Archana Kumari |
While technological advancements and globalization of media have created and strengthened structural disadvantages for women, these same trends have also opened more avenues for alternatives and networking among women. Some forms of feminist strategies in advancing women’s rights within and through the media include efforts on the creation of alternative women’s media, media literacy, creation of or collaboration with existing media watch groups, media related advocacies within and with governments and non-government organizations and the integration of gender perspectives in media code of conduct
Gender and media has not been a new subject to discuss in social forum. We have good documentations available on the portrayal of gender as a product and the accompanying body politic (Body Politic is commoditization of woman body) in media. Media can act as both a perpetrator and as a protagonist. It can either be an accomplice to gender based discrimination by portraying stereotypical sensational images of women or it can provide balanced coverage that empowers women while exposing acts of gender bias. We know that for centuries the status of women has been secondary in Indian Society.
The Manusmriti prescribes the same treatment to be meted out to women, untouchables and animals. The following centuries brought evils like dowry, sati and purdah system which further chained and degraded women. In 21st century, gradually the position of women has improved and they have started participating in politics, business, sports and almost every sphere of life. Media can actually present this strong character of women. But today after globalization, media has started portraying women as commodity. The attempt by the media to obliterate the political projects of feminism and appropriate certain aspects of the women’s movement’s agenda into the construction of a new sign system which revolve around the subject position ‘woman’. The result is this subject position of New/ Liberated/ Modern woman, commodified as a selling strategy for conspicuous consumption. (Chanda Ipshita, 2004). Their issues, needs and concerns find little space in popular discourse. Media is mirror of society and it also influence the society to a great extent, so portrayal of women in media will also change their image in society.
What is Feminism?
A feminist is said to be someone who recognizes the existence of sexism (discrimination on the basis of gender), male domination and patriarchy and takes some action against it. A broad definition of feminism which was accepted by women from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is – An awareness of women’s oppression and exploitation in society, at work and within the family and conscious action by women and men to change this situation (Bhasin Kamla and Khan Nighat Said, 2004).
Body Politic and Media
The woman as an object of desire is so promoted by media and culture that women have to go to extreme lengths to look like the prescribed “body”. The cosmetic industry thrives on this insecurity. It promotes notions of ideal body shape (Krishnaraj Maithreyi, 2010). Women and their body parts sell everything from food to cars. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller and thinner. The adjectives used are taken to be metonymous – saying one is to imply all the others, by the logic of this sign system that groups itself around the figure of woman. This serves to confine feminism into a single seamless totality, an adjective rather than a form of praxis (Chanda Ipshita, 2004). Women have always received contradictory messages about their bodies.
Sometimes it is glorified by ideal images of goddesses, honour of the nation/family/community and sometimes the same body is projected as shameful, embarrassing, fearful and disgusting. Women have constantly struggled to maintain this “ideal” body and project themselves as “good women” or have been afraid of being portrayed as “bad women” (Sabala, Gopal Meena, 2010). Through this comes distorted picture of how we view our bodies. It can be extremely disempowering for a woman to be compared daily with other women’s bodies and feel as though she does not measure up. The distinction between sex and gender, which feminist theory put forth definitely makes sense as sex alone does not explain the whole array of roles, traits, etc that gender takes on. The feminist viewpoint thereby became unable to speak of the body as subject. However, apart from the nation and religion, society is constantly concerned with the representation of women. Society has created a certain image of good looks and there is a marketing of good looks with everyone following it badly. The media is the biggest site of representation of the female body.
Women’s bodies are sexualized and objectified for the male and the market. Feminists in the 1970s and 1980s were concerned with the way woman’s bodies were objectified, represented, marketed and consumed. Some of the earliest campaigns have been protests against the degrading depiction of women. This later culminated in protesting against the beauty pageant for Miss World/ Universe. Beauty pageant across globe was looked at as “social globalization” aided by international capital so that yesterday’s western products find a ready market elsewhere. It was termed as “business of beauty”. Women’s groups were also doing media monitoring, analyzing the images of women bodies in television, cinema, photography and other visual arts. However, some of the feminists were completely against this protest of women’s group against beauty pageant. For them it appeared illogical for the women’s movement, which had been demanding ‘liberation’ of women, to oppose pageant that were actually offering them avenues for unprecedented success and wealth (Choudhuri Maitrayee, 2004). The popular representation of feminism in the media reflects a retreat from questions of class, caste and social justice. Feminism is read here as a matter of the individual woman’s right to choose. The woman concerned is either the corporate woman or the high powered consumer (Choudhuri Maitrayee, 2004).
