Looking beyond the Stepford Wife

tanya-dernaika3The portrayal of Arabic women in advertising was recently called into question by Tanya Dernaika, strategic planning director, Memac Ogilvy Dubai.

In a piece written for Campaign, Dernaika took issue with the unrealistic and unchallenging depictions of Arabic women by the region’s industry, comparing their current representation as similar to that of a ‘Stepford Wife’. As Dernaika explained: “The name derives from 1972 novel, later adapted into films, revolving around the fictional story of a town where independent, vivacious, accomplished women are replaced by impossibly beautiful, submissive, and silent robots.

“Sound familiar? Not in real life perhaps. One would be hard pressed to find such a woman in every day life. She is nothing like any friend, co-worker, sister, cousin or mother anyone’s ever known. That’s because she simply doesn’t exist. She is however, very much part of our life and our environment, as viewers and readers of advertising.”

For Dernaika, advertisers’ stereotypical portrayals fail to give the region’s women their due in terms of strength of character or intelligence. “Arab ad woman is incredibly comforting, because she doesn’t provoke or challenge the viewer, or stir absolutely any feeling in them whatsoever, except pleasure in the form of eye candy, and re-assurance in a mental simplicity, devoid of any realistic foundation.”

A thorough reappraisal of the portrayal of Arabic women is needed, says Dernaika, if brands and marketers are to reach the young, educated females they hope to connect with.

“In order to persuade, advertising must hit a nerve and resonate by representing a reality that is aspirational in some way. So where is the inspiring employer, teacher or co-worker? Where is the imaginative, creative mother? What about the entertaining, mischievous friend, the good citizen, the human being? The first step to improving the one dimensional portrayal of Arab woman in advertising is to take proactive steps and make changes in our own approach. It is our collective duty as marketers, planners, creatives and researchers, to replace the ‘Stepford wife’ with a human being.”


One Response to Looking beyond the Stepford Wife

  1. Yousef Tuqan says:

    I totally agree with Tanya’s view. It is this overly simplistic and patronizing view of women in the region that continues to pervade our advertising.

    This is especially relevant to TV advertising, exponentially the biggest part of any regional marketing campaign. The Saudi “housewife in the hejab” is so overdone as to be sickening.

    Now, if only we could get the men who run all the female-oriented brands in the FMCG companies that commision this work to listen to her…


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