The iincredible advancement of media and information technology has created widespread impacts – connecting fragmented communities through the power of film/TV and social networks. It is estimated that the average person spends four hours a day using social/media tools, pointing to a social revolution that has taken shape over the last half of our century and one that is still at full speed.
The dark side of this emancipatory ideal however, is that the power of media and other technologies have not served all people, most particularly women. All too often, the media has projected women in demeaning and damaging ways. If we take the television and movie industries as long-standing examples, we see that women are continually portrayed as objects to be consumed sexually, reinforcing the old logic of patriarchy which is then transmitted around the world. In many advertisements, women are usually the center of attention; they are employed as effective marketing tools where lust and consumer wants are banded together.
Yet it is the pornography business which offers the most extreme example of gender exploitation: films made to suit a male audience rely on sexual violence and endorse a power dynamic which favours the man. The concern here is that pornography is an important socialising tool, defining the parameters of sexual pleasure and educating male adolescents on sexual expectations. It is these kinds of projections which influence social behaviours, inducing and legitimising violence against women such as, rape.
As noted, the portrayal of women’s inferiority is not confined to pornography. We see more subtle notes of power asymmetries in the advertising and entertainment industry. Transformed into both, consumers and promoters of products or ideas, women are subjected to a double-edged sword as they come to endorse their own claims to femininity and sexuality – to the detriment of other active, intellectual characteristics. In turn, the femininity that is projected is contrasted with matching ideals of masculinity. This binary narrative is harmful because it creates unrealistic expectations about how women and men should be within society, driving a feeling of inadequacy and shame when both sexes cannot live up to those stereotypes.
This is reinforced at the global level with the spreading influence of beauty and health-fitness industries which rake in millions in revenue, benefiting from women yearning to feel beautiful and desired. International beauty competitions, the increasing appeal of cosmetic surgery and the vast supply of dietary pills all reinforce beauty and passivity over intellectual merit and active citizenry.
Yet the most perverse use of technology can be found in medical science as used in developing countries, whereby women’s lack of socio-economic participation gives them a burden status. The use of ultrasound technology has allowed families to determine the sex of the foetus in the mother’s womb. This advancement has become a curse for the mothers, because using this technology has allowed for the quick termination of girl foetuses to avoid “extra” responsibilities. This crime is increasing at an alarming rate in India. Furthermore, according to a UN report, women are the major recipients of various kinds of contraceptive methods widely used in the world; as a result the dangerous, health-harming side effects are usually borne by the women.
What is important is that, despite social and technological transformations that have occurred over the last century, and which continue to alter our public spaces as we speak, social norms are proving more resilient to such changes. In fact, technological developments and social media appear to reinforce gender exploitation. No more so can this be seen from the following statement:
“The UN estimates that 95% of aggressive behaviour, harassment, abusive language and denigrating images in online spaces are aimed at women and come from partners or former male partners. Both men and women are affected by cyber stalking, but a survey in India found that victims aged between 18-32 were predominantly female” (Source: www.apc.org).
Likewise, advanced video technology is being increasingly utilised to record women’s private life and those video clips are being sold in market at high prices. Nowadays this tendency has grown at an alarming rate and women’s personal security is at great stake.
In the long run, the abuse of media and technology are severely harming women and it is increasingly harder to compensate this by offering the emancipatory image of an inclusive public space driven by media and technology. Women are not being able to utilise these benefits and remain disengaged due to a lack of resources, both in information and in voice. As a cautionary warning, it seems important to acknowledge the demographic profile of those benefiting from technological and media advancements before we proclaim a glorious march forward in our civilisation.
Written by Tawhidul Alam and published on 24-March-2013