HYPOTHESES FOR CONNECTING
with the women of singapore
Singapore is known to be one of the most progressive and privileged countries for women in Southeast Asia. Every year, Singapore climbs up the ranks on the Global Gender Gap Index. Last year, Singapore surged 13 spots globally and ranked 3rd in Southeast Asia, due to improvements in economic participation, opportunity and educational attainment.
However, Singaporean advertisers fall behind the curve against this backdrop of progress.
A 2019 analysis by Kantar revealed that 83% of APAC marketers believe they’re creating advertising that avoids gender stereotyping. Yet, almost two-thirds (63%) of APAC consumers believe advertising reinforces stereotypes, with 45% thinking the way women are depicted in ads is inappropriate. In fact, 74% of ads for food products in Southeast Asia target women — despite 66% of men being the main grocery buyers in the region!
How can we explain this discrepancy between the best of the endeavours by advertisers, and the take-out by consumers? Here’re some hypotheses that attempt to explain why…
Hypothesis #1: Can we empower women without making them look like men?
Is it anti-feminist to be feminine? Advertisers try to be women-first by showing women moving into male spaces, portraying them in typically men-dominated activities such as being tough at work and playing extreme sport. These representations are singular, simplistic and implies that women must emulate men in order to be recognised as an equal.
There has never been a better time to be a woman. Research shows that women outscore men on 17 of 19 key leadership capabilities. Women also work 10 percent harder than men in today's offices and are more likely to outperform men in collaborative problem solving. What if brands celebrated all the things women were great at, instead of trying to make them men?
Hypothesis #2: Is there a middle ground between subservient “good girl” and angry bra-burning feminist? What’s the new “normal” for modern women?
According to research by PrettyLittleHead and Mindshare, advertisers have evolved from idealising the “good girl” dependent on male patronage, to creating “the rebellion” where women are outspoken and vocal, angry with how the world has “unfairly treated women”.
What’s now emerging is a more realistic middle ground: the new “normal”. On one hand, modern women want to be independent from male patronage and defined beyond romantic relationships, children or conventional female roles like caretakers, mothers and grocery shoppers. On the other, they also wish to be comfortable in their own feminine skin – in varying degrees, depending on each individual.
For example, compared to previous generations, millennial moms are taking parenthood more seriously. Millennial moms spend about an hour more taking care of their kids than mothers did back in 1965. 60% of moms pack lunch boxes with more nutrition as compared to the way their own mothers did. Despite their responsibilities, 58% of working moms still plan on having more children.
The modern woman is multifaceted and non-binary. What if brands attempted to dive into the complexity of being a modern woman instead of resorting to extreme stereotypes?
Hypothesis #3: Is the female-only conversation a tired one? Is it time to move on from gender-exclusive conversations?
Within the region, advertisers have started to challenge conventional female ideals to much success. Take SK-II: The Marriage Market Takeover and Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad for example. These campaigns have challenged the status quo and raised tough questions to make society rethink the role of women.
The question is: Where do we go from here?
As an industry, we need to work towards gender-neutral and gender-balanced advertising. In Singapore, brands need to start engaging with consumers beyond token gestures such as women-only cards, women-only marathons or women-only events. These initiatives while promoting female empowerment, end up being divisive by nature.
The next generation expects a world with more inclusivity, freedom and openness… a world where an individual is defined by his/her beliefs, interests and passions and not their gender. What if brands spoke to consumers as unique individuals instead of speaking to their gender?