(This lecture was delivered by Prof. Maitrayee Chaudhuri on 15 February 2018)
With the adoption of new liberal economic policies and its consequential emphasis on the market, the public discourse till then defined by the contours of self-reliance, equity and austerity had to be refashioned. It is in this larger context Prof Maitrayee addressed the intricate relationship between gender, media, and transformed public discourse. Prof. Maitrayee began her lecture by conceptualizing the idea of public sphere and its relation to gender and nation. She raised the question which is better ‘public sphere’ or ‘public culture’. In answer to this question, she talked about the relationship between the form and content of public culture and sphere. For her, a form is something which necessarily entails people who would not only be literate but also could be educated in a certain fashion to be able to understand a certain kind of public discourse.
She discussed how the question of gender was articulated in public debate during reform movement in colonized India. This discourse on gender influenced the representation and images of women in public sphere. With the liberalization of the economy in the 1990s, the nature of discourse on gender changed rapidly. She cited various advertisements after the 1990s and the representation of ‘new woman’ in those advertisements. She questioned the claim of media that things have changed now. She asked who changed and what has changed? She questioned the credit taken by media for the minor changes in the condition of women.
After the liberalization of Indian economy, the State no more remained the reference point for the dominant discourse on gender. The explosion of images in post-1990s India was inclined towards the values of plentitude rather than scarcity. Since gender is the most economical way of communication, the advertisements evoked sentiments related to gender.
She narrated the evolution of women’s movement in India that opened up critical debate on gender. But the institutionalization of feminism has toned down the critical aspects of women’s movement such as the establishment of UGC funded women’s studies centres. She traced the parallel development in media where issues related to women were getting institutionalized, like dowry cases. Media was very responsive to such issues and sensitive too. But at the same time media promoted the commodification of gender where both women and men’s body is portrayed as an object. She raised the pertinent question – does the idea of equality mean the equality of commodification? She pointed out that it is very tough to decode today’s advertisements. For instance, if “fair and beauty” is directed towards objectification of women, then by promoting “fair and handsome” seems to be advocating equality. Can this seemingly equality and democratization of technology in the sense of media and social media be called transformation? Does the appearance of poverty-ridden faces in popular reality shows mean transformation? She opined that the ‘hyper-visibility’ of gender should also be seen critically. Nirbahaya’s case was discussed as case in point to show how public sphere was crowded with the discourse on gender. The central argument is to show that the public sphere might be loaded with gender issues but one has to see in what direction the refashioning of gender is taking place through media.
Compiled by Ghulam Hussain
MA, First Year