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Breaking Stereotypes in Movies and Advertising


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Sexism is new normal thanks to movies.

Throughout Hollywood history, men have always played the leading role. Sure there were a few leading women, but we were mostly under-represented.

What are your favourite movies? Do they pass the Bechdel test?

Here’s how you’ll know:
1.    Does it have at least two (named) women in it?
2.    Do they talk to each other?
3.    Do they have something in common besides a man?

The truth can be awkward place.

Thankfully, it’s a bit different today.

Movies like ‘Frozen’, ‘Maleficent’, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ have a strong female lead. Damsels in distress don’t always need a prince to save the day.

But here’s the million-ringgit question: Do female-driven films make good movies?

The new all female Ghostbusters made a lot of people upset. Fans of the original movie complained that their childhood were ruined. The reboot is currently the most disliked trailer on YouTube, accompanied naturally by a host of misogynist comments. Check it out below:

Despite all the hoo-ha, the movie came in at no.2 in the North American box office, and raked in USD$46m during its opening weekend. Go girl power!

ghostbusters girl power

Can the same be said in adland? Here are a few ads that break gender stereotypes and empower women.

1. Bodyform – Blood

In this case, blood includes not just menstruation but all kinds of bloody discharge. Women are bruised and bloodied because ‘no blood should hold us back’. Raw. Honest. Grounded. Far better than the usual commercial where a (male) scientist pours blue liquid on a menstrual pad.

Why blue? Again, Bodyform comes to the rescue:

2. Always – #likeagirl

Doing things ‘like a girl’ is bad. It implies effort that is weak, and ineffective at best. This affects the self-esteem and confidence of young girls. Always wants to change that. The video garnered over 85m views on YouTube from 150+ countries. As well, there was a double-digit increase in brand equity during the course of the campaign.

3. Pantene – Labels Against Women

Men are neat, women are vain. Men are bosses, women are bossy. Pantene believes labels shouldn’t hold a person back. This spot, developed in Manila, promotes a great message but perhaps they could have also used darker-skinned models. Fair skins are generally perceived as more desirable in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is a big fan: “This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen illustrating how when women and men do the same things, they are seen in completely different ways.”

4. Dove – #mybeautymysay

It’s easy to judge people by their appearances and we’re all guilty of that, to some extend. This campaign is a follow-up to the highly successful ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, and encourages women to just be whoever they want to be. It’s “My beauty, my say.”

While we’re still a long way from total equality, the media world is shifting from objectifying women to empowering women. It may be slow, but it’s getting there.

Bill Bernbach said, “We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics that we forget we can create them.”

As marketers, media owners and advertising agencies, we have a role in creating the world we want our children to live in.

Of course in business, girl power needs to serve a profit imperative. But if almost 50% of the population are born with XX chromosomes, wouldn’t that be a good enough reason?

In closing, we’ll let Beyonce have the final word.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13: Singer Beyonce performs at the Staples Center on July 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Beyonce

How can your brand empower women?
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