Only in Pakistan can women become ‘white’ and men restore their ‘manhood’ using soap

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This blog post was originally published on The Express Tribune Blogs

Screen grab from Macho soap commercial

Screen grab from Macho soap commercial

It is unfortunate that even in today’s day and age we have issues concerning gender identity. In fact, they have become more complex than ever and people are seen spewing offensive slurs at those whom they believe don’t adhere to their idea of a ‘specific’ gender.

What is worse is that things don’t end at picking on effeminate men or masculine women; it goes as far as people wanting to restore traditional (read: ancient) gender roles where men are the bread winners for the whole family while women are ‘property’ that stay home, serve their men and pop out babies.

As if hideous products like that ‘whitening soap’ named after and endorsed by an elderly celebrity that encouraged women to change their skin colour to white wasn’t enough, we now have a soap promising to restore your ‘macho manhood’ just by using it.

Let me walk you through the advertisement of this ‘manly’ soap.

The ad begins with a frame showing a couple of guys sitting together, feeling insecure and uncertain whilst they check out a good-looking girl, not really sure if they should ask her out or not. After some time, one of them gathers the guts to approach her – only to get turned down. After this, a supposedly attractive man appears on a bike and, predicting the obvious, all the women start ogling him, while the other guys start feeling even more insecure and pathetic. Suddenly, the attractive man screams in a high pitched, squeaky voice and shouts ‘badtameez’ – only God knows why – and everyone starts laughing at him. Then what is seen is a vision on its own: animated flower petals begin to flow out of the attractive man to depict that he smells like flowers. Perhaps it was the advertiser’s idea of a joke and wanted you to think that the man was screaming like that because of the soap he used. Instantly, in the next frame, the voiceover goes,

“You shower with a beauty soap and then show attitude as well?”

And then a shirtless, and might I add completely hairless, Caucasian-looking guy appears and tells you to use this ‘man-soap’ (yes, apparently it’s a thing) for it has a “storm of freshness and confidence”. Also, might I add, the motto of the soap is “mardon ka bharam” (men’s attitude).

Seriously? Is this how low our advertising agencies have stooped?

I can’t believe that the ad executives or whoever is behind creating this abomination are this ignorant! Are they telling us that men with high pitched voices or men who use beauty soaps are not real men? Who are they to pass such judgments?

I wish it was only these marketing executives who thought this way but it looks like we, as a society, are used to these kinds of stereotypical ideas. Lets jog your memory, shall we?

Recently, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) held a jalsa in Karachi and the chairman of the party was insensitively referred to as ‘gay’, ‘hijra’, ‘girl’ and was also bestowed names like ‘Billo Rani’. Why? Just because he comes off as what one might call as a little ‘effeminate’? Do we really think this little of our women and transgender community that, if we have to insult someone, we compare them with women and transgender people?

All of this may be very amusing to you today, but let me tell you something, to the people behind that soap commercial and all those who subscribe to the stereotypical ideas of gender roles and identities, what you’re starting now doesn’t end here.

Soon, there will be people – in fact there already are such people – who say that ‘real men’ have body hair (sorry soap guys, even your projection of a ‘real man’ can’t beat that), men don’t wear pink, women don’t wear blue, and so on and so forth. Stereotypes like these have a domino effect and before you know it you will be hearing someone say that women can’t work in leading roles and men shouldn’t cook. And shortly after that, you will hear others saying women shouldn’t work at all. And this will continue until we go back to living like cavemen.

Is that really the kind of world we want to live in?