Only in Pakistan can women become ‘white’ and men restore their ‘manhood’ using soap

Published: November 2, 2014

Are ad executives telling us that the men with high pitched voice or men who use beauty soaps are not real men?

It is unfortunate that even in today’s day and age we have issues concerning gender identity. In fact, they have become more complex than ever and people are seen spewing offensive slurs at those whom they believe don’t adhere to their idea of a ‘specific’ gender.

What is worse is that things don’t end at picking on effeminate men or masculine women; it goes as far as people wanting to restore traditional (read: ancient) gender roles where men are the bread winners for the whole family while women are ‘property’ that stay home, serve their men and pop out babies.

As if hideous products like that ‘whitening soap’ named after and endorsed by an elderly celebrity that encouraged women to change their skin colour to white wasn’t enough, we now have a soap promising to restore your ‘macho manhood’ just by using it.

Let me walk you through the advertisement of this ‘manly’ soap.

The ad begins with a frame showing a couple of guys sitting together, feeling insecure and uncertain whilst they check out a good-looking girl, not really sure if they should ask her out or not. After some time, one of them gathers the guts to approach her – only to get turned down. After this, a supposedly attractive man appears on a bike and, predicting the obvious, all the women start ogling him, while the other guys start feeling even more insecure and pathetic. Suddenly, the attractive man screams in a high pitched, squeaky voice and shouts ‘badtameez’ – only God knows why – and everyone starts laughing at him. Then what is seen is a vision on its own: animated flower petals begin to flow out of the attractive man to depict that he smells like flowers. Perhaps it was the advertiser’s idea of a joke and wanted you to think that the man was screaming like that because of the soap he used. Instantly, in the next frame, the voiceover goes,

“You shower with a beauty soap and then show attitude as well?”

And then a shirtless, and might I add completely hairless, Caucasian-looking guy appears and tells you to use this ‘man-soap’ (yes, apparently it’s a thing) for it has a “storm of freshness and confidence”. Also, might I add, the motto of the soap is “mardon ka bharam” (men’s attitude).

Seriously? Is this how low our advertising agencies have stooped?

I can’t believe that the ad executives or whoever is behind creating this abomination are this ignorant! Are they telling us that men with high pitched voices or men who use beauty soaps are not real men? Who are they to pass such judgments?

I wish it was only these marketing executives who thought this way but it looks like we, as a society, are used to these kinds of stereotypical ideas. Lets jog your memory, shall we?

Recently, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) held a jalsa in Karachi and the chairman of the party was insensitively referred to as ‘gay’, ‘hijra’, ‘girl’ and was also bestowed names like ‘Billo Rani’. Why? Just because he comes off as what one might call as a little ‘effeminate’? Do we really think this little of our women and transgender community that, if we have to insult someone, we compare them with women and transgender people?

All of this may be very amusing to you today, but let me tell you something, to the people behind that soap commercial and all those who subscribe to the stereotypical ideas of gender roles and identities, what you’re starting now doesn’t end here.

Soon, there will be people – in fact there already are such people – who say that ‘real men’ have body hair (sorry soap guys, even your projection of a ‘real man’ can’t beat that), men don’t wear pink, women don’t wear blue, and so on and so forth. Stereotypes like these have a domino effect and before you know it you will be hearing someone say that women can’t work in leading roles and men shouldn’t cook. And shortly after that, you will hear others saying women shouldn’t work at all. And this will continue until we go back to living like cavemen.

Is that really the kind of world we want to live in?

Farhan Janjua

Farhan Janjua

A blogger at FarhanJanjua.com, Web Content Editor at Dunya TV and Regional Editor at Future Challenges. His interests include law, media, politics and tech. He tweets @FarhanJanjua (twitter.com/FarhanJanjua)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shahana

    Agreed.The worst thing is that ignorant people believe that these gender roles are natural, and women are born just to pop out babies and cook.
    My husband once came out of the shower without shampooing his hair. The reason was: I bought clear ‘women’ instead of ‘men’. Just because of the ‘women’ label he refused to use the shampoo. I mean seriously? what difference does that make?
    By the way we have the most annoying, pointless and stupid ads. Our advertising agencies need to learn something from India.Recommend

  • Hamza

    Couldn’t agree more! You just expressed my thoughts Farhan Janjua!Recommend

  • Mahin

    Agreed. Don’t understand why being a woman is such a crime anyway. Not to escalate things, but the fact that a man picked on it, from our society seems like maybe some of us are going in the right direction, and there may be some hope for us after all. In any case, our advertising media can learn a thing or two from Indian adverts. Each washing powder add, cooking oil dramas, and rafhan packets end up stereotyping our already sexist society, against men and women both,Recommend

  • Kashif Shazad

    You nailed it with Clear for women incident. hahaRecommend

  • Kashif Shazad

    In my opinion they sell what we want to buy. The advertisement has contributed nothing to the already present presets of this society which demands for gender stereotype. I wore a purple maroon Kurta on Eid, which I had purchased from one of a leading outlet; only to be tagged as a Gay later by my own friends.Recommend

