February 02, 2010

Portrayal of women in Indian media

Movies, or for that matter media in general, are often said to be the reflection of the society. Or at least that's what majority of people in India consciously or unconsciously tend to believe. While it's arguable whether the media truly reflect the society or not, there's no doubt that media have a big sociocultural influence on the society.

The way women are shown in movies these days is hardly different than those before a decade or a few. Women have been shown to consider being an ideal homemaker as the goal of their life. Leaving few exceptions, movies of recent times have hardly shown an 'ideal woman' doing anything but being a housewife. Even in those movies where a woman is shown to have more decision power in hand than her husband, the wife is almost always portrayed in bad light. And at the end of the movie, she is slapped by her husband. Her husband also tells her, 'I should have slapped much earlier'. The woman realizes her 'mistakes', repents of the same and the movie ends when everyone appears to be happy.

Before a few days while watching such a scene from a movie, one of my roommates actually said, 'This is the reason why a woman should not be given power. She doesn't know how to use it.'

As far as showing women in advertisements is concerned, things seem to have only worsened over time. In most of the advertisements of recent times too, a woman is either washing clothes and utensils, cooking, serving food to family members or trying to make her husband feel better who's at that time reading a newspaper or suffering from cold. A woman does all this even when she's headache or backache. These advertisements arguably encourage sexism. They reinforce the old belief that a woman is supposed to forgo her own comfort and keep on doing household chores without getting tired.

The same has remained true for the soap operas of earlier times and of recent times. While in many of these soaps, a woman has more decision power than their male counterparts, it's very difficult to come across so many such families in real life. Moreover, those women who wear modern clothes and appear very confident more often than not have bad intentions than their conservative and not-so-modern counterparts.

I recently come across this: 'The media should refrain from portraying women as commodities and sex objects.' The media still portray women as objects showing whom in certain way can catch the attraction of people. It's very amusing to see a woman in advertisements for products like cement.

Media not only portray women as mere commodities, they often unintentionally stereotype women. And this can be very dangerous, I believe.

Note: This post has been reblogged on Bell Bajao, on BKhush and on YouthKiAwaaz.


  1. This 'slap' that sets things right in movies is one about which I have plans about blogging too. It always makes me wonder if the woman can slap the erring, drunkard, no-good husband thereby making things alright?! I am curious to know what the reaction of people like your roommate would be to that. It would be interesting to know! :)
    The portrayal of women in media leaves much to be desired. Those who watch have the same expectations from women, the docile housekeeper.. the ever cheerful solver of the problems of others in the household without turning (literally) even a single hair on her head seems to be everyone's notion of the ideal woman.

  2. Regarding the matter of a woman's slap to her husband, I'm sure my roommate would laugh it off saying that men don't improve by slaps.

    And, while the wife is always shown to bow down before her husband and touch his feet, do we EVER see the husband touching the feet of his wife?

  3. Nice post Haresh...I have a reason to believe you what all you have said here. Because each and everything is visible today. One cannot hide the facts. Women are really being portrayed as the objects of desire.

  4. Very well written post Haresh. That slap seen reinforces the belief all Indians have that one odd slap in a marriage is not such a bad thing... :( And also that women who are slapped were either 'crossing their limits' (???!), or back-answering (what about communication, only agreeing is communication?) or not being respectful to their husband. We obviously don't thing men need to be respectful to women, because I nobody points out that slapping is not the way to show respect to one's equal partner.

  5. hmmm nice post.

    I will agree at the point, media doesn't always reflect where the society is. Many times it's just other business, they sell what sells most !

    Even look at our mom, she loves us most and always worried and keeps asking about if we ate properly but that's not all of her, Not the only thing she does ! She has more life than what they portray as "Indian Mother" !

  6. I do not watch a lot of movies these days but I once in a while watch a few Indian TV series at my brothers place. I agree with what you say. The question is how can we stop this negative portrayal? We can boycott the movies or the products. We can also educate the public on woman's rights. We as a society should also apply pressure on the actresses who are willing to portray these roles.

  7. Thanks everyone :-)


    Boycotting movies isn't the appropriate way. We ourselves can stop watching such movies. But, it wouldn't be practically possible to socially boycott these movies. These portrayal are often subtle which unconsciously influence Applying pressure on actresses isn't democratic enough.

  8. 'This is the reason why a woman should not be given power. She doesn't know how to use it.'...'should not be given'!!!...by who?...by men?...why has it become so that women have to 'be given' anything by man...not much different from the limits of freedom 'we' give our dogs, cattle, servants...
    you write very well...and to see that the Indian youth is so sensitive and eager to express their opinion has warmed my heart...to read this view point from a man is refreshing...in fact I have heard hep educated girls quip that it was wrong that women have been given powers outside of the house, and this being the reason for increased divorce rates!!!

