The first week of June 2022 witnessed the gangrape of a teenage girl in Hyderabad. As the investigation is still underway, six young men are named as accused, five of whom are reportedly minor. This, once again, points to the fact that women and girls continue to be unsafe especially in public spaces. According to the National Health Family Survey (NHFS) – 5 report, nearly one-third of women in India experience physical or sexual violence.
Ironically, around the same time, a misogynistic ad of a deodorant brand Layer’r Shot cleared several approvals and went live on traditional and social media media channels.
Why are the ads misogynistic?
The two ads, the first one in a room, the second at a supermarket, features a group of men and a woman, suggestively using the phrase “taking a shot”; a pun that is not so subtle in a certain sexual context. Several online users have found these ads not just distasteful but highly problematic. One can apprehensively say that those who have written these ads, are very well aware of the language used. Not only that, the expressions are not subtle and the camera angles know exactly what needs to be captured. In brief, the depiction has strong sexual connotations normalising harassment and violence against women.
After several protests and an uproar online, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in India banned the videos from airing on TV or any other platforms. The Ministry has cited violation of Rule 3(1)(b)(ii) of the Information Technology Rules, 2021, which states that users may not “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information which is insulting or harassing on the basis of gender.”
“Rape Culture is an environment where sexual violence against women is normalised: through comments, content that trivalises violence against women (like the ad in question) among others..”
Now the question is, despite having rules in place, how did content of this nature even get clearance from the agency, the brand and the broadcasters?
Many who watched these advertisements were left furious. From celebrities, professionals to certain officer bearers, many claimed that the ad promotes rape culture.
Hence, before we delve deeper, let us first understand what is ‘Rape Culture’.
Rape Culture is an environment where sexual violence against women is normalised: through comments, content that trivalises violence against women (like the ad in question) among others. Often supported by media, cinema and pop culture, rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, and the objectification of women – something that society adapts or consumes with complete disregard to women’s rights and safety.
What about Systemic oversight?
Coming back to the ad and its consumption at multiple levels, the ads were aired during a cricket match which was broadcast on June 3. They were also simultaneously being played on Youtube, Twitter and other social media platforms. One can imagine the number of people of different age groups who would have viewed the video or consumed the message every second through multiple platforms.
Many social media users tagged the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), asking them to take the ads off air. It was following this public outcry that the ads were suspended.
Is the ‘clarification’ by the brand enough?
The brand has now issued a ‘statement of clarification’, citing two important points. First, the statement says, the videos were aired after “mandatory approvals”, and secondly, it further goes on to say that the “wrong perceptions” of the audience is the reason for the backlash.
Now, one of the questions that arises is how did the brand not see what several hundreds of online users saw? A blatant representation of a scenario where potentially a woman is being threatened. This is what can be called the normalisation of sexual offences on screen – through such ads, posters, games and also mainstream cinema. Also known as rape culture.
The brand hasn’t really accepted where they have gone wrong and perhaps that’s the root cause of several problems. Until that mindset changes and the system strengthens, there is a long way to go in ensuring violence free world for women.