The stereotypes perpetuated in Ghansham’s ad for Alesie still play a huge role in oppressing Guyanese women today

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my displeasure with the Alesie rice advertisement featuring Joel Ghansham (www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_Z5AiNssaM).  I don’t know how long this ad has been around, but I just recently saw it for the first time. The ad shows a family preparing for a visit from Mr. Ghansham. My problem with this advertisement has to do with the gender stereotypes that it perpetuates. The women in the ad are washing and sweeping while the man relaxes in the hammock; it is also the woman’s job to cook the meal for Mr. Ghansham.

I realize that cooking and cleaning have traditionally been women’s tasks, and that many women take pride in their ability to do these things well. In a more equitable world however, more men would also cook, wash, and clean, and such tasks would be recognized as ‘real work’, with proper wages, since many women spend a great deal of ‘real’ time doing such work daily.  Some may think that this is a trivial point, but I would argue that it is vitally important because these tasks take up time that women cannot then use to do paid work. Also, the gender stereotypes perpetuated in this ad still play a huge role in oppressing Guyanese women today. Too many of our girl children still believe that the most important thing in life is for them to be good housewives, and too many wives are beaten by their husbands for ‘failing’ in these areas.

Also disturbing is the last scene of the advertisement when Mr. Ghansham credits Alesie rice with helping him maintain his trim figure, instead of looking like the overweight sister-in-law who hangs her head in shame as he points to her disparagingly. It is commendable that Mr. Ghansham and Alesie rice are promoting healthier eating, but consumers need to realize that just because an item-like Alesie rice- has a low glycemic index (GI), this does not mean that it is healthy. For example, chocolate has a lower GI than oatmeal, but no one would argue that chocolate is healthier. A healthy body weight is indeed something we all should aspire to and try to maintain, but a balanced diet with less meat and more fruits and vegetables, smaller portion size, and daily physical activity are also important factors in achieving this. Also, a person can be slim and still unhealthy, so body size alone should not be used as an indicator of good health. Finally, ridiculing overweight individuals, while it may get laughs and help sell a product, is cruel and not something we should be encouraging.

It is disappointing to see a popular figure like Mr. Ghansham, in an advertisement like this which perpetuates these negative stereotypes about women. This is especially disappointing given the fact that a great deal of Mr. Ghansham’s success has come because he himself has challenged the traditional gender stereotypes of Guyana. As a well known personality, Mr. Ghansham is a role model for many and plays a role in shaping the public’s perception.  He has a responsibility, therefore, to be more thoughtful and careful about the images that he projects and perpetuates in his work.

It is crucial to Guyana’s development, I believe, for our girl children to be exposed to a variety of visions of female success, as well as encouraged to seek fulfillment in any avenue that interests them, not just the usual, socially sanctioned ones.  Also essential, in my opinion, is for Guyanese- men especially- to embrace a more holistic understanding of gender, like Mr. Ghansham has done, where one’s success is not limited to narrow definitions and spaces. Men with this holistic understanding would partake in housework and caring activities voluntarily and without shame, would support their sisters, daughters, wives, female friends and colleagues in non-traditional roles, and would raise their boy children to do the same. Maybe then, we will see a lessening in the scourge of gender-based violence that has poisoned our society.

I would like to urge Mr Ghansham and Alesie rice to remove this offensive advertisement immediately, and to be more creative as well as socially conscious in their future advertisements. True advertising innovation would be ads that feature men cooking for their partners and real health promotion must include vegetables on the plate, as well as carbohydrates.

I look forward to hearing from Mr. Ghansham and Alesie rice on this matter.

Yours faithfully,
Sherlina Nageer, MPH

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