Socio-Legal issues relating to Representation of Women in Entertainment Industry

Representation of Women in TV Serials

TV serials or soap operas or simply soaps are to women what sports and music channels are to youngsters. Especially for those women, who stay at home and do household chores, soaps are the main source of entertainment. It is therefore not a surprise that the very genre of soaps is women-centric. However, despite their women-centric nature, TV serials are often accused of reinforcing stereotypes and not depicting women in a realistic manner. In this part, we will explore some of the aspects related to women’s representation in Indian serials.

TV serials in India have had a knack for stereotyping women and people belonging to different religions and states. A typical woman in an Indian serial wears an expensive saree, sports heavy makeup and more often than not is seen as a housewife with a little say in the running of the family except cooking, celebrating festivals and plotting.

There have been numerous serials such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kumkum, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, etc; which have reinforced the existing stereotypes. There have been only a few serials where one can see any realistic portrayal of women. Women in India are working in every field including IT, medical, police service and administrative services, but it’s rare to come across a female engineer or a female government officer in serials.

Even when working women find a space on the screen, their depiction remains stereotypical. In Diya aur Bati, the leading lady happens to be an Indian Police Service officer but her dressing and her treatment at home are no different from that of a Tulsi Virani of Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahoo Thi or a Parwati Agrawal of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. A working woman is either shown as a super woman or an ultra modern girl without much morality. There is no middle ground.

The concept of good and bad is black and white in most of the TV serials of India. The good women are housewives, doing every single chore in the house, not saying anything even if they are beaten or abused, taking everything in their stride with aplomb and putting everybody else’s happiness above theirs. In short, they don’t have a personal life or ambition. On the other hand, almost every serial has a vamp who is argumentative, has loose morals and is always shown scheming and plotting the downfall of the leading lady.

The distinction between the good and the evil is also shown by the way a woman dresses in serials. While a kind hearted and everyone’s favourite bahu like Gopi of Saathiya always sports a saree or a full sleeved salwar-kameez, a scheming vamp like Ragini of Suhani si Ek Ladki appears in western outfits like sleeveless suits and jeans. Even the way a woman representing the good wears a saree differs from the way a woman representing grey shade does. While those of the traditional women, dubbed symbol of virtues, sport sarees with sidha pallu style (Archana in Pavitra Rishta and Lali in Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo), those representing the evil (Vishakha in Chhoti bahu) always appear wearing sarees with ulta pallu style.

However, it’s not all gloomy and depressing. There are/were serials which attempt/attempted to look beyond stereotypes besides raising social issues affecting women. Swabhimaan was one of the earliest serials on Doordarshan in which all the characters were rich and suave including the women. Most of the female characters wore shorts, drank, smoked and got pregnant before marriage.

Udaan is another serial which has taken an unconventional route and deals with aspirations of a young girl and how she goes on to join the Indian Police Service. Unlike Diya aur Baati, it shows the protagonist as brave, independent and intelligent. In the recent time, a number of TV serials have tried to raise awareness about sensitive issues like child marriage (Balika Vadhu), autism (Aapki Antara), widows’ condition (Ishq Ka Rang Safed), honour killing (Armanon Ka Balidaan), etc. However, such serials are very few and far between. Some serials start off well but later lose track and start focusing on family drama.

What type of messages are these serials sending to the younger generations? In the words of film journalist Madhulika Singh of Hindustan Times, “They have reduced the status of women to a housewife who has nothing more to do than cook, keep quiet, deck up and sob. In reality, even housewives/homemakers also have nothing in common with them. A lot of women who chose to stay at home for whatever reason have a life and hobbies…. They have a mind of their own. In these serials, men are shown to be working outside and not even raising a finger at home. It reinforces the stigma attached to a man doing household work. Running a family is responsibility of both man and woman but no serial tends to focus on it.”

In conclusion, we can say that since TV serials have a huge reach in India, they should work towards breaking stereotypes and not reinforcing them. Women in

India are already fighting a difficult battle towards equality and their portrayal in TV serials ought to help them win it.

Representation of women in the web

From the melodramatic world of soaps, let us switch to the virtual realm of the web and find out as to how women are represented here. Since the internet or web is a more recent media phenomenon which involves a two-way communication model, it should have been more democratic in its portrayal of women, or so it would seem. Democratic, in the sense media treats them. That would mean women on the internet are not the silent, suffering majority. Being a more inclusive medium, women should have had more avenues to express their point of view. Moreover, since the internet caters to a more educated audience, the portrayal of women too, should have witnessed a paradigm shift, but shockingly, that is not the case. While there are more women-related material and more awareness about feminism on the internet, careful scrutiny reveals that treatment of women in the virtual world is a sad reflection of what happens in the real world.

