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Gender Stereotype and Gender Sensitive Content

Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and has immense power to act as the torchbearer of the society. It acts as a mirror of society and reflects the trends and attitude of the society. It has the power to influence the masses and the recent technical refinement and enhanced outreach has further enhanced its potential as an efficient systematic machinery for creating public opinions and values.

Television has now become the most mainstream and important medium of mass communication in India and the content telecasted on it has a strong impact on conscience of masses. Mass awareness by media on issues of political, social and economic importance holds the foundation of visions of social equality .Media now play an important role in shaping the society and development of a nation. It is mostly observed that media coverage on political and economic issues is dominant over social ones and deserved importance and opportunity of being communicated is not given to social issues.

Issues of violence against women and other discrimination among genders which basically are an outcome of gender inequality and prevalence of patriarchal form of social structure deep rooted in our history both in terms physical and economic power between men and women is rarely given the importance it demands. Media naturally takes on the form and coloration of the social and political structures within which it operates as it cannot operate in a social vacuum. The Social Responsibility Theory of the Media says that, the media has to shoulder responsibility for the social uplift of a society .

Today's media is not like other general business enterprises which function in a society. It has a unique niche, nature and role, in accordance to which media is expected in every society to play in particularly constructive manner. It can do this by criticizing government policies, getting rid of social evils, educating people, exposing wrong doings of the society and of course sensitizing the society towards gender issues, especially of those which have been guaranteed by our Constitution.

Media influence has increased to such an extent that an individual finds it difficult to maintain an identity and self-understanding without using media as the reference point. The ability of media to shape the world's perception has increased exponentially over the past years. Due to the increased outreach and technological up gradation, the role of media has now expanded beyond the mere circulation of information.

It can be said, that now, it is the media which verifies the realities and sometimes create them too. Media very efficiently shapes the public opinions, influences peoples' beliefs and even amend people's schema and self-perceptions. The time has come when media should become highly sensitive towards gender issues too.

The Gender Stereotype

The term Gender in our social structure means the roles and responsibilities that have been constructed by the society, in a given culture or location. These roles have political, cultural environmental, economic, social, and religious factors influencing them. Ethnicity, customs, laws, class and individual or institutional bias are also the main factors that influence gender stereotype.

Within the above framework, Gender attitudes and behaviors can be learned and can also be changed. The role of media is creating , altering or demolishing gender stereotypes in context of the current social scenario and then examine the need to take steps for disarmament of beliefs related to gender stereotypes . Gender portrayals remain an important topic in media and has been examined extensively in the last five decades.

Changing family structures and the labor force has introduced significant variation in the role of both, males and females and has thus also altered how it is reflected in media. A cultural lag in our society has been highlighted in the last few decades. Sexes were depicted in advertising in more traditional roles for a long period of time. In relation to their potential and capabilities women were presented in an inferior manner relatively, but with the changing beliefs of the society and due to increased awareness, a shift towards more positive role portrayals can be noticed by the analysis of recent media trends.

The area which has seen the greatest interest in the past few years is the changing role of men. Men are now depicted in softer roles, while women are being depicted as stronger than ever before, this scenario may not best fit with current realities of society but is attempts to establish a state of equilibrium of power and social positioning among genders. Men are also shown in more gender neutral roles. The paper finally attempts to outline the role of media in division and establishment of power among genders.

First, research focuses on examining gender portrayals in media platforms, and ways to optimize the belief system of the society in context of gender equality by responsibly handling gender sensitive content. Second, why the concept of equity should be opted over the concept of equality for a period of time in order to establish truly equal rights, opportunities and positions among genders which have been facing discrimination on local and global level.

In a research conducted by Arab Transformation Project, The factors which influence attitudes towards gender equality across and between men and woman in the six countries we constructed an index of Gender Equality based on four domains- education, employment, marital rights and legal rights.

