The old black and white image of a smiling woman balancing a man’s shoe on her head makes one wonder about the kind of mindset behind the shoe advertisement.

Although other reproduced advertisements in the Uks Resource Centre’s Diary 2020 titled Advertising — Women of Pakistan: Time to See and be the Change, which was launched here on Saturday, may not be as shocking, several still show men and women in stereotypical roles.

For example, women are shown promoting cooking oil, serving tea, selling beauty soap, fairness creams and shampoos while the men are depicted selling shaving razors.

But, there are advertisements showing couples riding bicycles, a little girl and a little boy fixing their toy car or skipping rope together, and women breaking free from the clutches of centuries-old stereotypical gender roles by working as taxi drivers or chemists and girls excelling in sports or studies.

‘Since feminism is selling these days, we are getting to watch men serving tea for their better halves’

According to the Uks director, since 1998 they have taken care to bring out a diary every year which has a fresh and meaningful theme. This time the 2020 diary is about advertising and how women have been portrayed in Pakistani advertising through the years and what kind of advertisements are printed or broadcast here.

For this, the Uks team combed extensively through archival material from the 1950s onwards to learn about the kind of advertisements produced during those days. A marked difference found between advertisements being produced today and those made decades ago is that modern ads contain far more glamour and artificiality with sexual connotations.

Ad and PR woman and human rights communications expert, Seema Jaffer said that women are influenced by ad campaigns but a recent change that she has seen is women raising their voices against what they see and don’t like.

“For instance, Pakistani cricketer and [former captain of Pakistan’s women cricket team] Sana Mir recently called out [film star] Mahira Khan’s hair removal cream ad for body-shaming girls,” she said.

She also felt that putting women behind the camera was also bringing about a change in the kind of advertising shown on TV but there was now a need for men to change their way of thinking and see women in a new light.

Journalist Afia Salam shared her observations about advertisements on television which give the impression that boys’ diet is more important than girls’. So they are shown gulping down milk and food supplements while girls are shown enjoying cola drinks, she said.

“In India, there has been a shift in beauty standards with the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign in which actress Nandita Das talks about the obsession of Indians for fair skin. But she is spreading awareness about the unjust effects of skin colour discrimination.”

“The campaign challenges the belief that the value and beauty of people are determined by the fairness of their skin colour. And here we have slogans such as ‘Gora hoga Pakistan’ giving way to low self-esteem,” she said.

But, the advertisement agencies are after all a service industry where the client is always right and clients usually feel that girls add glamour to ads, she said.

Psychologist Dr Asha Bedar reminded that young people are impressionable and advertisements change with trends and demands.

She pointed out, “Trends won’t change until societal thinking changes. Since feminism is selling these days, we are getting to watch men serving tea for their better halves.”

“But advertisements, where a husband is ridiculed at work for his dirty shirt and daughters-in-law trying to appease their mothers-in-law with their cooking, are still very much there.”

Originally published in Dawn, January 19th, 2020