Objectification of women in india: role of media and media projections


With new technologies, there is an increase in the commercialization of mass media at global levels. This also marks a steep increase in the objectification of women. Media has been both a bane and a boon as always.[1] It provides us with an arena where we connect with distant people but at the same instance it also promotes the women to be treated as commodities, as a sex toy.[2] If we analyze it closely, media is a reflection of the cultural and social values that a society holds. With the passage of time, media has started impinging and disrupting our real imaginations, the sanctity of a woman which was once worshipped in the same society.[3]

The extent to which media has influenced could be very well seen by the values that the modern parents indulge into their children. Girls have been taught since their childhood as to what is their expected role and behavior in society. They are always taught how to sit, how to stand, when to move out, when to move in, how to behave, what to speak, what not to speak. They are always told that girls always need to stand at a step lower than their brothers and other men, that they ought not go against what they say or think and that the men are always right Thus, somewhere behind these mentality of the society, the media has played a decisive role, furthering the transmission of patriarchal society and to establish a relationship between an individual and modernity.[4] But when they are asked to explain or comment onto this, the only thing which any producer or director will speak are they reflecting what people of our country think. Thus, the reader might be thinking that it is a chain process, circular and never ending. But this is not so.

We know that media is a wider aspect. Under which includes Cinema, Television, Radio, newspaper, internet, etc. Cinema is a communication of a combination of lights, sound, motion, dialogue and drama. Furthermore, our modern society is well acquainted with each one of these, while the big screen and internet still lead the show.[5]

The present media is nothing but a pool of manipulations in the name of everything being a fiction and screening a disclaimer which also speaks that it has no relation with anything in real. Whatever it has been is merely a matter of coincidence. Thus in this virtual world, where we spent a major part of our lives, we have been inundated with false images of women which only creates an impression that they are born to be treated as a commodity. What the media does is just the under-representation of the conditions of the women, i.e., a traditional stereotyped woman who is passive, subordinate and dependent to the other sex.

Such is the powerful impact of media, as it has always been successful in displacing the society to a whimsical position of the women; it is the position where women no longer signify themselves.[6] Although, it is not just to blame cinema solely for distortion of the mirror of society, the television too has contributed well to lessen the dignity of females. It has affirmed that women are meant to be confined to the four walls of their house and they have no right to move freely to any of the public places.

 They have been portrayed as the dependent sex, who is passive and submissive to the patriarchal norms, authorities and traditions. And then there are modern women, independent of others, who earn and bring a part of their income of the house; as a result of which these westernized women are personated in the bad role of a vamp. Our societies; however modern it might be, makes it important for the she-sex to remain with the restricted demarcation of patriarchal system. And from where do we learn these, the answer lies with the media.

The truth of this hour is women have become a source of revenue. They have been subjected to great demeaning nature and objectifying them as commodities. Media sends us constant that through objectification, the women enjoy being sexually assaulted when forced and dominated, which in reality seems very unconventional and unrealistic.[7]

As a source of revenue, the female sex has been parallelized to being gentle, submissive and passive to the dominant male sex, where the latter has been portrayed as independent, ruthless and impulsive. The women are generally depicted as the housewives who have an inclination towards their household, family and a feeling of tenderness for their children. Even if somewhere they are personated as a part of the working class, it has to be the occupation which has a touch of tender care like teachers or nurses. Nevertheless, how modern this depiction is, it is always criticized and preferred less than the household.

Furthermore, the gender roles are the result of the set behavior patterns and the division of work among the two sexes. And thus, it could also be well credited that this objectification and exploitation lay its deep roots within the traditional gender role.  The concept of a patriarchal society is most common in our country wherein women have been assumed with certainly less powers than men. Therein, men have the final say in everything just like that of a ruler in old times did.

With the onset of the 20th Century, women have been working equally and maintain the same status as that of the men. Despite, the stereotyped projection leaves women just helpless. The best example are the advertisements of detergents and baby-products, where always women who are at the service. Even while advertising masculine products, females are must-to-show. This is called the women objectification.

 The woman on screen is projected with glowing features, fairer skin tone, perfectly shaped curves, flat belly and long-silky hair as an ideal sex icon; which helps to promote their business and to attract more customers.

But this ideal femininity is what the society desires of, impacting the former in unprecedented ways. Furthermore, that is what the society readily accepts, the ideal beauty commodities and despise for the real women.[8]

This objectification not only instigates shame and trepidation but also encourages their use as a medium of amusement. Now, since the society accepts what is not real, women continue to chase what is ideal. As a result of which, many females find themselves trapped in the callousness,  thereby having lower self-esteem, depression, feeling of discontent with self and other psychological disorders, Leaving behind all the integrity and self-worth at the stake.

Current scenario speaks that the female objectification is the key source to a billion dollars. A person does not have to do any hard work, what all he requires is a smart, elegant, beautiful woman as a sex icon in his business- whether it is tourism, hotel management or an advertisement.

But this not an issue that has come up within last few years, rather it is since early 1920s, when women wanted to break off the traditions. The film makers then saw this as an opportunity to capitalize and set out the new attitude, behavior and style as examples of the new society that was then evolving. They tried reflecting the society and ended up in molding them.

The gender differentiation in media is another sub-aspect under women objectification. The female sex is personated not as a whole but in parts, sometimes even eliminating the portrayal of the face itself. The major focus lies on their body. To say that the females are always the hunting hone is altogether incorrect and unjust. The men are also objectified, though it is always either their face or the muscles.