You all might be coming across several women specific websites on several issues like women empowerment, health, shopping, etc. But the main question arises as to why do we need websites specific to women? According to women’, ‘one reason is because women still aren’t represented equally in or by the mainstream media. If newspapers and general news sites were run by, edited and produced by more women, this might be different. If female columnists and female bylines were as prolific as men’s, this might not be the case. If women were quoted more proportionally in stories more often, this might be different.

Online harassment is another issue on internet especially for women. The way men and women are treated online is quite different. Generally men are questioned about their competency and skills whereas attacks on women are mostly of a sexual nature. They range from making comments on her appearance to even molestation threats, and they are widespread. On and often these days, the different social networking websites are becoming the platforms for different mishaps for girls. The case of Anita Sarkeesian and Caroline Criado-Perez are only two high-profile examples of the millions of aggressions women suffer online every day. These cases undermine the dignity of women, reduce them to sexualized bodies and delegitimize their voices as citizens. The result is detaching women from online discussions and suppressing their opinions or contributions to society to be more specific from bold activism actions to simple tasks as creating YouTube videos about fashion.

Amanda Spencer in her path-breaking analysis titled ‘Portrayal of Women in Online News Media Advertising’ (2008) suggests that ‘online news media advertisements utilize stereotypes and promote an unhealthy body image and concept of beauty among women. The power and influence these advertisements possess is worth researching. “Mass media have become the virtual little brick schoolhouse and advertisements the preferred lesson plan” (Langrehr, 2003). The unique aspect to this analysis is that there is very little research that exists on online advertising, especially online news media and women. The results are even more important to understand because it directly contributes to the knowledge of online advertising, an area that is currently in want of literature. From this analysis, it is clear that advertising in mass media preys on an emotional connection to the viewers through the use of emotions such as sexuality, vulnerability, insecurity and beauty to draw loyal customers.

Content analyses and statistical evidence paint an even bleaker picture. According to the Media and Gender Monitor, only 24% of news stories were reported about women globally in 2011. Women were the focus of only 19% of news stories in politics and government in 2010. Of the 84 news websites monitored by the Global Media Monitoring Project, 23% of newsmakers were represented by women in 2010. NPR reported in 2010 that only 26% of its news sources were women. This shows that men are not only in charge of the government and news in all aspects of society, but they also dominate the voices and news exposed to the broader world.

The statement that resonates most is made by Marie Wilson, Founding President of The White House Project, an organization that seeks to get more women into elected office, who says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Helping women to get online ( is another website which contains different articles on women on various topics like childcare tips, cooking recipes, financial tips and household tips in India. When you go to this website which is made according to Indian market you would feel women are made for those four jobs only. The content is stereotyped. It’s just a single website on these issues; there are infinite numbers of websites also which portray women as a homely figure only. Generally women are represented as someone who can’t be independent and we need to see their pathetic situation or they are represented in the most glamorous manner.

Thus, it can be said that the internet or web is a powerful instrument of change and a change can only occur once we are able to see the type of force this tool has cast on society. It’s up to us to use the force of internet to influence positive changes and correct the representation of women.

Representation of Women in Advertising

After learning about various facets of women’s representation in TV serials and web, let us now move ahead to examine the same in the world of advertising.

As a tool to sell products and services, advertising has existed for ages. However, advertising as we know today is an outcome of the modern industrialized world characterized by mass production, transport facilities to convey goods and most importantly, diverse media to advertise the products to the mass market. Today, as an all-pervasive element of the contemporary culture in a globalised and commercialised world, advertising has evolved as an industry in itself that exercises immense influence on the lives of people. It would not be an exaggeration to say that successful national economies of industrialized countries now depend a lot on advertising. The foundations of the mass media itself depend on advertising.

The dynamic changes that advertising has undergone over the years since its humble beginnings are largely due to the way mass media have evolved. Along with the changes in forms, advertising has also witnessed changes in the content. Without going into a detailed account of the historical development of advertising, we would look upon the ways it facilitates the formation of cultural perceptions and values particularly by its use and representation of women.

, that the women are no more passive consumers of media, and would have a say in the way the online

From the morning newspaper and radios to the hoardings on the roads, from the magazines to the television, and from bus and railway stations to shopping malls, advertising is around us everywhere. And now embedded in the webpages and smartphone apps, advertising is with us round the clock. Due to its repetitive all-pervasive visual nature, the kind of imagery of men and women projected in advertising becomes culturally significant. Advertisements we come across every day are full of statements about the ideals of femininity – about what it means to be a woman.

