Ideology of Post-Feminism: Portrayal through Visual Advertisements in India
Gowrisankar D*and Ajit I
School of Social Sciences and Languages,
VIT-University, Chennai, India
- *Corresponding Author:
- Gowrisankar D
School of Social Sciences and Languages
VIT-University Chennai, India
Tel: 91 44 3993 1555
E-mail: [email protected]
Received date: August 10, 2016; Accepted date: September 16, 2016; Published date: September 26, 2016
Citation: Gowrisankar D, Ajit I. Ideology of
Post-Feminism: Portrayal through Visual
Advertisements in India. Global Media
Journal. 2016, 14:27.
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Post feminism has started during the 80s, and it is a highly debated topic since the word “post” can be referred as “dead” or “after” feminism. Its goals are different from second wave and third wave feminism. Post feminism celebrates sexuality and says that women can be more empowered, free to choose and liberated. In the beginning, the post feminist generation has mostly focused on media. In the present scenario, there are many types of media available; for the purpose of study, the researcher has chosen visual advertisements in India and attempts to analyse how they portray the ideology of post feminism and its concepts through commercials. The method used for the study is textual analysis method. The present study attempts to find whether the post feminism ideology is present in the selected visual advertisements.
Post feminism; Feminism; Advertisement; Textual analysis
The term ‘feminism’ has been coined in the year 1960. Before
that, the centre concept behind it has been known as women’s
rights. Feminism has three waves. The first-wave has happened
between the mid 19th century and the early 20th century. It has
been 1999 called the suffragettes movement . The major
writers of the wave are Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.
The second-wave has surfaced between 1960s and 1970s. During
this time, the liberation movements spread all over the world
. The extremism the second-wave feminist has exhibited to
bring out their plan to achieve equality and freedom for women
has made it infamous among its progeny . Feminist theorists
like Betty Friedan, Kate Millet (The Feminine Mystique) and
Elaine Showalter (Feminist literary criticism) have promulgated
“activism” as a female ethic.
The term ‘post-feminism’ has been first used in 1919 in the journal
“Female Literary radicals” in which radicals of the day declared
that, “We`re interested in people now – not in men and women,
that moral, social, economic, and political standards should not
have anything to do with sex, that it would be pro-woman without
being anti-man and that their stance is called `Post-feminist”
. Officially, in 1982, the New York Times magazine published
“Voices from the Post-Feminist Generation” written by Susan
Bolotin in which she reintroduced the term “Post-feminism” after
which the term has gained much popularity.
During this period, post-feminism has started spreading to the
Western countries. The critic Amelia Jones has written that the
post-feminists texts, which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s
have portrayed the second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity
and overtly generalized in their content. Some contemporary
feminists, such as Katha Pollitt and Nadine Strossen, put in the
simple terms “women are people”. The views that take apart the
sexes rather than bringing them together are considered by these
writers to be sexist rather than feminist .
Post-feministic ideology is a new form of empowerment, individual
choice, independence, consumer culture, fashion, hybridism,
humour and (sexual) pleasure, and the renewed focus on the female
body can be considered important for this contemporary feminism.
Post-feminism lies within the world of academic paradigms and
can be located on the connection between post-modernism, poststructuralism
and post-colonialism. In the present scenario, postfeministic
views are applicable for every field a person could possibly
think of. Brooks in his book Post-feminisms: Feminism, Cultural
Theory and Cultural Form  states that “Post-feminism is not
against feminism, it’s about feminism today.”
Characteristics of Post-Feminism
In early 1980s, the media has begun to classify women in their
teens and women in their twenties as “post-feminist generation”.
After twenty years, the term post-feminist is still used to refer
to young women. Post-feminism is a highly debated topic since
it implies that “post” refers “dead” or “after” feminism. Postfeminism
celebrates sexuality and says that women can also be
empowered through working in the sex industry as strippers and
adult film stars. Post-feminism is fuelled by advances in abortion,
employment and fertility laws and concentrates on furthering
the idea of empowerment, celebration of feminists, freedom of
choice and liberation.
Women in visual media
Advertisements in both print and audio-visual media reach all
types of people. For advertisements, very attractive women and
teenage girls are mostly used to promote the product through
their acting skills. Advertisements in the 1980s have portrayed
a woman as a homemaker serving her husband and children
at home. Later in the 1990s, even though they have portrayed
perfect and complete man, women are showed as a sex pictogram.
The women have been shown sexy, abused, insensitive and
hormone-driven female chauvinist. There have been many new
advertisements being launched every month but the concept and
idea have been often new when compared with the old ones.
