Stereotypical portrayal of women in media

Religion is blended with the society’s cultural norms in a way that distinctive line between the two usually vanishes at times, resulting in stereotypes

In the last few decades, women have contributed a great deal in the fields of education, sports, politics etc, but gender stereotypes are just as strong as they were decades ago even in the most developed countries.

A variety of stereotypes keep circulating and echoing around us when it comes to women in our society. Sometimes women who drive are seen as a sole reason for traffic jams. Then there are people who think career-oriented women can never be ‘good’ wives.

Another stereotype considers unmarried women above the age of 30 as ‘un-marriageable’. A good girl is the one who always covers her head and serves the in-laws at all costs, while a divorced woman is seen as the one at fault. Not to mention the culture of victim-shaming that rape and sexual harassment victims have to go through. Why is it that despite continuous efforts by state and civil society, we are still in a state of confusion regarding gender roles and a cynical depiction of women?

The most important and key factor is the role of (electronic, social and print) media. A woman is usually present in all sorts of advertisements, regardless of the type of the product. Featuring a female model or actor in a glamorous style in advertisement of a product not related to women is equivalent to objectifying them.

Why is it that despite continuous efforts by the state and civil society, we are still in a state of confusion regarding gender roles? Why does our outlook towards women remain cynical?

There was a time when we only had PTV and STN and they were the only sources of entertainment. TV serials and plays back then were focused on family life, and dramas based on stories of joint family systems were shown in which there was respect for all sorts of relationships.

We never observed very hyper or negative portrayal of women with a few exceptions. Then the cultural invasion took place and Indian plays took over Pakistan’s TV. Indian dramas mostly show both men and women of all ages involved in all sorts of malicious activities leading to break ups and business losses etc. With the arrival of Turkish TV serials, a new wave of glamour entered the local TV channels.

The themes and characters were new to the audience and had a new life style not known in Pakistan. Again, women being the key characters and both positive and negative female characters were shown. Now keeping in view the popularity of Turkish serials and themes, our own drama channels jumped into the race and started picking up the style and stories which depict the issues a very little percentage of population can relate to. If a story of one drama becomes a hit, similar stories are shown in dramas of other channels.

Religion is blended with social and cultural norms and directives in a way at times that distinctive line between the two usually vanishes and certain stereotypes are presented. Family is the very basic unit of our society and family members are the first people children come across. This is when the stereotyping begins.

A girl child is always taught to think she is a weaker gender that needs protection and a male child is taught that he ought to be authoritative and strong. Girls are conditioned to think they belong in the kitchen, they need to talk softly, so and so forth. By unintentionally determining these gender roles, the parents not only make their daughter lose her inhibitions, but the boys also start thinking of women as a weaker gender.

I still remember that even little boys at school would feel ashamed to sit next to a girl. Let me share that it is very common phenomenon in co-education schools and clearly reflect what the child has been absorbing from the environment, the decorum set for girls.

Media and TV channels really need to have something of their own in terms of policies and that must be in harmony with our societal needs and issue rather than blindly getting into the trail of something that doesn’t belong here. Women are contributing very positively in different walks of lives. Why can’t we have stories of real life of these women on TV screens?

Religious leaders from all faiths must start talking about the real woman and her contributions. Prayers worships services are mandatory, but they ensure an individual access to heaven or hell. Religious leaders should talk about the strong role of a woman and the rights she possess as a human being without being stereotyped. Last but not the least, early years education plus the education at secondary level  needs to be looked into seriously.


The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector

Published in Daily Times, January 3rd 2018.