How to depict women on TV: guidelines for producers

How to depict women on TV: guidelines for producers

The guidelines are not intended at completely avoiding stereotypes, which are needed for the storyline, but wants the programmers and producers to simultaneously challenge such depictions. (DH File Photo. For representation purpose)

Depict men falling for independent women, don't show women as damsels in distress with a man as their only protector; do not always show Muslim women in burqa and don't show women wearing only Indian clothes.

With the power that serials and other television programmes have in cementing the stereotyping of women, these are among a slew of 'Guidelines for Gender Sensitive Programming' suggested by UNICEF and Centre for Media Studies (CMS), which was recently adopted by the national broadcaster Doordarshan.

The guidelines are not intended at completely avoiding stereotypes, which are needed for the storyline, but wants the programmers and producers to simultaneously challenge such depictions.

"An estimation showed that 80-90% content on prime time TV is not gender-sensitive and this has an impact on those who watch these programmes. Now digital platforms like Netflix and Hotstar are also there where there is hardly any regulation. That is why we felt there is a need for some guidelines that can be followed," Prabhakar of CMS, who was part of developing the guidelines, told DH.

Doordarshan was the first to get on board with the new proposal. Nowm that are expectations that private channels too would adopt these guidelines or develop their own, he said.

"These guidelines establish principles to challenge gender stereotypes and inequity in society... These guidelines are pioneering step towards constructing gender equitable society," Doordarshan Director General Supriya Sahu said.

The guidelines want programmes to ensure the dignity of women and men in portrayal, reporting and representation. It cites an example of programmes on ending open defecation – which mostly show women going for open defecation and the guidelines suggest that such programmes should also include visuals of men.

Asking producers to be sensitive to religion, region, status and position of women and men, it suggests, “do not always show Muslim women in burkha or housemaids to be from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.”

On dressing or appearances by actors and anchors, it suggests, “don't show women wearing only Indian clothes and men wearing only western clothes. If you have all the men in western clothes, at least have some of the women in western clothes.”

With several films and serials depicting screen heroes wooing heroines through harassment, the guidelines suggest that no sexual harassment – be it stalking, sending messages, sending flowers or teddy bears, which the girl is shown as clearly not enjoying – be shown as courtship.

It also asks producers to question the myths of gender identity, by showing “men falling for independent strong women and show women falling for men who want partners and not someone to keep house and manage the family."

Another no-go area suggested is that there should be no glorification of traditional practices, fasting, child marriage, changing the name after marriage, only male members performing last rites and so on.