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PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN PRINT MEDIA
Anusha Chopra, Responsenet

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Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 | 5:01:00 PM

PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN PRINT MEDIA 
 
 

SUBMITTED BY:           Ms. ANUSHA CHOPRA

                                              2007-2008 
 
 

      CERTIFICATE 
 

      This is to certify that the dissertation entitled 'Portrayal of Women in Print Media' submitted in partial fulfillment for the requirement of the Course in 'Gender and Society' of the Women Studies and Development Centre, is a faithful record of the bonafide work carried out by ANUSHA CHOPRA under my guidance and supervision.

      No part of this work has been submitted for any other course.  
 
 
 
 

Dated: 18th February,2008         Mrs.Meenu Anand

                              Women Studies & Development Centre,

                        Delhi University 
                   
                   
                   
                   

      ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 

      I wish to express my sincere thanks to Mrs. Meenu Anand, for her help and guidance.

      I also take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to Mrs. Aparna Khanna, Lecturer Lady Irwin College for lending me her helping hand whenever needed.

      Without the support from my family this study would not have been possible and completed on time.  
 
 
 
 

                                                  ANUSHA CHOPRA

                                                 18th February, 2008 
 
 
 
 

      CONTENTS

    1. Introduction
    2. Women and Media
      1. Accessibility of mass media to women
      2. Reading habits of women
      3. Portrayal of women in media
    3. Types of media
      1. Electronic
      2. Television
      3. Print
        1. Introduction
        2. Types
          1. Magazines
          2. Newspapers
    4. Conclusion
    5. Bibliography
 
 
 

INTRODUCTION

Media is all pervasive; its functioning is very subtle. Media plays a vital role in dissemination of information. It is called the fourth pillar of democratic polity. The impact of media on our lives is a point which does not have to be laboured any longer. Radio, television, films and the printed word reach all of us in this age of information and each strives to perfect its modes of communications to become more effective as a medium. The roles of various media however, have stretched far beyond the supply of information now, because of the outreach and technological sophistication. In effect this gives them the power to create reality. Media is shaped by existing social reality. By gradually shaping public opinion, personal beliefs and even people's self perceptions, media influences the process of socialization and shapes ideology and thinking. The power of creating media reality is concentrated in the hands of a few people and their biases and their profit motives operate in the creation of a reality which is often distorted.

WOMEN AND MEDIA

Indian society is full of diversified cultures, traditions and beliefs. Our mass media's role as a social constructor and representative of people has greater responsibility in binding these complexities of culture and processes with the people of the society.

According to P. Anbarasan (1995), in India as a whole the status of women is undergoing a perceptible change. Women entering the labour market are on the rise, there is increase in the number of educated women, and heightened awareness of their mobilization to fight discrimination.

The role of women in the family life has undergone significant changes. As an educated housewife, or as a working woman she has acquired a respectable place in society. Today's women are increasingly aware. Magazines especially women's magazines carry a lot of information on social issues and personal family issues.

ACCESSIBILTY OF MEDIA TO WOMEN

The relationship between the media and about 51% of our population is a two way traffic- the access of women to the media or the lack of it, and the cognizance by the media of women or the absence of it. The presence of women in media both in terms of numbers, whether absolute or in comparison with men, and their status in terms of the position they occupy is strongly influenced by the scene, not of their choice, but on account of the social and religious taboos which operated as legal sanctions, and even today operate as such, in many regions and communities, the constitution and laws not withstanding. Even in those regions and communities where the social and religious taboos can no longer be enforced poverty, illiteracy, discrimination and male domination keep a vast majority of women away from the print media even as readers. As regards the electronic media, even where the community radio and television are available, either they are crowded out by the men, or on account of social inhibitions, women are unable to view or listen (Sawant ; 1998).

Media has therefore largely come to be confined to the women in the middle and the higher classes, whether in the rural or urban areas, and more particularly in the urban areas- whether as passive consumers or as active players.

PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN MEDIA

Over the years, and especially during the last decade, India has developed a fairly extensive communication infrastructure. The subject of portrayal of women in Indian media has drawn the attention of media critiques in the present times. It arises especially when our society is going through a period of social change. Women have been portrayed as men would like to see them- beautiful creatures, submissive mothers of their children, efficient house keepers, but nothing else.

The positive sides of women's progress and their contribution for national development have not been adequately discussed in the media of communication. The emphasis on stories about women, about their struggle for recognition is only the surface trimming. The actual message to audience still is that society opposes the liberation of women.

R. Akhileshwari (1988) makes a scathing attack on the negative aspects of the portrayal of women in Indian mass media. Thus for instance, the image of the educated woman is typecast as arrogant, insensitive, self- centered, willy or the economically independent woman is shown as domineering, hard, ruthless and the cause of all the suffering around her. Perhaps the most damaging portrayal of women is in advertisements and commercials.

The various types of media the researcher would like to discuss are :

  1. Electronic (Radio, Television etc.)
  2. Print

ELECTRONIC MEDIA

Radio and Television combined with satellite channels provide wide coverage on almost important aspects of life. Doordarshan & All India Radio have captured good audience size not only in cities but also even in semi-urban and rural areas. The program contents of both All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan give priority mainly to entertainment- based programmes. Women issues and their development programmes are reflected poorly in both the media. Lack of adequate planning and importance to women's programmes loses the target audience group.

The Indian television programmes on women are generally based on the lives and cultures of urban society. In quantity there have been very few, in quality very poor programmes are concerned with the problems of women in rural areas. The main reason behind this is the commercial nature of Doordarshan, commercial sponsors and advertisers do not prefer women issue programmes, which they think are not very popular and or are liked by few audience (Dhar, Pattnaik ; 1996).

Television has been called the most real form of media. It is the real representation of women in TV and it affects the mindset of those who watch the television, specially the negative and debasing image of women as represented through money-spinning advertisements and serials. The systematic oppressions of women by men is being projected by television. Many argue against the current trend of female TV characters opting to give up their career. A social activist comments, "No matter how television producers justify their stand, the fact remains that media influences women the most. All of us have a social responsibility. Since serial makers are ignoring theirs, it is up to the common people to raise their voice against the negative portrayal of women in the so-called family dramas." Sex stereotype is also very much evident in television portrayal of men and women in their appointed roles.

PRINT MEDIA

The print media which include newspapers, periodicals, newsletters and other channels are relied upon by the people as credible source of information, education and entertainment. The print media are known for fearless criticism and service.

According to P. Kumar; 1995, the media reflects events taking place in society and provides a platform for dialogue and debate on issues which can generate social changes. While electronic media carries more immediate weight on focusing attention on various issues, it is print media which has more persistent and lasting effect. It is felt that the way women are being projected in the print and electronic media is a reflection on the whole society.

Though there is no authentic research done in this area it is estimated by those working in this field that print media, both daily and weekly, that only about 7 to 10 % of the total coverage on women's issues and about half of these are related to sex, prostitution, glamour, entertainment and crime.  
In the past few years there has been an improved and increased reportage of issues related to women in the media particularly in the print. News related to women though still marginal have started to occasionally occupy important slots like the editorial, feature news, front-page news etc. However, women's visibility in the news is still dominated by sensational stories of glamour, sex, domestic violence and other forms of violence. Stories like women coping with adversity or building their lives are largely missing. Issues affecting women, their vast experiences and their lives, barely find their way into the mainstream media. Likewise, very few informative pieces or feature columns are published for women informing them about their legal rights, or about their potential for political activity. Many other studies have also established that when women appear in the news, they are mostly projected as passive victims or passive reactors to public events in news media. They hardly appear as speakers or participants in public event.

There have been several studies of print media with regard to women which have found the print media guilty of sexism, distortion of image of women and propagation of sex stereotypes: mothers, housewives, dependant, passive, etc. The other side of such misinterpretation is that in most popular print media women are seldom shown as working women- capable professionals, labourers, farmers. Rather the predominant image is that of the self-sacrificing housewife. Analysis done of the so-called educational media like children's books, adult literacy primers for women shows that they are sexist and they perpetuate sex-stereotypes.