Most of the advertisements featuring women tend to establish physical beauty or ‘looks’ as the most important aspect of a woman’s existence through standardized images of ‘ideal’ beauty. Young female models in advertisements are free from any ‘imperfections’ that include wrinkles, scars, blemishes, facial and body hair. Computer retouching with the use of software like Photoshop has taken the removal of these imperfections to a whole new level by providing the ability to tone down or enhance muscles and curves in the digital photographs of these models.

The surge of economic growth and the resulting rise in levels of consumption after India started liberalizing its economy in 1991 led to the expansion of mass market in the form of rising middle class. These economic changes had profound social and cultural consequences that included proliferation of nuclear families and increased number of women in workplace. The urban Indian woman rose in importance as target consumer as well as decision maker in the act of purchasing.

When a girl danced in a cricket field

In the 1990’s, advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather India, working for Cadbury’s, came up with ‘Real Taste of Life’ campaign, one of most memorable ad campaigns in the history of Indian advertising. In one of the several ads under the campaign, a young girl dashes into the cricket field from among the viewers and dances unabashedly to celebrate the victory of her favoured team. The ads not only revived Cadbury’s from stagnancy but went on to become iconic images in the collective memories of the people.

Speaking about the impact of the ad, its creator Piyush Pandey said at Berlin School of Creative Leadership in 2009, “when all the researches said that in smaller towns of India a girl can’t dance in a cricket field. That’s not our culture. Well, this changed the culture. The culture was there…We were not helping them bring the culture out. The campaign ran for 8 years and [was] voted the campaign of the century in India because it really made a huge impact on the cultural values of people. [It said:]I don’t have to be confined; I can actually do the kind of things that I feel like doing…”

Not surprisingly, the years after the economic liberalization witnessed increased number of advertisements targeted to women. The image of the women represented in the ads also underwent a makeover. In the pre-liberalization era, women featured in advertisements for beauty products had long hair, worn braided or in a bun.

Some of the frequently appearing roles played by the woman in Indian advertising include that of a picture-perfect housewife who is eager to please everyone and whose world revolves around her family.

Beauty products featuring women have continued to feature female models with flawless fair skin with the ads propagating that skin type as the hallmark of good looks and the means for all accomplishments – both personal and professional. In this product category, Indian advertising have been found to be highly influenced by its American counterpart.

Overall, studies indicate that there has been a change in the way females are portrayed in advertisements, though the change is very slight. The portrayals have become less stereotypical over the decades with more advertisements showing women as breadwinners, professionally successful, having equal stake in decision-making, independent from family concerns and other progressive representations. At the same time there has also been an increase in advertisements in which women are depicted as objects of sex.

In due course, advertising has started trying to co-opt ideologies of feminism but much of this effort is characterized by what media literacy activist Jean Kilbourne in her pioneering and influential documentary film Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women called the ‘trivialization of freedom’ with very masculine definition of power. Of late, there have been some genuine progressive campaigns that have tried to break the stereotype. Jewellery brand Tanishq’s 2013 ‘A wedding to remember’ campaign was one such campaign that used the premise of remarriage of a young woman who has a child from a previous marriage.

Representation of Women in Fashion Magazines

So far, we have taken a sneak peek into the representation of women in TV serials, web and advertisements. In the last part of this module, we will now dissect women’s representation through the prism of fashion magazines.

When one considers the strands of human civilization, one would be able to logically delineate various efforts of men to record their expressions of ideas, thoughts and feelings. The discovery of printing press by Gutenberg and subsequent deepening of industrial revolution helped human race to diversify this endeavour of expression. Newspapers first, and various types of magazines later, followed the trends. Fashion magazine is one such effort cantered on women. This happened in the West, particularly in the capitalist economy.

Fashion magazines are for women and in most cases by them. Ivana Bartoskova, in her thesis titled, A Linguistic and Feminist Analysis of Style Magazine, writes – ‘Women’s magazines have been part of a women’s world since the eighteenth century. At that time, women started to play an important part in literature and in society and this stimulated the publishing of women’s magazines. Spectator, one of the most significant magazines of its age, realised the new trend and intently started to attract female readership, too. As Addison, the founder, said “there are none to whom this Paper will be more useful, than to the Female World. I have often thought there has not been sufficient Pains taken in finding out proper Employments and Diversions for the Fair ones” sic. (Pratt 2001). Although the attraction was realised in a strong paternalistic view and magazines wrote mainly about women’s manners and morality, women did not mind it at all. On the contrary, they were very grateful for any attention they received. Women of that time were disregarded and viewed just as an object; therefore, every interest in them was welcomed (Pratt 2001).

