Chinese brand Purcotton had to recently remove their advertisement for make-up removal wipes after widespread social media backlash for victim-blaming women in case of sexual assaults. The ad that runs a little over 25 seconds shows a woman being followed by a masked man at night. She then quickly proceeds to remove her makeup using wipes. When the stalker taps on her shoulder, she turns around and the viewers come to know that "she" is actually a man. Hilarious? Nope. Apparently, the blame for criminal offences such as sexual assault or stalking lies on everything and everyone, but entitled behaviour among men.
While the ad has now been withdrawn by Purcotton, the Internet is not a place from where you can delete your demeanours so easily.
What is this ad trying to tell the viewers? That wearing makeup makes women susceptible to street harassment? Or that a woman literally needs to turn into a man if she wants to escape sexual crimes? Or that women are so "unattractive" without make-up that a low-grade street stalker would reject you and move on? Each one of these messages is problematic. Purcotton's ad not only resorts to victim-blaming, but it also tries to make a joke out of it. It also seems to deny the existence of sexual crimes against men in our society. We have seen such plots a million times - men obliviously harassing cis men dressed as women or transgender people, thinking they are women, and then backing off in horror when they come face to face with their actual gender identity. This discourse has harmed our general understanding of gender and trivialised harassment.
Stalking is a crime, and yet that hasn't deterred ad-makers and media at large from romanticising it or mocking the issue. Closer home, we have winced helplessly when middle-aged heroes stalked young heroines in films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha or when makers demanded that we feel sympathetic to lost causes that didn't understand the meaning of woman's "no" in films like Raanjhnaa. Have we come much farther from the decades when heroes would shamelessly stalk heroines in the name of romancing them?
How do we expect young men to realise that stalking a woman or pursuing her when she is clearly uncomfortable in your presence is wrong? No woman should have to rely on a make-up removal wipe for her safety. No person should feel entitled to stalk another because the other is wearing make-up, or dressed in a certain way, or gives out any so-called signals that make you feel entitled to act in an uncouth manner.
For this to happen the media needs to fine-tune its understanding of sexual crimes. We need more women in every aspect of media from journalism to ad agencies, from filmmakers to writers, so that women can bring their perspective to the table, and flag a problematic idea, before it is executed.
In 2016, Ola did an ad featuring a couple roaming the market, with the woman halting to shop at every store. "He turned to the camera and apparently said, “Meri girlfriend chalti hai ₹ 525 per km, but Ola Micro chalti hai sirf ₹ 6 per km," says her boyfriend. In 2016, Jack & Jones had to take down billboards which showed actor Ranveer Singh carrying a woman on his shoulder, with the caption, "Don’t Hold Back, take your work home." These are just a few examples of how advertisements are replete with toxic ideas.
The fact that these ads were pulled only after they faced criticism on social media for the poor representation of women and callous attitude towards women-centric issues, shows how we lack sound voices in these spaces that hold the power to stop such misplaced ideas on the drawing board. Hopefully, with repeated criticism on social media, ad and filmmakers will be forced into rethinking their ideas and commit to a more inclusivity at the workplace, to ensure that such gaffes do not happen again.
Picture Credit: Reuters
The views expressed are the author's own.