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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sensitivities and Sensibilities: Moving Beyond The Festival

As it became apparent once again, Art - like most creative forms of expression, is often debatable or debated. But ads?

A girl student has mailed me to ask "If an image has to help in trying to sell products to women, why do ad agencies use one that men are more likely to find exciting? Are bare shoulders necessary to sell something worn on the wrist?" (Italics mine - Z)

She sent me this as one example and has asked where she could protest about advertisers who use women's sexuality to market goods.

Answers, anyone?

Just to put things into a global perspective: "Today, the media industry is worth billions of dollars. DirecTV, a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation, the world’s largest company, now sells more graphic sex films every year than Larry Flynt, owner of the Hustler empire", says C. J. Onyejekwe (Sociologist).

Much of this has to do with the male myth of being superior - a myth, supported through years of patriarchy, if not originating in then certainly being strengthened by religious views. wtf!

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Blogger sarah islam said...


This is for the little girl who wrote to you asking where she could protest "about advertisers who use women's sexuality to market goods".

Little girl,

First of all, you have picked a badly designed, overly busy piece of drivel that some genius of an art director has been able to sell to his client. Good for him or her!

Now to come to your wish to protest against it. Advertisers normally choose 'aspirational' images to get their potential customers to notice their product. Right?

So this image is not meant to grab only male eyeballs but is also going to speak to women who are in the right target audience and might want to see or better still, buy Sara Taseer's products.

Now what do I mean by the "right target audiuence?" I mean women who are

a). still interested in looking good by wearing nice jewellery

b). live in cities, probably go to work and hence have the right to choose what they should buy or not buy

c). want to see a certain kind of model to showcase products for them so as to rival the gorgeous hordes of beauties that they regularly see in Indian magazines or other foreign ones.

So which of these things appears objectionable to you?

The fact that she has bare shoulders? Child, that is nothing to be offended about. It is her body and she has the right to show it off.

You are a student and it is people like you who are going to lead your country in the future. If you start protesting about bare shoulders today, tomorrow perhaps a bare faced woman on the street would also be deemed improper. Is that the kind of Pakistan that you want to live in?

Think about it.

13 April, 2009 12:30

Anonymous Saad said...

Can she protest? Absolutely - she has already used one method for registering her protest and if this is an issue that she believes should be debated in the larger public arena than she should take it to that arena. However, in my opinion, it is difficult to define her cause: is she going to protest against the consumer that buys the product as a result of the advertisement or the advertiser that feeds the demand (-if only all consumers were rational decision makers eh?-)? It's a circular debate that can only lead to circular arguments and therefore one that is difficult to resolve.

13 April, 2009 13:04

Blogger Zakintosh said...


maybe you didn't read it through. She "has asked where she could protest about advertisers who use women's sexuality to market goods"

13 April, 2009 15:32

Blogger Zakintosh said...

@sarah islam

will pass on your comments to her and post her response. but i have some disagreement with your comments, too, which I may comment on later.

13 April, 2009 16:40

Blogger sarah islam said...


Looking forward to your comments:-)

13 April, 2009 17:32

Anonymous saad said...

Zak: My mistake - however, the point still remains that in the society we live in protesting against advertisers without protesting against the very basis of consumerism (which drives all advertisement) is not going to accomplish anything. Even if we lived in an ideal world and all existing advertisers were to amend their ways, there is nothing to stop million others to fill the void created. Unfortunately, it is only through development of the advertisement industry but more importantly the consumers' tastes that we will see advertisements being driven by engaging ideas rather than the easy, lazy idea of using a woman's sexuality for selling everything.

Sarah: I disagree with your extrapolation of exploiting a woman's sexuality for marketing purposes to curbing her freedom. The two are opposite causes: the girl is standing up for women's rights not against them.

13 April, 2009 19:31

Blogger sarah islam said...


Look, baring her shoulders is hardly sexual exploitation is it?

If she was underage or the ad was for some sleazy product like hakimi aphrodisiacs or something, yes it would have been in extremely bad taste. Or if the girl didn't know that her photos would be used to sell Sara's jewellery.

I only see this model doing a very routine photo shoot for a product that she has been paid for (I hope) and her body has not been used provacatively withour her consent (I hope, again).

The only thing that I would complian about (if I was the model) was that the art director and the copywriter are really bad :-)

13 April, 2009 20:02

OpenID khawerkhan said...

"If an image has to help in trying to sell products to women, why do ad agencies use one that men are more likely to find exciting? Are bare shoulders necessary to sell something worn on the wrist?"

What this ad is selling is the image of being attractive and appealing. The same sorts of images are found in most women's magazines; skinny, light skinned, stereotypical Caucasian features (even for "colored women"), and upper class aesthetics.

The values of the dominant global class (rich ,largely white and almost entirely male), are reproduced all around us. By definition this class controls the means of production. It is not just women that are conforming to this elite male understanding of beauty, men too follow fashion trends established by the consumer society.

13 April, 2009 20:30

Blogger Zakintosh said...

With so much happening here in the past two days, this will have to take a backseat until Friday, by when all your comments will have been read by the student and, maybe she'll have something more to say/ask.

Meanwhile @ sarah islam

I have many points of disagreement or comments to make about your long note but will confine myself, for now, to the one aspect I found most objectionable: Your patronizing use of 'little girl' and 'child'!

My objection, as part of my anti-school stance (as well as in my capacity as "learning facilitator") is that these appellations are used, for the most part, by 'teachers' in their arrogant attitude of trying to 'put the young students in their place'. I say this not just because I, along with many others, found it to be humiliating when it happened to us — complete with the accompanying finger-waving — but also because the teachers we most recall in later years with affection, rare though they were, are those who did not 'talk down' to us but treated us as young adults.

These terms also perpetuate the myth that grown-ups know best. They don't! If they did, would we be living in this fucked-up world today?

14 April, 2009 21:10

Anonymous BeanZ said...

When I was young and foolish, I was deeply enamored of the advertising industry and desperate to join an agency. I was 13. Forgivable, yes? While I remain a loyal disciple of David Ogilvy, I have since grown up, and find the the world of advertising largely despicable and a horrifying reflection of a society of mindless lemmings. Brand managers and client service execs shape our views and aspirations and we willingly cede control over ideas and language because nothing bothers us any more. We justify everything because it's convenient and indicative of progress.

My response to the young student would be based on her age and experiences. Today's woman who appears in dumbass ads like Sara Taseer's Desi Girls, is certainly not being exploited but, assuming the student is a young teenager, has she had the opportunities to question, discuss, argue, and arrive at this conclusion? Probably not, given our repressive culture of stifling voices and young people being put down and marginalized, as some have even done here. It's so much easier to be patronizing and dismissive without helping a young person to arrive at a conclusion by providing a historical background and context.

I am actually thrilled to encounter a young person who has the political will to want to protest about something and wants to know where and how. Now, one could sit down and have a conversation with her and deconstruct the ad and all that it represents, or dismiss her as being immature and silly for being offended by the woman's bare shoulders.

I personally find the last two lines of the body copy obnoxious and contradictory. Zak, I'd love to meet this young woman and chat about advertising and consumer culture, and take this debate to a deeper level, beyond women/exploitation. We may just have in her another 'jammer to add to our merry band of dissidents :D

16 April, 2009 09:10


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