The index covered more domains than those used in previous research and specifically takes into account the importance of media in influencing cultural attitudes to women and the legal framework. The index was weighted so each of the four domains contribute equally to the final Index and converted to a scale of 0 to 100. The mean on the index was 57.5 with the SD (standard deviation) of 14.4.[2]

Gender differences seen in some situations

Social situations:

The social roles established in our society demands a male to head the family always. He is also the supposed to be the main bread-winner while the woman is usually seen as a house-maker, a nurturer and care-giver.

Political situations:

The ratio of power sharing among all genders is not equal and some dominate over others whereas some lack appropriate representation. Men are mostly seen at higher political levels as compared to other genders.

Educational situations:

A gender bias is there in educational opportunities and expectations. In the family generally it is the boy who gets the chances and resources for higher education .Whereas girls are usually expected to go with less-challenging academic and career fields.

Economic situations:

There is a wedge between access to careers and finance between men and women. Credit and loans; land ownership policies etc. are more biased towards men.

Media and Construction of Gender Roles

Media is the most powerful and well established source of knowledge in today's society. In this Modern age the influences of media play an indispensible role in every human's life. Media has brought an immense change in the methods of circulation of information and especially in dissemination of information at our finger tips. We receive most of the information from popular sources of media like newspapers, radio, television, internet and websites.

Media can broadly be divided into three broad segments, print media, electronic media and social media. Media furthermore has intervened in construction of the roles of different genders over the time in many different forms. In every sphere of life without media intervention the day does not end for many of us.

Medias like magazines, newspapers, television and internet have performed a denotable role in constructing the gender roles in terms of beliefs, norms, attitudes and values. These media directly influences and develop roles of gender with use of the latest information and molds them to be in line with the contemporary issues of the society. Media has unquestionably become more aware and sensitive towards issues related to gender portrayals and positioning. This evolution is being made in response to the progressively evolving requisites and beliefs of human society and to transpire content and ideas to present it clearer to all genders their equal roles and responsibilities in and towards the society. It bears the prime duty for construction of the gender roles in the social structure.

As stated in the, Writing the Child in Media Theory, Contemporary mass media generally perceived by the program makers, politician and the public to have a particularly crucial role in childhood, cultural development and behavior[3].

In the initial age the child imbibes in whatever he/she listens to, reads and watches and later puts it out as his action being the outcome of his/her thoughts. Consequently, they lead to an unchangeable stereotypic gender beliefs; media has immense power to change children's thoughts and imagination regarding their own lifestyle and opinions according to their gender, which finally results in development of an adult individual holding a thought process which is built by whatever he/she has perceived from different medias in their past. to the progressively evolving requisites and beliefs of human society and creates its content and transpires ideas to present it clearer to all genders, their equal roles and responsibilities in and towards the society.

Youth and specially, children are exposed to internet viewing at their own pace of time at home and the same with teenagers there is no border between child and teenager as they are equally exposed to same extents of what they see and read. Childhood or early adolescence is the age when one of searches for personal identity and ones niche in society which links to construction of the gender roles in the social structure.

In the initial age the child imbibes in whatever he/she listens to, reads and watches and later puts it out as his action being the outcome of his/her thoughts. Consequently, they lead to an unchangeable stereotypic gender beliefs; media has immense power to change children's thoughts and imagination regarding their own lifestyle and opinions according to their gender, which finally results in development of an adult individual holding a thought process which is built by whatever he/she has perceived from different medias in their past.

Relation between gender stereotypes and distribution of power in society

The criteria and expectations of conduct and responsibilities established by the society are the prime factors which decide who should get what, and what should be expected of whom. Media has an immense power and responsibility of shaping the beliefs of masses which happens to be the most influencing component of social positioning & encouragement or discouragement of vesting power, opportunities and responsibilities upon different genders.

This enormous power of shaping the mass mind set rests in the hands of media as it's the information channelized by media in the society which is the root cause and medium of interaction of individuals, regions and races within and among each other.