  • Mohammad Zubair khan

    Well , picture is only one sided, not clear picture presentRecommend

  • psychicenemy

    not only a problem with Pakistan is it? I am sure many of you have seen the alcohol containing shampoo for “man hair”. If you have not look it up youll come to terms that this problem is parochial to Pakistan only.
    Not to mention Old Spice adverts are known for subtle sexism.
    Myopic outlook?Recommend

  • Sami

    The Ultimate Irony is that you are taking a Stance against Certain Stereotypes but you are generalizing and stereotyping the whole Pakistani Society yourself!! Talking on behalf of 180 million people and giving statements about them is the worst form of Stereotyping in my view and you should avoid such discussion next time.Recommend

  • Shakeel

    Only in Pakistan? I suppose bashing Pakistan helps keep any article”trendy” nowadays. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it accurate. The premise that this gender stereotyping is an exclusively Pakistani problem is ludicrous. This is the mainstead of western advertising. Soap that makes you a man? – Check the ads for Ax body spray. Skin whitening – India is the worlds largest market. Beyonce is routinely whitened up in fashion shoots using photoshop. Look for the adverts for Herbal Essence shampoo, it drives women to orgasm. Even more subtle things. Its always mothers preparing quick and easy ready-meals in kitchens, always women astonished at how white thier laundry looks with a new detergent.

    I agree with the overall premise of the article, advertising shouldn’t sink to what it has, there is a fine line between typically gender defined roles and negative stereotyping. I just feel its unnecessary to start with a kick at Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sid

    Oh no brother, such ads are pretty popular all over the world. These days they show some super model in carl’s junior burger ad. And you can bet all you got that lady would never be eating things like carls junior instant heart attack guaranteed full fat burger or she would never have such a zero fat body. Selling a product with residual message of beauty is a pretty old trick in ad world. So don;t get disheartened by it. Cheers :)Recommend

  • Zohaib

    The slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slopeRecommend

  • Udaya Bose

    India is no different. Excepting it is deodorants for men here.Recommend

  • Hamza

    Okay first of all, comparing the ads for Ax or Herbal Essence to this is ridiculous
    Ax and Herbal are exclusive gender-based products. Their marketing campaign needs to target the desired population segment. Their ads don’t tell men and women that behaving like the other gender is shameful or embarrassing.
    The Pakistani product mentioned here is also exclusively for one gender only and the marketing has to be carried out like that. But the ad aims to tell men that acting like a female, having an “un-manly” voice etc. is shameful. Now that’s not something Ax does.
    Moreover, our society is already quite sexist and such advertisements only make it worse.
    And besides,
    The author is Pakistani. He lives in Pakistan. Why would he care about what happens in India or somewhere else? Just because the society of another country is sexist and discriminating ( if they are), means we should follow suite? How about forgetting what happens anywhere else and just correcting our own country’s society?Recommend

  • tungi

    usually its the fragrance differenceRecommend

  • Jayman

    Okay, the manly soap ad may be a little over the top but only just. John Abraham comes on Indian channels muscularly holding a tube of Men’s whitening cream (how the cream doesn’t come shooting out despite his iron grip is beyond me). He will have us believe implicitly that the secret of the way he looks is due to this cream that he is plugging.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Men have muscular hair and women have soft hair. Women’s shampoo? Are you kidding me? You don’t want your man’s hair to go all limp, do you?
    (Sometimes, I don’t think I understand women at all.)Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Aww geez .. why blame them . As long as there is demand , there will be suppliers.Recommend

  • guest

    ‘our advertising agencies should learn from India’ ?!?

    Are you trying to be funny? well its not working!Recommend

  • Yumna

    what a non-issue!
    masculinity in products targeted towards men is a basic insight! Every consumer studies that we conduct indicates how men want their products to look ‘tough and manly’. Brands and their advertisering agencies do nothing else but turn those insights into concepts and ads.
    Plus advertising is not meant to be an engine of social change, its just a projection of the psyche of a nation – they do what they are supposed to do – solve ‘problems’ people ‘claim’ to face. bas. They are SUPPOSED to be self-serving, as simple as that.
    Bitter pill? but that’s the reality.Recommend

  • MARAAD

    How much ironic you may find it, but the Hijra part made be chuckle a bit.Recommend

  • Hamayun Faiz

    yeah genius you are right…those people over ck,chanel are idiots who made different perfumes for male and perfume….Recommend

  • Red

    Muscular hair? What on earth is muscular hair?Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    They show what you people want to see. Then why create fuss?Recommend

  • Mohammad Irfan

    Such Ads are only meant to target audiences that are of the “illiterate” class – those who will actually believe that using such products can make them more “Manly”. The majority of the population in Pakistan is illiterate, and hence advertiser create ads that target this demographic group.Recommend

  • Jayman

    It’s a man thing you know. Got a scanning electron microscope handy? No? Take my word for it.Recommend