This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Archita Joshi. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

When Is Our Pop Culture Going To Stop Putting Women In These Stereotypical Tropes?

More from Archita Joshi

The term ‘common scold’, which used in the 17th century, is still very much present in today’s society. However, with time, we’ve learned how to conceal it, or keep it under wraps. It’s easy for us to move on with our lives thinking, “We don’t have it half as bad as our grandmothers or even mothers used to. People back then were so conservative in nature.” However, the moralistic discomfort of the ‘Modern troublesome woman’ is still very much relevant.

It might be coming from the news we consume, the cinema we watch, or the literature we read. This is even worse when it comes to South-Asian societies that have always been patriarchal in nature and held clear notions about women. Although we have been able to achieve a woman President and a woman Prime Minister, it doesn’t mean we’re any better than America when it comes to depiction and portrayal of women.

India has had a woman Prime Minister as well as a President, something that many ‘developed’ countries such as the USA are yet to achieve.

From policing of women’s bodies, their clothing or sexual practices, to dismissing them with a ‘slutty’ behaviour, or being called ‘crazy’, being told to smile more, women everywhere have to face the same stigmas everywhere: we realise that although we’re not as bad as we used to be, there’s still this mental pressure on women to act a certain way. Women are still punished for carrying a different set of chromosome in all spheres of life. Women are dismissed for being too brashy, ambitious, or even loud.  

Patriarchy still manages to have an element of magic in it: it describes not just pervasive cultural norms, but also something that now the most people don’t believe in: Equality. It is seen as a myth created by ‘man-hating feminists’ to give a purpose to their lives. It’s either met with widened eyes or rolled ones—depending on where you look at it from.

Popular Roles That Women Are Assigned In Pop Culture

However, this does not mean that pop culture hasn’t been able to empower women. Be it Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus, both have had allies who have cheered them on. Be it Samantha Jones or our dear Fleabag, people have fallen in love with them and stood in solidarity. 

When it comes to women in India (or Asia in general), our fight is not just limited to being sexually liberated or demanding an equal pay. Some of us still fight to get an education. In fact, some of us still fight to even be born. This hasn’t been made easy by popular culture either. 

In India, women have always been treated as a commodity, which becomes relevant when you listen to songs like ‘Makhna’ ,which says “Tujhe diamond jaise sambhal kar rakhna” (I’ll keep you protected like a diamond) and lays emphasis on the fact that women are nothing but just a piece of coal, a commodity and something to be owned. Another perfect example of this is the song ‘NAAH’, which goes on to tell a story about how a girl is dating a guy just for his money, giving in to the stereotypical ‘gold-digger’ narrative about women. What is worse is that women in the video are objectified and merely used as props in the video.

It becomes more relevant when we look back at religious scriptures. In ‘The Mahabharata’, for example, Yudhishthir gambles Draupadi away, as if she is not an autonomous human being but his possession. Sita has to walk through fire to prove her ‘sanctity’ and be accepted in society. 

Portrayal of Women In Bollywood

Although things are starting to look up brighter in Bollywood, women still have a long way to go. They were almost halfway, when ‘Kabir Singh’ happened. There have been numerous movies that have confused stalking with ‘love’, and toxicity with ‘possessiveness’. However, what these movies reflect is that to woo a woman, you need to coerce and sexually harass her to the point that she says ‘Yes’.

Even in older cinema, consider ‘Biwi No 1’ or ‘Gharwali/Baharwali’, women are divided into two categories: a ‘good’ woman and a ‘bad’ woman. A ‘good’ woman is ‘humble’, ‘modest’ and religious. She’s the perfect wife to her husband. Usually, ‘bad’ women are those wine-drinking, short-skirt wearing ‘homewreckers’, who are too ambitious for their own good. By the end of the movie, the women usually makeup, or the ‘bad’ woman repents and realises where she went wrong.

Another major trope of women is in rom-coms, when the guy says, “You’re not like other girls.” This is supposed to be a compliment and highlight how she is different and cool, and doesn’t come with unnecessary drama. A perfect example of this can be seen in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, when, while describing Anjali, Rahul says:

“Anjali doosri ladkiyon ki tarah toh thi hi nahin. Woh toh bas hum ladko jaisi thi, pata hai? Sab ladkiya make up karti thi aur Anjali… Anjali basketball khelti thi. Aur kapde, who mere jaise pehenti thi! Haan, sach! Jhalli thi meri Anjali, sajna, sawarna, khoobsurat lagna, yeh sab toh uska aata hi nahin tha.”

(Anjali was not like other girls. She was like us guys, you know. While other girls would put on make-up, Anjali would play basketball. And her clothes, she used to wear the same clothes as me. yeah, seriously. My Anjali was very sloppy. She didn’t know how to dress up, look beautiful, or wear ornaments.)

In another instance, the female lead can also be quoted saying,Main unn stupid ladkiyon ki tarah nahi hun, jinke peeche tum bhagte ho (I’m not like those stupid girls, the ones you run behind). This generalises women to such a ridicule narrative. Bollywood has a successful track record in pitting women against each other to satisfy and ‘win’ the male lead. Another example of this can be Karan Johar’s modern ‘Student of the Year’, in which the anti-heroine uses her sexuality to manipulate the man she is after, and the female lead constantly berates her for that.

Another major theme in popular culture has always been about suppressing women’s sexuality. Although, a few recent movies such as ‘Veere di wedding’, ‘Lust Stories’ ,and even advertisements by Durex are shedding some light on it, the topic on its own it still frowned upon. Commercial media has been unable to capture the essence of women as sexual beings, because acknowledging this would result in rejecting the image of women under patriarchy, and that’s a risk many are unwilling to take. Women are always supposed to be pure and pious and be in touch with their morals.

The bottom line for women in popular culture remains the same. They’re not portrayed as complex, sexual and dynamic, but rather as props to the hero, or to satiate the male gaze. However, what if fails to recognise is that popular culture has a tremendous influence on our society. It’s time that women are explored in shades of grey, and not just black and white as a vamp or a goddess. If we reinforce cultural stereotypes in films and advertisements, we should not be surprised if they play out in real life.

Women, now more than ever, are ready to talk about their sexuality, take on roles and experiment. It’s time that expectations of flawlessness from women are dismantled, and we progress towards a culture in which women are celebrated for speaking up rather than being silenced and punished for their voice.

You must be to comment.

More from Archita Joshi

Similar Posts

By bife rakma

By Tamoor Malik

By Prakash Chand

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        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.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’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.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below