The present concepts in advertisements avoid the stereotyping
approach. While they portray an independent woman who
is successful in her career, which inspires and motivates the
young girls and registers a positive note in their minds to no
longer spend time on useless activities. Advertisements are
made in a very attractive manner that they appeal to both
men and women regardless of their age. Advertisements are
often made to celebrate what is happening in the society.
Events like International Women`s Day reach a wider audience
by commercials which promote consumer items through the
concepts based on liberated career-driven women. Most of the
advertisements are based on the present scenario. To create the
catchy advertisements, there are many private media companies
running day and night all over the globe. They come up with apt
concepts which are suitable for the target audience based on the
products that they are going to sell. In this way, media helps a lot
in keeping people aware of the feministic views.
Post-feminist views in media
The term ‘Post-feminist’ with regards to poetry has been, for the
first time, used by Carol Rumens in her anthology titled Making
for the Open: The Chatto Books of Post-feminist Poetry .
Rumens have clarified the use of the term ‘Post-feminist’ in her
introduction to the anthology. As a post-feminist supporter, she
has applied the concept in the fields of media sector like print
and visual media. It has reached earliest in England, Germany,
the United States and other countries. The post-feminist ‘equality
portrayals’ of women are visible in cinema, electronic and mass
media advertisements and also in literature in the form of
avoidance from depicting a young woman as passive, inferior,
weaker and subordinate to a man. The impact of ‘the girl poser’
has been recognized, and women are represented as more
assertive. Self-assured and confident women are shown as having
equal footing with men. Even if some portrayals appear sexist,
women are not shown as ‘victims’. The new women proclaim
their womanhood in a bold manner.
Post-feminism has started in the media field in the year 1982.
The feminist critics have explored the concept through media. It
has showed those traditional felinities which are not allowable
through feminism. These include an unabashed return to men,
a spotlight on consumerism, reconsideration of motherhood
and attempts at home life. The individualism, domesticity and
consumerism are presented through powerful TV shows and films
like Bridget Jones Diary. One of the modern novels (which also
has its film version) concerned with feminist criticism is Bridget
Jones`s Diary by Helen Fielding which portrays society`s views of
single women in contemporary societies. The protagonist of the
novel is a strong and independent person and her worries are
that she does not want to arrive finely living alone without the
support of man when she grows older.
Textual analysis comes out of the work of theorists known as the
French structuralists in the 1960s, particularly the work of Roland
Barthes (1915-80), who have believed that any kind of popular
cultural product could be ‘decoded’ by reading the ‘signs’ within
the text. It is one of the most important tools media researchers
can use to understand how meaning is made from media text.
Media theorist McKee  says textual analysis is a way for
researcher to gather information about how other human beings
put together intelligence of the globe. It is a methodology-a datagathering
process-for those researchers who want to understand
the ways in which members of various cultures and subcultures
make sense of which they are and of how they fit into the world
in which they live.
Textual analysis is a toolkit for examining the media forms such
as advertisements and to more complex forms such as news
narratives, television series and films. It is also a toolkit for media
reaction that wants to convey a certain message or that tries to
convince audiences to think in a certain way. For the purpose
of this research paper, the researcher has conducted textual
analysis of advertisements. In this textual analysis, the researcher
has looked for difference in the relationships between postfeminist
view of female characters and post-feminist ideology in
The research question is how the ideology of post-feminism is
portrayed by visual media in India? The researcher has watched
the latest advertisements which are always shown on TV and
other forms of visual media. Seven advertisements which are
permeated with the ideology of post-feminism are selected for
the study. They are:
• Forest Essentials Ayurvedic Cream
• Wedding Jewellery by TBZ Garlands
• DaburVadika Hair Oil
• Titan Ranga: “Woman of Today”
• Havells’ Coffee Maker
• Havells’ Fans
Avoiding stereotypes is an important feature of advertisements
which carry the hallmark of post-feminism. For instance, in the
advertisement ‘Wedding Jewellery’ by TBZ Garlands, the model
Katrina Kaif talks about the concept of the right time for marriage
denying the old school thoughts which condition women to stay
at home after marriage. The commercial gives awareness to
women and makes them catch hold of the post-feminist concept
through its strong female character.
Another advertisement by Home Appliances has ideas as endless
as their gadgets. The commercial depicts the Indian customary
scene of seeing a bride where the mother of the boy laments that
her darling son seeking a wife suffers so much in his bachelor life
abroad and has to step out even for a cup of coffee. The defiant
girl firmly places her coffee-maker before the startled boy, saying
“Take this one and settle down, no travel authorization problem
either”, as she wants only to be a wife, not a kitchen appliance.
