Examining manufactured consent and media manipulation.
Anna Abraham, Founding Editor
Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava
The feminist movement is an age-old fight for the equality of the sexes and has often adopted causes of other marginalised communities, while it wages for justice and equality. I’d like to examine how multiple industries exploit the manufactured consent of women and thrust them into a paradox of feminism and capitalism.
Firstly, let’s visit the idea of manufactured consent. Chomsky speaks of the power of the media to lead the masses into believing their opinions are their own. He speaks of how there is an illusion of choice, but every decision every person makes is a culmination of what the media has fooled them into thinking. The ideas of pluralistic liberal democracies that the free media supposedly runs on are a front to ensure that opinions are repeatedly moulded and consent is speedily manufactured. Simply put, your opinions are not your own. They are what you have been told to think, even though you may not know it.
The biggest propagators of patriarchy are those who glorify concepts of motherhood, attach purity to being a woman and often view women as sacred symbols of the nation.
The biggest propagators of patriarchy are those who glorify concepts of motherhood, attach purity to being a woman and often view women as sacred symbols of the nation. The glorification of motherhood in the media, in the form of sensational films, sometimes, even public service announcements, and consequently in the collective minds of those in societies, have helped modern medical systems to manufacture the consent of women worldwide into adopting practices of IVF, surrogacy, etc. Although the need for a child is DNA memory, the societal and media pressure on a girl to have children, even before she is physically and biologically able to do so, is what makes the consent of a woman in this process manufactured. The media uses motherhood as a sure shot means to make money, because, let’s face it, a teary-eyed scene of a mother parting with her child because he wants to marry someone the father doesn’t approve of - sells (and propels the need for a male child). This glorification of motherhood in society and media, and capitalism in the medical industry has paved the road to artificial insemination, IVF treatments, surrogacy, etc.
A girl is policed about everything under the sun from the very time she’s born. What she wears matters. Who she talks to matters. How she looks matters. She must survey herself at all times because her worth is determined by what people think of her. John Berger in his documentary Ways of Seeing says “Men dream of women, women dream of being dreamt of. Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at”. He speaks of how every glance is a judgement, sometimes the woman glances at herself in a mirror, even then - becoming a judgement. This phenomenon is not a reflection of the vanity of women but the socialisation of women. John Berger speaks of the normalisation of the male gaze. He uses examples of post-Renaissance paintings of women to depict their portrayal in what qualified as mass media then. Women are always shown in submissive positions lacking any dynamism. There is no activity in their portrayal, they simply lay naked (in most paintings with completely clothed men), emotionless, to appeal to the male appetite. The woman is always looking at the viewer, even if she has a lover in the painting, her purpose is to feed the appetite of the viewer of the painting. She has almost no hair in every painting. The hair becomes a symbol of passion and she must have none, she must only serve that of the man. She is depicted as an emotionless object who serves the man. Modern media uses the same techniques to lure its viewers. Advertisements today have overtly sexual themes - because, yet again, that sells. This portrayal has made women hyper-aware of the way they look, and industries have exploited this insecurity extensively.
The fashion and beauty industries, along with ideas of consumerism, thrive on this hyper-awareness of women. Since women have been socialised into constantly surveying themselves, the fashion and beauty industries don’t need to push that agenda. They only have to use unrealistic beauty standards, easy to achieve with a dash of photoshop, to make women feel inadequate. Then the masses rush to beauty and clothing stores to look the way their role models do. The Barbie doll that girls are made to play with, is the very first contributor to this insecurity. Then come the millions of films and advertisements showing women as objects, unrealistically beautiful and secondary to the male protagonists, almost always there to serve and support him. This reinforcement of the beliefs they hold ensures that the beauty and fashion industry succeed. It is capitalism that makes sure this media production continues, since these are the ideas the public is comfortable with and it is what will sell; and for the beauty industry to expose it would mean that it suffers losses, therefore it keeps mum and enjoys the money that keeps rolling in.
This takes us to the next paradox. The idea that women should be able to dress and look as they please is a feminist concept. However, the clothes and make-up of today have been designed as tools to ensure the male gaze is satisfied. One cannot blame men in this matter, they have been socialised into judging and looking at women the very same way women have been socialised into being hyper-aware of the way they look. So, even though a woman says she is dressing for herself, that opinion she holds has been manufactured for her by society and the media. Therefore, wearing what she wants is both empowering and oppressive, and being forced to adhere to societal norms is also equally oppressive and yet somehow, empowering.
Some may argue that the media has evolved, and to ensure equality, in a quite controversial form, it objectifies men in the very same light. The new Coca-cola advertisement shows a bunch of girls gawking at a shirtless Ranbir Kapoor, shifting the onus of being an object from woman to man. This advertisement is a reactionary phenomenon of the increasing popularity of what the internet calls incels - involuntary celibates. Incels are men who believe women are to be owned and assigned to men. According to them, feminism has led to women having power in deciding their romantic partners - an opinion held due to the apparent lack of female attention in their lives. Thus, the advertisement still appeals to the male appetite, and although the onus of being an object falls on the man, the advertisement is not targeted to the female appetite, a concept industries tend to ignore. The man here has been sexualised to create a male power fantasy by a man for a man, not for a woman to gawk upon.
The objectification of women is not exploited just by the fashion and beauty industry, but overtly sexual themes are used to sell products by almost every industry. The “Aamsutra” Slice Advertisement, starring Katrina Kaif, is a classic example of using women as sexual objects to sell products. Such advertisements not only titillate viewers, but also reinforce the idea of unrealistic beauty standards for women, and the notion that women are to be looked at; and to look like Katrina, the spillover effect is in the fashion and beauty industry, where women rush to look the same. Sexual themes in advertisements are very common and are often the key selling point. Even voice assistive systems are always female, for instance - Alexa, Cortana and Siri, because using women in servitude forms sells. A whole generation of people shouts commands at women. In contrast, there’s Watson, a supercomputer that “helps you unlock the value of your data in entirely new, profound ways.” This is a reflection of gender biased marketing and product designing.
If it weren’t for a competitive free market, industries would not use overtly sexual themes to sell products, and while there are many pros to a free market, the cons directly lead to the death of feminism. This is not to say that the choices a woman makes aren’t her own, they most definitely are. However, it is aeons of social manipulation that have led her to do what she does, and to ensure actual consent, not manufactured consent, we require true equality in media representation. The focus needs to shift from what sells to what is politically correct, which would, in turn, require a shift from the current capitalist system we live in, to a truly pluralistic democratic mass media industry.
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