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Misrepresentation of gender in media leading to 'systematic' subordination of women

By Arjun Kumar* 

To examine the portrayal of women in media, the inequalities perpetuated till date, and access of media to women and girls, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi presented a discussion with Anita Parihar on Gender and Media as part of the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps.
Prof Vibhuti Patel, former professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), as the chair of the talk, began the talk by mentioning the improper portrayal of women in the media. She also spoke about the different movements involving women since before independence, including the #MeToo movement where women began voicing the discrimination faced by them.
Following this, Anita Parihar, media practitioner, talked about influential work of Ester Boserup who focused on economic and agricultural development. She affirmed that gender is a construct, determined by societies and culture. While we are born as males and females, we grow to be men and women as described by society as a whole.
At the same time, consumers have become the makers of media as we learn about how to communicate information in various ways. Good research is important for film-making and media so that the reality is reflected. Typically, women are relegated to soft stories while men are assigned to work on more crucial issues.
“Media can essentially be used as a mirror to show a picture through which society can move forward”, Parihar said, adding, "Young people have to join hands to come up with workable and innovative solutions during these difficult times."

Gendered media

Dr Khevana Desai, assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Mithibai College of Arts, Mumbai, spoke about regional media and multilingual media on OTT platforms. She posed the questions: “What is gendered media? Is the focus on how many women are there in media or what kind of women are portrayed?” 
Ester Boserup
The question of representation vs recognition as well as women in media vs media by women is also pertinent in this regard. Predominantly, West Indian media revolved around food, film, and fashion on one hand and content on academia, activism, and literary aesthetics on the other.
Several shows with women-centric content contain stereotypes and social issues are glorified. Meenal Patel, Trupti Shah, Saroop Dhruv and Kama Bhasin have been focusing on feminist content while maintaining literary aesthetics. Dr Desai mentioned that women, when portrayed in different roles, are shown as abusers and as emulating men.
Dr Saptam Patel, assistant professor, Amrut Mody School of Management, and assistant dean, Undergraduate College, Ahmedabad University, said that critical gender-related issues in media should be incorporated into academic discourses. The issue of invisibility of women has always existed as women have been deprived of recognition for a long time.
Misrepresentation of women in arts and media has confirmed a systematic subordination of women and although collective individual efforts to shift the landscape and address the issues are emerging, they have not led to much progress. “Media is an extremely powerful tool that can build and shape perspectives”, Dr Patel said.
The misrepresentation can affect the pace at which social change is happening. Media projects gender as a binary, and mostly the different gender identities are neglected. Gender misrepresentation and stereotypes can lead to a much distorted idea of self in people.
Usually, gender non-binary does not feature in media apart from in documentaries and a few commercial films, and people from such communities are not empowered, struggling to make a living. The art world, whether visual or performing, is typically a man’s world and feminist works have not been able to break the barriers yet.
Nischint Hora, honorary co-projects director, Vacha, Mumbai, said that Vacha is a resource centre for women that mainly focuses on the empowerment of girls. One of their projects involves training girls from socially and economically backward backgrounds and enabling them to write and tell their stories.
Every community brings out a newsletter once a year, discussing their own issues and conducting interviews. Various skills were taught to the girls including photography and technology became an enabling factor for them as previously, boys received technological devices before girls.
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*Director, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi. Inputs: Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Sakshi Sharda, Swati Solanki, Mahima Kapoor. Acknowledgment: Ritheka Sundar is a research intern at IMPRI

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