In a previous article, I commented that the poor use of the image of women in Peruvian advertising is a field that has not yet been studied sufficiently well in Peru, although there are approaches from the communication sciences, the legal sciences and the deontology of information, it is also interesting to delve into the analysis from the field of sociology.

I think it is important – from the point of view of ethics and law – to quote Marisol Fernández Revoredo (2018), author of “La imagen de la mujer en la publicidad comercial: Dignidad vs. Libertad de expresión comercial” (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú). Also very enlightening is the approach of Dr. Genara Castillo (2009) in “Estudio sobre la imagen de la mujer peruana en la publicidad gráfica del suplemento sabatino Somos”, published in the Revista de Comunicación de la Universidad de Piura.

According to Dr. Fernández Revoredo’s study, during the period between 1994 and 1999, the NGO Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer – DEMUS “filed before the National Institute for the Defence of Competition and Intellectual Property – hereinafter Indecopi – a series of complaints against various advertising agencies for alleged violations of Article 3 of Legislative Decree 691”.

“In all her complaints, the plaintiff questioned the use of the image of women in advertisements for allegedly violating the dignity of women and the mandate of non-discrimination on grounds of sex and gender. The latter was, in all the complaints, the argument most frequently put forward. INDECOPI’s response was always the same: it declared them unfounded, using practically the same arguments in all of them”.

In this article I will quote “in extenso” Marisol Fernández Revoredo, professor of the Academic Department of Law of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, who notes the following: “The use of the image of women in advertising is not negative in itself, however, it is problematic in relation to our social and cultural context. We are referring to the fact that, despite the normative advances that have been made to improve the status of women as subjects of law, we still maintain traditional patterns that allow discrimination against women to be perpetuated. Serious current problems such as domestic and sexual violence or discrimination in the public ambit are proof of this.

According to the researcher, in order to delve deeper into the use of the image of women in advertising, it is necessary to address the concept of gender. “In order to find an explanation for this reality, it is essential to address the concept of gender. Cultures, based on the physical differences between men and women and taking the reproductive capacity of women as a central axis, have developed a set of mandates and have created expectations of different behaviours for each sex. Thus, being a man or a woman not only responds to physical and biological characteristics (sex), but also to the construction of masculine and feminine identities (gender), which are learned through a process of socialisation in which different agents intervene.

Thus, the discriminatory conditions in which women live are nothing more than the result of these social and cultural constructions. For the purposes of the topic that concerns us, it is particularly important to consider how people learn to play the gender role assigned to them on the basis of their sex, as well as what and who is involved in this learning process. Various authors have addressed this issue, but we find the words of the English sociologist Anthony Giddens quite illuminating: “The aspects of early gender learning in children are almost certainly unconscious. They precede the stage at which children are able to label themselves as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. A series of preverbal cues constitute the initial development of gender consciousness. Male and female adults often treat children differently: cosmetics used by females contain different scents from those that children learn to associate with males. Systematic differences in dress, haircuts, etc., provide visual cues to the growing child. Toys, books with illustrations and television play a central role in this learning, as they all tend to emphasise the difference in male and female attributes. However, this learning of gender does not only take place during childhood but is reinforced at different stages of the life cycle.

It is important to highlight how the media send messages that produce and reinforce gender mandates. In particular, authors such as Norma Fuller (“The Dilemmas of Femininity”) and Ruiz Bravo argue that the messages transmitted through television are sources of construction of gender identities, which are at the foundation of the problem of discrimination and segregation towards women. Advertising obviously does not escape from this and it is in this sense that some studies have highlighted “the symbolic FORCE of advertising”.

Analysing the complaints filed by Demus and the resolutions issued by Indecopi, Fernández considers that “the complainant argued that the content of the advertisements that were the subject of the administrative proceedings had an impact on the configuration of gender constructions; however, the administrative authority did not pay any attention to this, as it considered more relevant the freedom of advertisers and the functioning of the free market without state interference in the problem in question”.

In this sense, Fernández was critical of Indecopi’s resolution. In one of its resolutions, regarding the complaint against a beer advertisement, Indecopi states the following: “‘Although the advertisement in question clearly shows the woman-beer identity, the Court considers that this does not mean that it generates in consumers stimuli to discriminate against the female gender following a specific macho pattern, or to consider her as a sexual and servile object, or as an easily interchangeable consumer good’. In other words, for those who sat on the Indecopi Tribunal in the period indicated at the beginning of this article, equating women with beer does not affect them”. She points out that “Indecopi did not take into account the dignity of the person under the theoretical premises of this principle and did not adopt the perspective of the victim”.

In this scenario where “freedom of expression” seems to be opposed to the right to honour, I agree with Fernández Revoredo that it is important to defend the dignity of the human person: “Freedom of expression is a very sensitive issue and often, the State refrains from intervening in certain circumstances, to guard against accusations of censorship or violation of this freedom, as it is the thermometer to measure the level of freedom and tolerance existing in a given political regime. This lack of intervention often results in the lack of protection of fundamental rights that have come into collision with freedom of expression.