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By using inappropriate pictures and sexist headlines, news media continues to undermine the achievements of women.
One wouldn’t expect that an interview with an author about her book would be accompanied by an inappropriate image. Yet, that is what recently happened with Lisa Ray who is currently promoting her book, Close To The Bone.
She recently called out The Telegraph for choosing to use a titillating image from her modeling days instead of the author photo that she had provided. She even clarified that she is not ashamed of her sexuality and her objection is not to the image itself, but to the way it has been used out of context in an inappropriate manner. People chimed in with support for her, and criticized the newspaper for its cheap tactics to grab eyeballs.
Others pointed out that this wasn’t the first time that the news media has stooped to such lows. Examples abound of newspapers and TV news channels misrepresenting women and choosing to focus on their looks, clothes or other personal characteristics over their achievements. Who can forget the deplorable and misogynistic coverage of Sridevi’s unfortunate death? Or Deepika Padukone confronting The Times Of India for choosing to focus on her cleavage, instead of on her work and their sexist and disrespectful reply to the same? Even Kate Middleton wasn’t spared their creepiness.
After Assamese actor Angoorlata Deka won an election to the state assembly, a headline in Dailybhaskar.com chose to focus on her beauty. The same publication had also run a story about female policewomen, headlined, “10 Most Beautiful Female IAS and IPS officers in India.” After IPS Officer Merin Joseph, who was also featured in the listicle called them out, they changed the headline, but the subtitle still says, “Here are 10 of the most beautiful female IAS, IPS officers.”
Sportswomen too are targeted. As this piece reminds us, news media is often guilty of giving online trolls a platform. For example, when Mithali Raj was trolled by the “moral police” for wearing a spaghetti top, digital news platforms chose to cover the issue with headlines like, “Mithali Raj trolled: ‘Are you porn star?’ Twitter shames her, questions dress sense” and “Mithali Raj wears explosive dress and gets trolled!” That they resort to using such misogynistic and clickbaity headlines just to generate revenues is sad.
Even when a piece is about a woman’s achievements, and even if it doesn’t objectify her sexually, it is often framed in reference to a man. Even women with credibility and successes of their own are referred to as someone’s wife/daughter/sister etc. When Lakshmi Gopichand spoke about her husband, Pullela Gopichand’s excellence as a coach to P V Sindhu, the Mumbai Mirror chose to spin it in the headline as if she were a jealous wife. When Richa Chadha delivered an opening speech in French at the Marrakech Film Festival, where she was a jury member, the Times Of India wrote about it with the headline, “Richa Chadha learns French for her beau,” choosing to frame it as a romantic gesture instead of the honour that it was. The actor was understandably not having any of it, and shared her displeasure in an Instagram post.
The examples are endless. While this post has chosen to focus on Indian news outlets, the problem is a global one. This 2016 research paper, which analyzed 2,353,652 articles collected over a period of six months from more than 950 different news outlets, found that internationally, women are “systematically under-represented in the news narrative,” and that they are “more likely to be represented visually than they were mentioned as a news actor or source.
The news media often passes the blame on to the readers. After all, they only give the people what they want. One response to Lisa Ray’s tweet acknowledged that not using needless photographs of women was not great business strategy. However, the news media has a greater responsibility.
We rely on the news to form opinions. To gain knowledge. To shape public thought. They are expected to be better than the general public. When the fourth estate stoops to such lows, and chooses to marginalize an entire gender in favour of sales and revenues, it is disheartening.
We need women in decision-making positions in newsrooms and as editors. We need more female reporters. More importantly we need people with a strong ethical core, who can find better ways to earn money than using women as eye candy.
Image source: YouTube
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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