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)
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.
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.