Women in Indian Media
Our world is increasingly driven by a combination of information and entertainment values. These are promoted by the explosion of different means of communication, especially electronic communication, such as satellite TV and Internet. Even news is packaged as entertainment. The markets for information and entertainment are extremely competitive and continuously looking for ways and means of increasing eyeballs.

It is to this effect, the private enterprises try to innovate strategies to sell their products. One such means is advertisement. The language of advertisements is more about the consumer than the object to be consumed. In the patriarchal society of India, what could be a more appealing language than woman?  Sex sells after all.

 Television and Films

The media is a powerful influencer in India. Advertisements not only promote the commodities for commercial gain but these are also media through which culture can be promoted, demoted or redefined. Although there are many outlets for advertising, electronic media, especially television, capture a lion’s share.

Advertisements deliver messages of specific life styles of specific strata of society. The life styles of the upper-class are portrayed in the entertainment contents to create a sense of desire and aspiration amongst the viewing public.  To promote such messages, models that can be passed as representing the upper-class are hired. These models are mostly Hindi and regional film actresses and actors; in other words they are fair-skinned, sexy, slim, glamorous and macho (male models). To emulate these models, modeling and fashion schools have sprung up all over India. These institutions and the various modeling agencies are primary sources of fresh models to meet the unforeseen boom in ad and fashion industries.

Advertisements have played an important role in manipulating and manufacturing ideological transformation and transmission in the public domain. Through advertisements, a new form of culture and norm are being implicitly constructed. The new Indian is constructed as English educated, upper caste, cosmopolitan, rationalist with scientific bent of mind against rural, illiterate or semi-literate, lower case, parochial mentality. This new individual has been constructed as “….the typical corporate executive, an upwardly mobile professional who travels a great deal, works hard, and unwinds at weekends and holidays.” Physical fitness, smart and good looking, fair complexion are the hidden formula to sustain in the market. Naturally, socially ostracized, neglected, deprived, illiterate rural poor women have no place to enter into the public domain. The image of the educated woman is typecast as arrogant, insensitive, self-centered, domineering, hard, ruthless and the cause of all the suffering around her.

The Indian films, especially the commercial Bollywood ones, are also recreating and sustaining this new woman. Gone are the heroines who used to espouse maternal instincts. The current crop of Bollywood actresses is artificially beautiful. Similar to Hollywood, more and more Bollywood stars are turning to plastic surgery. Katrina’s lips, Preity Zinta’s dimple (controversial), Priyanka Chopra’s perfect cupid bow lips and nose, Sridevi’s straight nose, and Shilpa Shetty’s overall transformation are all thanks to cosmetic surgery. Then there is botox; Hema Malini is the poster woman. India is fast becoming a destination for cosmetic surgical treatment. The singular reason for such a steep rise in cosmetic surgery in India is because it has become more affordable, economical, and alluring. Bollywood is no longer just an entertainment medium, it is a lifestyle.

There has been much criticism of television advertising of some commercial products like cigarettes, laxatives or articles of intimate wearing apparel on moral grounds. Newspaper articles have found some advertisements objectionable, violating the requirements of good taste and being offensive. Some objections have also been made to the appearance of scantily clad women in some commercials and sexual overtones in others. One particular ad on mango juice starring Katrina Kaif has garnered the moniker of “aum sutra.” Mangoes as sex aids and deodorants (Axe brand) turning women into nymphomaniacs – advertising in India seems unable to think beyond Sex to Sell. Television serials are depicting women and young females involved in conspiracy, premarital, extra-marital, and post-marital illicit affairs. They are seen wearing costly, heavy golden and diamond jewelry, perpetuating their religious fundamentalism, spending time is family feuds, suicidal love affairs, mega parties, palatial houses, luxury cars, sleek mobiles, elegant make ups – little caring about anything besides the individual matters.

A social activist comments, "No matter how television producers justify their stand, the fact remains that media influences women the most. All of us have a social responsibility. Since serial makers are ignoring theirs, it is up to the common people to raise their voice against the negative portrayal of women in the so-called family dramas."

Print and Internet

Newspapers give preference to news related to rape, crime, politics, scandals, sports and economics; serious debates and discussions on issues related to women in general are completely missing. The columnists of the newspapers are rarely females. Most of them who find place in the leader pages are political activists or so-called socialites. In vernacular press, the depiction of women gets a share only in colored pages where there is a lot of gossip about actresses of TV serials or film stars along with some hot pick-up and pin-ups. The English press also dwells upon providing snaps of hot babes and erotic photo-gallery of party-mania in multi-star hotels. Even the photos of sports stars are provided in a manner that depicts their body attraction.

Although the Press Council of India has clear guidelines on the way the media should report on and depict women, there is a lot of controversy regarding these instructions and many newspapers are not clear in their own guidelines while tackling such sensitive issues. The fact that crime briefs are reported as simple events, mostly unaccompanied by any analysis, conveys a sense of media apathy and indicates the inherent belief that violence against women is a daily feature of life and does not require analysis.

The internet and the mobile media are rife with indecent photos of women and girls. In 2012, the Union Cabinet made forwarding of pornographic multimedia messages from phones and internet liable for stiffer punishment. Amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 were cleared, broadening the scope of the audio-visual media and material in electronic form.


The impact of the mass media should be monitored, so that one can determine what kind of and how much impact the media has on people and society. It might prove more useful for one’s organizational goals to use other communication means, such as religious, social or tribal groups, the school system, political parties, the government agencies, or other NGOs.

Clearly, the current mass media does not provide a balanced picture of women's diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. Much remains to be done with regard to the "participation, portrayal and access of women to the media and its impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women". What India needs in the present context are minimum regulation and more enablement. Consequently, the following are worth considering:

  • The advertisements in Indian media are in a horrible condition. They require immediate attention of the advertising fraternity, the media planners. Even the women activists also seldom react to the advertisement campaign that is grossly insulting to the dignity of women in different ways.
  • The positive sides of women's progress and their contribution for national development have not been adequately discussed in the media. These have to be addressed immediately.
  • All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan give priority mainly to entertainment-based programs. Women issues and their development programs should be given adequate air time.
  • Government, media, NGOs and private sector should come together and forge joint strategies to promote gender equality and gender justice.
  • Media sources of sexual education conflict with the needs and goals of most people in most cultures. International media promote sexual fetishes for commercial gain, ignoring the consequences to immature readers. The top shelves of many magazine racks, like the dark corners of the internet, often glorify, promote and encourage the unpleasant consequences of sexual obsessions and compulsions.
  • "Demeaning or sarcastic tonalities, unwanted body contact, borderline comments, lewd non-verbal behavior or sexist jokes in films and TV serials need to be controlled through an increased incorporation of Activists in the supervisory capacity, as part of the editorial board for ANYTHING to do with mass media. The censor board should come down heavily on movies, which are graphic depictions of the woman’s body – especially so in instances where the portrayal is completely redundant to the storyline.



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