Mass media - Projection of women

The Nepali media, including films and tele-serials, have contributed to women empowerment. However, the question is, Are they portraying their true images or just presenting them like any consumer item. Whether the mass media are guiding the disadvantaged communities as well or only contributing to popularising the mass culture based on consumerism is another pertinent question. Recently some people were trying to find the answer at an interaction titled “Portrayal of women in the cinema, tele-films and advertisements.”

Obviously, women are still portrayed and performing the same traditional roles in Nepali feature films, tele-films and advertisements. No one can disagree with Dr Pradeep Bhattarai, a film critic, that in the Nepali media, including films, women are still subjected to tears, sympathy and sacrifice. As the media reflect society, they should try to portray the aspirations, struggles and ambitions of the older as well as present generations of women.

Rape scenes are frequently seen in films and tele-serials. The embarrassing situation is depicted in minute pictorial details and every nuance is emphasised with sadistic desire verging on the pornographic. The characterisation of the woman in films, tele-serials, pictures and advertisements can be seen as an object of lust creating sexual stimulation in the recipient. This kind of attitude and exercise spotlights the sexual desire and prowess of men while it shows women as sexually willing and available like any consumer item on the market.

The media usually characterise the image of women showing hysterical reactions to all forms of sexual stimulation and willingly meeting every sexual wish of male partners. When the print and broadcast media present women in news and current issue programmes, they are often presented as either subordinates or their questions merely concentrate on their beauty, household affairs and gossip. The women are depicted as socially insensitive. Thus, they simply tend to demean the image of womanhood.

The main issue of improving women’s condition, status and image is obviously overshadowed. Many women not only in the show business but those who claim to be feminists are seen happy being shown like consumer items. This is a paradoxical reality of modern-day elitist women. Many of them mistakenly think imitation of western lifestyle and activities such as beauty contests is empowerment. They do not think such consumerism is only a means of transforming women into dolls or entertainers. Women invariably figure in the political news as wives, mothers, and daughters of well-known men. They also appear as members of audiences and as victims of some calamity or accident. In development-oriented news items and program-mes, women feature as low level workers.

Where commercials are concerned, the lifestyle promoted is largely elitist: the models in the commercials are overwhelmingly light-skinned. In voice and physical representation, male voice and activities are presented as authoritative, female voice and activities as informative and seductive. Women feature in almost all categories of commercials, but they are dominant in ads for foods, grooming and household items. Films and tele-serials emphasise young, beautiful and sexually attractive women, portray women in terms of their relationship to men, depict women in traditional female occupations, and as overwhelmingly emotional, dependent, superstitious, and irrational beings. Besides, they stress marriage and love along with extra-martial relations with men as a goal for women, and offer a double standard of morality.

The effects and extent of influence of mass communications are often not discussed in Nepal. Mass communications are sometimes blamed for the increase in violence, crime, immorality and escapism, and praised for their educational achievements and social usefulness. However, even the available evidence is often not taken into consideration either by those who attack the mass media because of their alleged effect on people’s behaviour, attitude and values.

P F Lazarsfeld and K Merton in 1960s identified four sources of public concern about mass media. First, many people are alarmed by the mass media’s tyrannical as well as potential power to manipulate man for good or evil. Second, the fear that economic interest groups may use the mass media to ensure public conformity to the social and economic status quo, minimising social criticism and weakening the audience’s capacity for critical thinking. Third, the mass media, in accommodating large audiences, may cause a deterioration of aesthetic tastes and value-based culture. Finally, mass media might nullify the social gains for which reformers have worked for decades. The evidence about communication effects is inadequate and inconclusive; however, it will be better to keep possible effects of the media in mind while discussing portrayal of women in the media.

Chalise is executive editor, Gorkhapatra