This advertisement stands against the stereotyping concept which
has been there for ages that emphasizes women’s space in the
kitchen. For breaking the stereotype mindset, this advertisement
has earned the glorious Cannes award .
Femina, the advertisement of the brand, opens the scene when a
traditionally dressed girl with all her jewels and an expensive silk
saree approaches directly facing the audience. Then the camera
starts to pan around the house which she has just entered and it
lets us know that there is a marriage function happening there.
On her way to a room she casually looks at a middle-aged man’s
photograph and closes her eyes suggesting that she is looking for
his blessings. Finally she enters a room and there is a middle-aged
woman in her bride costume looking at the window sadly. The
table turns out when the girl calls the middle-aged woman ‘Ma’,
it makes the audience to understand that it’s the second marriage
of the middle-aged woman, and the person in the picture is
her ex-husband. The concept totally breaks all the stereotypes
rooted in tradition which makes a woman’s life empty after her
Dabur Vatika hair oil advertisement tells us the tale of a woman
who has survived cancer and lost her hair due to medication.
Even though she looks tonsured, her family and colleagues are
very happy with her real beauty. She gets comfortable with the
society, and the advertisement demolishes the stereotypical idea
Support for Female Characters
Most of the advertisements are made with female actors. It gives
the clue that the post- feministic ideologies play a vital role in
the marketing industry. An Ayurveda cream advertisement titled
“Warrior Princess” is directed by Carole Dennis. It tells us the
story of the transformation of a warrior maiden sent to battle.
Cream is rubbed on her forehead before she mounts a horse,
sheathes a small sword and ride off with a small group. It shows
female courage and enthusiasm to the audience.
The main goal of post-feminism is a woman’s individualism. Mc
Robbie introduces a new `female individualism’ which dismisses
the ‘old’ feminism. Feminism itself is seen to belong to the past
which characterizes the post-feminist woman of popular culture
in individualism, sophistication and choice. The advertisement
‘Woman of Today’ featuring the Bollywood actresses NimaratKaur,
which has made by the company Titan to sell their wrist watches,
tells the audience that a woman has every right to make the
choices of her own. It also has the tagline `Her Life Her Choices’.
Mostly, the female actors from the film industry are used in the
advertisements to showcase the women’s identity in the society,
since the target audience of these commercials is women. It
portraits every individual woman from different fields of the
workplace, for example, IT professionals, students, home makers
and so on. An advertisement for ceiling fans from Havells has
been launched in the year 2013.The concept of the ad is to avoid
patriarchy, and it also shares a socially relevant view on changing
one’s name after marriage. In the commercial, a couple goes to
an office for registration. At that time the husband decides to
take his wife`s last name after their marriage, and it makes the
female registrar to get surprised and satisfied. The couple from
the ad has given a simple and yet never noticed lesson to the
society. The Indian advertisements of the recent times give a lot
of importance to women identity when compared with the old
Impact of Advertisement on Society
Advertisement is a medium of communication to send productrelated
messages to customers along with various features of
the products advertised. Each advertisement sells a product
with a concept and a trending topic. At present advertisement
companies have become a critical component for the overall
advertising market. Social networking sites like Facebook and
Twitter are also becoming a powerful platform for advertisements
to reach a wider audience. Through media, the message about
the product can be heard within minutes. While the viewer’s
watch the advertisement, the message gets into their minds and
its impact reflects on the society.
In the 21st century, media has reached a cutting edge development
in terms of technology and reaches all over the world .The
researcher has focused on visual media for his study because it is
very effective and memorable owing to the use of characters and
concepts which can occupy the minds of the audience for a very
long time. In India, many new products are getting launched every
month. During the festival times, innumerable advertisements
appear. India has 29 states and 22 official languages. A huge
number of people watch television as a means of entertainment.
The programmes in such genres as serials, films, sports and
games, talk shows and news are the major ones being watched
by the audience. No matter which programme a person watches
during his/her leisure time, each programme has a commercial break for 7 to 8 minutes in every 30 minutes of its run time. While
the viewers watch the advertisements, the particular products
will get fixed in their minds. This is the method how the products
and the concept are getting into the viewers’ belief and trust. This
paper has concluded that post-feminism ideology is available in
the selected advertisements.
The concept of post-feminism has its both positive and negative
aspects since it is a debatable topic. One of the wide spread
negative aspects of it is that it is suitable only for the Western
countries, which is a wrong assumption. For, in the present
era, many post-feminist supporters in India support the media
for its work just like how a good idea is appreciated all around
the world. The present study is a pointer to the fact that postfeminism
ideology is available in Indian advertisements, and they
tend to change people’s mindset with every new advertisement
launch in the popular visual media.
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