Subtle sexism in advertising

Dear Editor,

Lurking around every corner of the media is a threat to gender equality and the eradication of sexism within our social construct. I wish to direct your attention to the print advertisement within the pages of Kaieteur News on Wednesday, March 4, by Fibre-Tech Industrial Plastics. The ad talks about the perfect kitchen, stating that “Your kitchen is a reflection of you; it is every woman’s dream.” It is pretty cavalier to think that this would go unnoticed and unattended to.

The changing roles of women have been very clear in our society, more so with the announcement of Mrs Harper as the prime ministerial candidate of the PPP/C. Women such as Mrs Janet Jagan, Dr Vindhya Persaud, Mrs Shalimar Ali-Hack, Ms Daphne Rogers and Dr Mellissa Ifill and other unsung heroes such as my mother and aunt, have all been identifying and defying boundaries and limitations set by history for women. So then why, in the year 2015, when the feminist revolution is upon us, are we still associated with the 1950s concept of the kitchen being the rightful place for a woman?

The normalizing of slogans and advertisements of sexism via the multimedia has created a space where a subtle adjustment to the idea that women are defined only as the ‘roti making type’ and men, as the ‘roti eating type’ has been taking place. The problem has been building up like a gas leak; it is subtle and unobtrusive until you can’t help but notice that it’s pretty loud and inflammatory. The effects of such labels are an indictment of civilization and sound reasoning.

Benevolent sexism, reflected in Stag’s ‘it’s a man’s beer’ and Mackeson’s ‘Behind every successful man there is a Mackeson’ (2013), asserts that if there is no direct reference to women being inferior or incompetent then there is no need to assume that sexism exists within the concept. This, however, is untrue, and is frankly more damaging than hostile sexism. The play of words encourages the viewing of women in the opposite light from the way in which the man is portrayed. It is thereby using reverse psychology to maintain the status quo.

The question remains why then are we still having this conversation when according to Guyana’s 2014 National Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcomes of the Twenty-third Special Session on the General Assembly (2000), “The Broadcasting Act 2011 provides the policy guidelines with regard to constitutional rights, prohibition of discrimination, stereotypical and denigrating portrayals of women, vilification of any religion or ethnic and racial incitement, and coverage of violence and graphic images of violence, pornography that would be seen by children. Government consistently counters stereotypes and prejudices through education and awareness campaigns in the mass media including print, radio and television.” The question then becomes, why are the laws not being implemented?

In Stabroek News dated January 14, 2015, it was reported that Massy United Insurance in Trinidad had pulled an add with the tag line ‘God’s Gift to Women’ after claims on social media of it being sexist and insulting to women. In July 2014, the Antigua Observer reported that CPL defended Chris Gayle after he had made a sexist remark to a female reporter at a press conference stating that he was “… having a laugh with a journalist …” Both instances prove that sexism exists on different levels of social interaction and it suggests that it was only noticed after it was pointed out by the prying public eye. Marketing managers have an inherent responsibility when developing concepts to ensure that the strong message of gender equality and respect for the personal choices of women are never compromised. It is the marketing executives who are the first filtration system that ensures such dissatisfaction never reaches the public. If by some unexplainable lack of understanding, the sexist inexactness reaches the public, the long arm of the law should be functional and employed to its fullest extent.

Editor, I would like Fiber-Tech to know that the dreams of women are more far reaching and wide. We dream of being presidents and ministers; astronauts and scientists; singers, actors and artists. We dream of leading a nation where gender is no longer a relevant question on a job application; where pink and blue isn’t a tool used to differentiate a boy from a girl; where ‘be a man’ and ‘girly’ both mean accepting responsibility and rising to the occasion.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8, I am demanding that Fiber-Tech revisit its marketing strategy.

Yours faithfully,
Guneshwari Preiya Methuram

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