news Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30

Sowmya Rajendran| The News Minute| September 16, 2014| 5.30 pm IST

Respecting women is in fashion. But putting respect into practice is quite a difficult thing to do as TOI discovered recently. After tweeting a photograph of Deepika Padukone wearing a dress with a plunging neckline and calling attention to her ‘cleavage’, TOI tried to repair the damage by saying all that they were trying to do was pay her a compliment. Right. 

Deepika’s comeback has made other media houses take the high moral ground and look down upon TOI for its mess-up. But really, this sort of objectification of women and their bodies by the news media is nothing new and it continues to happen even as the same sites carry moving stories of gender-based discrimination and violence. Slideshows on wardrobe malfunctions routinely feature on popular news websites. It’s true that they blur out the photograph so it appears ‘decent’ and doesn’t become pornography but the intent is clear – it is to satisfy viewers who come there to be titillated. Kate Middleton’s skirt is up in the air? Why not get a million clicks and fulfill the target set by your boss by featuring it prominently on the site? A lean viewership day? Make a slideshow of Sunny Leone and get the traffic coming in again!

It is true that some of these malfunctions and oopsie moments photographs are orchestrated for publicity but by playing along, you become a part of that very industry that you later critique for its objectification and exploitation of women. Even if these choices are made voluntarily. 

While the ‘serious’ news sections may discuss gender-related issues in all gravity and berate politicians for their insensitivity, the sections that cater to films, glamour, fashion or anything ‘popular’ frequently use objectifying language of women and their bodies. Is the article on Southern female actors? Title it ‘Sizzling Southern Spice’. Is it a photo feature on celebrity mothers? Why, ‘Yummy Mummies’ is what it should be called! It isn’t surprising then that a top news channel chose to call the Deepika Padukone incident ‘Cleavage Row’ rather than ‘Insensitive reporting’ which is what it really was. 

We recognize that our notions about gender and gender relations need to change but we can’t have this conversation only when a woman is gang-raped. The conversation needs to happen within the everydayness of our life, across sections of reporting, whether it’s politics or fluff pieces. Gender-based discrimination and violence does not happen all of a sudden, out of the blue. It’s the end result of a culture where sexism is routine and accepted. 

And for those who came to this site searching for ‘Deepika cleavage’, we hope this piece was educational.

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