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The Rise of the Strong Woman


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There is a quote from Mao Zedong “Women hold up half the sky” that implies men and women are equal. Yet even in 2017, women face numerous challenges that men do not- unequal pay, violence, human trafficking and sexual slavery, discrimination in academia and the workplace and under representation in politics.

Consider how women are typically portrayed in advertising. Are women presented in different roles that reflect reality? Are they given agency and celebrated as individual human beings who are worthy and successful? Or are they presented as stereotypes that define society’s expectations of what women should be?

One of the most common stereotypes is the homemaker/mother- a woman who is always very decently dressed, inundated with everyday tasks, endlessly concerned with her offspring’s life. She exists to provide.

The other stereotype is the beautiful vapid girl. She’s obsessed with improving herself physically, focused on minutiae like the shape of her eyebrows, the smell of her underarms and the shade of her skin. Seemingly her only goal in life is to get married. She exists to provide an avatar of perfection.

But women as we know them are so much more than these two dichotomies. Not only do women make up half the population, they hold important, irreplaceable roles. Mother, daughter, sister, lover, friend, teacher, leader, mentor – can you imagine life without women?

Women also drive up to 80% of consumer purchasing. And they are no longer content to be put into little boxes, forced to look at themselves again and again as cookie cutter stereotypes.

Thus, the rise of the strong woman in modern advertising. Recent years have seen a welcome revolution in ads that present women as more than just a nurturer or sexual object, tackling issues like body image, health, gender roles and ambition.

So as we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, lets take a look at some of these ads from around the world.

Dove’s Evolution is the ad that started the change the conversation about unrealistic portrayals of female beauty.

P&G’s #weseeequal tears down stereotypes and gender roles.

SKII’s Leftover Women shows Chinese women firm in their refusal to be pressured into marriage.

Always’ #likeagirl asks what so bad about doing things “like a girl”?

Barbie’s Imagine the possibilities encourages young girls to be whatever they want

Nike’s إيش حيقولوا عنك؟ About Us shows us a completely different side of being an Arab woman

Pantene Phillipines’ Labels Against Women celebrate strong women in the workplace, telling women not to let labels hold them back.

Reebok’s Perfect Never has Ronda Rousey stripping away the trappings of conventional femininity to be totally herself.

Benetton’s United by Half urges women to demand for equality. In all things.

There’s even an app by agency BETC that tracks how many times men interrupt women in conversations to highlight inequality at the workplace!

While advertising plays a limited role in actually improving women’s lives, it is still heartening to see ads that acknowledge and celebrate women as individuals.

We would love to see a Malaysian brand launch a campaign featuring strong women. Will it be you?
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