Portrayal Of Women By The Indian Media


Movies, or for that matter media in general, are often said to be the reflection of the society. Or at least that’s what majority of people in India consciously or unconsciously tend to believe. While it’s arguable whether the media truly reflects the society or not, there’s no doubt that media has a big sociocultural influence on the society.

The way women are shown in movies these days is hardly different than those before a decade or a few. Women have been shown to consider being an ideal homemaker as the goal of their life. Leaving few exceptions, movies of recent times have hardly shown an ‘ideal woman’ doing anything but being a housewife. Even in those movies where a woman is shown to have more decision power in hand than her husband, the wife is almost always portrayed in bad light.

A few days ago, while watching such a scene from a movie, one of my roommates actually said, ‘This is the reason why a woman should not be given power. She doesn’t know how to use it.’

As far as showing women in advertisements is concerned, things seem to have only worsened over time. In most of the advertisements, a woman is either washing clothes and/or utensils, cooking, serving food to family members or trying to make her husband feel better who’s at that time reading a newspaper or suffering from cold. A woman does all this even when she has headache or backache. These advertisements arguably encourage sexism. They reinforce the old belief that a woman is supposed to forgo her own comfort and keep on doing household chores without getting tired.

The same has remained true for the soap operas of earlier times and of recent times. While in many of these soaps, a woman has more decision power than their male counterparts, it’s very difficult to come across such families in real life. Moreover, those women who wear modern clothes and appear very confident more often than not have bad intentions than their conservative and not-so-modern counterparts.

I recently came across this: ‘The media should refrain from portraying women as commodities and sex objects.’ The media still portrays women as objects showing whom in certain way can catch the attraction of people. It’s very amusing to see a woman in advertisements for products like cement.

A women holds utmost importance in the Indian culture and household. It is the sensationalism by the media that women today are not receiving the much needed aide from their families. It is high time we portrayed women as progressive yet positive, especially in daily soaps.

The writer is a Mumbai based correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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  1. Arun Sharma 6 years ago

    Hi Haresh,

    I commend thee way you write, but I don’t agree with your viewpoint at all. Infact I couldn’t read beyond 2 paragraphs. I don’t know which movie you are talking about, but I’ve watched 3 Idiots where Kareena Kapoor was a doctor, Fashion where Priyanka Chopra was a model, Chance pe Dance where Genelia was a choreographer and Pyar IMpossible where Priyanka Chopra was a free, quite modern student in a foreign student. Infact Uday Chopra was the on who was shown as a dull guy in that movie.
    By the way, what’s a “IDEAL” man that you portray in your mind? Girls portray him as a rich guy, well dressed, a bit humorous and all that. So, what’s wrong if men perceive their ideal woman to be homely and the one who takes care of the family values. Is there anything wrong with that?
    When you talk about you friend saying that “that’s why girls shouldn’t be given power”, have you also heard him or someone else saying “that’s why Sehwag shouldn’t be sent at 3-down” or maybe “that’s why Manmohan Singh shouldn’t be the PM”??? Does that mean that he’s disrespecting them, by any means? He only means that the particular person has strengths that are better fit for some other position or other role than the current one.
    I really fail to understand the campaigns like Bell Bajao only to protect women, but nothing to protect poor laborers who are molested by the contractors or the poor patients who are mistreated by the private hospitals. It’s pathetic to be overly considerate about one particular sect of the society and then forget that they are just like any other society and the atrocities being faced by them are not unique to them. It’s the problem for the entire society.

    I hope you take this as a constructive criticism.

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  2. Haresh 6 years ago

    Hi Arun,

    First of all, thanks for commenting :-)

    (1) I’m talking about majority of movies in general. I have only watched ‘Fashion’ out of the four movies you listed. And in that movie too, you can see that Priyanka’s father doesn’t support her when she wants to go to Mumbai to pursue her dreams. I wonder if his father would have done the same had she been a boy. This is a classic case of gender-based stereotyping.

    And, I here don’t complain about the kind of role she plays. What I want to focus on is stereotyping and the way media portrays the definition of an ideal woman/daughter/wife.

    (2) You may be right in saying that girls portray men the way you mentioned. Does she portray an ideal husband to be someone who ends up spending her life in a house without any ambitions of his own. Does she expect him to sacrifice his own wishes and be homely and take care of family values?

    (3) Regarding the third point your mentioned, as you can see, my friend didn’t talk about that particular girl/woman. He rather appeared happy that the movie supported his belief that men are better decision-makers than women.

