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Depiction of Women in Indian MediaA Case of Introspection for Media Planners

Dr. Sanjeev K. Sharma


Indian Journal of Political Science

Department of Political Science, Ch. Charan Singh University, Meerut-5 (U.P.) India
{Published in Samaj Vigyan Shodh Patrika, Amroha, Vol. I, No.1, April-Sep.2005, pp.32-36}

Depiction of Women in Indian Media- A Case of Introspection for Media Planners: Media is the buzz word of the era of globalization. In fact, the rapid expansion of term and the concept of present form of globalization has been made possible only through the information revolution throughout the world. It has been widely recognized that media can play a substantial role in promoting and disseminating information and are key players in the social and economic development of women. Therefore, media largely reflects the life styles, socialization patterns, participation levels, cultural boundaries, political maneuverings, religious manifestations, educational standards, social hierarchy, and of course, society images of any given society. Globalization is a multi-faceted, mutli-disciplinary topic in its broadest reaches. It includes not only economic topics, but also political, social cultural and ideological ones. Political scientist, James Rosenau defines it as a label that is presently in vogue to account for peoples, activities, norms ideas, goods, services, and currencies that are decreasingly confined to a particular geographic space and its local and established practices. (Rosenau) Mass Communication media in India, like every modern and advanced country, comprises of the radio, the film, the television, the press, publications and advertising besides traditional media. The magic persuasiveness of its visual presentation and its admitted superiority over other media for propagation of social and economic objectives have together placed the television in India with great priority. Besides the Prasar Bharti owned Doordarshan, now we have around one hundred T.V. Channels which provide news, music, films, serials, sports, religious preaching, education and so on.

Information revolution, in its truest technical terms in India, is the latest phenomenon. During the phases of economic liberalization in last one and half decade, the overall scenario of media in India has changed tremendously. The depiction of Women in Indian media, be it films, television serials, news, media, visual advertisement, or modernized traditional media, is indeed an area of great concern for people having interest in social science research and studies. Some studies found have that social issues related to women (equality of status and opportunity) got less than nine percent while sensational stories relating to women which were invariably crime stories got between 52 and 63 percent of items in newspapers. (Nitin Jugran Bahuguna) More disquieting is the growing trend in media to portray women as victims. Some recent studies of news stories show that sex and sensation is the primary motivation behind the reportage. A study of four main English dailies in India finds that womens issues accounted for little over two percent of the total items in one of the dailies and even less in the other three. (Bahuguna). Apart from the long and heated debate over the percentage of women in legislative bodies, the situation of women in Indian society at large is a matter of alarming consideration. There has been much criticism of Television advertising of some commercial products like cigarettes, laxatives or articles of intimate wearing apparel on moral grounds. Comments in newspaper articles have found some of them objectionable and violating the requirements of good taste and sometimes offensive. Some objections have also been made to the appearance of scantly clad women in some commercials.(Ahuja & Batra). As the tentacles of globalization have trespassed into the

electronic media, the advertising industry has been swept by the market forces with the result that sexist display depicting women in demeaning manner has become the norm. Though, it is true that the level of active participation and decision making capability of women in each and every aspect of social and political life in India has increased leaps and bounds, yet the overall conditions of women is not so good. The depiction of women in Indian media is simply shoddy and at times vulgar. Commodification of women as a sex object has been relentlessly portrayed in audiovisual media. The overtones of sexual equation are much more explicit these days in our media. The orthodox presentations and the conventional inhibitions seem to overpower the orientations of media planners. The women in Indian media are depicted generally as scrupulous, religiously intolerant, craving only for their own family, politically nave, socially inevitable and culturally ultra-modern. Some criticism of advertising using women as sex objects can be seen in letters to the editor and very mild criticism of the cheapness and vulgarity in the display of women in advertising can be found in our literature on media. Often the criticism of the advertising stems out of big business game, believing the advertisements, rising prices and creation of artificial needs. (Kumar) Serials are depicting women and young females involved in conspiracy, premarital, extra-marital, post material illicit affairs, wearing costly, heavy golden, and diamond jewellary, perpetuating their religious fundamentalism, spending time is family feuds, suicidal love affairs, mega parties, palatial houses, luxary cars, sleek mobiles, elegant, make ups, little care about anything else than the individual matters, and at all not even a word about the outside world.

