Despite the remarkable achievements that women have achieved in various fields, women are persistently portrayed as objects, subordinates, or persons who are reliant on others in the Nepali mass media, both in fiction (movies, TV programs, music videos, and advertising) and non-fiction (newspaper, interviews). Such portrayals of women not only downplay women’s overall achievements but also reinforce gender stereotypes and further perpetuate gender inequality in Nepali society.
The commercial market of advertising, music videos, songs, and films in Nepal continue to portray women in conventional gender roles and as mere objects, despite the massive emphasis on women’s empowerment. Women are frequently used as props and shown in sexually suggestive poses to sell products for men (ads for deodorants, and undergarments) or are primarily featured in ads for household products. On reviewing every ad for cooking oils made in Nepal, it is found that ads of nearly all cooking oil brands in Nepal feature women, with only a few ads featuring men, and that too only to demonstrate the impact of cooking oil on having a strong heart, implying that strength is associated with men. Recently, a commercial for Siddha Baba Cooking Oil went popular on social media for being innovative and promoting the message of not wasting food. While the ad presents a positive social message, it also subtly reinforces the idea that cooking is women’s responsibility, regardless of their social and economic status.
Similarly, Nepali films often depict women as dependent, subservient, frail, helpless characters that need assistance or lack autonomy, housewives, and mother figures, among other circumscribed roles. The feminist lens applied to review twenty Nepali films between 2017 and 2021, in a study undertaken by Gauthali Entertainment Private Limited in collaboration with Kathmandu University, revealed that the portrayal of women in these films was misogynistic and that they normalized stalking in addition to depicting women in traditional roles. Furthermore, the cheerful, melodic, and funk-influenced item songs in movies and music videos depict women as objects of desire, with their bodies displayed in a manner that appeals to the male gaze. This is especially apparent in dance scenes, in which women are shown dancing provocatively in front of amorous males. Close-up shots and camera angles that emphasize sensitive body parts and revealing outfits accentuate the negative effect of such a depiction.
Similarly, the coverage of women’s concerns in nonfiction media such as news and interviews is equally concerning and leads to the objectification of women. Women are often evaluated based on their physical appearance rather than their accomplishments or ability. When Sobita Gautam was recently elected to the House of Representatives, her physique was featured in news titles to highlight her achievements. After receiving criticism on Twitter, the publication eventually changed its title. In addition, women’s ideas and perspectives on important topics such as politics are often underrepresented, which fosters the notion that their viewpoints are not important on such issues. I examined the February 2023 Politics sections of two leading English-language daily published in Kathmandu, one private and one public. I found a startling discrepancy. The private media mentioned or quoted just 10 women politicians, party leaders, and political analysts in comparison to 143 men counterparts, and the public media mentioned or quoted 11 women in comparison to 94 men. This disparity underlines the severity of the issue and the necessity for a transformation in the media’s portrayal of women.
Persistence of such depictions in media we consume on a regular basis without any scrutiny enhances the likelihood of emulation and diminishes the significance of gender, sexuality, and instances of abuse as what we see, hear, or read in the media sub-consciously shapes our attitudes, and attitudes shape our behavior. Hence, it is essential that we recognize the impact the media has on molding our opinions. Since they have the ability and obligation to mold society’s perception of gender, the media must make deliberate attempts to combat these detrimental depictions of women. It is essential that the media presents women as multifaceted, multidimensional beings with multiple roles, experiences, and skills, ranging from those who work outside the house to those who are homemakers, as opposed to restricting them to conventional gender stereotypes and objectification.
This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on Women’s History Month 2023