    (4) Women are not just a single sect of the society. They’re half the population of the world. I, in no way, mean that solving women’s problems are more important than those of others. There are issues faced by other groups of people and it’s possible that those issues aren’t paid enough attention. There may be reasons for lack of attention.

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  3. Haresh 6 years ago

    And, let me talk about some movies I’ve watched which released in last few years to illustrate my point :-)

    Halla Bol – For Ajay Devgan, his career is more important than his girl-friend (Except few movies like ‘Chak De India’, how often do you see the case where career is more important for herself than her husband?)

    Life in a Metro – Kay Kay Menon doesn’t like a working wife. Shilpa Shetty leaves her work to keep her husband happy in spite of the fact that she was more talented than her husband.

    Baghban – In spite of the fact that Suman Ranganathan also does a full-time job, she’s the one who’s doing most of the household work. Her husband doesn’t look bothered to see this. (And unfortunately, most of us even notice this!)

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  4. Arun Sharma 6 years ago

    1. If movies are to be seen as a symbol of stereotyping, then what would you say about Shahid Kapoor’s father in Chance Pe Dance where it was Shahid who wasn’t allowed to go to Mumbai, but Genelia was already a choreographer in Mumbai.
    2. Portrayal has not to be same for everyone. It can be different for different sets of people. I don’t expect all girls to see me with one eye. And I don’t expect my soul-mate to be a house-wife. Infact most of the girls in the urban parts of India want to work and are free to work.
    3. I can’t say about your friend in particular, but I meant it to be a general consensus.
    4. They are half the population, I agree. But how many of them actually face the problems that have been stated by you. What about the other half population, namely Men? Are they all stress-free and are the very happy and eager to go to office and work from 9 to 5? They are also forced to work because that’s the way our society has taught them. So, I would love to see similar activism on that front as well. We should support Men who don’t want to work and Women who want to work with equal Zeal, isn’t it?

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  5. Arun Sharma 6 years ago

    Dear friend, if you want to checck my movie encyclopedia, I’d refer you to watch 3 Idiots where both the boys except Aamir, were forced into Engineering. And if your contention is only on working, I think we Men will be just too happy to hand over all our work to the Women and sit at home. But that’s also not possible only because of the societal pressures…

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  6. Saakshi 6 years ago

    Hey Harsh!

    I perceive your very own article to be sexist.

    Here’s why:

    ” A few days ago, while watching such a scene from a movie, one of my roommates actually said, ‘This is the reason why a woman should not be given power. She doesn’t know how to use it.’”

    What makes you/your friend believe/think/reason that there has to be SOMEONE who has to GIVE(!) women power?

    **(in your article, it is intended that men give this power)

    I’m sure a woman is as balanced as a man, to decide how to use her power and also, what exactly are the powers she needs in order to exercise her fundamental rights. This is a very, very sexist thought (and seldom realized by those who think this way). Has anybody GIVEN any sort of power to men?

    For example: This statement is as sexist as this one: “Let us allow women their freedom”. Who is to ALLOW women to be free? Are they not free?
    Get the point I’m trying to make? (This was just an example to explain the above mentioned argument).

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  7. Haresh 6 years ago

    Hi Sakshi!

    Those words were said by my friend. It looks like you misread it. I not only understand what you’re trying to say, but I also agree to everything you said. In fact, I mentioned something on this line in my second comment where I said that most of us don’t even notice such unfair practice. And the same way, we often don’t realize how sexist and/or irrational some of our statements are :-)

    In fact, there’s one more common sexist statement used by people which I obviously hate: A husband saying – ‘I HELP my wife in household work’.

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  8. Haresh 6 years ago


    And, I wonder what (or which part of it) makes you think that the article intended to suggest that men ‘give’ this power. I hate such as statement just as much as you do :-)

    I wonder if you still find the very article to be sexist :-)

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  9. Saakshi 6 years ago

    Seems like I missed out on your second comment! It appeared to me that you were voicing your own thoughts by quoting your friend’s! You didnt oppose/ explain your take on that quote!
    Sorry for the misunderstanding though :)

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  10. Haresh 6 years ago


    (1) I haven’t watched that movie but it would be surely be refreshing to see movies different than I mentioned.

