Stereotypical representation of women in media

Namrata Adhikari


Media represents the world by means of selection and interpretation directed by ideology. When it covers the marginalized groups like Dalits and indigenous groups, females or blacks, ethnic minorities or senior citizens, the role of media is dubious.

At times it supports the strong voices of females and other times, it presents them with stereotypes, and thus limits their knowledge and opportunities. Representation is one of the key concepts in the study of media. Representation can be of an image, object and group or even of real world that has been represented or mediated in some way in media.

In light of this issue of representation, it is a matter of debate how women are represented in media. Why women need to be represented as white, slim, perfect, soft, shy, caring, loving, delicate, and kind. For example, let’s examine one of the advertisements of Fair & Lovely cream. They claim that their products (Fair & Lovely) are not just a cream but more than a complete package. As a whole it contains all ingredients that beautify your face and give skin a free glow along with a smooth and soft touch and make you look extraordinarily charming, beautiful, smart, updated, and evergreen.

As a result, keeping in mind the ever-changing consumer, they offer a range of “variants of glow” for   females that gives them the confidence of beauty, empowering them to fulfill their dreams. Fair & Lovely’s brand purpose is “to inspire women to create their own identity”. This ideological web creates false consciousness among people and they happen to take the commodities advertised for granted even if they are not genuine. In this way, (most) people accept that the products advertised are genuinely for them. The products in the advertisement are a fake yet they are presented in a manner in which if they appear fresh and true for ladies who are using their cream/lotion on their faces to add charm and glamorous looks.

Ideology is always pervasive in any media text which forms stereotype of words or images represented in the media.

As a result the public is trapped in their strategic cobweb and gets crushed and becomes victimized due to their faith upon the various media. In this way “ideology” is always pervasive in any media text which forms “stereotype” of words or images represented in the media. The term “stereotyping” in media implies the continuous representation of ideas about group of people in media.

Recently in the media actress and director Deepashree Niraula has been dragged into a controversy over the issue of ‘Mahanayak’ (or the megastar) – a term she declares Hamal is not worthy of. Niraula’s comments about the actor in an interview has been harshly criticized by the common public. They wrote that her statements were offensive and insulting to Hamal and his contribution to the Nepali film industry.

Hamal has given many hit Nepali films and requested his fans and the general public to stop attacking Niraula with verbal abuse and offensive comments on social media. Niraula was mercilessly and relentlessly attacked because she was a woman. Can the female member not express views freely in the 21st century?

Another example is from India. The vulgar words used for Nepali women in Indian web series Paatal Lok, an Amazon Prime production, is heavily debated in social media platform by the Nepali audience.  In the second episode of the web series, an Indian police officer cruelly beats a female character and calls her a “Nepali whore”. The humiliating language towards Nepali women in the series has disturbed and upset every Nepali. The unanswered questions are: Why do people use vulgar words for females? Why have women been subjected to harassment in every society?

Definitely prejudicial or negative stereotyping of women’s role is being reinforced by the media. The best example is soap operas. Subject matters of these soap operas are mostly centered on women’s gossip,   their relationship with family members, mother-in-law, and domestic tensions. According to renowned psychiatrist Dr. Ambika Shrestha, “Tele-serial or soap opera” is an injured field for women because it centers on male voice actively and their identification but not women. In such narratives, we see women as somebody’s wife or daughter or sister … and have a duty as per their specific role. “Identity” for them is something to be fought for. What message does this convey to the audience/viewers? Definitely, the image of woman as fragile, emotional, naïve subjects limited to the household not only as passive but also as helpless.

Though media provides open space for women, muted group, ethnic minorities, indigenous group and subculture according to Muted Group Theory Expert Edwin Ardener to explore and expose themselves, their space is controlled by male power at back. The very platform for woman character for an examination and a representation of women’s lives is directed by male script writer or producer.


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Then the question arises – can a man represent a woman?  Some argue that nobody can represent the other, they can only re-present them. Thus, the problem of media text lies on” hegemonic influence” in generic text, a particular example can be the tele-serial or soap opera itself.

Prem S. Bistha in his article “A Demographic Perspective” convincingly mentions this hegemony as “biases of gender discrimination” behind the media text. Because the male producer controls the production, they have their vested interests behind it.

Representation does not mean to recreate the reality in a distinct way. Representation varies as per context and power. Whose version of reality is being represented to us?  Because it is impossible to represent the world in all its gigantic complexity as it has to be viewed as one version of reality among others. Therefore, representation examines the content and context of media text as media seems to be imposing certain ideas over others. For instance, representations of women have a very limited and often negative coverage in comparison to other issues. Feminism is a potential area of study in media, but positively representations of women in media have hardly been revealed.

Furthermore, these representations promote male domain values and ideology in constructing media text rather than actually representing women’s issues. The repeated stereotypes in TV soaps, documentaries, advertisements and films are thus adverse to women. Obviously in the name of promoting capitalism, female bodies are exclusively used in media but nobody have any objection to expose it or reveal the real truth. Thus, these are some of the problematic issues in media study which the scribe thinks should be looked minutely from every aspect. Otherwise, what is the use of media if it cannot represent the reality in front of the viewer?

The writer holds an MA in English.

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Published on 28 July 2020