In the words of a leading daily's news editor, "It is tragic that women are being mistreated but there is not much that we can do." A media critic says, "When I started my career my writings were idealistic and emotionally charged. But I later realised that it does not help the society in the long run. How many people read my story on the rape victim? Or even if some even read it, do people stop raping? Our readers are fed up with soft stories about women."  (Source: http://www.thehoot.org)

The Print Media has also seen a growth spurt in the recent years particularly with regard to women and development magazines. The journals are mostly qualified for modern society and could be said to be positively harmful to the development of women as conscious individuals aware of themselves and aware of the society around them. If a woman wins a beauty contest, magazines or newspapers in particular give much importance to the news and even take her photographs on cover page but, at the same time if a woman gets the Nobel Prize she gets limited coverage. Here the difference of judgment in women's issues is quite marked in our media. Similarly the daily newspapers rarely put women's news and their development. Rather they prefer reporting on rape, atrocities, crime, sexual harassment and abuse of women prominently in their columns. Besides Sunday and Saturday special glossy editions on women's leisure, fashion, beauty and other luxurious news items with erotic photographs are issued from time to time by daily newspapers (Dhar, Pattnaik ; 1996).

However the scenario is not so depressing and some researchers hold a more encouraging view. According to Joseph, Sharma, 1991, the advent of women reporters and the presence of some senior women journalists in positions of responsibility have made a significant difference to the coverage of women's issues in the press. They have observed that in the past ten years, women's issues have increasingly, though sporadically begun to make news and to be considered worthy of comment. This is due to the growth of the contemporary, women's movement in India, with women's groups becoming steadily more active and vocal. While these changes could be perceived through the print media they were particularly evident in the English language press, which occupies a position of special privilege and eminence in India, although its audience is substantially smaller than that of the regional language press.

The English press and the language papers in India have been doing well as far as the coverage of women is concerned. Lead reports, articles, editorials, features and news analysis have been published on women's issues. Nonetheless the last decade has seen the setting up of women's publishing houses (Kali, Mandira, Horizon and others), some of which publish exclusively on women.

A comparative study of the relevance of print media in view of the present electronic media conducted by IIMC Delhi by Yadav, 1994-95, gives the following findings:

  • Educated and career women regularly consume print medium though they are particular about consuming T.V. too.
  • Readers observe innovations more in print. Also the retention of the total message is greater from print.
  • T.V. has greater irritation  potential than print
  • Niche Magazines have extremely important role to play.
  • Print is more popular among males whereas T.V. in females.
 

The researcher would now like to discus the portrayal of women in print media under the following categories:

  1. Newspapers
  2. Magazines
 

NEWSPAPERS

The lack of gender sensitivity in the media is evidenced in the failure to eliminate gender-based stereotyping. Generally, the media do not provide a balanced portrayal of women's diverse lives and their contributions to society in a changing world, often reinforcing stereotyped images of women and their roles in society. It is a common practice additionally to assess the professional success of a woman through questions and claims about her related to being a good mother and a wife. This is exactly the type of writing in the media that undermines the efforts of activists, who aim to establish gender equality in all areas of society.

The prevailing portrayal of women in mainstream daily newspapers has the following characteristics:

  • Positive images of women have a narrow scope and are based on new stereotypes of women's success: a pop star, a beauty queen, and a sport's woman with an outstanding result.
  • There is an absence of the image of an active, assertive workingwoman, of a successful businesswoman, or a positive image of a woman politician.
  • Average women are nearly always portrayed as victims of poverty, social injustice, domestic violence, and organized crime.
  • Misogyny in the form of rude jokes, mockery or open verbal aggression have become an accepted way of a systematic backlash against women activists working for women's political empowerment or individual (freedom of abortion, freedom of sexual orientation) human rights.                                                 (Source: http://www.media.ba/mediacentre)

Day after day we read and imbibe skewed images of womanhood in print and these images are incorporated and in our experience of living. Newspapers have a very important role to play in the society.

