Stereotyping Women in Nepali Media

Women images, in Nepali media are always stereotyped. The roles they perform, the way they are presented are all traditional and had been the same way for decades now. Women are always prioritized for their physical beauty, sex appeal, submissive and suffering character. Be it advertorials or soap operas, women always are portrayed in their stereotype images.

Despite women’s pro-active movement and Code of Commercial Advertising on Doordarshan, the Code for Self Regulation and Code for Advertising Practice of the Advertising Standard Council of Pakistan and the Indecent Representative of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986, the fact remains that both Print and Electronic Media continue to portray stereotype images of women. They focus on sex appeal or physical beauty of women to sell a product. In spite of some good work being done by NGO’s like Media Watch, Amnesty International and some select UN committees, the assessment of the content and portrayal of women by media have remained a neglected area of research and a matter meriting redress by the regulatory bodies.

In most of the advertorials, Women are portrayed either as housewives obsessed with cleanliness, personal hygiene, fragrances and liking for products to keep home dirt and germ free or as a sex object focusing their physical beauty, well-set hair, perfect body shape and teeth, shining skin, etc. to sell products. Woman’s beauty and bodily charm is used to sell cosmetics and physical fitness products.

The ads that feature women in the lead and central role are the ones for kitchen and home appliances, sanitary, cosmetics, baby care, domestic help and detergents. Advertisements showcasing successful and competent women are lesser than the ones with housewives and beautiful bimbos. Some ads also show women crying out for help unless a man comes to rescue, usually to promote products for man’s use.

A study of women in advertisements shows that women’s appearance in personal hygiene product adverts are seven times more than those of the adverts in other categories. Seventy five percent of all adverts portray women for products used in the bathroom or kitchen; fifty six percent of adverts portray women as domestic helps or housewives.

Adverts, thus, stereotype women image portraying them as dedicated housewives or beauties in order to attract men.

Another stereotype entails depicting women as a wife or a mother or shy, submissive and suffering women or someone meant exclusively for home and in certain cases, another woman’s enemy. This type of image is usually seen in the daily soaps. Women here are showcased as wife or mother or a daughter-in-law suffering through all the trouble for the sake of the family welfare, fighting with the evils, usually another woman portrayed as villain. Though she is attractive, she is home centered and contented. Although, the central character is given to the lady, the male characters are usually successful and competent. No matter how competent the woman is at the beginning, as the series proceeds and she gets married, all women turn into the submissive and suffering housewives.

The woman is left to serve the world inside her home while the outside world belongs to the man. Most of the operas showcase traditional families with women busy in household chores and tensions; usually dressed in traditional attire, a sari, covering their heads with a Pallu. The majority of prime television soaps fall in this category. Only few of the soap operas show women as competitive and working lady. However, a woman who pursues her career at the expense of her men-folk is shown to come to grief for her audacity and unnatural aspiration and also displayed as a failure. Hence, the soap operas, too, stereotype women’s role.

The film industry is not an exception with the actresses usually being the sufferers and waiting for her hero to come for rescue. Movies where the lady had a strong character were rare as woman stronger than a man was not acceptable in the society. However, few movies did break the stereotype. So far, the Western market has overcome the traditional pattern of portraying women however the Nepali film market still revolves around the same line with very few exceptions. Women still are weak and dependent over the male protagonists and are the easy target for the villains. Actresses are usually obsessed with their looks and make up. Most of the mainstream Nepali movies show women as weak and submissive character or as a glamour doll to attract men. Some of the finest examples could be the numerous movie posters posted on the walls throughout the country which usually has the woman’s crying face or show her in short dresses and glamorous feel.

Media, as a result, has not been doing justice to the role of women in society. However, for media to promote balanced and non-stereotype portrayal of women in their multiple roles, it is imperative that government, media, NGOs and private sector should come together and forge joint strategies to promote gender equality and gender justice. However this presupposes gender sensitivity among media owners and managers. Media should foster a broad ethical content and moralizing impulse in the society so essential for the emergence of a civil society. Moreover for the society’s abiding benefit media must nurture and transmit humane values of civilization. They must take upon themselves the proactive role of a protector and a promoter of human rights, gender justice and democratic order. Thus, the stereotyping of the women in the media should be removed and they should be treated and characterized as equals and in their present status and role. However, in context of portraying women in a fair manner, Nepali media still has a long way to go.