Newspapers give place to the news related to rape, crime, politics, scandals, sports and economics, serious debates and discussions on issues related to women in general are completely missing. The columnists of the newspapers are rarely females. Most of them who find place in the leader pages are political activists or so-called socialites. In vernacular press the depiction of women gets a share only in coloured pages where there is a lot of gossip about actress of T.V. serials or film stars alongwith some hot pick-up and pin-ups. The English press also dwells upon providing snaps of hot babes and erotic photo-gallery of party-mania in multi star hotels. Even the photos of sports stars are also provided in a manner that depicts their body attraction. Magazines as well as newspapers have sections for females where the reader is left only with the option of reading some personal gynecological problems of married women or personal love hick-ups of young girls, otherwise special features on knitting, fashion, sales etc. are the routine one. The T.V. Channels have plenty of young, good looking, smart women (most of the times girls in their teens) either as news presenters or as reporters. These channels keep on changing their presenters in pursuit of fresh faces. And one may very easily assume that theses girls have been employed mainly because of their face value. Because so many times the homework, the pronunciation, the background knowledge, the language and the overall presentation gets shoody. Nonetheless, T.V. new channels appear to be a female-friendly medium. But unfortunately there also serious debates and discussions on real issues facing the women in India are completely missing.

The advertisements in Indian media are in a horrible condition. This is a portion, which requires immediate attention of media planners. Even the women activists also seldomly react to the advertisement campaign that is grossly insulting the dignity of women in different ways. In most of the advertisements in Indian media be it newspapers, or magazines, T.V. channels or otherwise, one finds that an essential ingredient is women. There is an advertisement of a premium whisky that shows one man is taking first sip of that particular whisky and the lady sitting in front him appears to be loosing some inches of her dress after every drink the process goes on up to three drinks. After three sips of the drink he finds that the breasts of the previously over-clad lady have become quite visible and half clad and his own shirt has slipped from his shoulders. And the voice smurs- Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai (Anything can happen). In one advertisement of an after-shave lotion, a man comes our after shaving and using the particular lotion and the young girls in the vicinity start following him seductively. In one advertisement of a bike one individual is shown as moving hand on the body of the bike and the image of a semi-nude lady props up instead of the bike. In one advertisement of a deodrant spray young two-piece bikni clad females start flocking the man who has used that spray recently. In another advertisement two girls are using the telescope to watch, admire and get fainted out of infatuation by looking at the man wearing only a particular brand of underwear. Another advertisement of an underwear shows a young man kissed in almost every party of his body by the infatuated young girls in the ladies toilet. These are only some of the examples prevalent in our media these days. The depiction of women in these and other advertisement is actually

insult to the women in general but we are used to enjoy them with little concern about the female respect and dignity, which used to be the salient feature of our ancient tradition. The advertisements in the hoardings, posters and wall writings etc. are no less offending. Although the Press Council of India has clear guidelines on the way the media should report on an depict women, there is a lot of controversy regarding this and many newspapers are not clear in their own guidelines while tackling such sensitive issues. The fact that crime briefs are reported as simple events mostly unaccompanied by any analysis conveys a sense of media apathy and indicates the inherent belief that violence against women is a daily feature of life and does not require analysis. Some part of the blame can be attributed to the system of education has played a central role in moulding the process and patterns of uneven development and disenfranchisement in post colonial India. At the societal level, English-medium education has played a critical role in producing a modernized techno managerial elite that continues to have disproportionate influence in shaping the discursive terrain of development and thereby policies and programmes that affect the social fabric of the country. Less visibly, English medium education widens, social fractures in Indian society by creating and reinforcing a social, cultural, economic, and discursive divide between the English educated and the majority. The consequences of allowing globalization to continue uncontrolled are hard to predict but would certainly include massive and irreversible damage to the cultural ethos of developing countries by spreading unrestricted westernization. The question is how to turn the media into an effective tool for promoting constructive change and faithfully representing the multiple roles of the women today as achiever both at home and in the

labour force. This scenario may lead anyone to comprehend a totally un-Indian view of Indian with big heart keeping in mind the requirements of present day modernization as well as the needs of reinforcement of Indian cultural ethos. This, only, can help solve many of present day our socio-political problems, as these are simple outcomes of misconception of grand old Indian Society by our policy planners.

Note: (An earlier version of this paper was presented in 2nd International Conference on Women and Politics in Asia at Colombo (Sri Lanka) during 19-20 November 2004.) References:1.Barbara Stallings, Globalization and Liberalization: A View from the Developing Countries- UN Economic Commission for Latin Aneries and the Caribbean. 2. BN Ahuja & Shakti Batra Mass Communications with Special Reference to Indian Conditions, Varma Brothers, New Delhi, 1978,pp.259-273. 3.David Faust &Richa Nagar Politics of Development in Post Colonial India-,

Epw 2878 Vol XXXVI, No 30, July 28-Aug 30, 2001 4. Keval J Kumar Mass Communication in India, Jaico, Bombay, 1981, pp.140-143. 5. Nintin Jugran Bahuguna Women as Stereotypes -, Vidura, Vol. 34 No-2, April-June 1997 6.Nintin Jugran Bahuguna Media On Womens Issues-, Vidura, Vol. 36 No-4,Oct_Dec- 1999 7.Rosenau James. N. The Complexities and Contradictions of Globalization Current History. Vol. 96 No. 613, p.360.