  9. HI haresh!
    When I trailed back from my blog, I was indeed surprised to see an article regarding woman in a guy's blog! I am not telling this in a wrong notion. But generally we don't find or should I phrase it, I don't see it in a guy's blog!

    Know what? To be very frank regarding your post, people's mentality is such that, they wanna show woman as a mere sex symbol in whatever they produce. You asked the role of woman on cements, let me ask u.. What a woman is doing in Gillete shaving cream? Btw, a great blog and a good initiative :)

  10. @Nalini,

    Well said. Some people just seem to be unable to think.

    And, even if we assume the belief 'women working outside cause divorces' to be true, the marriages weren't worth anyway, since they're not built on the foundation of equality and mutual respect for each others' rights.

    By the way, why women have to be 'given' power? Who 'gave' power to men? Who 'gave' power to men to 'let' women 'use' their power?

    And, thanks for the compliments! :-)


    When I started serious blogging a few months back, I didn't know (and I still doubt) that there are not many men who blog about equality of rights. It's sad to see the lack of interest among men in these issues.

    What is a woman doing in Gillete shaving cream ad? She's probably making sure that more people watch the ad(? or the woman) more enthusiastically.

    And thanks for the compliments! :-)

  11. Completetly wirh you on this.. stereotyping of women, portrayal of women in power as 'bad'...this is all absolutely true and is a very unhealthy trend. Women (not only in India), are expected to be submissive, so the moment someone decides to make a difference, she is hounded and crucified! Good post, Haresh.
    And Thank you for following my blog on NB :-)

  12. yes Indian movies are typical.
    very good post.

  13. Women are as human as men. So why the difference? Starting from decades, its portrayed or just absorbed women are tend to do only this and not other things. We have women leaders, writers even those days if not why its in the history and we still read it. No human is inferior to anyone just becoz he/she is married in the name of commitment/agreement. Women are marketed for senseless products in the name of power, money and attitude.

  14. I think the media is imposing a very calculated hegemony on women. Not just through the portrayal of women as domesticated docile we-men but also in the propagandists attempts made to coax a woman into believing that her identity as a woman is limited to (even restricted to) as someone who is constantly part of a struggle to prove herself.
    Indian media, in particular, makes me so mad. Actresses have to portray an idiot who plays second fiddle to a man.

    I apologise for the long comment. I honestly couldn't have used lesser words, I swear!

  15. @writerzblock,

    You're welcome :-)


    Thanks :-)


    Yes, women's freedom has always been controlled and restricted.


    Yes. Women have to struggle a lot more just for the simple fact of being a female in this society.

  16. Hi. First visit to your blog. Came over from IHM. Women's potrayal in the media is an evergreen topic! Am so glad you mentioned ' The Slap which cures all evil (women)'. It is ATROCIOUS. I mean how does that scene make it through the censors! It clearly justifies domestic violence against women.
    And then there are all thoses ads which show women as superwomen. Doing all housework and managing a career also. And guess what? Young girls think thats perfectly alright! What are we teaching the next generation?
    "Media not only portray women as mere commodities, they often unintentionally stereotype women." - I think the media has no intentions at all. Other than selling their product in any way possible. They do not feel any sense of social responsibility. Period.

    1. What's so wrong in that ?

  17. Can you give me some examples of some movies which have "the slap" ?

    1. (1) 'Hum aapke hain kaun' - Bindu getting slapped by her husband towards the end of the movie to 'punish' her for her misbehaviour.

      (2) 'Raja ki aayegi baraat' - Mohnish Behl slapping his wife for her 'misdeeds'

      There are numerous incidents of movies when a man is shown slapping his wife to set her right. The man has been meek throughout the film and watched his wife doing 'bad' things and/or behaving impolitely with relatives, etc. And, the man finally 'loses his temper'. Surprisingly, the wife suddenly 'realizes' all her 'mistakes', asks for 'forgiveness', starts crying. And the 'generous' husband 'forgives' her.

      Such movies try to justify the slapping.

      I've been able to recollect two movies as of now although there are numerous movies showing the same. In fact, mostly the dialogues are quite similar too

      i.e. Right after the slap...

      Some third party person: 'Arrey tumne ye kya kiya (thappad)' ('What did you do? (referring to slap))

      Husband: 'Wahi jo mujhe bahut pehle karna chahiye tha' ('I did what I should have done much earlier')

    2. A more recent example would be a scene from a mainstream movie released in the year 2008 titled 'Mere Baap Pehle Aap' where the husband slaps her wife to 'set her right' with cliche dialogues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtbQmhuDKpU