The Ramadan season arrives alongside an abundance of television productions that also bring with them many surprises. The television dramas dedicated to this season seem to have shared features, including humiliating women, as well as serving to validate and maintain the masculinist approaches through the models presented in the series or commercials.
Recently, Egyptian media witnessed a glaring irony, as the Egyptian authorities cancelled the TV commercial for “Cottonil” underwear, featuring Mais Hamdan, because of the public debate it stirred, as many considered it “indecent”, only three days after it was broadcast over satellite channels during the month of Ramadan.
The Egyptian actress Mais Hamdan appears in a commercial singing to her neighbour, admiring his walk, style and underwear. This scene from the commercial of the company “Cottonil”, owned by the Syrian businessman Basil Smakia, raised a huge debate from the minute it was broadcast. Egyptians considered it “indecent”, and demanded that the Parliament intervene to ban it
This commercial could have been considered normal, but the paradox of a woman appreciating a man’s body and not the other way around brought with it a huge wave of controversy, regardless of the commercial’s quality; the idea that amounted to so much rage among the public and the authorities was that it was unacceptable for a woman to express her admiration of a man’s body.
Therefore, the Egyptian Consumer Protection Agency banned the commercial, as it was “offensive to public taste and did not respect the traditions of the society”.
The Agency said that it decided to “suspend the broadcast of the commercial as it was clearly violating personal dignity, community standards, the law of consumer protection and the standard specifications of advertising goods and services.”
This commercial could have been considered normal, but the paradox of a woman appreciating a man’s body and not the other way around brought with it a huge wave of controversy
Cottonil announced that they will “totally commit to the decision, and concede to the Agency’s opinion, to preserve the values of the Egyptian society and its traditions,” according to their statement.
Things however, did not stop at that point, and escalated further as at least two parliament members applied for an urgent briefing to punish the company for an ‘outrage of modesty’ in addition to another request to the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Mass Media, to prohibit the broadcast of such indecent commercials on TV. They also requested that the actress be punished, leading her to delete the commercial from her social media accounts and apologize. This apology has been repeated and witnessed among several actresses and female public figures, who were forced by means of social and legal restrictions to retreat, so that they are able to continue working and appearing in the public virtual sphere.
The irony here was that the National Council for Women also denounced the commercial, considering it degrading to the Egyptian woman, and detrimental to her role in society, while the same council turned a blind eye to various insults targeting women in other media programs, the most recent of which was the yearly program presented by actor Ramez Galal.
The program ‘Ramez is Legally Insane!’ was not free from criticism this season, as a number of lawyers submitted demands to stop broadcasting the program, after the first episode, for spreading the culture of violence.
The program is based on the notion of ‘pranks’ on celebrities and stars, and has been airing for years in different versions. This year’s version was frought with sadism and humiliation, whereby his guest is strapped to a chair and subjected to different forms of torture, like electric shocks, submerging in water, physical and psychological harm, inspired by the famous horror movie series, SAW,with Ramez’s sarcastic tone in the background. This is a clear violation of the basic standards of arts and creativity and innovation, which will inevitably lead to encouraging viewers, especially teenagers and children, to imitate these acts of violence.
But the program exceeded that by far, from the very first episode, where actress Ghada Adel was the guest; the content was clearly misogynistic, incredibly offensive and humiliating to the Egyptian woman, and a striking example of using the media’s power to reinforce gender inequality.
The episode started by Galal describing his guest as “divorced,” when he says, “She was our guest once before, but that was when she was married, things were difficult back then, but now, things have changed, she’s now divorced and free, no longer having to breastfeed or burp the babies, she can now dance to pop music, and be free to do whatever she wants.”
In addition to this were the misogynistic implications by the presenter, representing in the behind the scenes camera capturing and focusing on the details of his guest’s body while she was attaching her microphone onto herself, and preparing to shoot the episode. He also described her as a ‘rabbit’, because she had five children.
The program is based on the practice of sadism and humiliation, as the guest is bound to a chair and is tortured in a “comedic” manner.
In this context, Alia Awada, a feminist and human rights activist, explains that what is occuring should be linked to two main structures: first, the media and advertising empire, which makes use of women’s bodies to market their goods, and secondly, the values and traditions system which is used as an appointed guardian on women’s bodies.
As for the ‘Ramez is Legally Insane!’ program, the inappropriate content and vulgarity were not surprising for Awadah, as the program has been aired on one of the most famous media groups in the Arab world, the MBC Group, which seeks this type of content because it often attracts many viewers, especially during Ramadan, the peak season for commercials. She added, “In addition to the indecent content, the program reinforces the culture of guardianship over women, by making them look like weak victims facing masculinism, as well as sustaining a dangerous commodificationist and stereotypical language.”
Awada sees that women in Arab societies are finally exhibiting a rebellion against stereotypes, but still they are often faced with impossible social coercion.
Perhaps this is what happened with Mais Hamdan in her commercial, as the Egyptian public rejected the image of the woman who was courting a man, as an unfamiliar scene, and a different one from the typical image the media and social systems portray of the Arab woman.