Feminism and the Portrayal of Women in Indian Soap Operas – It’s time to Have That Conversation
Syeda Zoya Ayoob
BA LLB, Batch: 2021-2026
In a society where women are in a constant struggle for their rights and equality, the atrocities that are posed on most of them are unreasonable and sometimes even vicious. Media plays a vital role in impacting the minds of common people, and the most consumed form of media in an Indian household is soap operas. These soap operas could be used as a medium to educate people about the importance of the feminist ideology in society. However, the reality of such media is quite opposite of what the revolutionaries envisioned. In this topic, I’d like to bring to light how women are portrayed on the small screen and the negative impact on the pathway of achieving feminism.
What is Feminism?
To understand why it is crucial for us to talk about this topic and how is it related to the topic of feminism, we first need to know what feminism is. When the word “feminism” is used, traditional thinkers typically assume that it refers to an ideology where women think they are superior beings and assemble to talk about how much they hate men. Well, that is not the case. This is not your typical high school movie where there are people whose sole purpose is to send hate to the protagonist, it’s much more serious than that. Feminism is an ideology where people ask for women to be treated as equally as any other human being, allowing them to exercise their rights and make decisions for themselves. It is about being given equal opportunities.
Let’s Talk about Women in a Typical Indian Soap Opera
When you think of a female lead in an Indian soap opera, what is the first picture that comes to your mind? It is most probably a woman who is obedient to her husband, with an evil mother-in-law who wants to make her life a living hell. Of course, the female lead has other family members who act like they trust her, but it doesn’t take much for them to turn their back on her as soon as something goes wrong. Her selflessness and submissive behavior are the parameters taken into consideration by the family members as a measure of the amount of respect she deserves.
Well, this might not seem like a problem on the surface, there lies a serious flaw underneath it. The problem is that these shows get a majority of their viewership from rural areas. According to Livemint, rural households own 17 per cent more televisions than urban households . Media of any form has a huge potential to influence the perspective of people at large. These shows play an important role in influencing the mindsets of rural people. They condition people into thinking that having unrealistic expectations and abusing women, in any form, is completely fine because that is how it is portrayed. Soap operas normalize such behavior. Women, the target audience of these shows, think that these things are expected of them and are supposed to tolerate it.
Need for Change: A change needs to take place in this form of media. While there have been shows which looked promising enough to change the portrayal of women, their stories progressed in a manner that made them no different from other regular soaps. The portrayal of women as decorative pieces with high tolerance towards bearing disrespect should be replaced by women who will take a stand for themselves and whose life doesn’t just revolve around family members, especially those to whom she has to prove her worth time and again. These shows need to be used as a medium to make people realize the importance of treating women respectfully and make women aware of their rights. Such changes will take time, but they will educate people who watch these shows and might help them treat women better.