Empowerment for Women

Unilever’s response to the criticism it has received for its Fair & Lovely advertisements assumes a view that the poor are rational, well-educated consumers. Arun Adhikari, executive director for personal products at HUL, said, “We are not glorifying the negative but we show how the product can lead to a transformation, with romance and a husband the pay-off.”61 The creator of the Air Hostess advertisement, R. Balakrishnan, argued that “the consumer automatically regulates advertising . . . [and] is extremely mature, as she is shelling out money for our product.”62 It is a romanticized view that sees the poor consumers as powerful enough to regulate advertising. After the Indian government banned two Fair & Lovely commercials, HUL was unrepentant and argued that its commercials were about “choice and economic empowerment for women,” and the company has continued to produce similar advertisements.

The women’s movements obviously do not buy this argument. This is not empowerment; at best, it is a mirage; at worst, it serves to entrench women’s disempowerment. The way to truly empower a woman is to make her less poor, financially independent, and better educated; social and cultural changes also need to occur that eliminate the prejudices that are the cause of her deprivations. If she were truly empowered, she would probably refuse to buy a skin whitener in the first place.

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