How are women portrayed in Television today? Essay
Television has been a leading medium of communication since the middle of last century. And portrayal of women in Television has been consistent with the broader agenda of patriarchal social order. Day-time programming such as soap-operas are exclusively produced with a female audience in mind and they show the trials and triumphs of women (mostly housewives) in their interpersonal relations with men (usually husbands). Here, women are generally shown to play the role of a ‘good’ homemaker and a ‘good’ consumer of household goods. By narrowing down the discourse to only these aspects of a woman’s life, such programs help propagate a social order that suits corporate and elite interests. And the advertisements that are embedded during the programs promote and encourage women to adopt similar lifestyles and attitudes. Female characters in these programs are almost always pretty and homely. Women with disabilities, those who are over-weight and from ethnic minorities are under-represented; a phenomenon which is responsible for perpetrating the white ideals of female beauty.
The programs during prime-time and late-night changes in character, as they are directed to a much broader audience. But the portrayal of women largely remains consistent throughout television. And the messages internalized by unsuspecting female audience is in large measure responsible for ailments such as bulimia, anorexia, etc. They also promote unhealthy trends such as body-piercing – some of it performed in sensitive areas such as eyelids, tongue and even genitalia). In sum, the portrayal of women in Television (as also in other popular mediums of communication and entertainment) tend to promote male-domination of society while also promoting consumerist impulses in the audience.
Firstly, despite several rights won over by women, our society is largely a patriarchal one. The most important offices of cultural institutions are still disproportionately occupied by men. And since these influential men tend to be drawn from an elite group of Caucasians, it is inevitable that their idea of beauty and appeal is imposed on cultural content. While it is true that men prefer and desire certain body features of women; but what is hardly noted is whether women agree with this. To the contrary, due to their powerlessness to change the situation, women seem to assent to the imposed cultural norms of bodily beauty. Without this sort of socio-cultural conditioning, it is very likely that more women would be happy with the bodies they’ve got and think of themselves as beautiful. Instead, what we’ve got now is a long list of psychosomatic disorders suffered by women that are born out of obsession with the body, including bulimia nervosa, anorexia, etc.
Secondly, consistent with the order of power within a patriarchal system, by focussing mostly on how to sculpt their bodies, women are subjugating their power to contest male domination. In other words, the energy and effort that they could channel toward achieving more equality with men are being diverted away toward maintaining certain body features that men find attractive. This way women are made to undermine their emancipation and challenge the patriarchal orthodoxy. Hence, women’s despair with their bodies serves a two-fold function in maintaining patriarchal control over society.