By Laurence Pantin
Monday, June 17, 2002
A Mexican mass-media campaign is tapping into the power of advertising to challenge the country's pervasive gender bias and declare that it is time for a change.
MEXICO CITY (WOMENSENEWS)--Mexican women's rights groups are fighting gender bias through a national advertising campaign in which men are portrayed as victims of injustices that usually affect women.
One TV commercial shows a man leaving his office and saying his boss just fired him because he's expecting a child. Another man says he won't be able to go to work because he has to take care of his sick daughter. Finally, a teen-age boy sadly says he's going to have to help at home because his father prefers his sister to go to school.
The ads end by asking how a man would feel if he had to face these situations--which are everyday issues for women--and saying it's time for a change.
The ads run often on TV, radio and in newspapers all over Mexico. Activists leading the campaign believe that by changing the popular culture through advertising, they will eventually affect progress on a practical level: in family life, business and government.
The campaign is a strategic departure for Mexican women's rights activists, who have tended to push for reforms by designing public policies and legislative proposals they want implemented, said Julia Perez, a coordinator at Themis, an association offering legal consulting to women that is participating in the campaign.
"But at the end of the day, there still exists a means of education and it is the media, which keep presenting the same roles, the same stereotypes, the same values," Perez said. "We thought that on that level, too, we could do something."
The Grupo de Educacion Popular con Mujeres, A.C. (Group of Popular Education for Women) and Themis decided four years ago to launch the print, radio and television advertising campaign that would fight sexist stereotypes and to repeat the effort every year.
The project, with a slogan of "Atentamente, las mujeres" ("Yours sincerely, women"), is just one of several initiatives that have flourished in Latin America in the last few years to challenge sexism through advertising.
"In general, women's representations keep on being sexist," said Ana Guerra, director general of Imagineria, Casa de Publicidad, the advertising company that created the "Yours sincerely, women" campaign.
"In advertising, women do not work," Guerra said. "They wash. They live seeking their children's recognition. They remain stupid."
Even though advertising tends to be highly gender stereotyped worldwide, Latin American ads may break records for their misogyny, said Veronica Romero, an advertising professor and researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico). She noted that advertisements frequently portray women as perfect housekeepers literally obsessed with their family's well-being and having no other interests or abilities--a representation that is not so recurrent in American or European advertising.
The first phase of the anti-bias campaign showed the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes in society by reproducing expressions people use every day without realizing their undertones, such as "If she was granted this promotion, she must have slept with her boss," or "If you want to work, then why did you have a kid?" in order to push viewers to question their own opinions and attitudes.
The second phase demonstrated alternatives to these attitudes by portraying a woman saying she didn't have to sleep with anyone to get a promotion and a man saying he'd hired women and never had any problem with them.
In its third year, the campaign focused on girls and promoted the idea that like boys, they should aspire to challenging jobs and positions of authority. One ad showed girls saying they knew they were capable of becoming doctors, senators or presidents.
This year's campaign is designed to expose areas where discrimination against women persists, such as in the labor market or the family.
It is telling that ads in Mexico never show a woman leading a group of men, said Romero, who is not involved in the campaign.
"There's still discrimination in many ads regarding women's labor role," said Romero, "where they haven't yet become as capable as men."
In Argentina, the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer (Center for Women's Studies) tackled the problem of sexism in commercials with the support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women by creating an award for non-sexist advertising in Ibero-America. The award has been issued every April since 1998 as part of the annual Ibero-American Advertising Festival in Buenos Aires.
This year, the jury granted the first prize for non-sexist TV advertising to an ad for a supermarket chain whose slogan was "Argentinean women are beautiful." The ad showed women of all races and ethnicities who don't necessarily adhere to society's usual beauty standards or who perform non-stereotypical activities.
One of the difficulties of determining an award winner is in distinguishing between ads that are sexist and others that might be merely offensive, said Xavier Trevino, a reporter at the Center for Information on Women in Mexico and a member of this year's jury.
For this reason, the Center for Women's Studies has established guidelines on how to detect non-sexist ads. These are commercials that show women in untraditional roles; that propose diversity by portraying men and women from different social, economic and racial backgrounds instead of the usual white, slim male or female; that do not use violence; that break with stereotypes by showing a man instead of a woman scrubbing the floor, for instance; that respect men and women's dignity by not portraying humiliating situations; and that promote gender equality by presenting men and women sharing professional and household responsibilities.
"The goal of such an award is to influence the market and advertising firms," said Trevino, "so that firms have to integrate these criteria as their own."
But the problem isn't just that ads are sexist, Romero says. Citing Mexican ads in which women are portrayed as so stupid that they don't even know how to drive, she said, "This image doesn't come from the commercials. It comes from Mexican society in general."
Indeed, sex bias is still very much present in Latin America, and in Mexico in particular.
Women represent only 35 percent of the Mexican workforce and the 10 percent of men who earn the highest wages earn 50 percent more than the 10 percent of best-paid women, according to government studies.
Perez of Themis noted, however, that while the campaign is national and reaches most Mexicans--who can either see it on TV, listen to it on the radio or read it on posters--it doesn't reach certain indigenous communities that do not speak Spanish.
Translating these ads into indigenous dialects is costly and the associations behind the campaign haven't had the resources to do it yet, she said.
Laurence Pantin is Women's Enews' correspondent in Mexico City.
"Atentamente las Mujeres" tendra su espacio en
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Grupo de Educacion Popular con Mujeres, A.C.
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