Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion Inc

De­spite its gen­der-in­sen­si­tive im­age, the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try is an oasis of cre­ative equal­ity

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Pra­soon Joshi

Sex­u­al­ity as a sub­ject — be it from the point of view of lib­er­a­tion, easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity to adult con­tent, the age of con­sent be­ing low­ered, les­bian­gay-bi­sex­ual-trans­sex­ual (LGBT) main­stream­ing — is in the fore­front to­day. There’s also a grow­ing fo­cus on the is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Re­cent events, such as the one last month at JWT in New York in­volv­ing the global ad­ver­tis­ing agency’s CEO charged with sex­ual ha­rass­ment against an em­ployee, urge us to think deeper about gen­der equal­ity.

There’s a preva­lent per­cep­tion about gen­der equal­ity and treat­ment of women in in­dus­tries such as ad­ver­tis­ing, films, fash­ion and tele­vi­sion. Un­for­tu­nately, the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion is far from the tan­gi­ble truth. Film and me­dia have very of­ten taken an ex­treme ap­proach to­wards the por­trayal of women in the con­text of th­ese pro­fes­sions. They have formed a rather neg­a­tive im­age in the minds of the masses about the treat­ment of women in th­ese fields.

I hap­pen to share a con­nect with both th­ese worlds: the world of th­ese vo­ca­tions and that of the mid­dle-class world at large where th­ese per­cep­tions of­ten so­lid­ify to judge­ment. I of­ten am asked how th­ese ‘glam pro­fes­sions op­er­ate’. The queries are fre­quently about the friv­o­lous, the trivia: the party, the events, shows, the odd work­ing hours, the fre­quent all-nighters, and the ‘ram­pant ex­ploita­tion’. I don’t fault them for veer­ing in this di­rec­tion be­cause this is largely how th­ese in­dus­tries are pro­jected.

The se­ri­ous­ness, hard work, ta­lent quo­tient and pro­fes­sional in­tri­ca­cies are rarely part of the me­dia dis­course. In fact, a sense of the For­bid­den runs sub­lim­i­nal to the nar­ra­tive. So, when we hear some­thing un­savoury emerg­ing from th­ese in­dus­tries, the first re­ac­tion of­ten is, “I knew it. This must be true. There must be ex­ploita­tion there.”

I Think, There­fore I Am

This re­ac­tion is of grave con­cern. It em­anates from the fun­da­men­tal de­nial of a world where men and women can freely ex­press their in­di­vid­u­al­ity. This thought process ques­tions even the pos­si­bil­ity of a so­ci­ety where there would be equal­ity be­tween the gen­ders. It reaf­firms the be­lief that women need to be pro­tected, and a con­stant male vigil is a ne­ces­sity.

The truth is that th­ese pro­fes­sions are the ones that put our ‘be­liefs’ to test. Cast the lens of only the phys­i­cal aside and you would see that th­ese pro­fes­sions are where you see the gen­ders eas­ily ex­press­ing their nu­anced in­di­vid­u­al­i­ties and in­de­pen­dent points of view. The strait­jack­eted ap­proach is re­placed by flex­i­bil­ity, self­ex­pres­sion and more of the sub­con­scious at play in a nat­u­ral way.

Take an ideation ses­sion. In such ses­sions — which are very ‘ev­ery­day’ in the ad­ver­tis­ing, film and me­dia in­dus­try — the par­tic­i­pants, ir­re­spec­tive of hi­er­ar­chy or dif­fer­ence in gen­der, think aloud in a no-holds­barred en­vi­ron­ment. You see a clearer face of equal­ity here.

Th­ese ses­sions al­low men and women alike to face and voice cer­tain re­al­i­ties and be­liefs, which may oth- er­wise rarely be dis­cussed in an­other fo­rum. I have wit­nessed peo­ple will­ing to dis­card judge­ment, de­velop greater com­fort with each other’s views in the process.

I have also seen dis­com­fort emerg­ing at times on is­sues like re­li­gious be­liefs, sex­u­al­ity, ed­u­ca­tional and fi­nan­cial back­grounds. Th­ese pul­sat­ing con­flict zones may be hard to han­dle. But it ac­tu­ally re­sults in a more aware, health­ier at­ti­tude. I’ve seen the trep­i­da­tion, the dis­com­fort, and pre­con­ceived view of the other per­son wan­ing.

Th­ese in­dus­tries are cul­tural and psy­cho­log­i­cal melt­ing pots of our so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially in a country where peo­ple from di­verse so­cio­cul­tural back­grounds join th­ese pro­fes­sions. Such a tac­tile sense of co­ex­is­tence is ab­so­lutely needed and to be val­ued.

Hav­ing said this, it does not give th­ese in­dus­tries a li­cence to be dis­re­spect­ful, dis­crim­i­na­tory or turn a blind eye to the fault lines that ex­ist. All dif­fer­ences and is­sues — un­pleas­ant, im­pas­sioned, ig­nited, deep or inane — should be brought forth for dis­cus­sion. In this con­stant state of change, newer re­al­i­ties are emerg­ing ev­ery mo­ment and the most im­por­tant as­pect in this churn is the hon­esty and equa­nim­ity to ta­ble is­sues and points of views.

We don’t need fear to en­sure di­ver­sity and gen­der equal­ity but a more nu­anced truth­ful method. We need a change at the core to un­der­stand that the goal can’t be to de­rive com­fort from same­ness. The in­tent can’t be of one gen­der, one group, win­ning the ar­gu­ment. The in­tent has to be of bet­ter­ment of the in­dus­try and so­ci­ety.

Ad Lib

Ad­ver­tis­ing has trav­elled some dis­tance in this as­pect. There are se­ri­ous dis­cus­sions about stereo­typ­ing, ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and the lack of women at CEO and cre­ative di­rec­tor, and board po­si­tions. There is an earnest note be­ing taken of the fact that while the in­dus­try re­cruit­ment starts out with an equal split of men and women, it ta­pers off at the top.

Of course, there is a lot that needs to change in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try and th­ese are not be­ing swept un­der the car­pet. There is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that talk and to­kenism is to be shunned and a sin­cere ap­proach to im­pact the fun­da­men­tals is afoot. Each one of us should step up to speed up this change.

The writer is CEO, McCann World­group In­dia

Not quite an­other day at the of­fice

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.