    (2) It’s pleasant to see men who don’t wish to confine their spouse in the four walls :-) Regarding urban India, I would love if the picture is as rosy as you’re stating. It actually isn’t. Anyway, that’s not the center-point of the article :-)

    (3) I am yet to come across a lot of men who want such activism for them to get started 😀

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  11. Haresh 6 years ago


    That’s fine. :)

    Looks like I should change my writing style a little so that there’s no chance of misinterpretation 😛

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  12. Youth Ki Awaaz 6 years ago

    Seems like the discussion going on here is gaining momentum! Interesting points have been pointed out by you, Arun. Harsh, you are definitely attending to defending your views well!

    One thing is for certain, women are not mute any longer!

    Hoping to hear from the women folk(too) about their views on the media’s portrayal of women in these times! Where are you, ladies? Come, join in!

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  13. radhika 5 years ago

    Hi Haresh.

    I liked reading your article. I think it’s simple and very concisely puts together some very common perceptions in our society.

    You should watch Akshay Kumar’s new movie – “Thank You”. While the message in the end is about respecting your wife and not cheating on her, the overall portrayal of women is quite degrading.

    Good job though! Keep it up!!

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  14. jueli 5 years ago

    Hey, I read your Post. its really true that WOMEN DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO USE THEIR POWERS.

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  15. Haresh 4 years ago

    Thanks Radhika and Jueli for the comments :-)

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  16. sneha shetty 4 years ago

    this is for mr.aruns comments :

    In the initial comments i came across someone claiming that women are a CLAN.such breed need to excuse themselves ,go into the outside world and gat a reality check….

    secondly, how can any man be inseneitive enough to compare a woman misery n atrocities done to her by the sociopaths to a farmers misery for godssak. farmers do not go through eve tease issues or for that matter are never a victim of merital rape or are never called names.it is a women who has to bear the ugly burn of resistance for making a independent choice of life.my question is why?

    thirdly, it was quite rude of a man to state that they do not go through life,minus stress,by which he probably ment women just make a fuss about all the stress.
    try being a women more so todays alfa women whose got t dna to perfectly blend in t beauty and balance of bout family,personal and professional life into a soft friction free silk fabric..he claims he would be more than happy to give over t burden off stress on a womez, trust me we women would even manage that and in absolute style.
    Do not demean us by calling clan and underestimating our abilities, or making a mockery of the physical,emotional and mental pain we go through by comparing it with other social issues like farmer clan with due respect to the farmers…every social issue is as henious n painful do not underlook at it by making nasty comparisions

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  17. moupriya 4 years ago

    sneha you have said everything…in a nation where 47% is female yet 8.8% in parliament is women, there won’t be social parity for the next 500 years unless and until we fight for our rights. objectification is the very first step to justify against a human being and women are objectified and pornified. their existence is limited to just child-birth while existence of our male counterparts is all about power and dominance.

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  18. Snigdha kapoor 4 years ago

    hi haresh,

    You have done a very good job with the topic but i dont agree with you on few points like you have mentioned about one of your friends having seen a movie where women’s power lead to abysmal condition. Movies are just fictitous and we should stick to facts. If you have forgotten our country was lead by Mrs. Indira Gandhi for starters and now also congress is led by Sonia gandhi. Indira gandhi was the second female prime minister of the world after Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka..She freed punjab from terrorism with operation blue star. These powerful icons have contributed a lot to the indian society because they had POWER.

    and secondly you have said that women are shown as a ‘ home maker’ these days in movies.. wake up, which world are you living in?? Katrina Kaif in rajneeti was the leader of her political party, in Ek Tha Tiger she was shown as a spy of ISI (intelligent force of pakistan), Vidya Balan in Paa was shown as a doctor,Chitranga singh was shown as a professor of economics in Trinity college. Women have stepped out of the boundaries of their homes and entered into all walks of life. Right from politcs to entertainment industry and from police to sports there is no field where women has not excelled.

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  19. roshni nair 3 years ago

    hey Snigdha,
    i think i will just have to come here in Haresh’s rescue and tell you that i think he was drawing a very general picture about how our movies portray women. no doubt that movies today are reinventing themselves and showing women in a more positive light than they did before but what is the ratio of such movies to the n-number of other movies that still use women as objects of titillation. i mean which movie today doesn’t have an item song in it? isn’t it a sad state of affairs that songs that don’t even have relevance to the movie are made and sometimes the whole movie is marketed on that one song? ohk we can argue that it is a marketing technique and since everyone is here to make some money selling one’s product is the utmost need but aren’t the lyrics so vulgar that they make you cringe? what are we saying about women through such representation?
    just some food for thought.

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