Feminism and Modernisation
The range of effects of media is very wide. The effect of media can be traced right from the opinion formation to almost every field of human activity. Communication is the key factor in modernization (Mahajan Kamlesh, 1996). It has become more relevant in modern times. With the advent of electronic media, we have entered in communication revolution. Television represents one of the very important medium of the electronic media. Furthermore research on gender in the media has often emphasized that through the enculturation process, advertisements contribute to woman’s social degradation although their primary objective is to inform a mass market about the circulation of a product and to encourage its purchase (Kilbourne, 1990, 1999, 2003). Thus advertisements regularly reflect biased roles and generate subconscious processes in which certain biological or genetic characteristics of individuals are linked with specific functions. Previous studies have indicated that advertisements typically ascribed to women stereotypical roles that correspond with low-status jobs in developed capitalistic societies and exclude them from the formal production system (Pazari E. Nina and Tsangaris M., 2008). Therefore advertisements present women as pathetic housewives, as decorative equipment, as sexual object and so on.
Women’s bodies are continually used to sell cigarettes, liquors, cars, male perfume and other male-identified products, as well magazines, newspapers and television programmes. However there is a debate among feminists around women’s sexuality in the media. On the one hand, most feminists condemn the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies in media. On the other hand, some feminists contend that censoring women’s sexualized images would further deny women’s reclaiming of their own sexualities and therefore women’s control over their own body (Bello Carolina Rodriguez, 2003). Actually it is very interesting to track down how easily advertising professional networks share the market, construct gender roles and shape consumer demonologies for each gender. On the other hand advertisers are supposed to be sensitive about women since they form a major market segment.
Portrayal of women in media is in fact a reflection of how men want her to see. Most of the media organizations are owned and run by males and there are very few females in position of decision making. According to one statistics by the International Women’s Media Foundation, 2001, the overall number of women journalists employed in the media around the world has decreased by 2 percent in the last five years. In Asia women are 21 percent of the total media workforce.
The above discussion reveals specific gender roles, which correspond to the dominant views of society. It reveals that the advertisements projected patriarchal beliefs that were amplified skillfully by the advertisers. In this sense the advertisers supported these beliefs for the maintenance of the existing consumer system as the outcome of globalization. In the meantime, certain contradictions that were included in women’s representations intensified when TV commercials gradually rendered them more and more roles as the advertisers invented ‘commodity feminism’ that finally reconciled gender equality attached to consumerism in the post modern era. Pre liberalization analyses of programmes on television have shown that prime time sitcoms, dramas and film based programmes caste women as docile homemakers and objects of male desire (Krishnan and Dighe, 1990). But portrayal of women on Indian television has not changed significantly in the 1990s since the 1980s (Mcmillin Divya C., 2002). The projection of women as commodity, however, is a phenomenon after globalization. The standards of beauty which were difficult to achieve were imposed on women. The roots, some analysts say, are economic. The cosmetics and diet product industries are assured of growth by this way. And it’s no accident that young women are increasingly promoted along with thinness as an essential criterion of beauty. It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth anywhere between 40 to 100 billion US dollar a year. Thus women are caught between the neo-liberal market forces and conservative fundamentalist forces. Feminist analyses have been exploring the fundamentalist dimensions of free market globalization. One of the key components of feminist analyses rests on the framework of women’s control over their own bodies, for example, the free market exploits and profits over women’s sexualities by shaping attitudes and creating needs around women’s bodies.
While technological advancements and globalization of media have created and strengthened structural disadvantages for women, these same trends have also opened more avenues for alternatives and networking among women. Some forms of feminist strategies in advancing women’s rights within and through the media include efforts on the creation of alternative women’s media, media literacy, creation of or collaboration with existing media watch groups, media related advocacies within and with governments and non-government organizations and the integration of gender perspectives in media code of conduct.
Dr. Archana Kumari, an alumni of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, is working as Assistant Professor at Central University of Jammu. She has been on the faculty of IIMC, Central University of Kashmir and Central university of Bihar.