Perception of Woman, the Ad Industry and the Male Gaze #AuratMarch2019 #MeToo

by in Inspiration

Source: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Disclaimer: As we flex our muscles with social discourse we try our best to not be biased on ideas presented hereon, which is precisely why this platform is called ‘The Pitch Deck’- where we meditate on ‘cognitive dissonance’ while hoping to spark dialogue and challenge the status quo.

With ‘selling’ as the primary motive, a lot of content produced by the local Tv Ad industry has become subliminally a tool for the male gaze.

Mass-produced, representation of women in the context of everyday slice of life has become glimpse for the male’s voyeuristic point of view for his mere fantasy.

Photo: Screen grab from Nargis Fakhri’s Jazz & Sadaf Kanwal’s Nurpur Commercial

Many local Tv commercials and shows incorporate the concept of pleasure that is the joy of ‘looking’, in turn feeding the male gaze.

And then there is a rise of new-wave alternate narrative that reflects empowerment of women.

Photo: GulAhmed’s #MeinPerfectHoon Campaign 2017

Many Tv commercials are produced to cater to the male gaze, yet also become arguably what some women may view as self-expression and liberation.

It may be empowering for women in a culture of repressive conditioning and an environment that is dominated by patriarchal ideologies, however it may also possibly end up becoming narcissistic in nature.

Intended for women to ‘look’ at the woman being portrayed, to admire her, be identified with her character and desire to be that woman.

So to speak, to be mesmerised by the image and actively objectify oneself by wanting to be the ‘object’.

However, choosing to do so in itself is a feministic statement of sexual liberation which still ultimately feeds to the male gaze.

The bigger problem is the perversion that is bound to happen in a society, that has oppressed women for decades and served as a foundation for disregarding gender equality.

Artwork by Samya Arif, originally designed for The Herald magazine.

This perversion is enriched by the very same values and modus operandi- of the culture factory i.e. the ad industry- it is operating in.

Predominantly, women’s portrayal in our media is always directed at men. This gaze one adopts is often assumed to be that of a male, because it is the women being objectified.

Watching women dance in their kitchen as they cook in a private setting, makes the audience’s gaze voyeuristic / fly-on-the-wall in nature.

Given a set of societal roles that are submissive in nature, or made to be the centre of attention as an ‘object’, representation of woman- in the general local content we consume (ads, dramas, tv shows & films)- is often intended to look inducing.

And that is why you see larger than life billboards and print ads with all kinds of sexual innuendos, featuring women while we the insignificant consumers let the associated brands and products live in our minds, subconsciously.


Seriously, what does a girl holding her hair, have to do with Cheese?

Photo: Hardees Print Ad campaign.

If a brand wants to hike their cooking oil product sales, all they can think is to put three women inside the kitchen, let them dance as food magically cooks: And there you go voila!

You have a successful ad campaign!

Photo: Hania Amir’s Dastak Cooking Oil TVC. 

How about an ad for a fizzy drink? Doll up a girl, have her gulp down spicy hot food, make her swear and they’ve gotten your attention!

Photo: Meera Sethi’s Sprite Commercial

The issue is not bad copy or content or rather lack of better ideas but a mindset that is so wholly fixated on investing in eroticising women, subtly or blatantly entertaining the male gaze.

Rudimentary in this paradigm that is money-driven, anything goes when it comes to the whims of its moral and ethical compass, which has no bounds but a varied spectrum in its shades of grey.

It is no surprise that our culture factory, the media and ad industry produces content that more than occasionally and subliminally, cater to our deepest darkest fetishises and desires.

This male gaze phenomena has in fact contributed to the disproportion of power imbalance which is in coherence with the patriarchal status quo, propagating women’s real life sexual objectification.

Has the media: ad, film and tv industry collectively littered our minds? Step out on the streets, even burqa laden girls are not spared by the male gaze.

Photo Courtesy:

Again, it is really no surprise what a recent anonymous leak of a letter- by a 19 year old girl- shed light on, depicting her horrific experience of being manipulated and then sexually assaulted by a well known music video and tvc director, inside his apartment.

The root cause is our damaged perception of the woman. This conditioning has passed down generation to generation and it’s safe to say that the media has paid its due role in maintaining and validating this power structure.

And with the wave of narratives based on women empowerment there are a handful of campaigns that have started a meaningful dialogue but do we as an industry lack common sense for producing better ads that are value driven and not just attention seeking?

Considering the rise of Aurat March, as women protested against oppression and for equal rights through all kinds of messages (obscene or dignified), challenging the enduring dominance of the masculine and patriarchal structure, the fragile egos of many men seem to be shaken up.

Photo Courtesy: Asif Hassan

Although it sounds dark, but this quote from Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek from the documentary, ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’, sums up this whole psychosexual dilemma aptly!

There is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural about human desire. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire. Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what to desire, it tells you how to desire.- Slavoj Zizek

We reviewed ads that used their marketing from a woman’s perspective, for Woman’s Day.

Read here: Pakistani Brands on Woman’s Day

Hassaan Islam, founder & director of Aperturewood Films, a writer at heart with a die-hard passion for making films that tell genuinely authentic and heartfelt stories. On his free time Hassaan likes contemplating existence to find purpose that is beyond temporal happiness. His major interest lies in the evolving landscape of media and its transcendence into the digital world.

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