Media Objectifying Women: The Need For Right Controversies

BesharamRangControversy - Sakshi Post

Recently, there was a controversy surrounding the song Besharam Rang featuring popular actress Deepika Padukone in superstar SRK starrer Pathaan. One criticism of the song by right wing groups was for hurting Hindu sentiments by allegedly insulting Bhagwa color which is considered sacred in Hinduism, since Padukone is skimpily clad in a saffron colored dress. Another issue with the song was the overly sexualized depiction of the female lead. Proponents of artistic freedom argue that such discussions impinge on artists’ right to freedom of expression and creativity. However, it is also important to note that actions, especially by mass media, cannot be seen in isolation and need to be assessed for their larger impact on the society.

Objectification of women in movies and songs in a country like India has far reaching consequences. Frequently, actors are treated like demigods and their actions are imitated by the wider public. The objectification of women leads to women’s worth being reduced to their physical appearances and bodies. It often leads to young girls and women facing self esteem issues and even attempts to inflict self harm to achieve the impossible beauty standards set by the airbrushed media. 

Impressionable teens succumb to eating disorders and mental health issues in order to achieve the ideal physical female form. The media bombards young men and women with hypersexualized images of ‘perfect’ bodies. In media depiction, not only women are objectified and sexualized, but you also often have the caricature of the ‘fat female friend’ as sidekick accompanying the diva in the female lead. The fat friend character is subjected to ridicule and even portrayed as a buffoon, thereby projecting an imaginary correlation between a certain female body type and intelligence. Consequently, body shaming comparisons and fat shaming become commonplace. 

This objectification is often internalized by the women leading to self objectification. As evidence, see some of the current viral videos on social media where ordinary girls and women, from college kids to housewives, gyrate suggestively to filmy item numbers. Not only are we dehumanizing women in our society, we are also hampering them from reaching their true potential.

The stereotypes perpetuated by such objectification not only damage the emotional intelligence of females, but also of men. Men on the street compare their own bodies and actions to those of the on-screen heroes, and internalize notion of success being expressed in the form of dominance of and aggression towards women.

Objectification in media perpetuates sexist notions of women being hapless victims in need of rescue by a man. Many men develop a 'savior syndrome' where women are always seen as helpless and passive objects in the power play between groups of men.

Advertising industry too is guilty of using titillating imagery to garner eyeballs and achieve higher sales. More often than not, sexualization is targeted more towards women. A study by Wesleyan University in America covering 58 different magazines suggested that in advertisements featuring women, 51.8 presented them as sex objects, which catapulted to 76% in case of a men's magazines. In short, if you are going through a magazine targeting men, there is more than a three fourth chance that you will come across sexualized imagery of women.

Often such objectification of women, particularly while sexualizing them, leads to the development of a thought process of treating women as inanimate objects without any agency. This has a direct correlation with increase in violent tendencies against women. Such implicit form of violence often magnifies into explicit form of physical aggression against women, where their agency is denied and their absolute submission is expected.

Such attitudes are not confined to so-called loafers and roadside Romeos prowling the streets humming the tunes of sexist movie songs and eve teasing college going girls, but are also prevalent inside our respectable, middle class homes since long. According to WHO, 27% of women and girls globally have been subjected to Intimate Partner Violence at one time or the other. Thus, while we may wish to perceive the ghastly Shraddha Walker or Nikki Yadav murders as freak incidents in the functioning of our society, but violence against women is far more commonplace in our homes, even if lesser in its gruesomeness.
To sum it up, it is important to be asking the right questions as a society. Women's right to choose the clothes they wear, whether conservative attire or modern clothing, needs to be respected. All the same, women’s bodies need to be delinked from commercialization and objectification. It is important to ponder over why should a powerful female character who is shown as very ‘empowered’; needs a sexualized song to add to her relevance. It is important to generate the right controversies.

By Senior Sociologist Pranay Aggarwal
The author is an eminent sociologist and public intellectual. He is India representative in UNESCO’s International Sociological Association. He has completed a course in International Women's Health and Human Rights from Stanford University (USA) and is one of India’s leading public commentators on social issues. He is the most popular teacher of sociology amongst civil services candidates, whom he mentors at IAS Gurukul.   


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