Popular Culture and Gender: We Must Examine Narratives That Promote Stereotypes

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Editor’s Note: The FII #MoodOfTheMonth for November 2021 is Popular culture stories. We invite submissions on various aspects of pop culture, throughout this month. If you would like to contribute, please email your articles to [email protected]


Power structures in Indian society turn out to be quite deeply ingrained and a clear manifestation of this can be seen in the field of popular culture, where gender imbalances remain quite pronounced. The French philosopher Michel Foucault has long asserted that modern power is “”capillary“- energy flows through the system just like blood flows through the capillaries of a human body.

Power is seen to operate at the lower ends of the social body in everyday social practices, of which popular culture remains a primary part. Some of the major facets of popular culture in India include movies, commercials, and sports among others. The gender gap in these areas remains quite visible and has grown over time.

B-Town’s gender disparity

Bollywood is a pervasive force in Indian popular culture. Behind all the glitz and glamor, there is a gender divide that persists within the film industry. The end credits of movies, more often than not, feature the name of the lead man before that of the woman, whether the two have an equal role to play or not. On International Women’s Day 2013, veteran actor Shah Rukh Khan took the initiative break this trend by stating that the main character’s name would come before his own in the end credits of his films thereafter.

Focused on women‘Movies are emerging as a new trend in Bollywood. It’s an industry that started in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until 2000 that films focused on women began to be shot in greater numbers. In 1957, Nargis-starrer Mother India was the first of its kind to break the glass ceiling in Bollywood. Traces of films with strong female roles could be found later in the 1970s and 1990s. From 2010 things took a new turn with more films focused on women reaching the big screen. It took over 80 years for films with poignant female characters to become the ‘new normal‘.

Nowadays, they attract a large following and have often been blockbusters. Vidya Balan-starter Kahaani and Aalia Bhatt-starrer Raazi crossed the billion mark at the box office, for example. But despite the phenomenal performances of actresses, a pay gap between male and female performers remains largely entrenched in the industry.

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Many prominent actresses in the film industry have also been very active on this subject. pay gap. In conversation with The National Bulletin, actress Taapsee Pannu continued reveal that if an actress asks for a higher salary, she is seen as someone who is “difficult and problematic“.

Ads play a dominant role in the repeated endorsement of goals and values ​​relating to gender roles in society, which in turn become part of a child’s cognitive system through the process of sedimentation. This fosters problematic gender stereotypes which then affect egalitarian thinking and particularly disadvantage women in a patriarchal society. Just as feminist philosopher Simone De Beauvoir once said – “We are not born, but rather become a woman

Recently, Kareena Kapoor has also fallen prey to trolls online when she asked for a higher pay to play the role of Sita in an upcoming project. Despite being an established actress with over 20 years of experience on her plate, what should have been taken for granted was on the other hand, mercilessly trolled as’greed‘.

Growing need for gender-specific advertising

Gender stereotypes are also deeply embedded in the case of most Indian advertisements. A quintessential kitchen appliance advertisement would feature a woman working in the kitchen and telling the public how it makes their life easier. You would rarely see a man wearing an apron and promoting such products, when we know that cooking is not just that of a woman.workspace‘and that even men must take responsibility and share the workload. On the other hand, advertisements for cars and bicycles still feature a male lead, even though automobiles in India are driven by women in large numbers.

Read also : Male gaze in visual media: the fetishization of women and queer characters onscreen

When it comes to less discussed aspects like menstruation, the ads remain the only platform where discussions on the stigmatized topic take place in India. However, the representation of menstrual blood in the form of a blue gel when it comes to the mentions on sanitary products, shows that the concept of menstruation remains far from standardized when it comes to the visual representation. in popular culture.

A selective portrayal of this natural phenomenon fails to normalize it in the viewer’s mind and projects it as something that remains rather hidden.

As advertisements dominate people’s mental lives, they also shape the mindset of the country’s young population. Childhood plays a central role in the plasticity of one’s development – where, one learns all the values ​​and standards necessary to behave in a way that is acceptable in society. Gender stereotypes make young minds aware of certain gender roles that they must continue to play throughout life. This phenomenon is also known as sedimentation.

Just as a river accumulates particles and then deposits them in the form of sediment that determines the flow of a river, information is accumulated as it progresses in life, unconsciously creating a contoured foundation of understanding that conditions their behviour.

Women rarely have the opportunity to understand each other and fail in our time, as every movement of a woman is scrutinized for fear. Popular culture contributes to this predicament by deepening the gender divide through unequal wages, unbalanced characterization of women in movies and commercials, normalizing unrealistic beauty standards and encouraging binaries.

Ads play a dominant role in the repeated endorsement of goals and values ​​relating to gender roles in society, which in turn become part of a child’s cognitive system through the process of sedimentation. This fosters problematic gender stereotypes which then affect egalitarian thinking and particularly disadvantage women in a patriarchal society. Just as feminist philosopher Simone De Beauvoir once said – “We are not born, but rather become a woman

Gender gap in sport

Since sports such as weightlifting and boxing are considered “male‘, families are generally reluctant to promote women’s interests in these male-dominated sports activities. Any discussion of Indian popular culture is incomplete let alone cricket. While men’s cricket has enjoyed more than 10 IPL seasons, a platform that has helped identify talent locally and build a strong cricket community, women’s cricket has yet to experience its first IPL season.

The IPL platform has been a sure recipe for the success of the men’s team. At the same time, India’s women’s cricket team is a wealth of talent. The team’s players have shown great promise and have already broken several professional records. For example, a 320-pass stand between cricketers Poonam Raut and Deepti Sharma is recognized as the highest ever recorded in the An international day (ODI).

Countries like Norway have championed the cause of gender equality in sport by taking the lead in breaking the gender divide by introducing equal pay for men’s and women’s football teams. In India, on the other hand, there is a visible gender pay gap between the men’s soccer team and the women’s soccer team.

The gender lens is used in almost every aspect of popular culture. This creates discriminatory barriers that lead to the normalization of a power structure that favors men over other genders. In this context, the male gaze The theory can also be seen in relation to the theory of Michel Foucault prisoner theory. Foucault’s theory argues that just as prisoners are aware of what to do and what not to do and should behave in a certain way, the male gaze continued to make women aware of their actions as they take awareness that every action of theirs is scrutinized.

Read also : The return of blatant misogyny this Olympic season

Women rarely have the opportunity to understand each other and fail in our time, as every movement of a woman is scrutinized for fear. Popular culture contributes to this predicament by reinforcing the gender divide through unequal wages, an unbalanced characterization of women in films and commercials, normalizing unrealistic beauty standards and encouraging binaries.

We must examine all aspects of popular culture for parity and question the positioning of women in these spaces in order to create more dialogues on the need to be more inclusive and worthy of a modern and egalitarian society.


Prathana Sen holds an MA in Political Science from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. She is currently working as a research intern for the Observer Research Foundation. She can be found on Instagram and LinkedIn

Featured Image Source: OSCE

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