Is The Mass Media Sexist?
By Absar Ahmad:
Mass media, in all it’s forms- cinema, newspapers, magazines, internet etc, is often said to be the reflection of the society. It may not be entirely true but this is what a majority of Indians consciously or subconsciously tend to believe. It is quite arguable whether the media truly reflects the society or not, there is little doubt that media has a big socio-cultural influence on the society.
It has often been noticed in our society that almost each and every section is very much influenced by what media wants them to believe. There are certain things that are being stereotyped. One such example is of the portrayal of women in media. It is the media that decides the context in which a woman should be placed, and reinforces it constantly. The women are shown in a particular way be it in movies, soap-operas or advertisements.
Throughout the history of Indian cinema, women have always been stereotyped and shown in a specific image e.g. in the role of a dedicated mother, loving wife, obedient daughter-in-law or in modern the context, a woman who constantly struggles to manage her outside activities as well as household chores. She is supposed to do her work with dedication and sincerely without complaining to anyone even if she is suffering from some physical or mental problems. The Indian movies are mostly male centric or hero centric. There are very few movies that have a story-line depicting powerful women characters. The agony of the matter is the movies that are female centric do not perform very well at the box-office.
In case of soap-operas or TV serials, it can easily be noticed that the depiction of women in these “extremely popular” shows is totally misleading. Most of the serials are women centric with strong women characters that have say in every internal or external matter of the house. But when we study the real life situation in common Indian homes we find that women do not enjoy as much freedom of decision making as they are shown on television serials. In many soap-operas, the leading lady is shown as sacrificing all her comforts for her family or husband and in-laws. The question is, how many houses in our country are blessed with these kind of “bahus and betis”?
Nowadays, there is a trend that the anchor of any program must be a woman, most of the times dressed in appealing outfits. Be it reality shows, infotainment, entertainment or news type shows. Now, even in cricket, women can be seen commentating, interviewing cricketers, in panel discussions or with experts of the game. Mandira Bedi and Mayanty Langer are the perfect examples. These women do not have any experience of playing cricket but still they are working as sports presenters. Ketki Agre, from a national television channel, says India’s electronic media has more women employees than men. A woman can easily get a job in the television media, but “Male colleagues never attribute it to her professional abilities, but rather to the pretty face.”
In advertisements, women are mostly used for their sex appeal and looks rather than the demand of the advertisement; even male oriented consumer goods such as shaving cream, men deodorant and perfumes have women in them just to enhance the appeal of those advertisements to the viewers. Many times, these models are scantly dressed. The media is clearly portraying these women as commodities and sex objects, many of the advertisements even encourage sexism. Some advertisements that have women are banned in India on the grounds that they propagate vulgarity.
A study conducted by a Delhi based media advocacy group highlighted instances of stereotyping and of discrimination.
Interviews of men in newspapers, says the study, hardly ever mentions their marital status or their dress sense. The focus is on their work. By contrast, women achievers are subject to irrelevant, even distasteful queries. Take for example the interview of Tarjani Vakil, a banker, which was carried in a leading daily. The interview treated the reader to colorful details about her appearance and personal life, such as her penchant for beautiful sarees, her decision to stay single, and her living in an extended joint family. Her feminine qualities like her soft voice were emphasized and she (so said the article) was ‘no power lady.’
The amount of coverage women get overall is also much less then that of men. Women are shown eligible only for certain professions. Prakash Kamat, a journalist, suggested women’s issues do not get adequate coverage because of the lack of sensitivity among media persons. Even the matters regarding the welfare of women is being discussed by men. One great example is of representation of women in parliament, it was mostly men who were discussing this issue when women sat as silent spectators. In many cases, it has been observed in our country that women who are elected in municipalities and village panchayats are merely following what their male guardians tell them to do.
‘We have been living with this stereotyped representation of women for years,’ says Father Rosario, the executive Director of the Chitrabani film Institute. ‘The media does try to establish a woman’s femininity, especially if she is a successful woman.’