Looking in from Beyond: Gender Stereotyping in Egyptian Advertising

Part Three of a Three Part Series by: Naa Amponsah Dodoo, Graduate Student

As cliché as it sounds, if the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Egypt is mummies, deserts and beautiful pyramids, I can assure you that you are probably not the only one. However, Egypt is without doubt more than that. It is one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East, being home to a little over 85 million people. Egypt’s capital city is Cairo. It is bordered by Libya to the west, Sudan to the south, and by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the east. While located for the most part in Northeastern Africa, an interesting fact about Egypt is that it owns a land bridge between Africa and Asia, thus earning the label of a transcontinental nation. Egyptian society is multicultural with the majority living in urban areas beyond the Sahara desert. Egypt’s long history makes it a very interesting place to experience a diversity of cultures.

The advertising industry in Egypt suffered from the revolution that took place in 2011. Before the revolution, Egypt could claim the status as the Middle East’s leading advertising market.  However, the ray of hope in the gloomy economic aftermath of the 2011 revolution is ad spending in Egypt has increased, with surges in consumer products making a modest recovery. Egypt, like many other countries, uses traditional media to deliver its advertisements. Additionally, a profusion of satellite channels in Egypt has made television the ideal marketing medium especially with a drop in outdoor advertising spending.  For this blog, I count Egypt as an African country. Yet, it is widely known that most Egyptians consider themselves Arab and not African. Officially, Egypt is the Arab Republic of Egypt.

I must admit that I had preconceived notions of what I would find when I chose Egypt as one of the countries to examine. Did I think that there would be subtleties in the gender stereotype in advertising? Yes. Did I think that because of the culture and Islam being the main religion of Egypt would that play a huge role in gender stereotypes in advertising? Yes. Were my preconceptions validated? Not really. The advertising industry in Egypt is not a widely researched area. I venture into a mostly unknown sea in an attempt to talk about gender stereotyping in advertising in Egypt.

Coke EgyptA study done looking on the cultural content of Egyptian television advertising showed that 61% of ads used males as compared with 35% that used women. The conclusion was that advertising expressed the high status and credibility of males, which suggested discrimination despite the gains in social right, within Egyptian society over the last decades. To look at a different side of gender stereotype, I draw on another study, which looked at how magazine ads reinforced or changed gender roles in Egypt. Men and women were constructed in relation to the western consumer culture. In other words, the women were portrayed as sexy or innocent and dressed in western clothes while the men were portrayed as determined or sexy and linked with work or relaxation. They magazine ads did not depict the Egyptian woman’s increasing role in the labor market. We must not forget that Egypt is predominantly an Islamic country. Islamic principles do not encourage stereotyping of women in advertising through the use of suggestive behavior or language, women as sex objects. I believe that such Islamic principles are seen in practical every day actions and therefore would reflect in advertising practices. That’s one reason why blatant sexualized stereotyping of women might not be prevalent in Egyptian advertising. Some may argue that Islam, however, has traditionally defined roles for men and women and thus this may be depicted in advertisements.

There are many ways to look at advertising. You may choose to see it as an interpretive visualization of the world, a production of a particular lifestyle or reality. Advertising challenges the “real” reality when certain cultural agendas are disseminated.  Regardless of how women are portrayed in Egyptian ads, the fact is that advertising often mirrors the reality that exists in a society. Or perhaps the culturally accepted reality in society, what is portrayed in Egyptian advertising, are completely different from the current culture in Egypt. Considering who created these ads, the Redbook database in Egypt notes that all the creatives were men. I have asked this question and will ask it again. Does it make any difference that males dominate advertising creative?

I may not have come away writing this blog with a definitive construct of gender stereotype in Egypt, but I do hope that it has given you some insight about gender construction in Egyptian advertising. Will anyone reading this be more informed about gender construction in Egypt? I hope so!



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