Children And Women’s Image In Media
It was in a gender sensitization workshop at my daughter’s school, that made me realize how images portrayed in the media are absorbed by the young impressionable minds. Through a series of activities, the fifth graders were made to assign various actions like shopping, cleaning, cooking, crying, singing, playing, fighting etc. to the categories of ‘he’ and ‘she’. The students overwhelmingly put the traditionally assigned roles of females in the ‘she’ category, at the first instance. After some thoughtful minutes they reassigned some of the activities to the categories, derived from what they had seen in their immediate social environment.
The majority of mothers of these students were professionals that prompted them to change the categories. As has been accepted widely, gender roles are socially constructed and therefore, are learnt rather than being haboured in the X and Y chromosomes. The students in the workshop had seen their mothers going out to work but at the same time had grown up seeing mostly female house helps performing the cleaning, cooking, washing and so on. This was reinforced by the television advertisements that presented image after image of women stuck in the domestic sphere. Even a two-minute instant noodle required a woman to whip it up and serve it lovingly with a smile. Considering that at an average, children are exposed to a minimum of 250 advertisements per day, in addition to the many serials on the Indian television centered around the domestic sphere, it is not surprising that media plays great role in conditioning the children to accept stereotype gender roles.
Women have either been relegated to stereotype or commodified entities. The K serials of Ekta Kapoor had done much to draw a sharp line between the good and the bad woman characters. The ambitious woman characters were forever given a negative shade who would stop at nothing to reach their goals. They were the scheming and selfish kinds in spaghetti straps and loud make up. On the other hand, the socially acceptable woman and endearing characters were the self –sacrificing, submissive ones who barely harboured any idea of herself as an individual. This was in stark contrast with firebrand Rajni of the 80s, who stood up for the social wrongs; or Kalyani of Udaan fame who inspired many girls to aim for professions beyond the comforts of the traditionally dictated ones.
Media has recognized the changing aspirations of the women and gradually changed their approach towards her image. There are action serials where women are shown competing with tough obstacles that require strong mental make- up as well as high level of physical fitness. Or take the instance of the various cook shows where amateur men are seen participating and slogging it out in the kitchen. And yet these messages are not enough to make children realize that any profession, household chore and daily living errand are not determined by the gender.
To counter the many sources that influence our children’s perceptions of gender and roles assigned to them, it is up to us, as parents, to encourage questions that seek explanations for the stereotype images. And for this to have any bite, it is necessary to set it through examples within the family environment. Maybe this is how the fifth grade students realigned their thoughts and decided later that none of those activities, actually should have been categorized under ‘he’ or ‘she’.