Here, it is noteworthy to state that not only are the women objectified by society, but by themselves too. The self-objectification is the penultimate result. This further leads to the degradation of the dignity of women. They just perceive that if a woman has to succeed in her life, she has to sexually exploit herself.[9]

Ladies disguise the thought that they are an item to be looked at and might start to view themselves in a comparatively withdrew, basic way. The objectification leaves numerous ladies feeling that their whole body is “spoiled” on record of one-not as much as impeccable element. They see themselves as “works in advancement” or something needing consistent adjustment. Greater researches demonstrate that once they start self-externalizing, numerous young ladies tumble to depression, appearance tension, body disgrace, sexual dysfunction and dietary issues.

The sexualized portrayal of women in media has a negative imprint on the minds of individuals, especially young girls who have now begun to be more health and body conscious. While few of them are affected in their sub-conscious levels, others get affected in the direct ways.

What influences us is not our experience of any one advertisement, but rather of the totality which speaks to specific sorts of messages over and over.

Following are the statistics that the researcher tries to present, which also depict the extent of the impact of the women objectification in media:

  • According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 11,326 18 year old women underwent breast augmentation surgery last year, up from 3,872 in 2002.
  • Depression has increased by two-folds since last decade.
  • According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2011, India ranks 134 in the Human Development Index. Also, according to UNDP reports, India has:
  • 0.56 gender inequality index
  • 12% population of seats Held by women in National Parliament
  • 0.33 Human Development Index for Scheduled Caste, 0.27 for Scheduled Tribe
  • 73% Adult Literacy Rate

Significantly, we see that it is the media who is to be blamed. But are we right in this instance? Certainly not! Both are to be equally blamed for the stereotyped portrayal.[10] It is we who have to be blamed, because, we have readily accepted and appreciated what media has to offer. They are merely shopkeepers but the ultimate customers are us. Had we not accepted it, they would have not continued to do so. We call ourselves to be a modern society, a developing nation but we still live in the 19th century when such practices were barely appreciated.

We see the problem around us, but there need to be some solution for the same. The researcher by the way of this article, aims at proposing few solutions rather suggestions, to implement in order to curb the problem from the roots itself. So, here are the corrective measures to this Brobdingnagian problem of sexual objectification of women.

At first, since we know that media plays a very decisive role in the society. Hence, it should rather portray women in roles which should be positive and constructive. The society sub-consciously follows what media conveys. The motion pictures in the form of videos have a great impact on the minds of the people at large. Besides this, we must collectively promote the women integrity and empower them to stand for themselves. What legislature can do is to make the laws, what executive can do is to bring those laws in force, what judiciary can do is to provide them with justice and interpret the laws but the penultimate responsibility lies with the general population.

Further, allocating balanced work instead of discrimination resulting in domination of one sex would boost the confidence among the weaker sex.

Many of the Non-Governmental Organizations also work for spreading the awareness for media education, sexual exploitation and objectification. The schools can help majorly in simplifying the issue by teaching sex education and values of moral science.

Other women empowerment themes may include few of the emoluments such as maternity benefits and flexible working patterns. The Indian cinema and television industry may establish an independent media house for women.

There should be an establishment of a commission for women in each country both at federal and provincial level to keep a constant check for exploitation against women.

Furthermore, the Government should lay down serious punishments with strict penalties for any sort of violation to the dignity of a woman. Families should encourage them for active participation through salubrious portrayal.

Ultimately, the society should promote a holistic development of women by creating an environment conducive to change.

In furtherance, by way of this article, the researchers would also like to acknowledge the government for enactment of such provisions.

Witnessing such kind of indecent representation of women, Government of India enacted the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. However, the terms obscenity and indecent were not clearly defined and hence was left to the discretion of the judiciary and thus was a matter of misuse and controversy.

The Government of India has launched one such program for the empowerment of women in 2010. The National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) aims to provide a single window service for all programmes run by the Government for Women under the aegis of Various Central ministers. One of the focus areas of the mission is to prevent crime against women and fostering a safe environment for women. Besides, the key strategy that the mission adopts is by strengthening institutional framework offering support service for women.

Ultimately, it is not only the enactment of such policies and chalking them out on the paper is not sufficient to curb this problem, the society and the media should collaboratively treat women as a segment of population. Women must get the much needed respect, to be treated them as human and equal to the other sex. Families need to change their mindset from a patriarchal society. They must allow their women to work and move freely. It has always been said that if the woman of a family is educated, the whole family is also educated.

[1] Cynthia Carter and Linda Steiner, Critical Readings: Media and Gender, Open University Press (2004)

[2] Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity, Oxford University Press (1997)

[3] John A. Lent, Women and Mass Communications in the 1990’s: An International, Annotated Bibliography, Greenwood Press (1999)

[4] Patricia Bradley, Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975, University Press of Mississippi (2003)

[5] Meta G. Carstarphen and Susan C. Zaoina, Sexual Rhetoric: Media Perspectives on Sexuality, Gender, and Identity, Greenwood Press (1999)

[6]David Gauntlett, Media, Gender, and Identity: An Introduction, Routledge (2002)

[7] Sue Thornham, Women, Feminismand Media, Edinburgh University Press (2007)

[8] Ann C. Hall, Delights, Desires, and Dilemmas: Essays on Women and the Media, Praeger (1998)

[9] Radha Sarma Hegde, Circuits of Visibility: Gender and Transnational Media Cultures, New York University Press (2011)

[10] Barrie Gunter, Media Sex: What are the Issues?, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (2002)

Author: Somdev Tiwari & Anisha Jhawar, students, Institute of Law, Nirma University.

Disclaimer: This article has been published in “Legal Desire International Quarterly Journal (ISSN: 2347-3525), page no. 290. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from Legal Desire. All Rights Reserved.

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