Do “Feminist” Pakistani Ads Actually Empower Women?

Every trend is a chance for companies to make more money and nothing is sacred. Whether or not their brand values truly align with those beliefs, they will exploit that trend. We have seen it all from #PaariHoRahiHai to special Ramazan deals. It is no secret that deeply patriarchal societies like Pakistan hate feminists and the #MeToo movement. Well organized incel groups waste no time in reporting social media pages related to women empowerment and sending rape threats to anyone who supports feminism. In an extremist environment such as ours, it’s weird that every brand is suddenly interested in “empowering women”. Today, I will be looking at some recent Pakistani ads that are following this trend and analyzing them from a feminist’s point of view.

Feminist Pakistani Ads I Hate as Much as Soggy Pakoras

I have to watch these everyday on YouTube even though I don’t really watch TV. I am sure you are suffering worse than I am. It’s time to let it all out!

Gori Not Lonely Glow & Lovely

First, let’s discuss the anthem, Mitti Ke Sau Rung, where Glow & Lovely “celebrates the diverse and glowing faces of Pakistan”. It’s a beautiful music video and the lyrics clearly condemn colourism. I was pleased to see amazing women from different professions, especially those that are deemed unsuitable for Pakistani women in conservative families. The problem is that the company is still selling the Fair & Lovely formula, just with a different name, and the public has already associated the original product as a fairness cream. This rebranding is a lame PR stunt and no one is fooled. This brand has done great damage to the anti-colourism movement for decades and will continue to do so.

Next, I want to look at their ads starring their brand ambassador, Mawra Hocane, who clearly ticks every box for local beauty standards and is quite fair for a desi woman. Here she is announcing the rebranding and claiming that you will get an HD glow, which is better than fairness. Doesn’t that just send the message that you will get even fairer now? That’s funny considering the formula hasn’t changed.

Another ad shows a college student throwing away her umbrella, the women’s cricket team, women driving scooters, a woman climbing a mountain and lastly, Mawra Hocane strolling in a park while the narrator talks about women being “free of shadows”, “ready to face the sun”, “embracing the light”, and the time being ripe for “flying in the skies” instead of being “scared of the sun”. She emphasizes that it’s the time for the “glow of confidence”. Sounds pretty inspiring, right? They’ve been carefully scripting their new ads to present a progressive approach when in reality, they’ve been exploiting the insecurities of desi women for decades with the exact same formula. Little girls are told to be scared of the sun and you’ve just been feeding insecurities with your products. You will also notice that Mawra Hocane is the only fair woman in this entire ad but Gori Not Lonely did not bother hiring a dusky model as their brand ambassador. So, you dusky ladies can get the “glow of confidence” but you can never be Mawra Hocane. 

The next one is so stupid that I have to quote the script.

“Fashion and makeup trends change but do you know what stays the same? My victory and the sun’s defeat in my fight with the sun. It sets in the evening but my glow stays there. Now, every face will glow.” *insert shots of two dusky models followed by one of Mawra Hocane* What is this nonsense about fighting the sun? You’re not even selling sunscreen! Your glow stays there? Don’t you wash your face all day? Maybe you reapply Glow & Lovely but wait, weren’t you just going on and on about the “glow of confidence”. What does that have to do with your product? I could just apply a facial oil or highlighter to get a dewy complexion. Why do I need Glow & Lovely?   

There’s another one titled, “Sooraj Se Jeet” where Mawra Hocane is on a drama shoot and says, “Whether the fight is with the villain or the sun, victory is always mine.” Not cute, sorry!

Only, two things can tire a woman: wedding shopping and of course, fighting the sun!

Don’t forget to take your big jar of Glow & Lovely to work ladies!

This one is the worst in my opinion. Mawra Hocane stalks forward and says, “Women have to fight many things but there’s one fight we can always win”. Any guesses?

Sunsilk Black Shine

Sohai Ali Abro is a university student and this Safdar sahab, whoever he is, acts like a sexist day-old samosa and tells her to leave the election campaign to him because her hair might lose its shine. First of all, fuck him! Secondly, why doesn’t she shut him down for implying that women are unsuitable for politics because they obsess over their looks? He makes it out like she prioritizes her looks and that she’s incompetent as a candidate because she maybe more concerned about her hair losing its shine during the summer. That insecure piece of elaichi in biryani wants her to dropout of the election over this stupid logic and she just tells him that she can handle both. No! Just no! That’s not the message we want to give to women. We don’t want to tell them using Sunsilk Black Shine will save their political career. The notion that women obsess over their looks is sexist. Men telling women that they are incompetent for any position just because they are women is sexist. How about you talk about your hair care range saving our time and energy during hairstyling? How about you tell us that it will prevent dryness and itchiness during the summer heat? How about you highlight the properties of these hair oils that protect our hair from damage? The beginning of this ad asks the question, “Why do we stop our women from moving forward?” The answer is patriarchy not dull hair!

In another ad from the same campaign, Sohai Ali Abro is driving a motorcycle and the narration says, “Break the doubt and ride it out”. In the end, she sits on her bike with perfectly styled hair after her “empowering” ride through the city and announces, “We will manage our hair and shine with pride too!” Lady, no one rides a bike with untied hair. You can tell that Zoya has never even travelled in a rickshaw before let alone a bike. Again, women who are unable to ride motorcycles are not held back by dull hair for the love of the last gulab jamun!

