The Breakthrough Voice 21st September, 2020

Gender Lens In The Media: Why Representation Is Important.

The media is the fourth pillar of democracy and as an industry, it has the soft power to bring out radical changes in society. The portrayal of various gender identities in the media has a direct effect on how society perceives things and treats them. The media plays a significant role in the modern world by broadcasting information at a fast pace and providing entertainment to vast audiences. The media comprises television, radio and the internet. With that established – there is no doubt that the media all over the world imitates the gender bias in our patriarchal society and the enormous influence of media on forming change is also inconvertible.

When politics is portrayed in the media as a man’s game, it’s no coincidence that progress towards women’s equal participation in politics is slow.

– Josephine Casserly, Governance and Rights Adviser at BBC Media Action.

Studies found that although the number of women working in the media sector has been increasing globally, however – the top positions such as producer, executive, chief editors and publishers are still very male-dominated. According to the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) report – throughout the globe, women journalists are more likely to be assigned ‘soft’ subjects such as family, lifestyle, fashion, entertainment and arts. The so-called ‘hard’ news such as politics and the economy is much less likely to be written or covered by women.

The GMMP report also states that women are the focus of only 10% of news stories, comprise just 20% of experts or spokespeople interviewed and a mere 4% of news stories are deemed to challenge gender stereotypes. One of the major reasons behind the lack of active role of women as compared to men is the fear of their families regarding the environment of the workplace and the violent things happening in our society to women. Though families do allow them to pursue their profession but want them to preferably go for backstage work like writers or editor. These perceptions and notions are changing with time, but it is still going to be a long road ahead.

The top positions such as producer, executive, chief editors and publishers are still very male-dominated.

The second wave of the feminist movement in the 1960s gave us the slogan – “personal is political”. The media can take gender-based issues out of the private realm and place them on the political agenda. At the same time, we need to go beyond this as well. Applying a gender-based lens is a common topic in the women’s rights circle but the media barely uses this lens. Development practitioners can help the media cover all stories in a way that is representative of the lives and experiences of all gender identities. Gender should certainly be everyone’s agenda.

The pride movement succeeded in opposing shame and social stigma which led to the promotion of self-affirmation, dignity, equality and it increased the visibility of LGBTQIA+ people as a social group. Media has played a transnational role in shaping political attitudes towards gendered and sexual minorities. Through the flow of information, the media is able to encourage contact and communication between different social groups and political leaders which helped in increasing representation. The news, television and movie industries started acknowledging the role of these social groups globally from the 1990s but still play a limited role in mainstream media.

Television is the platform that has been promoting stereotypical gender roles and tends to show these stereotypes as natural. The television industry is male-dominated and therefore most of what is produced tends to take a male perspective. Through such productions, women are made to internalise that this is a man’s world and hence they should change themselves accordingly. The television is a powerful and highly influential means to make and communicate gender equality and a culture of empowerment. The mass media is able to influence law and philosophy by gender politics, representation of different social groups and their beliefs. 

In advertisements, gender stereotyping tends to be at its peak. Men are seen in higher and more powerful occupations than women. Women are seen generally as home makers, daughters and mothers. Men are mostly seen advertising car companies or marketing products, whereas women are mostly seen as advertising household products. Men are more likely to be shown outdoors or in big and affluent workspaces, whereas women are seen in domestic settings or doing household chores. Men are more often seen representing authority. Even though the number of female voice-overs in recent years has been increasing constantly, women in ads still predominantly engage in domestic and feminine care products placement.

Women are the focus of only 10% of news stories, comprise just 20% of experts or spokespeople interviewed and a mere 4% of news stories are deemed to challenge gender stereotypes.

Though there is a lack of a simple and universal way to transform how we see men, women and non-binary persons, one such way is to challenge the gender-based representation in the media. The latter is powerful and has a reach of millions – it possesses the ability to empower women and non-binary persons and challenge rigid gender roles.

Quoting James Wallman, from the ‘Future of Gender Equality Report’, with the hope that very soon things will change and we will be witnessing a revolution – “In the future, we’re going to break today’s norms, we’ll create norms that are much better. We’ll be living 50/50 lives, we’ll be sharing the responsibility, we’ll be part-time caregivers and part-time entrepreneurial breadwinners.”

Certainly, we are witnessing this change and moving towards an inclusive world. We can notice positive trends coming out of political debates in order to provide a better work environment to various social groups and gender identities. The media, advertisement and cinema industry, behind the scenes and on-screen, is providing us with role models to look up to. Young people, especially women, are recognising their needs and their potential and are fighting against gender parity and make the world a better place to live in.


Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: European University Institute



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