The media is a powerful tool in shaping the dominant narrative of any society. In fact, its sets the narrative and determines the degree of its value in our lives. The media is not isolated from societal norms and behaviours; rather, it stems from it. TV shows, movies, and books have changed over time in terms of the content they depict. Advertising for the Indian market substantiates this trend.
Earlier, women were only confined to the role of the ?homemaker? who buys a product because she ?knows what is best for the family?. With the influx of technology, exchange of ideas and opening of discourse on the women?s movement, this portrayal has been challenged. Women are seen as ?working women?, though the tagline as the primary caregiver of the family hasn?t changed. Thus, in order to maintain user relatability, and to consequently sell media products to them, the media acts as a mirror of the society- positives, as well as negatives, are reflected by this mirror.
This extends to how women are represented across various media platforms. Women are still considered inferior to men in many aspects. This idea of inferiority is evident when women are made to play ?victim? in most works of fiction. On the other hand, the very survival of that woman is then in the hands of a ?hero?. Even a simple portrayal such as this has far greater ramifications. Due to the constant engagement with some sort of media outlet in this age of technology, the media has a powerful influence in shaping our cognitions. Our value judgement of events around us are shaped by what we saw our favourite character do on TV the other day. Thus, the perception of women as ?victims? on screen transcends off screen as well. Women are increasingly being seen as incompetent and in constant need of help, due to their perceived lack of ability to arrive at rational solutions.
The idea of one being superior to another leads a belief that superiority, which translates into perceived agency over the outgroup. The agency of the inferior is seen to be shaped by the superior. Thus, a woman is supposed to be petite and not too vocal about her opinions; she faces societal backlash if she does so.
A befitting example of this is the American Presidential Election 2016. For several months now, we have ?normalized? and even internalized Donald Trump?s disrespect. There is a large population that believes that Trump?s most often baseless statements and rude behaviour are actually favourable attributes for a strong leader. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, gets scrutinized for her hairstyle before she can even open her mouth. In a parallel universe, had Hillary Clinton adopted Donald Trump?s behaviour, would she be accepted the way he is, lest be praised for it. Media is far more ready to accept a man?s mistakes and a woman?s perceived ‘shortcomings’.
Secondly, appearance is seen as the hallmark of feminity. The benchmark for this prescribed femininity is decided by the media and if one falls short on these fronts, they are not the perfect woman. Perfectness is shaped through a patriarchal lens. Sadly, the media adopts this lens as well. This can be seen in the sheer number of advertisements of beauty products for women. The common theme in across these advertisements is that the woman needs to be better than she already is, in order for her to be accepted. On the contrary, advertisements for men?s products praise men for their characteristics. For example, advertisements for deodorants celebrate men for their sexuality and show women being attracted to the same.
The powerful role of media as a tool for social change cannot be ignored. The media is not isolated from society. Due to its powerful influence, it not only strengthens pre-existing stereotypes, but perpetuates new stereotypes as well. While steps towards discourse to change the way women are treated have started, the portrayal of women in media takes us ten steps back. This trend continues despite the linear progression of the women?s movement. It is high time all media outlets put end to this vicious cycle and use its power to influence favourable social change that the world needs.
– Contributed by Tanisha and Edited by Pragya, Students of Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Journalism
Picture: Katrina Kaif in ‘Slice’ Advertisement