Culture and society as a whole have undergone many changes since our grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ generation. Amidst the tide of the western influence came the new era of equality.
Equality between race, religion and of course, the sexes.
Today marks International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women and their achievements in a once male-dominated world. While some may argue that it is still patriarchal, the opportunities given to women have increased and glass ceilings have been smashed: What men can do, women can do too — or even better.
Advertisements, be it print media or digital, greatly reflects societal behaviours. It is vox populi — the voice of the people. How women were portrayed then versus now may be entirely different with the change in times. Society’s reaction to radical adverts then reflects its readiness for new changes and unconventional ideas, which may become accepted as the new norm in time to come.
Therefore, advertisements evince two dichotomies: catalytic cultural change and deep-set traditions. Accepting an advert means the latter, and an uproar means society will cogitate and the seed of change will take root.
Here are some advertisements shown in Singapore that contain feminism undertones and overtones. They, in their own unique ways, encourage and portray the women to be ahead of the game.
Singapore Armed Forces
A majority of our Singapore Armed Forces personnel are men — all of the Singaporean men, in fact. But that does not mean that women cannot join the army! SAF has been hard at work in ensuring that the female population feels just as welcomed as the men.
The posters up on the MRT stations have both a fair share of men and women to highlight the fact that women can also play a big part in protecting Singapore.
Women and their inordinate love for shoes. While commuters may casually pass this MRT station billboard off as an innocuous ad, it spawned a ‘complaint’ from AMARE (Association for Men’s Actions and Research) — a parody on AWARE (Association for Women’s Actions and Research).
The report was first published on spoof news site New Nation. As a retort to women’s gripes about patriarchy, AMARE felt that this particular SMRT advertisement is too pro-female. According to the organisation, “a lot of this kind of messaging saying violence against men is alright has been normalised to the extent we don’t think twice about it. But not anymore.”
Has the rights of women now trumped that of the men? While we know that New Nation and AMARE are parodies, it speaks volumes about how this advertisement is impactful enough to prompt them to stir the pot.
Dove launched a campaign called “My Beauty My Say” in 2016. Trying to break the prejudice and unfair stereotypes against women, Dove featured women who stood up for their own individual beauty, in hopes of encouraging more women to do so too. Dove and a few other brands kicked off the #femvertising trend, or fem-advertising, using female-empowered messages to advertise their products.
While some may say this objectifies women — the ‘buns’ bear a striking resemblance to a certain female anatomy — we think it’s a good use of humour. Furthermore, the whole tone of the advert plays up the women instead of belittling them. “ What women want. Women get.” It sneers at the men’s observation skills, albeit just in good fun.
Burger King has been known to embrace controversy in their advertising campaigns and this is one example of an ad that is bold and unapologetic.
This Van Heusen advertisement would have been condemned now, but it was normal back then. The role of women is no longer so singular as being confined at home (although there is nothing wrong with that, if that is your choice). We are now allowed to express ourselves and endeavour as the men do, and it is something worth celebrating about.
Compared to the advertisements of the past, we have come a long way in terms of advocating for female rights. Advertisers have to now be extra tactful in their campaigns, or face backlash from the public and have the brand go down in both women’s scorn and flames.
Happy International Women’s Day!