Since politics is the staple of our newspapers, it follows then why are women are being pushed into the background in the dailies. It is the culture pages that help to round out the portrayal through the reviews of exhibitions by women artists, performances by female musicians, critiques of plays produced or acted by women, but here too is the seductive Swapnasundaris and Malika Sehrawats or the sexy silk Smithas and the razzle dazzle Kareena who the camera and the pen focus on. Only the sports pages carry some positive news of the achievements of women athletes and players (Sania Mirza). Yet even here, when women achieve positive or even spectacular results, men find ways of undermining or ridiculing their success.

The presence of women in media both in terms of numbers, whether absolute or in comparison with men, and their status in terms of the position they occupy is strongly influenced by the scene, not of their choice, but on account of the social and religious taboos which operated as legal sanctions, and even today operate as such, in many regions and communities, the constitution and laws not withstanding. Even in those regions and communities where the social and religious taboos can no longer be enforced poverty, illiteracy, discrimination and male domination keep a vast majority of women away from the print media even as readers.

The subject of portrayal of women in Indian media has drawn the attention of media critiques in the present times. It arises especially when our society is going through a period of social change. Women have been portrayed as men would like to see them - beautiful creatures, submissive mothers, efficient house keepers, but nothing else (Abraham;1988).

The positive side of women's progress and their contribution for national development has not been adequately discussed in the print media. The emphasis on stories about women, about their struggle for recognition is only the surface trimming. The actual message to audience still is that society opposes the liberation of women. 

MAGAZINES AND JOURNALS

Magazines differ markedly from newspapers in content, time element and methods of operation. In contrast to daily newspaper with its hurry-up headlines, magazines are published weekly, fortnightly, monthly or sometimes quarterly, because these publications usually deal with subjects in greater depth than newspapers do.

Magazines fulfill four major purposes in our lives. They inform, guide and entertain the average reader. They also assist commerce through advertising. Information is imparted chiefly by printing news, while in depth articles and features help to give the reader the background necessary to understand intelligently current events and ideas. Entertainment is provided through numerous articles, jokes and cartoon strips ( Sinha; 1992).

A magazine is regarded as a strategic information, educational and cultural institution (Chabbra; 1986). A newspaper is designed for family reading while magazines in most instances aim carefully at special interest audience.

Indian Magazines contain primarily and predominantly volumes of advertisements and sexist writings. According to Guru (1996), vast majority of Indian Magazines are known for the portrayal of women as sex objects, consumers and slaves. Women journals are mostly elitist and sexist. They are not in a position to advocate the course of women and rejuvenate our socio-political economic and cultural orders. The targeted readerships of these magazines are the upper and lower middle classes living in cities. A study carried out for the Second Press Commission of the contents and performance of women's  journals says that, most of women's journals consistently seek to direct women's energies into a narrow channel to define their concerns, pre-occupations and aspirations with an arbitrarily imposed 'feminine framework'. The study says that the impression created is that the outside world belongs to men and the issues which arise there do not affect women except indirectly through the men related to them.

M. Fergusen (1983), in her book entitled 'Women Magazine and Cult of Feminity' has said that, women's magazine collectively comprise a social institution which serves to foster and maintain a cult of Feminity. This cult is manifested both as a social group to which all those born female can belong, and as a set of practices and beliefs, rites and rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies whose periodic performance reaffirms a common Feminity. In promoting Feminity these magazines are not merely reflecting the female role in society; they are also supplying one source of definitions of and socialization into that role.

Women's magazines confer status on women as a group and make womanly things a serious business. They provide a public platform and a symbolic social order which consistently offers a woman cheap and accessible source of positive evaluation alongside practical directions for fulfilling her potential as a consumer. They also preach the ideal of a woman's power of self determination by their overwhelming emphasis on self- help.

The print media mould the opinion, thinking and attitudes of women as at times the position of women portrayed in articles and stories is similar to their position.

Image of Women in Magazines

Women's image has gone through several unjust projections at the hands of the media. In a study conducted on 'reading habits and perception of portrayal of women' by Nidhi Mittal (1999) where she found out that the respondents themselves felt that there is a need to change women's portrayal in magazines as they were shown more in subdued roles.

