In a country where some men still think that red lipstick makes a woman, and I quote, "look a little too available with it, you know?", we are in no position to just laugh off such ads.

3. These brands are firm believers in the mantra that no publicity is bad publicity

It could be that like a needy significant other, the eatery just wants some attention. After all Nando's manages to do that quite successfully with their own clever puns on chicken — so why can't a brand like Hardee's engage in a little harmless teasing too, right?

Wrong! I mean, seriously, mothers are not going to bring their children for lunch to your joint after school, or ever, if the walls are plastered with this:

4. These ads are ironic, and are a commentary on how the male gaze consumes women

This is the most far-fetched of our speculations, but also the most wishful, because it would be really great if the intention behind these ads was to mock gender stereotypes and shame sexist behavior.

Unfortunately, we can't help but believe these campaigns are 100% un-ironic. If you notice, a lot of these ads showcase parts of a women's body, like they've been dismembered and the only the ones that serve the men a purpose have been retained. It perpetuates the concept that a woman's body is not connected to her mind and emotions i.e she's not a real person. The subliminal message? If a woman has a big enough mouth, who cares who she is?

All this brings to mind a similar marketing campaign by Table No. 5. The eatery was in hot water after pushback on social media for its not-so-subtly-sexist ads, and they devised a plan to get back on track.

Whether they've followed through or not is a different story but maybe Hardees should look into doing the same because it's only a matter of time before the women stop being really annoyed by their ads and start getting really, really angry.