Media have been reflectors of dominant values and work as an active agency aiming at reinforcing and strengthening dominant value structure. There is no doubt that mass media like TV, film, radio newspapers and magazines mould opinion, thinking, attitudes and behaviour.
TV and films are more powerful as their reach and impact is greater than that of other media. All of these media have greater reach among men than women, but what catches the attention of the feminists and other concerned people is the unrealistic, negative portrayal of women in these media.
Mass media do give coverage to women and their issues but damage done by media to women is more than the help offered to them. The role of media in the development of women and enhancement of their status in the society is very depressing.
All mass media are being blamed for this. Mass media have been powerful agents of social influence but they have not been effective in portraying women in meaningful, respectable and positive manner.
In 1978, a major UNESCO study on the portrayal and participation of women in the media found that the portrayal of women in the mass media globally was consistently poor. The study also confirmed that there was severe under-representation of women in the upper cadres of all media organizations, and that the average media woman earns less than her male counter-parts.
Studies carried out in South Asia in 1986 confirm that women are portrayed either as docile, home loving and sexless, or as the object of male desire. Mass Media’s presentation of women is contradictory to reality.
This does not mean that mass media are expected to represent reality with accuracy. But, as pointed out by Joshi (1991), “Consistently and systematically women are being exploited to the advantage of men’s self-esteem.”
According to her, one important reason is that its production, direction and other facets are controlled by men and decisions making level is dominated by men.
The other factor is the reliance of film and TV organizations on commercial backing and a consequent pressure to deal in known and accepted images and contents.
They are generally required to make an immediate and vivid impact to be quickly and easily absorbed by their audience; so they use simplified, recognizable and standardized characterization.
Thus, they feed the most conservative forces in society, ignoring new trends. There are lots of myths about women which are fostered and spread through the mass media, such as, women’s place is in the home, her most important and valuable asset is her beauty, women are dependent, submissive, irrational etc., a good woman is the traditional housewife who is self sacrificing and pious.
The modern woman who asserts her freedom is either immoral or misguided and needs to be brought under the domination of man.
Even when the space and coverage to women’s issues has increased, the sex role stereotypes as well as sexual exploitation of women’s bodies particularly in TV, films and advertisements have persisted.
The media play an important role in propagating and perpetuating values of inequality between the sexes.
The committee on Portrayal of Women, formed in 1983, noted the following characteristics of the images of women projected in media.
(a) A woman’s place is in the home.
(b) The most important and valuable asset of a woman is her physical beauty.
(c) A woman’s energies and intellect must be directed to find the right man and keep him.
(d) Women are dependent, coy and submissive; they are subjected to humiliations, and stay quiet even to the physical violence inflicted on them.
(e) The good woman is the traditional housewife, long suffering, pious and submissive, the modern woman who asserts herself and her independence is undesirable and can never bring happiness to anybody nor find happiness to anybody nor find happiness herself.
(f) Women are women’s worst enemies.
(g) The working woman is the undesirable exception who must be brought into the marriage fold and to submit to the prevalent norms of the society.