Indecent posters and boardings displayed everywhere are the crude reminders of distorted images and attitudes to women. Popular magazines with large circulations like 'Sunday' and 'India Today' flash vulgar and obscene glossy photographs on their cover pages. The advertising world continues to use women to peddle its products and to present women as sexual object. The image of the educated woman is typecast as insensitive, self-centered and uncaring. The economically independent woman is shown as domineering and ruthless. The woman is considered ideal only when she is in her nurturing roles and as a supportive supplement to man (Gupta, Rana ; 1995).

The coverage of women issues in the English print media and in the Indian language press differs in a number of ways. This is quite expected due to the very difference of readership profiles and other characteristics. According to Dua (1995); the regional language press has its compulsions to be biased, inflammatory, sensational, communal and partisan. This is so, as it serves only a small segment of readers who are 'conservative' and 'traditional' and read such papers only to replenish and refresh their established beliefs and credos.

An extensive study of three national women's magazines was carried out in 1978-79 by Manushi Collective, all the issues of Femina, Eve's Weekly and Sarita were analysed over a period of year. Despite their claim to be 'concerned', 'involved' and 'alive' the magazines were found without exception, to foster traditional patterns of female subordination although wrapped in deceptively modern trappings.

In the opinion of S. Mukherjee (a supervisor in an Advertisement agency) as quoted by Kumar (1995) - "It is possible to depict a woman as career oriented people but this would not be accepted. So, we try to project this image of a very smart woman. She is not as mundane as you and me, even if she is a housewife. We try and put that through in very beautiful manner". She further remarks- "the idea of new woman is actually a myth". In real life a working woman is as overworked as a housewife if not more. All these women's magazines talk about the 'woman of substance', but this is their concept which they are putting forth and expect everybody to accept that as the picture of the 'new woman'.

On the other hand, media can be utilized for projecting the true and positive image of women and to wipe out her traditional passive image that has been imprinted on the mind of the society as a whole, including the women. The potentiality of media as a powerful instrument of social change has first to be used to restore 50% of the humanity to its proper pedestal. Change has to be brought about not only in the status of women but in the attitude of the society towards them. Priority has therefore necessarily to be given to changing image of women, from a passive onlooker and recipient, to that of a positive doer and achiever (Sawant ; 1998).

Literacy creates quest for information, self learning and reading, thereby generating a demand for print media (Batra, Grover; 1994). Inspite of the boom in electronic media, coming of the satellite television and high-tech information explosion, the traditional print media remain unvanquished. It carries credibility and weight and still moulds the opinion of many. While the Audio-visual medium is largely a medium of entertainment, magazines and newspapers are medium of information. The written word still has an aura surrounding it, particularly in India, where they have always been considered as gospel truth (Shiv Kumar; 1996).

The print also provides the syllabus and step-by-step instructions which help to socialize their readers into the various ages and stages of the demanding but rewarding state of womanhood. They still define norms for what their followers should think, say, do, wear, cook, read, explore, ignore or care about. The medium is still a message in itself and that message continues to be that- women are uniquely different; they require separate treatment and instruction in ways that men do not. The prints mould the opinion, thinking and the attitudes of the women as at times the position of women portrayed in articles and stories is similar to their position in the society.  

THE WIDESPREAD IMPACT OF DISTORTED PORTRAYALS

What impact does this kind of distortion have on the position of women in society and their development?

The impact is different at different levels:

  1. The perpetuation of inequalities in the home-

Statistics tell that women and girls are more undernourished and uncared for than men and boys. Our media provides the necessary ideology for this to the society.

  1. Creating a distorted self-image-

Media does not only influence the social image of women but also their self-image. Most women are themselves uncritical consumers of anti-women media. Media affects their socialization process, it influences their choices regarding what they consume and wear, how they behave, what they learn, and to what they ultimately become.

