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Essay: The Impact of Femvertising on Gender Inequality in India

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Historically, not unlike the rest of the world, women in Indian advertisements were objectified or portrayed as shy and dependent on men and needing validation from them (Dr.A.Krishna et.al, 2015). The roots of gender inequality in India are usually traced back to a society that has been brought up to heavily revere patriarchy and considered women to be players on the sidelines (Reshma Thomas, 2013). This perception of women made it acceptable for companies to advertise in a manner that either fueled gender stereotypes or put women down.

Femvertising refers to advertisements with the aim of motivating women to feel empowered (Elisa Becker-Herby, 2016). While it is a concept that has been gaining traction all over the world to make women feel confident of who they are and emphasize the fact that they are just as capable as men, Femvertising in India is more about reminding women of their most basic rights, subverting the paradigm of patriarchy and shattering abysmal taboos that have developed over the years. Westernization, industrialization and social media have resulted in a shift of trends (Saranya P. S., Dr. P. P. Vijayalakshmi, 2017).

As women are becoming more educated and realizing their potential, their tolerance towards gender inequality is decreasing. There exist advertisements that focus on popular gender inequality issues such as an advertisement highlighting discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. (But) the ones that go on to become crowd-pleasers deal with more pressing issues such as domestic or sexual violence, menstruation-related taboos or the confining of women to domestic chores that still persists in certain areas.

This paper examines how the concept of gender equality has gone through multiple phases in India, its current status and the role that feminist advertisements have played in bringing about a change in the way in which the Indian society thinks of a woman. It opines that femvertising has at least triggered a slow progress towards basic gender equality in India, particularly among middle class individuals, if not a major influence in changing people’s perceptions. (REFERENCES)

A Brief History of Women’s Rights in India

Little known is the fact that women were highly respected in the society in ancient India. Child marriage was not the norm and the education of women was encouraged. “Upanayana ritual was obligatory for girls, and this must have ensured the imparting of a certain amount of Vedic and literary education to the girls of all classes” (Anant Sadashiv Altekar, 1938). According to the Mahabharatha, there have also been times when men sought advice from women on religious and political issues (Satya Shri, 2017). But religion has always played an important role in dictating the lives of people in India. As a predominantly Hindu country, beliefs pertaining to Hinduism have been held with high regard. The introduction of Manu-Smriti, a religious text, changed the status of women in society. While it states that women need to be honored, it held plenty of contradictory statements regarding the rights of women.

A few excerpts from the Manu-Smriti –

“It is the duty of all husbands to exert total control over their wives. Even physically weak husbands must strive to control their wives.”

“Consuming liquor, association with wicked persons, separation from her husband, rambling around, sleeping for unreasonable hours and dwelling – are six demerits of women.”

“Women are impure and represent falsehood.”

“Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.”

“Any women violating duty and code of conduct towards her husband, is disgraced”

These ideologies led to the derogatory practices such as Sati (widow burning). Moreover girls were starting to be married off at a very young age leading to a sharp decline in the number of girls being educated. This in turn, led to the woman being dependent on her husband leading to the practice of collecting dowry from the bride’s family. The fear of having to shell out a huge sum of money for a daughter’s wedding led to the atrocious practice of female infanticide and then female feticide.

The Rise of Feminism in India

The movement of feminism in India can be split into three phases –

It is interesting to note that the first steps towards women empowerment in India were taken by a man. Raja Rammohan Roy, followed by other social reformers such as Keshab Chandra Sen and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar rose against child marriage and the practice of Sati.

During the fight for independence from the British, Indian women were encouraged to take part in protests instead of merely watching from the sidelines. Women’s participation in the struggle for freedom developed their critical consciousness about their role and rights in independent India. Taking part in India’s struggle for freedom made them aware of their role in the society, as well as their right that they could demand for, as women.

