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How Representation Of Women In Films, Ads Reinforces Patriarchy

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In the modern context of democratic India, media, in any form, has become production machinery of values and culture in the society among the consumer class. The prime objective of media was to disseminate information to make people aware of the happening around their surroundings, nationally or internationally. However, since its inception, media has also taken part in the representation of social-cultural beliefs, practices, and ideologies of the ruling classes in one way or the other. These social-cultural practices include patriarchy, classism, casteism, racism, among many others. Among all these issues, representation of women in media has always been a prime concern. Due to the massive reach of media as a value-production institution, the formulation of an independent opinion of the audience is hindered. Media, in general, is expected to be the reflection of the society. While it is an arguable notion whether media objectively reflects the exact scenario of the society, it is quite evident that it influences the society’s ideologies and perceptions. The portrayal of women in media, be it electronic or print, has always been biased, stereotypical, sexist, and even misogynist.

A timeline-based comparison of ‘women representation in electronic media’ (film and advertisement)

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The occupational representation of women before 1976 was largely limited to home-making. While the men were considered as bread-winners, women mostly ended up being housewives. Gradually, in the late 90’s and early 21st century, the movement for women empowerment started gaining momentum. However, the resulting developments were mostly negligible. The following comparison will make it clearer.

  • In 1994, Dabur, an Ayurvedic & Natural Health Care Company, introduced its hair product Dabur Vatika. In 2,000, the company broadcasted its first advertisement on television. It was the same year when Priyanka Chopra won the Miss World Award and became the company’s brand ambassador. The ad claimed that ‘dense, smoother and darker’ hair was the secret of Miss Word Priyanka Chopra’s beauty. Thus, objectifying hair as a parameter of beauty.
    In a stark contrast to this ad, in 2014, to break the stereotypical idea of beauty the company released an advertisement with #BRAVEANDBEAUTIFUL, where it featured a bald woman who was suffering from cancer. But again, the underlying patriarchy did not cease to operate as the bald women needed the confirmation from her male partner (husband) to certify her beauty.
  • Since 1992, Ariel, a laundry detergent made by Procter & Gamble, has been reinforcing patriarchy through its advertisements that portray women as home-makers. The ads suggest that while it’s women’s job to do the laundry, ‘sharing of the load’ by male members is a sign of advancement. Through such ads, the company has, directly or indirectly, labelled women as a domestic servant and males as a dominant gender in a socio-economic context.
  • “AAMSUTRA”, a popular advertisement by Slice, where actress Katrina Kaif endorses the product, has a seductive impact and sensationalisation of sexual fetish to attract the consumers. Display of female body with flawless skin, slender stature, long attractive legs or perfectly structuralized movement has become the definition of beauty as perceived by the society. A critical analysis of how women are portrayed in media, it can be deduced that media has fabricated this perception where women have been made sex-objects.

Films

During the early 70’s or 80’s, women in Indian cinema were portrayed as a submissive and homely creature. The characterisation of women was limited to a sacrificing mother who is hard-working (domestic works in general), a devoted wife, an innocent sister who is about to get married, but with brother’s permission, or an actress whom the hero possesses with the virtue of his masculinity.

In 90’s cinemas, we get a glance where young women characters are “allowed” to be liberal to an extent, or the occupations of the female characters were breaking the stereotypical “housewife” tag. But still, the ‘motherly figures’ were confined within the sacrificing zone of family.

The dawn of the 21st century makes an effort to minimise the gender biases and comes up with cinemas Swadesh, Chak de India and Dor.  Since the early 21st century, cinemas started reflecting on the growth of feministic ideologies in the industry. Movies like Margarita with a Straw, Angry Indian Goddess, Pink, Highway, Queen or Lipstick under my Burkha, among many others attempted to break gender stereotypes. However, we continue to see the prevalence of movies like Singham, Grand Masti, Baaghi, Judwa, to name a few. These movies reinforce patriarchy and gender stereotypes.

Thus, through the above arguments, one can encompass how the portrayal of women has undergone various changes without actually eliminating the inherent patriarchy. In this context, Anna Davtyan-Gevorgyan comments, “In the initial stage of its history, media were managed exclusively by men. The media images of men and women were tailored to men’s preferences. In other words, men were creating media images of men and women they wished to see in reality.” She probably refers to the conclusion that unless there is a complete overhaul in the arena of media production that is unless women are equally represented in various important positions of media houses, this sorrow state of Indian media would continue to exist.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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