Media is therefore not only helped women and society to redefine their own and men's roles; it has also ignored, even trivialized whatever attempts women have made to redefine their roles, to create alternative behaviour patterns and life styles. By doing so media has clearly discouraged the emergence of a new woman, a new man and a new relationship between them.

Such a treatment of women by the media instead of reducing their isolation, increases it further. Instead of empowering women, it weakens them. Women remain unheard, unrepresented and more 'uncommunicable' than before. The print media succeeds in depoliticising women's miseries and issues.

  1. Reinforcing biases in development plans-

It has been already stated, media reinforces the conservative view of women and ignores their economic participation and contribution, especially that of rural women, over 50% of whom are directly involved in economic activities, in addition to housework and childcare. All this means that media, instead of challenging the view that women are inferior, subservient, unimportant, reinforces it and it establishes man as the active force, the doer, the one who matters. The needs and concerns, the problems they face are not articulated publicly, no public thinking and debates are initiated on their real concerns. Because their concerns and interests remain unarticulated in the print, women also remain neglected.

There is indeed a 'symbolic annihilation' the consequence of a combination of condemnation, trivialization and absence as far as communication support to women's developments in India is concerned. Mass media have a social responsibility to promote well being of women in particular.

CONCLUSION

The portrayal of woman in the print media is quite degrading more often than not depicting her as commercial commodity. It is necessary that public should be motivated and sensitized to the issue of criminalization, politicization, and commercialization of women vis--vis their projection in the media in a healthy manner (IIMC & Press Council of India Publication;1998).

Information in the print reinforces the stereotype and traditional roles of women in society. In order to enhance the status and position of women in society the information/ messages should portray women in career oriented, lead roles and in a holistic image, which is truly representative of Indian culture and ethos. Media is an issue is related to all women's issues and it affects not only urban women but all women and all men. By reinforcing sex stereotypes and constantly glorifying motherhood and sub-servient wifehood the print media makes it difficult for women to break out of these prescribed roles, norms and behaviour patterns. Such conservative depictions reduce the few statements about sex equality and equal participation of women contained in the Constitution to mere window dressing.

This is not a plea of literary writing for women to be scoured but to redress the enormous harm done by existing portrayals and images in print media. Women must resist being sold in this manner and it is time they took the power of this medium in their own hands to create truth in their idiom or the pressures of the mass market will make their struggle for change increasingly difficult. The sex-class bias simply invisiblises women. As we unite to struggle against sex oppression, we must struggle too for equal space in the media. We  must make media work for us and not against us.

The status of women has not improved noticeably despite the government's and the media's claim about social justice towards women. What is needed is a wider change in the social outlook.

The cumulative and unconscious impact of these media messages, or lack thereof, can very often exacerbate gender discrimination. I think, in general the lesson girls learn from this is that they're not encouraged to speak up or speak out or take up leadership roles. The mass media could exercise significant influence in helping to remove such prejudice and promote processes as equal partners.

Clearly, the media does not provide a balanced picture of women's diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. Much remains to be done with regard to the "participation, portrayal and access of women to the media and its impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women". What our country needs in the present context are minimum regulation and more enablement.

However for media to promote balanced and non-stereotype portrayal of women in their multiple roles, it is imperative that government, media, NGOs and private sector should come together and forge joint strategies to promote gender equality and gender justice. However this presupposes gender sensitivity among media owners and managers. In its new-found expansive role, media should foster a broad ethical content and moralizing impulse in the society so essential for the emergence of a civil society. Moreover for the society's abiding benefit media must nurture and transmit humane values of civilization. They must take upon themselves the proactive role of a protector and a promoter of human rights, gender justice and democratic order.

 

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            DISSERTATIONS

  1. Mittal,Nidhi; (1999) 'Reading Habits and Perceptions of Portrayal of women in Magazines:an Urban View'
  2. Matta, Aarushi; (2001) ' Portrayal of Women in Newspapers: Perception of Delhi University Teachers'

            WEBSITES:

  1. https://www.vedamsbooks.com
  2. http://www.media.ba/mediacentre
  3. http://www.thehoot.org

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anusha.chopra@responsenet.org

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