(with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning ! https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/how-do-i-love-thee-sonnet-43 )
Some months ago I was going through a lovely large pile of newspapers leftover from a few weekends of travel. As I read through them, turning page after page, it suddenly struck me that I was hardly seeing any women. In mainstream mass media — English newspapers being read in Mumbai.
So, I started doing what any good analysis needs—gathering data!
Here is what I found:
|Women Individual||In Groups||Men Individual
|Mumbai Mirror||11||0||22||1 + 1 Sports||1|
(for a Women’s Marathon)
|1+ Full page cover ad of Vistara showing 2 pilots, both male.||15 in sports||3|
1 Mayawati + 1 Sushma Swaraj+1 Transgender on global page = total of 5
|2 students passing a recent exam||23||14|
So, even without counting sports, men feature 2 to 5 times as often as women. I thought, hmm…maybe that was just a one off weekend and not representative? I repeated the count this weekend and it is almost identical.
In all the news stories the stock image of a farmer is always a man, although half the farmers in our country are women! The shares and finance advertisements are always featuring men.
You may shrug and say- so what?? Does this matter?
Because making 50% of the population invisible in the mainstream newspapers means that you are making invisible their presence and their voice and their participation in society. Therefore the mass media is not being accurately representative of the lived realities of society.
Even on the sports page for example, the men’s teams make news and occupy 2-4 pages whether they win or lose or argue or faint or fight with each other or acquire a new girlfriend or lose a coach. The women’s team is seen ONLY when they win the gold medal. They cease to exist right away after that.
This creates a skewed perception of the importance of the so called ‘ordinary’ lives of women and girls. This is also why many newspapers used to earlier have a supplement or separate feature for women, because they also knew that women were simply not a part of the mainstream narrative.
We know from history that making a group invisible makes it easier for the powerful to do what they want with members of that group. We have seen it with slaves, with Dalits, refugees, migrants and every other dis-enfranchised group ever.
The default state in society is thus assumed to be male and if women feature at all it is because they are doing something superlative and out of the ordinary. Either super ‘good’ like Arundhati Bhattacharya (who is captioned in the photo as the Chairman SBI instead of Chair or Chairperson) or super bad as in Indrani of the various murders.
What hope is there for the ‘ordinary’ woman?
And it is not just images, it is also our everyday language.
Research has found that the use of he as a generic pronoun evokes a disproportionate number of male images in the minds of the readers and excludes thoughts of women in non- gender-specific instances.
All those “man” words — said many times a day by millions of people every day, cumulatively reinforce the message that men are the standard and that women should be subsumed by the male category.
Check out this video doing the rounds of Whatsapp recently:
I would suggest that you also read the various comments that people left below this video because I think they are also interesting.
Some are openly anti- feminism.
Eg “Using kids to push an agenda? Yeap, this is as low as feminism can get.”
“Yes, very effective propaganda indeed! I am sure Goebbels will be proud.”
“How about you tell kids “you can be what you want if you work for it”, instead of this feminist BS?”
But some are saying things which is actually what feminism also says but some insecure men don’t want to hear—feminism is not against men! It is against Patriarchy. It is against stereotyping.
Eg. “Now draw a coal miner! Now draw a garbage disposal worker! A truck driver! A brick layer! A homeless person! Prison inmate! A soldier dying face down in the mud! Now draw the person he was dying to protect…”
Surely this person knows that there are plenty of women soldiers and women who are homeless and women who are truck drivers and brick layers?! And men are dying in wars to protect women?? But they choose to use this argument to drown out the feminist message.
Ironically, despite being invisible in the mainstream as people who exist and shape society, women and girls are in fact the constant target of the male gaze.
Peeping toms, voyeurs, spying through CCTV cameras, two way mirrors in changing rooms, ogling, stalking, chasing—the whole gamut.
So women are meant to be looked at even if there is a violation of privacy and personal spaces but somehow women are not seen in public areas, claiming public spaces?
When the daughter of an IAS officer in Haryana was stalked by the drunk son of the local BJP leader, the boy’s father’s first response was –why was she out so late?! She gave him a reply befitting that which Golda Meir had given in response to curfews on women to prevent rape.
The night time or lonely roads are not in themselves unsafe for women ! They become unsafe because of the presence of certain men.
Men, who have been raised to believe that they can take up as much space as they want, take whatever they want and whenever they want.
They can look at whatever they want whenever they want.
Speaking of the male gaze, the entire fashion and make up industry survives and thrives only on the notion that women need to look and dress in a certain way to be attractive to men.
Which is why I am going to close here with this totally awesome post about what women over 30 should wear 🙂