Examples of Feminist Advertisements in India

Femvertising became popular in India in the early 2010’s. A few issues tackled by these advertisements are as follows

– Whisper’s Touch the Pickle: Menstruation

Menstruation has long been considered unclean by Hinduism. A woman who is menstruating is not allowed to enter temples and, in some homes, even the kitchen merely because she is considered to be dirty and could make her surroundings impure. A common superstition states that if a girl on her period touches a jar of pickle, it will rot. Sanitary Napkin brand Whisper tackles this taboo with the message “On the days you have your period they say “Don’t wear white, don’t go out, don’t play, don’t touch the pickle!”. I say “Girls, lets break the taboos. Go ahead and touch the pickle!”

– Ariel’s Share the Load: Domestic Equality

A good example of femvertising that broke the internet and was in the list of the 10 best marketing campaigns in the world (World Advertising Research Centre) in 2016 would be that of detergent brand Ariel. Ariel’s “Share the Load” advertisement conveys a strong message about how women should not be the only one doing domestic chores. A father writes an emotional letter on his way back from visiting his daughter apologizing for the fact that she has to manage her office as well as her house all by herself. He apologizes for never having stopped her when she played “House” as a little girl and told her that his wasn’t her job alone. He adds that he could not because he himself never helped his wife, implying that children imbibe what they see. This played a huge role in bringing into realization the fact that 2 out of 3 children believe that household chores are a mother’s job. [1]

– Vogue’s Empower Series: Domestic Violence, Rxxe, Women’s Rights

“Boys Don’t Cry” sent out the message that individuals need to focus on teaching men “Boys don’t make others cry” rather than “Boys don’t cry” referring to widespread domestic violence in India. “One-third of women age 15-49 have experienced physical violence and about 1 in 10 have experienced sexual violence” (Health Education to Villages, 2006). “Going Home” tried to portray a utopia of sorts where a woman can feel completely safe asking a car full of men she doesn’t know to drop her home in the middle of the night, a mockery of how that situation is far-fetched in India. It sends out the message – “Can we give her the world that she believes exists?”. “My Choice” highlights basic rights that a woman should know she can demand such as wearing what she wants, that she can choose to have pre-marital sex or not get married not change her surname and choose not to have children.

An Assessment of the Impact of Feminist Advertisements on Gender Equality

Femvertising improves the perception of women towards the advertisement as well as towards women (Drake 2017). It also increases concerns about women in men with younger sisters while increasing awareness of stereotypes among women and a change in the way they expect to be treated by men (Abitol and Sternadori, 2016). But femvertising can also perpetuate traditional gender stereotypes under the disguise of making women feel empowered (Bharadwaj, 2017), especially in advertisements showing women in powerful positions.

Femvertising is be a good way to emphasize on existing gender stereotypes and get men to empathize with what women go through.

There are also other factors to consider when trying to assess the impact of femvertising in a developing country such as India.


While it is observed that femvertising in India can be moving, its effect is rather momentary than lasting. An advertisement encouraging women to empower themselves is highly talked about at a certain point of time, but mere talk is not sufficient to change habits and perceptions instilled generations ago. Real empowerment comes from educating and enabling women as well as men.

The worst forms of gender inequality exist largely among the poor, be it rxxes or child marriages. There is no purpose to the messages femvertising seeks to spread in a country that is considered to have the largest population of illiterates. Crimes such as honor killings, rxxes and female foeticide have been increasing over the years. A few minutes of well-crafted, emotionally appealing and persuasive words and visuals cannot cause a revolution in changing the attitude of people towards women. Moreover, it can also be observed that most brands only jump on the bandwagon when it comes to femvertising. This undeniably increases sales solely due to the fact that the target market of brands that send out feminist messages are not the ones that need to be influenced but are people who are already aware of the vitality of gender equality to some extent and do not face extreme forms of gender inequality. This is not the aim of feminism.

Femvertising undeniably highlights the importance of “girl power” but does not contribute anything to the movement of feminism. Gender equality in its true sense can only be achieved through educating young minds and when women stand up with each other, for each other and against any sort of discrimination or violence they face for being women.


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