Women are not equal in Bangladesh or they are not treated equally by Bangladeshi society despite having a female Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament. Women are breaking many glass ceilings in Bangladesh but that often is not represented in the popular media. There is a restaurant in Uttara called PizzaRolla; you can probably guess what their main item is. The restaurant recently went viral for misogynistic advertising. In a country where porn websites are banned and blocked, the restaurant used screenshots from porn films to advertise their product.
The PizzaRolla ad showed an adult actress on her knee with the male genitalia replaced by a slice of Pizza. Yes it is vulgar and beyond offensive. The pizza is a phallic symbol by literally replacing the male genitalia. To understand why they thought this would be okay it is important to understand the prominence of the male gaze in Bangladeshi culture and advertising. The male gaze talks about how women are depicted as sexual objects for the viewing pleasure of heterosexual men. Can you imagine a similar advertisement where a male adult actor is on his knees with a pizza replacing the male genitalia in his mouth? Can you imagine it being filled with sexual innuendos while trying to sell pizza? No, because advertisement in Bangladesh is designed to cater to the needs of heterosexual men.It would be important to mention that PizzaRolla is not the only company in Bangladesh who are using sexism and the male gaze to sell their products. Other Bangladeshi companies have used women as decorations in their advertisement to sell their products.
There is a radio advertisement where a guy claims he went crazy because his wife wouldn’t allow him to listen to his favorite radio. This is another type of sexism that shows women as irrational and emotional. Women are presented in two ways, either an over emotional oppressor (the wife and mother figure) or the sexual object with no agency but exists only for the pleasure of the male viewer (the temptress and the lover).
Advertisements are used to reinforce traditional gender roles. How many advertisements for tea show a man making the tea rather than a woman? How many advertisements place women in the kitchen? They generally show women in their traditional roles although this has been changing with companies like Grameenphone celebrating women empowerment and independence.
It could be argued that the PizzaRolla restaurant has violated the Indecent Advertisements Prohibition Act when they choose to advertise their products using pornographic image. Will they be charged for their use of vulgar imagery and words to promote their products? I will not be holding my breath.
In Britain advertisements are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority which has banned advertisements that are misleading or show "harmful gender stereotypes". The Advertising Standards Authority was founded in 1962 by the Advertising Association. It is not a government organization, but an effort by the industry to self-regulate. We do not have any similar organisation that carries out this role and maybe it is time to form such organisation. The advertising agencies in Bangladesh should try to establish a self-regulatory body and create a code of conduct. We have too many people in the marketing and advertising field who are not qualified and trained; which is reflected in their works.
The PizzaRolla advertisement was not just sexist, but had crossed the bounds of decency. It is a violation of the norms of our culture. In Britain, these advertisements would have been banned for violation of basic decency and promoting harmful gender stereotypes. The page has since removed the advertisement, but the question remains why they thought it was a good idea. This was not the first time they had used pornographic images to promote their products, but it was the first time they had faced such a backlash. Maybe that itself is a good sign; the people of Bangladesh, especially the new generation, won’t tolerate such explicitly sexist advertisement.The PizzaRolla authorities were contacted for comments, but they did not respond.
The writer is a Lecturer of Marketing Department at American International University-Bangladesh and can be reached through www.mahirabrar.com