The perception about different genders, created by media results in development of prejudices about performance and capabilities of genders. Thus while presenting content media should understand its duty and answerability towards the society and prevent misrepresentation of any gender.

Every gender should receive equal opportunity to communicate there stances, and fixture or expectation of a set span or nature of conduct by an individual because of his/her gender should be strictly avoided. Equal representation and equal delegation of power is the only practice which can successfully attempt to create equilibrium of availability of rights and resources to all.

Power in societal perspective is, The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.[4] The same dictionary also states that power is , the authority that is given or delegated to a person or body.[5]

Form both of the above definitions it can be deduced that power in social preview means an ability to direct, control and influence the conduct of a society and also that the entity which holds such power, achieves it by the means of delegation. Now the question is which is the superior most force which delegates and distributes power to different sects and genders in a social structure; in the contemporary world of democracy it is the people, the masses. It is the selection and promotion of masses which delegates authorities and powers to individuals and groups thus genders too.

The importance of consent and affiliation of the mass as the deciding force of the society is interminable as, no state comes to enjoy broadly based consent without having some resource of social force. Without such force the state would be unable to maintain social peace which would be essential for it to build consent and therefore become powerful. [6] It is the ‘power to empower', vested in media due to which it should understand its crucial duty of presenting every gender equally deserving of all opportunities and resources thus, power.

Media in Contemporary World

Today media has started responding to the constantly evolving beliefs and requirements of world. The content which is being presented to the audience is responsibly created so that is would not promote any type of discrimination among genders and to weaken sense of hesitation and unacceptance towards communities of LGBTQ+. May it be the case of Gorakhpur ,Uttar Pradesh where Asha Devi aka Amarnath became the first person belonging to transgender community who became the mayor of the city ,or be it the Naaz Foundation case of year 2018, where the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality by declaring article 377 as unconstitutional.

A positive assertion can be noticed in the evolution of societal beliefs. The idea of equal rights to women and LGBTQ+ community in large section of masses is not seen as a taboo anymore. And media has played a major role in catalyzing this change which was the need of many.
An ascend in the right direction of gender equality has been initiated by the media by radically yet sensitively handling and presenting their content to the masses.

Conclusion
For establishing a state of equilibrium or balance of power in the world, the beliefs and social emotions towards gender equality should be aligned with morality and need of evolution, by the usage of media for right and equal representation of genders. Media should actively get involved in normalizing the previously unacceptable terms of co-existence of all genders together, while protecting the rights and imposing the duties upon each. A conscience, respectful and mutually understandable, should be developed in the masses by the means of presenting them the content which encourages upliftment of all the genders perpetually and together. The stereotypes which have been imposed upon people in accordance to their genders should be shaken and plucked out of the conscience of the masses. And the fact should slowly be imbibed and made acceptable that the today's prosperous world cannot function by leaving a vast number of people behind by the reason of their gender. Media should work on the principle of equity by emphasizing more on empowerment of the genders which in past have been suppressed in terms of rights and representation by the society.

The content which has social impacts regarding the abilities, limits and rights of genders should be handled with most sensitivity towards how the conscience of masses would get affected by it, as Power lays with the one, whom people think is powerful.

End-Notes:

  1. Student of 4th Semester BBALLB(H), Department of law , BabaSaheb Bhimrao Ambedekar University, Lucknow.
  2. Abbott, P. (2017). Gender Equality and Mena Women's Empowerment in the Aftermath of the 2011 Arab Uprisings (pp. 50-55, Rep.). Arab Transformations Project. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/resrep14099.11
  3. Essay by Prof. Jhonathan Bigwell of University of London
  4. Lexicon dictionary, by Oxford .Pg. 391
  5. Lexicon dictionary, by Oxford, Pg. 391
  6. Miller, D. (1981). Fortnight Essay: A New Definition of Power-Sharing. Fortnight, (184), 12-13. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/25546958


Written By: Vartik Raj Srivastava

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