TV soaps are actually educating rural women in India!
Could anyone ever have imagined that our inane television serials would be educative? Well, certainly not those who called television soaps serial killers, convinced that all they had to offer were decadent moral values. Or those who felt that they were turning Indians into idiots because of their sheer stupidity and their inability to talk about serious social issues. Er…I too had similar opinions.
A recent study of 2,700 households (in villages in the four states – Bihar, Goa, Haryana, and Tamil Nadu – and Delhi) from 2001 to 2003, by Robert Jensen of Brown University and Emily Oster of the University of Chicago shows that television is actually helping rural Indian women come out of their shell. Their attitudes seemingly underwent a change, even to an extent that women’s preference for male children fell slightly! And the authors’ “composite autonomy index jumped substantially, by an amount equivalent to the attitude difference associated with 5.5 years of additional education.”
How? Surely, television soaps show regressive values? They mostly show women crying and suffering in a patriarchal set-up. The fact that they often they grin and bear it is a matter of concern. But that’s exactly it. Rural women had no idea that these things were to be ‘borne.’ For them oppression is so normal that they feel it’s deserved!
Surveys from 2001-2003 show:
…that rural Indian women don’t have a lot of control over their lives. More than half need permission from their husbands to go shopping. Two-thirds need their husbands’ permission to visit friends. Spousal beating is common and accepted: Sixty-two percent of women believe that it is sometimes acceptable. Thirty-four percent of the women surveyed believed a husband could hit his wife if she neglected the children, while nearly a third believed that showing disrespect and going places without permission warranted a beating. One fifth of women believe husbands are entitled to hit them for cooking a lousy dinner.
Now these are the little freedoms that most urban educated women take for granted. But didn’t rural women know what sort of life their urban educated sisters led?
Well, to them an urban educated woman would be someone strange, someone alien. A character who probably led an immoral, wasted life and neglected her family. Men who do not believe in womens’ education like to perpetuate this myth. But once this urban educated character stepped right into the homes and hearts of rural women, she suddenly transformed herself from an alien creature to an intimate one. Someone whose heart and mind her rural sister could read. The result? A feeling that hey, she is a woman, and she is just like me.
This study’s findings are not something out of the blue. Earlier, there have been articles on how soaps are positively impacting women in small towns. The soap opera Astitva for example showed changing attitudes towards single and divorced women in a conservative India. A young girl from Bhopal interviewed by the author of this particular article said:
Things are changing. You just have to watch TV, or read the news and you know the world is no longer the same as when my mother was my age.
So even if the women in television soaps are shown suffering, even if they often pay a heavy price for standing up to society, they are also seen as strong and worthy, women who deserve better. And this is what has impressed rural women viewers. Sure, it’s only their attitudes which have changed, and that too far too slightly to have impacted their life in any significant way. But if their behavior hasn’t changed…it’s only a matter of time before it does.
(The second picture copyrighted to me)