Women and Media

The last few decades have seen tremendous changes in the lifestyles of men and women across all over the globe and particularly so in our own country. Globalization, market economics and above all, fast strides in technology have affected virtually all facets of life be it religion or education, politics or employment, fashion or health care. With the advent of computers and telecommunications, media has also undergone a sea of change. Media in India, which until a few years back used to comprise of the morning newspaper, the radio broadcasts and the sole television network screen images of “doordarshan”, comprises today of a dazzling and at times mind boggling array of communication devices. The media, which was earlier merely a reporting device, is today a vibrant means of shaping, molding and influencing public opinion.

However, in spite of all these changes, the media has not managed to overcome the typical stereotypes that are associated with women in India. While there are certain departures from this, the fact remains that by and large, there is a huge potential for better and a more realistic projection of women. It does not require any detailed analysis to conclude that the media is in a state of confusion and are perhaps unsure of the way they want to see women. On the one hand they still have this eternal image of a woman who is confined to the boundaries, duties and responsibilities of her home and her family.

Even a contemporary TV advertisement, like that of “MOOV” is based on the same philosophy. The lady in this advertisement is shown as the single person doing all the housework, and attending to the whims and fancies of all her family members, from her husband to kids, to mother and father-in-law, and simply everybody. She is allowed a break from her work only when she cries out in pain from a backache. And then the family decides to recognize her presence by passing a tube on ointment around, and the husband offering to apply the ointment for her. But those moments of respite are few, as she is back on her feet the moment the pain recedes, and the bombardment of orders and requests begin again. The docile, subservient nature of the woman is apparent, although not meant to be so perhaps!!

Another image of women in India that has grown in the recent years is the one that we have aped from the west and which gradually is gaining momentum. This is the portrayal of the woman as a showpiece or an icon of glamour. We hardly come across an advertisement these days where we don’t see a pretty model beaming at us, be it the advertisement of a new model car or that of a cold drink. We see the advertisement of the new “Maruti Zen” where the tiger stalks a young woman in a dark alley. The advertisement had to be withdrawn due to public pressure.

In other words, the portrayal of women in the Indian media oscillates between these two extremes: the “mother India” and the “glamour girl” image.

What the media does not see and project is the image of a woman as a serious partner in decision-making, a serious contender as a professional: doctor, engineer, teacher or a computer specialist, a serious politician or leader. This is so in spite of the fact that we have today a large number of working women, and there is hardly any field that does not have women representatives. We have women administrators, entrepreneurs, doctors, police women, computer specialists, politicians and most surprising the entire media business is full of women practically performing all types of activities.

It is indeed a very sad phenomenon. For example, companies like Wipro, Infosys, IBM, Microsoft etc employ almost equal number of men and women. But when it comes to a TV advertisement regarding computers, we always find that it is the projection of a man behind the monitor!! The woman has to use ‘fair & lovely’ and wear a pink dress to become a cricket commentator.

There is no end to such examples and though “India is shining” and we have progressed by leaps and bounds, the fact remains that the usage of women as perceived in our country oscillates between these two extreme stereo types.

Lee Wie Mien Jackson

[Image courtesy: http://www.watblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/woman-internet.jpg]