Who is represented? Who produces what? Who consumes what?
Advertisements, films, television or any form of media has to do with vision, predominantly. Thereby ‘the gaze’ becomes an important toolkit for the makers to portray and sell their products. Gendered media is a huge part of our appetite, and the objectified gaze is not a healthy option.
Laura Mulvey, is a feminist film theorist predominantly known for her theory of Male Gaze, which has enabled identify the gaze of a heterosexual man as well as the issues of and with gender in films. Here, the male gaze isn’t limited to objectification of women, it basically means a narrow world view, and where the rest of the characters or elements exist to serve one person’s interests and storyline; and this ‘one’ usually happens to be a heterosexual man.
Women, in Indian advertisements are usually seen performing household chores, and the roles aren’t reversed or shared unless the ad deals with the stereotype itself. While, women in position of power as leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, sports, etc. are spoken about primarily with respect to their appearance, or are pitted against other women. There is already under-representation of women in all walks of life. The handful that we have is constantly represented in a homogenous fashion, where the entire image of women is determined by how they are shown and how (not so) often they are shown. It not only internalizes an institution of unrealistic conceptions, but also aggravates the amount of (constant) consumption of what the pop culture market produces, which is intermingled with what options they are given to begin with. Hence, the most revealing result of which inadvertently is normalizing stereotyping and sexualized portrayals.
On the big screen, there are only handful films where the women exist in characters that have nuanced complexes, and rooted in reality. Portrayals of women are either in the form of damsels-in-distress or the modern one who’s ambitious at the cost of everything and anything. We live in a society where condom advertisements ignite the ‘spiritual consciousness’ along with series of debates, while crass comedy, sexist/abusive movie scripts (read Kabir Singh) are proud blockbusters.
Women aren’t household or food items or defense weapon itinerary; whilst the lyrics of some songs that are penned down for women, for “entertainment purposes” not only attract audience but also trickle down to common parlance. Even in the case of advertisements like that of Axe, Wild Stone, etc. all have no relevance to the plot of the content whatsoever, but have been a tool to “attract” male gazes and are more than often sexist and misogynistic in nature, and lean on sexual innuendos.
“Advertisements influenced the market base, keeping in mind the consumer citizen, who is stuck in a vicious cycle of an inevitable compromise between freedom & necessity.” (Gary Cross)
Typically, advertisements which sell products for men have a particular but unnecessary sexuality attached to it, while having no direct relationship with the product. It’s both fatal and futile because the message sent out deviously reinforces narrow gender bias.
Mulvey asked one question that still lingers around – Why do we still have the same issues decades later? Why do we still see the same roles for women in film and television (and advertisements) regurgitated over and over again?
The simple answer to that would be – Power.
The nexus of gender and power has been created by the male counterpart, keeping them as the target audience and for their pleasure, which is further deeply rooted in patriarchal discourses. The male-driven society manifests the power in the drive to hold the baton of stereotypes and inequality and the effect especially on the young crowd is innate as they develop certain sense of prejudices, distorting and reducing them to mere commodities.
Women are looked at as the bearer of meaning and not the maker of meaning enforces the ancient idea of men are for looking and women to be looked at (Laura Muley).
It’s more than high time for media literacy to change and for them to remove their gendered lens, and take the lead in constructing and reconstructing stories that challenge, deconstruct and destroy the gendered stereotypes that have been lurking around.
Mulvey, Laura (1989), Visual and Other Pleasures, UK: Palgrave Macmillan
Hooks, Bell (2000), Feminism is for Everybody, UK: Routledge
Miss Representation (2011) Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, USA: Girls’ Club Entertainment
Projansky, Sarah (2014), Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture, USA: NYU Press