In their “shoutout to all the girls out there”, women are encouraged to “get on the trend and lead the way”. Listen Sunsilk people, history has given us countless female leaders and none of them “got on trend”. In fact, these trailblazers were oddities in their cultures and fought to give women a voice every single day. Queen of Egypt, Hatshepsut, had to wear a fake beard and male clothing to gain the same status as male pharaohs.  I assure you that Rani Lakshmibai did not watch this ad before leading a rebellion against her far stronger British oppressors. You really exposed yourselves with this ad because it proves that women empowerment is just a trend for you. Oh, and by the way, women empowerment is for all women not just women with hair like Sohai Ali Abro’s. How about we get some representation for other hair types in here, hmm?

Again, you mention “every style” but we get zero representation. We only got to see her in one hairstyle. What was the point?

Okay, so we got to see two new hairstyles in this ad so *applause* but did you spend all your budget hiring Sohai Ali Abro? She mentions driving bikes, kickboxing, operating drills, and winning elections. “Girls Can Do It All!”. Yes, we already know that because there are countless women in Pakistan doing these things. The reason that the average woman doesn’t know how to do them is because they are not taught these tasks and them doing them is connected to the “family honour” and even religious policing on “modesty”. Our patriarchal society deliberately keeps women ignorant and reacts aggressively to them learning these things on their own, and then it has the audacity to mock women for not knowing how to perform these tasks. There was never any doubt about what women could do. It has always been a case of “we won’t let you do it”. Just in case I wasn’t clear enough before, this has NOTHING to do with bad hair days.

“We won’t stop and we won’t bend”. It looked like the problem was with your heels not your hair so what was the point of this ad?

Surf Excel Daaghon Ka Champion

I hate this ad with every fibre of my being! I disagree with the girl child being held to the standards of a champion instead of focusing on gender equality, which is the primary goal of women empowerment. The idea that women are superior to men using words like champion, super and heroes is harmful in my opinion. It feels like the same old Pakistani counter argument to feminism: Heaven lies beneath the feet of mothers. Sure, I can be the best but are you making it as easy for me as you have made it for men? A girl can aim to be the best in her profession. I totally support that. It’s nice to see her brother cheering her on. She’s determined to land a difficult kick and it’s not expected of her either like her grandmother points out. The girl exclaims that she’s a champion so she must be successful in something that her peers cannot do. It gives the impression that she can do it because of her gender, not because she’s a great football player. The real reason I hate this ad with a burning passion is because her grandmother concludes, “The champion of stains is your mother.” Yes, I could see the women agonizing over a kid’s dirty clothes. Where was the father and why couldn’t he be the Stain Champion or whatever? It often seems like empowerment is only for little girls and young women while the older women are still stuck with the centuries-old toxic bullshit. In the movie Thapper, this concept is explored when the heroine’s father realized that he never supported his beloved wife’s dream of becoming a singer the way he supported his daughter’s interests. It’s the same thing. We aren’t free until all of us are free. How does this ad uplift women in any way? It doesn’t.      

Feminist Pakistani Ads Done Right

You’re probably tired of me being a negative Naila so let’s look at some Pakistani TV ads that I think inspire and empower women in different ways or at least have positive messages that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Stylo Apna Rung Own Karo

Right off the bat, you can see that the woman is trying to choose a shoe based on her complexion because she’s insecure about it. The narrator goes on to describe various positive traits in the woman that different colours remind us of. None of these traits are related to her appearance. They are all describing the delightful shades of her personality. That’s so well done! It’s about who you are not what you look like. “Girls stand tall!”. Every woman needs to hear that.

1000 Ways I Can Calcium Awareness TVC 2020

I love this! The song, the diversity, the positivity, and the acknowledgement of women as people instead of women presented in strict gender roles. Women’s health is a major concern in Pakistan and while women take care of everyone, they are drained and replaced. I genuinely feel appreciated as a woman.

MoltyFoam x Mashion #MaShaadi2020

This is beautiful! A single mother who has been raising her children alone for years after her beloved husband’s death finds love again. It is heartwarming to see the roles reversed when she asks her daughter whether she’s doing the right thing. The support of her children is something every parent should have when they make the choice to move on in their love life. A person does not stop being an individual with dreams and desires once they become parents. The search for love should not stop because you’ve reached a certain age. Widowed and divorced women are not “leftovers”. This one ad questions many toxic social norms and I’m here for it! “Celebrate Courage. Celebrate Choice. Celebrate Life.”

Lifebuoy Shampoo Tum Mazboot Ho

This year on Women’s Day, Lifebuoy highlighted the plight of women facing domestic violence and suffering silently while their daughters stand by helplessly. We see a little girl telling her mother that she wants to pursue different professions just so she can save her from her father’s cruelty. In the end, the daughter asks her mother to make her strong so that she could stand as a shield in front of her when her father tries to beat her mother. The message is about breaking the silence, standing up against domestic abuse and raising educated daughters with strong minds. You may report abuse at 1099. Lately, Lifebuoy Shampoo has been highlighting the importance of mental strength in little girls so that they believe in themselves and don’t stop their progress for anyone.   

There are dozens of other ads that I have not mentioned but I hope that brands and marketing agencies will stop exploiting feminism to make money while most of these creators might mock feminists in real life. Instead of hiring celebrities with the highest ranking, they could make female activists their brand ambassadors or at least hire someone in the field for consultation. These amazing women don’t have the reach that these companies have and sadly, this twisted brand of women empowerment is what the masses are learning about. That’s a problem. This is the time for feminist allies to make noise and share their disapproval of this brand of women empowerment that is taking us backwards instead of forwards.

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