Ivana Bartoskova writes about the efforts of the beginning of the eighteenth century. We may find the similar efforts taking place in 1892 when Arthur Turnure founded Vogue in the New York City. The idea was to create a new aristocracy, like that of Europe, among the women in the United States of America as it didn’t have such a component in the society.

Fashion Magazines are not for all women in a society. They are not focused on emancipation. They do not even talk about the serious issues like empowerment, sexual abuse, economic exploitation and domestic violence. The target women belong to the upper middle class and the rich group. They mainly focus on beauty, health, shape of figure, various therapies including yoga and various tips on use of cosmetics. The fashion magazines also focus on dating and sex.

In a way, fashion magazines have a negative connotation as they mostly concentrate on the lighter aspects of a woman’s life. One can also see that these magazines are subscribed to and read by women belonging to the age of 30 to 40 years. In a way the focus of these magazines is to inspire the women to make themselves as sex objects. The face and the figures of the models who are portrayed in these magazines have airbrush make-up.

The positive aspect of these magazines can be imagined as an effort to create a community of women with certain common values and attributes. Whether beauty, airbrush make-up, slim figures are positive values or not are debateable.

In a study conducted by Shannon Case, Layan Jawdat, Xuan Sun, Langford Wiggins titled Representation of Female Beauty: A Content Analysis of Fashion Magazine Advertisements and Street Style Fashion Blogs, Georgetown University, USA, it was stated that 53.8% of the content was text or editorial content, whereas 46.2% was advertisements. In the same article, it was found that the editorial content mentioned many brands that the editions had no advertisement from. These brands amount to about 50% of all the advertised brands. So, it can be said that about 70% of the content had either direct or indirect advertisements of brands in fashion magazines. Therefore, the fashion magazines are the engines of communication of brands to influence the purchase of goods and services from the female readers.

The fashion magazines create a community of women who represent certain values which can be inculcated when certain attributes are acquired or practised by the members of the community. Women are not monolithic group in which members have the same values and attributes. The feminism that is found in fashion magazines is artificially constructed. The visual language, the signs and symbols that are used in fashion magazines make the women having an ideology devoid of any depth and emancipator direction. It promotes a culture that has no roots.

The fashion magazines are also not concerned about the unity of women as such irrespective of colour, creed and race. In a study conducted on the cover page appearances in print media fashion magazines in 2014, it was found out that the tilt towards Caucasian or white skin was given prominence. A total of 611 cover pages from 44 major fashion magazines were studied: 576 times, it was the white models who were depicted, and only 119 times the coloured ones. So, even women are not above the racism…. the more one talks about the change, the more it remains the same.

In India, there are many fashion magazines. The prominent among them are: Savvy, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, New Woman, Verve, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Women’s era, Elle, Femina.

It is expected that the fashion magazines in India would not follow the treaded path of the western fashion magazines. Again, if one goes through the content (text) and advertisement, one could not find any difference between the two. Many popular fashion magazines of the West have Indian versions. The difference is that these versions use Indian models more and western models less, particularly on the cover page. One may forget that after all, the fashion magazines though of women, it need not be women issue centric, it is fashion centric. Fashion is important not women.


In this module, we explored various aspects of women’s representation in TV serials, web, advertisements and fashion magazines. TV serials or soaps have a massive fan following among women of India, but when it comes to the fair sex’s representation, these serials seem to be reinforcing various stereotypes attached to females. In most of these serials, a good woman happens to be a housewife rooted in traditional values while an evil woman is always devoid of values and is shown having loose morals. There are some serials like Udaan, Ishq Ka Rang Safed, Balika Vadhu, etc; which have tried to break these stereotypes and raise awareness about social issues, but their number is very few.

The case of the world of internet is no different either. While there is no dearth of matter related to women centric issues and feminism, a careful scrutiny reveals that the treatment of women in the virtual world is a sad reflection of what happens to them in the real world. Apart from getting less representation, women have to also face issues like online harassment on the web.

In advertising, women’s representation has kept changing over the years. While in early days, women were mostly depicted as good housewives eager to please everyone, with time

the portrayals became less stereotypical with more advertisements showing women as breadwinners, professionally successful and having equal say in decision making. However, on the flip side, there has been an increase in ads depicting females as an object of sexual gratification.

Talking about representation of women in fashion magazines, we see that it has two sides. On the flip side, these magazines have a negative connotation as they mostly concentrate on the lighter aspects of a woman’s life besides inspiring them to make themselves as sex objects. However, on the brighter note, they have contributed in creating a community of women with certain common values and attributes.

Law Corner

Leave a Comment